My insides are doing somersaults!

Hello,

Omo – Dea, what has gotten into you?! – wait – what has gotten into me?! Why did I write this story?! Dea, snap back to your senses!

Ugh, I feel really on edge when I’m writing Deus Ex Machina – so much drama in such small chapters! I feel like I’m becoming some kind of a character from a Latin American soap drama! I still remember Esmeralda…she was pretty, I’ll admit that.

Back to the story! Dea! Stop hating people! What the hell has happened to you?! Trust Erin for once, will you?! And what on Earth is that boy doing in the house?!

Deus Ex Machina

6 – Hannibal ante portas

“I’m torn,” Hiero declared solemnly. Annette merely hummed at the confession, gazing the starry sky leisurely, sipping lemon tea from her water bottle. She had taken Hiero to the roof to try to sort things out – the roof had always been her sanctuary when times were difficult, and it would be seen as a privilege to be taken there by Annette. Hiero looked as if a sloth had been strangling him all day – the boy obviously needed a break.

The first hours were spent in silence, the two of them trying to let themselves calm down and clear their minds before having what would seem like a cliché heart-to-heart talk, what with the place and time (the roof and the stars suited each other like puzzle pieces, but the two of them tried to not squirm under the obvious cheesiness of the situation). Annette had taken a jar of cookies and two bottles of lemon tea for the two of them, as well as a radio to keep them company. Hiero hardly touched the cookies but he did take sips of tea when his face looked too grim; Annette, on the other hand, nearly finished half of the jar without her realising.

“I…had never wanted things to be like this,” Hiero said sullenly, “Ace was really cool – he looked really tough but he’s a real nice guy inside. He reminded me of those heroes in the comic books I read, and I admire him. I wanted to have the power Ace have so that I can protect my family like Ace does but…” Hiero sighed forlornly, “After the river incident…I realise how frightening power really is. Ace’s really competitive and would do anything to prove his worth, and I wonder if I would become like that too someday.”

“Why would you think that?” Annette asked.

Hiero hesitated, “Because…I’ve been trying hard to suppress my anger at those who look down at me these days. I’ve been improving academically and sports-wise, and I’ve always wanted others to see that I’m worth looking at, but they still doubt my prowess and so there had been times when I nearly lashed out at them –”

“And that incident reminded you of what you’ve experienced,” Annette finished for him.

“…Yeah. What if I’d someday lash out at you guys? Then everyone would hate me…and they’ll see me as nothing more than the young useless Naitt among overachievers.”

“Hiero, none of those are true.” Annette still had her eyes upon the stars but her voice was firm and absolute, leaving no room for arguments. “You’re strong in your own way. While Ace is raw brawns with little to no sense of logic, you are thoughtful and powerful at the same time – that’s something rare to find in people.” Judging from Hiero’s tense silence, he was not convinced enough. Annette shrugged and continued, “What I’m saying is that you’ll do fine, Hiero. You won’t screw up easily like Ace – you have more potential and your future’s still bright and clear. There’s no use moping over what happened and neglecting what’s to come; you’ll end up missing the point of your objective, and that’s when people decide to give up their dreams. You should learn from mistakes, whether it’s made by you or others, and try to do better, rather than thinking of what would have happened if you hadn’t screwed up.”

Everything seemed to get clearer for Hiero. He let out a sigh of relief and sipped some lemon tea. “…No wonder Zach had entrusted you with one of his prized pistols,” Hiero mused, “That’s really wise of you, Annette. I bet no one in this world could say something like that without melting into the ground!”

“Oh, you have no idea how embarrassing that was,” Annette ducked her head and chuckled.

The two siblings sat under the starts, listening to the aimless rambles of the radio and enjoying a half-full jar of cookies and a bottle of lemon tea. Everything would always seem clearer when you cannot hear a human voice aside from the one you need to hear the most, thought Hiero.

* * *

Dea was prepared.

She had tightened the security at her bedroom and outside in the hallway, going as far as Jenny’s room and down to Erin’s. In fact, she had especially put cameras in near Erin’s door to record any suspicious night footage that she was sure would come out from that godforsaken room.

Dea had felt foolish for believing a trickster and she can guarantee that the others saw her as an idiot for believing a rumour. She couldn’t forgive Erin for crushing her pride and taking advantage of her trust – it seemed like Ace and Erin had inherited Jenny’s rotten personality. Well, now she had learned to not trust any soul connected to Jennifer Naitt.

She slipped under her covers and waited in the dark until the clock strikes twelve. This was not the first time she had stayed up late; she’d sometimes study for a test until three in the morning or try to finish an intriguing book before she reads another. But this was different; instead of the jumpy or nervous adrenaline she gets when reading or studying, tonight she felt dread and fear. Fear of the probability that Erin was right, and fear of the probability that Erin was wrong. There had been no proof that Cornelius was alive and even if he was, then he’d at least be walking with a stick. Dea slapped herself internally. No, Erin had been messing with her since the beginning – everything she said were all lies and Cornelius must be a hoax. Then…why is she hiding under the covers, awaiting a certain presence?

It was half an hour after midnight and still there was no sign of any intruder. Ha! Erin was lying after all! Dea was about to slip off into slumber when she heard a soft click from somewhere in her room.

No, she mouthed. Her blood turned cold at the possibility of what that click meant. No, maybe it was just her clock ticking like it had always been –

The sliding of an object and the rush of night air made the hairs on Dea’s nape rose. A foot landed softly upon the wooden floor and then there were a series of padding across the room. Tap, tap, tap, tap… The footsteps stopped in front of Dea’s bed, where the door should be. Dea held her breath and waited for the person to exit her room – after that, she’ll follow the intruder stealthily and ambush him from the shadows.

Soft beeps and a click resounded through the room and then the door was open. Dea waited until the footsteps faded away, and then she slowly got up and gingerly tiptoed into the dark. The hallway was illuminated with the ghastly blue moonlight shining through a window at the end of it. She could make out the shape of a lean man creeping down the stairs – maybe Cornelius was on a diet? Some old men are pretty bony, but this person’s build was that of a young and healthy adolescent. She waited until the figure walked towards the kitchen before she silently descended the stairs and following his path.

A cabinet was opened and soft rattles of cans played through the minute like a backstreet performance. Next, the figure looted the fridge, pulling drawers and stuffing food inside his messenger bag. Dea watched from behind the half-opened door, tracing the person’s movements carefully, and waiting for an opportunity to attack the intruder. The fridge door closed with a thump and the person was about to exit the kitchen when he stopped, body going tense and alert.

He spotted me, Dea thought irritably. The man walked towards the door and Dea moved towards the wall, an umbrella in hand (at least the handle was sturdy enough to be compared to a baseball bat). The door opened wider inch by inch, the man taking his time to survey his surroundings. The area was dark except for the moonlight that seeped through a slit in the curtains and that much was enough for Dea to see a head popping out to look left and right –

Blue eyes found the same coloured eyes of the intruder and they held the gaze for God knows how long –

What the – Without thinking twice, Dea swung the umbrella straight onto the person’s temple, choking out a yelp from the man. The body tumbled onto a squirming heap in front of Dea, a string of whispered curses coming out of clenched teeth. Dea fumbled for the switch by the kitchen door and turned on the lights –

It was not an old man. It was a boy, about the same age as Hiero, with platinum blonde hair that looked almost white and pain-filled blue eyes, the same as the twins’, Ace’s and Zach’s –

Dea gasped, “You –”

The person grumbled in pain, clutching his left head near his bloodied temple, “So much for hospitality…”

“Well, you could’ve come in like a normal person, Michael,” Dea said, “What’s with all the sneaking around? It’s not like Jenny’s going to rip your head off –”

“Oh, but Jenny’s gonna rip my head off, alright,” Michael hissed in pain as he stood up, “I’m not planning to stay, anyway – just here for the food, you know, ‘cuz you guys have all things awesome.” The tone Michael used was bitter and pained, like he had just been from a heated fight with someone…

“…What happened?”

“…Things happen, Dea, and I chickened out.”

“Hey, I run away from my troubles sometimes. So…want to sit down and talk about it? You could use some first aid too – sorry for that umbrella hit, by the way.”

“Nah, it’s okay. I deserve it, anyway,” Michael shrugged.

Dea had taken the first aid kit and ushered Michael to her room, where she laid out the food he had taken and let him wolf them down as she tended to his wound. Michael had been living with his mother, Maia, ever since he was caught stealing one of Jenny’s golden earrings; for what he did this was still unknown to the Naitt family, for Michael had pouted and refused to answer when Jenny interrogated him. Jenny had despised the thief since that day – no, Jenny had always despised Michael ever since she set eyes on him (Jenny’s extremely possessive). Zach had often visited him and sometimes sending him off to do weird errands around the town because of Michael’s talent in running. Dea had taken a liking to Michael because of his light-hearted and fun personality, and also because Maia was a midwife, something Dea had longed to be.

Michael had always been a carefree child, taking other’s words lightly and living life in his own way, and so it’s very rare to see a distressed Michael. According to him, he had been out of the house since September and was feeling really guilty about not coming back home. He did, however, stay in touch with his mother and was staying at Vincent’s run-down apartment, where Vincent himself was rarely home. Michael hadn’t talked about the reason for his departure but judging from the air around him, it was not a fight. Dea had tried to pry an answer out of him, but Michael would always steer the conversation towards something entirely irrelevant, and thus Dea had stopped trying to poke her head into his problems.

“You should stay her for a while,” Dea offered, “I think I can keep you hidden from Jenny, as long as you don’t wander around during the day –”

“You crazy? That woman has, like, eyes everywhere!” Michael exclaimed.

“She does, but not at the tree house.”

“Ah, the tree house…I had always wanted to go there, but you guys wouldn’t let me.”

“That’s because you were still a kid,” Dea reasoned.

“Well, at least I’ll get to stay in my dream house!” Michael said cheerily.

“Great, but you should stay here until morning. Good thing it’s weekend tomorrow, otherwise I won’t be able to focus during lessons.”

“What time is it –? One o’clock?! Oh, sorry for keeping you awake…” Michael said.

“No problem. Just take the futon in my wardrobe and set it up yourself – I’ll be locking the door so no one would know you’re here.” After Michael had set out his futon and was snoring peacefully, Dea crept back into her bed and pondered about what she was going to say to Erin tomorrow. This is actually more confusing than I thought, thought Dea.

* * *

“Michael’s here, isn’t he?” Erin asked.

Dea nearly jumped out of her seat when Erin suddenly asked that. How did she know? “My room’s just down the hall – I could hear your voices clearly,” Erin answered the unspoken question.

“So there’s no Cornelius,” Dea said.

“…I really need to bring him to you to prove that I’m not lying, right?”

“I find that trusting you is like believing that elephants can fly.”

“People change.”

“No matter how far a donkey travels, it will not come back a horse,” Dea concluded.

“…Then that means I was just showing a deeper side of myself,” Erin said.

“Or maybe you’ve taken drama lessons,” Dea closed the conversation with that, getting up to get ready to move Michael to the tree house. Erin just watched her walk away. She then sighed and shook her head in mild annoyance.

“No matter how far a donkey travels, it will not come back a horse,” Erin echoed, though it was unclear as to whether she was referring to Dea, or to herself.

-rookieMANGAKA

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