Rubbing my eyes, I blinked rapidly at the bright sun light that blinded my vision. My head throbbed, which only made things worse as I sat up. When my eyes finally adjusted I looked beside me, seeing a very ungraceful Hop hugging an empty vodka bottle. A smile tugged at the corner of my mouth as I shook my head. She abused her privileges like she’d been training for it for years. Maybe she did. She probably did.
Alcohol was a rarity in Nandanavana, a real treat that was only to be consumed during special occasions. But, Nox Soldiers were allowed to drink it whenever they pleased. It was part of the bribery they offered for our secrecy. Though, it didn’t mean the alcohol was free.
It was strictly forbidden for anyone but a few family member or fellow Nox to know you’re a Nox. This was why we had a room of our own in the Paradisum head office building, and to not raise suspicion we are to exit through a secret passageway. Our salary wasn’t too bad either, another form of bribery was my guess.
I sighed, swinging my legs over the edge of the bed and looking out the window. Life as a Nox wasn’t half as bad as I expected. The academy really toughened us up for nothing. Probably intentionally, making it seem like not anyone could become a Nox.
Scoffing, I turned to Hop, pushing against her side. “Hopper, wake up.”
“Five more minutes,” she groaned, snuggling deeper into the covers.
“Hope of Sawarga, get your ass out of my bed.” I tugged at her arm, but she lazily started to slap me until I let go.
“Don’t call me that, you know I hate it.” Whining, she curled her body around the bottle. “This is my bed now.”
Flinching slightly as a surge of pain shot through my head, I crawled back onto the bed. With what strength I could muster in my current state I started pushing Hop off the bed. The most satisfying part was the yelp that escaped her throat the moment she fell, followed by the half groan half growl. I leaned over the edge of the bed, smiling at the glare she shot me.
“Get dressed, Hopper, didn’t you have a date today?”
Her eyes widened with the realization, though that was quickly followed by a sour expression when the hangover hit. Either way she was up in less than a second, cursing as she collected her stuff and even after she left my room. I rested my head on my elbow, still watching the door as I counted down from three.
“Luca, you have to help me,” Hop said as her head picked through the door.
“What’s the problem?”
Hop walked back into the room, all kinds of clothes draped over her arms. “What should I wear? Oh, and can you please get me some coffee.”
I chuckled, rolling over to get off the bed. “You’re hopeless,” I said as I passed her. “Make a selection for me to choose from when I get back.”
Yawning, I ran my fingers through my hair, scratching my scalp. I made my way to the kitchen, lazily letting my gaze drift past the railing. The rooms we were given had a small bathroom, a closet and a bed. All the rooms were next to each other, then down the hall was the shared kitchen. The hall itself had the rooms on the right and a railing on the left which offered a view on the large sitting area for us Nox Soldiers to relax. The entire area including the roof was made of glass, but we weren’t able to see through most of the walls. Our rooms were one of the not many that had normal, not see through walls. There really wasn’t much we could complain about.
“Morning,” I said as I entered the kitchen, seeing Félix preparing his breakfast. Félix was a rather tall guy, blond, slightly curled hair and piercing blue eyes. Strangely enough he always wore long sleeve sweaters with a high collar and a beanie. I never really questioned him about it but I’d always wondered why. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him without a beanie or hood covering most part of his hair.
“Morning.” He nodded once before turning back to the pan with eggs. “How did your collection go?”
I opened the cupboard, grabbing the cups that Hop and I always used. “Got a bit distracted and lost another bet to Hop, the usual.” I shrugged, placing the cups under the coffee machine. “How about you, still having problems with your partner?”
Félix sighed, setting the stove on a lower eat before leaning against the counter. “I got my list done on time, but when I came to check in on my partner he wasn’t even hallway done. Seriously, I don’t understand why he is still a Nox, I would have kicked him out the first time he’d messed up.”
“Have you talked with the commander about your concerns?” I pressed the button after the machine had warmed up, filling the two cups with the rich, dark brown liquid.
He nodded before looking up, another heavy breath leaving his mouth. “Yeah I have, but as long as he delivers they won’t fire him.”
“That really sucks.” Félix turned back to the stove, picking up the pan and letting the eggs slide down to his plate. As he looked down I noticed an uneven bit in the shaved part just below his beanie. My eyes narrowed as I took a step closer. “What’s with your hair?”
Félix raised his brow as he turned to look at me, his hand reaching up to pull the beanie back in place. “I fell when I was a kid, it left a scar. Hair doesn’t grow there anymore.”
“Ah, okay,” I said as I picked up the cups. There was something about his explanation that didn’t seem right but I didn’t question it further. His answer came somewhat faster, though this could be because people had asked him about it many times before. “Well, enjoy your breakfast, I hope things work out with your partner.”
“Thanks man, say hi to Hop from me.”
After Hop left for her date I’d gone to my apartment in Paradisum City, the one I actually had to pay rent for. Even though we were given rooms at the head office we still had to be registered somewhere in Nandanavana. The rend wasn’t too high and I mostly used the place to catch up on some sleep.
I was looking through my keys for the right one when I heard a scream from outside. My head turned to the direction where the sound came from, already seeing people rushing to whomever screamed. I stuffed my keys back in my pocket and followed the others. Soon I found a crowd standing around something, which I presumed was the cause of disturbance.
The moment I came closer a horrid stanch hit me. I immediately covered my mouth and nose, trying to get through the crowd. My breath caught in my throat when I finally broke through, the horrid image before me one I wouldn’t forget anytime some, if I ever was to forget it at all.
Before me lay the body of a young boy, around ten years old. His skin was as pale as snow, his mouth was open as if he had been the one screaming but no sound came out. And those eyes… wide with terror, with fear, the patterns that his tears had made still staining his cheeks. He wore nothing but a hospital gown which barely covered his thin and bruised body.
I stumbled back, probably would have fallen back had my back not collided with someone else. Only when the person placed their hand on my shoulder did I look away from the body. It was a Nox Knight. I swallowed hard, seeing everyone making room as more Nox Knights arrived at the scene, and I straightened my back.
“You’re requested at the office,” he said, and I nodded. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to turn away from the body and head for Paradisum’s main building. All the while I was shaking, my chest tight. My stomach was twisting and turning in the most unpleasant ways. I wanted to throw up. It made me grateful to the fact I hadn’t had breakfast yet.
The usually busy streets were suddenly awfully quiet and empty. I frowned, of course everyone would be told to stay inside when a dead body showed up, but the body had just been found. Those Nox Knights showed up rather fast as well, but that wasn’t actually that surprising as they were scattered around to keep an eye on everyone during the day. I actually had never spoken to a Nox Knight before, they usually never came close enough to start a conversation with. He seemed a lot older than us Soldiers from what I could tell, his voice a lot heavier.
I shook my head, banishing these thoughts for later. Right now I had to calm down and stop myself from shaking. Yes, I saw a dead body for the first time, but I couldn’t walk in there all rattled up over it. Perhaps it wasn’t even the body that left me unsettled. Those haunting eyes would sure revisit me in my dreams, but only because I’d seen that boy before.
Last week he was part of my collection.