Once again, I have to apologize; I have no excuse other than supreme laziness. My bad. Just to let you know, the beginning is a little weak. Just give it a while, it gets better, I promise! It's Long. It's Worth It. It's So Important I Feel The Need To Capitalize Every Word. It's… The Moment We've All Been Waiting For.
Hotel Jardin l'Odeon, Paris, France
Artemis held back a gasp as he was lifted into the air. No matter how many times he flew with Holly, the sensation of being unable to see his own body always shocked him. It was heightened by the fact that, due to the Invisispray- he still scoffed at the name- he was unable even to see his own body, and there appeared to be literally nothing between him and the ground.
Holly expertly manipulated the wing controls, steering the rig onto an eighth-floor balcony, which, having hacked the hotel's network from the shuttle, she knew to be Minerva's floor. She disconnected the piton tying Artemis to her, then set to work on the door with her omnitool.
Artemis suddenly found that he didn't mind Invisispray's less-than-creative name anymore. He turned his hand in front of his face, knowing that it was there, but unable to see it.
"Amazing," he stated. "I can't even imagine the focused ocular distortion necessary for a chemical such as this. How did Foaly manage to achieve it?"
Holly turned, her hand on the wrought-iron door handle.
"Artemis, you know perfectly well that I don't follow these things. Ask him yourself." She tossed him a helmet that miraculously fitted on his head. He blinked a sequence that he had observed Holly using before, activating the radio, meanwhile wondering where on earth Holly had stowed that helmet.
"Foaly?" he said quietly into the recessed microphone. A distant, voice, muted, but clearly recognized as Foaly's. He could barely make out what he was saying.
"… where she is? Well, yes, I know exactly where that one is, I mean the non-time-traveling one. Well, clearly she didn't do it on her own, nobody does that! Okay, nobody does it with help either, but that's not the point. Oh, ha-ha. There's nothing wrong with my security, she cheated. Would you hang on a sec? I've got an important call on the other line."
Artemis cleared his throat, waiting to be addressed.
"Honey! How was your day? Oh, I'm doing fine, a bit of business in the office, you know. What? What? You want to know… What did you say was on the news? Oh. Okay. Well then. Huh. I'd better see about that. Okay, I'll call you in a while. Love you too."
Artemis scowled. Clearly, he did not rank very highly on Foaly's call list.
"Artemis!" came the long-awaited whinny. "Found a new helmet, I see. So you wanted to know about the Invisispray?"
"How did you kn- never mind." Artemis could practically hear Foaly's smirk. Of course the centaur knew what they'd been talking about. Why was he ever even surprised anymore? "Well, how then? You know what, never mind, I'll figure it out on my own."
"I highly doubt that. That is an extremely sophisticated chemical compound, the machinery alone necessary to manufacture it is far beyond the rea-"
"Fine. How close are the demons?"
A brief snort came over the line.
"Demons. Right. Ah… ETA, ten minutes. Move now, and you'll be in and out by the time they show their ugly faces."
Holly's voice came over the line. Artemis had been unaware that her helmet was on the same frequency.
"Alright, then, we're going. Artemis, you know the room number?" He nodded the affirmative. Holly slid open the beautiful glass French doors and stepped into the thankfully unoccupied hotel room.
"Foaly, one more question. How long until this stuff wears off?" Artemis could, once again, hear Foaly's smirk over the com-set.
"Should be anytime now. Just hope it doesn't wear off your clothes before it wears off your skin…"
Artemis cast a horrified look at Holly.
"Please tell me he's kidding."
"I wish. I've been in a few unpleasant situations with that myself. I'll go stand guard by the elevators; you stay in here until it wears off fully. You'll be lucky to get Minerva to come with you visible; invisible, you haven't got a chance. I'll be shielded but I'll see you come out of Minerva's room, and I'll come back in here. Here's my omnitool if you need it, but hopefully she'll let you in. Remember, we've got ten minutes- less than that now- until we have some visitors, so hurry." Holly inched the door open and slid through, fading as she did.
Artemis paced around the white, fancy suite, wishing that his watch wasn't invisible. Finally, he saw a faint shimmer where his hand should be, than a vague outline, than a transparent, ghostlike effect. Finally, his entire being- clothes included- had joined the visible spectrum once again. He inched the door open as Holly had, and slid out into the hall. There was no sign of Holly near the elevators, but, after all, there shouldn't be.
He strode down the hall, as though he belonged there, until he got to the room that he knew to be Minerva's. He gave a polite triple knock, and waited a moment, but there was no sound from the inside, except for what sounded like a television. Perhaps she had fallen asleep? It was late, after all.
It was at about that point that Artemis remembered that he still had his helmet on. Mentally rebuking himself, he whipped it off and stowed it under his arm, reasonably sure that under light examination it would appear to be nothing more than a motorcycle helmet. He hoped that Minerva would open the door; he got the impression that those who rode what were, in his opinion, suicide machines were… He struggled for a word in his own considerable vocabulary, but found none. Perhaps Juliet's then. The word "badass" sprang to mind.
It was, however, apparently to be a moot point, because, although he knocked successively harder several times, the door didn't budge, and he had to resort to using the omnitool. He did so, and the door swung noiselessly open. Hoping that Minerva's generally considerable wrath could somehow be averted, he stepped inside.
Holly watched as Artemis finally found his way into the room, scowling. She then proceeded to scowl at herself for scowling. Not only was she in a bad mood, but the sneaking feeling about exactly why she found herself in that particular mood only exacerbated it. She leaned idly against the wall, moving farther from the elevators a few times as guest strolled by, although it wasn't really necessary. She checked her watch roughly every thirty seconds. What was taking Artemis so long?
As it turned out, the question wasn't 'what' but 'who'. Artemis stepped farther into the room, toward the TV, which was tuned to a certain show that offended him deeply. He made a mental note to confront Minerva about her dubious tastes in television. Just as he was about to give up on subtlety and simply shout her name, he heard behind him possibly the most ominous 'click' he'd ever heard in his life. He then heard an even more ominous zap and a sizzling sound, and felt a gun barrel on the back of his head, which was yet more ominous that that.
He turned slowly, knowing what he would see before he did, and of course he was right. Opal grinned before him, having removed her disguise, with a modified fairy blaster in one hand and a conventional human weapon in the other, both of which were pointed straight at him. She grinned a grin unsettlingly like his own, and gestured for him to take a seat, which he did. She sat across from him, still smiling, still not speaking, and still with two guns pointing at his head. The lock on the door, he noted with dismay, had been burned beyond recognition.
Artemis barely suppressed his fingers from twitching nervously against the silky blue armchair. Opal curled up in a matching one across the white rug. Clearly, she was not going to break the silence, so he did so himself.
"What is it that you want this time? You must know that it is completely impossible for you to escape this building."
"I have no intention of escaping this building."
"What do you hope to accomplish, then? I see that you must have captured Minerva; where is she? Or have you killed her?" His composure barely slipped, but Opal caught it."
"Well, no, not yet, although since I have you here I suppose I probably will, if I can."
"Because I can."
These words were even more ominous than the gun had been. Opal had always been unbalanced, but clearly this most recent imprisonment had pushed her off the edge. Also, the fact that she knew she wouldn't escape from the hotel unsettled him. There was only one thing left that she could be trying to achieve.
"What now, then?" he asked. He was trying to buy time, but the ruse failed. Opal considered for a moment, tilting her head and moving her lips as though going through a checklist. Finally she looked up, smiling once again.
"I shoot you, I suppose. Tell me, how long do you think it will be before that elf gets worried and comes in here? I will shoot her through the door, I think. Actually, I think I'll let her see your body. I've seen her look of utter despair before, and it was quite entertaining. I'd love to see it again. Then I'll shoot her, so she'll die with that look on her face, and I can stare at it as long as I desire, then I will shoot Minerva, then as many of Retrieval as I can."
Not once did the smile leave her face.
"Oh, and you can give me that." Artemis slowly handed her the helmet. She seared the inside with a long blast from the laser, rendering it useless.
Artemis had rarely felt fear, and even more rarely had he shown it, but a cold terror shot through his veins, and he felt his eyes widen, and sweat start to bead on his brow. Opal was completely insane. He heard her speak of killing Holly and Minerva, and he was terrified, because he knew that she would.
"So this," Opal mused, "This is your look of utter despair. I suppose everybody has one." She paused. "Ah, but I'm making the same mistake that I always do. I talk and gloat until some cavalry pulls off some grand rescue. Well, not this time. I am going to shoot you. Right now. As soon as I find a good angle; I can't have a memory of this in which I can't see your face."
She rose and walked around the room, staring at him all the while. For perhaps the fifth time in his life, his brain became that of a normal, terrified human. The grandiose schemes and complicated mathematical theorems that were constantly darting through his brain dried up, leaving behind only burning, freezing, paralyzing fear.
Opal finally stopped with her back to the picture window.
"Perfect. The moonlight illuminates your face just so… would you do me a favor and stand up, please? I'd like to watch you fall."
He rose dumbly.
"A little to your left."
A bit of his usual contrariness returned, and he glared at her.
"Ah well. Your loss. I though everyone dreamed of dying with perfect lighting, but I suppose that's just me. Bye now."
Artemis was tempted to close his eyes, but he stared her down. Suddenly, he saw her twitch and give a sideways glance. Some sixth sense, perhaps. Apparently a good one, because at that moment the window in front of which she stood exploded inward, a hailstorm of glass covering him in a myriad of cuts. Opal couldn't have fared well, he thought.
As it turned out, glass was the least of her worries. Something like ten or twelve demons vaulted through the window and surrounded her, stalking in a moving circle, low, rumbling growls humming from deep in their chests. Opal was hardly phased by the newcomers. She turned the guns this way and that, but seemed barely to notice the demons, instead attempting to center them on Artemis, who elected to complicate things for her further by ducking behind his chair.
Opal opened fire on the demons, dropping one of them with a smoking scorch from one gun and another with a bullet from the other. The remaining demons howled and flew at her with teeth, horns, and claws. Opal howled right back and began to shoot with a vengeance.
Artemis watched the fight in horrified awe from behind the chair. The demons were formidable fighters, but Opal was a whirlwind of pure howling, spitting fury, and the demons' circle was driven farther and farther back, until they stalked her from a distance once again. Somehow, the entire time that she had been fighting, Opal had kept her eyes on Artemis, assuring him with them that, despite this small change in plans, she was still going to kill him. He edged out from behind the chair, hoping to dart toward the door, but a smoking laser burn scorched the rug directly before his fingers, and he pulled them back. The demons regrouped in a corner, glaring at Opal and Artemis, beaten for now, but clearly not subdued.
Opal came closer and closer to Artemis' chair, until crouching behind it offered no protection from the Fury-like being, and he forced himself to stand and look her in the eyes once again. As soon as he began to rise, though, he dove back to the ground. Not because of cowardice, though. He had stepped on the knife, and when he rose again, he had it glittering in his hand. It wasn't as good as the blasters that Opal had, fetched from the tree outside in which she had stowed them before her jaunt inside, but holding a knife does tend to give one a bit of extra confidence.
They stared each other down for a moment, then Opal pulled both triggers at the precise moment that Artemis dived to the side, slashing one of her wrists with all the strength he could muster, and, more effectively, Jax, the demons' leader, leapt onto her shoulders, apparently having gotten back his nerve.
Opal, rather than grudging it, seemed glad of the extra competition. She twisted furiously, jabbing with her tiny, pointy elbow until Jax fell off. He did, but not before one of the guns flew from Opal's hand. All three dived for it, but Artemis miraculously got there first and seized it. Jax paused, unsure of whom to attack, but Opal never slowed. She continued the dive, teeth bared, a wild keen escaping her lips, blood ribboning from the wrist he had cut. She seemed to have forgotten the other gun in her hand; Artemis was unsure of which one it was. She went for his throat, and he collapsed to the ground under her weight. He fired the gun in his hand as fast as he could pump the trigger, still unsure of which one it was.
He soon found out. Opal rolled off of him, three bullet holes in her chest. She looked him in the eyes, and he scrambled backwards. The terror he had felt before was nothing compared to what he felt now. His genius gave him no control now. Her eyes were pure, simple, certain rage. He wouldn't have been surprised if the look alone had killed him on the spot. Then she screamed, and it was even worse. It was all of the pain of the wound, and the pain and fury of failing in this last mission that she had set for herself. Even the demons froze, eyes wide, then began to wail, harmonizing with her terrible death keen. The sound drilled into Artemis' head to the core, and he wanted to fall to the ground, covering his ears, but he couldn't move.
She fell back, eyes still open, still glaring and accusing, and whatever last vestiges of magic were in her humanoid body rose from her skin in a blue haze, swirled around the wounds, and seemed to give up, dripping off of her and sinking into the carpet. Her scream stopped, the demons' wailing with it. Her dead eyes were still fury.
Now Artemis collapsed. He forced himself to inhale, then exhale. His heartbeat pounded through his ears. Opal's death had been too terrible for even him to handle.
The demons, however, had no such problems. Death was something they were used to, even if the scream wasn't. Death was what they had come to bring. They had seen death, but they hadn't inflicted it yet.
Jax began to growl. The pack joined, the low hum growing and twisting, rising into a baying, howling roar. Artemis didn't react. He felt as though Opal had cursed him, and he was bound to die in this room, if not by her hand. The noise grew closer and closer, surrounding him, providing a soundtrack to the dark thoughts that he found himself unable to escape from. A hand closed around his shoulder, hard enough to leave bruises, claws drawing blood. Artemis felt a sharp point under his chin, pulling him from his stupor against his will. He found himself staring into Jax's yellow, slit-pupiled eyes and slavering fangs, grinning into his face. This, though, didn't scare him. Jax could kill him, he knew, could rip him apart, but he could never give him the look of rage that Opal had given him.
The pack circled closer.
Holly leaned against the wall, checking her watch. She would give Artemis one more minute, then she was going in there. She shifted again, foot falling asleep, laying her cheek against the maintenance door. A low ringing reached her ears from the other side of the door. Probably just a bit of machinery, she thought.
Suddenly, she became suspicious. These walls, she knew, were soundproof, so if she could hear it, that meant the source of the noise was practically against the wall. Had it not been for the amplification of the metal door, she probably wouldn't have heard it at all.
Sure, Holly, she told herself. You're a Recon officer. Being bored shouldn't make you have to investigate every little thing. Her curiosity, however, finally got the best of her. She regretted lending Artemis her omnitool, but then noticed that the door was unlocked, with a bar through the handle on the outside. Almost as if someone was locked in, rather than her being locked out.
Oh, give me a break, she mocked herself. People don't lock each other in maintenance rooms. But she opened the door anyway and slipped inside. The ringing was indeed coming from right near the wall, but seemed to be from underneath a badly folded stack of towels, incongruous in the pristine room. She started throwing the towels over her shoulder. The ringing grew louder as she did so. She whipped off the last few, and gasped.
Minerva lay unconscious on the towels, her ringing cell phone slipping out of her pocket, bumping the wall she lay against. Papa, read the caller ID. Voicemail picked up, apparently on speaker. A deep voice rang through the small room, speaking in rapid French. "Minerva, darling, I have found us a lovely chateau! It looks over the ocean. There is a big blue room with large windows for you, on the seaward side. I have been informed that there is excellent Internet access. Anyway, return my call when you can, and I shall tell you of the passage here that I have arranged for you, along with our things. Papa loves his Minerva."
Holly stifled a smirk at the last sentence, then stopped as she fully registered the situation. Someone had knocked out and hidden Minerva. Artemis had gone into Minerva's room.
Holly sprinted down the hall, gun already drawn, fighting back the dread rising in the pit of her stomach. Minerva's door was locked, but Holly body slammed it down with no hesitation. She registered the situation within in an instant, and opened fire soon after that. Half of the demons were down before they even knew they had a visitor, and the other half never knew who exactly that visitor was.
She rushed to Artemis, who, although conscious, was clearly dazed. He didn't seem to be deeply injured, but was staring over her shoulder. She whirled and gasped again, catching sight of Opal's blood-soaked body. The eyes glared at her, too. Accusing. Vengeful, even in death. This isn't over, the eyes said. Holly glared back at them and clipped Artemis onto the Moonbelt. He still said nothing. She considered going back the way that she had come in, but, casting an eye around the wreckage of the room, decided that one more broken window wouldn't make that much of a difference.
Foaly smiled coldly on the shuttle's screen. Artemis was still resting while Holly told him what she had seen.
"The room's a mess," she concluded. "We're going to need a team up there, before the hotel's housekeeping trips on a snoring demon in the morning."
"Already taken care of," Foaly replied. Holly glanced at the radar screen and saw that, indeed, a shuttle was jetting toward the hotel.
"Oh, yeah, one more question," Holly continued. "Has anyone asked Minerva what in Frond's name happened to her?"
"Actually, yes. We figured that, since she's already in on the game, and this was sort of our fault, she deserved to know. The team that came in after you explained why Opal was there, and she took it surprisingly well. Apparently they had a fistfight."
"A… fistfight. Minerva had a fistfight with Opal Koboi." Holly started to feel a new respect for the girl. She also found that her resentment toward her was vanishing, now that Minerva was leaving Europe. As usual, she didn't permit herself to wonder why this was.
"Yup. Even threw a table at her. I copied the whole thing from the satellite we had on her."
"Oh, cool, I'd love to see- wait, we had a satellite on her?"
"Um… yes." Foaly looked suspiciously unrepentant. "Hey, don't look at me like that, it was Council's orders."
"And… nobody noticed, on the feed from this wonderful satellite of yours, that Minerva Paradizo was having a fistfight with Opal Koboi?"
"Hey, I've got hundreds of these things up there. I can't watch them all at once, can I? Maybe if I had a decent budget…"
"Don't you dare give me that budget excuse…" Holly began. Foaly cut her off.
"'Scuse me a sec, but I've gotta take this call."
"Don't you dare…" But it was too late. Holly heard the squeaking of office chair wheels as Foaly rolled to another station. A muted voice flowed through her com-set.
"Honey! Sorry I forgot to call you back, I… Oh, no, I'm sorry I missed dinner. I'm sorry Sweetybum, that sounds like it would have been delicious… I'll warm it up myself, okay? What? Okay, I won't call you Sweetybum again. How about Sugarrump? No? Babytail? All right, all right, sorry, I'll work on that… I know… I'm so sorry, I had a bit of a situation up here, Koboi trashed a hotel room… yeah, Koboi… no, she's dead actually, long story… Oh? Okay, I'll pick up some carrots too... But they're nutritious..! Yes dear."
Holly sighed and went back into the passenger section, where Artemis was. He no longer looked dazed, but thoughtful, as though he was still analyzing the night's events. He looked up when she entered.
"Holly," he smiled, a real smile. "It seems I must thank you once again for saving my life. I appreciate your making a habit of it."
"You killed Opal Koboi," she half-smiled back. "I think the People collectively owe you for that… although I would have liked to do it myself."
"It was actually unintentional. I was unaware that I was holding a lethal weapon."
"I just hope the Council doesn't give you a hard time. I doubt they could, even if they tried. You're not exactly in their jurisdiction."
"I'd like to see them try," Butler rumbled, having also entered the hold. "Honestly, Artemis, please listen to me next time. You should have known that the one time I'd let you go off on your own would be the time you ran into a psychotic former-pixie and a pack of demons."
"Things do see to work out like that, don't they, old friend? I do apologize, you were certainly correct, although I was correct that Holly would protect me."
Butler scowled anyway, but all of them knew that he wasn't really angry. Holly added a dark note to the conversation.
"I wonder if Koboi will get a recycling ceremony, or if they'll just dump her somewhere. Kudos to whatever fairy got close enough to cover her up. Gods, I hope she isn't on our shuttle."
Even Artemis shuddered at the though of those furious, accusing brown eyes, staring, somewhere on their shuttle.
"In her last moments," Artemis remarked pensively, "She was almost… admirable. In a psychotic, evil, homicidal sort of way, or course, but admirable nonetheless. She didn't fear death, and the thought of defeat had never occurred to her. Even though she turned out the wrong way, the People have suffered a loss."
Holly considered his words. "Maybe, if she'd been on the good side, yes. One way or the other, she was a formidable force. The fact that she hasn't taken any lives, though, is dumb luck, and frankly, I'm sure there have been casualties we don't know about. Clearly no prison can hold her. Artemis, I know how you feel, but you did the right thing."
Butler added a consolation of his own.
"Taking a life is never easy. But the fact that you regret it means you're not a monster. And Holly's right, she had to die. You saved the planet from a powerful enemy."
"Perhaps," said Artemis. "I'm not so sure. You're right, though; she was too unpredictable. I'd do the same again. But that doesn't make it any easier."
"I think she'll haunt all of us for a while." The three were surprised to see No1 as the speaker. He shrugged at their expressions. "It's true. But we'll recover. Quan's taught me a bit about how that works, too. You knew it would come to this, all of you. Either one of you would kill her, or she would kill one of you. It was your mission, even if you didn't realize it. Artemis is right. You'll miss her."
And we arrive at the end of my debut. If you haven't reviewed before, now would be the time. I think I inadvertently turned into an Opal sympathizer at the end there, how about you guys? Was I worthy of writing a major canon death? If you've already reviewed an earlier chapter, feel free to review again, because I feel like it changed a lot from the beginning to the end. Keep an eye out for my drabble collection coming out… huh. I'd love to say 'soon' but 'eventually' is probably a bit closer to the mark. Anyway, let me know what you thought!