The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

  For all the Fowl fans who journeyed to the Lower Elements with me. Thank you.

  Ériú; Present Day

  The Berserkers lay arranged in a spiral under the rune stone, looping down, down into the earth—boots out, heads in, as the spell demanded. Of course, after ten thousand years underground, there were no physical boots or heads. There was just the plasma of black magic holding their consciousness intact, and even that was dissipating, tainting the land, causing strange strains of plants to appear and infecting the animals with uncommon aggression. In perhaps a dozen full moons the Berserkers would be gone utterly, and their last spark of power would flow into the earth.

  We are not all disappeared yet, thought Oro of the Danu, captain of the Berserkers. We are ready to seize our glorious moment when it comes and to sow chaos among the humans.

  He sent the thought into the spiral and was proud to feel his remaining fairy warriors echo the sentiment.

  Their will is as keen as their blades once were, he thought. Though we are dead and buried, the spark of bloody purpose burns bright in our souls.

  It was the hatred of humankind that kept the spark alive—that and the black magic of the warlock Bruin Fadda. More than half of their company of warriors had already expired and been drawn to the afterlife, but still five score remained to complete their duties should they be called upon.

  Remember your orders, the elfin warlock had told them all those centuries ago, even as the clay was falling on their flesh. Remember those who have died and the humans who murdered them.

  Oro did remember and always would. Just as he could never forget the sensation of stones and earth rattling across his dying skin.

  We will remember, he sent into the spiral. Remember and return.

  The thought drifted down, then echoed up from the dead warriors, who were eager to be released from their tomb and see the sun once more.

  From the case notes of Dr. Jerbal Argon, Psych Brotherhood

  Artemis Fowl, once self-proclaimed teenage criminal mastermind, now prefers the term juvenile genius. Apparently he has changed. (Note to self: Harrumph.)

  For the past six months Artemis has been undergoing weekly therapy sessions at my clinic in Haven City in an attempt to overcome a severe case of Atlantis Complex, a psychological condition that he developed as a result of meddling in fairy magic. (Serves him right, silly Mud Boy.)

  Remember to submit outrageous bill to Lower Elements Police.

  Artemis appears to be cured, and in record time too. Is this likely? Or even possible?

  Discuss my theory of relativity with Artemis. Could make for a very interesting chapter in my V-book: Foiling Fowl: Outsmarting the Smarty-pants. (Publishers love the title—Ka-ching!)

  Order more painkillers for my blasted hip.

  Issue clean bill of mental health for Artemis. Final session today.

  Dr. Argon’s office, Haven City, the Lower Elements

  Artemis Fowl grew impatient. Dr. Argon was late. This final session was just as unnecessary as the past half dozen. He was completely cured, for heaven’s sake, and had been since week eighteen. His prodigious intellect had accelerated the process, and he should not have to twiddle his thumbs at the behest of a gnome psychiatrist.

  At first Artemis paced the office, refusing to be calmed by the water wall, with its gently pulsing mood lights; then he sat for a minute in the oxygen booth, which he found calmed him a little too much.

  Oxygen booth indeed, he thought, quickly ducking out of the chamber.

  Finally the door hissed and slid aside on its track, admitting Dr. Jerbal Argon to his own office. The squat gnome limped directly to his chair. He dropped into the embrace of its padding, slapping the armrest controls until the gel sac under his right hip glowed gently.

  “Aaaah,” he sighed. “My hip is killing me. Nothing helps, honestly. People think they know pain, but they have no idea.”

  “You’re late,” noted Artemis in fluent Gnommish, his voice devoid of sympathy.

  Argon sighed blissfully again as the heated chair pad went to work on his hip. “Always in a hurry, eh, Mud Boy? Why didn’t you have a puff of oxygen or meditate by the water wall? Hey-Hey Monks swear by those water walls.”

  “I am not a pixie priest, Doctor. What Hey-Hey Monks do after first gong is of little interest to me. Can we proceed with my rehabilitation? Or would you prefer to waste more of my time?”

  Argon huffed a little, then swung his bulk forward, opening a sim-paper file on his desk. “Why is it that the saner you get, the nastier you are?”

  Artemis crossed his legs, his body language relaxed for the first time. “Such repressed anger, Doctor. Where does it all stem from?”

  “Let’s stick to your disposition, shall we, Artemis?” Argon snagged a stack of cards from his file. “I am going to show you some inkblots, and you tell me what the shapes suggest to you.”

  Artemis’s moan was extended and theatrical. “Inkblots. Oh, please. My life span is considerably shorter than yours, Doctor. I prefer not to waste valuable time on worthless pseudo-tests. We may as well read tea leaves or divine the future in turkey entrails.”

  “Inkblot readings are a reliable indicator of mental health,” Argon objected. “Tried and tested.”

  “Tested by psychiatrists for psychiatrists,” snorted Artemis.

  Argon slapped a card down on the table. “What do you see in this inkblot?”

  “I see an inkblot,” said Artemis.

  “Yes, but what does the blot suggest to you?”

  Artemis smirked in a supremely annoying fashion. “I see card five hundred and thirty-four.”

  “Pardon me?”

  “Card five hundred and thirty-four,” repeated Artemis. “Of a series of six hundred standard inkblot cards. I memorized them during our sessions. You don’t even shuffle.”

  Argon checked the number on the back of the card: 534. Of course.

  “Knowing the number does not answer the question. What do you see?”

  Artemis allowed his lip to wobble. “I see an ax dripping with blood. Also a scared child, and an elf clothed in the skin of a troll.”

  “Really?” Argon was interested now.

  “No. Not really. I see a secure building, perhaps a family home, with four windows. A trustworthy pet, and a pathway leading from the door into the distance. I think, if you check your manual, you will find that these answers fall inside healthy parameters.”

  Argon did not need to check. The Mud Boy was right, as usual. Perhaps he could blindside Artemis with his new theory. It was not part of the program but might earn him a little respect.

  “Have you heard of the theory of relativity?”

  Artemis blinked. “Is this a joke? I have traveled through time, Doctor. I think I know a little something about relativity.”

  “No. Not that theory; my theory of relativity proposes that all things magical are related and influenced by ancient spells or magical hot spots.”

  Artemis rubbed his chin. “Interesting. But I think you’ll find that your postulation should be called the theory of relatedness.”

  “Whatever,” said Argon, waving the quibble away. “I did a little research, and it turns out that the Fowls have been a bother to fairy folk off and on for thousands of years. Dozens of your ancestors have tried for the crock of gold, though you are the only one to have succeeded.”

  Artemis sat up straight; this was interesting. “And I never knew about this because you mind-wiped my forefathers.”

  “Exactly,” said Argon, thrilled to have Artemis’s full attention. “When he was a lad, your own father actually managed to hog-tie a dwarf who was drawn to the estate. I imagine he still dreams of that moment.”

  “Good for him.” A thought struck Artem
is. “Why was the dwarf attracted to our estate?”

  “Because the residual magic there is off the scale. Something happened on the Fowl Estate once. Something huge, magically speaking.”

  “And this lingering power plants ideas in the Fowls’ heads and nudges us toward a belief in magic,” Artemis murmured, almost to himself.

  “Exactly. It’s a goblin-and-egg situation. Did you think about magic and then find magic? Or did the magic make you think about looking for magic?”

  Artemis took a few notes on his smartphone. “And this huge magical event—can you be more specific?”

  Argon shrugged. “Our records don’t go back that far. I’d say we’re talking about back when fairies lived on the surface, more than ten thousand years ago.”

  Artemis rose and loomed over the squat gnome. He felt he owed the doctor something for the theory of relatedness, which would certainly bear some investigation.

  “Dr. Argon, did you have turned-in feet as a child?”

  Argon was so surprised that he blurted an honest answer to a personal question, very unusual for a psychiatrist. “Yes. Yes, I did.”

  “And were you forced to wear remedial shoes with stacked soles?”

  Argon was intrigued. He hadn’t thought about those horrible shoes in centuries; he had actually forgotten them until this moment.

  “Just one, on my right foot.”

  Artemis nodded wisely, and Argon felt as though their roles had been reversed, and that he was the patient.

  “I would guess that your foot was pulled into its correct alignment, but your femur was twisted slightly in the process. A simple brace should solve your hip problem.” Artemis pulled a folded napkin from his pocket. “I sketched a design while you kept me waiting these past few sessions. Foaly should be able to build the brace for you. I may have been a few millimeters off in my estimate of your dimensions, so best to get measured.” He placed ten fingers flat on the desk. “May I leave now? Have I fulfilled my obligation?”

  The doctor nodded glumly, thinking that he would possibly omit this session from his book. He watched Artemis stride across the office floor and duck through the doorway.

  Argon studied the napkin drawing and knew instinctively that Artemis was right about his hip.

  Either that boy is the sanest creature on earth, he thought, or he is so disturbed that our tests cannot even begin to scratch the surface.

  Argon pulled a rubber stamp from his desk, and on the cover of Artemis’s file he stamped the word FUNCTIONAL in big red letters.

  I hope so, he thought. I really hope so.

  Artemis’s bodyguard, Butler, waited for his principal outside Dr. Argon’s office in the large chair that had been a gift from the centaur Foaly, technical consultant to the Lower Elements Police.

  “I can’t stand to look at you perched on a fairy stool,” Foaly had told him. “It offends my eyes. You look like a monkey passing a coconut.”

  “Very well,” Butler had said in his gravelly bass. “I accept the gift, if only to preserve your eyes.”

  In truth he had been mighty glad to have a comfortable chair, being more than six and a half feet tall in a city built for three-footers.

  The bodyguard stood and stretched, flattening his palms against the ceiling, which was double-height by fairy standards. Thank God Argon had a taste for the grandiose, or Butler wouldn’t even have been able to stand up straight in the clinic. To his mind, the building, with its vaulted ceilings, gold-flecked tapestries, and retro sim-wood sliding doors, looked more like a monastery where the monks had taken a vow of wealth than a medical facility. Only the wall-mounted laser hand-sanitizers and the occasional elfin nurse bustling past gave any hint that this place was actually a clinic.

  I am so glad this detail is coming to an end, Butler had been thinking at least once every five minutes for the past two weeks. He had been in tight spots many times; but there was something about being confined in a city clamped to the underside of the earth’s crust that made him feel claustrophobic for the first time in his life.

  Artemis emerged from Argon’s office, his self-satisfied smirk even more pronounced than usual. When Butler saw this expression, he knew that his boss was back in control of his faculties and that his Atlantis Complex was certified as cured.

  No more counting words. No more irrational fear of the number four. No more paranoia and delusions. Thank goodness for that.

  He asked anyway, just to be certain. “Well, Artemis, how are we?”

  Artemis buttoned his navy woollen suit jacket. “We are fine, Butler. That is to say that I, Artemis Fowl the Second, am one hundred percent functional, which is about five times the functionality of an average person. Or to put it another way: one point five Mozarts. Or three-quarters of a da Vinci.”

  “Only three-quarters? You’re being modest.”

  “Correct,” said Artemis, smiling. “I am.”

  Butler’s shoulders sagged a little with relief. Inflated ego, supreme self-confidence. Artemis was most definitely his old self.

  “Very good. Let’s pick up our escort and be on our way then, shall we? I want to feel the sun on my face. The real sun, not the UV lamps they have down here.”

  Artemis felt a pang of sympathy for his bodyguard, an emotion he had been experiencing more and more in recent months. It was difficult enough for Butler to be inconspicuous among humans; down here he could hardly have attracted more attention if he had been wearing a clown suit and juggling fireballs.

  “Very well,” agreed Artemis. “We will pick up our escort and depart. Where is Holly?”

  Butler jerked a thumb down the hallway. “Where she generally is. With the clone.”

  Captain Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police Recon division stared at the face of her archenemy and felt only pity. Of course, had she been gazing at the real Opal Koboi and not a cloned version, then pity might not have been the last emotion on her list, but it would certainly have ranked far below rage and intense dislike bordering on hatred. But this was a clone, grown in advance to provide the megalomaniacal pixie with a body double so that she could be spirited from protective custody in the J. Argon Clinic if the LEP ever managed to incarcerate her, which they had.

  Holly pitied the clone because she was a pathetic, dumb creature who had never asked to be created. Cloning was a banned science both for religious reasons and the more obvious fact that, without a life force or soul to power their systems, clones were doomed to a short life of negligent brain activity and organ failure. This particular clone had lived out most of its days in an incubator, struggling for each breath since it had been removed from the chrysalis in which it had been grown.

  “Not for much longer, little one,” Holly whispered, touching the ersatz pixie’s forehead through the sterile gloves built into the incubator wall.

  Holly could not have said for sure why she had begun to visit the clone. Perhaps it was because Argon had told her that no one else ever had.

  She came from nowhere. She has no friends.

  She had at least two friends now. Artemis had taken to joining Holly on her visits and often would sit silently beside her, which was very unusual for him.

  The clone’s official designation was Unauthorized Experiment 14, but one of the clinic’s wits had named her Nopal, which was a cruel play on the name Opal and the words no pal. Cruel or not, the name stuck; and now even Holly used it, though with tenderness.

  Argon assured her that Unauthorized Experiment 14 had no mental faculties, but Holly was certain that sometimes Nopal’s milky eyes reacted when she visited. Could the clone actually recognize her?

  Holly gazed at Nopal’s delicate features and was inevitably reminded of the clone’s gene donor.

  That pixie is poison, she thought bitterly. Whatever she touches withers and dies.

  Artemis entered the room and stood beside Holly, resting a hand lightly on her shoulder.

  “They’re wrong about Nopal,” said Holly. “She feels things. She unde

  Artemis knelt down. “I know. I taught her something last week. Watch.”

  He placed his hand on the glass, tapping his fingers in sequence slowly, building up a rhythm. “It is an exercise developed by Cuba’s Dr. Parnassus. He uses it to generate a response from infants, even chimpanzees.”

  Artemis continued to tap, and slowly Nopal responded, raising her hand laboriously to Artemis’s, slapping the glass clumsily in an attempt to copy his rhythm.

  “There, you see?” said Artemis. “Intelligence.”

  Holly bumped him gently, shoulder to shoulder, which was her version of a hug. “I knew your brains would eventually come in handy.”

  The acorn cluster on the breast of Holly’s LEP jumpsuit vibrated, and Holly touched her wi-tech earring, accepting the call. A quick glance at her wrist computer told her that the call was from LEP technical consultant Foaly, and that the centaur had labeled it urgent.

  “Foaly. What is it? I’m at the clinic, babysitting Artemis.”

  The centaur’s voice was crystal clear over the Haven City wireless network.

  “I need you back at Police Plaza, right now. Bring the Mud Boy.”

  The centaur sounded theatrical, but then Foaly would play the drama queen if his carrot soufflé collapsed.

  “That’s not how it works, Foaly. Consultants don’t give orders to captains.”

  “We have a Koboi sighting coming through on a satellite. It’s a live feed,” countered the technical consultant.

  “We’re on our way,” said Holly, severing the connection.

  They picked up Butler in the corridor. Artemis, Holly, and Butler were three allies who had weathered battlefields, rebellions, and conspiracy together and had developed their own crisis shorthand.

  Butler saw that Holly was wearing her business face.


  Holly strode past, forcing the others to follow.

  “Opal,” she said in English.

  Butler’s face hardened. “Eyes on?”

  “Satellite link.”

  “Origin?” asked the bodyguard.

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