Hello again! This story was born when the power went out at my house and there was nothing to do but read. I decided to reread the Artemis Fowl books again and this bunny tickled my head as I was reading. So, here it is!
This story is set directly after The Lost Colony for Artemis Fowl and begins before the Tales of Symphonia canon. It completely wrecks the canon for The Time Paradox and, therefore, The Last Guardian, though I do have a bunny for that one with this story. As far as ToS, it AU's just a tiny bit of the game. There are also references to Dawn of the New World and Tales of Phantasia. There are spoilers for all three.
I do not own any mentioned properties. This is just a bunny that decided that it wanted to be written. This story has not been beta'd so please forgive any spelling or grammar mistakes.
The lost demon island named Hybras' return was a tale that would be told and retold many times through the ages, long after the humans involved in it had passed and the fairies responsible were growing frail with age. It was a breathtaking tale, to be sure. A human, two demon warlocks, a demon with the mind of a warlock, and an elf had all worked together, the island crumbling around them, to harness a human technology. This technology had been meant for destruction but these brave souls, putting their lives, minds, and magic on the line, had been able to repurpose the device. Their bravery would be heralded for millenia afterwards.
The best part of the tale came in the final moments before Hybras rematerialized on Earth. Those brave five had their minds and hearts and magic together, dragging with them the island and hundreds of demons. The human was the one whose part was discussed the most. This human had stolen a spark of fairy magic, an outrageous crime, but this crime was discussed with whispered awe. Without that crime, he and all of Hybras would have been lost.
This wondrous magical human, a first in all known recorded history, drew the eye of something inside the tumultuous time tunnel that threatened to shatter them all into mere atoms across all of time and space. This being was powerful, threatening to overwhelm their magic bubble and condemn them all. Its words were repeated throughout history, the force of its curiosity leaving a tangible imprint on those with the senses to feel it.
It cradled the bubble, stabilizing it. The journey was laughably easy afterwards, but it of course demanded a price for its aid. This human, it murmured in all of their heads. A magical human. This must be investigated.
Thus Hybras rematerialized as planned, exactly where it had been expected to. It was a few years off course, but with time travel that was, naturally, inevitable. The true reason for this was discovered when the brave souls who had enacted this journey through space and time took stock of their status and realized they were short one human.
Holly Short, the pretty elf in the black jumpsuit, blinked tears out of her eyes as she searched all over for her human friend. One eye throbbed painfully in its socket and she sent a surge of magic to fix it, but even then it was clear. Her dear friend was gone.
No. 1 had a theory, minutes later inside the shuttle that was carrying them from the island. The young warlock was a demon, but one that would never gain the fearsome claws and horns of his kin. "He was only human," he said. "I'm sad. Remorseful. It seems that his human body could not take the strength of magic."
Qwan, the adult warlock, nodded in agreement. "It's amazing that he was able to guide us so close to home," he added reverently. "However, everyone knows that humans are incapable of magic. It must have consumed him in transit."
"But what about that voice?" Holly demanded. She could still feel it throbbing in her skull. "There was something in the time tunnel that was interested in Artemis." Artemis was, of course, her human friend that had gone missing. "It helped us get here, I know it! And it took him."
Qwan shrugged. "We could have imagined it. We were connected to each other, as well as all of time and space. Auditory hallucinations are not out of the realm of possibility."
Holly, however, was stubborn. "He's still alive," she insisted. "Something out there has him. We have to rescue him!"
Her pleas went unheeded, however. The best fairies under the Earth, along with the demon warlocks, determined that even if Artemis had been kidnapped by a mysterious force, there was absolutely nothing they could do about it. It would take a group of a hundred demon warlocks to even try to match something with that power. All they had was two and a half.
Holly was correct, however. Artemis was alive. He was well taken care of, his injuries tended to and his tattered clothes replaced with clean and fresh ones. He was unconscious through all of this and would only know that, an indeterminable amount of time later, he would awaken completely refreshed. His mind was as sharp as ever and he knew, instantly, that he was not where he should be. The roof above him was metal, an eerie metal with a blue sheen. It was not fairy construction, he could tell that with a glance. It was neither anyplace that would mark him as being in human hands.
He cautiously pushed himself upright. His clothes were a soft cotton, nothing as luxurious as he would have at home. It wasn't making him itch at least. They were a light blue color and he instantly knew that these were pajamas of some sort. He slipped out of the bed, though it was more of a shelf in the wall, and marvelled at the fact that he wasn't aching anywhere. The metal of the floor was cool against his bare feet and was polished to a mirror finish, though he barely spared it a glance. There was another shelf in the wall, this one topped with a bundle of cloth. There was a round knob under it and Artemis, suspecting, pulled on it. It opened to reveal a drawer with basic toiletry items.
Further inspection of the room revealed a utilitarian bathroom. He made use of the facilities and changed into the clothes that had been provided for him. They were far from the suits that he was used to and more comfortable in. The slacks were black, while the shirt was a dark blue that matched his eyes perfectly. The style was loose on his frame and unfamiliar, but there was a belt that he used to keep the fabric from billowing out unduly. The belt was plain, at least, a black to match his slacks. An unfamiliar style of black boots was the last bit of clothing, the leather soft and seeming to mold to his skin. They loosened around his ankles, leaving him free to walk about comfortably. The hem of his slacks hid the tops of his boots.
As he utilized the toiletries, Artemis had to pause and stare at his reflection. He was the same as he remembered save for one feature. His shirt matched only one of his eyes, the blue he'd stared into for as long as he could remember. The other was a hazel that had never been there, though even so it looked familiar. He frowned, puzzling it out, before he realized.
"Holly," he whispered, fingertip resting under the hazel. Travel through the time tunnels was hazardous, the travellers lucky if they managed to arrive intact. It seemed that his eye had been swapped with his dearest elfin friend's. It wasn't much but, despite the unknowns of the situation, he felt slightly comforted. No matter what had happened, no matter where he ended up, his friend was with him in some way.
He shook away the sentiment, his mind whirling with ideas and possibilities. He remembered the voice that had echoed through their magic circle. He remembered the presence that had stabilized their tunnel. Then everything had gone black until he'd awoken in this room. He couldn't figure out what was going on without more pieces to the puzzle.
Hair brushed back in its normal style, Artemis studied the figure he presented. His style of dressed seemed archaic, at odds with this shiny metal room. With nothing else to do he turned and searched for the door that he knew had to be there.
He wasn't disappointed. There was a single button, the same color as the wall around it, and the faintest rectangle. With nothing else to try he strode over to it and confidently pressed the button. As he did so his brain ran through several consequences of pressing the button. There was no reason that the button wouldn't dispense a poisonous gas that would end his life or incapacitate him. He certainly would have alerted the one who had brought him here, but without knowing of this person there was no way to extrapolate their response.
The fact that he had woken up healed, in fresh clothes and with a fresh set provided to him, convinced him that whoever had him did not intend him immediate harm. There was no way of telling how long he had been at this person's mercy and if his death had been in the plan, there was no reason for him to have survived long enough to wake up.
His reasoning was sound. The door opened onto a hallway made of the same shiny metal. Aware that his only weapon was the magic that he could still feel coursing through his veins, he walked into the hallway, head turning to take in this new development. There were numbers evenly spaced along the hall, keypads spaced at even intervals at the perfect height to be utilized as electronic locks. Artemis turned around to see that his number was 5046. His door had closed silently behind him.
With nothing to guide him he turned and started down the hall where the numbers descended. He figured that when the numbers ended there would be something to point him in a direction. There seemed to be nothing stopping his exploration, though he didn't bother to try the doors. He guessed that he was in some sort of residential block and the other doors belonged to people who lived there. There was no way for him to even begin to guess the combinations to those rooms.
At the end of the hall he met his first angel. He knew that fairies existed, and some fairies naturally had wings. This being was the height of an adult human male, clothed in white robes, with brown hair that framed his face. His eyes were eerie though, a red that betrayed no emotions. There were also, of course, wings, iridescent shafts of light that formed the basic shape of a wing. They were colored and translucent and held the angel's feet several inches off the ground.
"You are the one Lord Yggdrasil has brought to Welgaia," the being stated in a monotone voice. "The one he named as Artemis Fowl."
"Correct," Artemis replied. Those sentences told him several things. His captor, or savior, was named Yggdrasil. Among the angels he held a high rank, implied to be a social one by the use of the honorific. His location was Welgaia. And, most importantly, Yggdrasil knew who he was. "Do you know why I was brought here?" he asked.
"I am not authorized to give that information," the angel returned. Artemis hid his sigh of frustration. "Artemis Fowl will follow this angel to Lord Yggdrasil."
"Just Artemis, if you please," the one named requested. Hearing his full name spoken in that monotone was just a tad creepy.
"Yggdrasil has instructed this angel to inform you that food will be provided at your meeting," the angel continued without acknowledging Artemis's request. "You will now come with me."
Artemis was led to a room with a wonderful view of a star-decked sky. Once he was left alone he ignored the table in the middle of it and walked to the window. His heart did a funny flop in his chest, trying to be afraid and in awe at once at the sight. This was because he was, indeed, in space. "How remarkable," he breathed. "The technology here is simply astounding. I never even detected a change in the gravitational field."
Far below him a planet arced, the sky tinted purple by an unknown source. Artemis studied the planet and mentally filtered out the purple, coming up with a world of blue oceans and white clouds. It was an inhabitable world, but the continents he could make out certainly weren't those of Earth's.
His thoughts were interrupted by the door opening. He turned to review the adult blonde who floated in, wings catching the light. He wore a white bodysuit with gold designs, and his eyes were an oddly blank blue. Artemis's attention was captured by the points of the angel's ears. How interesting. The other angel had had rounded ears.
"Lord Yggdrasil, I presume," Artemis said. He turned from the window to give the other man his full attention. "Should I be thanking you or negotiating my release?"
"Thanks would be courteous," Yggdrasil mused. "It's entirely up to you. I do not intend to hold you as a prisoner here. That does not mean that I will let you leave."
"That's a contradiction," Artemis noted. "If I cannot leave then I am a prisoner."
"If you'd like. I prefer to see you as a guest of honor." Yggdrasil gestured to the table. "Have a seat. Our meal is being brought as we speak."
The table was small, enough to hold both of them comfortably. Artemis chose the seat that gave him a view of the door, preferring to see what was coming. His mind, however, was calculating the possibility of a trapdoor behind him. He would have to try and be prepared.
Once they were sitting the door opened, more angels bringing in covered dishes. Plates and utensils were set out and the meal was served, though the meat looked nothing like anything Artemis had seen before. As the plates had been prepared from the same dishes, he felt no fear in digging in after Yggdrasil had started to eat as well.
"Why am I here?" he asked after a moment.
"You are the only human in the universe with magic," Yggdrasil said. Then he paused. "Well, that is a bit of a lie. There are humans in my service who can use magic, but that is because of aionis. Your magic, however... it is a natural magic, not artificial. It is like that of the elves and half-elves."
Artemis lifted his hand, finger crooked upwards, and concentrated hard. A blue spark burst from the digit. "This magic is not naturally mine," he admitted. "I borrowed it while in the time tunnel."
"And yet it is now yours," Yggdrasil observed. "You, a human, gained magic without external aid. You are unique in all the universe. I will study you."
Artemis raised a brow. "I do not have a say in this?" he inquired, though he knew the response.
"That is why I plucked you from your magic circle. That is why I aided your friends in their task. The demon island of Hybras made it back to your world in one piece, although I fear it may have landed a few years off." Yggdrasil finished his food and set the plate aside. "You... interest me."
He had no way of knowing that Yggdrasil told the truth. The angel's face was still blank, his voice even. Even so, he had that hope. He decided not to hide his relief. "So that is your price. The safety of my friends for my cooperation in your experiments. Do I have any hope of an eventual release?"
"In time, when I have learned all I can from you. And your cooperation will be repaid in other ways." Yggdrasil gestured to the angels that had come in to clean up the remains of their meal. "You will be granted the honor of becoming an angel."
Artemis eyed the blank creatures that didn't even blink. "Are all angels like this?" he wondered.
"Not all. I will not steal your individuality from you. It is you, the individual, that accomplished the impossible. Without your personality my experiments would be nothing." Yggdrasil leaned forward, resting his head on his hands. "To be honest, turning you into an angel also serves my purposes. Human lives are so very short. You would die, otherwise, before my experiments had even started."
Artemis stilled. "How long do you want to keep me?" he demanded.
"A few centuries at the very least," the angel responded. "There are so many tests to run."
His mind couldn't comprehend that. Centuries. He would be at this angel's mercy for longer than even the most gracious human lifespan. There was no way he could even survive that long. Something of his line of thought must have shown in his face because Yggdrasil smiled.
"Fear not. I am over three thousand years old. Angels are immortal. You will not even age."
The sky was dark over Fowl Manor. Night had fallen on a somber day, rain clouds rolling in to block the last feeble threads of orange sun. The rain hadn't started yet, leaving an oppressive feeling to settle over the manor. Its inhabitants were grouped together in an opulent sitting room, cups of fragrant tea growing cold in their hands.
These inhabitants were the Fowl family - Angeline, Artemis, Beckett, and Myles. They were the mother, father, and twin siblings of the missing Artemis Fowl the Second. There was another man in the room too, though he wasn't related to the Fowl family by blood. He had been in their service for the entirety of Artemis's short life, though, and even now he served the Fowls in whatever capacity they required. Right now he was mourning alongside them, grieving for the young man whom he had failed.
Angeline broke the silence, turning the cup of tea on the table. "It's been three years," she said softly. "All this time, Butler, you've been certain that Artemis was not dead. You've insisted that these fairies you've rambled about would bring my son home. You've camped out on the shore where you insisted that he would turn up. So why are you here now?"
Butler swallowed his grief. He'd had enough time to process the news that Holly Short had tearfully brought on the ride back to the manor. He'd shed his tears already and was now delivering the sad news to Artemis's family. "I've heard from the fairies," he began. That line sounded profoundly wrong coming from him, but it was spoken with great seriousness. "Artemis... isn't coming home. The group that he he was with showed up finally but he wasn't with them."
Holly, up in the rafters, stubbornly held her tears in. She turned her attention to the sky outside, although there was nothing to see but the occasional lightning flash. As Butler explained everything to the family below them, she wondered if letting him tell his family everything was really the right call. The LEP had never confirmed Butler's story by appearing before him, but just letting him tell the Fowls...
Without concrete proof, all they could believe was Butler's words. The fairies were safe, but Artemis's family would never know for sure what had happened to their son. All they would have were words that they wouldn't truly believe. She couldn't imagine what they thought had really happened, but it seemed they didn't blame Butler. That was the only bright spot in their night.
She looked back to the group as Butler stopped talking. She was able to see the sorrow in their eyes. They believed that Butler believed what he was saying, but they didn't really believe it. All it would take, she thought, was for her to fly down there and reveal herself. They'd know he was telling the truth then, but the cost would be too high. Bringing peace to the Fowls would doom the entire fairy people.
Her eyes strayed away from the tearful family as a particularly violent thunderclap shook the house and the rain began to fall.
Artemis appeared in the main entryway of his manor, letting the sword in his hand lower so that it almost touched the floor. It was just the same as he'd left it, though he found his eyes taking in details that he'd forgotten. It had been such a very long time since he'd been here, after all. Despite that, true to Yggdrasil's word, he hadn't aged a day since he'd gained the wings that shone ever so softly in the dimness.
His attention was caught by a gasp in the doorway and he turned to see Butler in the doorway to one of the sitting rooms, gun drawn. At the sight of the weapon Artemis automatically summoned a shield to protect himself, but Butler couldn't see it. It was a shield of magic.
What Butler could see was the wings gracing Artemis's back. He took in the boy's clothes - archaic, to be sure, and not something he would expect his young charge to wear, and the way his feet didn't quite touch the ground. Artemis's body language was completely at ease, however, and as he watched the boy smiled.
"Butler," he greeted, the odd sword in his hand vanishing in a flash of purple light. "It has been too long, my friend."
Butler's heart hurt to hold a weapon on Artemis. This boy that was in front of him, though... "Don't move," he ordered, managing to keep the tremble from his voice. "Put your hands up and keep that sword out of sight."
"Butler, what is it?" Angeline called from the sitting room.
"Stay where you are," he called back over his shoulder. He felt a slight breeze near his ear and then a gasp.
"Holly," Artemis said. Butler could believe that Holly had come down to investigate, that the gasp had come from her throat.
"You can see her?" he asked the boy who looked so much like Artemis. It just couldn't be him, though. Artemis may have gotten fairy magic but no fairy had wings that glittered like crystal in the shadows. No fairy could make a sword appear and disappear at will.
Artemis tilted his head, the smile fading from his face. "I see. You don't believe that I am who I appear to be." He floated a few inches closer. "I can see why you would have those doubts. I anticipated them. I have had far too long to anticipate this. The only thing I do not know is... when." He raised a hand and looked around him. "When am I, Butler? What year is this?"
That was a question that Butler wasn't prepared for. It made sense, though - Artemis had been lost in the midst of travel across time and space. If he'd miraculously made his way home, there was no way for him to know when. "It's been..." Butler cleared his throat. "You've been gone three years, Artemis. But how can it be you?"
"How can I have wings?" Artemis asked. "How can I fly as easily as a sprite, as if I had been born to it?" A sword appeared in the hand he'd raised. "And this. Why would I have a sword that can vanish?" The sword vanished again. "The Artemis you knew could do none of these things. How can you be sure I am who I claim to be?"
"How can you prove it?" Butler returned.
"Allow me closer, old friend. Allow me to whisper one word in your ear. It is something that only I would know, and you know I would never tell it to anyone."
Butler knew the word that Artemis would tell him. It was something that only he, Artemis, and one other knew, something that so long ago he had whispered to his charge when he'd thought that he would die. When he nodded, Artemis flew to him. Butler didn't even need to bend down - those unearthly wings held the boy afloat as he whispered that word in his ear.
The weapon fell to the ground, thankfully not discharging, as Butler wrapped his arms around Artemis. "I thought you were gone," he said. "I thought you had died and I wasn't there to protect you."
Artemis had an arm wrapped tight around Butler's neck, his face pressed into his bodyguard's shoulder. The other hand was gripping Butler's bicep with surprising force. "I have missed you," he said. "You, and Mother, and Holly... All this time, all I've wanted to do is get back here."
"Are you crying?" Holly's voice floated out of thin air next to them. Artemis lifted his head, tears shining in his mismatched eyes.
"I believe that this is an appropriate moment to cry," he replied, wiping the drops from his cheek. Then he paused. "No, that didn't come out right. I am crying, Holly. I'm doing so because I'm happy."
Butler felt tiny fairy hands on his arm and knew that Holly was embracing Artemis as well. He was also crying, but he was also inspecting the wings. He felt Artemis laugh against his shoulder.
"I will explain them, my friend. I will explain everything. For now..." He turned his gaze to the inside of the room, where he saw his mother and father and two toddlers he didn't know. They were staring at him with wide eyes and he felt tears once again prickling the corner of his eyes. Suddenly Butler's arms were empty, Artemis crossing the room in the blink of an eye. His parents didn't protest as he embraced them both at once. They looked at Butler as if asking him if this flying apparition could be their son.
"Has he come back from Heaven to say goodbye?" Angeline whispered.
"He's solid," Artemis Senior said dazedly, embracing both his wife and son. "He's solid and yet he has the wings of an angel... is he an angel, Butler?"
The bodyguard cleared his throat. "Why don't we let Artemis tell us what happened?"
"Just a moment," the boy requested. "Just one moment..."
That moment passed and he released his parents. He turned to the twins that were looking at this stranger with curious eyes. "And who might you be?" he asked them softly.
"They're your brothers," Angeline answered. "Myles and Beckett. Twins."
"Myles and Beckett," he repeated, wondering which was which. "I'm Artemis, your older brother. Very much older."
"By only a few years," Angeline assured him.
Artemis stilled at that. Then, he started to laugh. It wasn't a happy laugh. Butler had heard that same laugh from the few truly broken individuals that he'd encountered before. It was the laugh a person used when the only other choice was to scream. Angeline and Artemis Senior gathered up the twins and backed away slowly, giving their son space.
It seemed like forever before he stopped. "Forgive me," he gasped. "It is just... such a cruel joke." After a few breaths he regained his balance. "Mother, Father, Butler... I am not the boy you once knew. Three years have passed for you. For me, it has been ten thousand years since the last time I have set foot on this Earth."
His eyes were serious as he spoke those words. Butler was the first to break the stunned silence. "Artemis," he whispered. "How?"
"I will explain," the ancient boy promised. "First, tea. It has been so very long since I've had a decent cup."
While Butler brewed a fresh pot of tea Artemis vanished into the house. He returned, wings fading as he settled into a chair. He'd changed clothes, discarding the odd garments he'd arrived in for a set of the most casual clothes that he owned, black slacks with a white dress shirt. He'd retained the boots he'd arrived in, though.
"They've gone," Angeline said, indicating Artemis's shoulders. "Are they... gone?"
Artemis smiled. "No, Mother. My wings can disappear, but I can summon them again at will." He stood and did so, turning so she could see them. "They are a part of me now."
Artemis dismissed his wings, settling back into his chair. Butler entered the room with a tray, six cups circling a pot. Also on the tray was a plate of cookies. The boy frowned at the tea.
"Does something displease you?" Artemis Senior asked him.
"There should be one more cup. I'm sure Holly is tired of hiding out in the window." He looked up at where his friend had returned to her perch. "Come down, Holly. Have a cup of tea. I promise that your presence will not go beyond my family."
Holly didn't know what she should do. Artemis should have known better! Yet he'd called her down as if having a fairy hiding in the window was the most normal thing in the world. "Foaly?" she asked. Of course she was in full LEP gear, so of course she had a link directly to LEP headquarters so many miles underneath the Earth.
"Might as well. We can mindwipe them later," Foaly's voice returned.
She unshielded, becoming visible to the naked human eye, and hesitantly dropped so she was hovering behind Artemis's chair. "Hi," she said weakly, raising her hand in a wave. "I'm Holly."
"The fairies were real!" Angeline gasped. "All this time and they were real... why, Holly? Why did you not show yourself so we knew the truth?"
She shrugged. "I wasn't allowed. Our society is secret. Butler and Artemis were the only two humans in the world that knew about us."
"We wouldn't have told. We would have kept the secret." Artemis Senior held Myles tightly. "But I understand. There was no way for you to know that we wouldn't reveal your identity to the world."
"While we wait for the LEP to send a team for me to dissuade, I believe it is time for me to explain everything." Artemis took a breath and held his hands together. There was a glow and, when it faded, there was another teacup in his hand. He held it out for Butler to fill while everyone stared. When it was full, he didn't drink from it. Tea was passed around while he stared into the dark depths.
There was silence for a few moments before Holly prompted, "Artemis?"
"Forgive me, I'm trying to decide where to begin." Another deep breath. "I suppose the beginning is best. When I woke up after being plucked from the circle, I met the being who kidnapped me. He made his intentions plain from the moment I met him. I was a first, a human with magic, and he would study me. So he did."
In the depths of the tea, he could almost see what it was he was describing. It was as clear as the day that he'd lived those moments.
Artemis was escorted by yet another blank angel into a room filled with beeping electronics. There was a padded table in the center of the room, a steel table next to it with many sharp objects. He was of course uneasy about the whole thing but there was nothing for him to do but enter. He knew that he would be directed to lie on the table and so he walked over to it and lifted himself onto it.
Yggdrasil was in the room along with several other angels. He raised his eyebrow at Artemis's action. "You don't intend to fight? I know humans are very resistant to being experimented upon. I had expected to have to restrain you."
"I know full well that there is nothing I can do to stop you from doing as you wish," the boy replied. "Behaving like an animal would be undignified."
"So young, but so smart already. Pity there aren't more like you." Yggdrasil floated over to him and lifted his chin, looking into his eyes. Artemis stared back impassively, already resigned to his fate. Without more information he couldn't fight back.
"Your eye was too small when we found you," the angel said. "We had to use healing arts to fix it."
"The eye belonged to my fairy friend," he explained. "In the time tunnel our eyes must have been swapped."
"Is that the source of your magic?"
"No. On our trip to Hybras, I saw magic floating in the time tunnel and so I grabbed it as a curiosity."
Yggdrasil nodded, releasing Artemis's chin and turning to the table of instruments. Artemis turned his gaze to a wall that was filled with colored lights, intent on pretending that what he was about to endure was nothing but an inconvenience.
"Needless to say it wasn't all fun and games," Artemis said. "I was poked with more needles than I cared to count in every part of my body imaginable." He didn't want to look up at the expressions that were plain to see on his family and friends' faces. "Of course it didn't happen all at once. His tests were spaced out over weeks, weeks in which I searched for a way out. His base, Welgaia, was on an asteroid that orbited a very odd planet, and there was only one way in and out. I was never shown where it was, though I otherwise had free reign of the city."
The tea had grown cold in his hands as he spoke. Absently he dipped a finger in the liquid and heated it up with a silent fire spell. He didn't drink it, but the steam wafting past his face with its sweet fragrance was comforting.
"Artemis..." Holly whispered, reaching for his hand. He let her clutch it, accepting the support behind it. He just had to be careful about squeezing her back. "That was so horrible. I'm sorry."
Artemis shrugged his shoulders. "That was millenia ago. I've long since moved past any lingering resentment for Yggdrasil."
"What happened to that..." Butler cleared his throat, remembering that there were young ears in the room. "What happened to him?"
"He's dead. But that's jumping forward a bit. The first overtly cruel thing Yggdrasil did," Artemis said, setting his cup aside so he could unbutton his shirt, "was the methods he used to awaken this gem and grant me immortality."
The glittering red gem caught everyone's eye, though the fact that it was embedded in the boy's chest made it more sinister. "What is that?" Angeline asked. She leaned forward so she could touch the crystal, though it felt innocuous.
"Yggdrasil called it a Cruxis Crystal. It is the source of my wings and immortality." Artemis frowned as if he was trying to put his thoughts in order. "It is... a life form. Not a sentient one, but one that is lonely. When put into contact with a human, elf, or half-elf, it feeds on their life force. Without some kind of inhibiting agent the host's personality would be sucked into the crystal." On a chain around his neck there was some kind of amulet, which he fingered. "This is that inhibiting agent. It's called a Key Crest."
"So how did he awaken the crystal?" Holly asked.
Artemis seemed to hesitate, then brushed back a lock of hair. His hair was a few inches longer than it had been when he'd left, long enough to cover the tips of his ears. What he revealed shocked everyone.
The wooden house was simply furnished. It had a stove that required wood to burn, a simple bed tucked against the wall, and a table in the middle of the space. Artemis awoke with a head that was fuzzy from whatever drug had been administered to him and it took him a few minutes for his senses to clear. He'd been told before being knocked out that it was time for him to gain angel wings. His hand went to his chest, where he could feel the lump of the Cruxis Crystal under his shirt.
Once he could sit up without the room spinning around him he explored his new surroundings. There was a small square of a mirror set into the wall and his reflection caught his eye. There was something about it that was different. Once he got closer he saw it immediately.
"Am I to be an elf, then?" he wondered, fingering the points that his ears had been shaped into. The elves of this world had a wide array of hair colors, blue and pink and the like, but he couldn't remember reading about a black-haired elf. "Or perhaps a half-elf?" He frowned, remembering clearly what he'd read about the half-elves of this world. It would be in his best interest if he could convince people that he was a full-blooded elf.
He put the fact of his pointed ears in that part of his brain that was planning and finished looking around. All he had to his name was the clothes on his back and a bag of gold coins in the drawer of the small stand next to his bed. Without knowing the cost of items in this world there was no way to know whether he had a substantial sum or not. He counted them out anyway.
There was no food in the house. That meant that his first order of business, then, would be searching the area. Hopefully there was something immediately nearby.
His search turned up a few mushrooms and a bush of blueberries. He also took the opportunity to survey the surrounding area. The house he'd been dumped in was on the slopes of a hill, and he could see a large body of water from his vantage point. Down on the shore was a cluster of buildings.
The sun was high in the sky once Artemis finished exploring. He nibbled on a berry to make sure that it wasn't poisonous as he eyed the city. After a few minutes without feeling the urge to vomit up the berry he figured that they would be fit to eat and so he popped a couple of them in his mouth. His next order of business, he decided, was going to that city and seeing what he could buy with his bag of gold.
It took him far too long to walk to the city and by the end of it he was thoroughly out of breath. He collapsed on a step shortly after he'd reached the first buildings just so he could gulp in lungfuls of air. A few people looked at him as they went about their business, their gaze lingering on his pointed ears, but he was left alone.
After a moment he was able to breathe without gasping and so he got back to his feet. The sun had crossed the sky while he'd walked to this city and he didn't fancy walking back in the dark. The countryside looked peaceful but he was also fourteen years old. There were probably bandits that wouldn't mind that he was just a kid.
That thought made him look around for a weapon shop. He would of course buy food, but if he had any money left over it would serve his purposes to arm himself. This world wasn't going to be easy for him to survive in. He had no bodyguard by his side, no allies. His physical form had been altered against his will and would bring him nothing but trouble if the wrong conclusions were reached.
He learned that his currency was called gald when he spotted a market. All he wanted was a few simple things but the woman in charge of the stall was giving him a hard time.
"We don't serve half-elves here, lad," she said hostilely when he paused to survey her wares. Stamping down his irritation, he turned a charming smile her way instead.
"I will be sure to inform any half-elves if they should pass by," he replied. "I am but a humble elf who has found his way to your fair town." It was, frankly, weird to be referring to himself as an elf. His friend Holly was an elf and when he thought of that race, he thought of her. The elves of this world, however, were much different than the ones of his. They were as tall as the humans they co-existed with, the only hint that they were of a different species being the points in their ears and the magic they could summon.
"I've never seen an elf with black hair," she accused.
"Then I am glad to be your first," he returned. "All I wish is to purchase a few necessities. Meat, fruit, vegetables... I'm afraid that I arrived here with nothing."
She was still suspicious, he could tell, but she grudgingly took his gald. He didn't buy that much food, just enough to last him a few days, but it filled the pack she threw in free. He was left with less than half of the coins that he'd found in his drawer.
He hefted the pack over his shoulder and nearly overbalanced. It was easily the heaviest load that he had lifted in his short life and now he had to walk the several miles back to his small shack with it on his back. That was also not the last thing he was to buy.
"Thank you very much," he said to the shopkeeper. She waved him away with a muttered word and focused on the humans that had come up behind him while he was making his selections.
The next stop he made, all the while eyeing the people that were watching him with open hostility, was a booth that held fishing rods. He paid a comparative pittance for that, and there was a strap on his pack that easily held the rod. He had to take off the pack in order to secure it. It hadn't gotten any lighter since the last time he'd hefted it up.
Luckily his last stop wouldn't require him to take off the pack. It was already incredibly heavy and all he wanted to do was let it rest at his feet, but he didn't like the looks that he was getting and so he preferred to keep it on. Just in case, he mused, he'd have to make a running retreat.
The weapon shop owner looked at him like he'd grown a second head. "Look, half-elf," he spat. "I don't know about my fellow humans, but I'm not going to sell you a weapon. You're dangerous enough as it is!"
Artemis took a breath and counted to ten mentally. Already he was tiring of this situation. On the exhale he had a smile plastered on his face. "You are mistaken," he said warmly. "I am but a travelling elf who has unfortunately lost his weapon on the journey. I have never been proficient in the magic arts. Much as it galls my elfin pride I require a weapon to protect myself. Something ranged, preferably." He was about as much use in combat as a dwarf was aboveground in the day, but at least a ranged weapon would favor distance over power. His new house was in an optimal position to let him pick off any attackers.
That is, he grumbled to himself as he stared down the shopkeeper, if he could manage to hit anything with it. He hoped these people would give him a few days to practice with it before battering down his door. He had no doubt that he would be followed upon leaving the town and his house would be discovered.
After a moment the shopkeeper sighed. "All right, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. I've never heard of a black-haired elf but I've never even met one before so who knows." He didn't look entirely happy but he waved Artemis over to a rack. "You're a scrawny little thing anyway." Without even asking he'd grabbed the boy's arm and flexed it, feeling his biceps and forearm before shaking his head. "I don't doubt that you've never held a weapon in your life."
"I have, actually," Artemis replied, unhappy with his sudden manhandling. He realized it had had a purpose when the shopkeeper turned to the rack and started muttering about muscle strength and tension. "It was a firearm," he added to himself, uncharacteristically, then paused to wonder at that. There was no time for it, though, because at the last word the shopkeeper perked up.
"Firearms do most of the work!" he exclaimed in delight. "Nifty little things, just came out of the Palmacosta Research Lab. They learned how to use an exsphere as a power source that can shoot these little beams of light. I think I have a few of those in the back, hold on..."
Artemis watched him dash to the back with a raised eyebrow. He was in a hut that was straight out of the middle ages, yet these people already had laser weapons. At least that sentence told him where he was. He was on the flourishing world of Sylvarant, where apparently they had sufficient resources to look at what was to them ancient technology and stage a revival of it.
Even he was a little bit impressed at that.
The shopkeeper came back after a moment with two gleaming silver weapons in his hands. "Here they are, kid. The exspheres are completely charged and should last you for ten years at least." He displayed the weapons proudly, but when Artemis reached for them he pulled back just a bit. "These are top of the line, kid. They won't be cheap."
Artemis frowned. He was entirely unaccustomed to being poor. Despite that, he walked over to the countertop and counted out his remaining gald, hoping that he had enough left. As he mentally tallied his funds, he was also fuming. Give him a fairy suit and just enough magic to hypnotize the man and the guns would be his without questions. Though he knew that he still had magic, could feel it flowing through him and the gem that was barely hidden by his shirt, he couldn't summon a spark to use the fairy skill he wanted.
The part of his mind that wasn't fuming was cataloging the development. His magic was changing, he realized. It was no longer strictly fairy magic. Was it because he was a human, or did Yggdrasil's experiments have anything to do with it? Maybe it was the magic he could only just feel hanging in the air. Was it warping his stolen magic into something that would mesh better with a human body?
Not knowing the cause irritated him, but just as he was sliding the last coin on the counter he settled that at the back of his mind. He had some guns to buy.
He was painfully short of the cost the shopkeeper demanded. With his current total he barely had enough for the lowest-end sword. He frowned, trying to think of a way out of his situation. He needed those weapons - they were his best hope of protecting himself. He didn't have the coordination to use a bow he was sure he could talk the shopkeeper into giving him for the gald he had.
The only conclusion he arrived at was galling to him. Imagine a Fowl having to take a job! His family hadn't needed to work for centuries. Yet here he was, without his family's vast stores of wealth at his disposal. The idea of it was poisonous in his mind, but that was the fact of his situation.
He walked away with one of the guns. The other would be his after several weeks, during which he'd have to walk to the town every day and run errands for the shopkeeper. After yet another long trek back to his little house, after which he was forced to go hunting for firewood so as not to freeze, he wondered if it would be worth it.
By the time he collapsed back into the bed, the moon coming up over the sea, he was aching everywhere. It took a week before he could move without feeling like every muscle in his body was tearing, but of course he couldn't just lie down and wait out the aches like he would at home. Every day he had to drag his protesting muscles down to the blueberry bush, where there was also a nice little stream. He'd wash up as well as he could, then move up a few feet and collect water in the canteen he'd purchased along with the food. Then it was time to start on the path back to the town. After a day spent running around and enduring the glares sent his way, there was an equally long walk back to his little house.
At least he was getting better at fishing. It allowed him to relax his overworked legs and concentrate on catching his dinner. As he watched his hook drifting lazily in the water, the worm Artemis had dug up dangling limply, he took a moment to reflect on his situation. There had been nothing to stimulate his intellect on Sylvarant, that much was certain. Unless Artemis could find Palmacosta and figure out how to get into whatever research institute was pumping out laser weapons, there was nothing he could do.
He laughed a bit to himself. Here he was, the smartest human and one of the smartest beings on Earth, reduced to nothing more than fishing with dirty, unsanitary worms. He gazed at the hands that clutched the fishing pole. There was dirt there, in and under his fingernails, and the skin of his palms looked rougher than sandpaper. He had not had a proper bath in far too long and he was sure that he smelled frightful, but by now his own nose had grown immune. What would Holly do if she saw him now?
Despite herself Holly laughed. "If I'd have seen that, I wouldn't have believed it was you, Mud Boy," she joked. Her eyes didn't stray far from the points that were Artemis's ears, but as the boy told his tale her shock had worn off.
Artemis's parents had taken turns with the appendages, confirming that they were real. "My poor Arty," Angeline weeped. "Such pitiful living conditions. I would have thrown a fit!"
Artemis Senior was scowling. "Why did you not simply move into the town?"
The younger Artemis hesitated. "On Sylvarant, there is a... caste system. Humans and elves are roughly equal, depending on who you talk to. Half-elves, though..." He looked away, wings fluttering into existence as he lifted himself from the seat. He took up a position by the window, watching the single moon rise. The words he wanted to say kind of clumped up in his throat. Even after this long, he still felt fear for his life. It didn't matter that he could now easily swat down any who would dare attack him for his perceived race. He remembered what had nearly happened easily enough.
Finally he gathered his courage, floating back to the ground. He didn't land, nor did he take up his previous position on the chair. Even the once-again-cold tea would do nothing for his nerves at this point. He was the focus of every eye in the house - five human and an uncountable number of fairies that had, despite themselves, been entranced by his story. Being in the air helped keep him out of reach of anyone that would dare hurt him, or so his nerves told him. Logically he was aware that the LEPretrieval team had long-distance weapons, but that's what Artemis's invisible shield was for.
He paused. Could the LEP see his shield? They had instruments that could see almost every wave of the visible and invisible light spectrums. He was sure that his shield could be detected by the right filter. He wondered if the LEP had found that filter yet.
Time enough had already been wasted and he took a deep breath. "Half-elves were seen as nothing more than animals and beasts. They weren't elves, so the elves shunned them. Humans feared them because they were human, yet they could use magic. They would outlive the parent that had brought them into the world. On Sylvarant, a half-elf was lucky if he wasn't shot on the spot. My town was a suburb of Palmacosta, and it was the most tolerant. Even so... any half-elf caught committing a crime, even the most minor, was killed immediately."
Gasps echoed around the room. "That's inhumane!" Holly burst out. "Did you know about this at the time?"
Artemis nodded. "During my time in Welgaia I was allowed access to Yggdrasil's computer systems. It was what led me to the conclusion that without a hundred warlocks, there was no way for me to get home. I of course had access to the historical database. That was why I was trying to insist that I was an elf."
"And that was why you claimed to not have much skill with magic," Butler mused. "There was one less reason for them to fear you."
Artemis allowed himself a laugh. "Actually, my good friend, that was entirely the truth. Yggdrasil did not teach me any spells until after I'd gained my wings."
"I bet something happened," Angeline guessed. "Something happened that made them go after you. Am I right?"
"You are." Artemis swallowed hard, fighting the urge to summon the Eternal Sword. Of all the times that he'd almost died, that one had been the worst. He'd had no Butler at his side, no Holly. He had been truly alone and that was what had frightened him so. With a deep breath, he started telling the tale of how he'd gained his wings.
It was his last day of working for the shopkeeper. By now his muscles had grown used to their exertions and he didn't even ache anymore. Artemis eyed the sun on its trajectory towards the horizon, knowing that as soon as it touched the tops of the buildings the second gun would join the first at its back. He wouldn't have to make another horrible trek to this place tomorrow. Even as that thought crossed his mind he dismissed it. He had benefitted from the exercise, as loathe as he was to admit it. If he wanted to retain the benefits he would have to continue the activity.
Finally the sun reached its goal and the shopkeeper, on cue, came out from the back with the other of Artemis's weapons in his hand. "Here you are, your payment," he said gruffly. "You're a good worker, kid, for a half-elf. You don't make a fuss, and that's hard to find in a worker." He hesitated. "Strictly speaking, half-elves aren't supposed to be armed. I'm letting you know kid because I like you. Stick with that elf story you've concocted and you should be fine."
"I am an elf," Artemis protested, though they both knew it was a lie. The shopkeeper had no way of knowing that the boy was actually a human and that was even more unbelievable than being an elf. Somehow, he'd managed to win over the shopkeeper. What a miracle, he thought to himself.
He tucked the gun into the holster that held both weapons at his back. They rested under the belt that kept his shirt from flapping about and he'd made a habit of practicing with his gun at night. That is, when he wasn't tired enough to pass out right after he'd caught his nightly fish. He wasn't about to beat Butler in a gun-drawing contest but he was fairly certain that he could get them out before anyone with a sword had a chance to run him through.
"Thank you," he said to the man that he had grown to respect. "I appreciate your help."
He started on the long walk home. Since he'd gotten used to this walk he'd managed to shorten the time it took, taking only an hour and a half to traverse the distance to the town. On the way back it was a bit longer, as he was tired from all of his running, but it still was less than the three it had taken him the first time.
As he made his way towards the edge of town he ignored the looks that had by now become constant. It was clear that no one believed his elf story and the townspeople were convinced that he was a half-elf. Without a reason to have him tested, however, there was nothing they could do but watch. As long as they kept their distance that was fine with him.
Sadly that wasn't to happen. Just feet away from the last buildings in town and the long stretch of countryside that lay after it he was bumped into by a stranger. This stranger was tall, though not as tall as Butler, with brown hair that flirted with the red edge of the spectrum and an odd purple outfit that was skintight in most places, though the shoulderpads were far longer than they had any right to be. Bright red eyes glanced at him as if he were the lowest form of life.
They parted without a word, though immediately Artemis knew that something was wrong. He glanced down at his hand and saw that a wallet had appeared there. He turned to find the purple-clothed man and saw that he'd vanished. Now he was left in the middle of the road with another person's wallet. He pondered his options.
If he left with the the purple-clothed man's wallet, he'd be accused of pickpocketing. If he tried to turn it in to someone, they wouldn't believe that he hadn't stolen the wallet. Even if he claimed to find it on the ground, the mere perception of his half-elf heritage would be enough to cast the blame on him. All of those options would lead only to his imminent demise. He decided that the best option was to simply drop the wallet. It was an action that he took immediately, aiming for the other side of the road and walking as quickly as he could towards his little house.
He hoped that no one had seen. If he'd looked around, he would have attracted attention. Of course, however, his luck wasn't to hold out and one step from the edge of town his arms were grabbed. He didn't even have a chance to draw his weapons before he was immobilized by a crowd of angry people shouting accusations at him. He struggled, of course. As he thrashed his limbs he shouted his innocence.
No one paid him any mind. Artemis realized, stomach sinking, that they'd been waiting for this. They had been looking for any excuse to do this to him. That wallet had been that excuse. It was no wonder that they'd been watching him so closely. Even so he protested, writhing against the hands that held him. He tried to summon magic but there was nothing. No sparks flew from his fingertips, no fairy mesmer answered his call. He was dragged to a pole in the center of town that was stained a heavy rust color, his arms chained behind behind him. Only when they were sure that he was immobile did they give him space.
He tugged on his bonds, glaring at the people who stared at him with hate. "I'm not a half-elf!" he shouted at them. He'd faced death before, certainly, but those times he had hope. Butler would be on his way, or Holly would be at his side. Even Mulch, disgusting though he was, would be a welcome ally. However, there was no one. Only people who hated what they thought he was surrounded him. It was that realization that had led to his loss of composure.
"We knew it," the woman who had sold Artemis food on the very first day said. "We knew that we couldn't trust a filthy half-elf. We should have booted you out of town the first moment you arrived!"
"More like we should have shot him on sight," a voice yelled from the back. "Never even given him the chance to do anything!"
Artemis couldn't argue with beings so lost to hate. His ruse was completely ignored. It was time, he thought, to try for the truth. "I'm not a half-elf," he repeated, breathing heavily. He was close to panic and it was a trial to keep his rationality. "I'm just a human! The... the Desians experimented on me. They hate humans so much, they wanted one to feel the same hate they felt!"
He was bombarded with boos and jeers, as well as a few blobs of something that he didn't even want to name. A bit of the... matter got into his mouth and he was forced to splutter and cough it up. "You have to believe me," he said desperately. "I'm human! I don't have any magic!"
It was clear that his words were going unheeded. He continued to struggle, fingers clenching on the chains that held him, though he stopped at the sight of the giant in black clothes that broke through the crowd . His knees buckled at the sight of the giant axe that was wielded as if it weighed nothing. I'm going to die, he realized. No one will help me. No one is going to show pity on what they only see as an animal.
He took a deep breath, let it shakily out. A breath more and he struggled back to his feet. If he had to die, he reasoned, it would be better for him to die on his feet. He wouldn't cower, he wouldn't beg. He raised his head high, looking down on the frothing mob as only a Fowl could. Even as he did this, he was attempting to summon some sort of magic. He could feel it in his fingertips, but this changed magic didn't want to answer him.
The axe came up. Artemis looked straight at the man that was about to murder him. "I'm only fourteen," he said, the only thing that he could think of. He was too afraid to try to hide his fear. Even so he stood tall and proud.
The axe came swinging down.
He closed his eyes, focusing on his breaths. Each breath was one breath closer to being his last. Even so he relished them, feeling them flow through his body. So long as he breathed he was still alive. The orb in his chest throbbed with each heartbeat, each living heartbeat. He could hear the blood thumping in his ear. It would be the last thing he would hear.
Then there was silence. Artemis could still hear his heartbeat but it was muted now. There had been no pain, he thought dazedly. Perhaps he'd been lucky.
After a second he realized that he was still tied to the post. He could still feel the splinters digging into his arms and back through the frail fabric of his shirt. His guns were pressing uncomfortably into his lower back. A stray breeze crossed the courtyard, bringing with it the tantalizing scent of open country. Maybe he was still alive?
Daringly, he opened his eyes. The purple-clothed man was in front of him, easily blocking the axe with only one sword. Piercing red eyes swept the assembled crowd, causing every man and woman to shrink back in fear. "Cowards," his deep voice boomed, echoing around the clearing. "You did not even give him a chance to defend himself. Had you done so you would have learned that I simply dropped my wallet and this boy was fortunate enough to catch it for me."
That was a lie, Artemis thought. That wallet had been deliberately planted. What was this man up to?
"So what?" a brave soul threw out. "He's a half-elf! He shouldn't have even been born. We're just fixing that problem."
The stranger moved. It was a simple action, just a bit of extra force placed on the weapon, but the giant almost twice his mass was thrown against a far wall. "And what do you think his friends will do?" he demanded. "Spill his blood and you'll have half-elves storming the city. Haven't you ever thought that it is this mindless slaughter the provokes the half-elves to attack?"
No one had a reply.
"Let this boy go. He will leave and never come back." Those red eyes were turned on Artemis. "Won't you?"
Wordlessly, he nodded his assent.
His hands were freed from their bonds. He climbed to his feet, legs feeling like jelly, and was surprised when a purple-gloved hand was offered in support. He let himself be pulled to his feet, pulling the guns from their holsters as he did so. The townspeople quailed at the sight of the firearms.
After a moment he lowered his weapons. "I'm not like you," he managed to bite out. "At one point in my life I would have willingly sacrificed others for my own purposes, but it wouldn't have been out of... hate. I can see why elves hate you." He wanted to regain his calm but his heart was still beating too hard. The gem in his chest was on fire. Tears threatened to spill down his cheeks, sobs trying to close his throat. He mastered himself and headed out of the town, a purple shadow trailing after him. It was only after he'd entered the countryside and taken refuge behind a tree that he gave in to the emotions he so desperately tried to bury.
He hated crying. His nose became uncomfortably stuffed, forcing him to breathe through his mouth, and his eyes burned from the tears. He couldn't control his breathing and his whole body shook. The hand on his shoulder startled him and he saw the stranger who'd ruined and saved his life.
"You've had a bad day," the man noted. "It would be best if we returned to your home. I will take you there to deter any who would try to seek vengeance."
"I didn't do anything this time," Artemis said miserably. Right now he felt far too much like the teenager he was and he hated not having his control. "I've nearly died before but those were always because of things I did. I've never encountered this sort of... of hate before."
The man sighed, settling back against the tree with Artemis. "You can't control how people feel. They hate what they don't understand."
"But I'm not a half-elf!" Artemis shouted. This emotional business was getting out of hand and he gripped his knees, using the pressure to center his thoughts. He took deep breaths, ignoring the rattling in his throat. When he was sure that his voice would be normal he said, "I'm really not. Though I don't know how to convince you."
The man nodded. "I can see your Cruxis Crystal. It appears that you are the Chosen of this world."
Artemis regretted not finding another outfit. He clutched the collar of his shirt to his throat, a foolish gesture. "What does that have to do with it?"
"The Chosen can only be a human," the man replied. "Therefore, I believe you. Maybe you had some recessive elvin genes that resulted in the pointed ears."
"They're surgically altered, actually," Artemis returned. "Not my choice. It's someone's idea of a cruel joke, no doubt." Now that his emotions were under control his mind was putting facts together. He smirked. "It's doubtless that you know all about it, Kratos Aurion."
The man laughed. "You certainly are sharp. What gave me away?"
Artemis indicated the gem on the man's hand. "Your exsphere is a telltale crimson color indicative of it being a Cruxis Crystal. Normal exspheres are a pale pink in color. You showed up just after I armed myself, placed me in mortal peril. Then, just before my imminent death, you rescued me. No doubt this was to facilitate the development of my own Cruxis Crystal."
"That would only mean that I was an angel," Kratos noted. Despite himself he seemed intrigued. "How did you know my identity?"
"I've looked through Yggdrasil's files. I've read all about his commanders. You, Yuan, Pronyma... I committed your personal details to memory." Artemis's breathing was nearly back to normal. "I find it best to know my opponents. You do not have blue hair so you cannot be Yuan. Pronyma... well, she's a woman, so that immediately rules her out. That only left you. I simply matched your physical features to my memory of your personnel file. That, combined with your Cruxis Crystal, convinced me of your identity."
"I can see why he likes you," Kratos, obviously impressed.
"So did my near death serve your purpose?" the teenager asked, feeling slightly cross.
"Of course it did. Your body has made its first step towards the full transformation already."
Artemis had suspected as much. The Cruxis Crystal had started to cool off and there was a peculiar feeling at the top of his shoulders. If he looked in the mirror he knew he would see crystalline wings adorning his back. He'd read much about the transformation, memorized its details. There hadn't been much else to do in Welgaia and he'd done far too much reading.
He sighed. "I believe your earlier suggestion was sound." He stood and brushed the grass from his pants. "Let's get back to that house. I know you have something life-threatening planned and so I want to get some sleep while I still can."
Butler looked like he wanted to strangle the old angel as Artemis's voice trailed off. The boy had again taken to the air, the memory of his near death agitating him. He had been a creature of flight for millenia and he felt so much... safer, that was the word. The air was safe. So long as he was airborne he could get away from what had hunted him.
"Artemis, come down," Holly said in exasperation. "Your mother can't hug you all the way up there."
"I don't need a hug," he said absently, even if a hug sounded wonderful to the part of his brain that was still fourteen. "I just need to spend a decade someplace where I don't have to remember near-death experiences." There was a lovely spot around Altamira that sounded relaxing. There was a cabin left over from one of the previous residents and it bordered the beach. Nothing but the sea and waves for years on end... Just the thought drained the tension from his shoulders and he sighed. "Forgive me. It was a long time ago but it is still one of the worst moments of my life."
He didn't feel like continuing with his story after that. A quick check of the time gave him the perfect excuse. "I believe that it is getting late, isn't it?" he noted. "Mother, father, are you tired?"
They weren't, but they also knew that he wanted a break. They faked a few yawns and Butler gathered the tea items. Hardly a drop had been touched. While they were doing so, Artemis drew one of the weapons he still wielded. There was a flurry of movement as the gun appeared, but all the boy did was raise it to his face, barrel upwards. It was the pose he used to concentrate his magic.
"I call upon the heavenly messengers. I summon thee. Come, Sylph."
It was an ancient incantation, one used by the woman that Artemis had once met. Sheena Fujibayashi was a much better summoner than him, but she had not hesitated to pass her knowledge onto him once she learned what it was that he wished to do. The words used by subsequent summoners had changed, but he preferred this invocation. It was short and to the point.
The magic glyph flared under his feet as he spoke, and there were shouts from the fairies that were unshielding and pointing weapons at him. His shield was still up, however, and his spell was completed. Three fairies appeared in the room. They giggled and swarmed around Artemis, giving him the hug that he denied that he wanted.
"Master!" they cried, settling around him. "Why have you summoned us, master?"
Artemis smiled at them. "Sephie, Yutis, Fairess," he greeted the three. "Thank you for coming. I have a task for you."
"Of course!" they chorused. "What is it?"
Artemis descended, ignoring the weapons pointed at him. The fairies followed him. He came to a rest between his parents, offering them a small smile. "These humans are my mother and father," he told them. "I would ask you three to watch over them. Those fairies over there," and he pointed to the LEPretrieval team, "are here to wipe their minds. It would be... inconvenient for me."
Sephie pulled her giant sword from thin air. "Can I crush them?" she asked eagerly.
"No. That would be too troublesome. Please deter them with nonlethal methods." He turned to his parents and smiled at them. "The LEP shouldn't bother you now. You can sleep at ease." He paused, then turned to Yutis. "Would you be willing to watch over Myles and Beckett while they sleep? I don't want to take any chances."
The twins had long since fallen asleep in Artemis Senior's lap. Yutis nodded, curling up in the air over the twins. The beings known collectively as Sylph followed the rest of the Fowl family out of the room, clearing the way with a few choice gusts of wind. Unfortunate LEP fairies were tossed head over heels.
Satisfied that his family would be safe from the wrath of the fairies he'd enraged, Artemis turned to Holly.
"What was that, then?" she asked. "Some sort of fairy enslavement? They look like pixies."
Artemis studied her features. "You're angry with me," he realized. "Because I told my mother about you. Because I revealed your existence."
"Damn right I'm angry," she said with tightly controlled anger. "I'm glad to see you alive and well but that was unnecessary, Artemis."
"Mother and Father won't tell anyone. If they do, I'll of course allow you to take all measures necessary." Artemis paused. "I know you have other questions. Go ahead."
"What is with that sword?" Holly wanted to know. "It vanished into thin air. Foaly can't identify the magic signature you're spreading all over the place, and your shield is impressive. What are you, Artemis?"
The boy looked at the sky. Then he asked, "Do you trust me, Holly?"
The answer was instantaneous. "With my life, Artemis."
He looked at her and smiled, extending his left hand. In his right the sword again appeared. "Then take my hand, Holly. I shall show you what this magic is that I wield."
She took it without hesitation, despite Foaly and the LEP commander yelling in her ear. This was still Artemis, she assured herself. He wouldn't hurt her.
He raised the sword. There was a surge of energy on all of the LEP sensors, and when it faded neither he nor Holly were anywhere to be seen.
Holly took in the open field around her, the moonlight shining above her. Artemis was still in the air, his feet not touching the ground still. She activated the wings in her suit and ascended, marveling at what he saw. There was no sign of any human presences in the immediate surroundings, although she noted with some concern that her connection to the fairy city of Haven had been cut off. "Where are we?" she asked. The air was clean, far cleaner than any air on the surface had any right to be.
"We are on Aselia," Artemis informed her, taking in the familiar sight. "Can you feel it, Holly? Can you feel the magic in the air?" He raised his hand as if he were teasing a ribbon in the air, though there was of course nothing. "It's pure magic, not the bottled and condensed version you fairies have been using for the past millenia. This is the magic of life."
Holly could feel it. Even through the suit that insulated her from the elements and human detection. It was a slight tingling against her skin, calling to her. She wanted nothing more than to strip off her confining suit and frolic through the grass. "It's amazing," she said, turning her face to the sky. Her jaw dropped at the sight of two moons hanging above her. "We really aren't on Earth anymore," she breathed. "But how?"
"Sylph, the fairies I summoned, are known as Summon Spirits on the world," Artemis explained, then frowned. "That was redundant. In any case, you can think of them as the spirits of the elements. Sylph is the spirit of wind. There are also spirits for the other seven elements."
"Seven?" Holly asked in puzzlement.
"Yes, seven. Fire, water, light, lightning, earth, ice, and shadow are the other seven." Artemis drifted to the ground, towards the giant tree that dominated the skyline. "There are other spirits, however. The spirit of birth, Maxwell... and the spirit that controls space and time, Origin."
Holly followed him. The tree was inviting. "Are those all of them?"
Artemis seemed to consider the question. "There are a few others. Ratatosk, for one. He was once the guardian of the mana tree but now he seals the door to chaos. Verius, the spirit born of love and one who governs all matters of the heart. There was also, at one time, a man-made summon spirit. Corinne, however, died and evolved into Verius." Then he smiled. "There are also the centurions. You could call them lesser spirits. They align themselves with the monsters of this world."
"That's just... impossible," Holly whispered. "Are they all as powerful as Sylph?"
"Origin is, of course, the most powerful. He is space and time, after all." Artemis raised the sword in his hand. "This is the symbol of his power, the Eternal Sword. The being who wields it holds uncountable power."
Holly wanted to crawl into a hole. Artemis Fowl, with unlimited power... the world was going to end. She just knew it.
He laughed at her expression. "Fear not, Holly. I gained this power simply to return home, though I of course won't relinquish it. There is too much to be done. I have a plan that can save Earth."
"What's wrong with it besides the Mud Men?" he asked skeptically.
Artemis reached the tree and touched down, his wings folding themselves at his back. "Magic is dying," he said seriously. "All that's left is in the few old oaks that are old enough to remember what magic was. They can impart a shadow of their power into the fairy folk, but that shadow isn't enough and is fleeting. The elves of this world have no rituals they need to complete. Their magic is at full strength, always, and replenishes itself." He gestured to the tree in front of them. "Aselia has this. Its name, ironically, is Yggdrasil, and it is the tree that gives life to this world."
"A tree." Holly had to choke back a laugh. It was a laughable notion but she couldn't deny the magic in the air. It was so strong here that she thought she could feel it sinking into every pore.
Artemis ignored her. "Martel," he called into the gloom.
There was nothing for a few minutes. Then, slowly, a light appeared at the base of the tree. It resolved itself into the form of a woman. She had green hair and pointed ears, the sight of which shocked Holly. She looked like an elf!
The woman smiled at Artemis. "It has been a long time, Arty. You look well."
The boy's smile in return was pained. "I have asked you not to call me that, Martel. I'm nearly ten thousand years old."
"And yet you will always be a child. But this is not the reason you've come here." She tilted her head, the staff in her hand held at an angle away from her body. "What is it that you wish, Artemis?"
"I wish for a seed, Martel. One single seed of your tree to plant far away. I will see that it is nursed to health." Artemis nodded at Holly. "She is of the magical species on my planet. Will you give her a seed? My planet will be saved."
"And how would my child be treated?" Martel asked. "Humans live on your world as well. They would choke it before it reached full maturity."
"I will personally attend to it," Artemis promised. "I will watch it, guard it. I will ensure that humans cannot harm it."
"I believe you, Arty. You who are old and yet young. You have the skills to see the task done, but you are growing weary of the world. How am I to know that you will be around to see this task done?"
Holly gasped, looking at her friend. Despite the youth of his body she could see the millenia in his eyes. "Artemis," she whispered.
"It is a test to see that I will not break. I have not yet grown weary of this world, Lady Martel, and I will see your child is taken care of. You have my word." Artemis dropped to his knee before the woman and bowed his head. "Please. Just one seed."
Martel walked forward and pressed a hand to his head. "You can have ten, a hundred if you wish," she said fondly. "It is all I can do for the torment my brother put you through."
Holly hoped she would hear that part of the story. Instead of indulging her curiosity she stepped forward. "My people have a ritual," she told the woman who she began to think wasn't a real woman. "It is to pluck the seed of an ancient, magical tree, and then to bury it far from its roots."
Martel smiled. "Then pluck the seed, my dear fairy. Pluck it and find it a home in your planet's soil. This won't be an ordinary tree. Please be sure it finds a magical home. It will thrive there."
Artemis rose and watched as Holly rose into the treetops. The branches rustled and she came down with her fist clenched. "I have it," she whispered. "It feels... so alive."
The boy held out his hand. "We must be off, Martel. You have my eternal thanks."
Holly took that hand, watched the Eternal Sword flicker into existence. Then there was no more Martel, no more tree. It felt as if she hadn't moved and yet they were back on Earth. She recognized it, her magic crying out for that richness that had once been there. She recognized where they were.
"Tara," she observed, taking in the magical hotspot. It was the most magical place left on the planets and fairies flocked here in droves. "Why Tara?"
Artemis smiled at her. "We are three years in your past, Holly. Shortly after our original trip to Hybras, and you have not yet returned. This, I feel, will give the tree ample time to germinate and begin spreading its mana across the world." He gestured to the open field, where hundreds of fairies has stopped mid-frolic to stare at the unearthly beings. "I will return you to the moment we left Fowl Manor. I will remain here and guard the tree. First, you must plant it."
"That'll change history," she argued.
"It's a necessary change. Magic must survive." Artemis's eyes pleaded with her. "Please, Holly. All of this is for the whole world."
She trusted him. She trusted that he knew how to deal with this paradox. He was all-powerful now, he could handle something this simple. She sighed, nodded, and strode to the middle of the clearing. With her helmet on no one should recognize her, and she realized that Artemis had somehow hidden her nametag. All she was was an anonymous elf.
She found the optimal spot to plant the seed. After murmuring the fairies' prayer for the ritual, she dug a shallow hole and put the seed into it. A few pats and it was covered up.
There was no immediate response. Then it felt as if she was being sucked into her own mind. A powerful force dragged her consciousness inwards, where she found herself floating in the starry sky. She wasn't wearing her usual LEP jumpsuit, instead her favorite set of casual clothes. In front of her was a shining, glowing infant.
"Help me," it cried into the night.
Holly reached for it instinctively. She was a fairiy and her first impulse was to help, always. She caught herself before her fingers could touch unearthly skin. "What are you?" she asked it.
"I'm lost and afraid," it sobbed. "My mother is gone... I felt her and then I didn't... help me find her. Please!"
It only took her a moment to reach the only conclusion there could be. "You're the seed," she whispered. "I'm so sorry... I plucked you from your mother and took you a whole world away. It's my fault."
"Help me," the infant wailed. "I'm alone! So alone..."
It was against her better judgement, but Holly felt guilty. Martel was this boy's mother, she realized. Martel was the spirit of the Yggdrasil tree. Why shouldn't this new tree have a spirit?
She reached to cradle the infant. It was light in her arms, so light, and its warmth filled her to the core. She opened herself to it, felt it sinking into her. Soon there was no infant, only Holly, but this Holly wasn't the same that had entered this mindscape. She was a tree.
Artemis could feel the change that took place in Holly after she planted Martel's seed. It was something that he had expected - the World Tree had to have a guardian spirit. It seemed that, as the one to plant the seed, it had decided that Holly would be a perfect guardian for it. He wasn't sure how that process went, as he hadn't tried to become a spirit. His conversations with Martel had indicated that her host, a humanoid named Tabetha, had consented to be the new spirit of the tree. He presumed that Holly would also have to allow herself to become a spirit.
She stood in a daze for a few minutes, lightning crackling from her limbs. All of the fairies in Tara decided that the best place to be was away from this strange being and began flooding into the Tara shuttleport that was hidden beneath their feet. Artemis held back a respectful distance, waiting for her to recover. Since this tree was young he'd hoped that it wouldn't have a personality that would consume Holly's.
Finally, the elf blinked. She stared at the world with wide eyes, fingers reaching to trace the invisible tendrils of magic that emanated from the sapling at her feet. "I'm a tree," she said dazedly. "How strange. I'm immobile in the earth and yet able to move freely."
Artemis stepped forward. "Holly?" he asked hesitantly.
She turned and punched him in the chest, winding him. He clutched his ribs and wheezed. "That's for not warning me," she said crossly. Then she hugged him. "And this is for what you've given to the Earth."
"So?" he prompted her after she let him go and he was finally able to breathe without pain.
"I'm a tree," she repeated. "How am I supposed to feel?"
"Alive?" he offered. "Wooden? You're a magic tree, Holly. You're you, the best fairy that LEPrecon has ever had, and now you're a newborn who's discovering the world."
She nodded, searching that new sense of magic inside of her. "I'm not entirely that. I have some of my mother's... er, some of Martel's memories." She grinned wickedly. "I know how to summon a lightning bolt from the heavens and rend the earth in two."
"Save that for those who would chop you down," Artemis advised. "I had suspected that this would happen, but I did not tell that to Martel. It looks as if I will be guarding you for those three years until you're fully grown."
"But you just got home!" she protested. "And anyway the timeline." But her memories were nagging at her. "Wait a second... I remember! After I got back I got caught up on all of the news. I distinctly remember reading about two ghosts that haunted Tara while an enchanted tree grew." She groaned after that. "I hate time travel. I suspect that, like Martel, I am now forever stuck in this age? I won't grow old?" Then she was horrified. "I won't have children?"
"I expect that you're still fully fertile, seeing as your body is still that of an elf's," Artemis mused. "I will allow you to test that hypothesis at your leisure."
"And what would you know about that?" she asked him, honestly curious. His body was still fourteen, but his mind was eons old.
"That is a discussion for when we're in more private quarters," he said in amusement. "As for returning home... it's only three years, Holly. It will pass by for me in seeming moments. All I shall do is meditate."
"Everyone will know about you well before they're supposed to," she pointed out.
Artemis winked at her. "Yggdrasil passed on one of his more... less-destructive skills." His form shivered in the moonlight, and then she was looking at a blue-haired stranger. Artemis had taken on the form of an Aselian elf, his clothes a soft yellow color, though his wings were the same.
The Fowls were ignorant of Artemis and Holly's three-year wait. They awoke the next morning refreshed, the fairies of Sylph standing as giggling sentries at their bedsides. Butler was already preparing breakfast for them when they made their way to the dining room, wrestling two energetic boys.
"Artemis and Holly left last night and haven't come back," the bodyguard reported as he served them. "The LEP were successfully dissuaded by a couple of manic pixies... or sprites..."
"Spirits," Artemis's voice corrected. He appeared in the room with hardly a flash of light, the mysterious sword again vanishing from his hand. "Holly will be with us momentarily. She's just setting up wards around Orion so that he'll be safe in her absence."
"Who?" Butler asked despite himself.
"Her tree. It was her idea. Martel and Yggdrasil are the same being with two forms and it was confusing to refer to Holly as both the spirit and the tree." Artemis didn't elaborate, instead choosing to settle in a chair. His clothes looked strangely worn, as if he'd been wearing them for far longer than the hours he'd been gone. "She's the one who chose the name," he continued. "Something about the legend of the Goddess Artemis. That one's gotten a bit fuzzy for me, and I didn't have a chance to look it up."
Now they were all confused. "Artemis, what have you done this time?" Butler sighed.
"Saved the world," he answered. "Holly helped."
As if summoned the elf herself appeared. "Hi!" she said brightly, not seeming to mind that it was early morning outside and her race was supposed to be nocturnal. "The sun feels great this morning, doesn't it?"
More staring. Artemis sighed and explained what he'd done the night before/three years ago. "Holly is the spirit of the tree," he concluded. "And the tree is named Orion. Over the past three years it's been growing, spreading its mana all over the world. If I'm correct, by now it should be fully matured and its mana output at its strongest. All of the destructive activities that the humans are causing are being counteracted by the purest life energy. Within another five years I would guess that global warming will be halted, food output will be tripled, and humans all over the world will be discovering their magic."
A fairy appeared at the doorway. "Commander Kelp," Holly greeted. "It's been a long time."
"Hello, Commander," Artemis greeted. "Care for some breakfast?"
"What have you done now, Fowl?" the fairy who was famous all under the world for choosing the first name Trouble demanded. "And why didn't you ask us before defiling Tara?"
"Tara is the most magical place on the planet," Artemis answered mildly. "It has always been and will always be. Surely you fairies have noticed the change. Your magic is more potent and lasts longer, does it not?"
"That's not the point here!" Trouble snarled at him. "Just because you're some sort of omnipotent angel doesn't give you the right to interfere! You could have at least let us run some simulations on the effects of planting this magic tree." He turned his wrath on Holly. "And you! You let him do that! And what's this about being a spirit?"
Holly settled into a chair, gossamer wings fluttering at her back. They had grown during her tree's germination, and Artemis's theory was that the purest life magic had helped her body remember its genetic roots. All fairies had, at one point, had wings. Evolution had stripped most fairy races of their wings. "I'm a tree, Trouble," she said patiently. "I know you heard our explanations, Foaly no doubt has every room in this house bugged."
"You're the Tara tree?" Trouble asked.
"Its name is Orion," she corrected. "But yes. I'm the guardian spirit of Orion. It was weird at first but I'm getting used to it."
Angeline looked at her son. "You can travel through time at will?"
"Yes, with Origin's blessing. He has seen no point in restricting my movements so far." Artemis looked at the plate of food that Butler put in front of him, frowning at it. At his bodyguard's questioning look he explained, "I'm not entirely sure that I'm capable of eating. It's been centuries since I tried last and I really couldn't hold much down."
Holly had already heard this part of Artemis's story and so concentrated on picking out the meat in her omelette. She was wondering if an egg counted as meat while she worked.
Artemis had read plenty of information on what happened to a Chosen on their journeys. To become an angel, he recited to himself as he trudged along behind Kratos, one had to sacrifice their humanity. The first thing to go was the appetite, and he hadn't eaten a thing since his near-execution several weeks ago. After the next life-threatening battle, he'd lose his ability to sleep. The next, his ability to feel. The last to go before his personality was wiped out was his voice.
"How much of the transformation am I to be forced to endure?" he asked his guardian. It wasn't the first time he'd sought an answer to his question and it wouldn't be the last. Kratos was a very mission-oriented person and he didn't speak unless the need called for it. Their first conversation had been their longest.
As always there was no response. Generally, he remembered, the world's Chosen would venture from Summon Spirit to Summon Spirit, facing powerful monsters in order to remove the seal in the temples. The stress of combat accelerated the Cruxis Crystal's growth, though the humans believed that it was divine intervention. He had no doubt that he was following Kratos to yet another execution - the flourishing world always held a hatred for half-elves. All it would take was an accident on the elder's part and his life would again be in danger.
The next trial was, surprisingly, animal in nature. Kratos led him into a cave. Artemis hung back, not really wanting to go into a dark space, but Kratos turned and glared at him until he glared back and followed.
"Let me guess," he said sourly. "There's a Desian encampment in here and you'll leave me to be tormented by them for a day or so." He really wasn't interested in being chained up again. The red marks on his wrists had taken days to fade.
"This cave is uninhabited," was his reply. It turned out to be entirely inaccurate when they ran into a group of dragons that were none too happy with their home being invaded. Artemis had his guns out and was relieved that his first wildly-fired shots hit their targets even as he backtracked to the mouth of the cave. Kratos was surrounded by a group of dragons that had his attention. He would be of no use to Artemis until he dispatched his own opponents.
There was a roar behind him and he whirled to see the dragon that was blocking the entrance. He hadn't seen it pass. He'd walked right into biting range and he couldn't help his shout as he tried to skip backwards. He could see every single sharp tooth in that mouth that was almost as large as he was, could smell the rot that poured out with every shuddering breath. He raised both of his guns and squeezed the trigger - with a target so large he could hardly miss. The dragon choked on the charged energy, its attempted lunge halted, and it careened over Artemis to land on the dragon that he'd originally been running from. Both creatures tumbled farther into the cave.
He wasn't out of the woods yet, however. One of the dragons facing Kratos decided that the angel with the lightning bolts made a crappy meal and turned its attention to Artemis. The boy raised his guns, having gained confidence in his ability, but the bolts were deflected by the armor scales on the creature's face. He tried running for the cave entrance but was downed by swipe. His shirt was torn open, blood pouring from the fresh claw mark on his back, and he tumbled head over heels into the cave wall. His head spun, his back ached, and his vision blurred. He didn't have to see clearly to know that the large shape approaching him was the dragon. His limbs didn't respond when he tried to climb to his feet.
Plenty of Chosens failed on their journeys, he recalled from his reading. If he was indeed on some sort of parallel journey, even the fact that Yggdrasil wanted him alive would do nothing for the sheer bad luck that seemed to plague him. His fingers closed on air - his guns had been knocked away when he'd taken his tumble. Even if he had them, he thought to himself, there was no guarantee he could lift them. There was also a horrific amount of blood coating his arms and seeping down into his pants. It seemed like far more than he could afford to lose.
If he survived this, he thought, he was going to demand that Kratos teach him magic. Healing magic would let him recover from these injuries instead of rendering him a helpless victim.
Fortunately for him Kratos dispatched his two opponents. The angel leaped, wings taking him far higher than his legs could, and plunged his sword into the weak point at the creature's neck. The dragon howled as it died, several hundred pounds of head and skull landing on Artemis's legs with a sharp crack. There was no immediate pain, but the boy felt his bones shift from the impact.
Kratos dragged him out of from under the carcass and swung him over his shoulder. "We need to get away from here," he said. "Those two you drove off will be back."
Artemis's stomach wasn't happy with all of the sudden movements. "I believe I have a concussion," he stated, though his voice was weak. "A laceration on my back, and one or both of my legs are broken."
"I'll heal you when we get someplace safe," Kratos told him, voice not sympathetic in the slightest. "We'll have to camp someplace for a few days while you heal."
Artemis nodded. The blessed numbness in his legs was starting to fade and he could feel the bones grinding against each other. His fingers gripped the hem of Kratos's shirt as the pain grew. "Stop," he whispered. "Put me down. My legs..."
Kratos's touch was fire, then soothing coolness. He couldn't heal the bones with Artemis slung over his shoulder, but the numbness was wonderful. "There's a place a few minutes from here. Just hold on and don't fall asleep."
Sleep with a concussion and he'd never wake up again. Artemis nodded.
"I still have a scar from that," Artemis said ruefully. "Both of my legs were broken and we had to stay in one place for several days. A few humans didn't take kindly to a human treating a supposed half elf and... well. I haven't had to sleep since then."
Breakfast was long over by then, Holly having decided that the eggs did indeed count as meat. She'd settled on a few slices of melon instead. Everyone else had lost their appetite as Artemis told his story.
"So how far did the transformation go?" Trouble asked despite himself.
"I lost my voice. It was annoying to have to pantomime everything, but we came across a town with a notebook and some pencils. It helped somewhat." Artemis's gaze grew distant as he stared off into space. "I was mute for a few years. Yggdrasil apparently had grown tired of my wit. Kratos eventually took pity on me and brought me this amulet, after which my voice recovered. I was still immortal afterwards, but basic human necessities had become optional for me. I have not slept since... a few decades ago."
Despite herself Holly said, "I hope you still bathed."
At that Artemis laughed. "If you can call the primitive facilities on Sylvarant and Tethe'alla bathrooms."
"So," Holly started, leaning forward so her wings could stretch. "You claimed to be on a planet called Sylvarant. Yet, when you took me to another world, you called it Aselia. And now you're talking about a wholly different world. What's the deal with that?"
"Sylvarant and Tethe'alla were at one point one world, called Aselia," he explained. "Yggdrasil used Origin's power to split the worlds in order to protect the limited supply of mana. The Giant Kharlan Tree, the world of Aselia, had perished due to a war. In order to keep the worlds alive Aselia was split and a system was put in place. You can think of it like an hourglass - one world was always flourishing and one was always declining. There was only enough mana to support one world. In order to keep the other from declining entirely, a human every few generations was selected to receive a Cruxis Crystal and reverse the mana flow. On this journey, the Chosen would develop into an angel. If they succeeded, the flow was reversed and the declining world would become the flourishing."
"Were they aware of the consequences of their actions?" Holly wondered.
Artemis shook his head. "Only the angels knew the truth of the world. A thousand years after I arrived, a group of brave travelers from both Sylvarant and Tethe'alla toppled Yggdrasil. They wouldn't have been able to, however, had I not passed by at the right time..."
There was something going on, Artemis frowned. Welgaia's streets were teeming with angels, the lifeless beings agitated over something or other. He had to step out of the way of yet another group that tried to run him over. It seemed they were all heading in the same direction, which was away from something. Only a very few angels were struggling against the flow towards the source of whatever was causing this stampede.
The lifeless angels had limited problem-solving skills. Most never realized that, with wings, they could simply fly over their obstacles. Artemis of course knew this right away and so he took to the air, seeking the source of this panic.
It turned out to be a prison facility. He'd had no idea that such a place existed and he was intrigued, especially so by the people in the cages. There were eight in total, four in each, and they were the oddest assortment he had seen. The Chosens of both worlds, he recognized, as well as a summoner, two half-elves, a convict, a strangely lifeless girl, and a boy hardly older than his apparent age.
The boy saw him first. "Are you here to gloat?" he asked sourly.
"Hardly," Artemis replied, amused. "I would assume that you are the group that's been giving Yggdrasil such a hard time as of late?"
"I'll give you my name if you give me yours," was the answer.
"How arrogant. I was contemplating whether to assist you, but you are obviously so uncultured that you are hardly a threat to Yggdrasil's plans." Artemis tapped his chin as if thinking, a show for the group in the cages. "I am not here of my own volition and yet it appears as if I might have acquired a mild form of Stockholm syndrome. Perhaps I'll leave you there until the angels arrive to take care of you."
"A mild form of what now?" the summoner, the one that Artemis would come to know as Sheena, muttered under her breath.
"So you're a prisoner of his," the female Chosen said. "That's horrible! If you let us out we can free you."
Artemis shrugged. "Hardly. I have been trying to escape his clutches for a thousand years. He has only shifted his attention from me to you." He'd already decided to help this group and he smirked. "To answer your friend's question, I am Artemis Fowl. Despite my appearance I am a human that Yggdrasil had taken an interest in."
"Lloyd Irving," the boy responded. "They tell stories about you around Palmacosta. The half-elf who claimed to be human."
"I would imagine so," Artemis mused, walking over to the controls. He had long since memorized every passcode in the place - Yggdrasil had been alive so long that his grip on the passage of time had shattered. He did update security, but only once every couple of decades. A few button presses and the cage bars vanished, leaving the motley group to raid the surrounding boxes for their weapons.
"They invited me to join them in their fight," Artemis said. "Perhaps it was because I had, subconsciously, decided that it was futile to confront Yggdrasil directly, but I declined their offer. I should have accepted. It is one decision that I do regret."
"You'd been in that man's power for way too long," Butler said distastefully. "It's not like you to give up."
Artemis shrugged. "I have no excuse. In any case, Lloyd and his group were successful. They killed Yggdrasil, reunited the worlds, and germinated the seed of the mana tree. The reunited world was called Aselia."
"The tree is named after the guy who kidnapped you and held you prisoner for a thousand years?" Holly asked suspiciously.
"It is... a long story," Artemis admitted. "Lloyd was the one who named the tree. Yggdrasil had only wanted to see his sister again, but to resurrect her would be to cause the deaths of everyone on both worlds. Martel's soul was tied to the seed. If she was revived, the seed would be absorbed by her soul. If the seed was germinated, Martel's soul would be absorbed. Yggdrasil could not stand the thought of losing his sister and, through gaining immortality, lost any hold on rationality he had once had. He was misguided. I pitied him and hated him, but I understood his motivations."
"Experimenting on you wouldn't serve that purpose," Butler pointed out.
"It did. By examining my magic he could see if there was a way for him to better mesh Martel's soul with her human host's. All Chosens were humans, while Martel's soul was that of a half-elf. A human naturally gaining magic gave him hope that one day he could mold the perfect human host for Martel."
Trouble helped himself to a seat. "So what does all this have to do with you planting a seed of this magic tree?"
Artemis paused. What did Yggdrasil's backstory have to do with the current circumstances? "Nothing," he admitted. "I did gain an idea for how to save Earth from its destruction, but in order to do that I had to gain Origin's power. Following Yggdrasil, it was Lloyd that held that power. It took me ten thousand years to obtain Origin's strength, after the asteroid Derris-Kharlan came back to Aselia and the world nearly ended again."
"Why so long?" Holly asked.
"I had to build my strength, practice my magic." Artemis frowned. "I tried several times but each time was beaten. Eventually I came to the conclusion that in order to test my strength, I had to gain the power of the other summon spirits first. Before I could do so, a real villian name Dhaos decided to conquer the world. Only a small group of travelers stood between him and his goal, and they are where I got the idea to plant the seed in the past."
"More time travel," Butler guessed. Artemis nodded.
"In order to weaken Dhaos they had to travel back in time and stop him before he gained power. Once Cless passed on, I went in search of the summon spirits," Artemis concluded his story. "Once I'd gained their powers, I went after Origin and succeeded in gaining his powers as well. It was immediately after that that I returned here, to roughly the same point in time that Origin remembered depositing Hybras."
"And once you knew when that was, it wasn't much of a problem for you to plant the seed before Hybras came back," Holly said. "But that wasn't your only motivation."
Artemis hesitated, then nodded. "You're right, of course. I've been wanting to return home for so long. I missed my family. Being apart from you all for so long made me understand how Yggdrasil went so wrong."
Angeline swept her son up in a hug. "I'm so sorry you had to go through that," she said, squeezing him tightly. "Now that you're home you don't have to leave. We can forge a diploma for you, a college degree, anything. You won't have to leave the manor again."
Artemis returned the embrace. Before it would have been uncharacteristic of him, but after his tale his reaction was completely understandable. "I will have to leave," he said quietly. "I am not a human anymore. I accepted that fact long ago. I'm an angel. I just wanted to see you all again."
"Why would you have to go?" Butler demanded. "You spent all that time to get back here."
"No human was ever meant to live for ten thousand years," Artemis said quietly. "I should have been dead a long time ago." He sighed, disentangling himself from his mother's arms so he could rise above their heads, out of their reach. It was a way for him to also distance himself emotionally. "When this world is saved," he continued, "I will return to Aselia and remove my Cruxis Crystal. I will live out the rest of my natural lifespan."
"Why can't you do that here?" Holly asked him. "You can have the life that you lost back."
Artemis hesitated. "I'm not a normal human. I am the most powerful being on this planet even without this crystal. I have had ten thousand years to cultivate my magic skills and reserves. I would bring magic to the attention of humans far before their time. Humans of this world had magic before and as Holly has indicated, the life that is pouring into this world will reawaken their powers." He frowned, tapping his chin as he thought. "Perhaps I could remove my crystal here, after their powers have been discovered. It will be difficult to reintegrate myself into society but it would be worth it."
Trouble sighed. He wasn't made for this sort of family drama. "How long?" he asked.
"With the tree fully grown... a year. Maybe two." Artemis shrugged. "Mana has been permeating the earth ever since Orion was planted. Now that it's fully grown, it shouldn't take long. By that time the fairies should no longer need to perform the Ritual, as well."
"Such a long term plan, but one that can save the world." Holly smiled at him. "You've outdone yourself this time, Artemis."
His smile in return was small but genuine. "What is power without the ability to help?" he asked softly.