اصلی Artemis Fowl
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ممکن تاسی علاقمند شی Powered by Rec2Me
came out as a bunch of gibberish :/
18 May 2021 (08:21)
(the file download, not the book ofc)
18 May 2021 (08:22)
Yep!?But the book is good?
14 September 2021 (11:04)
Yes it’s a very good book
17 March 2022 (22:06)
this is just for a class thing
13 June 2022 (00:49)
Artemis Fowl Artemis Fowl II is the son of a European crime lord, Artemis Senior. At the beginning of the book, his father has disappeared, along with the family's fortune, and as a result his mother has gone into a catatonic state. Along with his friend and bodyguard Butler, Fowl discovers the existence of fairies and in order to capture one, decodes their Book. He eventually manages to capture LEPrecon officer Captain Hol y Short, whom he then proceeds to hold hostage for money. LEPrecon Commander Julius Root soon finds out, and leads an attack against the "Mud Man" – what the fairies refer to humans as – in order to take Hol y back. To do this, they recruit the fabulously flatulent dwarf Mulch Diggums, to tunnel into Fowl Manor. However, Fowl remains ahead of the posse and manages to escape unharmed. The desperate fairies attempt to stop time and "blue rinse" Fowl's house (which works like an atomic bomb) except that it only affects living beings. However, Fowl notices that his mother has, because of her condition, escaped the stop. He uses some of her sleeping pills to escape, to the surprise of the fairies. Artemis gets to keep the gold, which is actual y a ransom fund for the LEPrecon, but exchanges half of it in order to revive his mother..... By now you have the idea and can see why this innovative piece of children's literature has been called..."Sort of like James Bond, Encyclopaedia Brown, and Grimms al rol ed up in one. Highly entertaining." and "a roller coaster of a plot introducing a host of high jinks and high-tech weaponry blending derring-do with snappy prose, memorable characters, and sly humour . . ... a crackling read." 1 of 1 Artemis Fowl * Pub. Date: August 2009 * Publisher: Disney Book Group * Age Range: 9 to 12 * Series: Artemis Fowl Series , #1 * ISBN-13: 9781423132172 * ISBN: 1423132173 Synopsis From a strikingly original voice in fiction comes the story of Artemis Fowl, a ver; y unusual hero. Artemis combines the astuteness of Sherlock Holmes with the sangfroid of James Bond and the attitude of Attila the Hun. But even Artemis doesn't know what he's taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of LEPrecon Unit. These aren't the fairies of bedtime stories. These fairies are armed and they're dangerous. Artemis thinks he's got them just where he wants them, but then they stop playing by the rules . . . Full of unexpected twists and turns, Artemis Fowl opens up a riveting world of magic, mystery, and humor. Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl PROLOGUE How does one describe Artemis Fowl? Various psychiatrists have tried and failed. The main problem is Artemis’s own intelligence. He bamboozles every test thrown at him. He has puzzled the greatest medical minds and sent many of them gibbering to their own hospitals. There is no doubt that Artemis is a child prodigy. But why does someone of such brilliance dedicate himself to criminal activities? This is a question that can be answered by only one person. And he delights in not talking. Perhaps the best way to create an accurate picture of Artemis is to tell the by now famous account of his first villainous venture. I have put together this report from first-hand interviews with the victims, and as the tale unfolds you will realize that this was not easy. The story began several years ago, at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Artemis Fowl had devised a plan to restore his family’s fortune. A plan that could topple civilizations and plunge the planet into a cross-species war. He was twelve years old at the time ... CHAPTER 1: THE BOOK HO Chi Minh City in the summer. Sweltering by anyone’s standards. Needless to say, Artemis Fowl would not have been willing to put up with such discomfort if something extremely important had not been at stake. Important to the plan. Sun did not suit Artemis. He did not look well in it. Long hours indoors in front of the monitor had bleached the glow from his skin. He was white as a vampire and almost as testy in the light of day. ‘I hope this isn’t another wild-goose chase, Butler,’ he said, his voice soft and clipped. ‘Especially after Cairo.’ It was a gentle rebuke. They had travelled to Egypt on the word of Butler’s informant. ‘No, sir. I’m certain this time. Nguyen is a good man.’ ‘Hmm,’ droned Artemis, unconvinced. Passers-by would have been amazed to hear the large Eurasian refer to the boy as sir. This was, after all, the third millennium. But this was no ordinary relationship, and these were no ordinary tourists. They were sitting outside a kerbside cafe on Dong Khai Street, watching the local teenagers circle the square on mopeds. Nguyen was late, and the pathetic patch of shade provided by the umbrella was doing little to improve Artemis’s mood. But this was just his daily pessimism. Beneath the sulk was a spark of hope. Could this trip actually yield results? Would they find the Book? It was too much to hope for. A waiter scurried to their table. ‘More tea, sirs?’ he asked, head bobbing furiously. Artemis sighed. ‘Spare me the theatrics and sit down.’ The waiter turned instinctively to Butler, who was, after all, the adult. ‘But, sir, I am the waiter.’ Artemis tapped the table for attention. ‘You are wearing handmade loafers, a silk shirt and three gold signet rings. Your English has a tinge of Oxford about it and your nails have the soft sheen of the recently manicured. You are not a waiter. You are our contact, Nguyen Xuan, and you have adopted this pathetic disguise to discreetly check for weaponry.’ Nguyen’s shoulders sagged. ‘It is true. Amazing.’ ‘Hardly. A ragged apron does not a waiter make.’ Nguyen sat, pouring some mint tea into a tiny china cup. ‘Let me fill you in on the weapons status,’ continued Artemis. ‘I am unarmed. But Butler here, my…ah…butler, has a Sig Sauer in his shoulder holster, two shrike throwing knives in his boots, a derringer two-shot up his sleeve, garrotte wire in his watch and three stun grenades concealed in various pockets. Anything else, Butler?’ ‘The cosh, sir.’ ‘Oh yes. A good old ball-bearing cosh stuffed down his shirt.’ Nguyen brought the cup trembling to his lips. ‘Don’t be alarmed, Mister Xuan,’ smiled Artemis. ‘The weapons will not be used on you.’ Nguyen didn’t seem reassured. ‘No,’ continued Artemis. ‘Butler could kill you a hundred different ways without the use of his armoury. Though I’m sure one would be quite sufficient.’ Nguyen was by now thoroughly spooked. Artemis generally had that effect on people. A pale adolescent speaking with the authority and vocabulary of a powerful adult. Nguyen had heard the name Fowl before - who hadn’t in the international underworld? - but he’d assumed he’d be dealing with Artemis Senior, not this boy. Though the word ‘boy’ hardly seemed to do this gaunt individual justice. And the giant, Butler. It was obvious that he could snap a man’s backbone like a twig with those mammoth hands. Nguyen was starting to think that no amount of money was worth another minute in this strange company. ‘And now to business,’ said Artemis, placing a micro recorder on the table. ‘You answered our web advertisement.’ Nguyen nodded, suddenly praying his information was accurate. ‘Yes, Mister…Master Fowl. What you’re looking for…I know where it is.’ ‘Really? And am I supposed to take your word for this? You could be walking me straight into an ambush. My family is not without enemies.’ Butler snatched a mosquito out of the air beside his employer’s ear. ‘No, no,’ said Nguyen, reaching for his wallet. ‘Here, look.’ Artemis studied the Polaroid. He willed his heart to maintain a calm beat. It seemed promising, but anything could be faked these days with a PC and flatbed scanner. The picture showed a hand reaching from layered shadows. A mottled green hand. ‘Hmm,’ he murmured. ‘Explain.’ ‘This woman. She is a healer, near Tu Do Street. She works in exchange for rice wine. All the time, drunk.’ Artemis nodded. It made sense. The drinking. One of the few consistent facts his research had unearthed. He stood, smoothing the creases from his white polo shirt. ‘Very well. Lead on, Mister Nguyen.’ Nguyen wiped the sweat from his stringy moustache. ‘Information only. That was the agreement. I don’t want any curses on my head.’ Butler expertly gripped the informant behind the neck. ‘I’m sorry, Mister Nguyen, but the time when you had a choice in matters is long past.’ Butler steered the protesting Vietnamese to a rented four-wheel drive that was hardly necessary on the flat streets of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as the locals still called it, but Artemis preferred to be as insulated from civilians as possible. The jeep inched forward at a painfully slow rate, made all the more excruciating by the anticipation building in Artemis’s chest. He could suppress it no longer. Could they at last be at the end of their quest? After six false alarms across three continents, could this wine-sodden healer be the gold at the end of the rainbow? Artemis almost chuckled. Gold at the end of the rainbow. He’d made a joke. Now there’s something that didn’t happen every day. The mopeds parted like fish in a giant shoal. There seemed to be no end to the crowds. Even the alleyways were full to bursting with vendors and hagglers. Cooks dropped fish heads into woks of hissing oil, and urchins threaded their way underfoot, searching for unguarded valuables. Others sat in the shade, wearing out their thumbs on Gameboys. Nguyen was sweating right through his khaki top. It wasn’t the humidity, he was used to that. It was this whole cursed situation. He should have known better than to mix magic and crime. He made a silent promise that if he got out of this, he would change his ways. No more answering shady Internet requests, and certainly no more consorting with the sons of European crime lords. The jeep could go only so far. Eventually the side streets grew too narrow for the four-wheel drive. Artemis turned to Nguyen. ‘It seems we must proceed on foot, Mister Nguyen. Run if you like, but expect a sharp and fatal pain between your shoulder blades.’ Nguyen glanced into Butler’s eyes. They were a deep blue, almost black. There was no mercy in those eyes. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I won’t run.’ They climbed down from the vehicle. A thousand suspicious eyes followed their progress along the steaming alley. An unfortunate pickpocket attempted to steal Butler’s wallet. The manservant broke the man’s fingers without looking down. They were given a wide berth after that. The alley narrowed to a rutted lane. Sewage and drainpipes fed directly on to the muddy surface. Cripples and beggars huddled on rice-mat islands. Most of the residents of this lane had nothing to spare, with the exception of three. ‘Well?’ demanded Artemis. ‘Where is she?’ Nguyen jabbed a finger towards a black triangle beneath a rusted fire escape. ‘There. Under there. She never comes out. Even to buy rice spirits, she sends a runner. Now, can I go?’ Artemis didn’t bother answering. Instead he picked his way across the puddled lane to the lee of the fire escape. He could discern furtive movements in the shadows. ‘Butler, could you hand me the goggles?’ Butler plucked a set of night-vision glasses from his belt and placed them in Artemis’s outstretched hand. The focus motor buzzed to suit the light. Artemis fixed the glasses to his face. Everything became radioactive green.Taking a deep breath, he turned his gaze to the squirming shadows. Something squatted on a raffia mat, shifting uneasily in the almost non-existent light. Artemis fine-tuned the focus. The figure was small, abnormally so, and wrapped in a filthy shawl. Empty spirit jugs were half-buried in the mud around her. One forearm poked from the material. It seemed green. But then, so did everything else. ‘Madam,’ he said, ‘I have a proposition for you.’ The figure’s head wobbled sleepily. ‘Wine,’ she rasped, her voice like nails on a school board. ‘Wine, English.’ Artemis smiled. The gift of tongues, aversion to light. Check, check. ‘Irish, actually. Now, about my proposition?’ The healer shook a bony finger craftily. ‘Wine first. Then talk.’ ‘Butler?’ The bodyguard reached into a pocket and drew out a half-pint of the finest Irish whiskey. Artemis took the bottle and held it teasingly beyond the shadows. He barely had time to remove his goggles when the claw-like hand darted from the gloom to snatch the whiskey. A mottled green hand. There was no doubt. Artemis swallowed a triumphant grin. ‘Pay our friend, Butler. In full. Remember, Mister Nguyen, this is between us. You don’t want Butler to come back, do you?’ ‘No, no, Master Fowl. My lips are sealed.’ ‘They had better be. Or Butler will seal them permanently.’ Nguyen skipped off down the alley, so relieved to be alive that he didn’t even bother counting the sheaf of US currency. Most unlike him. In any event, it was all there. All twenty thousand dollars. Not bad for half an hour’s work. Artemis turned back to the healer. ‘Now, madam, you have something that I want.’ The healer’s tongue caught a drop of alcohol at the corner of her mouth. ‘Yes, Irish. Sore head. Bad tooth. I heal.’ Artemis replaced the night-vision goggles and squatted to her level. ‘I am perfectly healthy, madam, apart from a slight dust-mite allergy, and I don’t think even you can do anything about that. No. What I want from you is your Book.’ The hag froze. Bright eyes glinted from beneath the shawl. ‘Book?’ she said cautiously. ‘I don’t know about no book. I am healer. You want book, go to library.’ Artemis sighed with exaggerated patience. ‘You are no healer. You are a sprite, p’shóg, fairy, ka-dalun. Whichever language you prefer to use. And I want your Book.’ For a long moment the creature said nothing, then she threw back the shawl from her forehead. In the green glow of the night-vision goggles, her features leaped at Artemis like a Hallowe’en mask. The fairy’s nose was long and hooked under two slitted golden eyes. Her ears were pointed, and the alcohol addiction had melted her skin like putty. ‘If you know about the Book, human,’ she said slowly, fighting the numbing effects of the whiskey, ‘then you know about the magic I have in my fist. I can kill you with a snap of my fingers!’ Artemis shrugged. ‘I think not. Look at you. You are near dead. The rice wine has dulled your senses. Reduced to healing warts. Pathetic. I am here to save you, in return for the Book.’ ‘What could a human want with our Book?’ ‘That is no concern of yours. All you need to know are your options.’ The sprite’s pointed ears quivered. Options? ‘One, you refuse to give us the Book and we go home, leaving you to rot in this sewer.’ ‘Yes,’ said the fairy. ‘I choose this option.’ ‘Ah no. Don’t be so eager. If we leave without the Book, you will be dead in a day.’ ‘A day! A day!’The healer laughed. ‘I will outlive you by a century. Even fairies tethered to the human realm can survive the ages.’ ‘Not with half a pint of holy water inside them,’ said Artemis, tapping the now empty whiskey bottle. The fairy blanched, then screamed, a high keening horrible sound. ‘Holy water! You have murdered me, human.’ ‘True,’ admitted Artemis. ‘It should start to burn any minute now.’ The fairy poked her stomach tentatively. ‘The second option?’ ‘Listening now, are we? Very well then. Option two. You give me the Book for thirty minutes only. Then I return your magic to you.’ The sprite’s jaw dropped. ‘Return my magic? Not possible.’ ‘Oh but it is. I have in my possession two ampoules. One, a vial of spring water from the fairy well sixty metres below the ring of Tara - possibly the most magical place on earth. This will counteract the holy water.’ ‘And the other?’ ‘The other is a little shot of man-made magic. A virus that feeds on alcohol, mixed with a growth reagent. It will flush every drop of rice wine from your body, remove the dependence and even bolster your failing liver. It’ll be messy, but after a day you’ll be zipping around as though you were a thousand years old again.’ The sprite licked her lips. To be able to rejoin the People? Tempting. ‘How do I know to trust you, human? You have tricked me once already.’ ‘Good point. Here’s the deal. I give you the water on faith. Then, after I’ve had a look at the Book, you get the booster. Take it or leave it.’ The fairy considered. The pain was already curling around her abdomen. She thrust out her wrist. ‘I take it.’ ‘I thought you might. Butler?’ The giant manservant unwrapped a soft Velcroed case containing a syringe gun and two vials. He loaded the clear one, shooting it into the sprite’s clammy arm. The fairy stiffened momentarily, and then relaxed. ‘Strong magic,’ she breathed. ‘Yes. But not as strong as your own will be when I give you the second injection. Now, the Book.’ The sprite reached into the folds of her filthy robe, rummaging for an age. Artemis held his breath. This was it. Soon the Fowls would be great again. A new empire would rise, with Artemis Fowl the Second at its head. The fairy woman withdrew a closed fist. ‘No use to you anyway. Written in the old tongue.’ Artemis nodded, not trusting himself to speak. She opened her knobbly fingers. Lying in her palm was a tiny golden volume the size of a matchbox. ‘Here, human. Thirty of your minutes. No more.’ Butler took the tiny tome reverentially. The bodyguard activated a compact digital camera and began photographing each wafer-thin page of the Book. The process took several minutes. When he was finished, the entire volume was stored on the camera’s chip. Artemis preferred not to take chances with information. Airport security equipment had been known to wipe many a vital disk. So he instructed his aide to transfer the file to his portable phone and from there e-mail it to Fowl Manor in Dublin. Before the thirty minutes were up, the file containing every symbol in the Fairy Book was sitting safely in the Fowl server. Artemis returned the tiny volume to its owner. ‘Nice doing business with you.’ The sprite lurched to her knees. ‘The other potion, human?’ Artemis smiled. ‘Oh yes, the restoring booster. I suppose I did promise.’ ‘Yes. Human promised.’ ‘Very well. But before we administer it, I must warn you that purging is not pleasant. You’re not going to enjoy this one bit.’ The fairy gestured around her at the squalid filth. ‘You think I enjoy this? I want to fly again.’ Butler loaded the second vial, shooting this one straight into the carotid artery. The sprite immediately collapsed on the mat, her entire frame quivering violently. ‘Time to leave,’ commented Artemis. ‘A hundred years of alcohol leaving a body by any means possible is not a pretty sight.’ The Butlers had been serving the Fowls for centuries. It had always been the way. Indeed there were several eminent linguists of the opinion that this was how the noun originated. The first record of this unusual arrangement was when Virgil Butler had been contracted as servant, bodyguard and cook to Lord Hugo de Pole for one of the first great Norman crusades. At the age of ten, Butler children were sent to a private training centre in Israel, where they were taught the specialized skills necessary to guard the latest in the Fowl line. These skills included cordon bleu cooking, marksmanship, a customized blend of martial arts, emergency medicine and information technology. If, at the end of their training, there was not a Fowl to guard, then the Butlers were eagerly snapped up as bodyguards for various royal personages, generally in Monaco or Saudi Arabia. Once a Fowl and a Butler were put together, they were paired for life. It was a demanding job, and lonely, but the rewards were handsome if you survived to enjoy them. If not, then your family received a six-figure settlement plus a monthly pension. The current Butler had been guarding young Master Artemis for twelve years, since the moment of his birth. And, though they adhered to the age-old formalities, they were much more than master and servant. Artemis was the closest thing Butler had to a friend, and Butler was the closest Artemis had to a father, albeit one who obeyed orders. Butler held his tongue until they were aboard the Heathrow connection from Bangkok, then he had to ask. ‘Artemis?’ Artemis looked up from the screen of his PowerBook. He was getting a head start on the translation. ‘Yes?’ ‘The sprite. Why didn’t we simply keep the Book and leave her to die?’ ‘A corpse is evidence, Butler. My way, the People will have no reason to be suspicious.’ ‘But the sprite?’ ‘I hardly think she will confess to showing humans the Book. In any case, I mixed a slight amnesiac into her second injection. When she finally wakes up, the last week will be a blur.’ Butler nodded appreciatively. Always two steps ahead, that was Master Artemis. People said he was a chip off the old block. They were wrong. Master Artemis was a brand-new block, the likes of which had never been seen before. Doubts assuaged, Butler returned to his copy of Guns and Ammo, leaving his employer to unravel the secrets of the universe. CHAPTER 2: TRANSLATION BY now, you must have guessed just how far Artemis Fowl was prepared to go in order to achieve his goal. But what exactly was this goal? What outlandish scheme would involve the blackmailing of an alcohol-addicted sprite? The answer was gold. Artemis’s search had begun two years previously when he first became interested in surfing the Internet. He quickly found the more arcane sites: alien abduction, UFO sightings and the supernatural. But most specifically the existence of the People. Trawling through gigabytes of data, he found hundreds of references to fairies from nearly every country in the world. Each civilization had its own term for the People, but they were undoubtedly members of the same hidden family. Several stories mentioned a Book carried by each fairy. It was their Bible, containing, as it allegedly did, the history of their race and the commandments that governed their extended lives. Of course, this Book was written in Gnommish, the fairy text, and would be of no use to any human. Artemis believed that with today’s technology the Book could be translated. And with this translation you could begin to exploit a whole new group of creatures. Know thine enemy was Artemis’s motto, so he immersed himself in the lore of the People until he had compiled a huge database on their characteristics. But it wasn’t enough. So Artemis put out a call on the Web: Irish businessman will pay large amount of US dollars to meet a fairy, sprite, leprechaun, pixie. The responses had been mostly fraudulent, but Ho Chi Minh City had paid off. Artemis was perhaps the only person alive who could take full advantage of his recent acquisition. He still retained a childlike belief in magic, tempered by an adult determination to exploit it. If there was anybody capable of relieving the fairies of some of their magical gold, it was Artemis Fowl the Second. It was early morning before they reached Fowl Manor. Artemis was anxious to bring up the file on his computer, but first he decided to call in on Mother. Angeline Fowl was bedridden. She had been since her husband’s disappearance. Nervous tension, the physicians said. Nothing for it but rest and sleeping pills. That was almost a year ago. Butler’s little sister, Juliet, was sitting at the foot of the stairs. Her gaze was boring a hole in the wall. Even the glitter mascara couldn’t soften her expression. Artemis had seen that look already, just before Juliet had suplexed a particularly cheeky pizza boy. The suplex, Artemis gathered, was a wrestling move. An unusual obsession for a teenage girl. But then again she was, after all, a Butler. ‘Problems, Juliet?’ Juliet straightened hurriedly. ‘My own fault, Artemis. Apparently I left a gap in the curtains. Mrs Fowl couldn’t sleep.’ ‘Hmm,’ muttered Artemis, scaling the oak staircase slowly. He worried about his mother’s condition. She hadn’t seen the light of day in a long time now. Then again, should she miraculously recover, emerging revitalized from her bedchamber, it would signal the end of Artemis’s own extraordinary freedom. It would be back off to school, and no more spearheading criminal enterprises for you, my lad. He knocked gently on the arched double doors. ‘Mother? Are you awake?’ Something smashed against the other side of the door. It sounded expensive. ‘Of course I’m awake! How can I sleep in this blinding glare?’ Artemis ventured inside. An antique four-poster bed threw shadowy spires in the darkness, and a pale sliver of light poked through a gap in the velvet curtains. Angeline Fowl sat hunched on the bed, her pale limbs glowing white in the gloom. ‘Artemis, darling, where have you been?’ Artemis sighed. She recognized him. That was a good sign. ‘School trip, Mother. Skiing in Austria.’ ‘Ah, skiing,’ crooned Angeline. ‘How I miss it. Maybe when your father returns.’ Artemis felt a lump in his throat. Most uncharacteristic. ‘Yes. Perhaps when Father returns.’ ‘Darling, could you close those wretched curtains. The light is intolerable.’ ‘Of course, Mother.’ Artemis felt his way across the room, wary of the low-level clothes chests scattered about the floor. Finally his fingers curled around the velvet drapes. For a moment he was tempted to throw them wide open, then he sighed and closed the gap. ‘Thank you, darling. By the way, we really have to get rid of that maid. She is good for absolutely nothing.’ Artemis held his tongue. Juliet had been a hardworking and loyal member of the Fowl household for the past three years. Time to use Mother’s absent-mindedness to his advantage. ‘You’re right of course, Mother. I’ve been meaning to do it for some time. Butler has a sister I believe would be perfect for the position. I think I’ve mentioned her. Juliet?’ Angeline frowned. ‘Juliet? Yes, the name does seem familiar. Well, anyone would be better than that silly girl we have now. When can she start?’ ‘Straight away. I’ll have Butler fetch her from the lodge.’ ‘You’re a good boy, Artemis. Now give Mummy a hug.’ Artemis stepped into the shadowy folds of his mother’s robe. She smelled perfumed, like petals in water. But her arms were cold and weak. ‘Oh, darling,’ she whispered, and the sound sent goosebumps popping down Artemis’s neck. ‘I hear things. At night. They crawl along the pillows and into my ears.’ Artemis felt that lump in his throat again. ‘Perhaps we should open the curtains, Mother.’ ‘No,’ his mother sobbed, releasing him from her grasp. ‘No. Because then I could see them too.’ ‘Mother, please.’ But it was no use. Angeline was gone. She crawled to the far corner of the bed, pulling the quilt under her chin. ‘Send the new girl.’ ‘Yes, Mother.’ ‘Send her with cucumber slices and water.’ ‘Yes, Mother.’ Angeline glared at him with crafty eyes. ‘And stop calling me Mother. I don’t know who you are, but you’re certainly not my little Arty.’ Artemis blinked back a few rebellious tears. ‘Of course. Sorry, Moth - Sorry.’ ‘Hmm. Don’t come back here again, or I’ll have my husband take care of you. He’s a very important man, you know.’ ‘Very well, Mrs Fowl. This is the last you’ll see of me.’ ‘It had better be.’ Angeline froze suddenly. ‘Do you hear them?’ Artemis shook his head. ‘No. I don’t hear any -’ ‘They’re coming for me. They’re everywhere.’ Angeline dived for cover beneath the bedclothes. Artemis could still hear her terrified sobs as he descended the marble staircase. The Book was proving far more stubborn than Artemis had anticipated. It seemed to be almost actively resisting him. No matter which program he ran it through, the computer came up blank. Artemis hard-copied every page, tacking them to the walls of his study. Sometimes it helped to have things on paper. The script was like nothing he’d seen before, and yet it was strangely familiar. Obviously a mixture of symbolic and character-based language, the text meandered around the page in no apparent order. What the program needed was some frame of reference, some central point on which to build. He separated all the characters and ran comparisons with English, Chinese, Greek, Arabic and Cyrillic texts, even with Ogham. Nothing. Moody with frustration, Artemis sent Juliet scurrying when she interrupted with sandwiches, and moved on to symbols. The most frequently recurring pictogram was a small male figure. Male, he presumed, though with the limited knowledge of the fairy anatomy he supposed it could be female. A thought struck him. Artemis opened the ancient languages file on his Power Translator and selected Egyptian. At last. A hit. The male symbol was remarkably similar to the Anubis god representation on Tutankhamen’s inner-chamber hieroglyphics. This was consistent with his other findings. The first written human stories were about fairies, suggesting that their civilization predated man’s own. It would seem that the Egyptians had simply adapted an existing scripture to suit their needs. There were other resemblances. But the characters were just dissimilar enough to slip through the computer’s net. This would have to be done manually. Each Gnommish figure had to be enlarged, printed and then compared with the hieroglyphs. Artemis felt the excitement of success thumping inside his ribcage. Almost every fairy pictogram or letter had an Egyptian counterpart. Most were universal, such as the sun or birds. But some seemed exclusively supernatural and had to be tailored to fit. The Anubis figure, for example, would make no sense as a dog god, so Artemis altered it to read king of the fairies. By midnight, Artemis had successfully fed his findings into the Macintosh. All he had to do now was press ‘Decode’. He did so. What emerged was a long, intricate string of meaningless gibberish. A normal child would have abandoned the task long since. The average adult would probably have been reduced to slapping the keyboard. But not Artemis. This book was testing him and he would not allow it to win. The letters were right, he was certain of it. It was just the order that was wrong. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Artemis glared at the pages again. Each segment was bordered by a solid line. This could represent paragraphs or chapters, but they were not meant to be read in the usual left to right, top to bottom fashion. Artemis experimented. He tried the Arabic right to left and the Chinese columns. Nothing worked. Then he noticed that each page had one thing in common - a central section. The other pictograms were arranged around this pivotal area. So a central starting point perhaps. But where to go from there? Artemis scanned the pages for some other common factor. After several minutes he found it. There was on each page a tiny spearhead in the corner of one section. Could this be an arrow? A direction? Go this way? So the theory would be start in the middle, then follow the arrow, reading in spirals. The computer program wasn’t built to handle something like this, so Artemis had to improvise. With a craft knife and ruler, he dissected the first page of the Book and reassembled it in the traditional Western languages order - left to right, parallel rows. Then he rescanned the page and fed it through the modified Egyptian translator. The computer hummed and whirred, converting all the information to binary. Several times it stopped to ask for confirmation of a character or symbol. This happened less and less as the machine learned the new language. Eventually two words flashed on the screen: File converted. Fingers shaking from exhaustion and excitement, Artemis clicked ‘Print’. A single page scrolled from the LaserWriter. It was in English now. Yes, there were mistakes, some fine-tuning needed, but it was perfectly legible and, more importantly, perfectly understandable. Fully aware that he was probably the first human in several thousand years to decode the magical words, Artemis switched on his desk light and began to read. The Booke of the People. Being instructions to our magicks and life rules Carry me always, carry me well. I am thy teacher of herb and spell. I am thy link to power arcane. Forget me and thy magick shall wane. Ten times ten commandments there be. They will answer every mystery. Cures, curses, alchemy. These secrets shall be thine, through me. But, Fairy, remember this above all. I am not for those in mud that crawl. And forever doomed shall be the one, Who betrays my secrets one by one. Artemis could hear the blood pumping in his ears. He had them. They would be as ants beneath his feet. Their every secret would be laid bare by technology. Suddenly the exhaustion claimed him and he sank back in his chair. There was so much yet to complete. Forty-three pages to be translated for a start. He pressed the intercom button that linked him to speakers all over the house. ‘Butler. Get Juliet and come up here. There are some jigsaws I need you to assemble.’ Perhaps a little family history would be useful at this point. The Fowls were, indeed, legendary criminals. For generations they had skirmished on the wrong side of the law, hoarding enough funds to become legitimate. Of course, once they were legitimate they found it not to their liking and returned almost immediately to crime. It was Artemis the First, our subject’s father, who had thrown the family fortune into jeopardy. With the break-up of communist Russia, Artemis Senior had decided to invest a huge chunk of the Fowl fortune in establishing new shipping lines to the vast continent. New consumers, he reasoned, would need new consumer goods. The Russian Mafia did not take too kindly to a Westerner muscling in on their market and so decided to send a little message. This message took the form of a stolen Stinger missile launched at the Fowl Star on her way past Murmansk. Artemis Senior was on board the ship, along with Butler’s uncle and 250,000 cans of cola. It was quite an explosion. The Fowls were not left destitute, far from it. But billionaire status was no longer theirs. Artemis the Second vowed to remedy this. He would restore the family fortune. And he would do it in his own unique fashion. Once the Book was translated, Artemis could begin planning in earnest. He already knew what the ultimate goal was, now he could figure out how to achieve it. Gold, of course, was the objective. The acquisition of gold. It seemed that the People were almost as fond of the precious metal as humans. Each fairy had its own cache, but not for much longer if Artemis had his way. There would be at least one of the fairy folk wandering around with empty pockets by the time he’d finished. After eighteen solid hours of sleep and a light continental breakfast, Artemis climbed to the study that he had inherited from his father. It was a traditional enough room - dark oak and floor-to-ceiling shelving - but Artemis had jammed it with the latest computer technology. A series of networked Apple Macs whirred from various corners of the room. One was running CNN’s web site through a DAT projector, throwing oversized current-affairs images against the back wall. Butler was there already, firing up the hard drives. ‘Shut them all down, except the Book. I need quiet for this.’ The manservant started. The CNN site had been running for almost a year. Artemis was convinced that news of his father’s rescue would come from there. Shutting it down meant that he was finally letting go. ‘All of them?’ Artemis glanced at the back wall for a moment. ‘Yes,’ he said finally. ‘All of them.’ Butler took the liberty of patting his employer gently on the shoulder, just once, before returning to work. Artemis cracked his knuckles. Time to do what he did best - plot dastardly acts. CHAPTER 3: HOLLY HOLLY Short was lying in bed having a silent fume. Nothing unusual about this. Leprechauns in general were not known for their geniality. But Holly was in an exceptionally bad mood, even for a fairy. Technically she was an elf, fairy being a general term. She was a leprechaun too, but that was just a job. Perhaps a description would be more helpful than a lecture on fairy genealogy. Holly Short had nut-brown skin, cropped auburn hair and hazel eyes. Her nose had a hook and her mouth was plump and cherubic, which was appropriate considering that Cupid was her great-grandfather. Her mother was a European elf with a fiery temper and a willowy figure. Holly, too, had a slim frame, with long tapered fingers perfect for wrapping around a buzz baton. Her ears, of course, were pointed. At exactly one metre in height, Holly was only a centimetre below the fairy average, but even one centimetre can make an awful lot of difference when you don’t have many to spare. Commander Root was the cause of Holly’s distress. Root had been on Holly’s case since day one. The commander had decided to take offence at the fact that the first female officer in Recon’s history had been assigned to his squad. Recon was a notoriously dangerous posting with a high fatality rate, and Root didn’t think it was any place for a girlie. Well, he was just going to have to get used to the idea, because Holly Short had no intention of quitting for him or anybody else. Though she’d never admit it, another possible cause for Holly’s irritability was the Ritual. She’d been meaning to perform it for several moons now, but somehow there just never seemed to be time. And if Root found out she was running low on magic, she’d be transferred to Traffic for sure. Holly rolled off her futon and stumbled into the shower. That was one advantage of living near the earth’s core - the water was always hot. No natural light, of course, but that was a small price to pay for privacy. Underground. The last human-free zone. There was nothing like coming home after a long day on the job, switching off your shield and sinking into a bubbling slime pool. Bliss. The fairy suited up, zipping the dull-green jumpsuit up to her chin and strapping on her helmet. LEPrecon uniforms were smart these days. Not like that top-o’-the-morning costume the force had had to wear back in the old days. Buckled shoes and knickerbockers! Honestly. No wonder leprechauns were such ridiculous figures in human folklore. Still, probably better that way. If the Mud People knew that the word ‘leprechaun’ actually originated from LEPrecon, an elite branch of the Lower Elements Police, they’d probably take steps to stamp them out. Better to stay inconspicuous and let the humans have their stereotypes. With the moon already rising on the surface, there was no time for a proper breakfast. Holly grabbed the remains of a nettle smoothie from the cooler and drank it in the tunnels. As usual there was chaos in the main thoroughfare. Airborne sprites jammed the avenue like stones in a bottle. The gnomes weren’t helping either, lumbering along with their big swinging behinds blocking two lanes. Swear toads infested every damp patch, cursing like sailors. That particular breed began as a joke but had multiplied into an epidemic. Someone lost their wand over that one. Holly battled through the crowds to the police station. There was already a riot outside Spud’s Spud Emporium. LEP Corporal Newt was trying to sort it out. Good luck to him. Nightmare. At least Holly got the chance to work above ground. The LEP station doors were crammed with protesters. The goblin/dwarf turf war had flared up again, and every morning hordes of angry parents showed up demanding the release of their innocent offspring. Holly snorted. If there actually was an innocent goblin, Holly Short had yet to meet him. They were clogging up the cells now, howling gang chants and hurling fireballs at each other. Holly shouldered her way into the throng. ‘Coming through,’ she grunted. ‘Police business.’ They were on her like flies on a stink-worm. ‘My Grumpo is innocent!’ ‘Police brutality!’ ‘Officer, could you take my baby in his blanky? He can’t sleep without it.’ Holly set her visor to reflect and ignored them all. Once upon a time the uniform would have earned you some respect. Not any more. Now you were a target. ‘Excuse me, Officer, but I seem to have misplaced my jar of warts.’ ‘Pardon me, young elf, but my cat’s climbed a stalactite.’ Or, ‘If you have a minute, Captain, could you tell me how to get to the Fountain of Youth?’ Holly shuddered. Tourists. She had troubles of her own. More than she knew, as she was about to find out. In the station lobby, a kleptomaniac dwarf was busy picking the pockets of everyone else in the booking line, including the officer he was handcuffed to. Holly gave him a swipe in the backside with her buzz baton. The electric charge singed the seat of his leather trousers. ‘Whatcha doing there, Mulch?’ Mulch started, contraband dropping from his sleeves. ‘Officer Short,’ he whined, his face a mask of regret, ‘I can’t help myself. It’s my nature.’ ‘I know that, Mulch. And it’s our nature to throw you in a cell for a couple of centuries.’ She winked at the dwarf’s arresting officer. ‘Nice to see you’re staying alert.’ The elf blushed, kneeling to pick up his wallet and badge. Holly forged past Root’s office, hoping she would make it to her cubicle before ... ‘SHORT! GET IN HERE!’ Holly sighed. Ah well. Here we go again. Stowing her helmet under her arm, Holly smoothed the creases from her uniform and stepped into Commander Root’s office. Root’s face was purple with rage. This was more or less his general state of existence, a fact that had earned him the nickname ‘Beetroot’. There was an office pool running on how long he had before his heart exploded. The smart money was on half a century, at the outside. Commander Root was tapping the moonometer on his wrist. ‘Well?’ he demanded. ‘What time do you call this?’ Holly could feel her own face colouring. She was barely a minute late. There were at least a dozen officers on this shift who hadn’t even reported in yet. But Root always singled her out for persecution. ‘The thoroughfare,’ she mumbled lamely. ‘There were four lanes down.’ ‘Don’t insult me with your excuses!’ roared the commander. ‘You know what the city centre is like! Get up a few minutes earlier!’ It was true, she did know what Haven was like. Holly Short was a city elf born and bred. Since the humans began experimenting with mineral drilling, more and more fairies had been driven out of the shallow forts and into the depth and security of Haven City. The metropolis was overcrowded and under-serviced. And now there was a lobby to allow automobiles in the pedestrianized city centre. As if the place wasn’t smelly enough already with all those country gnomes lumbering around the place. Root was right. She should get up a bit earlier. But she wouldn’t. Not until everybody else was forced to. ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ said Root. ‘Why am I picking on you every day? Why don’t I ever bawl out those other layabouts?’ Holly said nothing, but agreement was written all over her face. ‘I’ll tell you why, shall I?’ Holly risked a nod. ‘It’s because you’re a girl.’ Holly felt her fingers curl into fists. She knew it! ‘But not for the reasons you think,’ continued Root. ‘You are the first girl in Recon. Ever. You are a test case. A beacon. There are a million fairies out there watching your every move. There are a lot of hopes riding on you. But there is a lot of prejudice against you too. The future of law enforcement is in your hands. And at the moment, I’d say it was a little heavy.’ Holly blinked. Root had never said anything like this before. Usually it was just ‘Fix your helmet’, ‘Stand up straight’, blah blah blah. ‘You have to be the best you can be, Short, and that has to be better than anybody else.’ Root sighed, sinking into his swivel chair. ‘I don’t know, Holly. Ever since that Hamburg affair.’ Holly winced. The Hamburg affair had been a total disaster. One of her perps had skipped out to the surface and tried to bargain with the Mud People for asylum. Root had to stop time, call in the Retrieval Squad, and do four memory wipes. A lot of police time wasted. All her fault. The commander took a form from his desk. ‘It’s no use. I’ve made up my mind. I’m putting you on Traffic and bringing in Corporal Frond.’ ‘Frond!’ exploded Holly. ‘She’s a bimbo. An airhead. You can’t make her the test case!’ Root’s face turned an even deeper shade of purple. ‘I can and I will. Why shouldn’t I? You have never given me your best…Either that or your best just isn’t good enough. Sorry, Short, you had your chance ...’ The commander turned back to his paperwork. The meeting was over. Holly could only stand there, aghast. She’d blown it. The best career opportunity she was ever likely to get and she’d tossed it in the gutter. One mistake and her future was past. It wasn’t fair. Holly felt an uncharacteristic anger take hold of her, but she swallowed it. This was no time to lose her temper. ‘Commander Root, sir. I feel I deserve one more chance.’ Root didn’t even look up from the paperwork. ‘And why’s that?’ Holly took a deep breath. ‘Because of my record, sir. It speaks for itself, apart from the Hamburg thing. Ten successful recons. Not a single memory wipe or time-stop, apart from ...’ ‘The Hamburg thing,’ completed Root. Holly took a chance. ‘If I were a male - one of your precious sprites - we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.’ Root glanced up sharply. ‘Now, just a minute, Captain Short -’ He was interrupted by the bleeping of one of the phones on his desk. Then two, then three. A giant viewscreen crackled into life on the wall behind him. Root jabbed the speaker button, putting all the callers on conference. ‘Yes?’ ‘We’ve got a runner.’ Root nodded. ‘Anything on Scopes?’ Scopes was the shop name for the shrouded trackers attached to American communications satellites. ‘Yep,’ said caller two. ‘Big blip in Europe. Southern Italy. No shield.’ Root cursed. An unshielded fairy could be seen by mortal eyes. That wasn’t so bad if the perp was humanoid. ‘Classification?’ ‘Bad news, Commander,’ said the third caller. ‘We got us a rogue troll.’ Root rubbed his eyes. Why did these things always happen on his watch? Holly could understand his frustration. Trolls were the meanest of the deep-tunnel creatures. They wandered the labyrinth, preying on anything unlucky enough to cross their path. Their tiny brains had no room for rules or restraint. Occasionally one found its way into the shaft of a pressure elevator. Usually the concentrated air current fried them, but sometimes one survived and was blasted to the surface. Driven crazy by pain and even the tiniest amount of light, they would generally proceed to destroy everything in their path. Root shook his head rapidly, recovering himself. ‘OK, Captain Short. Looks like you get your chance. You’re running hot, I take it?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ lied Holly, all too aware that Root would suspend her immediately if he knew she’d neglected the Ritual. ‘Good. Then sign yourself out a side-arm and proceed to the target area.’ Holly glanced at the viewscreen. Scopes were sending high-res shots of an Italian fortified town. A red dot was moving rapidly through the countryside towards the human population. ‘Do a thorough reconnaissance and report in. Do not attempt a retrieval. Is that understood?’ ‘Yessir.’ ‘We lost six men to troll attacks last quarter. Six men. That was below ground, in familiar territory.’ ‘I understand, sir.’ Root pursed his lips doubtfully. ‘Do you understand, Short? Do you really?’ ‘I think so, sir.’ ‘Have you ever seen what a troll can do to flesh and bone?’ ‘No, sir. Not up close.’ ‘Good. Let’s not make today your first time.’ ‘Understood.’ Root glared at her. ‘I don’t know why it is, Captain Short, but whenever you start agreeing with me, I get decidedly nervous.’ Root was right to be nervous. If he’d known how this straightforward Recon assignment was going to turn out, he would probably have retired there and then. Tonight, history was going to be made. And it wasn’t the discovery-of-radium, first-man-on-the-moon happy kind of history. It was the Spanish-Inquisition, here-comes-the-Hindenburg bad kind of history. Bad for humans and fairies. Bad for everyone. Holly proceeded directly to the chutes. Her normally chatty mouth was a grim slash of determination. One chance, that was it. She would allow nothing to break her concentration. There was the usual queue of holiday visa hopefuls stretching to the corner of Elevator Plaza, but Holly bypassed it by waving her badge at the waiting line. A truculent gnome refused to yield. ‘How come you LEP guys get to go topside? What’s so special about you?’ Holly breathed deeply through her nose. Courtesy at all times. ‘Police business, sir. Now if you could just excuse me.’ The gnome scratched his massive behind. ‘I hear you LEP guys make up your police business just to get a look at some moonlight. That’s what I hear.’ Holly attempted an amused smile. What actually formed on her lips resembled a lemon-sucking grimace. ‘Whoever told you that is an idiot…sir. Recon venture only above ground when absolutely necessary.’ The gnome frowned. Obviously he had made up the rumour himself and suspected that Holly might have just called him an idiot. By the time he’d figured it out, she had skipped through the double doors. Foaly was waiting for her in Ops. Foaly was a paranoid centaur, convinced that human intelligence agencies were monitoring his transport and surveillance network. To prevent them reading his mind, he wore a tinfoil hat at all times. He glanced up sharply when Holly entered through the pneumatic double doors. ‘Anybody see you come in here?’ Holly thought about it. ‘The FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, MI6. Oh and the EIB.’ Foaly frowned. ‘The EIB?’ ‘Everyone in the building,’ smirked Holly. Foaly rose from his swivel chair and clip-clopped over to her. ‘Oh, you’re very funny, Short. A regular riot. I thought the Hamburg affair might have knocked some of the cockiness out of you. If I were you, I’d concentrate on the job in hand.’ Holly composed herself. He was right. ‘OK, Foaly. Fill me in.’ The centaur pointed to a live feed from the Eurosat, which was displayed on a large plasma screen. ‘This red dot is the troll. He’s moving towards Martina Franca, a fortified town near the city of Brindisi. As far as we can tell, he stumbled into vent E7. It was on cool-down after a surface shot, that’s why the troll isn’t crispy barbecue right now.’ Holly grimaced. Charming, she thought. ‘We’ve been lucky in that our target has bumped into some food along the way. He chewed on a couple of cows for an hour or two, so that bought us a bit of time.’ ‘A couple of cows?’ exclaimed Holly. ‘Just how big is this fellow?’ Foaly adjusted his foil bonnet. ‘Bull troll. Fully grown. One hundred and eighty kilos, with tusks like a wild boar. A really wild boar.’ Holly swallowed. Suddenly Recon seemed a much better job than Retrieval. ‘Right. What have you got for me?’ Foaly cantered across to the equipment table. He selected what looked like a rectangular wristwatch. ‘Locator. You find him, we find you. Routine stuff.’ ‘Video?’ The centaur clipped a small cylinder into the accommodating groove on Holly’s helmet. ‘Live feed. Nuclear battery. No time limit. The mike is voice-activated.’ ‘Good,’ said Holly. ‘Root said I should take a weapon on this one. Just in case.’ ‘Way ahead of you,’ said Foaly. He picked a platinum handgun from the pile. ‘A Neutrino 2000. The latest model. Even the tunnel gangs don’t have these. Three settings, if you don’t mind. Scorched, well done and crisped to a cinder. Nuclear power source too, so plug away. This baby will outlive you by a thousand years.’ Holly strapped the lightweight weapon into her shoulder holster. ‘I’m ready…I think.’ Foaly chuckled. ‘I doubt it. No one’s ever really ready for a troll.’ ‘Thanks for the confidence booster.’ ‘Confidence is ignorance,’ advised the centaur. ‘If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.’ Holly thought about arguing, but didn’t. Maybe it was because she had a sneaking suspicion that Foaly was right. The pressure elevators were powered by gaseous columns vented from the earth’s core. The LEP tech boys, under Foaly’s guidance, had fashioned titanium eggs that could ride on the currents. They had their own independent motors, but for an express ride to the surface there was nothing like the blast from a tidal flare. Foaly led her past a long line of chute bays to E7. The pod sat in its clamp, looking very fragile to be rocketing about on magma streams. Its underside was charred black and pockmarked from shrapnel. The centaur slapped it fondly on a fender. ‘This baby’s been in service for fifty years. Oldest model still in the chutes.’ Holly swallowed.The chutes made her nervous enough without riding in an antique. ‘When does it come off-line?’ Foaly scratched his hairy belly. ‘With funding the way it is, not until we have us a fatality.’ Holly cranked open the heavy door, the rubber seal yielding with a hiss. The pod was not built for comfort. There was barely enough space for a restraining seat among the jumble of electronics. ‘What’s that?’ asked Holly, pointing at a greyish stain on the seat’s headrest. Foaly shuffled uncomfortably. ‘Erm…brain fluid, I think. We had a pressure leak on the last mission. But that’s plugged now. And the officer lived. Down a few IQ points, but alive, and he can still take liquids.’ ‘Well, that’s all right then,’ quipped Holly, threading her way through the mass of wires. Foaly strapped the harness on to her, checking the restraints thoroughly. ‘All set?’ Holly nodded. Foaly tapped her helmet mike. ‘Keep in touch,’ he said, pulling the door behind him. Don’t think about it, Holly told herself. Don’t think about the white-hot magma flow that’s going to engulf this tiny craft. Don’t think about hurtling towards the surface with a MACH 2 force trying to turn you inside-out. And certainly don’t think about the blood-crazed troll ready to disembowel you with his tusks. Nope. Don’t think about any of that stuff…Too late. ‘-minus twenty,’ he said. ‘We’re on a secure channel in case the Mud People have s Foaly’s voice sounded in her earpiece. ‘T tarted underground monitoring. You never know. An oil tanker from the Middle East intercepted a transmission one time. What a mess that was.’ Holly adjusted her helmet mike. ‘Focus, Foaly. My life is in your hands here.’ ‘Uh…OK, sorry. We’re going to use the rail to drop you into E7’s main shaft, there’s a surge due any minute. That should see you past the first hundred klicks, then you’re on your own.’ Holly nodded, curling her fingers around the twin joysticks. ‘All systems check. Fire it up.’ There was a whoosh as the pod’s engines ignited. The tiny craft jostled in its housing, shaking Holly like a bead in a rattle. She could barely hear Foaly speaking into her ear. ‘You’re in the secondary shaft now. Get ready to fly, Short.’ Holly pulled a rubber cylinder from the dash and slipped it between her teeth. No good having a radio if you’ve swallowed your tongue. She activated the external cameras and put the view on screen. The entrance to E7 was creeping towards her. The air was shimmering in the landing-light glow. White-hot sparks tumbled into the secondary shaft. Holly couldn’t hear the roar, but she could imagine it. A raw skinning wind like a million trolls howling. Her fingers tightened around the joysticks. The pod shuddered to a halt at the lip. The chute stretched above and below. Massive. Boundless. Like dropping an ant down a drainpipe. ‘Right-o,’ crackled Foaly. ‘Hold on to your breakfast. Rollercoasters ain’t got nothing on this.’ Holly nodded. She couldn’t speak, not with the rubber in her mouth. The centaur would be able to see her in the podcam anyway. ‘Sayonara, sweetheart,’ said Foaly, and pressed the button. The pod’s clamp tilted, rolling Holly into the abyss. Her stomach tightened as G-force took hold, dragging her to the centre of the earth. The seismology section had a million probes down here, with a 99.8 success rate at predicting the magma flares. But there was always that point two per cent. The fall seemed to last for an eternity. And just when Holly had mentally consigned herself to the scrap heap, she felt it. That unforgettable vibration. The feeling that, outside her tiny sphere, the whole world was being shaken apart. Here it comes. ‘Fins,’ she said, spitting the word around the cylinder. Foaly may have replied, she couldn’t hear him any more. Holly couldn’t even hear herself, but she did see the stabilization fins slide out on the monitor. The flare caught her like a hurricane, spinning the pod at first until the fins caught. Half-melted rocks pelted the craft’s underside, jolting it towards the chute walls. Holly compensated with bursts from the joysticks. The heat was tremendous in the confined space, enough to fry a human. But fairy lungs are made of stronger stuff. The acceleration dragged at her body with invisible hands, stretching the flesh over her arms and face. Holly blinked salty sweat from her eyes and concentrated on the monitor. The flare had totally engulfed her pod, and it was a big one too. Force seven at the very least. A good 500-metre girth. Orange-striped magma swirled and hissed around her, searching for a weak point in the metal casing. The pod groaned and complained, fifty-year-old rivets threatening to pop. Holly shook her head. The first thing she was going to do on her return was kick Foaly straight in the hairy behind. She felt like a nut inside a shell, between a gnome’s molars. Doomed. A bow plate buckled, popped in as though punched by a giant fist. The pressure light blinked on. Holly could feel her head being squeezed. The eyes would be first to go - popping like ripe berries. She checked the dials. Twenty more seconds before she rode out the flare and was running on thermals. Those twenty seconds seemed like an age. Holly sealed the helmet to protect her eyes, riding out the final barrage of rocks. And suddenly they were clear, sailing upwards on the comparatively gentle spirals of hot air. Holly added her own thrusters to the upward force. No time to waste floating around on the wind. Above her, a circle of neon lights marked the docking zone. Holly swivelled horizontal and pointed the docking nodes at the lights. This was delicate. Many Recon pilots had made it this far, only to miss the port and lose valuable time. Not Holly. She was a natural. First in the academy. She gave the thrusters one final squeeze and coasted the last hundred metres. Using the rudders beneath her feet, she teased the pod through the circle of light and into its clamp on the landing pad. The nodes revolved, settling into their grooves. Safe. Holly smacked herself on the chest, releasing the safety harness. Once the door seal was open, sweet surface air flooded the cabin. There was nothing like that first breath after a ride in the chutes. She breathed deeply, purging the stale pod air from her lungs. How had the People ever left the surface? Sometimes she wished that her ancestors had stayed to fight it out with the Mud People, but there were too many of them. Unlike fairies, who could produce only a single child every twenty years, Mud People bred like rodents. Numbers would subdue even magic. Although she was enjoying the night air, Holly could taste traces of pollutants. The Mud People destroyed everything they came into contact with. Of course they didn’t live in the mud any more. Not in this country, at least. Oh no. Big fancy dwellings with rooms for everything - rooms for sleeping, rooms for eating, even a room to go to the toilet! Indoors! Holly shuddered. Imagine going to the toilet inside your own house. Disgusting! The only good thing about going to the toilet was the minerals being returned to the earth, but the Mud People had even managed to botch that up by treating the…stuff…with bottles of blue chemicals. If anyone had told her a hundred years ago that humans would be taking the fertile out of fertilizer, she would have told them to get some air holes drilled in their skull. Holly unhooked a set of wings from their bracket. They were double ovals, with a clunky motor. She moaned. Dragonflies. She hated that model. Petrol engine, if you don’t mind. And heavier than a pig dipped in mud. Now the Hummingbird Z7, that was transport. Whisper silent, with a satellite-bounced solar battery that would fly you twice around the world. But there were budget cuts again. On her wrist, the locator began to beep. She was in range. Holly stepped out of the pod and on to the landing bay. She was inside a camouflaged mound of earth, commonly known as a fairy fort. Indeed, the People used to live in these until they were driven deeper underground. There wasn’t much technology. Just a few external monitors, and a self-destruct device should the bay be discovered. There was nothing on the screens. All clear. The pneumatic doors were slightly askew where the troll had barged through, but otherwise everything seemed operational. Holly strapped on the wings, stepping into the outside world. The Italian night sky was crisp and brisk, infused with olives and vine. Crickets clicked in the rough grass and moths fluttered in the starlight. Holly couldn’t stop herself smiling. It was worth the risk, every bit of it. Speaking of risk…She checked the locator. The bip was much stronger now. The troll was almost at the town walls! She could appreciate nature after the mission was over. Now it was time for action. Holly primed the wings’ motor, pulling the starter cord over her shoulder. Nothing. She fumed silently. Every spoilt kid in Haven had a Hummingbird for their wilderness holidays, and here were the LEP with wings that were junk when they were new. She yanked the cord again and then again. On the third wrench it caught, spewing a stream of smoke and fumes into the night. ‘About time,’ she grunted, flicking the throttle wide open. The wings flapped their way up to a steady beat and, with not a little effort, lifted Captain Holly Short into the night sky. Even without the locator, the troll would have been easy to follow. It had left a trail of destruction wider than a tunnel excavator. Holly flew low, skipping between mist hazes and trees, matching the troll’s course. The crazed creature had cut a swathe through the middle of a vineyard, turned a stone wall to rubble and left a guard dog gibbering under a hedge. Then she flew over the cows. It was not a pretty sight. Without going into details, let’s just say that there wasn’t much left besides horns and hooves. The red bip was louder now. Louder meant closer. She could see the town below her, nestled on top of a low hill, surrounded by a crenellated wall from the Middle Ages. Lights still burned in most windows. Time for a little magic. A lot of the magic attributed to the People is just superstition. But they do have certain powers. Healing, the mesmer and shielding being among them. Shielding is really a misnomer. What fairies actually do is to vibrate at such a high frequency that they are never in one place long enough to be seen. Humans may notice a slight shimmer in the air if they are paying close attention - which they rarely are. And even then the shimmer is generally attributed to evaporation. Typical of Mud People to invent a complicated explanation for a simple phenomenon. Holly switched on her shield. It took a bit more out of her than usual. She could feel the strain in the beads of sweat on her forehead. I really should complete the Ritual, she thought. The sooner the better. Some commotion below broke into her thoughts. Something that didn’t gel with the night-time noises. Holly adjusted the trim on her backpack and flew in for a closer look. Look only, she reminded herself, that was her job. A Recon officer was sent up the chutes to pinpoint the target, while the Retrieval boys took a nice cushy shuttle. The troll was directly below her, pounding against the town’s outer wall, which was coming away in chunks beneath his powerful fingers. Holly sucked in a startled gasp. This guy was a monster! Big as an elephant and ten times as mean. But this particular beast was worse than mean, he was scared. ‘Control,’ said Holly into her mike. ‘Runner located. Situation critical topside.’ Root himself was on the other end of the comlink. ‘Clarify, Captain.’ Holly pointed her video link at the troll. ‘Runner is going through the town wall. Contact imminent. How far away are Retrieval?’ ‘ETA five minutes minimum. We’re still in the shuttle.’ Holly bit her lip. Root was in the shuttle? ‘That’s too long, Commander. This whole town is going to explode in ten seconds…I’m going in.’ ‘Negative, Holly…Captain Short. You don’t have an invite. You know the law. Hold your position.’ ‘But, Commander -’ Root cut her off. ‘No! No buts, Captain. Hang back. That’s an order!’ Holly’s entire body felt like a heartbeat. Petrol fumes were addling her brain. What could she do? What was the right decision to make? Lives or orders? Then the troll broke through the wall and a child’s voice split the night. ‘Aiuto!’ it screamed. Help. An invitation. At a stretch. ‘Sorry, Commander. The troll is light-crazy and there are children in there.’ She could imagine Root’s face, purple with rage as he spat into the mike. ‘I’ll have your stripes, Short! You’ll spend the next hundred years on drain duty!’ But it was no use. Holly had disconnected her mike and swooped in after the troll. Streamlining her body, Captain Short ducked into the hole. She appeared to be in a restaurant. A packed restaurant. The troll had been temporarily blinded by the electric light and was thrashing about in the centre of the floor. The patrons were stunned. Even the child’s plea had petered out. They sat gaping, party hats perched comically on their heads. Waiters froze, huge trays of pasta quivering on their splayed fingers. Chubby Italian infants covered their eyes with chubby fingers. It was always like this in the beginning: the shocked silence. Then came the screaming. A wine bottle crashed to the floor. It broke the spell. The pandemonium started. Holly winced. Trolls hated noise almost as much as light. The troll lifted massive shaggy shoulders, its retractable claws sliding out with an ominous schiiick. Classic predator behaviour. The beast was about to strike. Holly drew her weapon and flicked it up to the second setting. She couldn’t kill the troll under any circumstances. Not to save humans. But she could certainly put him out until Retrieval arrived. Aiming for the weak point at the base of the skull, she let the troll have a long burst of the concentrated ion ray. The beast staggered, stumbled a few steps, then got very angry. It’s OK, thought Holly, I’m shielded. Invisible. To any onlookers it would seem as though the pulsing blue beam emanated from thin air. The troll rounded on her, its muddy dreadlocks swinging like candles. No panic. It can’t see me. The troll picked up a table. Invisible. Totally invisible. He pulled back a shaggy arm and let fly. Just a slight shimmer in the air. The table tumbled straight towards her head. Holly moved. A second too late. The table clipped her backpack, knocking the petrol tank clean off. It span through the air, trailing flammable fluid. Italian restaurants - wouldn’t you know it full of candles. The tank twirled right through an elaborate candelabrum. It burst into flames, like some deadly firework. Most of the petrol landed on the troll. So did Holly. The troll could see her. There was no doubt about it. It squinted at her through the hated light, its brow a rictus of pain and fear. Her shield was off. Her magic had gone. Holly twisted in the troll’s grip, but it was useless. The creature’s fingers were the size of bananas, but nowhere near as pliant. They were squashing the breath from her ribcage with savage ease. Needle-like claws were scraping at the toughened material of her uniform. Any second now, they would punch through, and that would be that. Holly couldn’t think. The restaurant was a carousel of chaos. The troll was gnashing its tusks; greasy molars trying to grip her helmet. Holly could smell its fetid breath through her filters. She could smell the odour of burning fur too, as the fire spread along the troll’s back. The beast’s green tongue rasped across her visor, sliming the lower section. The visor! That was it. Her only chance. Holly wormed her free hand to the helmet controls. The tunnel lights. High beams. She depressed the sunken button and 800 watts of unfiltered light blasted from the twin spotlights above her eyes. The troll reared back, a penetrating scream exploding from between rows of teeth. Dozens of glasses and bottles shattered where they stood. It was too much for the poor beast. Stunned, set on fire and now blinded. The shock and pain made their way through to its tiny brain, ordering it to shut down. The troll complied, keeling over with almost comical stiffness. Holly rolled to avoid a scything tusk. There was complete silence, but for tinkling glass, crackling fur and the sudden release of breath. Holly climbed shakily to her feet. There were a lot of eyes following her - human eyes. She was 100 per cent visible. And these humans wouldn’t stay complacent for long. This breed never did. Containment was the issue. She raised her empty palms. A gesture of peace. ‘Scusatemi tutti,’ she said, the language flowing easily from her tongue. The Italians, ever graceful, muttered that it was nothing. Holly reached slowly into her pocket and withdrew a small sphere. She placed it in the middle of the floor. ‘Guardate,’ she said. Look. The restaurant’s patrons complied, leaning in to see the small silver ball. It was ticking, faster and faster, almost like a countdown. Holly turned her back to the sphere. Three, two, one ... Boom! Flash! Mass unconsciousness. Nothing fatal, but headaches all around in about forty minutes. Holly sighed. Safe. For the moment. She ran to the door and slid the latch across. Nobody was going in or out. Except through the big gaping hole in the wall. Next she doused the smouldering troll with the contents of the restaurant’s fire extinguisher, hoping the icy powder wouldn’t revive the sleeping behemoth. Holly surveyed the mess she had created. There was no doubt, it was a shambles. Worse than Hamburg. Root would skin her alive. She’d rather face the troll any day. This was the end of her career for sure, but suddenly that didn’t seem so important because her ribs were aching and she had a blinder of a pressure headache coming on. Perhaps a rest, just for a second, so she could pull herself together before Retrieval showed up. Holly didn’t even bother looking for a chair. She simply allowed her legs to buckle beneath her, sinking to the chessboard lino floor. Waking up to Commander Root’s bulging features is the stuff of nightmares. Holly’s eyes flickered open, and for a second she could have sworn that there was concern in those eyes. But then it was gone, replaced by the customary vein-popping fury. ‘Captain Short!’ he roared, mindless of her headache. ‘What in the name of sanity happened here?’ Holly rose shakily to her feet. ‘I…That is…There was ...’ The sentences just wouldn’t come. ‘You disobeyed a direct order. I told you to hang back! You know it’s forbidden to enter a human building without an invitation.’ Hollv shook the shadows from her vision. ‘I got invited in. A child called for help.’ ‘You’re on shaky ground there, Short.’ ‘There is precedent, sir. Corporal Rowe versus the State. The jury ruled that the trapped woman’s cry for help could be accepted as an invitation into the building. Anyway, you’re all here now. That means you accepted the invitation too.’ ‘Hmm,’ said Root doubtfully. ‘I suppose you were lucky. Things could have been worse.’ Holly looked around. Things couldn’t have been a lot worse. The establishment was pretty trashed and there were forty humans out for the count. The tech boys were attaching mind-wipe electrodes to the temples of unconscious diners. ‘We managed to secure the area, in spite of half the town hammering on the door.’ ‘What about the hole?’ Root smirked. ‘See for yourself.’ Holly glanced over. Retrieval had jimmied a hologram lead into the existing electricity sockets and were projecting an unbattered wall over the hole. The holograms were handy for quick patches, but no good under scrutiny. Anyone who examined the wall too closely would have noticed that the slightly transparent patch was exactly the same as the stretch beside it. In this case there were two identical patches of spiderweb cracks and two reproductions of the same Rembrandt. But the people inside the pizzeria were in no condition to examine walls, and by the time they woke up, the wall would have been repaired by the Telekinetic Division and the entire paranormal experience would be removed from their memories. A Retrieval officer bolted from the restroom. ‘Commander!’ ‘Yes, Sergeant?’ ‘There’s a human in here, sir. The Concusser didn’t reach him. He’s coming, sir. Right now, sir!’ ‘Shields!’ barked Root. ‘Everyone!’ Holly tried. She really did. But it wouldn’t come. Her magic was gone. A toddler waddled out of the bathroom, his eyes heavy with sleep. He pointed a pudgy finger directly at Holly. ‘Ciao, folletta,’ he said, before climbing into his father’s lap to continue his snooze. Root shimmered back into the visible spectrum. He was, if possible, even angrier than before. ‘What happened to your shield, Short?’ Holly swallowed. ‘Stress, Commander,’ she offered hopefully. Root wasn’t having any of it. ‘You lied to me, Captain. You’re not running hot at all, are you?’ Holly shook her head mutely. ‘How long since you completed the Ritual?’ Holly chewed her lip. ‘I’d say…about…four years, sir.’ Root nearly popped a vein. ‘Four…Four years? It’s a wonder you lasted this long! Do it now.Tonight! You’re not coming below ground again without your powers. You’re a danger to yourself and your fellow officers!’ ‘Yessir.’ ‘Get a set of Hummingbirds from Retrieval and zip across to the old country. There’s a full moon tonight.’ ‘Yessir.’ ‘And don’t think I’ve forgotten about this shambles. We’ll talk about it when you get back.’ ‘Yessir. Very good, sir.’ Holly turned to go, but Root cleared his throat for attention. ‘Oh, and Captain Short ...’ ‘Yessir?’ Root’s face had lost its purple tinge and he almost seemed embarrassed. ‘Well done on the life-saving thing. Could have been worse, an awful lot worse.’ Holly beamed behind her visor. Perhaps she wouldn’t be kicked out of Recon after all. ‘Thank you, sir.’ Root grunted, his complexion returning to its normal ruddy hue. ‘Now get out of here, and don’t come back until you’re full to the tips of your ears with magic!’ Holly sighed. So much for gratitude. ‘Yes, sir. On my way, sir.’ CHAPTER 4: ABDUCTION ARTEMIS’S main problem was one of location - how to locate a leprechaun. This was one sly bunch of fairies, hanging around for God knows how many millennia and still not one photo, not one frame of video. Not even a Loch-Ness-type hoax. They weren’t exactly a sociable group. And they were smart too. No one had ever got his hands on fairy gold. But no one had ever had access to the Book either. And puzzles were so simple when you had the key. Artemis had summoned the Butlers to his study, and spoke to them now from behind a mini-lectern. ‘There are certain rituals every fairy must complete to renew his magic,’ explained Artemis. Butler and Juliet nodded, as though this were a normal briefing. Artemis flicked through his hard copy of the Book and selected a passage. ‘From the earth thine power flows, Given through courtesy, so thanks are owed. Pluck thou the magick seed, Where full moon, ancient oak and twisted water meet. And bury it far from where it was found, So return your gift into the ground.’ Artemis closed the text. ‘Do you see?’ Butler and Juliet kept nodding, while still looking thoroughly mystified. Artemis sighed. ‘The leprechaun is bound by certain rituals. Very specific rituals, I might add. We can use them to track one down.’ Juliet raised a hand, even though she herself was four years Artemis’s senior. ‘Yes?’ ‘Well, the thing is, Artemis,’ she said hesitantly, twisting a strand of blonde hair in a way that several of the local louts considered extremely attractive. ‘The bit about leprechauns.’ Artemis frowned. It was a bad sign. ‘Your point, Juliet?’ ‘Well, leprechauns. You know they’re not real, don’t you?’ Butler winced. It was his fault really. He’d never got around to filling in his sister on the mission parameters. Artemis scowled reprovingly at him. ‘Butler hasn’t already talked to you about this?’ ‘No. Was he supposed to?’ ‘Yes, he certainly was. Perhaps he thought you’d laugh at him.’ Butler squirmed. That was exactly what he’d thought. Juliet was the only person alive who laughed at him with embarrassing regularity. Most other people did it once. Just once. Artemis cleared his throat. ‘Let us proceed under the assumption that the fairy folk do exist and that I am not a gibbering moron.’ Butler nodded weakly. Juliet was unconvinced. ‘Very well. Now, as I was saying, the People have to fulfil a specific ritual to renew their powers. According to my interpretation, they must pick a seed from an ancient oak tree by the bend in a river. And they must do this during the full moon.’ The light began to dawn in Butler’s eyes. ‘So all we have to do ...’ ‘Is run a cross-reference through the weather satellites, which I already have. Believe it or not, there aren’t that many ancient oaks left, if you take ancient to be a hundred years plus. When you factor in the river bend and full moon, there are precisely one hundred and twenty-nine sites to be surveyed in this country.’ Butler grinned. Stakeout. Now the Master was talking his language. ‘There are preparations to be made for our guest’s arrival,’ said Artemis, handing a typewritten sheet of A4 to Juliet. ‘These alterations must be made to the cellar. See to it, Juliet. To the letter.’ ‘Yes, Arty.’ Artemis frowned, but only slightly. For reasons that he couldn’t quite fathom, he didn’t mind terribly when Juliet called him by the pet name his mother had for him. Butler scratched his chin thoughtfully. Artemis noticed the gesture. ‘Query?’ ‘Well, Artemis. The sprite in Ho Chi Minh City...’ Artemis nodded. ‘I know. Why didn’t we simply abduct her?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘According to Chi Lun’s Almanac of the People, a seventh-century manuscript recovered from the lost city of Sh’shamo: "Once a fairy has taken spirits with the Mud People" - that’s us, by the way - "they are forever dead to their brothers and sisters." So there was no guarantee that that particular fairy was worth even an ounce of gold. No, my old friend, we need fresh blood. All clear?’ Butler nodded. ‘Good. Now, there are several items you will need to procure for our moonlight jaunts.’ Butler scanned the sheet: basic field equipment, a few eyebrow raisers, nothing too puzzling until ... ‘Sunglasses? At night?’ When Artemis smiled, as he did now, one almost expected vampire fangs to sprout from his gums. ‘Yes, Butler. Sunglasses. Trust me.’ And Butler did. Implicitly. Holly activated the thermal coil in her suit and climbed to 4,000 metres. The Hummingbird wings were top of the range. The battery readout showed four red bars - more than enough for a quick jaunt through mainland Europe and across the British Isles. Of course, the regulations said always travel over water if possible, but Holly could never resist knocking the snowcap from the highest alp on her way past. The suit protected Holly from the worst of the elements, but she could still feel the chill sinking into her bones. The moon seemed huge from this altitude, the craters on its surface easily distinguishable. Tonight it was a perfect sphere. A magical full moon. Immigration would have their hands full, as thousands of surface-sick fairies were drawn irresistibly overground. A large percentage would make it, probably causing mayhem in their revelry. The earth’s mantle was riddled with illegal tunnels and it was impossible to police them all. Holly followed the Italian coast up to Monaco and from there across the Alps to France. She loved flying, all fairies did. According to the Book, they had once been equipped with wings of their own, but evolution had stripped them of this power. All but the sprites. One school of thought believed that the People were descended from airborne dinosaurs. Possibly pterodactyls. Much of the upper-body skeletal structure was the same. This theory would certainly explain the tiny nub of bone on each shoulder blade. Holly toyed with the idea of visiting Disneyland Paris. The LEP had several undercover operatives stationed there, most of them working in the Snow White exhibit. It was one of the few places on earth that the People could pass unnoticed. But if some tourist got a photo of her and it ended up on the Internet, Root would have her badge for sure. With a sigh of regret, she passed over the shower of multicoloured fireworks below. Once over the Channel, Holly flew low, skipping over the white-crested waves. She called out to the dolphins and they rose to the surface, leaping from the water to match her pace. She could see the pollution in them, bleaching their skin white and causing red sores on their backs. And although she smiled, her heart was breaking. Mud People had a lot to answer for. Finally the coast loomed ahead of her. The old country. Eiriu, the land where time began. The most magical place on the planet. It was here, 10,000 years ago, that the ancient fairy race, the De Danann, had battled against the demon Fomorians, carving the famous Giant’s Causeway with the strength of their magical blasts. It was here that the Lia Fáil stood, the rock at the centre of the universe, where the fairy kings and later the human Ard Rí were crowned. And it was also here, unfortunately, that the Mud People were most in tune with magic, which resulted in a far higher People-sighting rate than you got anywhere else on the planet. Thankfully the rest of the world assumed that the Irish were crazy, a theory that the Irish themselves did nothing to debunk. They had somehow got it into their heads that each fairy lugged around a pot of gold with them wherever they went. While it was true that LEP had a ransom fund, because of its officers’ high-risk occupation, no human had ever taken a chunk of it yet. This didn’t stop the Irish population in general from skulking around rainbows, hoping to win the supernatural lottery. But in spite of all that, if there was one race the People felt an affinity for it was the Irish. Perhaps it was their eccentricity, perhaps their dedication to the craic, as they called it. And if the People were actually related to humans, as another theory had it, odds on it was the Emerald Isle where it started. Holly punched up a map on her wrist locator and set it to sweep for magical hotspots. The best site would obviously be Tara, near the Lia Fáil, but on a night like tonight, every traditionalist fairy with an overground pass would be dancing around the holy scene, so best to give it a miss. There was a secondary site not far from here, just off the south-east coast. Easy access from the air, but remote and desolate for land-bound humans. Holly reined in the throttle and descended to eighty metres. She skipped over a bristling evergreen forest, emerging in a moonlit meadow. A silver thread of river bisected the field and there, nestling in the fold of a meander loop, was the proud oak. Holly checked her locator for life forms. Once she judged the cow two fields over not to be a threat, she cut her engines and glided to the foot of the mighty tree. Four months of stakeout. Even Butler, the consummate professional, was beginning to dread the long nights of damp and insect bites. Thankfully, the moon was not full every night. It was always the same. They would crouch in their foil-lined hide in complete silence, Butler repeatedly checking his equipment, while Artemis stared unblinking through the eye of the scope. At times like these, nature seemed deafening in their confined space. Butler longed to whistle, to make conversation, anything to break the unnatural silence. But Artemis’s concentration was absolute. He would brook no interference or lapse of focus. This was business. Tonight they were in the south-east. The most inaccessible site yet. Butler had been forced to make three trips to the jeep in order to hump the equipment across a stile, a bog and two fields. His boots and trousers were ruined. And now he would have to sit in the hide with ditchwater soaking into the seat of his trousers. Artemis had somehow contrived to remain spotless. The hide was ingenious in design and interest had already been expressed in the manufacturing rights - mostly by military representatives - but Artemis had resolved to sell the patent to a sporting-goods multinational. It was constructed of an elasticated foil polymer on a multi-hinged fibreglass skeleton. The foil, similar to that used by NASA, trapped the heat inside the structure while preventing the camouflaged outside surface from overheating. This ensured that any animals sensitive to heat would be unaware of its presence. The hinges meant that the hide would move almost like a liquid, filling whatever depression it was dropped into. Instant shelter and vantage point. You simply placed the Velcroed bag in a hole and pulled the string. But all the cleverness in the world couldn’t improve the atmosphere. Something was troubling Artemis. It was plain in the web of premature lines that spread from the corners of his deep-blue eyes. After several nights of fruitless surveillance, Butler plucked up enough courage to ask ... ‘Artemis,’ he began hesitantly, ‘I realize it’s not my place, but I know there’s something wrong. And if there’s anything I can do to help ...’ Artemis didn’t speak for several moments. And for those few moments, Butler saw the face of a young boy. The boy Artemis might have been. ‘It’s my mother, Butler,’ he said at last. ‘I’m beginning to wonder if she’ll ever -’ Then the proximity alarm flashed red. Holly hooked the wings over a low branch, unstrapping the helmet to give her ears some air. You had to be careful with elfin ears - a few hours in the helmet and they started to flake. She gave the tips a massage. No dry skin there. That was because she had a daily moisturizing regime, not like some of the male LEP officers. When they took off their helmets, you’d swear it had just started to snow. Holly paused for a minute to admire the view. Ireland certainly was picturesque. Even the Mud People hadn’t been able to destroy that. Not yet anyway…Give them another century or two. The river was folding gently before her like a silver snake, hissing as the water tumbled across a stony bed. The oak tree crackled overhead, its branches rasping together in the bracing breeze. Now, to work. She could do the tourist thing all night once her business was complete. A seed. She needed a seed. Holly bent to the ground, brushing the dried leaves and twigs from the clay’s surface. Her fingers closed around a smooth acorn. That wasn’t hard now, was it? she thought. All that remained for her to do was plant it somewhere else and her powers would come rushing back. Butler checked the porta-radar, muting the volume in case the equipment betrayed their position. The red arm swept the screen with agonizing lethargy, and then…Flash! An upright figure by the tree. Too small for an adult, the wrong proportions for a child. He gave Artemis the thumbs-up. Possible match. Artemis nodded, strapping the mirrored sunglasses across his brow. Butler followed his lead, popping the cap on his weapon’s starlight scope. This was no ordinary dart rifle. It had been specially tooled for a Kenyan ivory hunter and had the range and rapid-fire capacity of a Kalashnikov. Butler had picked it up for a song from a government official after the ivory poacher’s execution. They crept into the night with practised silence. The diminutive figure before them unhooked a contraption from around its shoulders and lifted a full-face helmet from a definitely non-human head. Butler wrapped the rifle strap twice around his wrist, pulling the stock into his shoulder. He activated the scope and a red dot appeared in the centre of the figure’s back. Artemis nodded and his manservant squeezed the trigger. In spite of a million to one odds, it was at that precise moment that the figure bent low to the earth. Something whizzed over Holly’s head, something that glinted in the starlight. Holly had enough on-the-job experience to realize that she was under fire, and immediately curled her elfin frame into a ball, minimizing the target. She drew her pistol, rolling towards the shelter of the tree trunk. Her brain scrambled for possibilities. Who could be shooting at her and why? Something was waiting beside the tree. Something roughly the size of a mountain, but considerably more mobile. ‘Nice pea-shooter,’ grinned the figure, smothering Holly’s gun hand in a turnip-sized fist. Holly managed to extricate her fingers a nanosecond before they snapped like brittle spaghetti. ‘I don’t suppose you would consider peaceful surrender?’ said a cold voice behind her. Holly turned, elbows raised for combat. ‘No,’ sighed the boy melodramatically. ‘I suppose not.’ Holly put on her best brave face. ‘Stay back, human. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.’ The boy laughed. ‘I believe, fairy, that you are the one unfamiliar with the facts.’ Fairy? He knew she was a fairy. ‘I have magic, mud-worm. Enough to turn you and your gorilla into pig droppings.’ The boy took a step closer. ‘Brave words, miss. But lies nonetheless. If, as you say, you had magic, you would have no doubt used it by now. No, I suspect that you have gone too long without the Ritual and you are here to replenish your powers.’ Holly was dumbfounded. There was a human before her, casually spouting sacred secrets. This was disastrous. Catastrophic. It could mean the end of generations of peace. If the humans were aware of a fairy subculture, it was only a matter of time before the two species went to war. She must do something, and there was only one weapon left in her arsenal. The mesmer is the lowest form of magic and requires only a trickle of power. There are even certain humans with a bent for the talent. It is within the ability of even the most drained fairy to put a complete mind kibosh on any human alive. Holly summoned the final dribble of magic from the base of her skull. ‘Human,’ she intoned, her voice suddenly resonating with bass tones, ‘your will is mine.’ Artemis smiled, safe behind his mirrored lenses. ‘I doubt it,’ he said, and nodded curtly. Holly felt the dart puncture the suit’s toughened material, depositing its load of curare and succinylcholine chloride-based tranquillizer into her shoulder. The world instantly dissolved into a series of technicoloured bubbles and, try as she might, Holly couldn’t seem to hold on to more than one thought. And that thought was: how did they know? It spiralled around her head as she sank into unconsciousness. How did they know? How did they know? How did they ... Artemis saw the pain in the creature’s eyes as the hollow hypodermic plunged into her body. And for a moment he experienced misgivings. A female. He hadn’t expected that. A female, like Juliet, or Mother. Then the moment passed and he was himself again. ‘Good shooting,’ he said, bending to study their prisoner. Definitely a girl. Pretty too. In a pointy sort of way. ‘Sir?’ ‘Hmm?’ Butler was pointing to the creature’s helmet. It was half-buried in a drift of leaves where the fairy had dropped it. A buzzing noise was coming from the crown. Artemis picked up the contraption by the straps, searching for the source. ‘Ah, here we are.’ He plucked the viewcam from its slot, careful to point the lens away from him.’Fairy technology. Most impressive,’ he muttered, popping the battery from its groove. The camera whined and died. ‘Nuclear power source, if I’m not mistaken. We must be careful not to underestimate our opponents.’ Butler nodded, sliding their captive into an oversized duffel bag. Something else to be lugged across two fields, a bog and a stile. CHAPTER 5: MISSING IN ACTION COMMANDER Root was sucking on a particularly noxious fungus cigar. Several of the Retrieval Squad had nearly passed out in the shuttle. Even the pong from the manacled troll seemed mild in comparison. Of course, no one said anything, their boss being touchier than a septic bum boil. Foaly, on the other hand, delighted in antagonizing his superior. ‘None of your rancid stogies in here, Commander!’ he brayed, the moment Root made it back to Ops. ‘The computers don’t like smoke!’ Root scowled, certain that Foaly was making this up. Nevertheless, the commander was not prepared to risk a computer crash in the middle of an alert and so doused his cigar in the coffee cup of a passing gremlin. ‘Now, Foaly, what’s this so-called alert? And it better be good this time!’ The centaur had a tendency to go completely hyper over trivialities. He’d once gone to Defcon Two because his human satellite stations were out. ‘It’s good all right,’ Foaly assured him. ‘Or should I say bad? Very bad.’ Root felt the ulcer in his gut begin to bubble like a volcano. ‘How bad?’ Foaly punched up Ireland on the Eurosat. ‘We lost contact with Captain Short.’ ‘Why am I not surprised?’ groaned Root, burying his face in his hands. ‘We had her all the way over the Alps.’ ‘The Alps? She took a land route?’ Foaly nodded. ‘Against regulations, I know. But everyone does it.’ The commander agreed grudgingly. Who could resist a view like that? As a rookie, he’d been placed on report himself for that exact offence. ‘OK. Move on. When did we lose her?’ Foaly opened a VT box on the screen. ‘This is the feed from Holly’s helmet unit. Here we are over Disneyland Paris...’ The centaur pressed the fast-forward. ‘Now dolphins, blah blah blah. The Irish coastline. Still no worries. Look, her locator comes into shot. Captain Short is scanning for magic hotspots. Site fifty-seven shows up red, so she heads for that one.’ ‘Why not Tara?’ Foaly snorted. ‘Tara? Every fairy hippie in the northern hemisphere will be dancing around the Lia Fáil at the full moon. There’ll be so many shields on, it’ll look like the whole place is under water.’ ‘Fine,’ grunted Root through gritted teeth. ‘Just get on with it, will you.’ ‘All right. Don’t get your ears in a knot.’ Foaly skipped several minutes of tape. ‘Now. Here’s the interesting bit…Nice smooth landing, hangs up the wings. Holly takes off the helmet.’ ‘Against regulations,’ interjected Root. ‘LEP officers must never remove -’ ‘LEP officers must never remove their headgear above ground, unless said headgear is defective,’ completed Foaly. ‘Yes, Commander, we all know what the handbook says. But are you trying to tell me that you never sneaked a breath of air after a few hours in the sky?’ ‘No,’ admitted Root. ‘What are you? Her fairy godmother or something? Get to the important bit!’ Foaly smirked behind his hand. Driving up Root’s blood pressure was one of the few perks of the job. No one else would dare to do it. That was because everybody else was replaceable. Not Foaly. He’d built the system from scratch and if anyone else even tried to boot it up, a hidden virus would bring it crashing about their pointy ears. ‘The important bit. Here we are. Look. Suddenly Holly drops the helmet. It must land lens down because we lose picture. We’ve still got sound though, so I’ll bring that up.’ Foaly boosted the audio signal, filtering out background noise. ‘Not great quality. The mike is in the camera. So that was nose down in the dirt too.’ ‘Nice pea-shooter,’ said a voice. Definitely human. Deep too. That usually meant big. Root raised an eyebrow. ‘Pea-shooter?’ ‘Slang for gun.’ ‘Oh.’ Then the importance of that simple statement struck him. ‘She drew her weapon.’ ‘Just wait. It gets worse.’ ‘I don’t suppose you would consider peaceful surrender?’ said a second voice. Just listening to it gave the commander shivers. ‘No,’ continued the voice. ‘I suppose not.’ ‘This is bad,’ said Root, his face uncharacteristically pale. ‘This feels like a set-up. These two goons were waiting. How is that possible?’ Holly’s voice came through the speaker then, typically brazen in the face of danger. The commander sighed. At least she was alive. It was more bad news though as the parties exchanged threats, and the second human displayed an uncommon knowledge of fairy affairs. ‘He knows about the Ritual!’ ‘Here’s the worst bit.’ Root’s jaw dropped. ‘The worst bit?’ Holly’s voice again. This time layered with the mesmer. ‘Now she has them,’ crowed Root. But apparently not. Not only did the mesmer prove ineffective, but the mysterious pair seemed to find it amusing. ‘That’s all there is from Holly,’ noted Foaly. ‘One of the Mud People messes around with the camera for a bit and then we lose everything.’ Root rubbed the creases between his eyes. ‘Not much to go on. No visual, not even a name. We can’t really be a hundred per cent sure that we have a situation.’ ‘You want proof?’ asked Foaly, rewinding the tape. ‘I’ll give you proof.’ He ran the available video. ‘Now watch this. I’m going to slow it right down. One frame per second.’ Root leaned in close to the screen, close enough to see the pixels. ‘Captain Short comes in for a landing. She takes off her helmet. Bends down, presumably to pick up an acorn, and…there!’ Foaly jabbed the pause button, freezing the picture completely. ‘See anything unusual?’ The commander felt his ulcer churn into overdrive. Something had appeared in the top right-hand corner of the frame. At first glance it seemed like a shaft of light, but light from what or reflected from what? ‘Can you blow that up?’ ‘No problem.’ Foaly cut to the relevant area, increasing it by 400 per cent. The light expanded to fill the screen. ‘Oh no,’ breathed Root. There on the monitor before them, in frozen suspension, was a hypodermic dart. There could be no doubt. Captain Holly Short was missing in action. Most probably dead, but at the very least held captive by a hostile force. ‘Tell me we still have the locator.’ ‘Yep. Strong signal. Moving north at about eighty klicks an hour.’ Root was silent for a moment, formulating his strategy. ‘Go to full alert, and get Retrieval out of their bunks and back down here. Prep them for a surface shot. I want full tactical and a couple of techies.You too, Foaly. We may have to stop time on this one.’ ‘Ten four, Commander. You want Recon in on this?’ Root nodded. ‘You bet.’ ‘I’ll call in Captain Vein. He’s our number one.’ ‘Oh no,’ said Root. ‘For a job like this, we need our very best. And that’s me. I’m reactivating myself.’ Foaly was so amazed, he couldn’t even formulate a smart comment. ‘You’re ...You’re ...’ ‘Yes, Foaly. Don’t act so surprised. I have more successful recons under my belt than any officer in history. Plus I did my basic training in Ireland. Back in the top hat and shillelagh days.’ ‘Yes, but that was five hundred years ago, and you were no spring bud then, not to put too fine a point on it.’ Root smiled dangerously. ‘Don’t worry, Foaly. I’m still running red hot. And I’ll make up for my age with a really big gun. Now get a pod ready. I’m leaving on the next flare.’ Foaly did what he was told without a single quip. When the commander got that glint in his eyes, you hopped to and kept your mouth shut. But there was another reason for Foaly’s silent compliance. It had just hit him that Holly could be in real trouble. Centaurs don’t make many friends and Foaly was worried he might lose one of the few he had. Artemis had anticipated some technological advances, but nothing like the treasure trove of fairy hardware spread out on the four-wheel drive’s dashboard. ‘Impressive,’ he murmured. ‘We could abort this mission right now and still make a fortune in patents.’ Artemis ran a hand-held scanner bar over the unconscious elf’s wristband. He then fed the fairy characters into his PowerBook translator. ‘This is a locator of some kind. No doubt this leprechaun’s comrades are tracking us right now.’ Butler swallowed. ‘Right now, sir?’ ‘It would seem so.