Hello there! I'd like to think everyone who offered any kind of feedback on this story. I hope the end doesn't disappoint. Enjoy, and wish me luck on my exam tomorrow.
xPart Five: Einherjar
Marilyn Fowl usually returned home from school in a very good mood, her little head filled with loads of useless new information gleaned from the book she read – which in most cases had little or nothing to do with the subject matter she should have been taught.
She exasperated her teachers – and her parents – to no end. They were accustomed to boys who, despite all the strangeness surrounding them, had never had trouble with concentration or marks. The Fowls' only daughter, on the other hand, found school uninteresting. She aced some subjects and entirely failed others, and the only things that succeeded in holding her attention were fiction and fine art.
"… and Miss Poppington attempted to confiscate my book," she complained to her mother, who did take the time to spend at least an hour a day with her daughter, still deeply affected by the second time she had lost her eldest son. "I had to distract her with a debate on the progressive disenchantment with the current age displayed in Dickens' works, until the end of the lesson. It was awful. Who cares about Dickens?"
Marilyn was six.
"Dickens is classic, honey," Angeline replied, eyes straying to the nearby shelf where her husband had moved the elder editions once their daughter's collection of books began to expand.
"Dickens is stale," Marilyn replied uncompromisingly, with the vocabulary of a seasoned author, but the point of view of a small child. "Speculative fiction is much more interesting, right, Grandpa 'tler?"
Domovoi inclined his head in a neutral gesture.
Marilyn self-assuredly nodded. Her pigtails bobbed.
Domovoi was about to start another of the endless ruminations on how old he felt and, apparently, looked as well – it did no good telling the Fowl daughter that he was younger than her parents, once he had been designated 'Grandpa' –when his pager beeped.
He rose to his feet, quietly excused himself, and went to do his work. The Fowls were too considerate of him nowadays. It seemed as though they had forgotten that they believed him responsible for the hole in their family, and made allowances for his waning strength. Certainly, no other member of the security would have been allowed to spend an hour a day just lounging around while the youngest Fowl did her homework.
Once in the hall, he activated the intercom. "Trouble?" he asked.
The male voice on the other side let out a stream of profanity, before the transmitter was stolen from him and Juliet spoke in a tense voice: "Infiltration, brother! Three bodies, professional gear, masked, armed. Currently on the ground floor. Guards dead."
Domovoi's eyes widened; he felt his heart skip a beat. He had not been in a combat situation for years. Three competent assassins was more than he could hope to handle… Still, Domovoi had alerted Juliet to the possibility of it happening, and he had made the issue of his disposability clear. It wasn't as if he wanted to die… no, not really.
Maybe just a little.
"Point of contact below the main staircase," Juliet barked. "Sending reinforcement. Don't argue and move!"
Domovoi wanted to argue, but a lifetime of training took over and he ran down the stairs faster than he should have if he paid attention to his knees. He threw himself into a roll from the second-to-last step – he was old, not lame – to avoid a shower of bullets. He had pulled something, but there was no time for pain.
He kicked the feet from under someone, and the person was flexible enough to land on their hand and push themselves upright, but Domovoi had a knife in his hand and an uncovered side displayed to him for almost a second. He had taken advantage.
He was punched into the kidneys and yelled in pain. A knife flew inches from his face and hit his attacker, but not fatally, because they gripped Domovoi's upper arm and neck and gave him a push that sent him face-first into the wall.
He heard Juliet's shouting, but the world swayed from the blow into his head. He heard more shouting – his face met the wooden facing again – Angeline's and Marilyn's high-pitched screams. He had to get his ass in gear.
A rapid crouch and step to the side, and he struck his enemy's solar plexus with his shoulder. Then he buried his elbow in their stomach-
-and got a punch to the gut that doubled him up.
There was an explosion and more screaming, and he was sent careening into the railing of the staircase. He felt ribs breaking. Trying to catch his breath, he didn't have a chance to look around, and it was only luck that he wasn't hit with a throwing star. It embedded itself in the paneling, and he spun, ready to punch.
His foe was ready as well, hitting Domovoi's obviously injured chest.
Domovoi held his wakizashi in his hand, and opened the man's jugular with unmistakable aim. Juliet appeared behind the dying assassin and wrenched him away, throwing him into the wall before she realised he had been mortally wounded.
Domovoi staggered and fell backwards; if the carpet was supposed to cushion him, he didn't feel it.
Silence descended with concussing force.
Domovoi turned his head. It was difficult, and painful, but he had to be certain that the Fowls were safe. Myles, unruffled, stepped into the light, while Beckett lifted himself off the floor, covered in dust and rubble. Artemis Fowl didn't seem to have been touched, and Angeline mostly refrained from screaming now, so it stood to reason that she and Marilyn had not been harmed either.
Juliet finished a frantic call to the ambulance, but he could see in her face that she held no hope.
Domovoi sighed. Breathing was becoming difficult; there were bubbles. Absently, he realised that the last blow he had received had pushed his broken ribs inwards and ripped his lungs.
He was dying, and this time there was no helpful LEPrecon officer to heal him after Artemis had deep-frozen him for hours-
Domovoi closed his eyes. Instead of breathing he wheezed and gurgled. He blocked out everything but the memory. In a way, death was coming as a relief. He had hoped to be there for his principal's return, but even the staunchest faith wavered when confronted with time and loneliness. He wished he could have – could have spent more time… he wished Artemis had been content enough to stay. Some days it was getting hard to convince himself that he had been there when his principal had vanished into thin air, that it wasn't just a fabrication of his mind trying to protect him from the reality of Artemis' death.
"Why aren't you doing anything?" Angeline cried.
"Nothing to be done," Myles replied coolly.
Was Domovoi hearing the clicking of hoofs?
The hallucination made him look. He was going to die sane, if nothing else – sane and undefeated.
And alone, regardless of the audience-
An honest-to-god horse canted into the Fowl Manor's hall. It was a huge, hulking grey-speckled stallion and, unless Domovoi's eyes betrayed him completely, its hoofs didn't quite connect with the floor.
It came to a halt a couple of yards from him, and a figure in vaguely female clothing – a mixture of white ceremonial dress and medieval armour – slipped off its bare back.
They landed in a crouch to the sound muffled clinking and spun to look at Domovoi's prone, blood-stained form. The face belonged to a young man, whose long dark hair had been pulled back into a tight braid. His eyes were mismatched: one blue, one hazel.
"Artemis…" Domovoi said, amidst blood-bubbles gurgling and bursting.
There went the rest of his sanity.
"Arty?!" Angeline Fowl pleaded, thunderstruck.
The apparition – for it seemed Domovoi wasn't the only one who saw it – straightened and surveyed the hall. "Father," it said in Artemis' voice, and nodded in greeting. "Mother. Myles. Beckett. Marilyn. Juliet."
It didn't wait for a response and, indeed, ignored their shocked exclamations in favour of lowering itself on its left knee by Domovoi's side and wryly smiling.
"Greetings, brave warrior," Artemis said loudly, ceremonially. "I am your Valkyrie. Allow me to accompany you on your journey to Valhalla."
Domovoi would have laughed – that was so much like his young friend! – but his body convulsed-
All of sudden, Domovoi was sitting up with his hand clasped in Artemis'. He looked around, confused, to find what was missing; the only trace of his wounds left behind was a pool of coughed-up blood. The rest of the scene had not changed the slightest bit: corpses of dispatched attackers were cooling where they had fallen, Juliet silently cried, dishevelled and blood-splattered, the Fowls had not moved an inch, with the exception of Marilyn, who hid behind her mother's skirt, and Myles, who had procured a chair, sat down, crossed his legs and watched with disguised fascination.
Artemis wiped the corners of Domovoi's mouth with a square piece of cloth and stashed it away somewhere in the folds of his skirts. Domovoi realised his palm had left a partial red print on Artemis' shiny breastplate.
"A Valkyrie," Domovoi said pensively. There was no sign of his recent near-death. In fact, he felt better than he had since before he had been shot by Arno Blunt. Had Artemis acquired magic of his own? It would hardly be surprising.
Artemis smiled. It was a tiny smile, and it didn't take away years from his face, but it was true. He rose and for the first time in conscious memory gave Domovoi a hands-up.
"A Valkyrie, my friend," Artemis confirmed. "Just like you have become my Einherjar."
Angeline finally understood the fact that her dead and mourned eldest son was standing in front of her. She swayed, but restored her balance by touching her husband's shoulder. "Artemis-"
"I thought Valkyries were women," Myles remarked, checking his nails.
"Traditionally," Artemis replied, and made the transition from the Manor's floor to the back of his horse in one fluid movement. From up there, he grinned at his stunned audience, and insolently added: "In fact, it depends mostly on the warrior's taste."
Domovoi climbed onto the beast in front of the young man, and suddenly had a warm, alive body plastered all over his back. He turned; Artemis' eyes shone with elation, and he pressed his lips to Domovoi's in their first-ever kiss, startling and scandalising the Fowls.
Someone – Juliet – snorted through tears.
"T-that's breach of contract…" Atremis Fowl the First stammered, pale in the face. Marilyn, bug-eyed, peeked out from between him and his wife.
"Which contract?" Artemis asked playfully. "The one that ended when Domovoi died? I was the one who wrote that contract – and I made sure that I excluded from the formulation whatever I might have disliked."
"Butler?!" Artemis the elder roared, shaking in fury at the thought of his son and heir having been defiled by his bodyguard prior to his death.
"We have to get going." Artemis stated before a family-wide row could break out. "Goodbye." He clucked his tongue at the horse, and the animal obediently set out at a light trot. Domovoi swayed and wished there had been reins to grip.
"Farewell!" Juliet called.
The Fowls, however, weren't so willing to let their momentarily reanimated son and brother out of their lives.
"Artemis!" his father bellowed.
Artemis lifted his hand and waved. The walls of the building – and, indeed, everything with the exception of himself, the horse and Domovoi – became transparent, ethereal.
"Moron," Myles scoffed, as if from great distance.
"Uh huh," Beckett protested, smug like he only was in the rare instances he had managed to one-up his smarter brother. "Beckett'd say he knew a good thing when he saw it. You're just jealous."
Everything went dark and silent. The horse came to a halt.
Artemis spoke: "Scientists have long since discovered that the universe is expanding, but no one has yet proved that it is, in fact, doing so divergently. Moreover, from my observations, time-space is naturally self-similar." He noticed that Domovoi didn't understand what he was nattering on about, and, with a visible strain, attempted to dumb it down: "Logically, there are uncountable other worlds out there – and now we have the time to look around."
"I am dead, am I not?" Domovoi asked, just to make sure.
"You're Einherjar." Domovoi's unfamiliarity with the word must have been tangible, because Artemis elucidated: "But, yes, you are dead."
"What about you?"
"My continued existence is tied to my service to you," Artemis explained, chuckling at the paradox of himself as a Butler's servant. "I have obtained Óðinn's blessing for that – and for us travelling beyond the borders of the realm. We're free."
"Can we go back to our world?"
"Yes, of course. Except that – we should try and fit in, or the fairies will take it out of our hides."
They must have been waiting for something, because then the horse moved on again.
Landscape came into being around them, first transparent, then gradually more and more material. A plane of snow extending from horizon to horizon came into sight; the air was frosty and the sky high above them tinged with the colours of a physically impossible rainbow.
"I realise it was not your choice, but you have died, my friend. It was this – or nothing," Artemis said, tone somewhere between explanatory and apologetic. "By the way, your contract was for life so, technically, you… are not bound to stay with me."
"Which way, Artemis?" Domovoi asked.
"What I wouldn't give for a GPS," the young man grumbled, but Domovoi could hear his smile. Using Domovoi's shoulders as lever, Artemis lifted himself, craned his neck to see as far as he could, then closed his eyes and sniffed the air. "There," he said, extending his arm and pointing.
The horizon was made up of various shades of pale blue: far as eye could see there was nothing but snow.
"Was that magic or echolocation?" Domovoi inquired, too out of his depth to be surprised.
"I wish," Artemis sighed. "That's the way the smell of smoke comes from."
Domovoi, biting down a sarcastic remark, nudged the horse. It set out in a slow, regular gait. Artemis lifted himself on his thighs (gods knew what he had done during the years, what he had learnt and how that had changed his body), locked his forearms around Domovoi's neck and buried his nose in Domovoi's nape.
Artemis Fowl the Second had never been so tactile; had never been so happy either. Here, in a world where wolves howled goodnight and hygiene was probably a dirty word, where technology had not yet been dreamt up and all philosophical arguments one needed were summed up in a good sword, the genius boy with more awards and patents to his name than he cared to keep track of finally found something that made him feel alive again.
It was ironic, but Butlers knew that irony was usually but a flimsy cover for a slew of very good reasons.
There were worlds to be discovered and understood. There were prizes to be coveted and rivals to be defeated and, occasionally, humiliated. There were sources and obstacles and what Artemis had missed most back home: goals yet to be attained.