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Chapter 12 Heart Of Stone

taipei 101, fortieth floor, KIMSICHIOG gallery

ARTEMIS strode through the Kimsichiog Gallery lobby, flanked by Butler and Minerva.

'We're in an art gallery,' said Minerva. 'Do we really have time for art?'

Artemis halted, surprised. 'There's always time for art,' he said. 'But we're here for a very special piece of art.' 'Which is?'

Artemis pointed at painted silk banners hanging at regu-lar intervals from the ceiling. Each banner was emblazoned with a single dramatic spiralling rune.

'I follow what is happening in the art world. This exhi-bition is of particular interest to me. The centrepiece is the remains of a fantastic sculpture. A semicircle of strange danc-ing creatures. Maybe ten thousand years old. Believed to have been found off the shore of Ireland, and yet here it is, in Taiwan, being exhibited by an American oil company.'

'Artemis, why are we here? I need to get home to my father.'

'Don't you recognize the rune? Haven't you seen it some-where?'

Minerva remembered immediately. 'Mais ouil Certainement. It is the rune from the demon's forehead. The very same.'

Artemis snapped his fingers, and continued walking.

'Exactly. When I met Number One, I knew his markings were familiar. It took me a while to remember where I had seen them before, but once I knew, then it occurred to me that maybe this sculpture was not a sculpture at all.'

Minerva's brain raced ahead. 'It was the ring of warlocks. From the original time spell.'

'Precisely. What if they were not blasted into space. What if one of them had the quick thinking to use the gargoyle's touch, to turn them all to stone.'

'And if Number One is a warlock, then he is the only one who can reanimate them.'

'Very good, Minerva. You catch on quickly. Young, quick and arrogant. You remind me of someone. Who could that be?'

'Beats me,' said Butler, rolling his eyes.

'But how did you set this up?' the French girl wondered. 'The meeting site was Kong's idea. I heard him on the phone.'

Artemis smiled at his own cleverness. 'While he was thinking about it, I said "I'll be wearing a burgundy tie. Pay attention to that. There are a hundred and one ways this could go wrong. If it does, the police could tie one of us up for a long time." Do you see?'

Minerva plucked at a curl thoughtfully. 'Mon Dieu! You used the power of suggestion. Tie pay. A hundred and one. Tie one.'

'Or what Kong's subconscious heard: "Taipei 101. Taiwan."'

'Brilliant, Artemis. Extraordinary. And coming from me, that means something.'

'It was brilliant,' said Artemis, with characteristic lack of modesty. 'Allied to the fact that Kong's second home is Taiwan, I was reasonably confident that it would work.'

There was a harried-looking man at the gallery's recep-tion desk. He was dressed in a neon blue suit, and his head was completely shaven, except for a spiral of stubble in the shape of No.l's rune. He spoke in rapid Taiwanese into a Bluetooth headset clipped to his ear.

'No, no. Salmon is not good enough. Squid and lobster are what we ordered. You have them here by eight o'clock, or I will come down there, slice you up and serve you as sushi instead.'

'Trouble with the caterers?' said Artemis pleasantly in Taiwanese, when the man had disconnected.

'Yes,' replied the man. 'The exhibition is opening tonight and…'

The man stopped because he had looked up to see who he was talking to and spotted Butler.

'Well, wow. Big. I mean hello. I am Mister Lin, the cura-tor here. Can I help you?'

'We were hoping for a private preview of the exhibi-tion,' said Artemis. 'Specifically, the dancing figures.'

Mister Lin was so surprised he could do little more than bluster. 'What? A what? Private? No, no, no. Impossible, out of the question. This is important art. Look at my head. Look! I don't just do this for any old exhibition.'

'I realize that, but my friend here, the large one, would be extremely happy if you could let us in for a minute.'

Mister Lin opened his mouth to answer, but something down the hall caught his attention.

'What is that? Is that a muumuu?'

Artemis didn't bother to look.

'Oh, yes. We have disguised our fairy friend as a child in a muumuu.

Mister Lin frowned, and the spiral on his head moved. 'Fairy friend? Oh, really? Who are you people? Are you from Pop Art Today! Is this one of Dougie Hemler's postmodernist stunts?'

'No. He's a real fairy. A demon warlock to be precise. The one behind him, flying, is an elf.'

'Flying? You tell Dougie Hemler from me, that there isn't a chance in…' Then he spotted Holly hovering over No.l's head.'Oh!'

'Oh!' agreed Artemis. 'That's a fair reaction. Now, can we go in? It's extremely important.'

'Are you going to ruin the exhibition?'

'Probably,' Artemis admitted.

Mister Lin's lip quivered as he spoke. 'Then I can't let you in.'

Holly darted forward, collapsing her helmet visor.

'I think you can let us in,' she said, her voice layered with magic. 'Because these three humans are your oldest friends. You invited them for a sneak preview.'

'And what about you two?'

'Don't worry about us. We're not even here. We're just inspiration for your next exhibition. So why don't you buzz us all in.'

Mister Lin flapped a hand at Holly. 'Why would I worry about you? You're not even here. Just some silly idea flying round my head. As for you three guys, I am so glad you could make it.'

'You don't need to video us,' prompted Holly. 'Why don't you shut down the gallery cameras?'

'I'll just switch off the gallery cameras - give you guys a little privacy.' 'Good idea.'

The curator had turned his attention to the pile of posters on his desk before the security door closed behind Artemis and his group.

The exhibition hall was ultra-modern, with dark wooden floors and slatted blinds. The walls were hung with photo-graphs — giant blow-ups of the dancing figures in the centre of the room. The figures themselves were raised on a dais, to make their detail easier to view. There were so many spotlights on them, that there was barely a shadow on the stone.

No.l absently pulled off his bonnet, approaching the exhibit in a daze, as though he had been mesmerized and not the curator.

He climbed on to the dais, stroking the stone skin of the first figure.

'Warlocks,' he whispered. 'Brothers.'

The sculpture was beautiful in its detail, and yet horrific in its subject matter. It consisted of four creatures, ranged in a broken semicircle, in the act of dancing or recoiling from something. They were small squat fairies, like No.l, with thrusting jaws, barrel chests and stumpy tails. Their bodies, limbs and foreheads were covered with swirling runes. The demons were all holding hands, and the fourth held on to the severed hand of the next in line.

'The circle was broken,' said No.l. 'Something went wrong.'

Artemis climbed on to the dais beside him. 'Can you bring them back?'

'Bring them back?' said No.l, startled.

'From what I know of the gargoyle's touch, it can transform living things to stone, and back again. You have the touch — can you use it?'

No.l rubbed his palms nervously. 'I may have the touch. You know, maybe, and that's a big maybe. I turned a wooden skewer to stone, at least I think it was stone. Maybe it was just coated with ash. I was under a lot of pressure. Everybody was watching. You know how it is; maybe you don't. How many of you have even been in imp school? None, right?'

Artemis gripped his shoulder. 'You're babbling, Number One. You need to concentrate.'

'Yes. Of course. Concentrate. Focus. Think.'

'Good. Now, see if you can bring them back. It's the only way to save Hybras.'

Holly shook her head. 'Way to keep the pressure off, genius.'

Minerva was circling the exhibit in a daze not unlike her former captive's.

'These statues are actual demons. They have been among us all this time. I should have seen it, but Abbot looked nothing like this.'

Holly landed beside the girl, up close.

'There are entire species that you know nothing about. You almost helped to wipe out one of them. You were lucky; if that had happened, a dozen Artemis Fowls would not have been enough to rescue you from the fairy police.'

'I see. I said sorry already. Can we move on?'

Holly frowned at her. 'Glad to see you've forgiven your-self so quickly.'

'Harbouring feelings of guilt can have a negative effect on mental health.'

'Child geniuses,' growled Holly.

'Genii,' said Minerva.

On the dais, No.l was laying hands on one of the petrified demons.

'So, back in Hybras. I just kind of held the skewer and got excited, then it started. I wasn't trying to turn it into stone.'

'Could you get excited now?' asked Artemis.

'What? Just like that? I don't know. I feel a bit sick, to be honest. I think the muumuu is giving me a headache. It really is bright.'

'Maybe if Butler gave you a fright?'

'It's not the same thing. I need some real pressure. I know Mister Butler wouldn't actually kill me.'

'I wouldn't be too sure.'

'Oh, ha ha. You're a rum one, Artemis Fowl. I can see I'm going to have to stay on my toes around you.'

Butler was checking his pistol when he heard noises in the corridor. He ran to the security door and peered out through the small rectangle of toughened glass.

'We've got company,' he declared, cocking his pistol. 'Kong found us.'

The bodyguard put a single round into the electronic lock, frying the chip and sealing the door.

'It's not going to take them long to open that door. We need to wake up those demons and get out of here. Now!'

Artemis squeezed No.1 's shoulder, nodding at the secur-ity door.

'That enough pressure for you?'

On the other side of the security door Kong and his men were halted by the sight of a smoking keypad.

'Dammit,' swore Kong. 'He busted the lock. We're going to have to shoot our way in. There's no time for planning. Don, you have the case?'

Don held up the suitcase. 'Right here.'

'Good. If by some miracle there is a demon in there, clip the case on to its little wrist, good and tight. I don't want to miss another chance.'

'Will do. We have grenades, boss. We could blow the door.'

'No,' snapped Kong. 'I need Minerva and I don't want her injured. Anyone hurts her, I hurt them. Understood?'

Everybody understood. Nothing complicated about it.

Inside the gallery, Artemis was getting a little anxious. He had hoped that Kong would leave the building immediately, but the hit man must have spotted one of the exhibition posters in the elevator and come to the same conclusion that Artemis himself had.

'Anything?' he asked No.l, who was vaguely rubbing a statue's arm.

'Not yet. I'm trying.'

Artemis patted his shoulder. 'Try a little harder. I have no desire to get involved in a firefight in a high-rise build-ing. At the very least we would all end up in a Taiwanese prison.'

OK, thought No.l. Concentrate. Reach into the stone.

He held the stone warlock's finger tightly and tried to feel something. From the little he knew about warlocks, he guessed that this was probably Qwan, the elder magician. The stone figure's head was circled by a simple band with a spiral motif at the front — the sign of leadership.

How terrible it must have been, No.l reflected. To see your home dematerialize and be left behind. To know it was all your ownfault.

It was not my fault! snapped a voice in No.l 's head. It was that stupid demon N'zall. Now are you going to get me out of here or not?

No.l almost fainted. His breath came in short explosive gasps and his heart seemed to hike upwards in his chest.

Come on, young warlock. Release me! I have been waiting for a long, long time.

The voice, the presence, was inside the sculpture. It was Qwan.

Of course it's Qwan. You're holding my hand. Who did you think it was? You're not a simpleton, are you? Just my luck. Wait ten thousand years and then a simpleton turns up.

'I am not a simpleton!' blurted No.l.

'Of course not,' said Artemis encouragingly. 'Just do your best. I will instruct Butler to hold Kong back for as long as he can.'

No.l bit his lip and nodded. If he spoke aloud, it could get confusing. And this situation was confusing enough with-out him adding to it.

He would try thought-power. Qwan was speaking in his mind; maybe it would work the other way.

Of course it works! Qwan sent. And what is all that nonsense about cooked food? Just release me from this prison.

No.l winced, trying mentally to black out his dreams of a cooked banquet.

I don't know how to set you free, he thought. I don't know if I can.

Of course you can, responded Qwan. You have enough magic in you to teach a troll to ploy an instrument. Just let it out.

How? I have no idea how.

Qwan was silent for a moment, while he took a quick peek into No.l's memories.

Oh, I see. You are a complete novice. No training of any kind. Just as well really. Without expert tuition you could have blown up half of Hybras. Very well, I will give you a little nudge in the right direction. I can't do much from here, but maybe 1 can get your power flowing. It will get easier after this. Once you have been in contact with a warlock, some of his knowledge is passed on to you.

No.l could have sworn that the stone fingers round his own tightened a fraction, but that could just have been his imagination. What was definitely not in his imagination was the sudden feeling of cold loss that sped along his arm. As though life itself were being sucked from him.

Don't worry, young warlock. I'm simply siphoning off a little magic to get the sparks running. It feels terrible, but that will not last.

It did feel terrible. No.l imagined that dying piece by piece would feel something like this, which in a way was what was happening. And in such a situation the body will try to defend itself by seeing off the intruder. The magic that had lain dormant inside No.l until recently suddenly exploded in his brain and gave chase to the invader.

To No.l it felt as though he suddenly had an entire new spectrum of vision. He had been blind before, but now he could see through walls. Of course it was not really some kind of super-vision, it was an understanding of his own abilities. The magic flowed through him like liquid fire, chas-ing impurities out through his pores. Venting steam through his orifices and setting the runes on his body aglow.

Good lad, sent Qwan. Now let it go. Chase me out.

No.l found that he was able to do exactly that — to control the magical flow. He sent it after Qwan's tendril, through his own fingers and into Qwan's. The dead feeling was replaced by a buzzing of power. He began to vibrate, and so did the statue, shedding wafers of stone like a dead snakeskin. The old warlock's fingers were solid no more, but living breathing skin. They held on to No.l tightly, keep-ing the connection solid.

That's it, lad. You're doing it.

1 am doing it, thought No.l incredulously. This is really happening.

Artemis and Holly looked on in amazement as the magic spread through Qwan's body, sloughing the stone from his limbs with pistol-shot cracks and orange flame. Life claimed Qwan's hand, then his arm, then his torso. Stone fell from his chin and mouth, allowing the warlock to heave his first breath in ten millennia. Bright blue eyes squinted against the light and shut tightly. And still the magic ran on, blast-ing every last shard of stone from Qwan's body, but there it stopped. When the sparks of No.l's power reached the next warlock in line, they simply fizzled and died.

'What about the others?' asked No.l. Surely he could free them too.

Qwan hacked and coughed for several moments before he answered.

'Dead,' he said, then collapsed in the rubble.

On the other side of the gallery security door, Kong was emptying a third clip from his machine pistol into the keypad.

'The door won't hold much longer,' said Butler. 'Any second now.'

'Can you slow them down?' asked Artemis.

'Shouldn't be a problem. I don't want to leave any bodies here, Artemis. I imagine the police are already on their way.'

'Maybe you could just scare them a bit.'

Butler grinned. 'My pleasure.'

The shooting stopped, and the security door drooped slightly on its hinges. Butler ripped the door open smartly, yanking Billy Kong inside, then jammed the door closed again.

'Hello, Billy,' he said, pinning the smaller man to the wall.

Kong was too demented to be scared. He lashed out with a series of blows, any one of which would have been fatal to a normal per son. They bounced off Butler like a fly bounc-ing off aTigerTank. That's not to say they didn't hurt. Kong's trained hands felt like heated brands where they impacted. Butler's only reaction to the pain was a slight tightening round the corners of his mouth.

'Holly?' he said.

'Pull,' said Holly, aiming her Neutrino at a point in space.

Butler catapulted Billy Kong straight up, and Holly plucked him out of the air with a blast from her weapon. Kong spun across the floor, still throwing spasmodic punches.

'The snake's head is out of action,' said Artemis. 'Let's hope the rest will follow suit.'

Minerva decided to take advantage of Billy Kong's unconsciousness to indulge in some payback. She stalked over to her prone kidnapper.

'You, Mister Kong, are nothing but a thug,' she said, kick-ing him in the leg.

'Young lady,' said Butler sharply, 'move away. He may not be completely out.'

'If my father has as much as a hair out of place,' contin-ued Minerva, oblivious to Butler's warnings, 'I will person-ally ensure that you spend the maximum time in prison.'

Kong cracked open a weeping eye. 'That's no way to talk to your staff,' he croaked, and wrapped steely fingers round her ankle.

Minerva realized that she had made a drastic mistake and decided that the best course of action was to scream as shrilly as possible. Which she did.

Butler was torn. His duty was to protect Artemis, not Minerva, but through years of working with Artemis and indeed Holly, he had unconsciously a............

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