“Félix,” Hop whispered, shaking his shoulder. “Félix, wake up.”
Groaning, Félix rubbed his eyes before looking over his shoulder, immediately looking away when Hop pointed a bright flashlight straight at his face.
“What the fuck, Hop?” he mumbled, rolling over. “What do you want?”
Hop got off the bed, picking up his boots from where he had placed them beside his closet. She threw them at him, barely missing his face. “Come, we got to hurry.”
“What’s going on?” Félix got out from under the covers, placing his boots beside him. Hop turned to him with gleaming eyes and an excited smile, one he hadn’t seen for a while now.
“I want to show you something.”
A soft smile spread across his face without him noticing at first. It was good to see the old Hop again, the cheerful, childish and playful Hopper. Reaching for his jacket, he realized he didn’t mind being woken up this early in the morning if he could only glimpse at that genuine wonderous smile. He wished Luca was here to see it too. If he knew she was doing better his time away might be easier on him. Félix hoped they could see each other again soon. All of them.
Having put on his boots, jacket, and beanie, he followed Hop out of his room. Félix was glad it had been too dark for her to notice the uneven parts in the shaven parts on his hair.
Quietly, they tiptoed down the stairs and out of the main sitting area. Only when they reached the elevator did Hop speak again, that gleam still in her eyes.
“You’re going to love this,” she said, looking up at him, “but you can’t tell anyone what I’m going to show you.”
Nodding, Félix glanced at the door. He already knew where she was going to take him. The fact that she urged him to put on his Nox boots said enough. Having taken out the tracker the moment he got them, it guaranteed him invisibility whenever he wore them outside of his shifts. However, Hop wouldn’t know they were being tracked through their Nox uniform. Paradisum knew where they were going, knew at least Hop was on the move, and they weren’t stopping them.
Leaving the elevator, he trailed slightly behind Hop as they made their way to the exit at the back of the building. It was specially designed for the Nox to enter and leave through without the passing citizens seeing them. Félix kept a close eye on their surroundings, making sure no one was watching them from behind a corner.
The golden walls that separated them from the outside world were cast in shadows, the only light coming from the many glass layers above and the locked front door. The white tiles reflected it well enough for them to find their way, but it still left too many spots untouched. Anyone could be lurking in that darkness.
“There shouldn’t be any gas left in the air around now,” Hop whispered as they reached the exit.
“Is it open?” He knew it was, and so did he know about the gas, having sneaked out more than anyone could count on one hand. He still thought it odd they wouldn’t lock this door, even if it was hidden.
Hop turned the knob before swinging it open. The cold morning wind greeted them, rustling Hop’s curls as they stepped outside. Félix tugged at his beanie.
“Follow me.” With a small leap, Hop jumped up onto the first building that was connected to the main building. Glancing behind him one last time, Félix followed suit, disappearing together in the last moments of the night.
The closer they got to the river the more nervous Félix got. Hop would definitely want to go across. Without knowing about the passageway it could be very dangerous. He either had to decide to expose it and risk her figuring out he was part of Liber or have her drown in the river in an attempt to get to the other side. He wasn’t liking his options.
“You hear that?” Hop called, glancing over her shoulder.
Félix looked up, listening closely. He had become so used to the sound of rushing water he barely registered it anymore. Hop didn’t know this, of course. “Is that… water?”
“It is, we’re almost there.” She laughed, eagerness returning to her jumps.
Félix wondered what went through her head at that moment. What was she hoping to find? When did she think they would head back? Did she realize how odd she was acting? If he hadn’t known about her new position, about the Old World and Liber, how did she think this would come across?
He had to be careful. He had to play the part of the clueless friend. Hop was the one with the answers, with the knowledge of this new discovery. It was going to be difficult, but he could manage. If they got across safe and sound, that is.
Glancing to the sky, a faint smile spread across his face. The early morning rays were starting to peek through, slowly lighting up the sky while peeking through the leaves. With the forest thinning out, he was reminded why he used to enjoy the morning trips from the Old World to Paradisum so much. The cold morning breeze, the smell of soil and bark, the rushing sound of the river in the distance. It was easy to forget how rotten this world was in moments like that.
Hop started to slow down, jumping to lower branches as we got closer. Félix followed behind her, trying to keep his face blank but curious. Reaching the ground, Hop came to a halt, turning to him.
“Whatever you do, don’t freak out,” she said, her voice taking on a stern tone. “I can’t have you killing yourself because you panicked and tripped.”
Holding back a scoff, Félix nodded. “Alright, now show me whatever it is you want to show me.”
A grin spread across her face once more, the one he started to realize he adored. “We’re only halfway there.”
When she turned, Félix face fell. She was planning on going. Knowing how rough the river was this time of year, he couldn’t help but have his chest tighten at the thought of something going wrong. Tugging at his beanie, he fell into step behind her.
Soon enough the river came into view and he tried his best to look surprised. His eyes widened as he hurried over, kneeling down beside the riverbank to place his hand in the water. “I’ve never seen a creek this big.”
Hop crossed her arms, standing beside him with the most satisfied look on her face. “It’s not a creek, it’s a river.”
“A river?” The amazement in his voice almost had him thinking he was taking it too far. Though, Hop seemed to relish in the moment. “I didn’t think I’d ever see one.”
Kneeling down, Hop dipper her fingers in as well. “I didn’t think so either. In school, we were told they only existed far beyond our lands, far outside the paradise we live in. Turns out this one circles around Nandanavana, separating us from the world around it.”
“Strange how no one ever went out far enough to know they are out here.” Keeping a close eye on her, Félix watched as Hop stared at her hand. “What do you think is on the other side?”
“Liber, for one.” Standing again, she took a few steps back. “But I want to explore what else might be out there. Who knows? We’ve been shielded off from this our whole lives, we didn’t even know our land ended here, only that no one dared to go further than the furthest town. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”
Those who wondered were taken the next night by the Nox Soldiers, and if necessary the Knights stepped in during the day. Those were the facts no one knew, the ones everyone ignored to see. It wasn’t that no one dared, they simply never lived long enough to tell the tale.
Félix stood as well, only realizing his hand had gone numb from the cold when he took it out. He tucked it under his arm, turning to face Hop. “How do we get across?”
Shaking her head, she glanced around her. “I’m not entirely sure yet, I thought maybe we could jump over.”
“Our boots are great, but not that great,” Félix said. “There should be another way.”
“Maybe cut down a tree, make a bridge?”
He shook his head. “None of these tries are tall enough to make it across.”
Biting her lip, Hop started to pace. When she turned her back to him, Félix made his way to the latch. If he did it right, he could convince her he stumbled upon it. Glancing back, he sighed as he knew exactly how to do that. Literally stumbling.
“Fuck,” he called out as he ‘accidentally’ tripped over the small edge that stuck out from beneath the grass. Hop jumped and turned, rushing to his side. Groaning, he rolled over to his back, cursing a few more times in his head as his palms started to throb. That fall went worse than planned, having actually scratched his hands.
“Are you alright?” she asked. “I told you not to trip.”
Not holding back a scoff this time, he nodded at the edge he tripped over, now slightly more visible having torn off some of the grass patches. “What’s that?”
Crawling over, Hop examined it closely, removing most of the rocks, twigs, and grass it was hidden under. Squeezing his eyes shut tightly, Félix mentally slapped himself, knowing he had to come back and redo it later that day. This might be his stupidest decision yet.
“I think it’s a trapdoor or something,” she said. “How do we get it open?”
Sitting upright, he got closer, pretending to examine it as intensely as she had. “Those hinges look like they are automated. Maybe there’s a switch nearby.”
“Or it’s remotely controlled, then we need to pry it open.”
“No,” Félix said a little too fast. Looking surprised, Hop raised her brow at him. “Uhm… it might set off an alarm, we can’t risk it.”
“Who would hear it?” she asked, shaking her head. “We’re miles away from the nearest town.”
“And Liber?” Félix swallowed. “What if they’ll hear it? We have nothing to defend ourselves with.”
Hop stood, walking over to a nearby tree. A large branch had snapped off and lay below it. She picked it up, pointing the sharp part at the trapdoor. “Don’t care, let’s break this thing open.”
Right as Hop charged and lunged the branch underneath the ledge, Félix reached into the water. It stung the scratches on his palm, causing him to bite his tongue to keep from voicing his pain. He felt along the side of the bank for the button, his arm having slipped into the river up until his shoulder. The rough current splashed water against the back of his head, soaking his beanie to the point it felt almost frozen.
“Félix, what the fuck are you doing?” Hop dropped the stick as she came to his side and pulled him from the water. “Are you crazy? Félix, stop it!”
Before she could completely pull him out he found the button. Sighing in relief, he pushed it. The trapdoor opened with a silent creak. A laugh escaped him before he fell back on the grass. “Told you it was-“
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Hop almost yelled into his face. Her hands were nervously patting his arm, chest, and face as if looking for none existing wounds.
“Hey,” he whispered, pushing himself up. The pain from before disappearing immediately that instant. Reaching up, he placed his cold, wet hand against her cheek, relishing in the warmth of her skin. “I’m okay, I’m okay.”
Her brows were drawn together, the wrinkles they formed almost looking painful. She was biting down hard on the inside of her cheek to stop herself from crying, he could tell. The skin on the right side was pulled in ever so slightly. Brushing his thumb under her left eye, he kissed the cheek she was biting before pulling her into a tight hug. Her arms wrapped around his back, as if she was clinging to life, desperate to hold onto it.
“Don’t ever scare me like that again,” she murmured into his shoulder, her voice heavy with her unshed tears. Félix rubbed her back, burying his face in her curls.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered back. “I didn’t mean to scare you, it won’t happen again.”
“You fucking idiot.”
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