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I mustn’t let that dwarf get me down, she told herself, ascending with blinding speed toward the surface. My hips are most definitely not wobbly.
Opal’s ascent was blinding and divine in appearance, like a supernova that shot toward the ocean’s surface, the fierce heat of her black magic repelling the walls of Atlantis and the crushing ocean with equal offhandedness, reorganizing the atomic structure of anything that stood in her way.
She rode her corona of black magic onward and upward toward the Fowl Estate. She did not need to think about her destination, as the lock called to her. The lock called, and she was the key.
Ériú, a.k.a. The Fowl Estate
Buried in a descending spiral around the lock, the Berserkers grew agitated as magic was let loose in the world above.
Something is coming, Oro, captain of the Berserkers, realized. Soon we will be free and our swords will taste human blood once more. We will bake their hearts in clay jars and call forth the ancient dark forces. We will infiltrate what forms we must to hold the humans back. They cannot kill us, for we are already dead, held together by a skein of magic.
Our time will be short. No more than a single night after all this time; but we will cover ourselves in glory and blood before we join Danu in the afterlife.
Can you feel the shift? Oro called down to the spirits of his warriors. Be prepared to push forward when the gate is opened.
We are ready, replied his warriors. When the light falls upon us, we will seize the bodies of dogs, badgers, and humans and subvert them to our wills.
Oro could not help thinking: I would rather inhabit a human than a badger.
For he was proud, and this pride had cost him his life ten thousand years ago.
Gobdaw, who lay to his left, sent out a shuddering thought that could almost be a chuckle.
Yes, he said. But better a badger than a rat.
If Oro’s heart had been flesh and blood, it would have burst with a new pride, but this time for his warriors.
My soldiers are ready for war. They will fight until their stolen bodies drop, then finally be free to embrace the light.
Our time is at hand.
Juliet Butler was holding the fort, and not just in the sense of looking after things while Artemis’s parents were away at an eco-conference in London—she was actually holding a fort.
The fort in question was an old Martello tower that stood sentry on a hill overlooking Dublin Bay. The fort had been worn down to a nub by the elements, and strange black ivy had thrown tendrils along the walls as though trying to reclaim the stone for the earth. The would-be conquerors were Artemis Fowl’s brothers: four-year-old Myles and his twin, Beckett. The boys had rushed the tower several times with wooden swords but were rebuffed by Juliet and sent gently tumbling into the long grass. Beckett squealed with laughter, but Juliet could see that Myles was growing more and more frustrated at the failure of his assaults.
Just like Artemis, that one, Juliet thought. Another little criminal mastermind.
For the past ten minutes the boys had been rustling behind a bush, plotting their next attack. Juliet could hear muffled giggles and terse commands as Myles no doubt issued a complicated series of tactical instructions to Beckett.
Juliet smiled. She could just imagine the scenario.
Myles would say something like:
You go one way, Beck, and I go the other. ’S called flanking.
To which Beckett would respond with something like: I like caterpillars.
It was true to say that the brothers loved each other more than they loved themselves, but Myles lived in a state of constant frustration that Beckett could not, or would not, follow the simplest instruction.
Any second now Beckett will grow bored with this tactical meeting, thought Butler’s younger sister, and come wandering from the bush brandishing his toy sword.
Moments later, Beckett did indeed stumble from the bush, but it was not a sword that he brandished.
Juliet swung her leg over the low parapet and called suspiciously.
“Beck, what have you got there?”
Beckett waved the item. “Underpants,” he said frankly.
Juliet looked again to confirm that the grubby triangle was indeed a pair of underpants. Because of the knee-length Wimpy Kid T-shirt he had worn for the past forty-eight days, it was impossible to ascertain whether or not the underpants were Beckett’s own, though it seemed likely, given that the boy’s legs were bare.
Beckett was something of an unruly character and, in her few months as nanny/bodyguard, Juliet had seen a lot worse things than underpants—for example, the worm farm that Beckett had constructed in the downstairs bathroom and fertilized personally.
“Okay, Beck,” she called down from the tower. “Just put the underpants down, kiddo. I’ll get you a clean pair.”
Beckett advanced steadily. “Nope. Beckett is sick of stupid underpants. These’re for you. A present.”
The boy’s face glowed with innocent enthusiasm, convinced that his Y-fronts were about the best present a girl could get—besides a pair of his Y-fronts with a handful of beetles cradled inside.
Juliet countered with: “But it’s not my birthday.”
Beckett was at the foot of the worn tower now, waving the pants like a flag. “I love you, Jules—take the present.”
He loves me, thought Juliet. Kids always know the weak spot.
She tried one last desperate ploy. “But won’t your bottom be chilly?”
Beckett had an answer for that. “Nope. I don’t ever feel cold.”
Juliet smiled fondly. It was easy to believe. Bony Beckett gave off enough heat to boil a lake. Hugging him was like hugging a restless radiator.
At this point, Juliet’s only way to avoid touching the underpants was a harmless lie. “Rabbits love old underpants, Beck. Why don’t you bury them as a gift for Papa Rabbit?”
“Rabbits don’t need underpants,” said a sinister little voice behind her. “They are warm-blooded mammals, and their fur is sufficient clothing in our climate.”
Juliet felt the tip of Myles’s wooden sword in her thigh and realized that the boy had used Beckett as a distraction, then circled around to the back steps.
I didn’t hear a thing, she mused. Myles is learning to creep.
“Very good, Myles,” she said. “How did you get Beckett to follow your instructions?”
Myles grinned smugly, and the resemblance to Artemis was uncanny. “I didn’t give him soldier’s orders. I ’gested to Beck that his bum might be itchy.”
This boy is not yet five, thought Juliet. Wait till the world gets a load of Myles Fowl.
From the corner of her eye she saw something triangular sail through the air toward her and instinctively snatched it. No sooner had her fingers closed on the material than it dawned on her what she was holding.
Great, she thought. Hoodwinked by two four-year-olds.
“Righto, boys,” she said. “Time to go back to the house for lunch. What’s on the menu today?”
Myles sheathed his sword. “I would like a croque madame, with chilled grape juice.”
“Bugs,” said Beckett, hopping on one foot. “Bugs in ketchup.”
Juliet hiked Myles onto her shoulder and jumped down from the tower’s low wall. “Same as yesterday, then, boys.”
Memo to self, she thought. Wash your hands.
The boys were waist high in the pasture when the faraway chaos began. Beckett paid the sudden distant cacophony little attention as his internal soundtrack generally featured explosions and screaming, but Myles knew something was wrong.
He headed back to the Martello tower and clambered up the stone steps, displaying a lack of motor skills reminiscent of Artemis, which amused Beckett greatly, as he was sure-footed to the same extent his brothers were not.
“Armageddon,” Myles announced when he reached the top step. “The end of the world.”
Beckett was dismayed. “Not Disneyland too!”
t ruffled his sun-bleached hair. “No, of course not Disneyland.” In her stomach she felt a growling of disquiet. Where were these noises coming from? It sounded as though there was a war zone nearby.
Juliet followed Myles to the compacted mud floor on top of the tower. From there they had a clear view down into the distant city. Usually the only sounds to ride the breeze this far north were the occasional beeps of traffic-jammed horns from cars stuck on the ring road. But today the highway to Dublin seemed more like the road to hell. Even from this distance, it was clear that the six lanes of traffic had come to a complete stop. Several engines exploded as they watched, and a pickup truck threw an unexpected forward flip. Farther into the city, bigger explosions rumbled from behind buildings and smoke belches drifted into the afternoon sky, a sky that had troubles of its own as a small aircraft landed in the center of a soccer stadium and an honest-to-God communications satellite dropped from space like a dead robot onto the roof of the U2 hotel.
Beckett climbed the steps and took Juliet’s hand.
“It is Harma-geddon,” he said quietly. “The world is going boom.”
Juliet pulled the boys close. Whatever was developing seemed too big to be directed specifically at the Fowl family, though there was a growing list of people who would happily destroy the entire county of Dublin just to get at Artemis.
“Don’t worry, boys,” she said. “I will protect you.”
She reached into her pocket. In situations like this where things were violently weird, the first course of action was always the same: Call Artemis.
She scrolled through the list of networks on her phone and was not overly surprised to see that the only available one was the FOX system that Artemis had set up for emergency secure calls.
I imagine that Artemis is the only teenager in the world to have built and launched his own satellite.
She was about to select Artemis’s name from her contacts when a bulky forearm appeared in space ten feet in front of her. There was a hand at the end of the arm, and it clutched a fairy Neutrino blaster.
“’Nighty-’night, Mud Wench,” said a voice from nowhere, and a blue bolt of crackling power erupted from the tip of the weapon.
Juliet was familiar enough with fairy weapons to know that she would survive a blue bolt, but that she would probably suffer a contact burn and wake up inside a cocoon of pain.
Sorry, my boys, she thought. I have failed you.
Then the bolt from Pip’s weapon hit her in the chest, scorched her jacket, and knocked her from the tower.
Oro of the Berserkers felt a moment of doubt.
Perhaps this anticipation of freedom is merely a yearning, he thought.
No. This was more than his own longing. The key was coming. He could feel the rush of power as it approached their tomb.
Gather yourselves, he sent down to his warriors. When the gate is open, take whatever shape you must. Anything that lives or has lived can be ours.
Oro felt the earth shake with the roar of his warriors.
Or perhaps that was mere yearning.
Tara Shuttleport, Ireland
When Captain Holly Short attempted to dock in her assigned shuttle bay, she found Tara’s electromagnetic clamps to be inoperable and so was forced to improvise a landing in the gate’s access tunnel. This was more or less what the Tara shuttleport supervisor would write in his Extraordinary Incident report when he got out of rehab, but the sentence did not convey the sheer trauma of the situation.
For their entire approach, Holly’s instruments had assured her that everything was hunky-dory; and then, just as she swung the Silver Cupid’s tail around to dock with the clamps, Tara’s flight-control computer had made a noise like raw meat hitting a wall at speed, then shut itself down, leaving Holly with no choice but to reverse into the shuttleport’s access tunnel and pray that there were no unauthorized personnel in there.
Metal crumpled, Plexiglas shattered, and fiber-optic cables stretched like warm toffee and snapped. The Silver Cupid’s reinforced hide took the punishment, but the hood ornament flew off like its namesake and would be found three months later in the belly of a soda machine, corroded to a barely recognizable stick figure.
Holly hauled on the brake as sparks and shards rained down, pockmarking the windshield. Her pilot’s gyro harness had absorbed most of the shock meant for her body, but Artemis and Butler had been tossed around like beads in a rattle.
“Everybody alive?” she called over her shoulder, and the assortment of groans that wafted back confirmed her passengers’ survival, if not their intact survival.
Artemis crawled out from under Butler’s protective huddle and checked the shuttle’s readings. Blood dripped from a slit on the youth’s brow, but he appeared not to notice.
“You need to find a way out, Holly.”
Holly almost giggled. Driving the Cupid out of here would mean willfully destroying an entire LEP installation. She would not just be tearing up the rulebook; she would be shredding the pages, then mixing them with troll dung, baking the concoction, and tossing the biscuits on a campfire.
“Dung biscuits,” she muttered, which made no sense if you didn’t know her train of thought.
“You may be making dung biscuits of the rulebook,” said Artemis, who could apparently track trains of thought, “but Opal must be stopped for all our sakes.”
Artemis capitalized on her hesitation. “Holly. These are extraordinary circumstances,” he said urgently. “Do you remember Butler’s phrase? Kill box. That’s where my brothers are at this moment. In the kill box. And you know how much Juliet will sacrifice to save them.”
Butler leaned forward, grasping a hanging hand-grip loop and pulling it from its housing in the process.
“Think tactically,” he said, instinctively knowing how to galvanize the fairy captain. “We need to proceed under the assumption that we are the only small force standing between Opal and whatever form of world domination her twisted mind has cooked up in solitary. And remember, she was prepared to sacrifice herself. She planned for it. We need to go. Now, soldier!”
Butler was right, and Holly knew it.
“Okay,” she said, punching parameters into the Cupid’s route finder. “You asked for it.”
A sprite in a hi-vis jacket was flying down the access tunnel, wings tapping the curved walls in his haste. Sprite wing tips were sensitive bio-sonar sensors that took decades to heal, so the sprite must have been in some considerable distress for such reckless flight.
Holly moaned. “It’s Nander Thall. Mister By-the-Book.”
Thall was paranoid that the humans would somehow contaminate Haven on the way in, or steal something on the way out, so he insisted on full scans every time the Cupid docked.
“Just go,” Butler urged. “We don’t have time for Thall’s regulations.”
Nander Thall hollered at them through a megaphone. “Power down, Captain Short. What in Frond’s name do you think you are doing? I knew you were a wild card, Short. I knew it. Unstable.”
“No time,” said Artemis. “No time.”
Thall hovered two feet from the windshield. “I’m a-looking in your eyeball, Short, and I see chaos. We’re in lockdown here. The shield has failed, do you understand that? All it would take is some Mud Man with a shovel to unearth the entire shuttleport. It’s all hands to the fortifications, Short. Power down. I’m giving you a direct order.”
Nander Thall’s eyes bulged in their sockets like goose eggs, and his wings beat erratically. This was a sprite on the edge.
“Do you think if we ask for permission, he will let us go in time?” said Artemis.
Holly doubted it. The access tunnel stretched out behind Thall, passengers huddled nervously in the pools of light cast by emergency beacons. The situation would be difficult enough to contain without her driving up the panic levels.
The onboard computer beeped, displaying the optimum escape route on the screen, and it was this beep that sp
“Sorry,” she mouthed at Nander Thall. “Gotta go.”
Thall’s wings beat with nervous rapidity. “Don’t you mouth Sorry at me! And you do not gotta go anywhere.”
But Holly was sorry and she did gotta go. So she went. Straight up toward the luggage conveyor, which generally trundled overhead, luggage floating along on a transparent smart-water canal that displayed the identity of the owner through the Plexiglas. Now the conveyor canal was stagnant, and the suitcases bumped each other like abandoned skiffs.
Holly nudged the joystick with one thumb, settling the Cupid into the canal, which the computer assured her was wide enough to accommodate the vehicle. It was, with barely an inch to spare on each side of the wheel arches.
Incredibly, Nander Thall was in pursuit. He bobbed alongside the canal, his comb-over blown back like a windsock, shouting into his little megaphone.
Holly shrugged theatrically. “Can’t hear you,” she mouthed. “Sorry.”
And she left the sprite swearing at the baggage tunnel, which flowed in gentle sloped circles toward the Arrivals hall.
Holly piloted the Cupid along the tunnel’s curves, guided by twin headlights that revealed Plexiglas walls embedded with miles of dead circuitry. Dim shapes could be seen beavering at circuit boxes, stripping out smoking capacitors and fuses.
“Dwarfs,” said Holly. “They make the best electricians. No lighting required, and small dark spaces a bonus. Plus, they eat the dead components.”
“Seriously?” wondered Butler.
“Absolutely. Mulch assures me that copper is very cleansing.”
Artemis did not involve himself in the conversation. It was trivial, and he was deep in visualization mode, picturing every conceivable scenario that would face them when they reached Fowl Manor, and plotting how to emerge from these scenarios as the victor.