Holly had to laugh. It wasn't every day one saw Artemis Fowl II in riding gear, complete with helmet, breeches, and boots, straddling a large brown gelding.
"What?" Artemis demanded, miffed, as he shifted the horse around so he could better face his friend. "I promised Butler I would take up some form of exercise."
"Mainly because the horse does all the work," Holly quipped, activating her wings so that she hovered level with Artemis. "He's a nice animal, though." She patted her small hands on the horse's broad neck and made small sounds in the back of her throat as though she was talking to it.
Artemis cocked his head and lifted one corner of his mouth in a small smile as he watched her. She was so . . . Artemis thought for a second. Cute, he supposed, was the only word for it. Here was one of the Lower Elements Police's most decorated officers – a Neutrino sharpshooter, no less – carrying on a conversation with a horse. The paradox she posed was extremely intriguing.
"What in Frond's name are you staring at?" Holly demanded, eyebrow cocked.
Artemis swallowed and shook his head, realizing too late that he had been allowing his thoughts to run away with him. "Eh . . . sorry," he shook the reins and compensated his weight in the saddle when the horse shifted. "Would you like to see him jump?"
"Jump?" Holly laughed again. "You can't be serious, you?"
"Me," Artemis affirmed, trying not to feel too insulted at the fact that Holly thought so lowly of his physical abilities. He slapped the horse gently with the small whip he carried strapped to one hand, and surged off across the makeshift track on the extensive Manor grounds.
Holly, following slightly behind, watched the boy and the horse take the first hedge. She had winced as the animal had launched itself into the air, expecting Artemis to go tumbling or at least flail a bit. When he managed not only to stay in the saddle but to look completely at ease while doing it, Holly had to admit it.
"You're looking good, Fowl," she called.
Artemis grinned tightly to himself as the next jump came up. There was more to this boy than met the eye, human or fairy. Or in Holly's case – both.
After clearing the track flawlessly, he brought the horse around in a tight circle so he could face his levitating friend. "I must admit, I know why you enjoy flying," he said, brushing some hair from his face.
"That's nothing compared to flying," Holly said, smirking. "You were about as slow as a stinkworm feeding on tunnel sludge in comparison."
"Hmm," droned Artemis, tilting his head cockily. "You wouldn't care to lay a wager on that statement, would you, Captain?"
"I make it a point not to make bets with criminal masterminds," Holly joked. "That type of thing never works out."
"Come now," Artemis said smugly. "Don't try to pin it on my record – you know very well I have reformed. But if you are afraid to back up your supposition with something substantial, don't be afraid to say so."
"Fine," Holly said, knowing she had just fallen for one of the biggest psychological tactics in the book. "What do we bet?"
Artemis grinned. "I noticed the extra set of wings you brought along with you."
"My backup – these are already low on juice . . ." Holly raised her eyebrows, the intimation of what he had stated finally sinking in. "Oh no. You can't be serious."
Artemis's grin stretched slightly wider, revealing both incisors. "That's my wager, Captain. If you lose the race, I get to use your spare wing rig."
"I'm the flyboy here, Fowl, not you. You'll kill yourself! And then Butler will kill me!"
"It's a logical idea, actually," he shrugged. "I know how to operate one in theory, I have watched you many times. But I have yet to attempt to operate one myself, and if sometime in one of our next adventures there is a need for me to don a pair of wings, I should know how to maneuver around. Don't you agree?"
"That's not the reason," Holly said, floating past the horse's head to get in his face. "Admit it. You simply want to have fun."
Artemis chuckled. "Very well, you're right. I've been wanting to try it out for a while now. It looks so . . ." he shrugged. "Fun!"
Holly folded her arms. "I don't know . . . What do I get if I win?"
Artemis smirked, anticipating her reaction to his offer. He had noticed her glancing toward the hangar quite a bit over the course of her last few visits. "You get to take the Lear jet out for a spin."
Holly's eyebrow quirked, revealing that her interest was peaked. "Really?"
"On my honor."
"Oh, wonderful. On Artemis Fowl's honor," Holly rolled her eyes. "That's reassuring." Then she grinned and stuck out her hand. "You've got yourself a deal, Fowl."