This... is not Enigma.
For those of you who don't know, when I ended Half the Perfect World I gave away the title for my next fic — Enigma, followed by a sequel called Legacy. Obviously, this is not either of those. Thing is, Enigma is a really hard fic to write. Legacy should be easier for me, but for now, I'm stuck, and I don't plan to publish any of it until I have completely finished the first part — and that means written AND edited, Kitsune Heart Basseri.
Oh, yeah, and that Artler fic I promised, for all of you who are curious? It's trash. I'm not publishing it.
So for now, while I'm trawling through Enigma... here is the filler fic. I give you Imperium, edited by the wonderful Ru-Doragon. A note: this gives a new ending to Time Paradox and completely ignores the fact that The Atlantis Complex even exists. Just so you know.
Chapter One: The Beginning
To block out the circumstances that currently surrounded him, Artemis found himself focusing on how cold the shuttle was.
It wasn't that it was just cold on the mercury — though it was that as well — but the place was soulless. Unwelcoming gray metal made up the entire craft, the only color coming from various lights on the dashboard and screen, washing out the silent, stoic-faced pilot as they hummed along down E1, speeding toward Haven.
Hunching over in his seat, Artemis shivered against the seatbelts.
How he missed warmth. Everything in his life had been cold of late, ever since the fiasco with the lemur and the death of his mother. Her aura had once filled the house up, brightening his father's eyes and bringing life to the darkness of the antique halls. But her memorial service had come and gone, and he still stood knee-deep in the snow every day in front of her grave marker, wondering where things had gone wrong.
It was a rhetorical question, of course; he knew exactly where he had screwed up. It could have all been avoided had he only been more careful. He could be sitting with his mother in front of a fire back home, never once thinking of the stupid shuttle or of the imminent demise of the fairy People or the fact that the most powerful person on and under the planet wanted him dead.
Closing his eyes against the harshness of the shuttle's interior, he remembered soundlessly; a slip of the hand, the slight twisting of the step and he was on the ground as Opal collected her prize, the lemur unconscious in her arms, the cackle triumph evident on her face as she gleefully skipped over the cataleptic Butler on the floor and ran like a bat out of hell, cackling all the while. A golden opportunity had arisen and the pixie had seized it, an unknown, terrifying power surging through her limbs, destroying everything in a single, easy second. One moment, one tiny mistake on his part and then the mimic disease was too much for his mother's body to bear, her heart simply stopping as he held her hand and cried in humiliating silence…
Artemis's head was jostled with a gentle whiplash as the shuttle knocked against the loading dock beneath Haven, the doors opening with a pneumatic hiss. Not bothering to thank the pilot, he clambered out, reveling in the space and color of the shuttle port, glad to at least not be quivering from the cold anymore.
Just a few more minutes and he would fully understand the frantic call Foaly had given him not four hours prior.
The centaur had practically begged him to pitch into the effort to stop whatever was launching attacks on the People — Opal, he had thought, though there was no proof — and aid Foaly in his frenzied detective work. Needless to say, Artemis had taken it upon himself to give Butler five minutes' notice before heading off to Tara to take the offered shuttle down to Haven, leaving his anxious bodyguard behind.
Heading up in the elevator, Artemis thought he was prepared.
But in all Artemis had ever read or seen of war, he had never experienced anything remotely as terrible as Haven City that night.
Standing on the curb outside the shuttle port, guarded by two beefy LEP gnomes, he couldn't help staring at the operation across the street, where the body of a female pixie was being carried away from a still-smoking pile of rubble, the gaping hole in her chest obviously half-healed before her magic had run out. Two more bodies, presumably her partner and child followed, their eyes staring blankly toward the false sky high above them, reflecting the dim emergency lighting with a dull finality. Fear hung in the air like a heavy curtain, magnified by the shadows created by the emergency lights and the sirens echoing softly from some other side of the city.
Hardly able to draw breath, Artemis didn't notice the approaching LEP tech van until it pulled up right in front of him. He tore his gaze away from the grisly scene across the street as one of the gnomes pushed him toward it.
"You'll hitch a ride with these fellows," he grunted, sidling up to the driver's door. "Can't spare a vehicle just for you, human, so you'll have to make do."
The driver rolled down the window and looked Artemis over suspiciously, her beady eyes touched by a hint of alarm, her wings ruffling uncomfortably.
"This the human I'm taken with this lot, then?"
"Sorry, Tess," the other gnome said. "Kelp's orders. They need him to base."
Tess glanced around, her green skin washed out by the dashboard lights. "Fine. Make it quick."
Artemis winced at the gnomes simultaneously gripped his elbows and thrust him through the opening door to the back of the van. It slid shut behind him and the vehicle began to move before he could get his bearings, causing him to fall back into the wall as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
The van was filled with techies, all talking simultaneously on communicators and flipping through screens showing data and macabre pictures of the current destruction in Haven. No one took notice of him as he sat against the wall, near invisible in the low light of the read-outs, and the van rumbled on, bouncing on the potholed road.
The techies were obviously overworked, the evidence in the etched circles under their eyes and the pools of split sim-coffee over the desks and floor. As the van dipped into a particularly nasty hole, a cup tipped off the desk and landed wetly onto the floor, spraying Artemis's slacks with lukewarm liquid. The elf to whom the coffee had belonged to glared at the boy on the floor as if he had done him great personal wrong, but never once stopped typing.
The moment the van stopped, the door was opened roughly, the mechanism whining from the harsh treatment, and the cabin was flooded with the yellowish emergency lights. Artemis squinted, looking up into the face of Trouble Kelp until his eyes adjusted, and then took the offered hand to step out of the van.
"Evening, Artemis," the commander said cordially, nodding toward the graying building closest to them.
"After you, Commander."
Under normal circumstances, Artemis thought as Trouble led him through the entrance of the makeshift LEP headquarters — an old factory and office complex, it appeared — he would have slapped out some snide remark in response to the commander's sudden respect. But as he looked out over a room filled with officers working despite injury and exhaustion, any notion of sarcasm died instantly.
Holly was nowhere to be seen as he followed Trouble through the maze of skinny hallways and temporary cubicles, which sent a thrill of anxiety through him; Foaly had said nothing about the Major over the phone, and had dodged the question when Artemis had asked if she was alright. Doing his best to push it to the back of his mind, Artemis steeled himself into focus. No matter what he was feeling, personal relations were not the problem at hand. He had bigger things to deal with. Like the destruction of life on Earth.
Trouble turned one final corner and Artemis was met with absolute chaos.
Presently Foaly was in an improvised Ops Booth, the sim-plywood walls propped up by bricks salvaged from rubble, his focus completely on the temporary screens in front of him and the communicator he was snapping orders into. When Trouble rapped on the wall to get his attention, he jumped so violently that several tottering hard drives fell off of his desk, clattering onto the floor.
"D'Arvit, don't scare me like that!" he said, promptly hanging up on his techie and leaping out of his chair to pick up the hard drives. "Thanks the gods you're here, Artemis. I need a brain that isn't falling to pieces right now." He looked for a moment at the equipment in his hands, musing, before thrusting it carelessly into Trouble's arms and scuttling back over to his computers. "Sit. We need to talk."
Artemis sat carefully on a pile of empty crates, presumably for transport when the LEP would relocate again, and crossed his arms uncomfortably over his chest, saying nothing.
Foaly turned on his special chair, tail swishing around in distracted apprehension, picking up a half-eaten carrot from beside an enormous pile of documents and sticking it between his teeth. "So," he said around his food. "How much do you know?"
"No more than what you've told me. I assume that whatever happened to the city has been sudden?"
The centaur nodded gravely. "Very sudden. We didn't want to get you involved this time — Frond knows this is far more dangerous than anything you've ever dealt with while with us — so we waited a couple of days. We thought we could fight, or something… but you can't fight something that doesn't seem to exist."
Artemis blinked and then leaned forward, his brow furrowing as he steepled his fingers over his lips. "What do you mean, 'doesn't seem to exist?' Something has to have been causing the destruction I saw."
"That's just it," Foaly replied, his teeth fretfully gnashing on the carrot. "That's what scares me. Because it doesn't seem to be a physical something, Artemis. Not even wind. Buildings just explode without a cause, or crumble like they've been hit with a gale. Fires erupt. Holes open in the ground. Fairies lose their minds and attack each other." He kneaded his temples, frowning deeply. "These incidents are swift. And no one can figure out what the source of the destruction is. The only thing I can detect is a split second of a magic spark in the air before they happen."
"And you think it's Opal."
Foaly snorted. "Oh, I know it's Opal. Thing is, I have no proof. But look." He turned to his vid-screen, pulling up a data file. "See this? Read. It's all the animals I've discovered her taking and using to her whims. Most of them come from your recounting from her lab back in time, but I've found several on my own, and they frighten me. I've done a lot of research, and I've found out what each and every one has to offer her."
Artemis scanned the list, his eyes alighting on an animal almost at the bottom, a sinking feeling sucking his posture down until he was slouching in defeat.
Superb Bird-of-Paradise: Long-Distance Telekinesis.
"She could be anywhere, then," he whispered. "Anywhere in the world."
"I know." Foaly sighed. "That's what worries me the most. We can't fight her because she's nowhere. And if we can't fight her, then she'll win."
Artemis sat up so quickly that Foaly whinnied a bit and took a step backwards, warily eyeing the hard expression on his face and the bitter fire in his eyes.
"No," Artemis said quietly, his voice like steel. "I will not allow that to happen."
"Don't get me wrong, Mud Boy, I sure as hell don't want it to happen either —"
Artemis snapped out of his angry mood almost as quickly as he had snapped into it. "Where's Holly?"
Foaly blinked, and then shifted his eyes. "Um, at her apartment, off work."
"Spare me the lies, Centaur," Artemis replied coldly. "Where is she?"
"Look, Artemis…" Foaly said, scratching the back of his neck and avoiding the boy's eyes.
"I can't —Honestly, I'm not allowed to tell you."
"I don't care what your superiors told you. I want to know where she is and if she's alright."
"Can't you just —?"
"Tell me, Foaly!" Artemis shouted, standing up so fast that the pile of crates he had been sitting on toppled over with an immense clatter, making Foaly leap away in shock. There was a moment of stunned silence, Artemis's eyes blazing, his chest heaving, his fists clenched at his side.
And right as Foaly was opening his mouth to reluctantly tell the genius, Holly Short made her entrance with a stagger, landing face down on the concrete floor with a great crash and , a groan, and a terrible stillness, a pungent, dark liquid slowly seeping out from under her body.