A/N: Whew... over two years and forty five chapters later, we arrive at the end. Thank you all for following this story, through all its ups and downs, terrible cliffies and long delays. It's been a pleasure writing this.
And now we end with two quotes: one from Artemis Fowl, the other the same one that started it all way back in chapter one.
Artemis Fowl: The Book of Ages
Who Yields to Time
"There will be consequences for this... You can't alter events in time and be unaffected. But whatever the consequences are, I will bear them, because the alternative is too terrible." Artemis Fowl, The Lost Colony
Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side. - the Talmud
The Elder Warlock and his apprentice watched as the elf and the human entered the Observation Stone. The stone went blank, and for a moment, there was silence in the chamber of the Book of Ages.
Then there was a rustling sound, something like the movement of thousands and thousands of papers. By sound alone, one would have thought some professor had just told a room full of students to find a particular page in a huge text. With the sound came thousands of shimmers, as symbols along the walls of the chamber flickered and rearranged themselves. Some disappeared entirely as new ones took their places. The single silver symbol faded into gold.
As each change was made, the new arrangement of the Book of Ages became the only arrangement of the Book of Ages. The time line now always existed like this. It was never any different. Still, the rustling continued.
The Elder let out a sigh.
Gerouny tilted his head and quirked an eyebrow at the older demon.
"What happened?" he asked.
"They succeeded," said the Elder with a tired voice. He started walking away, but his apprentice grabbed his shoulder.
"Wait! What do you mean?"
Kut'nall turned around and almost growled. "Look around you!" he said, "Didn't I teach you to read the symbols of events?"
"The true timeline has been restored." He pointed high on the walls as he exclaimed in a deep, rumbling tone. "There! Holly Short and Artemis Fowl the Second disappear from time. Hybras reenters the timeline and shatters in the process without five magical beings to guide it, since Short, Qwan, and N°1 lay dead! The fragments missed Earth and are pulled in the magical draw of the moon. They crashed into the moon." The imp shifted his finger to point even higher up on the curved wall. "The People are revealed, of course, and there is the inevitable war before an unsteady peace."
The Elder sighed. "Time moves on. The timeline was restored up until the point when those two disappeared from it... and that is the best that can be done." He looked sternly at Gerouny, stopping any protests before the imp could begin. "There was no way to save our Family. Not without destabilizing the timeline. Qwan and the others should have known better than retreat outside of time. At least this way, those two bought Earth a few more years of peace and a swifter conclusion to the war. A violent meeting of races is inevitable... it can only be alleviated- and in that, these two have done Earth a great service."
Minerva only felt the fading at first. As the Book of Ages reconstituted itself, she could only stare in wonder at the things around her. She craned her neck upward to try to make out the top of the chamber, but to no avail. The more she looked, the more tired she felt.
Even though her body began to feel light, she felt like she had less and less energy to move it. Eventually, the blue ring of sparks that was constricting her evaporated, leaving her free to move, but still unable to manage the motion. Minerva fell over to the ground.
Her body felt like balloons now, as if her entire figure were one of those balloon animals they gave out at fairs and circuses. Minerva the balloon woman. She almost laughed at that.
Then she saw the fading. It happened around her fingertips first, then spread slowly upwards until it met her shoulders and chest, where it continued on. The scientist slowly smiled even as her body disappeared.
Her penance was paid. The timeline was restored.
She hoped as she disappeared that maybe, just maybe, she would wake up in the new- or rather, the old- timeline, and be given another chance.
She would probably have been somewhat less happy about that if she had heard the two imps talking.
Then, the figure of Minerva Paradizo faded entirely, leaving nothing to be seen, just like the rest of the timeline she came from.
Well, maybe not quite the entire timeline.
Lieutenant Colonel Holly Short banged her head hard against the chamber floor and nearly choked when she lifted her head back up. She had been splayed across the body of Trouble Kelp, shoulders shaking with little residual sobs when it happened. The body simply disappeared, leaving nothing between Holly and the floor.
"The true timeline has been restored..."
Holly listened to the imp as he explained what was happening to their surroundings. Looking around, the elf saw that Fowl, Koboi, and even the Paradizo woman were disappearing- eaten away at the edges into nothingness.
She felt a slight pull at her body from nowhere, but found that with some concentration, she could stop it. Still, it had to be said that even a little bit of concentration was difficult to muster right now.
'No... the war CAN'T happen!' The elf looked at the spot where Trouble's body had disappeared from. 'There has to be a way to save... to save him... and stop the war...'
The war was almost an afterthought.
Holly Short sprang up from her position on the floor, and with that sole purpose in mind, her body acted of its own accord.
Kut'nall saw the elf moving from the corner of his eye. He quickly scanned the rest of the room, and saw that all the others were already gone- as they should be. How was this elf still here?
"What is she doing?" he growled, staring as she approached the wall of the chamber, where the black ladder appeared for her, unbidden.
Neither warlock spoke while she climbed the ladder. She stopped and ran a finger precisely along a single golden symbol. Below her, the black surface of the Observation Stone came alive again, and for the third time, the howling of demons and the smell of sulfur flowed into the chamber.
Gerouny realized it first when he saw the stone.
A wide grin broke out from his previously grim expression. He laughed loudly. Perhaps a little too loudly than was really appropriate.
Pointing to the stone and the descending elf, he spoke quickly to his master.
"Don't you see? She is choosing to alter the timeline- but in a way that stops the paradox!"
Kut'nall turned to his student, his ancient brow furrowed.
"The Rule of Need! There is both a Rule of Law and a Rule of Need!" exclaimed the Younger Warlock, "The magic of the Law stopped some of the others from acting, but the magic of the Rule of Need compels this elf to act!" Then his expression turned thoughtful as he scratched his chin, his eyes glittering. "That Kelp chap must really mean something to this one because there's no way she's doing it for demons or Mud Men."
Slowly, the Elder Warlock's eyes widened. He sucked in a careful breath as Holly Short threw herself into the stone's surface.
The scene on the stone collapsed around her, warping and rippling like a pool of water before fading to black altogether. The rustling sound around them grew louder again, and the shifting symbols sped up.
Then, just as slowly as before. Kut'nall shook his head.
"They still lack their two warlocks. If they too are saved, then the paradox reconstitutes itself. If they are not, Hybras still falls."
Gerouny groaned. He pulled at the other imp's shoulder until he was face to face with his old master.
"They are missing two warlocks." He pointed one finger at himself, and then at the older imp. He paused, letting the thought sink in. "I'd say it's high time we got off this cursed island, don't you?"
"Didn't I teach you anything?" responded Kut'nall, "There is no time on this island."
But he too, was smiling.
It was certainly not the best thing in the world, but is was indeed one last alternative.
Island of Hybras, Limbo
Hybras in Limbo was by no means a pleasant place to be. Especially when a volcano was about to explode. Especially when a bomb was about to go off on top of that volcano. Especially when a mob a angry demons was coming after you with an array of pointy, sharp, and/or heavy things with which to stab, slice, crush and otherwise mutilate you.
Well, at least if you were killed before the bomb or volcano went off, you wouldn't have to suffer through those.
Hyras in Limbo: just a little ways away from the happiest place in the universe.
Artemis opened his eyes to find himself dragging a heavy silver case along the ash-covered ground. His face felt bloated and hot from the heat wafting around them from the volcano. What was the count?
A little voice seemed to speak inside his head. His own voice, in fact, only younger.
'An hour per second for a count of forty, followed by a deceleration to thirty minutes per second for a count of eighteen, then a slight jump backwards in time, one minute per second back for a count of two. Then it repeats.'
Then he had another thought. This one seemed quite distinct from the other.
'No... the time spell is deteriorating faster than that. The pattern of time fails, then it'll collapse even faster once the paradox is introduced.'
It hit him then. The paradox. Holly.
He looked up just in time to see Abbot rising his sword. Time slowed- of course it did, it was decelerating again. But that meant Artemis couldn't get there fast enough. He tried, though. With no other options, the Irish teen tried the most brutish of attacks. Artemis moved to tackle the demon.
But to no avail. The flow of time was just too slow. His thoughts were keeping up, but his body wouldn't. Artemis saw with horrifying clarity the moment when Abbot's magic blade touched the surface of Holly's uniform.
Captain Holly Short had walked into the stone's surface with her eyes closed. She didn't open them even when she heard the harsh howling of demons, or felt the volcanic heat burn at her exposed face. If one of her last memories was to hear Artemis say those words, then she would by no means mar her life with anything too unpleasant after that.
She felt the temporal strain pull at her a little, as time collapsed around her. Her left arm- a few inches closer to the volcanic lip- felt like had too much energy, while her right felt sluggish. Not that it mattered, of course. Holly expected that in a few seconds, she would feel pain, followed by nothing at all.
A demon roared in somewhere in front of her, and she felt something sharp poking her chest.
Then, a jolt. The air was knocked out of her lungs by the brunt of an impact on her right shoulder. Red-hot ashes stung her face before she realized that she was lying on the ground.
"D'Arvit..." she heard herself curse. But it didn't come from her mouth.
Holly cracked open an eye and froze at the sight she saw.
Abbot had stabbed her. But she was looking at herself now, in a slightly older, more worn-looking uniform, struggling with both hands to push a blade out of her chest, even as black and blue sparks crackled and dueled where the metal met flesh. The blue fought valiantly, but lost quickly enough.
The demon leader roared in confusion and anger when he saw the Holly on the ground. But with a grunt, he set off towards two easier targets. The elf could wait.
Holly saw the light fade from the Lieutenant's eyes, her expression still a grim mask of determination, not that much different in death than it looked in life.
Before she even really processed the scene, Holly raised her Neutrino reflexively as Abbot approached N°1 and Qwan, who were still immersed in their spell-weaving. But something pulled at the weapon and it flew out of her hand.
Seemingly from nowhere, Gerouny appeared nearby and caught the Neutrino in one outstretched palm.
"No, Captain," said the Elder Warlock, who had appeared next to Gerouny, "Unless you want to restart the paradox... those two can't be saved."
He then quickly turned around towards the demon horde, and yelled in a loud, disgusted, mesmer-laced voice.
"You fools! Stop this nonsense!"
The mob paused, seemingly shaken. One or two dropped their weapons. A few more wet themselves. But none of the demons advanced any further.
Artemis somehow made it by her side, bomb still in hand.
They watched the spectacle in fearful silence, as Abbot dealt two swift blows. One stroke of his cursed sword. Then another. N°1 fell, the magic from his spellcasting still leaking from his body. Qwan was only held up by the fact that Abbot's blade was still stuck in him.
Then Gerouny fired a single bolt from the Neutrino.
Abbot was launched several feet away, and Qwan fell over with the blade in his chest, dead long before he hit the ground.
"Quickly now!" ordered Kut'nall, "Before the time spell collapses." He turned to Artemis and Holly. "I presume you two know what to do."
Moving almost automatically now, Holly pulled Abbot's unconscious body into place, though she paused briefly to bend down and close Qwan and N°1's eyes. She glanced back at the fallen body of the other Holly, further off on the plateau. She wouldn't have time to reach it.
They gathered in a rough pentagram: two demon warlocks, a snoring demon leader, an elf, and a barely-magical human. Kut'nall looked around at the group.
"Qwan was better than I gave him credit for," he mused, even as his eyes flashed blue and glowing runes appeared on his body, "this is an absolutely horrible mess of a way to set up a time transport."
"It would be less of a mess if you focused," reprimanded his apprentice.
The Elder made an unhappy grunt. The magic grew.
"It will take both of us to control the spell," said Kut'nall, "So Fowl, lead us to the time. Short, lead us to the place."
This time, they understood immediately.
At first, Artemis thought he could correct for the three years he had missed the first time they made this trip. But he stopped himself when he realized that would hardly be a wise choice. It took the LEP three years to set up a way to hide Hybras. He would not be gaining back lost time. But he knew for sure that he was an older Fowl in a younger body- he had already lived for more than he should have with all the time traveling.
So he focused on the time, and felt his native timeline reach out to him.
This was not like the first time, when he had no experience with magic or with time. Though he clutched Holly's hand just as tightly as he had before- or perhaps even tighter- the flow of magic around the circle pushed his own magic along much more easily. He felt a comforting warmth from Holly's magic as if flowed into him and melded with his own- a warmth quite unlike the icy reception he received when he entered the other timeline from Limbo.
As their thoughts and memories combined, Artemis finally understood just what had happened.
"She jumped in front of you?" Artemis asked without speaking.
"She did it for that elf," responded the Younger instead of Holly.
"Don't delude yourselves," added the Elder, "That one has no love for Mud Men or demons."
He couldn't help but crane his neck around to look at the fallen figure of the other Holly. He felt another wave of warmth coming from the Holly next to him, as she saw his thoughts. It was probably the closest she could do to an unending, comforting embrace at the moment.
Then, from the cacophony of thoughts, Qweffor finally broke through.
"Hello? Who's there?"
"Qweffor, I need your help..." came Kut'nall's thoughts, each bit as gritty-sounding as his words, "Feel the spell around you and lend it your power!"
"Who is that?" came Qweffor's thoughts again.
Artemis could almost make out Kut'nall grinding his teeth in frustration.
"I am the Elder Warlock of Hybras," came the thought soon enough, "But introductions later. Magic- now!"
"But I thought the Elder disa-"
"MAGIC!" yelled the thoughts of four people at Qweffor. And when four people yell the same thing inside your head, you listen, no matter how crazy the situation. They did manage to get in your head, after all.
There was an hour left on the bomb's timer. But time accelerated again. In one instant, the charge inside the casing sparked, triggering the explosive material. The bomb exploded in a powerful, blazing pulse.
Fragments shot out in all directions, their energy captured by the lattice of magic that had formed around the bomb. Artemis had seen all of this before, of course, but it still left him in awe.
If a bomb this small could trigger a spell like this, Fowl briefly wondered what a nuclear weapon would be able to do.
"Stop it Arty," came Holly's thoughts almost immediately, "Last time it was Impressionist art, this time it's nukes. Why can't you Mud Men focus? Let's try not to land in the middle of an exploding Hiroshima, hm?"
Things seemed to happen faster than last time. Maybe it was because Artemis had almost gotten used to being ripped apart and sent across spacetime, and his brain just resigned itself to that fact now without bothering to analyze it.
A giant blue ring of magic burst from the lip of the volcano, quickly overwhelming the naturally red tint of Limbo. It expanded past the boundaries of the island of Hybras. Time flowed backwards just once more, causing the ring to shrink back down slightly for two counts.
Then time moved forward again. The ring bellowed outward and Limbo glowed a magical, sparking blue. Arcs of magic struck the edges of the island like lightning bolts, scorching the rock where they touched.
Then time accelerated.
The magic collapsed on itself, drawing all of Hybras and everything on it into one single, tiny point, and whisking them through space and time. For just a moment, all of Limbo appeared blue.
When the color faded, Limbo was completely empty, and completely red again.
Or maybe it wasn't. After all, if something is red, but no one is around to see it, does it actually have a color?
And that, of course, was how any place outside of time always was: confusing.
Earth Time Stream
Materialization was as painful as Artemis remembered. Even though he had adapted to time travel with a few people, bringing an entire island of demons across time was hardly the same affair.
He found himself lying flat on the ground on his back, staring blankly at a blue sky. Moments later, the buzz of hundreds of deactivating cam-foils rolled across the sky, as fairy vehicles of every type imaginable dropped into viability. Foaly's Section Eight project, it seemed, worked out just as well as it did the last time.
But Artemis did not pay nearly as much attention to that as he had before. Even as the two demon warlocks moved swiftly to deal with Qweffor and Abbot, he only saw one thing.
Holly's soot-covered face appeared above him in his field of vision. There were tan, skin-colored streaks running from her eyes where tears had washed away the volcanic soot.
"Your eyes," she said, her lips quirking up just a little, "we switched again."
Artemis sighed as the elf reached a hand towards his face, using her magic to resize the hazel eye to a proper human norm. "I suppose we could have done better with the time transport, but I think I already picture myself with this eye as being the real, normal me."
He pushed himself off the ground and surveyed his surroundings. Three bodies still lay near the volcano's crater- the price that was paid to correct the paradox.
Holly Short, Qwan, and N°1 died by Leon Abbot's blade, just as Time demanded. The paradox was no more.
On a nearby patch of empty ground, grappling hooks pierced the rock as an LEP craft pulled itself into position and landed on the island with a pneumatic hiss.
"We made it..." whispered Artemis, half to himself and mostly in awe. He saw Foaly galloping over, flanked by several fairies in both LEP and Section Eight garb.
He felt a hand turn his face though, as Holly made him look at her.
"Yeah," she agreed quietly, her hair still disheveled and her face still dirty, "We made it back." She stared at him with mismatched eyes. "And I'm never letting go of you again."
The elfin captain, Holly Short, kissed a Mud Man in full view of a good part of the LEP, Section Eight, and several hundred demons.
There would be consequences for this. But whatever the consequences were, they would bear them together, because the alternative is too terrible.
A/N: It's been a long story, I think I'm entitled to a slightly longer ending A/N, don't you?
Okay, so I'll make a few general comments and preemptively answer a few questions that will inevitably come up.
I got a lot of theories about how this story would end (and many more death threats in addition to those), and though a few people guessed the general gist of the ending correctly, Totally Obsessed had what I thought was a really creative theory. It turned out to be wrong (and Holly's height was actually just changed so I'd have an easier time distinguishing the two when writing), but still, I liked it a lot. Also, I should say that this ending (the actual ending) was not influenced by Ru-Doragon and her ilk.
Now, for stuff about future writing, I'll say this: I don't know. I don't think there's much point to a direct sequel for this story, since as far as I can tell, I worked out most of the timeline kinks Colfer introduced, minus the two Kobois, which he'll probably deal with later anyway. I will certainly keep on writing, though whether the next piece will be for Artemis Fowl or not, I can't say. Until then, I things like "real life," "school," and "research" to keep be busy. Not that I'm complaining too much.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this author's humble tale of Mud Men and fairies. Happy New Year!
And please leave a review. It'd make my day.