Farid loved to listen to Meggie read aloud. She would never allow him to be in the room while she read, because she was scared that her silver tongue might transport him to the world of the novel. "And that," she told him, shaking a forefinger at him, "would be horrible." He had kissed her wagging finger and told her he would do as she said.
But he had lied. What could one expect from an Arabian thief, transported straight from A Thousand and One Nights by Meggie's own father? Using all the skill that he had, he would sneak under a window and crouch on all fours like a rabbit, ready to dash away if she came to the window. And he would listen and smile at the sound of her voice.
Yesterday, Mo had brought her a new book. Meggie had taken it to her room and begun to read it. Farid had snuck around and listened, eagerly soaking in her silvery tones and tasting the words along with her. One couldn't blame him for wanting to listen – he couldn't read for himself. Though Dustfinger had promised to teach him how, the fire eater had been busy lately. Busy with Roxane.
Farid scowled at the thought of her name. She still made him feel unwelcome at their house, even though it had been a year since they had defeated the Adderhead. One would think she would have forgiven him since, but she had never gotten over the fact that Dustfinger had chosen to die for Farid rather than remain alive with her. Thinking about that made Farid smile smugly. Roxane could take that fact in her herb garden and plant it.
Forgetting Meggie's voice for a moment, Farid suddenly frowned as a thought struck him. He had not seen Dustfinger at all for at least a week. He had been with Roxane that entire time. It was true that the fire dancer had chosen Farid once upon a time, but would he now? Now that he had been with Roxane for so long? Farid sincerely hoped not.
The words from Meggie's story floated out the window and snapped his mind back to the tale she was telling. It was about fairies, but not the little blue, winged ones that populated Inkworld. These fairies, the book claimed, were different. They had guns (things Farid could picture only because of his brief stay in the real world during Capricorn's treachery), and they lived under the ground in a city that was larger and more advanced than Ombra.
Farid felt he could picture the world, the great buildings cut from stalagmites, bustling streets full of winged people, the chatter of another language (Gnomish, he thought Meggie had read). So caught up was he in the story, that he didn't notice it when his surroundings began to fade and blur like a mist lifting. Until it was too late.
With a yell, he jumped to his feet and clung to the quickly evaporating windowsill, poking his head into Meggie's disappearing room. "Meggie!" he cried. "Stop reading, Meggie!" He saw her turn toward him, a look of horror on her pretty features, and then it all dissipated into a million burning flecks, like when Dustfinger blew embers into ashes and sparks . . .
Artemis was in the library, composing a webmail to his family, who had been vacationing for the past week in Miami, Florida. They had begged him to come along, Angeline claiming he needed a break from staring at computer screens, but Artemis had refused the offer. He had felt a little guilty when he had watched them leave and cast disappointed looks in his direction as he stood waving goodbye at the door, but his refusal was completely justified. He had things to do.
"Butler," he said, hitting the send button. "Can you fetch me some caviar? If I'm not interrupting any passionate necking."
Butler looked up from the book he had pulled the shelf – Jane Eyre – and quickly replaced it with a self-conscious clearing of his throat. "Of course, Artemis. You weren't . . . there wasn't . . . I'll go get you the caviar." The manservant hastily exited the premises before his charge could further mock the fact that he had been reading, of all things, a romance novel set in Victorian England.
Artemis smiled after his bodyguard's retreating figure. He was such a character. He was sure that if news ever got out that he read such things, he would never be allowed in another blue diamond hotspot ever again. He leaned back in his chair, then jerked slightly in surprise when the window beside his desk suddenly flew open. Leaves floated in on a blast of cool, rain-scented air. Something else floated in, as well. Artemis could tell by the shimmer.
"Hello, Holly," he said. "Can you please close the window after you. There's a draft."
The elf materialized before him, gasping for breath and looking him over as though searching for something.
"What is it?" he demanded. "You look upset. Did something happen?" He hoped something had. Not because he was morbid, of course, but because – truth be told – he had been rather bored lately. It had been several months since he had gotten back from Haven, and nothing interesting had happened to alleviate the burdensomely mundane schedules a noble's son was obliged to stick to.
"I just . . ." Holly gulped the air and settled down, suddenly looking shamefaced. "I was coming over for a visit when I got the strangest feeling that something was wrong over here. So I sped all the way from the coast . . . not an easy flight."
"We're all fine here," Artemis said, disappointed that some megalomaniac had not decided to conquer the world. "Maybe you'd better sit down, catch your breath. It was sweet of you to worry, though."
"Don't call me 'sweet'. I'm many things, Artemis, but not 'sweet'," Holly objected, sinking into a large, high-backed leather armchair.
"Very . . . maternal."
"That's worse," Holly groaned.
"Oh, stop. Or you'll get your 'charming' somewhere it hurts." But she was smiling. Curling her knees up under her chin, she wrapped her arms around them and blew her auburn hair out of her face. "So, what's new?"
"Nothing much. The family's away on vacation in Florida. Butler and I are alone in the Manor, and I'm bored out of my wits."
Holly laughed. "That's dangerous," she said. "A bored and unsupervised Artemis Fowl is likely to wreak havoc on society. It's a good thing I dropped by, just so I can keep you in check." She winked, and the library door opened.
Butler deposited the crystal salad bowl in front of Artemis and wandered back to the bookshelf. As Artemis delicately lifted a spoonful of the fish eggs from the bowl, he noticed Holly eyeing it with distaste.
"Would you like some?" he asked, just to needle her.
"No thank you," Holly wrinkled her nose. "I don't eat unborn animal fetuses, thanks very much."
Artemis froze with the spoon halfway to his lips. When one thinks about it that way, he glanced down at the caviar and finally just pushed the bowl away. "You win, captain."
Suddenly, the room began to wobble and sway, pitching gently back and forth like the deck of a ship. Artemis clutched the edge of his desk and stared at the far corner of the library, trying to make it come into focus, but it was blurring as though a fog had descended over it. Or as though his vision were leaving.
"Are you okay, Mud boy?" Holly asked, concern tingeing her voice. "You look pale. More so than usual, that is."
Artemis glanced at her, not surprised to find that he could now only make out a blur of Holly-colored haze in front of him.
"Maybe you'd better eat those fish eggs after all if you're that hungry." He could tell that Holly was trying to make a joke out of it, but this was no prank.
He opened his mouth to tell her this, but suddenly the desk evaporated from under his clutching fingers and he fell onto the floor, banging his chin and biting through his tongue. Ouch.
"Butler!" Holly shouted. He felt her small hands grabbing his, trying to hoist him to his feet."Get your nose out of that book and get over here."
He got a glimpse of Butler's feet hurrying toward him, wobbling and distorted like everything else, and then everything vanished – his friend's shouts, the feeling of the high-pile carpet beneath him, Holly's frantically grasping fingers – and he was alone in the darkness.
Meggie screamed Farid's name as she dropped the book and flew to the window where he had vanished. Poking her head out, she scanned the area for a sign of him, but it was no good. He had been transported into the book.
"Stupid boy!" she cried, sounding a lot like her Aunt Elinor. "I told and told him not to come around me while I was reading aloud!" But calling Farid names wasn't going to bring him back. He had gone into the book, and that was that. There was nothing she could do about it.
"Meggie?" Mo's voice and pounding footsteps reached her bedroom door and her father burst into the room, obviously expecting trouble as he had drawn his sword. When he saw his daughter still in one piece and not with a knife against her throat as he had feared, he relaxed and sheathed his weapon. "What happened?" he demanded afterward, seeing the grieving look on her face.
"I read Farid into my book," Meggie blurted. "I told him not to listen to me but he didn't listen to me! I was reading and he was listening secretly by the window and . . . and . . ."
"Calm down," Mo ordered, coming over and resting his hands on her trembling shoulders. "We'll find him. Maybe you just think he went into the book."
"No, I saw him," Meggie objected, shrugging his hands off and striding to the volume that had fallen shut on the floor. She picked it up and pressed it against her stomach, trying to still the fear that danced inside her. "I saw him disappear."
Mo, his eyes lighting up with a new dread, stepped across the room and snatched the book from his daughter's hands, thumbing through the pages with an intense, worried expression on his face. "What book is this?" he demanded, then looked at the spine. "Artemis Fowl." He glanced around the room. "If Farid went in, what came out?"
A pale hand reached up from outside and grasped at the window sill. Meggie shrieked and Mo pushed her roughly behind him, dropping the book to free up his hands, just in case he needed to use his sword again. The father and daughter had had enough experience with things out of books to know that whatever this was, there was a very good chance that it wouldn't be friendly.
A boy pulled himself to his feet. He was white as ivory, and had black hair that fell around his ears and into his eyes in disheveled tangles. He was wearing what looked like a designer suit from the real world. His mismatched eyes scanned his surroundings bemusedly before focusing on Mo and Meggie. "Did someone call me?" he asked.
"Who are you?" Mo demanded.
"Artemis Fowl. You just said my name, how could you not know who I am?" the boy said, equally as tense. "Where in hellfire am I, anyway? I was just in my library . . ." He looked around. "This appears to be some kind of medieval village. Possibly a movie set or recreational facility, or perhaps a third world country somewhere southeast in the continent?"
The boy clambered through the window, nearly falling headfirst onto the floor. The lack of grace did nothing to allay Mo's fears. He whipped out his sword and held it out, the point matching the newcomer's movements. "Stand still," he warned.
"A sword," noted the youth, apparently oblivious to what the sword represented. "A costume piece or authentic? If it is the latter, it is quite well antiquated. No rust, the edges appear to be sharp . . ." He seemed to realize that he stood a very good chance of finding out exactly how sharp they actually were. He looked the man in the eyes. "I assure you, good sir, I intend you no ill will. I am confused and rather disoriented, but I am by no means violent nor maniacal, so you may sheath your weapon."
Mo decided that the boy was telling the truth. After all, he didn't look dangerous. He put the sword away, vowing to whip it out again if the situation called for it.
"Thank you," the youth said. "Now, will you kindly explain to me what I am doing here? You don't happen to be in league with Opal Koboi? Although I don't know how she managed to transport me in this way, unless she has managed to construct a time tunnel capable of invisibility . . ."
"Where's Farid?" Meggie suddenly cut in, stepping out from behind her father.
The boy blinked. "Whom?"
"Farid, the boy who you traded places with," Meggie explained impatiently.
"Technically, you should not end a sentence with a prepositional phrase. It should be, 'the boy with whom you have traded places'. To answer your question, I have no memory of coming across anyone by that name. And what do you mean, 'traded places'?"
"It's what happens when a silver tongue reads someone out of a book," Mo explained, keeping a shielding hand on Meggie's shoulder. "Whatever goes in trades places with what comes out. They swap stories."
"That's not good," said the boy, raising his eyebrows in mild amusement. "I would hate to be this Farid person when he finds himself in Fowl Manor."
Meggie stiffened under Mo's touch. "What do you mean?"
"Lets just say, my friends will undoubtedly have several questions they wish answered." Artemis Fowl dusted off his Armani jacket. "For your friend's sake, I hope he's able to oblige them."
Butler panicked. "He's gone! Holly, he just disappeared! What do we do?"
"Calm down, Butler," Holly snapped, though she was anything but calm herself. She had known that something was going to happen. She shouldn't have let the banter get her guard down. She should have been ready for this. But how in Frond's name could anyone be ready for a friend disappearing in front of one's own eyes? "We have to think. What could have happened?"
Butler was still squatting where Artemis had been several moments ago, patting down the rug like he was frisking it for hidden weaponry, as though his charge was hiding somewhere in the crimson shag. "You tell me. You're the magical one."
Holly shook her head. "This isn't magic. It doesn't work like this."
"Shielding only makes you invisible, it doesn't make you disappear completely," Holly dragged at her cheeks with her fingers and rolled her eyes upward. "Gods, how does that Mud boy always manage to get himself into trouble? He causes more havoc eating caviar at his desk than a goblin gang on a rampage. I'm calling Trouble and Foaly. We're going to need some help on this."
Butler was kneading his forehead. "I shouldn't have been reading. I should have been watching him."
As she patched through to Police Plaza on her headset, Holly laid a small hand on his large shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "You can't blame yourself, there was no way . . . Hello, Trubs? . . . Trouble. We have a situation aboveground. Artemis has disappeared."
Holly rolled her eyes in frustration while Trouble began a rant about the irritating irresponsibility of a particular human teenager. She talked over him. "Trouble . . . Commander, listen . . . No, it's not a 'scheme', Artemis is past that now, remember? He just disappeared. No, there's no need to 'check the perimeter' because he vanished right in front of us. I want – Listen to me, Trouble – I want you to send a squad down here. And Foaly. We need a replacement genius. And check on Opal Koboi, make sure she's still locked up." She terminated the call before he could object.
Butler rocked to his feet and started toward the door.
"Wait a minute, where are you going?" Holly flew after him, getting between him and the exit. "Where are you going, Butler?" When the bodyguard didn't answer her, she sighed and took him by the shoulders and turned him around. Steering him back into the library, she pointed him toward the couch. "You're going to sit here and we're going to wait for Foaly."
"But Artemis . . ."
"Is beyond our help at the moment," Holly said. She dropped to the ground and got comfortable on the leather armchair, hoping Butler would follow her example and do the same. She didn't need him frantic right now. She needed him to hold it together so that she could think. "We don't know where or how or why he has gone, so we can't help at the moment. So we wait for reinforcements."
Butler dropped his head into his hands, but the strange boy that stumbled into their sight with a shout seconds after made him look up again.
"Where am I?" the boy demanded, staring at them with shock in his brown cow eyes.
Holly sprang to her feet, doing a quick check. He was slightly taller than Artemis, a lot more gangly. And his skin was almost as dark as hers, a dusty earthen color that glinted with sweat in the evening light streaming from the library windows. He wasn't a fairy, that much was certain.
Butler, obviously holding the boy responsible for Artemis's disappearance, sprang from the couch and grabbed the boy by the collar.
"Butler," Holly admonished, certain the bodyguard was overreacting.
The manservant growled at the squirming youth whom he had pinned against a shelf of books. "And who are you?"
"I am Farid," the boy gasped. "Please don't kill me."
"Where is Artemis? What did you do to him?"
"I didn't do anything to anybody, I don't know what you're talking about!"
"He disappeared. Now you're here. Why."
The boy, Farid, blinked, and Holly could see the realization dawning in his face. "He must have gone into the book when I came out." These words were half for Butler's ears, and half for his own. "So please don't kill me."
"Butler, drop the boy," Holly ordered, rapping the man's knuckles. "You're scaring him out of his wits and he can't be interrogated if he's mad with fright. So drop him."
Butler obeyed, and the boy sat on the floor and stared up at Holly. "You look like a fairy," he told her.
"Yes, well . . . oh, D'Arvit," she gasped, suddenly realizing that she was unshielded in front of a mud man. There was no good buzzing up her shield now, he'd already seen her. Already identified . . . "Wait, how do you know about fairies?" she demanded.
"We have them in Inkworld," the boy told her. He held his hands apart a few inches. "But they are only this big. They are blue and they steal your hair for their nests if you do not swipe at them."
"Well I'm not planning on stealing your hair for my nest, so why don't you just come over here and sit down and we can talk through this like sentient beings," Holly suggested, helping the boy to his feet. "Right, Butler?" she asked pointedly.
The manservant was visibly sweating with anxiety, but he nodded. "Right. Sorry, whatever-your-name-is. I got spooked. I'm not used to people popping in and out of reality."
"I am not used to it either," the boy smiled ruefully. "I hope you have silver tongues here because I am going to need to get back to Meggie. She'll worry."
"I don't know what a silver tongue is, but we'd really like to get our boy back too," said Holly. "So why don't we talk this out. First, how exactly did you come out of a book?"
"So you have the ability to read people out of books," Artemis stroked his chin with two fingers, trying to make sense of this fact, trying to fit it into his analytical brain. It wouldn't quite go in all the way, like a puzzle piece that was slightly out of shape. "And that's why I'm here."
"Yes, and that's where Farid went," Meggie explained, chewing her nail. "Do you have people like us in your world?"
"I'm sure I wouldn't know," Artemis said. "I never made it a point to look for – eh – silver tongues, so I really couldn't say one way or the other." He picked up the book Meggie had been reading and flipped it open, raising an eyebrow as he recognized the names on the pages.
"Oh dear." Meggie's brow furrowed. "How will he get back?"
"Who has been recording my life and making a profit off of it?" Artemis demanded, leafing through the pages to the back of the book. "Eoin Colfer. The name is a bit familiar . . ." he lapsed into thought. "I think there was a reporter who came around Fowl Manor a long time ago. Acted like an old family friend. But how on earth does he know about Holly? And Foaly and Mulch?"
"He's the author," Meggie explained.
"I don't have an author," Artemis corrected her coolly. "I live in the real world. This world is the storybook fairyland, not mine."
Meggie sighed, brushing strands of blond hair away from her face. "No, look. I read you out of your book. It might be set in the real world, but you are a character made up by an author." At the concerned look on his face, she hurried to explain. "It's normal to think your book is the real world. But see here? On the cover? It says 'by Eoin Colfer'. 'By' means 'written'. You were written, Artemis Fowl."
Before this conversation could continue further, Meggie happened to glance out of the window and saw a familiar form coming up the hill towards their house. Dustfinger. She was happy at first, but then her heart sank, dragged low with guilt. How was she going to tell him about Farid?
"Hello, Meggie," Dustfinger greeted her moments later after being admitted by Mo. "I just stopped by on the way to the village to see how everyone is. Where's Farid?" He looked around the small kitchen and living area expectantly. When no one answered his question, his face grew visibly dim with suspicion. "Silvertongue?" he said slowly, turning toward Mo.
Mo glanced at Meggie, who stood quietly under his scrutiny. "Dustfinger, can I speak to you outside for a minute?" Mo asked thickly, taking the other man by the arm and attempting to drag him outside.
Dustfinger yanked his arm away. "Where. Is. Farid," he demanded, staring hard at Mo as though his very gaze could set the man aflame.
"Meggie read him into a book," Mo said, more of a question than a statement. "He was eavesdropping on her reading and he just . . . went into the book."
Dustfinger broke from Mo's grip and strode over to Meggie. "Which book. Give me the book." He held out his hand. "Give it here, Meggie. Now."
Meggie turned and ran from the room, back to her room where Artemis was still sitting Indian-style on the floor, bent over the book that had created him. She snatched it from his hands without an apology and dashed back to Dustfinger, slapping it into his waiting palm. "This one," she said. "I didn't know he was listening, Dustfinger, honestly."
Ignoring her, Dustfinger opened the book and began thumbing through it. "Oh, wonderful," he said after a moment. "You sent him into a place full of murderous fairies with guns and trolls. I leave that boy alone with you for a week and look what happens! Do I have to follow him around like the Black Prince's bear just to make sure he doesn't get into trouble?" He sighed. "Alright, read me in." He shoved the book back into Meggie's hands. "Read me in now. Go on!"
"There are no silver tongues there, how will you get out?" Meggie demanded, gripping the book so hard the binding cracked.
Dustfinger glanced at Mo, who shook his head. "I can't go with you, Dustfinger. I just got news from the Motley Folk – we're going out on an expedition tonight, the Black Prince thinks he's found something in the woods that needs checking into."
"Let me go, Mo," Meggie begged suddenly. "You can read Dustfinger and me in, and then I'll read us all out again."
"No, Meggie. It's too dangerous."
"I was the one that put Farid in danger in the first place," she cried. "I should be the one to go and get him out! How will he make it back, otherwise? And how do you know he isn't being eaten by a troll this very moment?"
This was apparently enough for Dustfinger. He snatched the book from Meggie and thrust it at Mo. "Read, Silvertongue."
"I'm not reading my daughter into that book."
"If it were your daughter inside that book, would you want me to help you?" Dustfinger demanded, clenching his fists. The crevices between his fingers glowed with suppressed fire. "Please, Silvertongue. Before I do something I wish I didn't."
Mo glanced at Meggie, and took the book with a sigh. "I can't believe I'm doing this."
Farid stared in wonder at Foaly, who clomped into the room followed by a dozen or so black-suited sprites with guns. "What is that?" he asked Holly.
"I would ask you the same question," Foaly told the elfin police officer. "Why in Frond's name didn't you tell us he was here? Thanks very much for jogging the LEP around in front of a strange mud man like the balloons at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Major."
"That's alright, he knows about fairies," Holly hastened to explain.
"What did he say?" Farid tugged on her shoulder, the half-horse's words gibberish to him.
"Yeah, right, now he knows about fairies," Foaly snorted. "We're going to need to mindwipe this kid."
"Hello, Foaly?" Butler interrupted, his bass voice rumbling over the arguing. "I know this probably doesn't mean as much to you as the security of the People in general but my principle has just disappeared inexplicably and I'd really like to find him again, so if you don't mind . . ."
"Right," Holly said. "We really do need to focus on finding Artemis."
Foaly nodded. "Alright. I'm going back to the shuttle to do some scans of the Manor. Look for heat signatures, et cetera."
Holly gritted her teeth. "He's not in the Manor, Foaly. Can't you people get that through your thick heads?"
"He went into the book," Farid offered.
"I didn't say he was in the Manor. I'm just saying maybe someone else is, someone responsible for the whole thing. Possible hostiles."
"If there were hostiles still in the Manor, don't you think we'd have heard something? You people took your sweet time getting here, it's been almost half an hour. We'd have heard something."
Farid tried again. "He went into the book."
"This place is huge," Foaly objected. "You could be living with possible hostiles and you wouldn't know it. Besides, I need to get my mindwiping equipment out of the back. This boy's seen too much as it is."
"This boy is not the point right now," Holly grated, getting in Foaly's face. "We are trying to find Artemis now, so we are going to find Artemis first and mindwipe the whelp later, understand, centaur?"
"Don't talk to me in that tone of voice. I may be a civilian but I've been working with the LEP longer than you've been alive . . ."
Farid sighed, realizing that it wasn't getting through to these two. He glanced at the troop of sprites, wondering if maybe he should confide in one of them. They hovered just over the ground, staring at him with large goggled eyes, impassive expressions on their green faces and big guns in their hands. No. Better not chance it.
With a frustrated roar, Butler surged off his perch on the couch and stepped between the arguing pair of fairies, pushing them apart forcibly with his massive hands. "Listen to me, the both of you," he ordered. "All this bickering is not saving Artemis. Foaly, get to the shuttle and run your tests, but be quick. Holly . . ." He turned to look at the elf, and suddenly they were gone. Vanished.
With a whinny of shock and horror, Foaly careened backwards, backpedaling until he bumped into Farid. "Where'd they go?" the centaur demanded furiously. "Where under the world did they just go?"
"They went into the book," Farid said.
Artemis stared at the floor, trying to piece his feelings together. He wasn't a real person? Of course he was real, he had a mind, emotions, a physical body . . . He pinched himself and relished the feeling of the sting. Nerve endings, brain signals. Of course he was real. The girl, Meggie, was mistaken. She had to be.
Standing, the boy brushed himself off and banished the disturbing thoughts to the back of his head. He could still feel them there, nagging doubts that robbed him of his peace of mind, but at least he didn't have to confront them right now. Which is probably very bad for my psyche, he thought sourly. Then, if I have a psyche.
He walked out of the bedroom to find his name being spoken by a smooth voice, masculine yet beautiful, very much like someone using the mesmer. He paused by the entrance to the room and saw the man who had pointed the sword at him when he had first appeared here, reading from the book that Eoin Colfer wrote about him. The girl, Meggie, and a strange, shady-looking man were standing in front of him, as though waiting for something.
And then they were gone, vanished, apparently just as he had disappeared. Artemis hurried forward toward the man, who had stopped reading and was staring at the floor where the girl and the other man had been standing only a second ago. A look of guilt and disbelief was plastered all over his face.
"Excuse me," Artemis said, hoping that maybe this man could read him back into his own story, if that was how it worked.
He never got to finish that particular request, because at that moment the windows of the small house exploded into a billion fragments of flying glass. The man who had been reading dropped the book and covered his head with his arms as the sharp shards pelted him. Artemis threw up his own arms just in time to avoid being blinded.
For a minute, there was silence. And then all hell broke loose. Creatures began scrabbling through the shattered windows. Dark things with long limbs and tattered wings. They were about the size of cats and had large bulbous eyes that glinted yellow in the room's half light.
The man drew his sword with a ring and ran over the crunching glass at the creatures. With shrieks, they drew away from his flashing blade, but quickly retaliated, fluttering into whatever openings presented themselves and biting him.
Artemis backed away from the nightmare scene, only to regret having moved. The creatures sensed the movement and several of them left off attacking the man to come and attack Artemis. Quickly analyzing the situation, Artemis realized that there was no way to outrun them and nowhere to hide. Fighting was the only option left open to him. Or would be, if he had had a weapon to fight with.