A/N: As always, thanks to the lovely Eleni_pixie for the editing ^^
Jack sat alone in the kitchen, lost in thought. Had it not been in Alex's nature to joke, she would have thought he was pulling her leg. Invisible fairies had performed an exorcism on him? Alex and Artemis were being stalked by a man who had sent the ghosts upon him? Surely, it was Alex's twisted idea of a joke? No one in their right mind would honestly think . . .
A flicker of unease shot through her. Maybe Alex wasn't in his right mind after all. He'd been sent to a psychiatrist, true, but MI6 had never deemed him mentally stable. Perhaps the problem he'd been having with those nightmares was more serious than she'd originally thought.
She sighed and laid her head on the table. This was way out of her league. Spies and assassins she could deal with. Fairies and ghosts were a whole other subject matter.
A pair of feet appeared under the table, just next to her. She raised her head, and met the icy blue eyes of her house-guest.
"I'm sorry," he apologized looking uncomfortable. "I did not mean to disturb you. I was thirsty . . ." he trailed off, looking unsure.
"Oh, no, it's fine." Jack frowned up at him. The fact that Artemis had changed so much in so little time had not gone unnoticed by her. "Artemis, may I ask you something?"
The boy hesitated, looking even more uncomfortable than before. "Yes."
She paused, trying to gather her thoughts and phrase the question the right way. She didn't want the psychiatrist to think that she believed Alex about the invisible fairies. "Alex . . . Alex told me something tonight that, sort of, well, frightened me a little. I was just wondering if – if he's really o.k."
Artemis frowned slightly while his sharp blue eyes wandered over Jack's face. "I believe that he's fine – the nightmares were caused by post-traumatic stress. Didn't he tell you this?"
She looked away and picked at her nails, forcing herself to concentrate on them instead of the boy standing in front of her. "Um, yes, he did." She swallowed thickly. She didn't really want to tell Artemis about the conversation with Alex, but she felt that she needed to. "He also told me some other things . . ."
Artemis glanced at her sharply. "What other things?" he demanded.
Jack swallowed again. "Things . . .He said that he could see invisible fairies and that his 'nightmare' problem was really ghosts attacking him in his sleep. He said that he'd been stabbed by a person who was possessed by one of these ghosts. He told me many things about you . . ." she trailed off again, looking helplessly up at Artemis. "How can he be o.k. if he believes all that?"
Artemis stared at her levelly. "You don't believe him?" She shook her head and he took a deep breath. He glanced upward, in an almost guilty manner. "Miss Starbright, Alex . . . is telling the truth. Everything he told you was true."
Imerial stretched out his long legs and sighed contentedly. Things were working out better than he had hoped – and with minimal effort on his part. Artemis was distancing himself from his friends, and even creating a riff between them by telling Jack the truth. It wasn't exactly as he'd planned, but, then again, what plan ever transferred smoothly from paper to life? Even that minor setback with Foaly was working to his advantage.
His door opened, without any announcement from the intruder, although he didn't much mind. He was in too good of a mood for the sight of those bouncy, golden curls to irk him.
She flounced over to his bed and stood in front of it, facing him, and crossed her arms. "We have a problem," she said, irritated.
He raised a single, thin eye brow, not at all nonplussed by this news. Minerva was always saying there was a problem. "Oh?" he asked delicately, "and what may that be?"
"Foaly. This whole mission depends on him giving Artemis the benefit of the doubt. He suspects Artemis to have a hand in this whole scheme and I'd be willing to bet that he is already doing checks on him. Eventually, he will find you. And me," she added as an afterthought.
He chuckled. "Oh, mon Cherie, how touching. You're worried about me."
She scowled in an almost playful way. "Perhaps, but that's not the point. I want my revenge. I cannot get it alone, not this far in the game." She peered down at him suspiciously. "Don't you still want revenge?"
The detached manner in which Imerial had been operating disappeared like a wisp of smoke. He leapt to his feet, his pale face twisted in fury, his sharp, white teeth bared in a snarl. He leaned forward and, for one wild instant, Minerva actually thought he might attack her.
"How can you ask me that, you insolent little girl?!" he screamed. "You know what he did to me!" He raised a hand and Minerva physically flinched away from him, but all he did was point at a shelf some four feet above their heads. The shelf itself was crowded with trophies of all sizes and shapes. However, right in the center was a spacious hole.
"He's always beaten me, always! By mere flukes as well! That trophy should have been mine! His stupid "brain wave machine," what use is that, hmm? None, I tell you. The only reason he ever won was because of his father!" Spittle was now flying from his mouth and his icy blue eyes were bulging slightly. A vein was throbbing in his temple his hands – waving around Minerva's head in his fury – were trembling.
Minerva backed away from him. As she did so, her knees hit the edge of the bed and she toppled backwards. After several long moments – in which Imerial sputtered incoherently – he finally calmed down. He glared down at her on the bed.
"Do not," he ordered fiercely, "ever think that I want this revenge more than you do. I want to see Artemis Fowl II brought down. I want to see him beg and cry at my feet, like it's supposed to be!"
Minerva did not comment and Imerial returned to his seat.
"This situation with Foaly is not as dire as you think. It simply means that we will reap out benefits sooner rather than later. I will instruct Jessie to make comment on it tonight during the video chat. This whole thing will be long over before Foaly manages to trace this all back to me."
Minerva nodded, still flat on her back on the bed, still far too terrified to speak. Although Imerial was not known for his docile temper, this was the first time she'd ever felt truly frightened by him.
Imerial sighed heavily and extended a pale hand out to her. "I'm sorry, my dear," he said consolingly. "I did not mean to frighten you, nor did I mean to lose my temper. Could you forgive me?"
She stared, wide-eyed and the proffered hand. Then, slowly, she reached out and took it. "I suppose," she said quietly. She allowed him to pull her into a sitting position.
She cleared her throat once upright and returned to her original point. "We must not underestimate Foaly. Instruct Jessie as you will, but be mindful of the centaur. The sooner we finish this, the better."
"You did what?!" Holly short demanded, glaring at the two boys in front of her.
"We told her the truth," Alex said. His voice was calm, but Holly could detect a definite trace of defiance there as well.
"And you . . ." she trailed off, turning her gaze to the boy, once again, huddled on the bed.
"Confirmed it," Artemis answered tonelessly.
"Have – You – I can't – Gah! D'Arvit Artemis!" she exclaimed. "How could you do this? I told you how dangerous it was! Not only is this a legal nightmare, you have no idea how much danger we put that poor girl in!"
Artemis wet his lips and looked up at her, meeting her gaze for the first time since the fight began. "Holly –"
"Don't even!" Holly snapped, pointing a finger in his direction. "I don't know what your problem has been these past few days, mud-boy, but I'm telling you right now you need to get over it. You want to destroy yourself, that's one thing, but I refuse to let you pull others down with you!"
She opened her mouth, as if to yell again, but a metallic beeping pulled her up short.
"It's the video chat," Alex explained. "Hunter's calling."
Holly glanced over at him. "Answer it."
Alex clicked a few buttons and Hunter's face filled the computer screen. "Alex, Holly," he greeted. "Artemis. I hope I find you both . . .well." His eyes traveled over to Artemis' new skeletal form. "Hmm," he mused. "Perhaps not."
He cleared his throat and straightened up. "Here's the deal: I grow weary of these games. You cannot hope to beat me and, quite frankly, it is just a waste of all our time. I want what I asked for."
"Not a chance," Artemis said, speaking from his perch on the bed.
Hunter raised an eyebrow. "Artemis," he reasoned, "be smart about this. You know nothing about me, yet I know everything about you. There is no way you can win. Just give me what I want and it will all stop."
"What exactly is it, again, that you want?" Holly asked.
"Oh, a few things," Hunter said airily. "None the least of which is for Artemis to step down. I want him to hand over everything he's got. Money, patents, cars, prizes, employees, pets, books, technology. Anything and everything." He paused, considering.
"I know that's a lot," he almost sounded sympathetic, "so I'm going to give you some incentive: Give me what I want or I start killing. Your mother, your father, your brothers, your body guard, your friends – all of them. I will be arriving in three days. I will take you back to the manor, kicking and screaming if I have to (which, by the way, my army is stronger than your Butler and your fairy crack-team) and you will give me what I want.
"So, what say you?"
"No way –"
The rest of Alex's retort was cut off. Not by a loud sound, not by means, but by something so quiet Alex was unsure if it had really been made. To him, it sounded like the skinny boy behind him had said, "Alright."
Hunter's face split into a grin. "That's my boy, finally speaking sense!" he crowed, while Alex and Holly simultaneously turned to look at Artemis. "I will see you in three days." He cut the connection.
"You've lost your mind," Holly said, in a disbelieving tone.
"You did not just seriously agree to that," Alex asked in the same tone. "I mean, you've got something up your sleeve, right? You didn't just, honestly, agree to hand over everything you own?"
Artemis averted his gaze. "I did," he said quietly. "We've been at this for weeks, and we have gotten nowhere. It's time it was ended before someone gets hurt." He took a deep breath. "If that means handing over everything I own, so be it."