The Private Wound
Summary: Artemis begins to question his intelligence when a mysterious man manages to trap him in his own home, seemingly effortlessly. Will the fairies have to save themselves this time?
Author's Note: Hello there, old friends and new! This is a rather hefty Author's Note because I feel like the beginning is the best place to explain this sort of thing. This story is a kind-of sequel to A Root and Growl. Pre-reading is not vital, although I'd be thrilled if you did (All you need to know otherwise is that Root is still alive after the events of The Opal Deception. Pre-reading would just make this story nice and canonical...ish :) )
Readers of A Root and Growl may notice (although probably not until later chapters) that this story was mentioned in the aforementioned story - Chapter Seven, I think - although it's been tweaked slightly so I can explore it without having to be stuck on a one-character perspective.
If you're still there after all that, you'd better get cracking with it!
Outside Fowl Manor, Ireland, 9 p.m.
"He doesn't look much like a genius to me."
The man sighed over the radio, emphasising it forcefully so that whatever minion had just decided to share his opinion with the Boss would know how unwelcome it was.
"And what, pray tell, does a genius look like to you?"
The man shuffled his feet awkwardly, making a great show of rearranging the various equipments needed for espionage before realising the Boss couldn't see him.
"I dunno...I just thought he'd look more...wild. Einstein-y."
The Boss bit back an impatient 'tuh', but it was a close run thing. He had to bring the employees down intellectually, otherwise they would not be afraid of him.
"You are aware that Einstein refused to wear socks and was a terrible speller?"
The minion was not going to have a good night.
Fowl Manor Kitchen
"I'm just saying it's not the best idea."
Artemis paused, thoughtfully folding several Armani jumpers. "I'm listening."
Butler knew that his young Master was most likely humouring him, but it was his duty as a bodyguard to protect his principal. Or, at least, make sure the principal was aware of the risks before plunging ahead and doing it anyway.
"This man -",
Butler smiled, a brief glare of teeth that was more out of manners than affection.
"Thank you. This Novikov is an incredibly powerful man. It would be foolish to expect he would just hand it back over without some sort of payment: probably in blood."
"I know that.
"Which is why I'm going to steal it back."
Despite his strength, Butler actually felt his knees go weak at those words. He quickly gripped on to a counter to mask the shaking in his body.
"Steal it back?"
"Yes. I didn't stutter, did I?"
The Eurasian thought of reprimanding the boy, for a second, as his fatherly instincts flared up. Then he noticed Artemis had stopped folding, and turned to face him with his arms folded instead and an understanding expression on his face.
"I know you worry, old friend. After all, what would your sensei say if you managed to lose your fourteen-year-old charge?"
Butler nodded weakly. He knew Artemis understood that their relationship was more than just professional, and that Artemis was, in no way, a normal fourteen-year-old boy. But barely anybody else seemed to.
"But listen to them, Butler," he said, making an expansive gesture out into the hallway where his parents could be heard, laughing and joking. "I can't bring him back just to lose him again."
"I don't think your Mother would be too happy about her only son putting his life in danger for her husband's freedom."
Artemis nodded. "That's why I'm not going to tell her."
Outside Fowl Manor, 11p.m.
The reply, when it came, was a sharp and irritated "What?"
"It's that...Butler...man. He's doing a sweep."
"So? You're hidden in the hedgerow, aren't you?"
The Boss sighed. If you want something doing right...
"He's been looking over here a lot. Like staring straight at me."
The Boss sat up a little straighter now. If his operation was compromised before it even began by whatever shaven ape his Irish connection had dragged out of a bar somewhere, there would be hell to pay.
"Go a little lower. If you've hidden yourself properly, you should be all right."
The hired man swallowed audibly and wriggled his considerable girth into the smallest space of the hedgerow he could find. After another few tense minutes, Butler retreated back inside.
"I think he's gone, Boss."
There was a whoosh of exhaled air over the radio channel. "Good. Have you gathered enough intel.?"
He nodded, before realising, once again, that the Boss couldn't see him. "Yes, Boss."
"Okay. Move tonight. Make it quiet. I've made it easy for you."
The minion smiled, displaying crooked yellow teeth. His eye was still to the telescope, fixed on the back of Butler's head, clearly shutting down the Manor after deeming it safe. It was the biggest mistake the giant bodyguard had ever made.
"Over and out."
Haven City, South Side, 2:55 a.m.
Holly looked at the stranger in the mirror with increasing dislike.
The stranger looked back, a similar expression on her face. She had been made to turn down a Recon assignment - one of the first that had come her way since her promotion to Major - in order to appear as an official Guest of Honour for Commander Root's induction into the Council. But that wasn't what had put her in a such a bad mood.
She had to wear a dress.
Normally, she wasn't too bothered by the occasional slip back into femininity - as long as she kept her asexual nature around the Retrieval boys, why couldn't she keep her ears moisturised? - but the nature of the dress had her fervently hoping that Artemis would ring up with one of his harebrained adventures, or even (and this was the sign she had taken to mean that she was truly dreading putting in an appearance at the Haven City Hall) Opal Koboi miraculously escaping the twenty-four hour top-security prison she was incarcerated in, just so she had an excuse to miss the Ceremony.
The dress itself wasn't that bad, she supposed. A little too frilly at the top, but it was compensated for at the bottom as it tapered off around her knees. In fact, her appearance as a whole was fairly decent, the cerulean colour of the dress accenting her bronzed skin nicely. Even her hair, which she had always assumed that being less than an inch long meant nothing much could be done, had been styled, with a small fringe held in place by clips, allowing the rest of her hair to spike up like it did naturally. Make-up was nominal, due in part to her inability to apply mascara without giving one of her eyes a good poke.
It was the reaction to her appearance she was dreading.
Certainly, there had always been some over-zealous flyboys who had taken a shine to her - most notably Chix Verbal, although there had always been a fairly nasty rumour that he was simply trying to find out how she managed to keep her hair so controlled.
Different cultures, same clichés. When in doubt, attack the sexuality.
There was also a whisper that a certain Major - tipped for the recently vacated Commander's spot - held his colleague in a slightly more than professional light, and this was the main reason Holly was hoping for a death-or-glory adventure rather than attend the induction ceremony.
The nuclear clock on her bedside table flashed. Three a.m.
Police Plaza, 2:55 a.m.
There was no noise from the other side of the door. Corporal Grub Kelp pouted.
This time, his words were followed by a particularly annoying series of bangs on the door. Grub sighed. It wasn't like his brother cared about his appearance. Most of the time he just rolled out of bed and in to his jumpsuit. If only most of the female population of the Plaza knew about that.
But Grub wasn't whining about his brother's sudden obsession over his appearance. If he knew Trouble at all - and as Grub washed his socks most of the time, he liked to think that he did - this sudden meticulousness was due to the fact that a certain female Major was going to the same ceremony as his brother tonight, and it would be the first time she would see work-mad Trouble Kelp out of the matte-black jumpsuit he wore like a second skin.
In fact, Grub was whining because his hotshot brother: widely tipped to be the next Commander, as, after all, Root had spent the last six months training him to be, was going to the Induction Ceremony tonight, while Grub had to spend the night on the skeleton staff, with only the particularly caustic gnome - Sook, he thought the name was - from Internal Affairs for company.
Trouble himself was already ready. He had been for the last hour, and had spent that free time sitting on the hard wooden bench supplied in the bathroom, fingers clawing through his hair and his confidence in shreds. It wasn't the sheer scale of the operation he was undertaking that was causing the miniature and rather ill-timed mental breakdown; he had realised that, after tonight, when Root handed over his triple acorn insignia to be replaced with what he called 'a bloody pointy hat and a stick', that Major Trouble Kelp realised that he would be responsible for every single life in the division. A division that was alarmingly high in LEP fatalities.
So he had hidden in the bathroom.
What sort of LEP officer hides from his responsibilities? Especially one who is now Commander in everything but name. You should go to Root. Tell him he can't join the Council because you're not ready.
Trouble thought out this suggestion. No, his heart would probably explode.
"Trouble! You've got to go!" Grub's voice filtered into the bathroom, and the elder Kelp heard his brother continue muttering. The words 'unfair' and 'favouritism' could be heard every so often.
The fairy who would-be Commander gripped his thighs, mentally gearing himself up. After a few moments of practised breathing techniques, he pushed himself up.
Fowl Manor Grounds, Ireland, 3 a.m.
The fat man had been technically inside Fowl Manor for almost an hour now, without being spotted. Technically, because he wasn't actually inside the house. There was a roof over his head, but that was in the form of the garden marquee - a marquee! The man was fairly certain he couldn't even spell it.
He had been watching the CCTV Cameras as they swept the grounds in a uniform motion. Obviously, the big man had gone to bed. The spy had watched him, as, agonisingly slowly and almost as a conscious warning to the man, he had polished each of his twenty-seven guns and checked there was a loaded clip in every magazine.
However, he was also aware that a high-burglary risk estate like Fowl Manor would have some sort of technology to alert its occupants of a possible intruder, and he wasn't thinking of the tin-can-and-dog variety. It was even conceivable that the Irish boy had motion-sensor cameras that would wake up his bodyguard at the slightest movement.
So he did what he always did when he was facing a problem; he called the Boss.
"What?" The voice was much sleepier than it was angry this late at night.
"There are CCTV Cameras everywhere. I can't see a blind spot."
A loud and resigned groan met the Irish man's ears. "Idiot! I told you, I've made it easy for you. So easy, you should be able to walk in through the front doors!"
"Never mind! You just do your job, and get out as soon as possible. I've disabled the security, but I don't think you'd like to meet the bodyguard in the middle of what you're going to do."
The man under the marquee shuddered. Now that was an understatement.
The Boss had terminated the link without a formal ending, but the man was already moving. The sun would be rising soon, and he had observed the activities of Fowl Manor's occupants enough for the last few days that he knew the bodyguard would be up for his work-out in less than an hour.
If the alarm goes off, pretend you're a tourist. On private property. At three in the morning.
He sighed, and placed his foot outside the marquee with infinite cautiousness.
Emboldened by this small triumph, he began to walk across the smoothly rippling lawn, a slight swagger in his step that was ruined by a noticeable flinch at every small noise.
He soon reached the front doors, unmolested. So far so good, but even if the Boss had disabled the security, the locks on the door were the old-fashioned deadbolt variety. He tugged the handle. Three of them, at the top, middle and bottom of the door. The man smiled for the second time that evening, pulling out a nasty-looking piece of machinery, and aiming the business end at the bolt in the middle, in the millimetres-wide gap the doors left. A tool for every occasion. He had once almost run a hardware store with that advertisement. He flicked a switch with his thumb, and a miniature welder's torch flared brilliant orange against the grey of the night-washed wood. He held his breath, working as quickly as possible. Within moments, the first bolt snapped, sending a twisting globule of molten metal plummeting to the floor, only to solidify halfway to make a cast-iron teardrop. Without even stopping the flame, he moved to the top bolt, letting the flame begin to feed on it. He could have gone for the bottom bolt and shouldered the door open, but then there was every chance that the bodyguard - who he assumed would have to be a light sleeper - would be woken, and come charging down to break whoever had broken in. So instead he melted all three bolts, and quietly opened the door to the lobby of Fowl Manor.
"You're not as fast as you were. That is fatal to your Principal. Your wheezing will kill your Principal."
Butler kept his head bowed. He may not like what was being said, but Madame Ko always spoke the truth. If she said your wheezing would kill your Principal, it would. If she said your unshaven hair would kill your Principal, it would.
She was circling him now, pacing the tiny, hill-top gazebo, eyeing his physique critically. To most, the almost seven-foot giant of a man was the most bulked-up example of the human anatomy they had ever seen, the potential it could reach with discipline. The gym near the Fowl family home had noticed a double fold increase in patrons after Butler was there during Artemis's time at school. But to Madame Ko, one slight imbalance, a heavier lean on one leg could mean failure.
"Your chest is hunched. You are in pain."
Butler nodded - one of the only times he would admit to physical discomfort was during his yearly assessment.
"Take off your shirt."
He did so; carefully unbuttoning the designer shirt with massive fingers to reveal a torso that could have been sculpted by Polyclitus, had he ever heard of stomach crunches. It also revealed the Kevlar strands that had become a permanent part of his make-up after his very near-death experience last year. It had been covered using special pigment gel when he was mind-wiped, of course, but once he had regained his memories Butler had scrubbed it off, preferring not to hide behind masks and disguises.
The tiny Japanese woman touched the Kevlar almost reverentially, but Butler tensed his stomach muscles and squared his shoulders.
When the blow came, it was still unexpected and lightning-fast: a swift Karate chop to just below the darker section of skin. Despite all his training, Butler doubled over in pain, clutching his ribcage as he fought not to retreat to the foetal position.
Madame Ko turned her back, arms folded serenely on top of one another.
"You are dead. Therefore, your Principal is dead. You have failed."
And she left, beginning the descent back to her camp alone, leaving the world's third deadliest man fighting back tears of pain and shame.
Fowl Manor, Ireland, 3:05 a.m.
The intruder crept up the expansive stairway so quietly it was almost comical. His arms were raised in a traditional film-style of stealth, and his eyes were sweeping from side to side nervously, as though an unforeseen army of enemies was about to come pouring out of the 18th-century walnut panelling. He didn't relax as he reached the top landing, knowing that the door immediately in front of him housed the (hopefully sleeping) behemoth of a bodyguard. Still, he couldn't bite back a malicious whoosh! of laughter at the thought of the Eurasian waking up in a few minutes, only to find his charge missing. It was a delicious, poetic justice. Or something like it. He had never been very good at English at school.
Butler opened his eyes. He was in his room at Fowl Manor. The gazebo exam with Madame Ko had been a dream, but his chest still felt as though it were wrapped in razor-wire. With effort, he twisted his head to read the red digital display of the clock. 3:04. He sighed. It almost wasn't worth going back to sleep, but with Master Artemis's looming excursion, his ageing bones were going to need all the rest they could get beforehand. One rarely got to sleep on Artemis's time.
A creak in the floorboard outside perked up his hearing. To most, it would have been dismissed as the settling of an old house, or inefficient plumbing. But Butler wasn't trained to dismiss things like that. Without a second thought, he was out of bed and crossing to look at the CCTV images. Before he reached his destination, however, another noise had him barrelling down the hallway, gun in hand.
Somewhere in Eastern Europe, 5:12 a.m. (+2 GMT)
The Boss stretched his fingers like a pianist before dormant ivory. He should have been asleep a long time ago - after all, a genius needs their rest - but he couldn't resist showing the jumped-up little Irish boy what stealth really meant.
He fingered a button on his desktop fondly for a moment, before extending a manicured nail and judiciously pushing it.
Fowl Manor, one minute earlier
The unwelcome Irishman was already envisioning what he could buy with his payment when he reached Artemis Fowl Junior's door. A yacht was forefront, as well as a large stake in a beer company. The thought had him salivating as he placed a fleshy hand on the doorknob, and he quickly licked away the offending substance. His plan was going swimmingly. The hypodermic needle was already clutched in his free hand, and he was fairly certain a slim teenager would not been too difficult for him to carry to the jeep he had parked in a field a couple of miles away.
Then the 150-decibel alarm went off.
The poor man barely had time to register the sudden onslaught of noise and light before 200-pounds of trained muscle slammed into him. Bugger.
Artemis emerged about half a minute after Butler's emphatic tackle, eyes alert despite the fact he had just been rather rudely awakened.
"What's the matter, Butler?"
The Eurasian, who had been busily hog-tying the still disorientated man with the silk curtain-pull from the nearest window, looked up to find his charge's eyes staring at the man in what could only be described as disbelief.
"A friend of yours?"
Butler grimaced, working the tip of his Sig Sauer into the man's cheek. "I don't know how he managed to get so far without setting any of the alarms off."
"Obviously there is a design flaw somewhere," although Butler noticed Artemis's nose wrinkle as he said it, "I shall have to make some modifications."
"You could start with encrypting your hard-drive properly."
The two Irishmen in the hallway looked at each other in puzzlement for a moment: the voice had come from neither boy nor man. Finally, the man Butler was sat on spoke.
"Look in my right trouser pocket. There's a radio transmitter."
Butler hid his shock that whatever he was sat on was actually a man quite well, and checked where he said. There was a radio transmitter, and, after checking it was free of any explosive or otherwise incendiary devices, threw it to Artemis.
"This is Artemis Fowl. Who do I have the pleasure of talking to?" Ever the gracious host, especially with potential threats.
"There's time enough for names later, Mr. Fowl, although I already know all of yours, and your contacts. Especially your less...sociable ones, if I make myself clear, and I do hope I am doing."
The voice was crisp Southern English, tinged with the clipped German phrasing.
Artemis's stomach dropped, but he hid it well. "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I don't understand you. Perhaps there is a language barrier?"
The voice chuckled. "Oh, very clever, Mr. Fowl, but then again, you're famed for that."
This was straying rather too much into clichéd action film dialogue for Artemis's liking. "What do you want?"
"Many things, Mr. Fowl. For now, I content myself in proving that you are not infallible. You will notice that your CCTV images are curiously blank as of the events of this morning, until your intruder seems to 'appear'. Even that little mishap with your front door bolts went unrecorded. How odd." Artemis could hear the satisfied smile in his voice as he delivered the final line.
So, that's the first chapter over and done with. I apologise in advance for making the 'Boss' a rather unfairly stereotypical Eastern European, but there is method to my madness, you'll just have to be patient. :)
What do you think? Reviewers get their character of choice to boost the ego of, as they're all rather self-critical at the moment.