Apparently, “mourning” does not exist in their vocab.

Hello,

So after reading some bits of my story, I realised the mourning scene was short and stupid. I meant it to be emotional and touching but it ended up sounding cheesy and very business-like in the end. Well, maybe it’s because the funeral’s like three days after the death message. Makes sense, I think. So here’s chapter 12 – enjoy!

Deus Ex Machina

12 – Manibus date lilia plenis

 

Jenny hadn’t said a word about the fact that Michael was staying in Olympia. When she had learned that Michael had been leeching off of her through the tree house, she didn’t seem to care. In fact, she had a room prepared for Michael to stay in and had even contacted Michael’s mother and update her of his well-being. It was also heard that she sent some bodyguards over to her house. That might have proved that Jenny was not cold-hearted after all.

Or not.

Dea’s suspicion radars were detecting something weird from the way Jenny had suddenly become caring – too caring, actually. It seemed like the only ones who picked up the signals were Annette, Ace, Michael and Erin; Hiero and Abel were extremely relieved that Jenny had decided to drop her evil stepmother role. Michael appreciated every drop of kindness Jenny had offered, but his concerns over her motives were untamed. No one had dared to straight on ask Jenny what she had wanted because she had specifically said that Michael was to return home by the time of the graduation, which was just a few days away – that sounded more like Jenny.

Dea had also noticed that Erin was more occupied than before, her prank rate had lowered down to one a day as opposed to the previous three times daily. She still retained her snarky attitude towards Dea (it was true then, that her kindness was a facade) but it was also as if she was avoiding everyone, wanting to be alone and mind her own business than bothering people and being intrusive. Ace had taken a more solemn and hard face. Dea could see just how sharp and sturdy his features had become, something that Dea had concluded to Ace growing out of his kid skin, physically and mentally.

What concerned Dea most was Annette’s sudden request to be left alone. Completely alone. For most of the time. Annette was the type to like the crowd and would do everything to impress them, though she does that with less bravado than Ace; her way of proving herself more competent than the others was to offer help and explain complicated things kindly like a teacher. Another way was for her to be present in prestigious events – or not, like family dinners – and then impress everyone with her outstanding table manners and witty small talks that made Jenny praise her silently. She was, in Dea’s eyes, a perfect lady.

Maybe it’s her stress taking its toll on her. Annette did get accepted into the best university in the country. She had told the others that she got accepted into a prestigious university overseas but she had chosen the one closest to us so that she can spend more time with the Naitt children. Maybe she was worrying about where to live and whether or not to fit a part-time job to go along with her study schedule. But in Dea’s opinion, Annette should talk to someone about this kind of problem, not keep the time bomb in her mouth.

Whatever it was, Dea wished that Annette would get better soon. She had missed her company.

* * *

Michael stared at the ceiling as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. It wasn’t that he disliked the room – who would be stupid enough hate a room with an extremely comfortable bed with a Smart TV perched a few foot in front of it? With the magical TV, he could contact his mother whenever he wants, see her face and hear her voice clearly –

But their conversations will be monitored.

That much he knew. Nowhere was safe with Cornelius roaming around. His gaze drifted towards the TV and he looked at it as if it would jump out and assault him at any minute. With Brian dead, Michael was a thousand times more hesitant than before about telling the others about his current situation. Michael cringed at the memory when he first got the message about Brian’s death; a text message, something that was probably inappropriate for a death announcement, but why would Cornelius care? He panicked and hugged himself, trying to convince his screaming mind that it wasn’t real.

It’s alright. He’s alright. It’s just a spam, a prank – nice try, Brian! You can’t fool me! I’m the trickster and you’re the drunkard, and we all know I am a billion times better at fooling people, sober or not –

Stop that, Brian. I’m scared.

When morning crept in, he heard feathery footsteps and the sound of a light body climbing up the tree house ladder. Though he had his back turned towards the entrance, Michael knew that it was Erin. She crawled in and leaned her back on his, watching the rising sun melancholically. “…I bring bad news, Michael,” she said, testing her words carefully.

Michael remained unmoved. “Yea, I know. Got a message from home last night.” His voice was hard and guarded like a thick layer of ice coating a sickly mammoth. Erin just hummed in acknowledgement. For a while, the two stayed where they were, a mournful silence embracing them knowingly. When the sun had fully emerged from its hiding place, Erin crawled back to the entrance and made to leave.

“His funeral will be held three days from now. That would be the fastest we can do.” When her footsteps had decreased to a lingering illusion, Michael let the tears fall mercilessly.

Brian deserves this luxurious bed more than me, Michael thought as he closed his eyes. At least I didn’t have to spend most of my life living in a mouldy apartment with trolls.

Three firm knocks roused Michael from his troubling thoughts. He called for the visitor to enter, sitting up at the edge of the bed just as Annette stepped into view. “Fancy seeing you here,” Michael said, amused, “Thought you won’t bother to visit. What? Come to lecture me, yea? Or show little Mikey some sympathy?”

“Let’s go for a walk, Michael. We need to talk,” Annette said curtly.

Michael stared at her as if she had just grown a head. He blinked several times and, after finding the idea that he and Annette would be taking a walk together impossible, asked her “Ye ‘kay? Didn’t hit yer head or anythin’?” Michael’s street dialect would always be present when he’s wary or on guard, trying to mask his weakness with his tough street boy image. He had tried to talk normally though, unlike Brian who preferred the street dialect. “Y’look kinda pale, actually. Ye’ve been eatin’?”

“No, Michael, I’m fine. I just need to talk to you. And drop the dialect; it’s getting on my nerves.”

“Ha! Yer alright, then! Ye don’t real’ like me te begin with so whazzup?”

“Easy now, Michael. I’m not planning anything. I just need to talk about some things. Ace and Erin will be with us,” Annette added.

Michael regarded her thoughtfully. “Y’know ‘bout it, don’t ye?” It wasn’t a question. Michael’s voice was taking on its serious edge, shedding off the light and sarcastic tone Michael always used. His dialect only became more apparent by the minute, his anxiety elevating faster than light. Annette sighed in annoyance when there was no chance of having Michael to drop the irksome talk.

“That’s why it needs to be outside –”

“He’s everywhere, Annie. Ye can’t – I can’t – we can’t be safe. No one can. Can’t tell ye much, but even the small bits are lethal as an axe to the head.”

“I understand, that’s why we’re seeing going to probably the only place where it will be safe. Plus, it seems that he’s afraid of a certain person.”

“Who yer talkin’ ‘bout?”

Annette quirked her lips in a quick smirk. “Do you remember Uncle Pietro?”

“Uh, yea? Not sure but I know Uncle Nathaniel. Was he in the New Year’s party when I was still here?”

“No.”

“Oh. Don’t know ‘im, then.”

“Come. We’re making them wait. It’s not too far from here…No, nevermind – it’s pretty far. But a little walk won’t hurt you, right?” Annette teased.

Michael snorted, “I’m in the track team and won that running competition every year!”

Good, now Michael’s dialect is gone, Annette thought.

On their way to the front door, Annette told a maid to inform Jenny that she would be out for a while with Erin, Ace and Michael. The two met Erin and Ace by the gate where Ace gave a short wave and Erin turned to start the journey. Michael and Annette walked behind Ace and Erin, falling into comfortable silence.

For a while, the four stayed like that until Annette asked Michael a question that had been nagging her all this time. “By the way, how did Brian get away with underage drinking?”

“Well, he doesn’t look like a kid to begin with. Second, he uses a fake ID made by some guy in an alleyway. Last is ‘cause things aren’t that strict in the outskirts,” Michael drawled.

“Ah. That explains everything. How about school?”

“Told you – not that strict.”

“Oh, okay.”

“But Brian’s science teacher’s been trying to make him quit completely. I heard he’s been moping about since he heard about his death. We both – me and Brian – think he’s a good guy, a gentleman.” Michael smiled at the memory, about how the teacher would buy the whole class muffins whenever they get “A”s and “B”s on a recent test. He had been his science teacher too, and even when he had a different teacher Michael still went to him for help. Sometimes Brian and Michael and some other students would just spend some time with him just for the sake of it. To the students, he was like a father figure. Especially to Brian.

Annette saw the nostalgia in Michael’s eyes and hummed to show him she was listening. She could see that this teacher was an important person to Michael and Brian. Maybe she should visit their school someday. Or not.

Meanwhile upfront, Ace and Erin were in a quiet chatter about upcoming events and about Cornelius. What is his real motive? Money? Fame? Revenge? Whatever it was, it would affect the whole Naitt family and not just Zach, who would be the target of the murder plan. Strings of worry tugged at the siblings’ sides like fishing hooks, ripping their sides painfully. They hadn’t spent much time with Zach and the already felt miserable – what would happen if they won’t be able to see him at all? Erin hugged herself to protect her shivering body from the cool wind, or maybe she was just trying to stop herself from shivering from fear. Either way, Ace decided not to think about it too much – Erin hated being vulnerable.

“Do you remember Uncle Pietro?” Ace said as a casual talk.

Erin raked her brain for some recognition but all she got was her mother’s words, “Mum said I resemble him.”

“He does, actually. He met you once but that was a long time ago, before you can remember anything.”

“When?” Erin asked, genuinely curious.

“When you were three or four, I can’t remember. That was before he married Aunt Phillipa. Even after the argument with Aunt Dimitri, he was still a great guy – snarky, sarcastic, sneaky, but quiet and introverted.”

“Just like me,” Erin finished off.

“Yeah. Just like you,” Ace echoed fondly.

“Then that means I have inherited all that from Zach, since he’s Uncle Pietro’s brother.”

Ace considered Erin’s words. “You know, you’re actually right. Zach and Uncle Pietro are similar in some ways,” Ace said, sounding amused.

“And I’m pretty sure they got that from Cornelius; Grandma Rae is nothing like that,” Erin said grimly. Ace merely nodded. “The weather is lovely today,” Erin sighed in an attempt to sound relaxed, trying to lead the subject towards a lighter mood, “I was pretty sure it was really chilly just days before.”

Ace took Erin’s cue and lifted his face towards the charming sun. “It’s gotten warmer,” he noted, and then shielded his eyes from the glare. Behind them, Ace could make out Michael and Annette talking about the old days, hearing quiet laughter and catching tones of remembrance. Ace wondered how the storm would mercilessly throw the gleaming glass tower into a pit of pikes.

* * *

Dea knew there was something going on with Annette, but she didn’t know it involved Erin. She was on her way towards Michael’s room to invite him for a spar – or maybe a race, something Michael would prefer the most. She was about to knock on his room door when he heard a conversation inside. The voices were Michael’s and Annette’s.

“…I just need to talk about some things. Ace and Erin will be with us,” said Annette’s voice, calm and collected but with a pinch of annoyance in it. It was obviously because of Michael’s street dialect. Dea knew that Michael would only use that dialect as a defence mechanism, so that meant he was feeling threatened in Annette’s presence. Or was it because it involved Ace and Erin? Either way, Michael was panicking.

There was a moment of silence, creating a tense atmosphere which seeped through the gap beneath the door to outside. Dea mentally shivered at the thickness of the tension. Then Michael spoke, voice low and attentive but still retaining the dialect. “Y’know ‘bout it, don’t ye?”

The “it” Michael spoke of, Dea guessed, was Brian’s murder. Why would Annette want to talk about Brian’s death –

Then Dea remembered that it involved Erin. So that meant the number of people who were aware of Cornelius’s existence had increased.  Dea was not sure how Annette or Ace found out but Erin being, well, Erin, she would’ve told them ever since the day Dea ended the partnership. It would be rational for them to have Michael on their side because his community was the most involved at the moment with Cornelius’s scheme. Dea was stuck in a mixture of pure suspicion and awe at Erin’s quick-moving plan.

Shuffling was heard from the other side and Dea realised that they had finished talking. She sprinted down the corridor and hid behind a wall, listening to their disappearing footsteps. From afar, she heard the main door open and close with its weary creak and slam. Walking down the corridor, Dea conjured up a plan to follow the group to wherever their destination was –

“What are you doing, Dea?”

Dea yelped and swished around to meet her not-so-exact-anymore copy, Abel. “One day or the next, you’ll be the death of me,” Dea gasped.

“Uh, well, you look like you really need to go somewhere. Toilet?” Abel asked.

“What? Ah – no, it’s not that. It’s more like…” Dea was at a loss on how to explain her failed attempt at being secretive.

Abel looked at her for a moment, assessing her normal state. “Well, if you’re okay then that’s fine.” The two fell into an awkward silence. When Dea was about to excuse herself, Abel said, “Do you know about Grandfather Cornelius?”

Dea nearly jerked her shoulder in surprise but stopped her body from doing so in the last second. “…Yeah, Ace told me about the story once,” Dea answered, hoping that her voice sounded neutral.

“Yeah, so…um…d-do you…um…” Abel was scratching his head trying to conjure a proper sentence. “Do you think that…he’s still alive?”

At this, Dea couldn’t hide her bewilderment. Abel knows?!

“I know it sounds weird but…Come, I’ll show you something.” Abel beckoned Dea to follow him towards the far end of the mansion. Throughout the trip, Abel looked nervous and unsure, maybe because he wasn’t sure on whether or not it was a good thing to tell anyone about this. In fact, he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to know it. But Dea’s his twin, his other half, and he can never ever lie or keep things from her, no matter how bad or embarrassing it may be.

Dea, meanwhile, was feeling fidgety and on guard. What’s Abel trying to show me? Is it something about Cornelius? Who am I kidding, of course it is! Her head was sent in a whirlwind of worry, her mind throwing more worrisome thoughts every second. Her heart thudded like a bass drum in a parade, loud and distracting. She felt a knot forming in the pits of her stomach, making her rethink about going to the toilet right there and then.

When the twins stopped, they were in an all too familiar place. “Zach’s study,” Dea breathed out shakily.

Abel summoned a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. His hand lingered on the polished brass doorknob, his eyes resting on his distorted reflection on it. He then turned to Dea with frightened eyes and said “Zach’s going to die.”

-rookieMANGAKA

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