BOOM! Another explosive rocked Fowl Manor, brick mortar and debris pelleting Artemis Fowl II as he ran down the hall to his study. Bombs had been dropping on them for— he didn't know how long, and he didn't know who was responsible. Most importantly, he didn't know where his family was. He had been cut off from the rest of the house when the first missile obliterated the stairs.

"Mother? Father? Butl—koff!" Artemis choked on dust and smoke as he fell against the study door. The ceilings were crumbling with the lack of support, and the flames from the explosives kept him from seeing down the hallways. His throat burned. He couldn't last much longer out here.

He tentatively touched the handle.

It was cool; good. That meant there was most likely no fire within, and if his computers were still operational, perhaps he could locate his family and the person who was doing this.

But when he twisted the doorknob and fell into his safe haven, he realized he had just entered the most dangerous room in the house. On Artemis's desk sat a blue, rugby ball-shaped object: a bio-bomb.

"How do you like my presents, Mud Boy?" Opal Koboi's face flickered on his desk monitor as a bomb collided with the garage. The pixie tossed a truffle into her mouth. "I considered dozens of other, more complex ways to kill you, but a good old surprise air-raid seemed to be the only way to catch you completely unawares." She ate another chocolate as his house burned. "I suppose a simple bio-bomb would have sufficed, but I wanted to DESTROY YOU."

"Where is— my family?" Artemis tried to sound brave, but he had inhaled too much smoke and it was beginning to affect him.

"Hmmmm…" Opal looked off-screen, apparently checking her monitors. "Oh, hey! It looks like your disgusting little Mud-family is coming up the driveway right now. A shame, really—" Opal giggled "— since the bio-bomb is set to take out every living thing within the walls of your quaint compound." She gave a mock sigh of regret. "Oh well. Have a nice afterlife, Fowl."

She pressed the button.

Artemis Fowl woke up with a start, nearly breaking his imported Teherani office chair as he catapulted forward.

He had been asleep.

During the day.

Artemis never took naps. He always had so much work to do, so many projects to finish, that he woke up before Butler made his morning rounds and went to sleep after iRugbaí Gold/i aired on TG4. He'd even gone three days without sleep once, and was still alert as a night owl when he finally allowed time for rest.

In conclusion, Artemis brooded, I must be infernally bored in order to have fallen asleep during the daytime. He stood, walked around to the front of his desk, and began to pace.

It had been nearly two years since his last adventure with LEP Major Holly Short and their merry band. Holly kept in touch, as usual, when Artemis returned topside, and he delved into personal projects, relieved to be out of mortal peril— for the time being. However, he was used to dealing with some fairy catastrophe at least once a year, and now that two years had past, he had become a bit restless. He didn't wish for anyone's demise, of course, but he wanted some sort of challenge to bring himself out of the creative block he'd been having.

His mother, Angeline Fowl, insisted that such lulls happened to everyone and that he should be enjoying this quiet time with his family.

"You're just like your father was at your age," Mrs. Fowl said when Artemis continued to brood, "except you have nobler motives— and you're a bit shorter."

But Artemis Fowl the Second; criminal genius, time traveller, and friend of the People, was not meant to live a quiet life.

He called Holly almost every day, pretending to be just calling for a chat, but they both knew he wanted some intrigue or puzzle to unravel.

"I'm sorry, Artemis," Holly said over her v-phone, "There's nothing to report down here. I've got to go to work, but I promise, if there is even a hint of the diabolical, I'll give you a ring." That was three weeks ago.

"And now I'm reduced to taking naps," Artemis grumbled to himself, exiting his office and making his way down the stairs. Butler had taken the day off for personal endeavors, so there was no entertainment in that sector. Artemis huffed indignantly. He ventured to think that his bodyguard was getting lazy, but he knew that wasn't true, especially since Artemis had installed a mini surveillance system in Butler's wristwatch, and knew the manservant would be watching it more avidly than Juliet watched WWE Smackdown.

Artemis walked over to the window and sighed. The weather seemed bearable; perhaps some fresh air would cause some diversion. It's not like he had anything else to do.

He found his mother and brothers out in the garden. Angeline Fowl read through the newspaper while keeping a suspicious eye on her twins, who seemed to be digging for worms. Artemis sat down in the dirt next to his brothers, not worried about stains since he was wearing the deplorable jeans his mother insisted on buying him.

"Arty-miss, doya wanna catch worms with us?" Beckett trilled, proffering his half-filled bucket.

"I'm going to do experiments on them," Myles explained,

"And then I'm going to eat them!" Beckett pronounced.

Artemis shot a glance at his mother, who gave him her don't-worry-I've-already-taken-care-of-it wink. The genius sighed and accepted a blue, plastic shovel. Reduced to digging for worms. He hoped Holly would call soon.

"Oh, Artemis, look at this!" Angeline folded the newspaper she was holding so that the desired article or, in this case, advertisement, faced him. "The National College of Art and Design is opening their gallery tomorrow! We should go see it, as sort of a mother/son outing."

"Mother, I'm not really interested in—"

"Artemis, come now. You've been moping about the house, doing nothing in your study," she looked pointedly at what he held in his hand, "digging up worms. You need to get out. You're coming with me, whether you come peacefully or I have Butler drag you."

Artemis blew some unruly bangs from his face and gave Angeline a tight smile. He loved his mother, but being normal was very taxing on his nerves.

"Victoria Bering!" The chairman for the studio art department shouted as the student tried to sneak past.

Victoria winced. Oh, well, she sighed. If I had made it into the three-story building carrying four easels, a portfolio case, my backpack, and two five-by-eight foot canvases, it would have been an act of God.

She turned slowly to face the chairman, a tight smile on her face. He was not charmed. "Ms. Bering, you are late."

"I know, Mr. Byrne, but I was out in the country visiting friends, and their car popped a tire, and it took the bus a while to get there, so-"

Mr. Byrne sighed. "I wouldn't be so disappointed if you were just late, but you are also two pieces short of the quota, and the scholarship committee will be here tonight to determine whether you get the grant!"

Victoria bit her lip: she wasn't good with deadlines.

"However," Mr. Byrne said, "Your work is some of the best the school has seen, at least from our foreign exchange students. Go on in, I saved you a spot."

She smiled thankfully at the chairman and rushed past him, kicking the door open and nearly pasted a middle-aged woman coming out of it.

Victoria's series for the semester was based on Irish folk tales and placing them in Ireland's current culture, or vice versa. Her pièce de résistance, however, were her two humongous pieces, a tribute to Ireland itself. One was a night scene of leprechauns in a forest, the other was a pub scene based on a restaurant and bar she'd eaten at downtown. Even though Mr. Byrne lamented her two missing pieces, Victoria considered her display perfectly complete.

It was getting the display ready that was a nightmare.

First, she couldn't find a ladder. Then the matting on a piece came loose, she ran out of tape, and realized one of the easels was missing a screw. Other art students walking past eyed the exchange student's antics with mild amusement and pity. By this time, she had a screw loose.

"Augh!" Victoria kicked the wall, and the vibrations jostled one of her precariously hung pieces from its perch. Her heart dropped as she lurched forward, managing to catch it before it hit the ground. She sighed, leaning the piece gently against the wall. This wasn't working.

"Do you need some help?"

Victoria smiled, relieved, as her twin friends, Joseph and Jenna O'Connor, strode up. Both sported paint-splattered jeans, green tops, and blue scarves, and their curly, brown hair covered by matching plaid berets.

Joseph and Jenna were inseparable. They finished each other's sentences, drink out of the same cup, and rumor had it you couldn't date one without the other tagging along. They even functioned as one artist, never working on separate art pieces. It was like they were a two-headed snake in another life.

Most people found this off-putting or strange, but Victoria, who had never fit in the "in" crowd, made friends with them immediately.

"Yeah," she sighed, "I need to get this piece on that hook, and I need a screw."

"A screw? What did—"

"— You lose some of your own?"

Then the two commenced laughing with identical lilts. Victoria laughed, too.

"Ha ha, yeah… now get your butts in gear!"

Jenna sat on Joseph's shoulders and hung the canvas, while their friend went on a frantic search for screws. With the twins' help, Victoria's spread was finished ten minutes later; five minutes before the doors opened. As thanks, she treated them to (free) sodas at the bar.

"Ummm—" Joseph began, taking a sip of their soda, waiting for Jenna to continue his sentence,

"Are you wearing that to the gallery opening?" she finished.

Victoria looked down and gasped, noticing her thrice-holed jeans and Aladdin T-shirt. "Crap! Stall for me, will ya?" She tossed her cup in the nearest trash can, grabbed her purple backpack containing a change of clothes, and sprinted to the bathroom, nearly running over another middle-aged lady. Actually, come to think of it, she might have been the same one.

Victoria stumbled out of the women's restroom fifteen minutes later, her red-faced panic barely covered by a thin layer of make-up. Her flat-soled shoes skidded on the slick floor as she turned a sharp corner toward her display.

"Well. don't you just have the worst luck, Ms. Bering?"

Victoria steeled herself before facing Ms. Laurent, the dean of sculpture. Laurent had always had it out for the American, ever since one of Victoria's just-for-fun, unfinished sculptures made the dean's best works look like a lump of preschooler's dry play dough. (This wasn't hard to do, though. Even her mediocre students had more creative style. However, Victoria was not one of Laurent's students, which automatically made her an enemy.) Ms. Laurent insisted of firing Victoria's piece herself, since the exchange student was not experienced in the process, and the well-worked clay mysteriously exploded in the kiln.

"What do you mean?" Victoria asked.

"Well, you barely get here on time, you're missing two pieces, and the honor board gives you the privilege of being viewed first, but you're not even there!" Ms. Laurent had the nerve to tut at her. "Really, Victoria, you need to-"

Victoria wasn't listening anymore. The honor board viewed my pieces first? she thought frantically. Oh, this is not good, not good at all! Being present at the presentation makes big points with the board, and I'm at a disadvantage as it is! Victoria nodded absently at whatever the dean said and ran past her to the art display. Jenna and Joseph were there waiting for her. "Wh-why aren't you guys with your artwork?" Victoria asked, barely regaining her balance as she screeched to a halt.

"The board will hit ours close to last," Joseph explained, "but more importantly-"

"Where were you?" Jenna exclaimed, taking Victoria's hands. The twins' mannerisms are the same, but Jenna is much more emotional. "We covered for you as best we could, but they didn't like that you were gone."

"What are you going to do?" they asked her in unison. "Without this scholarship-"

"I- get sent home," she finished. She dropped her backpack dejectedly. "I need a miracle."