Chapter 4 - Sect. 2
LITRature Headquarters, Sect. 2, Ne’er-d’-Camp
ARTEMIS ALMOST GREW TIRED OF HEARING LITRature will be happy to have you from Nikolai Flume.
The trip to Sect. 2 wasn’t that quiet either--Nikolai just had to suddenly tell Artemis stories about LITRature’s ventures, regardless how many times Artemis had said that she was only interested in free books, free shelter, and free coffee.
The two of them lumbered the way to LITRature’s headquarters after being exhausted from whatever hell happened that day, and Nikolai, from talking non-stop whilst they were in the tube from Sect. 4 to Sect. 2.
“So, in LITRature,” Nikolai told Artemis, this time a bit less loud.
“You have four sections and I should join Silfr because ‘Silfr is the best’. I get it,” Artemis finished in a perfect imitation of Nikolai’s accent. She looked around, studying and appreciating how less stifling it was in Sect. 2. Sect. 4 was becoming too crowded nowadays (Artemis didn’t want to point fingers but she’s certain that it was LITRature’s fault).
At nighttime, the entire Sect. looked like a ghost town. The moonbeam illuminated a giant reflective dome that served as streetlights. It was dim and cool enough to keep everyone at peace, yet bright enough to light the road. The buildings and structures were all ancient, yet metal satellite dishes were on every roof.
“Amazing, innit?” Nikolai slowed down, to let Artemis appreciate the surroundings, which was an aesthetic combination of classic and modern architecture.
Artemis swallowed and realised she had her mouth slightly opened. She nodded.
“Fraein did that,” Nikolai said. “With his pen.”
“So you can write whatever you want with your pen and it comes true?” Artemis asked and avoided glancing down at Nikolai’s coat, where he slipped his silver pen in.
Nikolai shook his head. “Pens don’t work that way. Mine does, but the others...”
“What is a Gull Pen?” Artemis recalled the rumours from Der Nordenheim, where members of LITRature have stolen a what they call Gull Pen. Maybe that's what Nikolai's using.
“It’s a golden pen that can imprint on a person. Apparently, there were seven gold pens in the past, with only six remaining up to this day. Four of them are now in LITRature, and the remaining two are still in Crowne. Maybe under Axis' care, who knows.”
“Uh-huh?” Artemis listened intently. “So your pen is not a Gull Pen?”
“Of course not. It’s silver.”
“How come? What does a ‘Gull’ pen do?”
“A gold pen has a master that it will choose, and that master or wielder, has a chance to choose what he will use that gold pen for. Connor is one of the wielders of a Gull Pen. When he got his pen, he was desperate to be connected to the person who helped him escape the Axis, because at that time, they were under a manhunt. The pen granted his wish, and thus its power became connecting people."
“Connecting people, huh.”
“Yeah, remember when I talked to him earlier without using my phone?”
“I thought you were talking to yourself.”
Nikolai beamed. “I’m rather polite when I talk to myself, woman, because I know I ought to be respected.”
Artemis rolled her eyes and zipped her jacket up, commenting, “Oh such confidence belongs to Maths book. Only a few are ever interested in it.”
“If connecting people is this Connor’s Pen’s ability, what’s Fraein’s? What about the wind earlier?”
“Fraein’s smart. Wicked, even. When he imprinted his pen, he asked for the power to manipulate everything that touches the Earth. He cannot create, but he can bend them to his will. Like Alchemy.” Nikolai’s expression turned dark. “But every pen has its limitations. You cannot control or manipulate people. You cannot alter the past, the present, or the future.”
Artemis whistled lowly at the sudden seriousness. “So what does your pen do?”
“I can spin it on my fingers really, really fast, and then I can do some wicked tricks. And then, and then, I can use it to scratch my back-”
Artemis jumped and threw a flying kick at his back. She went on, “So who is this Connor? Why did he escape from the Axis?”
“Connor is the head of LITRature,” Nikolai replied, trying his best to ignore the pain. “He has a simple ideology: if they live, I win. He founded LITRature with only five members, and I was one of them.”
“You’re a founding member?” Artemis snorted in disbelief, with no signs of amazement from her at all.
“They were planning just above the table I was sleeping under, so I heard them and I asked if I can join them. They let me join and we had fun.”
“Okay? Go on.”
Nikolai grinned. “You’re really interested, aren't you?”
“No I just like listening to stories.”
“Right. Because you’re a Reader."
Artemis shrugged. “I love books.”
“I write books.”
“I said I love books, not authors. A good book is a good book whoever wrote it. A bad book is a good book that hasn’t been revised thoroughly yet.”
“Are you planning to read my Book?” Nikolai looked slyly down at her.
Artemis glanced briefly at Nikolai’s emerald Book just hovering above his head. Then she looked away immediately and rubbed her arm. “If I liked the story, then why not?”
“I haven’t finished writing it, but you can read the first few chapters.”
Artemis scowled at him. “I’ll read it when it’s done. I hate cliffhangers.”
There was an air of silence whilst they walk the pavement alone. Artemis, who thought the silence was too awkward, decided to ask, “So how did Connor manage to create such an organisation?”
Right. ’Cause Connor is not an awkward topic to talk about.
Nikolai puffed his cheeks and took a deep breath through his teeth. Artemis felt a serious atmosphere incoming. Nikolai looked down as he answered, “Because Connor is hella awesome, that’s why.”
Artemis wanted to throw another punch at him but held herself. The boy has already had enough from her for the day. “Okay, so who are the other founding members?” she asked instead.
“Well, you’ve met Luca Nightfall, he’s one. He is a son of a merchant that Axis has hired and... erm... killed. He met Connor and Connor thought he’s hella awesome too so they teamed up. Then there’s Fraein--you met him too earlier--who is an author-”
“I’ve read his books, I like his books.”
“-and Connor thought he was hella awesome so he let him join his team. The last founding member was Eleanore Penn-”
“Let me guess, she’s hella awesome too?”
“No, she’s more than hella awesome.”
Nikolai shook her shoulders. “Eleanore bakes us cookies and cakes and makes scrumptious meals and she takes care of us! Woman, that’s more than awesome! She and Connor grew up together in Sect. 9. She and Connor were the only one who grew up in NDC, among the founding members.”
“Why? Where did the others grow up in?”
“Luca was born and raised in the World Outside. His family, the Nightfalls, were rich business people. They were invited to the Crowne.”
“Nobody knows how old is he or where he was from. We like to believe that one faithful day, the earth cracked open and he crawled his way out of Hel, carrying the books he wrote whilst in there.” Nikolai laughed and started walking again. “It was really funny, Fraein doesn’t deny it. You should meet them, LITRature will be really happy to have a girl like you.”
“What about you?” Artemis asked.
Nikolai stopped walking.
“Are you from the World Outside too?” Artemis tilted her head a bit to the right.
Nikolai smiled. “I’m the boy who doesn’t exist.”
Artemis furrowed her brows. “What do you mean you don’t exist? You’re... right here, I mean, you’re real. Like, real annoying.”
Nikolai smirked and nodded. “Annoying.”
“You’re not denying it.”
“I’m not denying it.”
“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL’S YOUR PROBLEM?!” Artemis took back her word about not hitting Nikolai and slapped the back of his head.
"YOU’RE THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM HERE, WOMAN!” Nikolai screeched back. “You have a problem with your violence! I thought bookworms can’t hurt a fly!”
“I am a bookworm with a fight.”
“And a woman who can smite.”
Artemis raised her fist, Nikolai raised both of his hands. “Look, woman,” he said, admitting defeat, “I’m not in the mood to fight. Can’t we just have a peaceful night?”
“Don’t try to amuse me with your pathetic poetry.”
“Wow I didn’t even notice my words rhyming, I must be a bard or-” Nikolai passed out and sprawled ungracefully in front of Artemis.
Artemis gasped and groaned at the same time. It made her throat hurt. She immediately crouched down to check on the fainted boy, slapping him this time without a murderous intent. “Flume, are you dead?”
Flume is still breathing.
Flume is not dead.
“Do I need to call for help?” Artemis asked herself. “Or can I just leave you here? Oh for Crowne’s sake, I should’ve read the medical books seriously and not stare at the pictures instead!”
Artemis hauled Nikolai and carried him at her back like a sack of an annoying rice. He was surprisingly lighter than the actual sack of wheat that Artemis had carried in Sect. 5.
Now all she needs to do is to figure out where LITRature’s headquarter is.
After thinking it through for a whole minute, she decided to read Nikolai’s Book to know, and promised never to look anywhere but the place where LITRature is. She gently (and unwillingly) laid Nikolai down (she wanted to drop him or throw him) on the side of the pavement. She sat beside him, took a deep breath, and borrowed his Book.
At first, when the Book touched her hands, its emerald cover sparkled. Artemis was amazed when it was warm and almost cosy, like a fireplace at winter. For a moment, she studied the front cover, which only has two golden words engraved on it: Nikolai Flume.
She shrugged the trivial details off and whispered under her breath, “Search for LITRature."
The Book emanated a cool, bluish mist and floated up from her hands, the pages turning by themselves. Artemis bit her lip from excitement. It would be the first time she would be Reading again, after a few years. She watched the pages turning, catching glimpses of a few words.
Then, to her curiosity, she caught a glimpse of the phrases: from Crowne, open the gates of Ne’er-d’-Camp, betray Nightfall, burn a village, escape Axis, and Konr’s Twig.
But the sentence that lingered on her mind was, 'I wrote the end of the world'.
Artemis gasped, then the Book stopped whirring and turned into a page that read:
It was at this day that Connor bought a small piece of land in Sect. 2, with Luca lending a hand, and us too.
Wow, I got lost.
Artemis groaned and cast the unconscious Nikolai a deadly glare. How can this guy get lost at their first day as an organisation? She Read further:
We named the organisation LITRature, because we thought it was cool. Connor never lost his composure, he’s cool too. I’d never betray a man like him.
But where are they? I’m actually lost that it seems.
Artemis sighed loudly through her nose, and told the Book, “Skip to LITRature’s headquarters, please.”
The Book fluttered its pages and stopped at a page with a vivid image of exactly where they are staying at right now. Artemis discovered that they were staying just in front of LITRature, and didn’t realise it because of how common and non-special the building was.
“Oh you found him!” a soft voice of a woman drifted from behind the fence. Artemis jumped into attention and Nikolai’s Book quickly flew back above his head.
The woman with a long, wavy brunette hair opened a smaller gate and hurried to Artemis and Nikolai. “We were worried that he fell asleep somewhere far.”
“Not really, he just fainted a while ago.” Artemis nervously laughed under her breath. I didn’t knock him unconscious, so I don’t have to worry, she thought.
“Thank you for bringing him here.” The woman smiled sweetly and squeezed Artemis’ hands. Artemis could smell cinnamon and dinner from her. Then she remembered she hasn’t eaten dinner, and so her stomach rumbled.
Artemis turned pink and snatched her hand away, turning to Nikolai. “I could carry him inside, if you want to? Is he your brother?”
The woman shook her head. “I’m Eleanore Penn, and you are?”
“Artemis. Artemis Thrace.” Artemis studied Eleanore's features, which matched the more than hella awesome description that Nikolai told her earlier. She's a vision, but she seemed more mature and gentle.
Eleanore stuck out her hand and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Artemis.”
Artemis smiled back and shook her hand. Eleanore noticed the silver bracelet that Nikolai had given Artemis earlier, and her eyes widened. “Are you joining Silfr?” Eleanore asked.
Artemis blinked. “A-Are you from Silfr?”
“No, I’m from Kvistr--hold on, sweetie--erm, Emrys?” Eleanore called, poking half of her body inside the gates. “Emrys, are you still awake?”
Then came a male in his 20′s with dark tousled hair, bright electric blue eyes that gleamed silver in the moonlight, and a handsome face that could easily be remembered. Artemis tried her best not to stare intently.
“I’m the only one awake,” the male replied, his visage humorous yet fierce. He stepped out of the gates and stood beside Eleanore, gazing at Artemis with a crooked grin on his lips. Artemis’ spine tingled with an inexplicable fear, but as she stared longer at this male, she felt weirdly... homey.
His presence was powerful and fierce, yet warm and comfortable, so comfortable that Artemis felt safe and protected just standing beside him.
“Oh, Connor,” Eleanore sighed and put a hand at Connor’s shoulder.
Artemis pursed her lips to stop her jaw from dropping, however she wasn’t able to stop her eyes from widening again.
So this is the Connor that Nikolai was talking about?
The Connor who escaped from the Axis? The Connor who founded and is now the head of LITRature? The Connor who thought a few people were ‘hella awesome’ so he took them in?
“Artemis found him unconscious and carried him,” Eleanore said, snapping Artemis out of her admiration.
“Oh, thank you, Artemis.” Connor smiled. Artemis smiled back and needed to step at her own foot to stop it from rapping against the cold ground out of nervousness.
“I’ve a nice cup of coffee inside.” Connor knelt down to pick Nikolai up. “And it’s already late, you should stay in for the night because the guards from Axis make rounds around the Sect Boarder. If they caught you they wouldn’t hesitate to capture you. LITRature is protected in and out, so you’ll be perfectly fine here.”
Artemis nodded like a robot, staring reverentially at Connor. Even his accent was music to Artemis' ears.
“I told her she’ll join Silfr!” Nikolai suddenly blurted out like a drunkard, hanging from Connor’s shoulder.
“Wow, is he awake?” Artemis asked, all of the happy and comforting feeling being replaced with the usual irritation.
“Of course I’m awake,” Nikolai raised an eyebrow at her, then turned to Connor, as if nothing happened. As if Artemis didn’t carry him to LITRature’s base. “Connor! Why are you picking me up, I can walk by myself, mate, thank you very much.”
“Artemis found you and she carried you here,” Eleanore said, the look of concern on her face seemingly more natural. It struck Artemis with the notion that Nikolai really has a habit of falling asleep almost everywhere. Perhaps the boy was narcoleptic.
“No, she didn’t find me somewhere,” Nikolai clarified, speaking slowly. “I... was just with her. We, like, have been together since this evening--Connor, we’ve talked about her, haven’t we?”
Connor nodded and crossed his arms. “Right. It’s nice to meet you, Artemis. Formally, that is.”
“I-It’s nice to meet you too, Mr. Hathaway,” Artemis replied, sticking out her hand to shake Connor’s.
Nikolai took the hand instead and raised it up, showing Connor the silver bracelet he gave Artemis earlier. “I’ve got a new member of Silfr!”
Eleanore’s and Connor’s eyebrows arched. After letting the statement sink in, they both smiled like proud parents and simply... nodded.
“They don’t believe you,” Artemis shook her head and pulled her hand away from Nikolai’s grasp.
“Oh they do believe me, woman,” Nikolai glared at Artemis.
“Are you really going to join Silfr, Artemis?” Connor asked. Artemis felt rather worried.
“No, no, no,” she vigorously shook her head and flailed her arms. “I was just looking for a place to stay because Nikolai Flume burned down my flat, not that I care anyway-”
“But you said you’ll join Silfr because it’s the best.” Nikolai looked betrayed.
“I never said that.” Artemis smiled at Eleanore and Connor like, please don’t believe him, he’s crazy.
“She said that.” Nikolai smirked.
“No I didn’t.”
“Nikolai, listen,” Connor pursed his lips and gave Nikolai a fatherly look. “You can’t harass people into joining Silfr. And Artemis-”
“-if you want to join LITRature, you can participate in the monthly Trial. If you pass, then you’re in.”
“Trial?” Artemis glanced at Nikolai. He didn’t mention anything about a trial or an entrance exam or an interview.
“It’s next week,” Eleanore said. “Everyone who joins LITRature undergoes the Trial. Readers, writers, anyone who wanted a wonderful world can join.”
“I’ve never heard of that,” Nikolai admitted. “Are you sure we have that?”
Connor smiled at Artemis. “Nikolai calls it ‘Torture the Newbies’."
“Oh,” Nikolai and Artemis chorused.
Nikolai laughed. “Oh, so that’s what you commonfolks call it. A Trial. How... how unique.”
Artemis glared at Nikolai, then turned to Connor with a more respectful expression. “What kind of torture is it?”
“Hunny, you don’t have anything to worry about the Trials,” Eleanore assured, glancing at the gates. “It’s not a torture.”
“What about the ring of fire that applicants need to jump into?” Nikolai asked.
“You have a ring of fire?!” Artemis gasped.
Eleanore and Connor sighed. Connor walked behind Artemis and Nikolai and gently gave their shoulders a nudge. “The coffee will be warm when we get there, so better get inside. Eleanore, please do guide Artemis to a place with nice bed to sleep in, then coffee. Or dinner.”
“She can stay in Silfr’s office!” Nikolai proposed.
“Silfr doesn’t have an office, Nikolai,” Connor said firmly. “Go to sleep now.” Connor managed to drag Nikolai inside the building, whilst Eleanore slipped her arm around Artemis’ arm, leading her inside too. Nikolai waved Artemis a very energetic good night. Artemis ignored him.
“Nikolai’s the only member of Silfr,” Eleanore told Artemis and winked.
Artemis rolled her eyes. Why did she expect anyway?
Eleanore lead her to a room down the hall. “I’ll lend you a change of clothes, so get dressed and I’ll give you something warm to eat. Perhaps I can explain how things go around here over dinner?”
“That would be great. Thanks, Ms. Penn.”
“Uhm, thanks, Eleanore.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart.”