Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer


  “Say again. I thought you said—”

  “Eh . . . I mean, get out of there. Take cover! Take cover!”

  Take cover? The military term didn’t sound right coming out of Master Artemis’s mouth. Like a diamond ring in a lucky bag.

  “Take cover?”

  “Yes, Butler. Cover. I thought speaking in primal terms would be the quickest route to your cognitive functions. Obviously I was mistaken.”

  That was more like it. Butler scanned the hall for a nook to duck into. Not much choice. The only shelter was provided by the suits of medieval armor punctuating the walls. The manservant ducked into the alcove behind a fourteenth-century knight, complete with lance and mace.

  Juliet tapped the breastplate.

  “You think you’re mean? I could take you with one hand.”

  “Quiet,” hissed Butler.

  He held his breath and listened. Something was approaching the main door. Something big. Butler leaned out far enough to get one eye on the lobby. . . .

  Then you could say that the doorway exploded. But that particular verb doesn’t do the action justice. Rather, it shattered into infinitesimal pieces. Butler had seen something like this once before when a force-seven earthquake had rippled through a Colombian drug lord’s estate seconds before he had been scheduled to blow it up. This was slightly different. More localized. Very professional. It was classic anti-terrorist tactics. Hit ’em with smoke and sonics, then go in while the targets were disoriented. Whatever was coming, it would be bad. He was certain of it. He was absolutely right.

  Dust clouds settled slowly, depositing a pale sheet on the Tunisian rug. Madam Fowl would have been furious, if she ever put so much as a toe outside the attic door. Butler’s instincts told him to move. Zigzag across the ground floor, make for the higher ground. Stay low to minimize the target. This would be the perfect time to do it, before visibility cleared. Any second now, a hail of bullets would be whistling through the archway, and the last place he wanted to be was pinned down on a lower level.

  And on any other day Butler would have moved. He would’ve been halfway up that stairway before his brain had time for second thoughts. But today he had his baby sister over his shoulder spouting gibberish, and the last thing he wanted to do was expose her to murderous assault fire. With Juliet in the state she was in, she’d probably challenge the fairy commandos to a tag-wrestling match. And though his sister talked tough, she was just a kid, really. No match for trained military personnel. So Butler hunkered down, propped Juliet against a tapestry behind a suit of armor, and checked his safety catch. Off. Good. Come and get me, fairy boys.

  Something moved in the dust haze. It was immediately obvious to Butler that the something wasn’t human. The manservant had been on too many safaris not to recognize an animal when he saw it. He studied the creature’s gait.

  Possibly simian. Similar upper body structure to an ape, but bigger than any primate Butler had ever seen. If it was an ape, then his handgun wasn’t going to be of much use. You could put five rounds in the skull of a bull ape and he’d still have time to eat you before his brain realized he was dead.

  But it wasn’t an ape. Apes didn’t have night eyes. This creature did. Glowing crimson pupils, half-hidden behind shaggy forelocks. Tusks too, but not elephantine. These were curved, with serrated edges. Gutting weapons. Butler felt a tingle low in his stomach. He’d had the feeling once before. On his first day at the Swiss academy. It was fear.

  The creature stepped clear of the dust haze. Butler gasped. Again, his first since the academy. This was like no adversary he’d ever faced before. The manservant realized instantly what the fairies had done. They had sent in a primal hunter. A creature with no interest in magic or rules. A thing that would simply kill anything in its way, regardless of species. This was the perfect predator. That much was clear from the meat-ripping points on its teeth, from the dried gore crusted beneath its claws, and from the distilled hatred spilling from its eyes.

  The troll shambled forward, squinting through the chandelier light. Yellowed claws scraped along the marble tiling, throwing up sparks in their wake. It was sniffing now, snorting curious breaths, head cocked to one side.

  Butler had seen that pose before—on the snouts of starved pit bulls, just before their Russian handlers set them loose on a bear hunt.

  The shaggy head froze, its snout pointed directly at Butler’s hiding place. It was no coincidence. The manservant peeked out between the chain-mail fingers of a gauntlet. Now came the stalk. Once a scent had been acquired, the predator would attempt a slow silent approach, before the lightning strike.

  But apparently the troll had not read the predator’s handbook, because it didn’t bother with the stealth approach, jumping directly to the lightning strike. Moving faster than Butler would have believed possible, the troll sprang across the lobby, brushing the medieval armor aside as though it were a shop mannequin.

  Juliet blinked. “Ooh,” she gasped. “It’s Bigfoot Bob. Canadian champion 1998. I thought you were in the Andes, looking for your relatives.”

  Butler didn’t bother to correct her. His sister wasn’t lucid. At least she would die happy. While his brain was contemplating this morbid observation, Butler’s gun hand was coming up.

  He squeezed the trigger as rapidly as the Sig Sauer’s mechanism would allow. Two in the chest, three between the eyes. That was the plan. He got the chest shots in, but the troll interfered before Butler could complete the formation. The interference took the form of scything tusks that ducked below Butler’s guard. They coiled around his trunk, slicing through his Kevlar reinforced jacket like a razor through rice paper.

  Butler felt a cold pain as the serrated ivory pierced his chest. He knew immediately that the wound was fatal. His breath came hard. That was a lung gone, and gouts of blood were matting the troll’s fur. His blood. No one could lose that amount and live. Nevertheless, the pain was instantly replaced by a curious euphoria. Some form of natural anesthetic injected through channels in the beast’s tusks. More dangerous than the deadliest poison. In minutes Butler would not only stop struggling, but go giggling to his grave.

  The manservant fought against the narcotics in his system, struggling furiously in the troll’s grip. But it was no use. His fight was over almost before it had begun.

  The troll grunted, flipping the limp human body over his head. Butler’s burly frame collided with the wall at a speed human bones were never meant to withstand. The bricks cracked from floor to ceiling. Butler’s spine went too. Now, even if the blood loss didn’t get him, paralysis would.

  Juliet was still enthralled by the mesmer.

  “Come on, brother. Get off the canvas. We all know you’re faking.”

  The troll paused, some basic curiosity piqued by the lack of fear. He would have suspected a trick, if he could have formulated such a complicated thought. But in the end, appetite won out. This creature smelled flesh. Fresh and tender. Flesh from above ground was different. Laced with surface smells. Once you’ve had open-air meat, it’s hard to go back. The troll ran a tongue over his incisors and reached out a shaggy hand. . . .

  Holly tucked the Hummingbirds close to her torso, dropping into a controlled dive. She skimmed the banisters, emerging into the portico below a stained-glass dome. The time-stop light filtered unnaturally, splitting into thick azure shafts.

  Light, thought Holly. The helmet high-beams worked before, there was no reason why they wouldn’t work again. It was too late for the male, he was a bag of broken bones. But the female, she still had a few seconds left before the troll split her open.

  Holly spiraled down through the faux light, searching her helmet console for the Sonix button. Sonix was generally used on canines, but in this case it might provide a moment’s distraction. Enough to get her to ground level.

  The troll was reaching in toward Juliet underhand. It was a move generally reserved for the defenseless. The claws would curl in below the ribs, rupturing the heart. Minimu
m damage to the flesh and no last-minute tension to toughen the meat.

  Holly activated her Sonix . . . and nothing happened. Not good. Generally your average troll would be at the very least irritated by the ultra-high-frequency tone. But this particular beast didn’t even shake his shaggy head. There were a couple of possibilities: one, the helmet was malfunctioning; two, this troll was deaf as the proverbial post. Unfortunately, Holly had no way of knowing as the tones were inaudible to fairy ears.

  Whatever the problem, it forced Holly to adopt a strategy she would rather not have resorted to. Direct contact. All to save a human’s life. She’d gone section eight. Without a doubt.

  Holly jerked the throttle, straight from fourth to reverse. Not very good for the gears. She’d get a dressing-down from the mechanics for that, in the unlikely event she actually survived this never-ending nightmare. The effect of this gear-crunching was to flip her around in midair, so that her boot heels were pointed directly at the troll’s head. Holly winced. Two entanglements with the same troll. Unbelievable.

  Her heels caught the beast square on the crown of its head. At that speed, there was at least half a ton of G-force behind the contact. Only the reinforced ribbing in her suit prevented Holly’s leg bones from shattering. Even so, she heard her knee pop. The pain clawed its way to her forehead. Ruined her recovery maneuver too. Instead of repelling herself to a safe altitude, Holly crumpled onto the troll’s back, becoming instantly entangled in the ropy fur.

  The troll was suitably annoyed. Not only had something distracted it from dinner, but now that something was nestled in its fur, along with the cleaner slugs. The beast straightened, reaching a clawed hand over its own shoulder. The curved nails raked Holly’s helmet, scoring parallel grooves in the alloy. Juliet was safe for the moment, but Holly had taken her place on the endangered-individuals list.

  The troll squeezed tighter, somehow securing a grip on the helmet’s anti-friction coating, which, according to Foaly, was impossible to grip. Serious words would be had. If not in this life, then definitely the next.

  Captain Short found herself being hoisted aloft to face her old enemy. Holly struggled to concentrate through the pain and confusion. Her leg was swinging like a pendulum, and the troll’s breath was breaking over her face in rancid waves.

  There had been a plan, hadn’t there? Surely she didn’t fly down here just to curl up and die. There must have been a strategy. All those years in the Academy must have taught her something. Whatever her plan had been, it floated just out of reach somewhere between pain and shock. Out of reach.

  “The lights, Holly . . .”

  A voice in her head. Probably talking to herself. An out-of-head experience. Ha ha. She must remember to tell Foaly about this . . . Foaly?

  “Hit the lights, Holly. If those tusks get to work, you’ll be dead before the magic can kick in.”

  “Foaly? Is that you?” Holly may have said this aloud, or she may just have thought it. She wasn’t sure.

  “The tunnel high beams, Captain!” A different voice. Not so cuddly. “Hit the button now! That’s an order!”

  Oops. It was Root. She was falling down on the job again. First Hamburg, then Martina Franca, now this.

  “Yessir,” she mumbled, trying to sound professional.

  “Press it! Now, Captain Short!”

  Holly looked the troll straight in its merciless eyes and pressed the button. Very melodramatic. Or it would have been, if the lights had worked. Unfortunately for Holly, in her haste she’d grabbed one of the helmets cannibalized by Artemis Fowl. Hence no Sonix, no filters, and no tunnel beams. The halogen bulbs were still installed, but the wires had come loose during Artemis’s investigations.

  “Oh, dear,” breathed Holly.

  “Oh, dear?” barked Root. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “The beams are off-line,” explained Foaly.

  “Oh . . .” Root’s voice trailed off. What more was there to say?

  Holly squinted at the troll. If you didn’t know trolls were dumb animals, you’d swear the beast was grinning. Standing there with blood dripping from various chest wounds, grinning. Captain Short didn’t like being grinned at.

  “Laugh this off,” she said, and butted the troll with the only weapon available to her. Her helmeted head.

  Valiant undoubtedly, but about as effective as trying to cut down a tree with a feather. Luckily, the ill-advised blow had a side effect. For a split second, two strands of conductor filament connected, sending power flooding to one of the tunnel beams. Four hundred watts of white light blasted through the troll’s crimson eyes, dispatching lightning rods of agony to the brain.

  “Heh heh,” mumbled Holly, in the second before the troll convulsed involuntarily. Its spasms sent her spinning across the parquet floor, leg jittering along behind her.

  The wall was approaching at an alarming speed. Maybe, thought Holly hopefully, this will be one of those impacts where you don’t feel any pain until later. No, replied her pessimistic side, afraid not. She slammed into a Norman narrative tapestry, bringing it tumbling down on top of her. Pain was immediate and overwhelming.

  “Ooof,” grunted Foaly. “I felt that. Visuals are shot. Pain sensors went right off the scale. Your lungs are busted, Captain. We’re going to lose you for a while. But don’t worry, Holly, your magic should be kicking in already.”

  Holly felt the blue tingle of magic scurrying to her various injuries. Thank the gods for acorns. But it was too little too late. The pain was way beyond her threshold. Just before unconsciousness claimed her, Holly’s hand flopped from beneath the tapestry. It landed on Butler’s arm, touching the bare skin. Amazingly, the human wasn’t dead. A dogged pulse forced the blood through smashed limbs.

  Heal, thought Holly. And the magic scurried down her fingers.

  The troll faced a dilemma—which female to eat first. Choices, choices. This decision was not made any easier by the lingering agony buzzing around its shaggy head, or the cluster of bullets lodged in the fatty chest tissue. Eventually it settled on the surface dweller. Soft human meat. No dense fairy muscle to chew through.

  The beast squatted low, tilting the girl’s chin with one yellowed talon. A pulsing jugular looped lazily down the length of her neck. The heart or the neck? the troll wondered. The neck, it was closer. It turned the talon sideways, so that the edge pressed against soft human flesh. One sharp swipe and the girl’s own heartbeat would drive the blood from her body.

  Butler woke up, which was a surprise in itself. He knew immediately that he was alive, because of the searing pain permeating every cubic centimeter of his body. This was not good. Alive he may have been, but considering the fact that his neck had a one-eighty twist on it, he’d never so much as walk the dog again, not to mention rescue his sister.

  The manservant twiddled his fingers. Hurt like hell, but at least there was movement. It was amazing that he had any motor functions at all, considering the trauma his spinal column had suffered. His toes seemed all right too, but that could have been phantom response, given that he couldn’t actually see them.

  The bleeding from his chest wound appeared to have stopped and he was thinking straight. All in all, he was in much better shape than he had any right to be. What in heaven’s name was going on here?

  Butler noticed something. There were blue sparks dancing along his torso. He must be hallucinating, creating pleasant images to distract himself from the inevitable. A very realistic hallucination, it must be said.

  The sparks congregated at trauma points, sinking into the skin. Butler shuddered. This was no hallucination. Something extraordinary was happening here. Magical.

  Magic? That rang a bell in his recently reassembled cranium. Fairy magic. Something was healing his wounds. He twisted his head, wincing at the grate of sliding vertebrae. There was a hand resting on his forearm. Sparks flowed from the slim elfin fingers, intuitively targeting bruises, breaks, or ruptures. There were a lot of injuries to be dealt with, but
the tiny sparks handled it all quickly and effectively. Like an army of mystical beavers repairing storm damage.

  Butler could actually feel his bones knitting and the blood retreating from semicongealed scabs. His head twisted involuntarily as his vertebrae slid into their niches, and strength returned in a rush as magic reproduced the three liters of blood lost through his chest wound.

  Butler jumped to his feet—actually jumped. He was himself again. No. It was more than that. He was as strong as he had ever been. Strong enough to have another crack at that beast hunkered over his baby sister.

  He felt his rejuvenated heart speed up like the stroke of an outboard motor. Calm, Butler told himself. Passion is the enemy of efficiency. But calm or no, the situation was desperate. This beast had already effectively killed him once, and this time he didn’t even have the Sig Sauer. His own skills aside, it would be nice to have a weapon. Something with a bit of weight to it. His boot clinked on a metallic object. Butler glanced down at the debris strewn in the troll’s wake. . . . Perfect.

  There was nothing but snow on the view screen.

  “Come on,” urged Root. “Hurry up!”

  Foaly elbowed past his superior.

  “Maybe if you didn’t insist on blocking all the circuit boards.”

  Root shuffled out of the way grudgingly. In his mind it was the circuit board’s fault for being behind him. The centaur’s head disappeared into an access panel.

  “Anything?”

  “Nothing. Just interference.”

  Root slapped the screen. Not a good idea. First, because there was not one chance in a million that it could actually help, and second, because plasma screens grow extremely hot after prolonged use.

  “D’Arvit!”

  “Don’t touch that screen, by the way.”

  “Oh, ha ha. We have time for jokes now, do we?”

  “No, actually. Anything?”

  The snow settled into recognizable shapes.

  “That’s it, hold it there. We’ve got a signal.”

  “I’ve activated the secondary camera. Plain old video, I’m afraid, but it’ll have to do.”

 
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