Chapter 2 - Der Nordenheim
"Have you heard?"
"It's LITRature again."
"Rumour has it that they've stolen from Crowne this time."
"From Crowne! Have these brutes lost their mind?"
"They are writers, they can't possibly be brutes!"
"But what did they steal?"
"My colleague said it was called a Gull pen."
"A what? A pen, seriously? Don't they have pens in Sect. 3?"
"No, listen... Legend has it that you can write anything using that Gull pen and it will come true!"
"Nonsense! That ain't true!"
Artemis sighed and desisted the strong and unstoppable urge to roll her eyes. LITRature was a hot topic in Ne'er-d'-Camp that evening, especially in Nordenheim, a thirty-seven-storey flat where Artemis resides. What's more surprising is that all of the sudden downpour of new occupants that Artemis recognised as people from Sect. 3.
Why are they in Sect. 4?
"What in the World Outside are you doing in Sect. 4?" Artemis yelled at the forming crowd of gossipers outside her room. There were more than nine of them and some kids, and Artemis didn't waste her time counting. All she's been longing for is the sweet embrace of her sheets, and the warmth of her bed. She knew she has no time to deal with neighbours.
She had been dealing with people the whole day, that's extremely tiring.
"LITRature's base is in Sect 2," a merry drunk replied, snapping Artemis out of her daydreams of her bed.
"Why?" Artemis raised an eyebrow and shooed away a few kids playing in front of her door. "Scared to get involved with them?"
A lady with curlers in her hair snorted and drew a card. When Artemis stretched her neck to see amidst the small crowd, she found them playing Kings. The lady then said, "We're not scared to be involved with them, but they are hella crazy! There's this teen who keeps on picking fights, and there was a grown up who kept on chasing an author almost every single day!"
"Not to mention the creepy brunet," another lady added. "And there was another writer who kept on apologising to everybody. It's like an early morning parade of their screaming."
"Wow they are crazier than what their blog says," Artemis muttered under her breath.
"And incredibly loud!" an elderly woman with a cane drawled in a very shrill voice. "I should've hit that runt with my cane! Romeo, shuffle that deck for me!"
'Romeo' took the deck and shuffled the cards. "He was just asking for a tissue, mother... and it's Juliet, not Romeo."
"Shut up, Romeo, I was violated!"
"Asking for a tissue, huh," Artemis breathed contemptuously as she took out her keys and unlocked her door. Before she entered, she commented, "LITRature might be getting weirder and weirder everyday, but that's none of my business."
The elderly who had auspiciously keen hearing raised her cane and brandished it dangerously at Artemis' direction. "That's a wicked decision, lassie! Keep you nose out of their business and lead a normal life!"
"Oh I will lead a normal life," Artemis smirked absentmindedly at the old lady and slammed her door shut, locking and barrel-bolting the door three times. She dragged her feet to her bed and slumped on it, tossing her keys to her bedside table.
Her eyes drifted across her tiny flat filled with stacks of books. She inhaled the aroma of old paper and coffee, and sighed contentedly. Piles upon piles of books seemed pretty normal to her.
Has she read all of it?
Then there was a knock on her door.
Artemis groaned. Pretending to be asleep tempted her. The knock, however, was persistent. Not pretending to be asleep seemed better, she can be asleep for real. The knock, yet again, was more than persistent. She grunted and crawled her way back to the door, taking a minute to unlatch the locks and the bars.
"Yes?" Artemis didn't bother to fake a smile. She peeked at a tiny crevice of her door and kept a dismissive frown to convey a message: you disrupted my rest. This better be good.
A young man in his twenties beamed at her, his platinum hair swept to one side. He effortlessly put on a salesman smile, and greeted, "Good evening!"
"What are you here for?" Artemis replied, eyeing the salesman from head to toe. He looked decent, and somehow, the crowd that was gathered just outside her door was suddenly gone.
The young man kept his smile, which appeared rather natural than forced. "I'm Luca Nightfall, from-"
"Nightfall Industries? I've heard of you." Artemis squinted her eyes, growing more suspicious. Who would've never heard of the Nightfall Industries? Almost everything are sold by them.
Why would a merchant visit her all of a sudden?
"No," Luca replied calmly, sneaking a foot on the doorway, just in case Artemis decided to slam the door at his face. "I'm from LITRature, actually."
Artemis was officially both suspicious and threatened. "What does a writer from LITRature need from me?"
"You're a reader, aren't you?" Luca smiled, his mild voice soothing everything around them. Artemis somehow found that there is a reason why he's a Nightfall. His presence feels like night has fallen.
But Artemis, after processing what Luca has said, paled. Did the lady from outside Bistro Apertrille tell LITRature about her being a Reader? Did they catch her saying it?
If that was so, then she is dead.
Artemis bit her lower lip. "I'm not a Reader."
"Huh...?" Luca's smile faded. "With all the books from your room...?"
Artemis looked back inside her room and chuckled ruefully, feeling all silly. Ah, so he meant those books.
"I was thinking if I could sell some astonishing books to add to your collection," Luca continued. "You see, I have-"
"How many do you have there?" Artemis asked abruptly.
"I-I've brought five different books wi-"
"How much for all of them?"
"A hundred and four nibles," Luca grinned wider, his fingers fiddling the zipper of his messenger bag, ready to lift the heavy books from his shoulder.
Artemis sighed and asked, "Can't you... Can't you give me a discount?"
The sadness in her voice was very prominent.
"A hundred nibles, then."
"Oh come on, you're a Nightfall, I'm sure some nibles wouldn't be a lo-"
"I'm a book-lover, you can be a little-"
"Back to ninety-five."
"But I love reading! Books are my life!"
Artemis frowned. This Nightfall guy has played enough games with her, but there's no way she would give up five astonishing books. She thought before saying, "I love reading because I feel like I can be whatever, wherever, and whenever I want."
Artemis raised an eyebrow. "You're toying with me, aren't you?"
Luca's smile didn't change. Neither did his expression. "Ninety."
"Aww, please give to me with eighty nibles, look, I have a lot in my collection and I-"
"You see, I have a collection of antiques in my house too. In this place, nobody gives free antiques to a collector. They know you want it, and they will tantalise you into paying thousands, because they know you have an addiction. Because they need money. Because in this place, power decides your fate, and money is power."
Artemis stared at Luca before nodding slowly.
"Since you already have a lot of books in your collection," Luca smiled again, "I will sell these to the other tenants instead. Everyone deserves a good book and a nice cup of tea. Good evening, ma'am, and thank you for your time."
Luca tipped his head down lightly and turned his back on Artemis, wondering where he could sell the books.
"Wait!" Artemis pushed her door widely and followed Luca. "You said you're from LITRature, right?"
Luca gasped and his eyes twinkled. "Why, yes!"
"I've read your name once, in your blog," Artemis said, standing firmly.
"Writers take turns in updating the organisation's blog," Luca replied, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "Mostly, Nikolai Flume and Fraein update them because they're the least busy persons."
"I've read a lot about Nikolai Flume. He's annoying."
Luca didn't deny the remark.
"Well, Mr. Nightfall, about LITRature,"
"Are you interested?"
"You guys are literally, if not officially, the most annoying organisation in Ne'er-d'-Camp. Recently, I've been hearing your name almost everywhere."
"Almost?" Luca cast her a look of confusion.
"Yes! Almost everyone is talking about your organisation. You're quite infamous."
"Yeah, we thought we're known everywhere, not just almost everywhere."
Artemis was taken aback. "C-Come again?"
Luca smiled. Again. What a lovely man. "Connor's dream is to be known in the whole world, even in the World Outside."
Artemis knitted her eyebrows together. "But why? For what?"
"For power," Luca simply replied, his gaze now grave in a sense. It threatened Artemis, but Luca's presence contradicted the entire feeling.
"Why would you need power?" Artemis asked, swallowing the lump on her throat.
"To overthrow the potentates in Crowne, 'course. This world, even if it may be dying, is not just theirs... We can't let them live by stepping on others."
"Crowne is not stepping on others."
"Do you eat at least three times a day? Have a decent shelter, clothes, a fair-paying job?"
Artemis didn't reply.
Luca grimaced and said, "That's why."
Artemis, confused with the reply, glanced above Luca's head. If she can read what he has been through, what he has seen...
If she can borrow Luca's Book, then maybe she can see what she cannot and had not seen.
Maybe she can know what Crowne has been hiding from them.
Maybe she can know the other side of the truth.
"You have been staring long enough above Luca's head."
A familiar pair of golden eyes and a familiar voice snapped Artemis out of her thoughts. It was the annoying boy from Sect. 8 who played dumb in front of the fraud Reader.
The same boy tilted his head a bit to the right and asked, "Tell me... are you a Reader?"
Luca blinked and directed his attention back to Artemis. "Nikolai, do you know her...?"
Artemis took a step backwards, and widened her eyes at the sight of the two men from LITRature. So this is the Nikolai Flume of LITRature? The young gullible man outside Bistro Apertrille? The same writer whose works she had been critiquing a lot lately?
"I'm not a Reader," she answered firmly.
Nikolai fixated his eyes at hers, his lips twitching as he furrowed his brows upon inspecting Artemis from head to toe. Though, rather than inspecting, he was more like judging.
Then Nikolai Flume laughed.
Without his sly eyes leaving Artemis', Nikolai said, "Of course, of course. Or else you'd be dead."
Artemis laughed nervously. "Well you know the Axis."
"Oh I know them indeed." Nikolai's aura turned minatory. Artemis took more steps back until her back touched her door, whilst Nikolai took steps forward threateningly. He went on, "Axis? The 'most' powerful organisation in Crowne and Ne'er-d'-Camp? The one who sentenced every Reader to death--the organisation who can send anyone to his death with just a word? I know them."
Nikolai slammed his hand against the door, pinning Artemis on its cold wood. He hissed, "I know them so much that I thirst for their demise, woman."
Artemis, her head pounding and her heart attempting to escape her chest from the distance of Nikolai's face from hers, kicked Nikolai down by instinct. The poor boy sprawled on the floor, wincing and groaning. Luca stopped Artemis from giving Nikolai another kick whilst screaming, "He was kidding! He was kidding! Nikolai is not that type of person!"
Artemis took a deep breath and shoved Luca away. She raised her fist in defence.
Nikolai quickly got up to his feet and with visible tears in his eyes, he yelled, "Wow, are you a bloody fighter from Axis?"
"You're just bleeding weak!" Artemis yelled back. Luca nervously stood between the two teenagers.
"What were you trying to do anyway?!" Artemis stepped forward, the threatening aura not leaving her fist.
"I was trying to warn you about Axis, you bloody stargazer!" Nikolai replied, equally loud.
"That's called picking a fight, you idiot!"
The old lady with the cane poked her head from her door and bellowed, "Get off this flat, ya damned LITRature runts!"
Nikolai scoffed and replied to her, now looking like a totally different person, "You're welcome, sweetheart!"
Artemis threw a punch.
"Rumours about LITRature being annoying are all true," she frowned at Nikolai in disgust. "I can't understand... Why are you people so persistent? What do you want to achieve?"
"World peace?" Nikolai replied, then shook his head with a mischievous smirk.
Luca stepped in and said, "Safety. And a wonderful world. Peace is not possible, but who said its absence can stop the world from being wonderful?" He then smiled.
"And you're 'fighting' Axis for peace?"
"If we must fight for peace then let us find our peace in battle," Nikolai quoted. He spun a silver pen in his hands, the eternal smirk not leaving his face.
"You're writers," Artemis said in a shrill voice. "You can't fight."
"To write or to fight? That's not the question. To act or not to act, that is."
"I've never heard of anything LITRature has ever done for NDC,"
"You're alive, isn't that great?"
Artemis' scowl grew worse. "Me being alive is not because of LITRature, thank you very much."
"You're welcome!" Nikolai beamed.
Luca glanced at his wristwatch and tugged Nikolai's sleeve. He smiled at Artemis and said, "If you would excuse us, then."
The two started walking away after smiling at her. Nikolai raised his pen up and made an 'L' sign with it. Artemis glared at them in return--to Nikolai, most especially. Then she thought of something.
Borrowing and Reading Nikolai's Book wouldn't be that bad, would it?
She gazed intently above Nikolai's head, eyeing his emerald Book. She can just borrow it and return it afterwards, can't she?
Then she held back all of her thoughts. The Book suddenly got thinner. A page tore off. That never happened before.
"Wait!" Artemis called, then caught herself. No, she thought. Stop involving yourself with LITRature.
Too late, Luca and Nikolai stopped walking and turned back at her. Nikolai had the same annoying smirk on his face. Artemis noticed Nikolai's silver pen shining, as if he was writing luminous words on air.
Even the air around him was shining, making the annoyance a total eyesore. An annoying, shining eyesore. Artemis grimaced.
"What?" Nikolai yelled back, then winced from an old lady yelling, KEEP YOUR VOICES DOWN, LITRature!
"Nothing-" Artemis trailed off. She has decided. She will borrow Nikolai Flume's Book instead.
Nikolai was already in front of her, but this time, he looked sincere. "If you really want to know about LITRature, you should join us, reader."
"Stop calling me a reader," Artemis muttered, keeping her glare at Nikolai.
"But you smell like old books, should I call you silverfish instead?"
Luca gently dragged Nikolai away from Artemis, but was interrupted with a phone call. Artemis watched him suspiciously. This afternoon, Nikolai received a call too. Luca excused himself from the group to answer the call, but two steps away, he abruptly turned to Nikolai and called, "It's Nine."
Artemis felt the tension growing in the atmosphere. "Who's Nine?" she asked.
Nikolai raised an eyebrow at her and replied, "Nine of your business, mate."
Luca flashed Artemis a nervous look, until Artemis' room exploded. Nikolai grabbed Artemis' hand in haste, threw her to Luca, and started writing on the air, using his silver pen. Artemis watched in fear, her heart beating like crazy. When she realised that it was her room that exploded, she screamed.
"MY BOOKS!" Her spirits fell and she was heartbroken. She tried to run inside, but Nikolai knocked her off her feet and screeched, "Get back, you bloody idiot!"
That moment, Artemis found Nikolai the shining eyesore even more annoying. Gleaming words floated around him, but Artemis could barely make out what they say.
"Why did my room explode?!" Artemis cried, glancing at Luca for assurance. Luca was calling someone. The firestation, hopefully. "What are you doing?" she asked Nikolai.
"Burning your books apparently," Nikolai muttered and concentrated at the burning room in front of them. When he finished writing on air, the bright words started flying and whirling around him. Nikolai raised his silver pen then the words halted midair at his command.
Then he aimed it at Artemis' room.
And everything went white.