Artemis sighed as he got out of the Bentley. I must be the only boy in Ireland who actually wants to go to school, he thought, trying not to look at Butler.

The bodyguard rarely voiced his opinions to Artemis, but he had made an exception in this case. Like Mr. and Mrs. Fowl, he wanted Artemis closer to home where it would be easier to protect him. Somewhere that he didn't have to spend the night unprotected. Somewhere that hadn't banned his bodyguard from the premises.

Not that Butler was actually annoyed. Or at least he wasn't acting like he was. But Artemis couldn't help but feel like he was letting his old friend down by deciding to return to boarding school.

It's for my sanity's sake, he told himself. I will truly go mad if I remain at the Fowl Manor with my parents. I can't so much as run a virus scan without being suspected of trying to cook up some criminal plot or another.

More than that, the atmosphere was stifling. In a very short amount of time the once aloof Fowls seemed to have become a very hands on family so to speak. Artemis couldn't get used to the physical contact or his father's spontaneous hugs. It was unnerving how his once cold and distant father had suddenly become such a family man. Next he would be looking into father-son football teams if Artemis wasn't careful, never mind that the older man was down one foot.

"Thank you, Butler," said Artemis, keeping his gaze on the school gates rather than risk seeing disappointment in his friend's eyes. "I trust that you'll look after my parents in my absence."

In his peripheral vision he saw the giant nod once then start back toward the car. He paused before getting in. "You be careful, Artemis," he said.

At that Artemis smiled. "I'll be at school, Butler. Studiously attending my classes, retiring psychologists, and reducing my teachers to tears. What trouble could I possibly get into here?"

Butler shook his head and climbed into the car. He waved once before driving away. Artemis returned the gesture then turned toward the school, his vampire smile firmly on his face. "Ah. It's good to be back."

Holly and Mulch were proudly surveying their new office. With the money from their first case they'd been able to afford the rent, and had just finished unpacking their things. Well, they were mainly Holly's things. Mulch hadn't managed to hang on to much of the wealth he'd accumulated over the years. Holly didn't have a whole lot, but they didn't need a whole lot, yet at least.

They'd just finished hooking up her old second hand communication computer when it began humming, letting them know that someone was requesting a video conference. There were only two people Holly could think of who would be trying to contact her this soon after she'd just set up their new office, so she quickly accepted the call. Foaly's face appeared on the screen, and Holly could tell by his expression that whatever he had to say wasn't good.

"I've got some bad news," he told them, though Holly had guessed as much. "Really bad news."

"What is it?" Holly and Mulch asked together.

"Opal Koboi," said Foaly morosely.

Holly tensed. "Oh no . . ."

"She didn't . . ." Mulch let his sentence trail off.

"She shook our satellite surveillance of her in a train station," Foaly told them grimly, "And Sool only just authorized a Retrieval Team to go after her."

"Only just now!" Holly was outraged. "It's been nearly a week! She could be anywhere in the world by now!"

"I know." Foaly looked very dark. "And she's covered her tracks well. And what's worse is that Sool is driving the LEP into the ground. He's promoting a bunch of fools and paper pushers and giving desk duty to all our best field agents. If this keeps up then the entire organization is going to fall into chaos." He looked very anxious all of a sudden. "Holly," he said, "Are you sure you won't reconsider coming back?"

She shook her head. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't now. You don't really think that Sool would allow me to be rehired, do you?"

"I could fix things so that he wouldn't find out . . ."

Holly shook her head again. "I can't work for him. I'd only get fired my first week back."

"I'm not asking you to do this for your own benefit," said Foaly sharply. "There's a lot more at stake here than your pride."

"I know that! I didn't quit just because I was insulted. I quit because there was no way that I would have been able to do any good for anyone with Sool itching for a chance to fire me!"

"You didn't even try. Look, I'm still here, even though I hate the way things are going now. I'm going to stay here as long as I can because this is where I'm needed. If I wanted to I could go private and start up my own tech company that would make Koboi Industries look like a Mud Boy's lemonade stand. But I'm here because this is where the People need me, and the truth is that we need you too."

"I can't," said Holly flatly.

Foaly's eyes were like flint as he spoke again. "Without you in the LEP Opal's got a clear path to Artemis, Holly."

"She wouldn't," said Mulch, though his protest of disbelief wasn't very convincing. "She's not stupid, she should know better than to mess with the Mud Boy Wonder by now."

"Think like she does for a minute," said Foaly. "She's insane. She wants revenge. We know how far she's willing to go to get it. We're talking about a woman who put herself in a coma for a year then cloned herself so that she'd have an alibi. Right now the three of us are out of her reach. Her getting into Haven undetected, and managing to stay undetected would be impossible. She's more human than pixie now, remember? But on the surface she'll be almost impossible to find, and there isn't much standing in her way."

"Butler," protested Holly. "She'd have to get through Butler to get to Artemis and that won't be easy."

"It's not easy, but it's far from impossible. Both of you have gotten past Butler before," Foaly reminded them.

Holly drummed her fingers on the desk, thinking hard. "I can't go back to the LEP," she said at last. "You know that it wouldn't do any good, Foaly. You know. I wouldn't be any use to Artemis if I was behind a desk stamping papers."

"So you're just going to sit back and let Opal have her way with Artemis?"

Holly's expression darkened. "Never," she said venomously. "And I didn't say I wasn't going to do anything. Foaly. Tell me what it will take for you to get my partner and I a couple extended surface visas?"

"And tell me what the bounty on Opal Koboi is," added Mulch. "For once I'd like to be paid for being part of these crazy Artemis Fowl incidents."

Opal took a roundabout route to Ireland, after making a side trip to Switzerland and stopping at one of the finest medical labs that the country could boast of. Here she secured a few chemicals that were necessary for her plans, and checked into a hotel. She stayed there for three days, but when she checked out, she was a good twenty years older. Amazing what a cocktail of the right hormones could do when administered properly. A pair of colored contacts and a box of hair dye later, and Opal was completely unrecognizable from the little girl she had appeared to be only a few days earlier.

After forging a couple of doctorates and printing up an impressive resume, Opal was on her way yet again. According to her information St. Bartleby's was in need of a new psychiatrist.

In the next chapter Artemis meets his new guidance councilor. Will he recognize her? Or will he not? Will Holly get her surface visa, and a nice big gun to go with it? And will Mulch ever discover Beano? Find out next time!