I’ve decided to focus on one story at a time now, so I’ll be writing Deus Ex Machina until it’s finished – that way my brain can think straight! But I want to write a new Umbra chapter too! Meh, I’ll just have to wait.
Deus Ex Machina
7 – Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas
Michael loved the Naitt children’s tree house no matter how many years had passed since he was nothing but a boy. Aside from Hiero and Brian, he and Erin were one of the youngest Naitt children and were best kept inside rather than roaming around outside with the big ones. The tree house was built on top of an elderly oak a few feet from the backyard gate, where you could overlook the town to the left and see the glimmers of the river at the far right. Zach and Uncle Nathaniel built it a day before the New Year’s Eve ten years ago so that the Naitt children could enjoy New Year’s Eve and Day without the adults. Of course, the adults didn’t forget to build safety fences and set up safety nets for precautions.
Sadly enough, Brian and Michael moved out of Olympia Mansion before they were old enough to go up the tree house. It wasn’t as if they had any other choice; Jenny had been trying to kick them out sooner but Zach was ever present so when Zach had his first year-long trip, Jenny arranged Brian and Michael to live with their respective guardian – well, Brian ended up with a relative, while Michael went to live with his mother.
Brian’s mother died before he was even born. Because of this, Zach had rushed him to the nearest hospital and kept him inside an advanced incubator until he was old enough to get out of it. Brian grew up healthy and normal, and with two birthdays. He was never in good terms with the relative he was living with and he couldn’t run away because he would have nowhere to go, so he escaped pain by drinking from his relative’s alcohol storage and talking to God frequently. In the end, he turned out pretty happy and oblivious to his own hardships.
Michael, on the other hand, was pretty content with living with his mother at the outskirts of the town. Because they were close in age, Brian and Michael had good contact with each other and were often seen around town, whether wreaking havoc or just hanging out like normal kids, though if they were to make troubles it would be mostly Michael’s fault, because Brian’s beliefs would prevent him from doing unpleasant things. However, if it was something alcohol related, then the most obvious suspect would be Brian. It’s not like he drinks all the time – he does when fate’s taking it too far.
As he was humming inside the tree house reminiscing old times, Michael’s thoughts drifted off towards his mother. How is she faring? She’s not overworking herself, is she? Is she eating three healthy meals a day? Michael felt a pang of guilt from his actions, but he couldn’t go back – no, he shouldn’t go back – rather, it must not come back. Someday, when things are once again straight, he’ll take his mother away from the town and to somewhere safe, away from harm. Away from him.
He didn’t notice the footsteps and chatter because he was too preoccupied with thoughts so when a yelp rang through his ears, he sat up abruptly, ready to strike or defend.
It was only Hiero, brown eyes wide in surprise and mouth hanging open in disbelief. “W-what on Earth…” he said distractedly.
“Hiero? What are you doing up there?” a female voice called up.
“Oh my gosh – Erin! Erin, it’s Michael!” Hiero exclaimed, crawling sloppily and enveloping Michael in probably the friendliest bear hug ever. Michael could feel tears of joy in the midst of relieved laughter and questions about his well-being. “Mickey! Oh my – it’s been too long, dude! You look different!” Hiero rambled on, “How’s Maia? What about Brian? Why are you here?”
Erin’s head popped up from the tree house entrance; she lacked reaction (Michael was aware of her hidden knowledge of things, which meant that she had known about Michael’s visit last night), only giving Michael a lopsided smile and a mock salute. “Hey, Michael,” she greeted.
“Hey, Erin,” Michael said, “Hey to you too, Hiero – get off of me! You’re heavy!”
“Oh, sorry – but, dude! It’s like you’ve been missing for years and had just gotten back from a journey to Atlantis!” Hiero said excitedly.
Erin climbed up and sat cross-legged next to Hiero, dark eyes assessing Michael. “I’m just here for a visit, but don’t tell Jenny or else she’ll kill me,” Michael explained. He wasn’t lying; most of it was true anyway.
“Oh? When did you arrive?” Hiero asked.
“Err…last night. Dea opened the door for me and advised me to stay in the tree house during my visit –”
“What’s with your head?” Hiero looked at the adhesive bandage placed over a nasty blackened bruise at his left temple. While Hiero looked on in worry, Erin regarded the wound in boredom. Michael, meanwhile, sighed internally at how nosy Hiero was.
“Got into a fight at school yesterday. The guy accused me of stealing his wallet when he actually left it in the changing room – he didn’t even say sorry,” Michael said smoothly.
“Well, I can’t really blame the guy…” Hiero murmured.
“Heard that. And I agree with you, now you pests should get away unless you’re here with some food.” Upon hearing food, Hiero asked what Michael had in mind for lunch, to which Michael answered, “Hmm…Sandwiches? Anything’s fine, actually. Now, shoo!” Hiero hurried over to the mansion to get some PJ sandwiches for Michael. He was so engrossed in how happy he was to see him that he didn’t notice that a certain person was not with him. “Erin,” Michael said to acknowledge her existence.
“I see that you are aware of the fact that I know what happened exactly,” Erin simply replied.
“…Of course, you room’s just down the corridor.”
“Whadd’ya want, then?”
“You weren’t here the nights before,” Erin pointed out.
“…Well, gee, Sherlock; I just got here last night.”
“We have a regular visitor that has been coming here since October last year.”
Michael looked confused. “What? This guy’s been snooping around the house at night?”
“Yes but no at the same time. You see, this guy breaks into the house when everyone’s sleeping, going through Dea’s window to gain access to the rest of the house –”
“That explains the umbrella, then…” Michael cringed.
“But the weird thing is that this guy has no interest whatsoever on our fortune; it’s like he’s here only to check how the house is.”
“Maybe he’s measuring up on how much he’ll make when he sells the stuff? Dunno – sounds like a nutter ran away from an asylum,” Michael cocked his head in thought.
“But the weirder thing is…I know who this guy is…”
Michael’s eye sparked with curiosity and challenge, his eyebrow lifted to show his interest. “Oh? Do tell me.”
All was silent. Michael’s face went through myriad changes of emotions – surprise, confusion, realisation, anger, fear, sadness. Resentment. Erin watched on, half expecting a more violent reaction.
“…I knew it…” Michael whispered hoarsely, “…I knew it! I knew that man was behind all of this –!”
“Quiet down, Michael! Truth, I didn’t expect you to have anything to do with him. What happened?” The sincerity in Erin’s question sounded foreign, but Michael was too astounded to notice anything.
“Heh…That man should’ve died long before we were born, Erin, that’s what happened –!”
“What happened, Michael?” This time, Erin’s voice was commanding. Michael sighed and pondered on his decision. Tell or not tell? What about lie? Maybe avoid? “Michael Naitt, don’t you even try to lie or avoid the subject.” Well, there’s his answer.
“I can’t tell you much – Hiero’s near,” Michael started. Surely enough, the two heard Hiero’s pounding footsteps getting louder and louder. “Let’s just say that he’s the one that chased me away from my own house…and the one preventing me from going back. It seems that he’s trying to locate Zach or something, judging from the questions he asked Mama when I eavesdropped.”
Erin nodded, soaking the information like a sponge. Cornelius had many connections with powerful people so keeping Zach away from his family by using work should be easy. The reason behind that and the snooping had been yet to be uncovered, and Erin’s only hope of finding that – Dea – had lost trust in her because of misunderstandings. First, she had really accidentally spilled the coffee onto Dea’s vest – she had been very tired and when she had realised the mistake she made, she was too proud to admit her fault. Second, she had found the books under a bench (probably put there by some mischief-maker) and intended to give it to the teacher when Dea came into view and she panicked and ended up dumping the books in the dustbin. Honestly, she didn’t know why she was sniggering when watching Dea’s face as she picked her books up from the bin – maybe the whole situation was truly silly. Because of that, Erin and Dea had gone back to square one, and Erin hated that. Not because she felt foolish and lonely, but because she had lost the chance to collect more information on Cornelius.
Then this was the cue for Erin to revert back to her evil-self once more.
Hiero was climbing up the ladder with a backpack guaranteed to be full of all sorts of snacks and sandwiches. At the last moment, Erin whispered, “Meet me at the backyard later at midnight – don’t forget.” After that, the tree house was once again full of happy memories and laughter.