Chapter 6 - Kvistr
NIKOLAI IS HAVING FUN SEEING ARTEMIS SUFFER.
The two of them stopped by the backdoor, with Nikolai prepping an anxious Artemis for a fight. She was totally panicking, her mouth gaped at the twig he gave her, but there was a particular gleam in her eyes.
“Once I open this door, be sure to have your pen up.” Nikolai held the knob firmly, his feet unconsciously shifting into a fighting stance.
“Wait, Mr. Freshness,” Artemis waved the twig around, then flicked it on Nikolai’s head. “Maybe we should think of something to stop them whilst being safe in the comforts of this backdoor.”
“Do you know what’s outside?”
“Do I need to know? I can just write, stop the Axis in whatever they are doing outside, can’t I?”
“No, you can’t.” Nikolai returned the flick with his silver pen. “That is not a Gull Pen, and that is also not a silver pen. That is a twig, the pens of people who are under Kvistr.”
“So... what is its power?”
“A twig is a clone of a Gull Pen, and can only have one power. Limited, even. You can only use it for a limited amount of time, and its strength depends on your prose and your conviction as you write.”
Artemis grimaced. “So what is the ‘power’ of this twig?”
Artemis’ eyes twinkled and her face brightened up, then as fast as it lit up, it darkened. “Bombing them might destroy your headquarters and kill civilians. This pen is dangerous, I won’t use this. I can’t risk any life.”
Nikolai’s spirits sank, but his expression wasn’t the least sad. His face suddenly seemed disinterested, yet regal. His eyes avoiding Artemis’, he turned the knob and mumbled loud enough for Artemis to hear, “Then know what to write.”
Artemis had a suspicion that she had successfully pissed him off.
Nikolai swung the door open, and two armed men from Axis pointed their guns at them. Artemis gasped and in reflex raised both of her hands, whilst Nikolai stood unfazed.
“You-” one of the armed men called, brandishing his M60 at Nikolai’s direction, “-hands in the air!”
“Do you not recognise me?” Nikolai asked calmly, yet firmly. His voice was well-modulated to strike fear, unlike the smug, annoying tone that Artemis had loathed. His usual mischievous golden eyes were Connor-esque fierce.
“You’re Nikolai Flume,” the other man replied, gripping his M-1928 SMG tightly, almost as if he was itching to shoot Nikolai (which is not impossible). “We got special orders not to kill you, nor arrest you.”
Nikolai desisted a smirk, but it came out anyway. “Was that the Executive Order number two signed and certified by Herr Common Sense, kamerad?”
“Stop being a bleeding extra and do something!” Artemis squawked between her teeth.
Nikolai raised a stern brow at Artemis, which reminded Artemis that Mr. Freshness was still a bit cross at her. But Nikolai’s next words proved Artemis wrong. Nikolai was not a bit cross with her. He’s full-blown cross at her. Artemis decided to shut up.
“You said you can’t risk the lives of civilians?” Nikolai asked under his breath.
“We can’t,” Artemis replied sceptically. “We can’t kill anyone, Flume.”
"I can.” Nikolai thrust his right hand up in the air and wrote a single, shining word: BURN.
That second, Nikolai swung his hand back. The next second, the two men from the Axis erupted into a tornado of flames, with both screeching and writhing in pain. Artemis gasped and retreated through the backdoor, watching the burning men in disbelief, shock, and fear. She wanted to scream, but her voice failed her.
Nikolai raised his pen again, and Artemis has witnessed, in horror, how Nikolai mercilessly wrote: BURN INTO ASHES.
In a couple of seconds, the fire died and nothing was left. The wind blew the ashes away.
Nikolai stared blankly down at Artemis. He was gloriously dignified for a young man who just killed two people without hesitation. Artemis slowly backtracked towards the hallway, her eyes fixated at Nikolai’s.
She raised her twig with her shaking hand and said, ”Don’t.”
“You refuse to use that twig to save LITRature, but you dare raise it up against me?” Nikolai hissed and narrowed his eyes. He took steps closer to Artemis.
“Put your pen down,” Artemis managed, her heart racing. All of her instincts said RUN! but her feet acted otherwise.
Nikolai didn’t put his pen down. With regal authority, he went on, “I have been writing for nine years, Artemis Thrace. I wield Konr’s Twig, the silver pen a son of an Aesir had died for, long gone. And yet... you threaten me with a pathetic clone? No words have insulted me far worse than your recoil. You distress me.”
Nikolai scowled at Artemis in disdain, then strode the hallway, declaring, “The attack ends now!”
Neon lights and radiant words spun and swirled around him, afterwards vanishing with the gunshots and the panic in the air. Artemis stood there in mixed emotions. Her chest ached from anger, fear, and guilt.
A few moments later, writers started coming out of their rooms, but Artemis stood still at where Nikolai left her. She wanted to scream at him, tackle him down to the ground, throw him into the lake from Sect. 6.
All these thoughts and choices, and she still chose to cry.
Connor found her.
“A bit extreme?” Connor put his hand on Artemis’ shoulder, turning his head to the direction of the hallway.
“I don’t think I belong here, Connor,” Artemis sobbed.
“It’s totally extra for an early morning parade, I mean, than the usual.”
“Connor, please, I’m sorry. I can’t stay here. Please take this twig Nikolai let me borrow. I can’t be a writer.”
“Fraein will be mad Nikolai took his title as a dramaqueen.”
“Connor, I don’t think I fit in LITRature, please listen to me!”
“I am listening, Artie.” Connor smiled and patted Artemis’ head. “But I decided to ignore because why would I entertain such negativity?”
Artemis pursed her lips and looked down.
Connor chuckled. “That was really amazing, you know. Refusing to hurt people even though you had the power to, standing up against Nikolai Flume despite knowing he’s got the most powerful pen in the world... And crying only when he was gone, only when you thought no one was watching. That’s really brave.”
Artemis looked up, more tears forming in her eyes. “That’s not brave.”
“Deny it, do I care?” Connor tousled Artemis’ hair and grinned. “Who cares about fitting in? Who cares about belonging? LITRature is a family. It’s all about having a place to come back to, whether you fit in or not. LITRature is happy to have you. Oh, and breakfast is ready, Artemis. Be sure to be at the dining table before Fraein and Luca or there will be no coffee for you. See you there.”
Canteen. Artemis sat alone at the farthermost table, watching the writers take their seats in merry groups. Artemis tried counting them, but could only estimate without looking up. She let her hair down, untied and covering half of her face, so she can avoid people’s gaze.
From her seat she can hear Nikolai being loud, Connor berating Fraein, Eleanore asking the members for extra servings, and a very casual hubbub of laughter, screaming, and complaining.
Last night in LITRature was so peaceful and quiet that Artemis forgot all of the complaints and gossips that she’s heard about LITRature being loud and annoying. But despite all that, the atmosphere felt powerful yet comfortable.
Artemis looked up. She was expecting Eleanore to offer her a dish, but it was a boy with straw-coloured hair and bright green-blue eyes wearing a red cotton checkered shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He’s a bit shorter than Nikolai, but he’s lean and more angelic.
“Thanks,” Artemis muttered sheepishly, taking the cup from the boy.
The boy sat beside her, placing his tray close enough to keep Artemis company, but far enough to respect her personal space. “I’m Emrys Black,” he said, slicing potatoes on his plate.
Emrys looked up and mouthed something to somebody in the front row, but when Artemis followed his gaze, she just saw Connor whistling and looking away, and Nikolai glaring at her whilst sitting on a table with his arms crossed.
“I’m Artemis Thrace,” she said, staring back at Nikolai. No, glaring back at Nikolai. “Nikolai Flume said you’re not here today, Emrys.”
“Oh.” Emrys furrowed his brows at Nikolai, who just shrugged and made a crooked grin, his golden eyes still on Artemis. Then Emrys turned to face Artemis, chewing innocently.“Heard you were a victim of this morning’s prank attack?”
Artemis snapped out of the staring contest with Nikolai and turned to Emrys with a confused look on her face. “Prank attack?”
Emrys smiled nervously, shifting his weight from side to side. The rings in his necklace clanked and rattled as he nodded vigorously. “Nikolai wanted to test your reactions and your decision-making, so he used his pen to make a mock attack.”
“It means the gunshots and the explosions are fake?” Artemis’ jaw dropped.
“All staged, man.”
“Does that mean, nobody died?”
“Nada. Just a few writers were disturbed and annoyed, but nobody’s hurt. Connor thought you’d figure that out, he said.”
“Then why is Nikolai mad at me?” Artemis lowered her head and stared at her pudding.
“Maybe...” Emrys glanced at Connor, Eleanore, and Fraein, who were all sitting at the front row, watching them carefully.
Connor mouthed, Just say it.
“... Maybe you said something that disappointed him? Something like... maybe you said you can’t risk the lives of civilians? That’s why you refused to use the twig he gave you.”
“What is wrong with that?”
“Maybe... he was disappointed that you didn’t think of a way to use the power that you have in a good way?”
“He gave me a pen that has a bombing ability, what’s good with that?”
“Listen, woman.” Nikolai pounded the table loudly with his fist. Artemis and Emrys gasped at his sudden appearance. “I could give you the pen with the ability to make everyone sick and it won’t matter. Ya’know what I am mad for? You refused the power to save, without any hesitation. You didn’t think it through.”
“Well I’m sorry for being stupid! I’m sorry for not thinking of how a bleeding bomb can save lives!”
“You’re not stupid! You’re a coward!” Nikolai threatened Artemis with his pen. “Your cowardice held you back from trying!”
Artemis scowled, then charged at Nikolai, grabbing his coat’s collars. Emrys attentively stood to act, but chose to wait for what Artemis will do next. The canteen went silent.
“You...” Artemis hissed, gripping the fabric vehemently that her nails dug in them.
Nikolai may have made a weak S.O.S. cry, but ceased right after hearing Artemis hissing and mustering all of her courage to sort out her thoughts and find the right words to say.
“You, Nikolai Flume, of all people... ” Artemis managed, her eyes bloodshot but her cheeks dry. Anger seethed from every syllable of her words. “You aren’t from Ne’er-d’-Camp too. I thought that you, of all people, will understand what it’s like being in the World Outside. I thought that you will know what it’s like being helpless, being powerless. What it’s like waking up to gunshots and soldiers bombing cities! I thought that you, of all people, will value life ALL BECAUSE YOU SAW IT BEING MERCILESSLY WASTED. But you... You chose to be one of those soldiers who kill without hesitation, all for nothing’s worth. You’re pathetic. Hiding your cowardice through dangerous unpredictability.”
“Artemis, sweetheart,” Eleanore hushed, putting her hand on Artemis’ shoulder. “That’s enough. Please let Nikolai go.”
Artemis glared at Nikolai and shoved him away, taking time to notice that they have been the centre of attraction. Fraein stood behind Nikolai, smirking to himself, whilst Connor stood between them. Emrys gave his pudding a very serious consideration before setting it aside to comfort Artemis from behind.
“What,” Artemis asked, scanning all the faces staring at her. She felt like shrinking into her seat, running away to Sect. 9, or maybe faking her own death. But she chose to stand by what she thought was right. “What I said is true, isn’t it?”
Even Connor was just watching her. Artemis lingered her sight longer at his direction, hoping for back-up, but Connor showed her that she is on her own this time.
Nikolai broke the silence. “So...” he started, his grin being more malicious than before. “You’re saying that you... are scared to use the bomb pen... because you saw how mercilessly soldiers bomb civilians in the World Outside?”
Artemis furrowed her brows. She was unable to grasp Nikolai’s train of thoughts.
“Is that your sentiment?” Nikolai asked.
“I called you pathetic and a coward, and you care about my sentiment?” Artemis glanced at the other writers, who were all just thoughtfully staring at her.
“I know myself better than you know me, woman,” Nikolai snorted. “You think mere words could hurt me? I can kill you any time I wish.”
Artemis gasped and her eyes automatically landed on the silver pen at Nikolai’s hand. Nikolai broke into thunderous peals of laughter upon seeing her reactions.
“Scared, aren’t we?” Nikolai mocked.
“Nik, stop,” Connor said, finally stepping forward. Artemis felt safe at last. She let out a subtle sigh of relief. Connor turned to her. “Artie is not scared of you, Nik.”
“What?” Nikolai exclaimed.
Fraein nodded in agreement with Connor. “There’s nothing intimidating about you, Nikolai.”
“I have the silver pen, I can-”
“Kill me,” Fraein purred at Nikolai, leaning closer. “Go on, go on, go ooon! Let me see Death, Nikolai Flume! LET ME DIE AT ONCE!”
Connor pulled Fraein away from Nikolai by the hair, leaving the young boy probably traumatised, in spite of himself. The canteen’s doors swung open, then a pretty obliviously nonchalant Luca came in. He found the entire organisation watching the live soap opera, and found it distasteful. He grimaced, stared at everyone in disdain, and said, “It’s 9 am, I was wondering why nobody’s inside the research area.”
“Because it’s breakfast time, Luca,” Connor said, walking back to his seat on the front row. He stood by the table and clapped his hands together to gather everyone’s attention, diverting them from the scene Artemis and Nikolai caused. “Right, writers, finish breakfast and go back to your adventure! Make sure you defeat your monsters.”
“Right,” Nikolai muttered and sped off somewhere with the other writers who were leaving the room. Artemis sighed through her nose, then directed her attention towards Connor and Luca.
Fraein giggled and ran towards Connor with open arms, screaming, “I will decorate the looobbyyy~”
Luca tripped Fraein with his foot and told Connor, “The last time, LIT spent more than what we have budgeted, because of the damages, and the medics’ fee. This time, Connor, please make sure nobody gets hurt. That could happen if you lock both Fraein and Nikolai in a white room with walls made out of mattresses, then confiscate their pens and give them a football to play with.”
Both chuckled, and Artemis felt at ease, but in a snap Luca’s expression turned serious. Connor too, especially when he said, “He won’t attack this time.”
“I’m looking forward to that,” Luca replied. “We can’t control anger.”
“Keep Fraein near him. I’ll make sure they won’t attack.”
“My pen can only control physical properties, Connor,” Fraein said seriously, recovering from the fall with a glorious look on his face. “I can’t manipulate emotions. You’re the only one who can talk to him if he ever goes berserk.”
“That’s no use. I can’t maintain a stable connection with him.”
“Then we all hope and pray.” Fraein grinned and twirled around, leaving the room accompanied by a strong gush of wind.
Artemis snapped out from her eavesdropping after feeling bad for doing so. It was an accidental eavesdrop, she convinced herself, but she had the impulse to ask Emrys, “What happened in the last Trial?”
Emrys, who wasn’t expecting Artemis to suddenly turn around and ask him something about their organisation, was caught off-guard. He stammered a reply, whilst swallowing his pudding, “W-What?”
Artemis shook her head. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking of what I’m saying. Ignore it, and uhm, thanks for having my back... Emrys.”
“That’s kinda the contrary,” Emrys shrugged and laughed nervously under his breath. “You were thinking about it, that’s why you asked me, didn’t you?”
“It’s personal, I’ve stuck my nose in LITRature’s business too much now... ” Artemis bit her lip. “Buuut, if you’re willing to tell, I’m just curious-”
“The last time I got curious the Axis arrested me.”
“No, it was cool, if they didn’t arrest me I wouldn’t have met Connor and the others. So I tell you, lassie, being curious is okay sometimes. Besides, Eleanore asked me to let you see the place, and I think explaining is part of it.”
Artemis smiled genuinely. “Thank you, Emrys.”
“Finish your pudding and we’ll get started.”