Glancing behind him, Félix released a soft sigh before continuing on his way. Now with Luca being caught he had to be extra careful. He couldn’t risk being seen. Jumping from branch to branch, he finally arrived at the river that separated Nandanavana from the forgotten world. The water was higher than usual, the current stronger as well. A storm was coming.
Carefully, he climbed down the tree, keeping a close eye on his surroundings. The wind started to pick up, the familiar scent of rain in the air. Félix frowned, staring up at the dark clouds that seemed to come their way. Even nature started to get uneasy. Things were set into motion, it would only be a matter of time before hell broke loose.
Félix bent down and put his hand into the water, feeling along the riverbank until he found the button. He pressed on it. Right next to him a hatch opened. Shaking off the excess water, Félix jumped down the hatch, landing in the dimly lit pathway that guaranteed secure passage across the river. Only members of Liber knew of this path. It had been long forgotten after the government thought the virus had taken the remainder of the living on the other side. They never were to return, he could see why they would forget about it.
The click of the hatch shutting again sounded as he started to make his way across. Each step echoed. No matter how many times he crossed the river Félix couldn’t get used to the humid air, nor the rushing of water just above his head. He always imagined the tunnel collapsing at any given moment, killing him within seconds. The thought alone was enough to set him on edge.
Fastening his pace just a bit, he arrived at the other side and opened the hatch. He pulled himself up, relaxing when he was met by a welcoming face. She offered her hand, pulling him out.
“You’re alone?” Phantom asked, tilting her head as if to find someone behind him.
Félix nodded, pulling the hood from his head. “I don’t know how but they caught him.”
Both of them glanced at the other side of the river, the trees tiny compared to those they were standing next to.
“You weren’t followed?” she asked and Félix shook his head. “Good.”
Félix started to walk, leaving the river and Nandanavana behind him. “You’ve been acting risky lately.”
Phantom shrugged. “I needed to keep an eye on things.”
“Luca saw you.” Félix stopped abruptly, turning to face her. His brows were furrowed, his eyes staring at the ground. “Sure, he had his suspicions, but because he talked with you he started acting careless.”
“The Hall was onto him before I even came in contact with him,” Phantom said, continuing on her way, not waiting for Félix to follow. “I was only keeping an eye on him, either way he would have been locked away sooner than later.”
“You should have seen Hope,” Félix muttered, his hands shoved into his pockets as his feet carried him on their own. “She was devastated, I’d never seen her like that.”
“The red-head?” she asked.
Félix nodded. “I want to tell her, she deserves to know.”
Phantom kept quiet for a while. He knew it was a fruitless question but he had to ask. Hop was as much his friend as Luca was. It was painful enough to watch them blindly following their orders, but keeping this secret any longer after what happened to Luca would be pure torture. Both for him and Hop.
“I’ll ask him.”
Félix’s head rose, his eyes widening slightly in surprise. Swallowing, he said, “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Phantom turned her head just enough for him to see her smirk. He knew that look well enough. She was going to use this against him one day. Shaking his head, he knew this was bound to happen. Phantom never did anything out of the good of her heart. Though, Félix smiled despite knowing he dug his own grave the tiniest bit deeper just now.
Before him the forest started to thin out and buildings come into view. It was no secret that the Old World was very different from the one they lived in now. Félix often wondered what it was like before Paradisum took over. He only knew of the Old World from stories. Like how they used to tame animals and keep them at home. How they used machines on wheels they called ‘cars’ and ‘busses’ to get from one place to the other.
Walking past those vehicles made him curious on how they worked. Passing a wild animal made him question the stories and how much of it was actually true. At some point he started to believe most of it was wishful thinking. Imagining a peaceful world was tempting in a way, perhaps even a goal to move back to. But that was all it was.
“How are things at base?” Félix asked, his eyes roaming the familiar buildings and items they always passed by. Nothing ever changed unless nature touched it.
“Same as always,” Phantom sighed, stretching her arms above her head. “Brandon can’t wait to get his hands on your hair.”
Unconsciously, he reached for his hair, picking at a few long strands. “It has been a while, hasn’t it?”
Phantom slowed her pace until she was beside him. “Your mark is barely visible.”
Félix scoffed. “I still think having our marks in our hair is inefficient.”
“Can’t agree more, but it keeps Brandon happy.” Phantom smiled, shaking her head.
They walked in silence for the rest of the way, and like before Félix eyes started to absently wander. They passed the fallen lamppost, then the crashed car. Around the corner was the drugstore they had to pass through as a shortcut. The shelves still held the ghost of the products they used to sell.
However, when Félix’s eyes lazily scanned the shelves, something seemed out of place for once. He placed his hand on Phantom’s shoulder, not taking his eyes off the Chinese cat that seemed to be waving at them. He pointed at it, frowning. “That wasn’t there before.”
“Someone must have put it there,” she shrugged, brushing his hand away. “It does cheer up the place a bit, I’ve heard they bring good luck.”
“If you say so.” Clenching his jaw, Félix looked away. Something seemed off, but it could be him overreacting. It had been a while since he last been in the Old World, hence the need of a haircut. Rubbing the back of his head, Félix tried to relax. Out here he was safe. No one could touch him. No one could hurt him.
Staring up at the ceiling, Hop reached out, trying to touch something right out of her reach. The image of Luca was still fresh in her mind. She saw it every time she closed her eyes. How could she have let this happen? How had she not picked up on the signs sooner? She should have acted the moment he got lost in the woods. If she had known she would have helped him.
Her arm fell back to the Luca’s bed. It was the only place she had left that held his memory. His apartment was rented to someone else already. She had brought all his items to her room before they were taken, but when the last basket of clothes was to be removed Hop had broken down. Now it lay abandoned at the door and she on the bed.
Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she hoped he would come back any second. Perhaps that was what she was waiting for.
His bedsheets smelled like him. Almond, musk, and a hint of coffee. Smiling, she buried her nose in them, tears burning at the corner of her eyes. There was really nothing she could do. She already begged-even threatened-General Maas to do something, but it was no use. Luca was taken by the Hall, his crime was serious enough for him to never return to society.
Hop jumped up when she heard the door click, excitement overflowing her better judgment immediately. “Luca?”
As soon as it came it vanished, like the last bit of hope was snuffed out, just like that. Her chest was heavy with throbbing with heartache. The man that entered wasn’t the one she wanted.
“Hello there, Darling,” he said, a mischievous grin on his lips. “What a nice housewarming gift you are.”
The longer she stared the deeper the truth sank in, the harder it became to get off the bed. “You’re the new Nox Soldier.”
“I am.” The guy set down his bag, closing the door behind him. “And who may you be, Sweetheart?”
Hop didn’t respond. She simply got off the bed before she was completely paralyzed. Taking the basked she had dropped, she opened the door and shut it behind her. She barely made it to her room before the tears started to stream down her cheeks.
Her best friend was gone, and she would never see him again.