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Chapter 16 Point Of Impact

THIS time, the materialization was a painful process. Being separated from a thou-sand consciousnesses left Artemis with a deep sense of loss. For the first time in his life, he had completely belonged. He knew everyone, and they knew him. There would always be a bond between them all, though the specifics of others' memories were already fading.

Artemis felt like an adhesive plaster that had been ripped off an enormous limb, and flung on the ground. He lay on the earth shivering. Sharing consciousness had felt so right, that now it was as if he had just lost the use of several senses, including balance.

He opened his eyes, squinting through the sunlight. Sunlight! They were on Earth! Though where and when remained to be seen.

Artemis rolled on to his stomach, then struggled slowly to all fours. The others lay in the crater, disorientated like him, but alive, judging by the moans and groans. He himself felt fine, except for a darting pain in his left eye. His vision was sharp, but slightly yellowed, as though he was wear-ing pale sunglasses. Holly the soldier was already on her feet, coughing the ash from her lungs. When her airways were clear, she helped Artemis to his feet. She winked at Artemis. 'Blue sky. We did it.' Artemis nodded. 'Perhaps.'The wink drew his attention to her left eye. It seemed as though they hadn't made it through the tunnel unaltered.

'Look at me, Holly. Do you notice anything different?' 'This isn't anything to do with puberty, is it?' said Holly, smiling; then she noticed…

'Your eyes. They've changed. One blue and one hazel.' Artemis smiled. 'You too. We swapped in transit. Just the eye as far as I can make out.'

Holly thought about this for a moment, then ran her hands over her head and body.

'Everything's in place, thank goodness. Except now I have a human eye.'

'It could have been a lot worse,' said Artemis. 'You could have been travelling with Mulch.'

Holly winced. 'Now that you mention it.' A solitary blue dot of magic sparkled inside Holly's new eyeball, reducing it in size slightly.

'That's better,' she sighed. 'I had a blinder of a headache.

Your new eye must be too small; why don't you use your ill-gotten magic to fix it?'

Artemis tried, closed his eyes and concentrated. But nothing happened.

'It seems as though the transplant did not take. I must have used all I had in the tunnel.'

Holly punched his shoulder lightly. 'Maybe you passed it on to me. I feel great — that time tunnel was like a magi-cal mud bath. Maybe it's just as well that you lost your magic. The last thing the People need is a magical crimi-nal mastermind running around above ground.'

'A pity,' sighed Artemis. 'The possibilities were endless.'

'Here,' said Holly, taking his head in her hands. 'Let me fix you up.'

Her fingertip glowed blue and Artemis felt his new eye expand slightly in his socket. A single tear ran down his cheek and the headache disappeared.

'A pity I was unable to do it myself. Being magical for even a short while was simply…'

'Magical?'

Artemis smiled. 'Exactly. Thank you, Holly.'

Holly smiled back. 'It's the least I can do for someone who brought me back to life.'

Qwan and No.l were on their feet. The old warlock was trying not to look too smug, and No.l was wiggling his tail experimentally.

'You never know what that tunnel will do to you,' he explained. 'I lost half a finger last time. It was my favourite finger too.'

'Rarely in my tunnels,' said Qwan. 'My tunnels are works of beauty. If the other warlocks were alive, they would give me a medal. Where is Qweffor, by the way?'

Qweffor was buried up to his waist in an ash mound. Head down. Qwan and No.l hauled him out by the boots. He lay spluttering and snorting on the ground.

'Do you need a handkerchief?' asked No.l. 'All that ash and mucus coming out of your nose is horrible.'

Qweffor wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

'Shut up, Runt!'

No.l took a step backwards, which would prove not to be quite enough.

'Runt?' he squeaked. 'You're not Qweffor, you're N'zall!'

'Abbot!' roared the demon, reaching up and grasping No.l by the throat. 'The name is Abbot.'

Holly had her gun out and powered up before Abbot finished his sentence.

'Let him go, Abbot!' she shouted. 'You can't escape. There's nowhere to escape to. Your world is gone.'

The ex-pride leader was actually crying. 'I know it's gone. This runt took it from me! Now I will take his life from him.'

Holly sent a warning shot over Abbot's head. 'The next one is between your eyes, demon.'

Abbot hefted No.l, using him as a shield. 'Shoot now, elf. Put us both out of our misery.'

A change had come over No.l. Initially he had been sniv-elling — standard No.l behaviour — but now the tears were drying on his cheeks, and his eyes were hard.

Every time things are going right for me, Abbot ruins it, he thought. I am so fed up of this demon. I wish he was gone.

This was a big breakthrough for No.l. Usually when he found himself in a bad situation, No.l wished himself away. This time he was wishing someone else would disappear. Enough was finally enough, so No.l broke through a life-time of conditioning and talked back to Abbot.

'I want to speak to Qweffor,' he said, in a trembling voice.

'Qweffor's gone!' shouted Abbot, spraying spittle on No.l's neck. 'All that is left is his magic. My magic!'

'I want to speak to Qweffor,' repeated his hostage, with a little more volume.

For Abbot, this latest insubordination was the wind that burst the dwarf's bum-flap. Even though he was bereft of land and lackeys, Abbot decided that he would not bear impudence from an imp. He tossed No.l upwards, spinning him in the air and gripping his shoulders as the imp descended. No.l came down face to face with Abbot, the demon's horns brushing his ears. Abbot's eyes were wide and crazy, and his teeth were slick with saliva.

'You're not long for life, little Runt.'

If Abbot had been paying closer attention to his captive, he might have noticed that N°l's eyes were filmed with blue, and his markings glowed and shimmered. But, as usual, Abbot was only interested in his own plight.

No.l wriggled his hands upwards, grabbing Abbot by the horns.

'How dare you!' said Abbot incredulously. Touching a demon's horns was tantamount to a challenge.

No.l stared into his captor's eyes. 'I said, I want to talk to Qweffor.'

Abbot heard him that time, because the voice wasn't No.l's. It was a voice of pure magic, layered with undeni-able power.

Abbot blinked. 'I'll… eh… see if he's in.'

It was too late for compliance: No.l wasn't about to rein in his power now. He sent a magical probe into Abbot's brain via the horns. The horns glowed bright blue and then began shedding large brittle flakes.

'Careful with the horns,' said Abbot blearily, then his eyes rolled back in his head. 'The ladies love the horns.'

No.l rooted round in Abbot's head for a while until he found Qweffor sleeping in a dark corner, in a place scien-tists would call the limbic system.

The problem, realized No.l, is that there is only room in every head for one consciousness. Abbot needs to go somewhere else.

And so, with this instinctive knowledge and absolutely no expertise, No.l fed Qweffor's consciousness until it expanded, occupying the entire brain. It was not a perfect fit, and poor Qweffor would suffer from twitches and sudden loss of bowel control at public functions, a syndrome which would become known as Abbot's Revenge. But at least he was in control of a body, most of the time.

After several years and three hearings, fairy warlocks would manage to rehouse Abbot's consciousness in a lower life form. A guinea pig, to be precise. The guinea pig's own consciousness was soon subjugated by Abbot's. Warlock interns would often amuse themselves by throwing tiny swords into the pig's pen, and crack up watching the little piggy trying to pick them up.

Qweffor blinked Abbot's eyes.

'Thanks, Number One,' he said, placing the smaller warlock on the ground. 'He's always been too strong for me, but now he's gone. I'm free…' Qweffor studied his new arms. 'And I have muscles.'

Holly lowered her gun, resting a hand on her thigh.

'That must be it. Surely our troubles are over?'

Artemis felt the earth tilt a fraction below them. He dropped to one knee, laying the flat of his hands on the ground.

'I hate to say this, Holly, but I think we're sinking.'

The sinking thing turned out not to be as serious as it sounded. Of course it was serious — after all, an island was sinking. But there was help at hand.

Holly realized this when her barely functional wrist computer was suddenly flooded with crackling LEP chatter.

The sky is a projection, she thought. They're waiting for us.

Suddenly, where there had been nothing, hundreds of fairy vehicles appeared in the air above the island. Emergency services air ambulances flew in decreasing circles, searching for landing spots. Huge demolition plat-forms were guided down by tugpods, and an LEP shuttle dropped straight into the volcano.

The pod had the slick lines of a teardrop and a non-reflective surface that made it difficult to see, even with the shield powered down.

'They were expecting us,' said Artemis, unsurprised. 'I thought as much.'

No.l sneezed. 'Thank goodness. I am so fed up of this volcano. It's going to take a month to get this crater stink out of my plates.'

'No, no,' said Qwan, linking his new apprentice. 'You can vent your pores magically. It's a very handy talent.'

Holly waved her arms to attract the shuttle, though there was no need. The carrier's scanners would have already scanned, categorized and checked the LEP database for a match for each one of them.

The shuttle spun and reversed down to them tail first. Its jets blasted moving furrows in the ash.

'Wow,' said Qwan. 'Those ships are fabulous. The People have been busy.' 364

'A lot has happened in ten thousand years,' said Holly, holding up her palms to show the pilot she was not hold-ing a weapon. Again, probably not necessary, but with Ark Sool in command of the LEP, nothing could be taken for granted.

Four grappler hooks shot from the corners of the shut-tle, smashing through the crater crust into the rock below. Once they had a solid grip, they reeled the craft in for a landing. The rear door slid across and Foaly came trotting down the ramp, dressed in a custom-tailored, four-legged LEP jumpsuit. He skidded down the incline to Holly, digging his back hooves through the crust.

'Holly!' he said, hugging her tightly. 'You made it back. I knew you would.'

Holly hugged the centaur back.

'And I knew you'd be here waiting.'

Foaly reached an arm round Artemis's shoulders. 'Well, when Artemis Fowl says he'll be back, you know it's going to take a lot more than space and time to stop him.' Foaly shook hands with No.l and Qwan. 'I see you brought quite a few guests.'

Holly smiled, her teeth white against a face of streaked ash.

'Hundreds.'

'Anyone we need to worry about?'

'No. A few have been mesmerized, but a couple of sessions in therapy should straighten that.'

'OK, I'll pass it on,' said the centaur. 'Now we have to cut the reunion short and board immediately. We have thirty minutes to sink this island and pack up this entire facility.'

Facility? thought Artemis. They've had time to set up a facil-ity. Just how long have we been away?

They climbed the ramp, and strapped themselves into gel-padded bucket seats in the sparsely furnished rear. There were no comforts here, just seats and gun racks. A medic fairy scanned them all in turn, then shot a cocktail of inoc-ulations and germ killers into their arms, just in case Hybras had brewed up any mutant diseases over the past ten thou-sand years. A true professional, the medic did not bat an eye examining Qwan and No.l, even though he'd never met their like before.

Foaly sat beside Holly.

'I can't tell you how good it feels to see you, Holly. I requested this assignment. I'm on leave from Section Eight. This entire facility is my design. Biggest single project I ever worked on, designed for a thirty-minute walkaway. I knew you'd make it back.'

Holly thought about that statement for a moment. She was an assignment?

The shuttle reeled in the grippers and peeled away from the crater wall. In seconds they breached the mouth like a bullet from a gun. The vibration was enough to rattle teeth for the first few seconds, then the stabilization fins snicked out the side and calmed the ride down. 366

'I am glad to see the end of that volcano,' said No.l, trying to appear casual, even though he was flying around in a metal teardrop. After all this was not his first flight.

Foaly laid the heel of his hand on the porthole rim, peer-ing downwards.

'You really are seeing the last of it. As soon as we have everybody off the island, those demolition rigs are going to turn the laser cutters on it. We're going to slice it up and then remote-deflate the buoys underneath. Let 'er down slow. That way, no tidal waves. The water displace-ment alone was enough to send a few big rollers in towards Dublin, but we boiled 'em up from space. Once the island is down, we can pack up the shield and go home.'

'Oh,' said No.l, who hadn'............

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