A week had passed and two more bodies had been found. One in The Svarga Region and one in The Jannah Region. Both times I wasn’t there to see them, which I was thankful for. I hadn’t been able to sleep well since the first body was found. It took quite a toll on my body with the over hours I made, I really needed every bit I could get.
I rubbed my eye before pulling my mask over my face. Time for the day shift. Glancing over at Hop I found her already staring at me, her brow furrowed with worry. I put my hand on her shoulder and squeezed it. We hadn’t been able to spend much time together, and I doubted that would change anytime soon.
My hand slid down her arm to take her hand, squeezing that once too as the doors opened and the fresh outside air hit us. It helped to wake me up, even if it was just for a few seconds. I smiled half-heartedly, trying to remember why I used to love this so much.
Hop tugged at my hand, snapping me from my thoughts. I started and jumped off the edge. The Jannah Region was assigned to us. The place I grew up in, the place where all my memories before the academy rested, buried.
Gliding down, I landed on one of the roofs, immediately jumping up again as I headed for my home. My feet directed me on their own, my vision unfocused most of the way. Hop was awfully quiet as well. Though, she had been the last few days. I wondered if it was getting too much for her as well.
As we passed the wall surrounding Paradisum a chill ran through my body despite the sun burning down on me. My nerves were on edge again and I didn’t know why. It had been like that every time when I went out. I would see shadows in the corners of my eyes, the constant feeling of being watched. Another reason why I couldn’t rest.
We navigated our way through the small forest that stood between Paradisum and Jannah. I quite enjoyed the woods. It gave me some form of relief. Nature couldn’t be controlled, couldn’t hold secrets, couldn’t betray or doubt. It seemed so simple, so peaceful. A weight seemed to fall from my shoulders as the fresh forest air surrounded me. The rushing of leaves and snapping of twigs under my feet, it was enough to help me relax.
However, I was quickly snapped back to reality when the shadows returned. I abruptly stopped, jumping down from the branch I had been standing on. My eyes shot from one tree to another, searching for whatever I had been seeing.
“Luca, everything okay?” Hop asked. Her concern was clear in her voice.
“Yeah,” I said, looking up at where she was standing on a high branch. “I’ll be right behind you, just need to take a quick piss.”
She sighed, shaking her head. “Hurry up, then.”
Hop turned and continued on her way. Rubbing my head, I pulled my hood down and removed my mask. I took a deep breath, only then realizing how suffocated I was until then. I couldn’t go on like this.
“Show yourself,” I called in a hopeless attempt at finding whoever was tormenting me. If there was anyone at all. Perhaps I was simply going mad. “What is it you want with me?”
I was pleasantly surprised when I heard rustling, and right after a figure leaping from the trees. My eyes widened and I gaped for a second before snapping out of it and charging after them.
They didn’t stop, actually moving faster. Not fast enough, though. With the tech in my uniform, it was easy to catch up to them. I reached out with my hand, about to grab them when they suddenly came to a halt, and I fell right over them.
We tumbled down the hill the person had stopped before which I had failed to see. When I rolled to a stop I groaned, clutching my head as it started to throb. I must have hit it on something on the way down. Spitting out the dirt that ended up in my mouth, I looked around the small clearing.
Furrowing my brow, I sat back when I located the person I had been following. They were… smaller than I thought, and paler. More than thankful for my uniform, I pushed myself off the ground without any injury on my body besides my head. I walked over to the person-no, the girl. It was a girl.
My frown deepened as I kneeled down beside her, brushing away the leaves and her hood from her face. She looked around my age, perhaps a bit younger. Her skin was as pale as snow, and so was her hair, eyebrows, and lashes. She was wearing a black hoodie which was far too big for her, together with loose pants and high boots.
She seemed to be knocked out from our fall. Unsure of what to do, I sat down beside her, trying to collect my thoughts. She must be part of Liber. I would have recognized her if she wasn’t, her face was one I doubt I would forget. Félix words ran through my mind. What if he was right, what if Liber really wasn’t behind those murders? This girl didn’t seem like a murderer, maybe a stalker but not a murderer.
Perhaps it was selfish but I had too many questions of my own to hand her over to a Nox Knight just yet. I could always do that after I interrogated her myself, right? Nodding, I stood and picked the girl off the ground. Glancing around to make sure no one had seen me, I started moving further away from the path. I had to find a quiet spot away from any civilization to tie her up. Disturbance was the last thing I wanted, not even from Hop.
I needed my answers.
The girl started to stir, softly moaning as she moved her head. I ignored the sudden tightness in my chest as I stood, clasping my hands behind my back as I approached her. She blinked up at me, squinting her grey eyes.
“Who are you and why are you following me?” I asked, lowering my voice. Crossing my arms, I waited for my answer.
“How odd,” she said, her eyes finally adjusted to the sunlight, “for a Nox to not wear their mask.”
I cursed myself for forgetting about that completely. However, I rose my chin at her instead of admitting I had forgotten it. I must not show any sign of weakness. “Answer my question.”
She fidgeted with the rope with which she was tied to a tree. “Binding me down with my own ropes, that’s not very nice, you know?”
“Answer me,” I snarled, getting impatient.
“Take it easy, Soldier.” She laughed, at which I raised my brow. It sounded too careless for in what kind of situation she was in. “Now, first tell me why you haven’t handed me in yet.”
“They are on their way,” I lied.
She hummed, looking me up and down with a side smirk. “The name is Phantom, I’m part of Liber as you might have figured out by now. Anyways, I wasn’t following you in particular, I just so happen to be heading the same way as you were.”
I took a step closer, kneeling down in front of her. “Why did you kill those innocent people? What is Liber up to?”
“How naïve of you to think we were the ones who killed those people.” She smiled before patting my cheek. Before I could register what had happened Phantom had bound my hands together, jumped up and climbed into the nearest tree. “Listen, we aren’t the bad guys here, we are simply trying to deliver a message.”
I glared up at her. She grinned in return before turning and sprinting off in the opposite direction. Freeing my hands, I debated on going after her or not. She had left me with more questions than answers, but I supposed those could wait. If I stayed away any longer Hop would surely wonder where I was, not to mention the suspicion that would arise under the Nox Knights.
It was the first time I had disobeyed the government, and honestly, it was also the first time in a long while I felt in control again.
I started heading back to Jannah, only putting back my mask and hood once I was on the path again. For some odd reason I didn’t trust putting it back on right away. If what Phantom said was true, then what kind of message were they trying to send? So far they had only succeeded in being more feared and hated.
“Luca, you there?!” Hop nearly screamed into my ear, causing me to flinch and almost lose my footing.
“Yes, yes,” I said, rubbing the side of my head. “Sorry, I got lost.”
“I’ve been trying to reach you for the last ten minutes, why didn’t you respond?”
I paused for a second, thinking of a plausible lie. “Strange, there must be something wrong with my mask then, I have it checked out after our shift.”
“Alright then,” Hop said. “Hurry up, though, the Knights are getting agitated by your absence.”
“So they do notice.”
I heard Hop laugh, which made the corners of my mouth lift. It was good to hear her laugh again. This week had really been too much for all of us, but deep down I knew it would only get harder. With this ‘message’ Liber wants to deliver, I didn’t know how, but they were doing it.
Thinking about it now made me realize that their message was coming across.
I didn’t bring Phantom in.
I ignored my orders to seek my own answers.
“What is going on, Phantom?” I whispered to myself, somehow knowing she would hear it.