Chapter 1 - The City Behind the Walls
THE CITY BEHIND THE WALLS
THE WORLD WAS ENDING, AND ARTEMIS THRACE CALLED IT.
In front of her, a massive metal wall stood two kilometres tall, piles upon piles of dead body bushed out like untamed hedges against a house. The ground shook and the wall slowly slid open, harsh metallic noises flooding the cold air. There was a loud roar almost as if coming from a foghorn.
Behind her, however, is a massive wall of dust, smoke, and more dead people. There were brief flashes of gunshots, bomb explosions, and landmine exploding, but they were not enough to make out anything from the thick smoke.
Please let me in, Artemis thought as she stared hopefully at the walls. Please let me in before they kill me.
When the gates stopped moaning and the chains stopped whining, Artemis felt an earthquake. She glanced behind her, saw a crowd of people charging the gates. She immediately knew it would be best to run.
Her eyes adjusted easily to the city behind the walls.
“Sect. 9’s gates were open!” A voice blared from the giant speakers attached to the wall. “People are coming in!”
Artemis knew it’s impossible to stop the tsunami of people seeking refuge inside the walled city. She continued running, keeping up pace against stronger men.
“CLOSE THE GATES!” The voice bellowed. Artemis heard the foghorn noise once more, and lurched at the sound of metal grinding against metal, and the cries of the people running inside.
Artemis, despite her fears, empty stomach, and legs feeling like lead, ran and never looked back. She wanted to live. She was more than desperate. The war was a nightmare turned into reality. There was only one place she knew she can live a fantasy.
And there she was.
Four years later, Artemis found herself sat inside Bistro Apertrille, a modest restaurant serving really cheap meals and was established in Sect. 8. A good meal of potatoes and butter in front of her and the days of living in the hells of the World Outside way behind, she smiled to herself and ran her eyes across the people in the bistro.
People of different race and sizes, lives and stories; Artemis couldn't help but giggle as her sight hovered above their heads.
Books of different colours and sizes, lives and stories.
Above people’s heads are Books.
Books that only Artemis can see. Books that have people’s lives, thoughts, and death written in them. Artemis can read them too, but Artemis chose not to.
Not after reading the end of the world.
Not after reading how her parents died. Not after reading how everyone in her city died. Not after reading how they’ve died even before they actually did.
At first it was just her curiosity. Free books, she had always thought back then. Free stories to read. But the stories started to turn twisted. The stories started turning into reality. That’s when she realised, at the age of eight, that the free books she had been borrowing from people were the books of their life.
It was literally the story of their life.
Now where was Artemis?
Right. She was admiring the life she has now.
From having nothing to eat, wear, and sleep in, she now has a fairly paying job, nice clothes, and a decent flat in Sect. 4. She even has a phone, which most people in Ne’er-d’-Camp didn’t have, and she’s actually reading a blog post of an infamous organisation based in Sect. 2.
The name was LITRature.
It was an organisation composed of writers.
Artemis hasn’t heard of them until a year ago, when LITRature reportedly posted lots of subliminal messages against the government, against the Crowne, and when LITRature started publishing books that showcases the inequities of the Crowne.
She rolled her eyes when she saw the news.
The organisation has continued publishing books and even distributing newspapers, but never got the agreement of the refugees in Ne’er-d’-Camp. Artemis considered the very few number of its members as insane, for no one will seriously join LITRature unless fooled, lunatic, or is a suicidal activist.
LITRature has a daily blog where the writers take turns in updating them. Today, the writer named Nikolai Flume wrote the entry, and unlike hundreds of his other entries, the blog today just said:
Death does not see,
But you do.
Artemis stared at it for a few moments until she decided to prioritise the potatoes in front of her.
Realising she still has work that afternoon, she left the bistro after finishing her meal and took a right turn into a noisy alley with a revolting smell that never seemed to have left the air even once. Artemis was used to the noise and the smell—Sect. 8, after all, is the place for merchants and sellers—but there was something unfamiliar in the alley that day.
It was an old woman sat in a grubby carpet laid on the streets.
“I... I see it!” she gasped, seemingly in an act of seance. Artemis, once again, rolled her eyes at the sight. She groaned when she saw the astonished face of the boy in front of her. The boy—perhaps in the age of seventeen—was kneeling and leaning over in full amazement.
“The girl you will marry!” the old woman threw her head back dramatically. Artemis caught a glimpse of the woman glancing at her. “She is in this place!”
Artemis spared a few of her time to eavesdrop.
“What is she like?!” the boy asked reverentially, his golden eyes sparkling in delight.
“Uhh, brunette, tan... strong physique... fierce hazel eyes.”
Artemis scoffed, until she caught herself staring at her reflection on a glass window of a clothing shop. Brunette, tan, strong physique. These descriptions fits her.
“What is her name?” the boy asked again.
The old woman finally crossed her arms and ‘snapped’ out of her seance. “Twenty nibles and I will tell you her name.”
Before the boy could reach into his trouser’s pocket, Artemis approached them, sat beside the boy, and declared, “May I intrude the nonsense?”
“Nonsense?” the old woman’s eyes widened and her nose flared.
“Well apparently you can’t know the future,” Artemis raised an eyebrow at her. “It is not okay to think that you’re a fate or a Norn. And you, lad, should never interfere with what fate has for you.”
The boy gaped at her, his golden eyes wide and his lips drawn into a line between a grin and a smirk.
Artemis flashed a look above the man’s head, before the old lady interrupted, “I do know what I’m saying, for I’m a Reader.”
Artemis’ ears must’ve rang at the last word. “Excuse me?”
The old woman had had her cue. “I,” she beamed proudly, “am a Reader. I could read people’s lives through their Books.”
“Oh wow, that’s amazing,” Artemis replied, the sarcasm reverberating in her voice. “Do tell me more.”
“I could see floating books above people’s hea-”
“Stop.” Artemis stood and brushed her jeans. “One hundred and one percent stupidity.”
“Hah,” the old lady scoffed. “You can’t just believe me because you’re not a Reader. I know because I escaped the Axis when they sentenced every Reader to death after the war in the World Outside erupted.”
The boy raised an eyebrow as he watched Artemis glare at the old lady with her hazel eyes that seemed to be in flames now. He let out a low whistle, standing and pulling Artemis away from the helpless old liar.
“I say,” Artemis said, raising her chin up, “you read my Book.”
The old lady’s confidence dropped a notch. “Dear, in your Book I could see everything about you. From your birth to your death, I could read it there!”
“If you’re worried about anything embarrassing I daresay I don’t have any. Read my book.”
“Please leave the old hag alone,” the boy muttered under his breath, careful not to let the old lady hear him and still suspending Artemis by her tan arms. “It’s not like I’ll believe her.”
Artemis calmed down a bit. “Why are you putting up such an act then?” she whispered back.
“She’s from Sect. 9, she needs money to eat.”
“Doesn’t mean you need to spoil her with her fake fortune telling-”
“At least she’s not begging and stealing, I mean look, she’s putting some efforts to execute such embarrassing act.”
After glancing at the old lady, the boy released Artemis from his thin grasp and said, “It’s a nice weather, isn’t it? Why don’t we-”
A phone call interrupted the male’s statement. Two pairs of eyes watched him as he answered quietly, where the young man quirked an eyebrow at them, wondering why the heck are these two females are listening to his phone call. After some seconds, he flipped his phone back to his coat pocket and said, “I should go now, ciao bellas!”
Artemis stared at his green coat as he departed, before turning her attention back to the old lady. “You’re saying you’re a Reader?” she asked with a mocking tone, glancing above the old lady’s head.
“Why yes, I could read everything I want about you.” The woman crossed her arms.
“Tell me, Mrs. Anya Carriedo,” Artemis said, seemingly flicking an imaginary book. “I’m sure you had a good reason to leave your son in the World Outside ten years ago, yes?”
Anya gave her a horrified look, her knees starting to tremble. “H-How did you know-”
“Oh no, please do let me finish,” Artemis went on, turning another imaginary page. “Your husband left you for a more gorgeous, sexier, woman who lives in Sect. 1, yes?”
“Stop it! You’re a spy from Crowne, aren’t you?”
“Pfft,” Artemis laughed. “I’m no spy, lady.” She inched closer towards the now-frightened Hispanic woman, whispering, “I’m just a Reader, like you.”
She leant back and smirked. “Only difference is, I’m a real one.”