Chapter 5 - LITRature
LITRature’s Headquarters, Sect. 2, Ne’er-d’-Camp.
DINNER WAS RATHER PEACEFUL.
Either Nikolai was totally right about Eleanore being more than hella awesome, or Artemis was just hungry. Anyhow, the roasted meat was tender and the flavour flowed through the juices in every bite. Artemis thought, maybe Eleanore used her pen to cook the meal. Nothing this palatable exists in NDC, only in Crowne.
Eleanore told her about LITRature’s divisions, and somehow, Artemis took interest in joining the Canaries. It was the only division that she can pronounce the name easily, and the only division that stays at the headquarters, doing paperwork and being with books. To her memory, the rest were like:
Gull (composed of the wielders of a Gull Pen or a golden pen) - manages the entire organisation. Facilitates activities, delegates the projects, front men in case of war. Too much work.
Silfr - Nikolai Flume. Avoid division at all cost.
Kvistr - mini-soldiers. Was appreciating Eleanore's roasted meat when she explained this division. Didn't pay attention. Is probably not that important.
Connor joined them when he was sure that Nikolai was locked in his room and asleep. It took Artemis only a few minutes to dig through the meal and fill her belly. She was, for the first time, satisfied by a meal.
“So Nikolai found you in Sect. 4?” Connor asked, taking a slow, contemplative sip of his coffee.
“One of your men, Luca Nightfall, was selling books at the flat where I was staying,” Artemis answered. “That’s where we met and Axis attacked us.”
Eleanore put her cup down. “Do you have any idea why Axis attacked you?”
Artemis almost choked on her coffee. She had a suspicion that the woman from Sect. 8 snitched on her being a Reader and Axis went after her head. She hated herself more for that.
“Nikolai said he’s pissed the Axis off,” Luca interrupted, taking a seat beside Connor and pouring coffee onto his cup. “I bet Crowne is just waiting for his 17th birthday so they can arrest him legally.”
Eleanore shook her head in vexation. “This is why nobody treats LITRature seriously.”
“Connor was the number one reason for that,” Luca corrected.
“As I was explaining,” Connor coughed. “LITRature has four divisions.”
“I’m taking the kettle, Eleanore, thank you.” Luca jerked his head towards the direction of a hallway and brought the kettle with him although Artemis was hoping for another cup. Everyone watched him until he was out of sight.
“What division is Luca in? Does he have a Gull Pen too?” Artemis asked, trying to wash out the uncomfortable silence Luca has left. “I mean, if it’s okay to know.”
“Oh, he’s not in any division, sweetie,” Eleanore answered. “He is Connor’s second-in-command. And he's not a writer. Not everyone here is a writer. Luca manages every legal documents and audits everything that circulates around LIT.”
“That brings us to the topic of explaining how things go around here,” Connor added. Artemis didn’t have the time to ask why Luca sells books to people. “We have a goal.”
“I’m here for free books,” Artemis mustered all of her dignity and pride to sort and blurt out her priorities. That’s my goal, she thought.
“Axis throws books away and we rescue them. That’s one of our duties and responsibilities as an organisation.”
“I am interested.”
“Axis kills people and we rescue them too.”
“Where do you put the books that Axis throws away?” Artemis realised her insensitive question too late, yet she tried to save it. “But killing people is frowned upon too. Gosh, the Axis is evil.” That brought Artemis back into all of her questions and doubts about LITRature. “Now that I think of it, LITRature is the most annoying organisation that I’ve heard of, to be honest,” she found herself saying.
“We can’t deny that,” Connor smiled. Artemis thought he would be mad at her and throw her out into the cold alleys of Sect. 2. But she knew she has to say that, rather than lie all because they fed her.
“But,” Connor continued, his voice raspy yet firm, and his eyes once again fierce. Should he stare at her, Artemis would’ve scampered off somewhere because of fear. Thank goodness Connor is glaring at his cup instead. “If they live, we win. It doesn’t matter what people think of us.”
If they live, I win.
“W-Who exactly are the... they?” Artemis asked. She’s heard the ideology from Nikolai.
“People,” Eleanore replied. “Everyone who lives in NDC, everyone who wants to live. Even the people from the World Outside.”
“Is that why you want to overthrow the potentates in Crowne? What will you achieve? Peace and order by brute force? That’s ironic. People in NDC are living peacefully, you don’t need to extend over to Crowne, they have their own lives.”
“People in NDC are living peacefully? Are you certain of that, Artemis?” Connor raised an eyebrow. Thunder suddenly roared outside, as if the sky laughed at Artemis’ stupidity. “Would you say, that living in fear is peaceful?”
“A few are living in fear,” Artemis said. “Sure, they fear Axis, but if they are smart enough, they won’t.”
"Smart enough," Connor repeated. “Why did you think I’ve gathered writers?”
Artemis quirked an eyebrow.
“I want people to live free from fear. Maybe they can’t have the life that they wanted, but at least, their mind can be free from fear. They can be fearless, despite being powerless, and yet again, power comes to those who knows no fear. Then we’ll figure it out along the way. Writers know how to figure it out--and everyone has a little writer inside them.”
Artemis stared at him, the sapphire Book above his head opening a tiny crevice on its own. Artemis closed her eyes to avoid the Book. It was her curiosity that was making the Book turn the pages on its own. Connor and Eleanore mustn’t know that she’s a Reader. Nobody must know. She already made a mistake earlier, she can’t do it again.
“Tell me, Artemis, why are you fearless?” Connor asked.
The curiosity turned into a sudden self-reflection. Artemis never considered herself fearless. She hasn’t even thought of it. Connor could’ve just asked, are you fearless, but he chose to ask why she is instead, and that posed a thousand questions in Artemis’ mind.
“I don’t know,” Artemis asked.
“It’s because you have power.” Connor stood and patted her shoulder, then walked to the same direction Luca headed to.
Artemis was both dumbfounded and confused. Eleanore smiled reassuringly at Artemis. “Connor can be a little poetic sometimes,” she said.
“I don’t get it,” Artemis grimaced. “Nikolai’s silver pen is powerful. He can just write whatever LITRature wants, like, world peace. Connor won’t have to trouble himself building an organisation. I can understand that he can’t do it with his pen, but the others can. Nikolai can.”
Eleanore didn’t expect the suggestion to come from a girl like Artemis, however she was not surprised. It’s like she’s heard it before. “Maybe Nikolai has told you about the pens and about LITRature, but Artemis, hunny, everything has its limitations.”
Artemis looked down and frowned.
“Do you know why Connor called you fearless?”
“Because you can say what’s on your mind. And if you can say what's on your mind, you’re getting a little closer to doing it.” Eleanore started clearing the table. “Go to bed now, sweetheart. Tomorrow, I’ll ask Emrys to introduce you to this place.”
Midnight. Artemis couldn’t sleep, so she decided to take a stroll around. Maybe she’ll find Connor or Eleanore, and she can ask more questions. Maybe even apologise for what she said earlier. When she opened her door, she found a stack of books left just beside her doorway. She had a suspicion of who left it, but she was happy nonetheless. Still wearing Eleanore’s clothes, she wandered the halls of LITRature, making sure her steps were light and quiet.
Artemis turned. “Quite, Mr. Flume. I was having a nice start until you arrived.”
Nikolai shrugged and puffed his cheeks, sighing and looking the least offended. He wore a baggy navy blue sweatshirt. Artemis needed to shake the image of a potato sack from her mind.
“Breakfast?” Nikolai asked, stretching. “I’ll prepare some, if you’d like.”
“I know how to cook.” Artemis looked around, hoping to find some directions to the canteen, or maybe she can ask Eleanore to let her do some chores or work around in exchange for meals later on.
“Good, then can you cook for the two of us?”
“What is your problem?”
“Lower your voice. It’s 4 am, almost everyone wakes up at 7--wait are you really an early bird or you haven’t slept yet?”
“I haven’t slept yet,” Artemis admitted. “I was thinking of a lot of things.”
“Oh, great, Aifric tells me I don’t think so maybe we can both think of what you’re thinking of over breakfast?”
“I’m going to sleep, Mr. Flume.”
“Oh, then, good night.”
Artemis made it back to her room quietly, and swiftly. She made sure the door was locked, just in case Nikolai decided to be a bother early in the morning. She stood by the door and sighed. Maybe she can ask Connor everything that is bothering her by midday instead.
But can I really talk casually to Connor, she asked herself, after all I’ve said?
Somebody slipped a note under the door.
“Who in the World Outside...” Artemis picked the note up that read: I won’t bother you, please just open your door. I have just one favour. Nikolai xx.
Artemis pressed her hands against the door and said, “Mr. Flume if you’re outside then I’m sorry to say that I won’t open this door.”
Artemis heard a groan. A few seconds later, another note appeared.
Please. I’m really hungry.
P.S. I won’t talk.
“We have a deal then.” Artemis opened the door and smirked at Nikolai, who was still on the floor, peeking through the crevice between the floor and the door. He looked up at Artemis and smiled without humour, then got on his feet. He returned the memo pads to a nearby coffee table.
“Are you promising you won’t talk?” Artemis asked.
“Show me the way to your kitchen.”
After simple sandwiches, an orange juice, and a saccharine silence from Nikolai, Artemis thought she could tolerate a brief interview with the boy. He, after all, is a member of LITRature. A founding member, even. He should know, if not everything, even smithereens about their organisation.
“I’ll let you talk,” Artemis told him, watching him fill his cheeks with bread, like a hamster. Artemis wondered if LITRature was being hard on him on food to make him this hungry. “Only because I want answers. So you can’t talk unless I told you so, okay?”
Nikolai looked up at her and nodded again. He had his full interests in the sandwiches.
“Earlier this evening,” Artemis started, intertwining her fingers and resting them on the table. “I told Connor that LITRature was annoying. I said that without thinking because I thought you people should know. Connor and Eleanore seemed to be the type to understand feelings and accept opinions, so I felt the need to say it. I thought maybe that would be an eye-opener for, uhm, for LITRature.”
Nikolai swallowed, then nodded like, go on. He took another bite of the sandwich.
“Now that a few hours had passed, I can’t help but think that I’ve offended Connor and Eleanore. I mean, I don’t know if I did because Connor just smiled, and it left me worrying.”
“Connor knows what people think of LITRature,” Nikolai replied after drinking orange juice. “And it’s better that you told him what you really think of us, because, hey, woman, nobody does that nowadays. People tend to voice out their opinions where they know they would see nodding heads and agreeing faces because of their fear of being judged.”
“Yeah,” Artemis agreed. For the first time. “But I know I’ve done something wrong too, by judging your organisation when everything I know about LITRature came from your daily blogs and the gossips that I hear. Like the people from Sect. 3 who moved into Sect. 4, just to avoid LITRature.”
“You don’t need to worry about them, they are from LITRature.”
“They... are from LITRature? Connor sent them to gossip outside Sect. 2, to see if people would still be interested. It’s... some sort of filter Fraein had thought out. Only those who really believe that change is still possible will come. Only those who found the tiny hope in the world will join. Only the fearless who seek the truth will be able to find it. And you, woman, you came here for free books.”
Artemis forced a smile. “Well, better inform you that I am not interested in war, I just want to read a good book whilst drinking coffee.”
Nikolai delicately wiped his mouth with a table napkin, which irritated Artemis. “Woman, have you plunged yourself deep into the fantasies of your books that you failed to read the real world and to write your own book?”
Artemis threw him a confused look. Nikolai looked at his orange juice as if they were talking to him. Nikolai must’ve told his juice, I’m 100% done with her.
Then he smiled at Artemis (fake, Artemis called it) and went on, “On our first month, LITRature had a fight with Axis, which has their headquarters right at the third corner near the roundabout. Basically, we’re neighbours. You know what LITRature did to piss them off? We made Sect. 8.”
“Sect. 8? Sect. 8 was already there when I arrived here-” Artemis caught herself. It would be embarrassing to tell Nikolai that she’s from the World Outside, and that she illegally migrated into Sect. 9, fought her way for a job in the fields of Sect. 5, and led a normal life.
“Sect. 8 used to be a place for people from Sect. 1 to buy slaves from Sect. 9. Now it’s a place for merchants and business establishments. Totally safe.”
“I’ve never heard of that... Did people forget about it?”
“People don’t forget, and when they remember, they ignore.”
“But you still choose to help them?”
“If they live, we win. It doesn’t matter who gets remembered and who gets forgotten. What matters is that there was a change, we saw it, and we knew that somehow, the world became better.”
“But you can change everything with your silver pen. Why can’t you just write, world peace? With your power, you can even stop the Untold War in the World Outside. You said Gull Pens have limitations, like, they can only have one power. You didn’t say yours has, and I saw it with my own eyes. You can change everything with your pen.”
Nikolai fished out his silver pen from his pocket and spun it on his fingers. “My pen has a limitation.”
“And that is?”
Nikolai smirked and leaned back. “I’d rather watch the world burn.”
Artemis stared blankly at Nikolai, processing her thoughts. She started to nod slowly, saying, “Okay... ? So you don’t really want change, do you?”
“I love change. Plot twists, intricate plans, a divine choir in the skies booming the schmaltziest tale of the world’s crestfallen fate. That’s my pen’s limitation. The fact that my imagination is never limited, and I am no hero. I often lean towards the-” Nikolai slammed his head on the empty plate. He appeared to be unconscious. Artemis screamed.
“Are you sleeping again?!” she walked to him and started shaking him violently. “I didn’t poison you!”
“Who’s there?” a girl’s voice asked. A second later, a blonde with a sword on her hands appeared from the hallway. Her hazel eyes were on Nikolai at first, then they landed on Artemis, and on how she’s been shaking the boy with her strong, tanned arms.
“I didn’t kill him-” was the first thing that Artemis told her.
The girl lowered her sword and the weapon disintegrated into dusts of neon lights. She studied Artemis at first, before saying, “That is normal.”
“That is not normal, this boy should see a doctor,” Artemis muttered, immediately disliking the girl, despite having a cool weapon.
“So I was saying that my pen’s limitation was-” Nikolai sat bolt upright, continuing his story as if nothing happened. He noticed Artemis standing beside him, and the blonde staring down at him. He brightened up upon seeing the blondie. “Aifric!”
“Aifric?” Artemis tried to keep a fake, disgusting smile on.
Nikolai stood to introduce the girl. “Artemis, I’d like you to meet Aifric Dewmorn, a member of Gull, and also a wielder of a Gull pen. She’s my girlfriend, and she’s got a variety of awesome weapons that she can use with her pen.”
“Hi,” Artemis said between her teeth. “I’m Artemis Thrace, and I am not interested.” She stuck out her hand for a very superficial handshake, and Aifric noticed the silver bracelet that Artemis wore.
“Oh,” Aifric scowled. “Silfr?”
“Nope, silver.” Artemis flicked the bracelet with her fingers. “I don’t know if this is real silver, but your boyfriend gave it to me.”
Aifric’s scowl grew worse. “I meant Silfr, the division.”
“I’m not even a member of LITRature, Miss Dewmorn. Are you still going to shake my hand because I want to sleep.”
Aifric took her hand and shook it stiffly. Nikolai whistled lowly. “It’s almost 5 am,” Nikolai said. “Maybe you really need to sleep, Artemis.”
“Maybe you should too,” Artemis replied, and faked a yawn. “Nice meeting you, Miss Dewmorn and Mr. Freshness.”
“Oh, before you go,” Nikolai needed to clutch on Artemis’ sleeve to stop her from leaving, “I will show you around here tomorrow. Wake up before 10.”
“Eleanore said she’ll ask Emrys to do that,” Artemis replied.
“Emrys will not be here tomorrow, so I’ll do it instead. And I will give you tips for the Trial. It’s next week. I mean, you’re going to join LITRature, aren’t you?”
Artemis cut her looks between Nikolai and Aifric. Then she smirked, winked at Nikolai, and said, “Oh yes, I will. I’ll count on you tomorrow to tour me around your headquarters. Good night, hamster cheeks.”
Artemis immediately regretted what she’s said and thought of it on her way back to her room.
“I shouldn’t have said that.” She buried her head under her pillow. “And I even winked!” She groaned. “That’s what main characters in a lame teen fic does! Artemis, you idiot... But I called him hamster cheeks, that’s pretty cool of me... I’m like a witty side character that readers love. So I guess it wasn’t that embarrassing.”
She lay on her back and stared at the ceiling. “Today is a pretty humiliating day, now that I think of it, but I survived it anyway. Good job, Artemis. Tomorrow will be okay too, because... you’re you, and that’s something to look forward to.”
Tomorrow was not something to look forward to.
Artemis woke up when someone started screaming outside her door. It wasn’t Nikolai, Artemis knew, because she’s at tuned with his annoying smug voice. It was someone else. She didn’t want to care because it was only a few hours after she’s fallen asleep. She could barely make out what people are screaming outside. She was contented to curl up and bury herself under the warmth of her blankets.
But the screaming didn’t stop. Artemis poked her head out of her blanket fortress, glaring at the door. Then she managed to decipher the scream: AXIS! THE AXIS ARE ATTACKING US!
She gasped and bolted towards the door, wondering what to do. Hiding in her room seemed to be the best decision.
But her heart skipped a beat when she heard gunshots.
A stream of gunshots.
Now hiding in a wardrobe seemed to be the best-est and wisest choice for Artemis.
She locked her door, pushed the bedside drawer against it, and ran to the wardrobe. It was empty and safe. Somewhat.
“ARTEMIS ARE YOU THERE?!”
Nikolai’s voice. From the door.
Artemis wanted to pretend that she wasn’t there, but part of her wanted to run and meet the guy.
“She’s not there,” a male’s voice spoke.
“But where will she go? She barely knew anyone here!” Nikolai’s voice came off as worried. Artemis was almost touched, until he added, “If she killed one of Axis’ men, she will be in trouble! She’s already like, I don’t know, 32? She can be put in prison. She can’t pay for her bail because I burned her house down and I-”
Gunshots, then silence. Artemis figured the two males ran off to safety. She closed the wardrobe’s doors and muttered to herself, “That’s what you get for talking casually in the middle of an attack, Mr. Freshness.”
“ARTEMIS I’M COMING TO SAVE YOU!” Nikolai’s voice crackled and spluttered loudly, then Artemis heard an explosion. Artemis guessed it was the door and the bedside drawer.
Artemis groaned and kicked open the wardrobe door, yelling, “Oh my gosh, Nikolai Flume! Are you an idiot?!”
She found Nikolai still in the potato sack sweatshirt, silver pen on his hand, and a crooked grin on his face. He said in an audible whisper whilst staring at Artemis in awe, “You got out of the closet, congratulations. Have you found Narnia?”
Artemis desisted the strong urge to punch him. “What is attacking LITRature?” she asked. “And why?”
“Axis. They found out that Fraein changed all of their interior designs.”
“Seriously? They’re attacking LITRature with guns because of that? But why in the World Outside would Fraein change all of their interior designs?!”
“To steal a Gull Pen of course! Woman, are you not thinking? Let’s go!”
Artemis followed Nikolai into the hallway, towards the what Artemis recognised as a backdoor. "What happened to Connor's LITRature is protected in and out?" she asked.
"I..." Nikolai narrowed his eyes. "I must've done something about that-"
"You bleeding idiot! Then take responsibility!"
"Here," Nikolai tossed Artemis a twig, "you can use that for self-defence."
"Is this a wand? Should I Avada Kedavra you now or should I stab you with it?"
"That is a twig, and you can write with it. We're going to fight, so know what to write. Let's go, Artemis Thrace."
Ciao, HeadphonesAndLuck here!