Free No More
“Get up, you scum.”
I groaned at the stiffness of my back and aching of my muscles. Blinking to get the sleep from my eyes, I pushed myself off the hard surface. My eyes weren’t focusing as I looked before me. In the middle of all the grey and black stood a white figure. I furrowed my brow in confusion, not fully registering where I was.
“Wh-what-“ My eyes widened when the figure stormed in, grabbing me by my collar. He yanked me up, shoving his face right into mine.
“Today is judgement day, you bastard,” he said, the low chuckle that followed making my heart stop completely.
Finally my eyes focused as at the same time realization hit me, the awful truth sinking in once again. Yesterday I was caught. They threw me in a cell, leaving me in complete darkness without any further explanation. The worst part was when the gas started to enter through the tiny window. It had been years since I last inhaled it, yet I couldn’t recall ever not being terrified.
The Nox Knight threw me back to the ground, turning his back to me as two Soldiers entered my cell, chains in hand. They had their masks on, their hood pulled over their faces. I couldn’t see who they were, but I knew they knew exactly who I was. I wondered if they thought of me as a traitor, too.
I stood with them. They didn’t pull at the chains, simply walking ahead of me. Their shoulders were slightly slumped as we headed down the dimly lit, stone hallway. It looked like these cells hadn’t been used for ages. The locks and hinges were rusted, ready to fall of at any moment. In the walls were countless cracks, the floor covered in a thick layer of mud and rat feces. Traitors weren’t a common thing, then. But that also meant they never caught a member of Liber and locked them up either.
They led me up a few steps before opening the door at the end of it. Bright sunlight blinded me immediately. I raised my arm to cover my face from it, only to be reminded of the chains. The Knight walked proudly to a wooden podium which seemed to be quickly set up before Paradisum’s main building. People were already gathering around, curious to what this was about. General Maas stood on the podium, his build tense, his hands clenching behind his back.
The Nox Soldiers pulled me up the podium, only to push me down to my knees once I stood beside General Maas. On the front line all Nox Soldiers were standing, their masks on, their posture straight. A coping mechanism. If one couldn’t focus on the task at hand, focus on the posture instead.
Show no fear, hold your head high. I finally understood why we were told this.
And so, I raised my chin, squaring my shoulders. I did not sit here with any regret.
Searching the crowd, I couldn’t find Hop. In a way I was relieved, yet a lot more scared as well. She had always been my anchor. She helped me through the rough times without asking a thing in return. She was my best friend from day one, and although we had our differences, we always worked it out. Together.
My hands started to shake, which I blamed on the weight of the shackles. Not having her with me, it terrified me.
Swallowing, I glanced at Maas, who returned my gaze. “The Gods had no mercy,” I muttered, remembering his last words to me like an echo.
His jaw clenched, his stare going back to blankly looking ahead. And then, he spoke. His voice drained of emotion, ice cold, piercing. The crowd went quiet in less than a second.
“Today, we are here to set an example,” he said, gesturing to me. “This once loyal Nox Soldier betrayed Paradisum. He sought out Liber and went against our laws.
“As many of you are well aware, Nox Soldiers wear a mask that covers just one eye. The left eye. This is because Paradisum doesn’t blind, doesn’t take away free will, doesn’t hide its truths.” The General swallowed at his last statement. “Therefore, we will punish Luca of Jannah, former Nox Soldier, by taking what let him to his betrayal.”
The Knight grabbed a handful of my hair, yanking it backwards. I clanged my teeth, shutting my eyes tightly. Cold metal came in contact with the skin around my right eye, prying it open and keeping it like that. Heavy breaths passed my lips, each one more suffocating than the next.
“Please, please don’t,” I whispered, my gaze fixed on the vial in Maas’ hand.
“I truly wished it didn’t have to come to this, Luca,” General Maas said, his voice breaking.
He took off the cap of the vial. My body was shaking, my fingers nails digging into my palms, but it couldn’t feel the pain. Things started to spin, my head light, darks specs filling my vision. It all blurred right before my eyes. I was going to pass out, it was only a matter of seco-
“Luca,” Hop’s soft, calming voice whispered into my ear, her gentle yet firm hand placed on my shoulder. “It’s okay, Luca, I’m here.”
I wanted to look at her, I wanted to see her, hold her. I couldn’t. I was stuck. Tears started to form, but my breathing calmed. Hop sat down beside me, leaning her head on my shoulder as she unclenched my hand to lace her fingers through mine.
“Who is this filthy-“ The Knight said, but was stopped when Maas raised his hand.
“Let her,” he said. “He won’t be any good if he passes out from a panic attack.”
I blinked with my left eye, the tear that had been collecting on my waterline rolling down the side of my face. “I’m sorry, Hopper.”
“It’s okay, Lucy.” Her voice was small, uneven. How badly I wanted to hold her. I hated it when Hop cried, it made me furious with whomever made her cry. Though, this time around, I was the one to blame.
General Maas started to tip the vial. A clear fluid fell, and before I knew what was happening my eye was burning. I bit my cheek until I could only voice the agonizing pain with my screams. Hop tightened her hold on me, clutching to my side, but it was for no good.
The contraption was removed from my eye and my head released. I fell forward, grabbing and clawing at my eye for the pain to stop. My screams deafened my own hearing, my body paralyzed, numbed, unable to do anything else. I pressed the back of Hop’s hand to my agonizing pain, believing against all hope that it would take the pain away.
“Stop it! Make it stop!” I heard Hop’s faint calling. She had never sound that desperate before.
What was I doing? She was in more pain than I was because of me. We may never see each other again because of my stupidity. I had to be strong, I had to be there for Hop for once. I had to see her one last time.
With all the strength I could muster, I raised my head, blinking and clenching my jaw against the pain. Hop’s hand was completely covered in blood. My blood. The crimson liquid still dripping from my socket. My hand shaking, I tried to wipe it off, but it only made it worse.
My sight blurred by blood and tears, I turned to face Hop. If I had known it would have been the last time I would see her for a long, long time, I would probably have fought back harder, tried to contain the pain longer.
But I didn’t know.
Darkness took my vision.
Numbness my body.
Her voice my mind.