Attention, people!

Hello,

This is the 15th chapter of Deus Ex Machina, and this means something big – it’s the end of Part 1 of the story! So, Part 1 tells the story of the kids when they were…well, young, I guess. But Part 2 tells the story of Dea in the city, and later Part 3 will tell the story of the Naitt children in their home town. Lastly, Part 4 will be the big part where they finally get to get rid of Cornelius! Yay! I’m splitting the story into 4 parts because I think it’ll too long if I just put everything together, and Parts 2 and 3 are set in different places and different main character focus, of course. Don’t worry – I know what I’m doing! So wait for Part 2 and enjoy the last chapter of Part 1! Don’t forget the feedback!

Deus Ex Machina

15 – Ave atque vale

The skies were clear and the wind sang softly as the principal made his speech about the students’ future. The graduates were sitting behind the polished podium, some displaying the boredom while some had a permanent smile plastered on their carefully cleaned face. Some looked grim, probably because they’ll be leaving their old life for a new, foreign environment. Or maybe it was about something else. When the principal had finished and instructed the students to stand up and move their hat tails to the right, the audience – a majority were parents and other relatives – stood up, clapped and hooted at the students’ success. After all formalities were done, the audience swarmed up the students, said their blessings, gave flowers and took pictures, some formal and some comical.

One by one the crowd dispersed, going to wherever they wished to go, whether to celebrate or do something else. An expensive car pulled up and a party of noticeable people poured in before the car dashed off towards the mansion on the hill. After everyone was gone, a young lady in graduation garb walked down the lonesome streets, an expensive bouquet in one hand with her scroll tucked neatly among the flowers. She had taken off her graduation hat and tucked it under her arm; she wished she could take off her robe too, but where would she put them? She might as well walk around like a beacon than stroll around awkwardly with excess baggage.

She entered her favourite coffee shop and ordered her usual cappuccino (with extra vanilla and caramel). She went over to her home table, the one that overlooked the streets outside but was private enough to her liking. Once seated, she took out her phone and checked her e-mail. One unread mail. She opened the said mail and read through it carefully.

 

Thank you for your co-operation, Deanna Tamara Naitt.

We have read your request and accepted it. We place
our trust in you, miss; do not tell anyone about this,
or else…You know what will happen, right?

Lastly, may you have a peaceful life in the future.

 

Dea sighed and put her phone on sleep. She placed her heavy head on both her palms and closed her eyes, counting to ten. Solace was not a cheap thing. Her mind was reeling, guilt, anger, sadness and relief mixing up to create a chaotic whirlwind that sent her over the edge. Dea opened her eyes and looked over at her phone which was placed, black screen up, on the table. Upon seeing no answer there, Dea sighed.

Am I doing the right thing?

When the barista called out her order, Dea got up heavily and received her cup with a quiet “Thank you”. The barista knew Dea very well so he realised that there was something wrong with Dea when she spoke quietly, and in an attempt to cheer her up he offered her her favourite chocolate bar for free. Dea took the offering with a wider smile. The barista was more than satisfied.

Dea stayed in the coffee shop until the sky turned dark and the clouds mourned their bright companion. After saying goodbye to the barista, Dea gathered her things and exited the coffee shop, jogging towards Olympia. On the way back, she met Craig and Kirby sheltered underneath the roof of a pharmacy. She stopped her trek and offered the old man a greeting.

“Well, if it isn’t Dea!” Craig beamed, “Congratulations on your success, miss! Where are you heading to?”

“I’m going Atticus Institute of Science; I’ll be leaving in two days, sir,” Dea replied. Her answer should make her feel proud but all she felt was guilt and self-hatred.

“Why, you must be really smart to get accepted there! Not that I thought you wouldn’t be, but that still is impressive! I hope you’ll have a great time there – make lots of friends, study hard and take care of yourself!”

“Thank you sir,” Dea said, smiling. Craig sure knew how to cheer people up. “Well, I’d better get going now. Goodbye, sir. And bye to you too, Kirby.” At the mention of his name, Kirby barked happily and looked up at Dea with starry eyes. Dea felt a pang of loss at how Kirby reminded her of Arty. She remembered the day he died after an incident with a wild boar, how she blamed herself for not being able to get him to safety in time. She still kept a picture of her and Arty in her room and a few pictures were still saved in her phone, and Dea would gaze lovingly at them whenever she felt lonely (which was not that often, considering how Abel gets bored easily).

By the time Dea reached the mansion, she was soaking wet. She shrugged off her graduation garb and handed it to a maid so it could get cleaned. She took a quick shower and then checked her security systems for any abnormalities. Main hall: nothing. Kitchen: nothing. Hallways: nothing. Her room: nothing. Garden: nothing. Then that meant the gunshot was Cornelius’s last interference.

Speaking of which, everyone in the Naitt family seemed to force themselves to be quiet about everything, but Dea knew that everyone was worrying their head off, trying to find a way to get things better without disrupting the peace. Everyone was glad that Hiero was the only who knew nothing about Cornelius and was buying every bit of excuses given to him about weird events; that meant that Hiero would be the only person who was not targeted.

Ace stopped talking to her altogether now. He went as far as to avoid eye contact and simply breathing the same air as her. Though Dea knew that she deserved it, she couldn’t help but feel lonely – maybe this was what it felt for Ace when Dea had ignored her after the river incident. Annette and Michael were still talking to her but no one could miss the growing distance between Dea and the two. The only people who were still on good terms with Dea were Abel, Hiero and Jenny, thought Jenny was as kind as she always was before. In fact, it was as if Jenny didn’t even know about the whole Cornelius thing, as if she hadn’t listened to the children’s explanations. As if Erin hadn’t been in a coma.

Erin was still healing in the hospital, which was why the mansion seemed quieter than it normally was. The lanky doctor said that it would take more than a week for her to get back to normality, but the situation at the moment made people think otherwise. Ace and Jenny visited her daily and sometimes Jenny would stay longer in the hospital with Erin while Ace locks himself up in his room. The others visit Erin too, and even Erin’s friends would be seen hanging around the hospital on some days.

Since none of the security systems were disturbed, Dea logged off of her laptop and decided to go hunting. She still remembered the day of the shooting very clearly – the day she finally used her long-practiced camouflage technique. She made a mental note to stay above ground for the remainder of her hunting trip. With her needed equipments stashed safely beneath her coat, Dea made her way towards the entrance.

“I just hope you’re not going to do what I think you’re about to do.” Dea whipped around to face Abel, who was leaning casually beside the right staircase with his arms crossed. She noticed that he had his hunting gear ready, probably ready to follow Dea if she were to persist.

Dea’s hand was on the door handle, ready to head out. “It’s just going to be a short trip, nothing else,” she said.

“That can also kill you.”

“I have more than my bow.”

“Your homemade electric gun is very grade school.”

Dea scrunched up her nose. “You make it sound so bad.”

“Because it is!”

“Kept me alive, didn’t it?”

“Or kill you by electrocution,” Abel countered, “But the thing is, you can’t go outside at this time, Dea. Whoever is around, they have a shotgun; it can easily blow your head off, literally. A lame electric gun and some flimsy arrows will not be able to save you.”

Dea looked at Abel contemplatively. She lifted her foot to get back inside, but in the last second she wrenched the door open and darted out as quickly as she could. Abel cursed under his breath about her stubbornness before chasing after his twin.

When she had reached her favourite tree, Dea stopped to climb it and made herself comfortable at the top. She could her footsteps approaching and readied herself for another tirade of warnings and threats. At long last Abel was at the bottom of the tree, looking up at Dea with laboured breaths. “I seriously need to get more into shape,” he complained.

“Then join me,” Dea said simply.

“It’s dangerous. That camouflage technique was only luck – the straw was pretty obvious.”

“Well, what if that person knows about how dirty the woods can be? Everyone knows that the locals would sometimes dump their garbage here if the woods at the other end are already full.”

“Deanna.” Abel’s warning made Dea click her jaw shut. The two of them stared at each other, both convincing the other to join a side. “Don’t be stupid, Dea. You are probably the next person beside Erin that knows how dangerous the situation is.”

Dea held her stare for as long as she needed. She needed to go out and vent her emotions out. She had two days before she had to abandon her old life and live on a new slate. There are no woods in the city. There are no wild boars to hunt in the city. There are no Naitt children to play with in the city. Dea shook her head and happily nestled herself on the sturdy branch, looking out for any boars.

Finally giving up, Abel climbed up the tree and sat himself down on the branch on the opposite of Dea’s so he was overlooking the mansion. After minutes of silence, Abel said “You’re really leaving, aren’t you?”

Dea hummed her answer. She drummed her fingers on her bow, thinking.

“Will you visit?” Abel asked.

Dea paused before answering, “I’m not sure. I’ll contact you somehow, though.”

This time Abel hummed his answer. That was reassuring enough.

“Abel?” Dea said. Abel confirmed his attention. “You believe in me, right?”

Abel didn’t hesitate to answer. “I will side with you even if I have to face the whole world, Dea.”

“…You believe in me, right?” Dea repeated. Abel understood what she meant. Hopeless, Abel let out a nervous chuckle before he tiredly said “I just wish the others know.”

“It’s better if they don’t, though.”

“Then again, it might be better if they do.”

“If they don’t see me as a Naitt, they won’t spare a glance to what I’m doing now, would they?”

Abel thought about this for a moment. “True,” he finally said.

“The same goes with the enemy. Since I’ve broken all connections with the Naitts, they won’t pay a mind to what I do in the city. So this is the perfect opportunity for me to get outside sources and other things alike.”

“Okay, but…why did you choose Atticus Institute of Science?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” When Abel stayed silent, Dea continued. “It’s where the Olympus Enterprise’s headquarter is, and where Zach is at the moment.”

Abel stayed quiet for a while until he gasped in understanding. Dea grinned at the thought of her flawless plan. “I’ll back you up, then,” Abel said with steel in his tone.

“Please do,” Dea threw back enthusiastically.

* * *

Ever since the raid in Uncle Pietro’s house, Michael had been wondering about the fate of the couple. The last time he saw them, both were bleeding to death – Pietro was barely awake and Phillipa was not even moving. He just hoped the two were at least found the enemy and killed in mercy, or possibly sent them to a hospital if they were generous enough. However, Michael doubted that.

Michael would often go up to the tree house to have some time alone to think about recent events and other future possibilities. Unless someone does something, Cornelius wouldn’t lay a finger on the Naitts, but that also mean the death of Zach, which would result in the downfall of the Naitts.

The Olympus Enterprise was not called what it’s called now. It’s not a family-inherited business but rather a treasure found from back-breaking sacrifices. Before it was Olympus Enterprise it was simply called Grace Enterprise, named after the first owner’s late daughter. The first Naitts, Ulrich and Gertrude Naitt, were merely employees at Grace Enterprise, but their brilliance was couldn’t be simply unseen. After the first owner died, Ulrich Naitt was the owner’s chosen successor and since then the company changed its name. Ulrich’s son, Cornelius, was similar to his parents; a young prodigy, he was aware of his superiority among other people. But his superiority complex had injected him with inferiority complex too.

Cornelius felt he couldn’t live up to his father’s name no matter how much he worked. He believed that when the time comes for his father to die, he would inherit the company to his most trusted person, someone who is as great as him or even much more. Cornelius worked night and day and in every second to get his father to notice him, but when the time came for his father to choose a successor, he picked his trusted secretary.

Cornelius couldn’t deny that Ulrich’s secretary was as much a genius as Ulrich himself, but he didn’t admit defeat. Once the decision was made, it was over. So he picked the darkest night of the month and murdered the successor in hopes of Ulrich picking him instead. When the news came about the successor’s death, Ulrich was saddened and disappointed. Who would run the company after he dies? Cornelius offered himself, proud for the fact that no one suspected him, proud for the fact that now he was sure there’s no one as brilliant as him.

Ulrich, however, declined Cornelius’s offer. He said Cornelius had too much darkness in him, that he would plunge everything around him in his greed for power. Enraged, Cornelius killed his father the same way he killed the secretary. He made Gertrude swear to secrecy about the murder, because he knew that the last thing Gertrude wanted was lost another family. Cornelius then recreate Ulrich’s will so that his name was crowned a successor, and thus he became the head of Olympus Enterprise.

So the case with Zach was probably similar to that with Ulrich; Cornelius realised how much better his son was than him and he hated that idea. He felt that he deserved the company more than anyone else. He felt that no one could handle that much power except him. He felt that unless he had power, others won’t notice him. A petty excuse, really, but no one could stop Cornelius when he had already set his objectives.

The company’s laws still stated that the one who will succeed the CEO would be the person the CEO himself had chosen, the one deemed the best. When Zach dies, the company will never go to the Naitt’s hands because the choosing of the successor had to be done a year before the CEO decided to retire; the only exception to this law was if the CEO was dying. And if the CEO died before he made a will of succession, the place will be given to the person with the highest status at the time of the CEO’s death. With this law in place, perhaps Cornelius had someone in the company with him, or that he would try to forge a fake will like he did with Ulrich.

What Erin had told Michael about Cornelius suddenly made things clear again, but that does not mean it made things saner. The situation still sounded absurd, what with the unreasonable reasoning and extremity of the actions taken. How did Cornelius survive anyway? He heard that he was not that fit of a man to begin with and certainly not that young at the time of his death.

Michael sighed and rolled to his side so that his back was facing the entrance. He wondered about the fate of everyone now that there was nothing else to do. Maybe if he were to send the e-mail like Dea did he and his mother would be spared, but that would mean treason to the family. Giving up, Michael climbed down and returned to his room to stare at the ceiling.

Three knocks resounded through the room. Michael told whoever it was to enter and then raised an eyebrow when he saw Ace’s head poking out from where he was behind the door. “Jenny told me to make sure you’re doing your homework,” Ace explained.

“Holiday homework can wait, can’t it?” Michael said, rolling his eyes.

“She said to do it early.”

“She’s not my mum.”

“You’re under her roof,” Ace shrugged.

Michael narrowed his eyes. “Why are you on her side?”

“Because she’s my mother,” Ace said like it was the most obvious thing (which it was).

“You’re growing up to fast,” Michael huffed, “Fine, I’ll be on it. You just go and bother someone else. Aren’t you supposed to get ready for leaving?” Michael suddenly asked.

“Did all the preparation yesterday. Now I’m bored.”

“Well, why don’t you go do something productive? Like, I don’t know – help your mum in gardening? Cook dinner? Oh wait – you have maids.” Michael flopped down on his desk chair with a pile of books in front of him. He glared at them with narrowed eyes like a cat eyeing rotten food. “I hate homework,” he growled.

“You don’t say,” Ace said, huffing a laugh. He stayed a while to make sure Michael was starting his work and he left after Michael finally opened his maths book. Not too long after he closed the door, Ace came back. “By the way, have you seen Abel?”

“Saw him go outside with Dea earlier,” Michael answered, “Why?”

“Oh, nothing. I just need to tell him something.” With that, Ace finally left. The redhead then headed to Annette’s room and knocked three times. Annette told him to enter. “I’m back,” Ace said, “Abel’s gone with Dea, and I’ve kept Michael busy with his work, though I doubt he’ll be on it for no more than a second.”

“And I’m guessing they’re in the woods,” Annette said, “Really, what was Dea thinking? Leaving us all for the city, and now she’s trying to kill herself and her twin – I think she’s gone mad!”

“Why should we care? Let her do whatever – eat, sleep, die, do anything and I won’t even respond. She’s broken the promise,” Ace rumbled darkly.

Annette’s laugh was nothing but a short exhale. “I remember Dea saying the same thing when you nearly killed Abel – literally.”

Ace clicked his tongue. “This time’s different. This time people die. She can’t just leave when the fire’s gotten too big! What will she do when everything’s finally burnt down?! Will she regret? Will she mourn? Will she laugh? Or will she ignore? It’s just as if she’s leaving half of her life to have it eaten by the tigers! She may have called me a traitor, but she deserves to be called a villain.”

Annette watched Ace’s every movement, her face grim but unreadable. Ace gulped in a deep breath and uttered about how he should go and help Jenny in gardening…which was weird because they had gardeners.

* * *

Dea spent her first last day in town to visit her friends who were still around. Wendy was the first one, and then it was Lily and Richard. By the time she finished it was nearing five o’clock, enough time to go strolling at the mall, getting fresh air at the park or enjoying a hipster’s life at the coffee shop. She decided for the second choice.

The town’s central park was not an elaborate thing but it was still beautiful in comparison to an elementary school playground, with colourful swings, playhouses and slides, not to mention the see-saws which Dea feared as a child. The trees and grass were a deep lush green that could be compared to a finely carved jade, and the sweet air that would blow from the sea would lift anyone’s spirits up especially in the morning, while at night the wind would be a perfect medium for a cheesy romantic scene. Aside from the playground, there were benches scattered randomly throughout the park and at the very far left from the north entrance there was a small building which housed the men’s and women’s restrooms. If you walk further down the park to its centre, there will be a cosy little fountain with a memorial statue of the first mayor, and there would be where most students would go for a meet-up point. Sometimes food vendors would come by and a flock of children wouldn’t leave them alone unless their parents relent and buy them a treat or two; at that moment, there was an ice cream truck parked not far from the entrance and at least three children would come per second.

Dea had called up Abel to meet her there so they could just talk and do anything (nothing, really) after he had finished his own share of visiting rounds. Dea seated herself on a swing – the only which was not occupied with a child – and idly swing back and forth, growing sleepy with each motion. Dea noticed that the children and parents had gone by the time it was six, so she stopped swinging and just sat there on the swing while her feet shuffled back and forth.

What was taking Abel so long? Dea thought. Visiting a couple of friends shouldn’t be that long; unless he had decided to stay for something…maybe he has a girlfriend?! He never told her! Dea chuckled at the thought of her brother being all lovey-dovey for a pretty brunette, or blonde, or redhead. She decided she couldn’t wait to see how her brother have changed when he had decided to get married.

From the corner of her eyes, Dea could see a man walking up to the swing next to her and sat there with his elbows on his knees and his head hung low. He didn’t look all that intimidating nor did he look friendly – a troubled man, maybe? Everyone would have their ups and downs sometime in their life; Dea remembered her first time she stepped a foot into womanhood, and it was not as she had expected, to be honest.

The man stayed where he was and in the same position for minutes and Dea was starting to feel awkward. Just as Dea hoisted herself up, she heard a deep baritone voice. “You’re leaving in a day, right?”

Dea paused. She didn’t dare herself to look at the man. But the fact that he knew about something as private as this was very unnervingly suspicious. So without thinking, Dea said “I didn’t tell you that in the e-mail.”

The man chuckled, the sound something akin to a sickly cough. “Yes, you didn’t.” A pregnant pause. “I should trust you with your responsibilities in being an unknown once you’ve get out of town, yes?”

Dea nodded stiffly.

“Good. Now rest assured, for I won’t make a move against your people…not yet, anyway.” Dea could hear footsteps fading beside her. By the time she looked to the swing, it was swinging back and forth on its own accord.

Abel came tumbling towards Dea not long after the encounter. “Sorry I’m late,” he panted, “I know this sounds late but there was this old lady begging to help me cross the road, and she was just not cooperating.”

Dea nodded, a smile growing on her face. “I thought you ditched me for some girl.”

“Well, you would never know, would you?” Abel grinned, “Come. Let’s go do something before it gets dark.”

Dea followed after Abel to exit the park. She threw a last glance at the ghostly set of swings, and wondered if the encounter was just her imagination.

* * *

The last day in town was mostly spent ensuring that the sorority in the city had Dea’s room prepared and rechecking things with the university and Dea’s baggage. Abel (and Jenny, since she was their only guardian) helped Dea in the necessities and once they were only down to organising Dea’s room and belongings, Jenny left the twins be. Instead of taking the clean-up seriously, the twins threw objects around and moaned playfully about how cleaning-up is so lame. But by four o’clock they were done, and so they left the house to hang out in the pier, the same place the Naitt children were at on the first day Dea learned about Cornelius.

Since it was nearing summer, the sky felt heavier above their heads and the colours around them looked so vibrant. The sea water reflected the sunlight like a crystal, blinding those who dared approach it. Dea and Abel both bought a bottle of lemonade and sat themselves at the edge of the pier. Though the world was so bright around them, it seemed as if a storm was just on the other side of the horizon.

“You’ve prepared too, right?” Dea said.

Abel nodded, “I won’t be too far from the mansion; the college’s only in the next town.”

“Make friends and study hard, okay?”

“Back to you too, Dea.”

“But I’ll have to put Abel’s suitors to a test before I approve,” Dea sing-songed.

“…You are insufferable.”

Dea chuckled lightly. Just sitting there by the sea, enjoying a cold bottle of lemonade and waiting for the sun to set with her other half, was more satisfying than heaven.

* * *

Dea was studying medicine, especially on neonatology. Abel was learning creative arts, pursuing his dreams in music and stage performance. Ace was planning on joining the army since he always had passion in fighting to protect. Annette was aiming to be a lawyer, and so far it was brilliant. Erin once said she wanted to be in the law enforcement career, or maybe even become a secret agent. Vivianne always talked about how she would definitely be a worldwide actress. Even Brian once said he wanted to open his own small restaurant in town. What about Michael?

His studies were above average but he’s not a genius like his other siblings, and his other specialty besides stealing was running and playing the lyre (but who plays the lyre nowadays?). So…an Olympic runner? No, because if something were to happen to him or his legs then it would be the end. A sports doctor? Could be, but he’ll have to work very hard to get past the entrance exams. For the time being, all Michael could see in his future was him living comfortably with his mother with his job as a postman.

“You look constipated,” Ace bluntly said. Michael and Ace were just hanging around the tree house, snacking on ice cream and other cold beverage.

“Gee, thanks for the compliment,” Michael said sarcastically, “Okay, so I was thinking, you know, about the future and stuff. Not like the future, like, flying cars, but…you know, what I’ll be when I grow up.”

Ace nodded and took a swig from his orange juice. “Not sure on what you want to be?”

Michael simply nodded.

“I had problems too; I only decided to join the army last year after I read the article about Uncle Nathaniel and the success of his men in defending the coast. I thought it was very heroic, and I always had an interest in wars – okay, that sounded rather barbaric. Well, you get what I mean, right?” Michael nodded slowly. “I take that as a no. See,” Ace put down his orange juice and repositioned himself so he was sitting cross-legged instead of lying sprawled on the floor, “just take your interest and match it up to a career, or if there are no careers for your interest, then match it up with your specialties.”

“You make it sound easy because you’re pretty normal,” Michael grumbled.

“What are your interests and talents?”

“Interests: running and music. Talents: running and music, and stealing.”

“It’s not that hard, is it? You can be a musician or an Olympic runner!” Ace said.

“I’ve considered the Olympic runner but that’s out…Musician, I’ve never considered,” Michael mused.

“There you go – you’re welcome, by the way,” Ace laughed, taking another gulp of his orange juice. It was fun talking about normal things, to make your own sanctuary in the middle of a battlefield. Ace wondered if any of them would live to see their future.

* * *

To get to the train station from Olympia, you’ll have to go to the town centre (where the “Fountain of Youth” was) and when you’re at the roundabout, take the exit where you can clearly see Dexter’s Wines and Cheese. Drive forward for three miles and then take a right; drive four five miles then at the first traffic light, take a left. After two miles you’ll see the train station plain as day, since there will be a statue of a steam-powered train and a welcoming green-painted gate behind it which held the sign “Helena Train Station”. Helena Train Station was previously an orphanage built by Helena Gracia, but the orphanage was destroyed during a bombing in the war days. According to records, Helena led all of the orphans to safety and she herself was killed by falling debris after saving the last child. In the memory of her courageous deed, they turned the rundown orphanage into a train station, since one of Helena’s passions was locomotives.

Thinking about the history behind the train station, Dea thought that Helena Gracia was indeed a wonderful woman because even though she knew her own life was in danger, she didn’t hesitate in saving the lives of more than twenty children. But what about Dea? She couldn’t even outwardly express her intentions to those she wanted to protect. She let herself be seen as a coward. She was no hero.

If it was someone to be credited, Dea would admit it would be Erin, despite their hatred towards each other. Dea had overheard Ace when he was lamenting the fact that his little sister pushed him out of harm’s way and put herself in front of a bullet without blinking an eye. If it was Dea, she would’ve screamed her head off.

The channel on the radio in the cab played this month’s hits. The driver was humming along with the song that was playing, and Dea prayed to God that there would be no traffic – she despised cheesy teenage love songs. The digital clock read five past ten – that was ten minutes before Dea’s departure. The train statue came into view and Dea sighed in relief, both from the fact that she was not late and the fact that she didn’t have to be in the presence of ear hazards.

After handing the exact amount of money to the taxi driver, Dea dragged her suitcases inside the building and stopped when the lady in the speakers said “Attention, please. The ten fifteen train to Athna has been delayed. Please check the schedule board or the information centre for further information. Thank you and we apologise for the inconvenience.” Dea blew her bangs out of her face in annoyance and flopped down on a nearby bench. From where she was seated, she could make out the new schedule on the schedule board; the train to Athna will depart at ten thirty. At least Dea had some time to wander around.

Dea had two suitcases with her: the small one which you pull behind you and the old one which looked like a wooden box with clips and a handle; she could travel around easily with only these in hand. Meanwhile, her handbag hung snugly from her left shoulder – it was not a small thing but not a big one either, so it was not much of a concern. After she made sure everything was with her, Dea left the bench to wander around the station.

In the end the bookshop lured her in almost immediately. She spent most of her fifteen minutes browsing through books about midwifery, childhood development and different sports and their respective benefits on the human body and mind. When it was eight minutes left before her departure time, Dea ran over to buy a cinnamon bun and then boarded the train with the pastry in her mouth. She neatly and carefully stuffed her baggage in the overhead compartment and then flopped down on her seat with a content sigh. The ticket inspector checked her ticket with a dutiful frown and then with a gruff voice said “If you want to go out for a while, do so before we have to go.”

Dea thanked the man and then gazed out her window, and what she saw nearly made her jump out of her seat in surprise. Ace was there. He stood on the platform, looking straight at Dea with accusing eyes. That immediately told Dea he was not there for goodbyes. Dea was sure he won’t stop his stalker-ish behaviour unless she talks to him, so with her ticket in her pocket Dea stepped off the train and stood a few feet away from Ace, but close enough to the train entrance in case the train leaves early.

Ace sported casual clothes despite the solemn formal atmosphere surrounding them. Still fixing Dea his death glare, he said “So this is it, yeah?”

Dea couldn’t do anything but nod meekly; she felt young again, feeling guilty like she just had been caught stealing cookies from the jar, and Ace was there to lecture her about stealing and the bad properties of cookies. In this situation, Dea guessed the cookie was her choice and the jar was the town. Ace started speaking again, “Have you even thought twice about it?”

“I’ve thought about it day and night,” Dea admitted.

“And what did you think?”

This was it. If Dea told Ace the truth, the misunderstanding would be cleared – they could work together in this. But having the others knowing would destroy her “Clean Slate” operation; Cornelius will know. With a shaky breath, Dea talked. “I think…I’m scared – no, I’m terrified. And I know you all are, especially you and Jenny. If you ask me, I think Erin is more of a hero than I am. She could face death head on. I could never do that. I’m still young and I have many things to accomplish before my time is up. I know that you all think what I’m doing is out of cowardice; I think I did it out of good choice. Logic, you know.” Dea heaved in again and continued. “You-you can all do this if you want to. All you have to do is send the e-mail and he’ll let you go –”

“And what? Let our little world turn to dust?” Ace sneered.

“…I’ve…lost faith in Zach,” Dea said, “His existence is death for us all. You’re aware of the company’s laws and the situation after Zach’s death, right? Who cares if we’re left penniless? We’ll still live – we can start over again!” Dea dared herself to take a step towards Ace, hands fisted tightly to stop them trembling from fear – from fear of failing herself. “The city has many opportunities for all of us, Ace. There’s hope.”

There was a long, forlorn silence. The conductor hollered about the train’s departure. The train heaved and hummed, ready to go. But all noise sounded distant to the two Naitt children. Dea held her breath. Many beats passed. Ace shook his head.

“You’ve forgotten where you’re from,” Ace said in low voice, “We are the Naitts; we belong here. We will born and die here. Our loyalty is to no one but ourselves, our family. We will never harm or desert one another – we stay together until the end. Even if we all don’t share the same blood and flesh, we will still accept them. That is our promise.”

Dea expected this. Without a word, she boarded the train and sat down slowly at her seat, staring at the empty seat in front of her. The train jolted forwards and started to build up its speed. From the edge of her vision, she could see Ace following the train. Her window was opened, letting the wind’s fingers caress her damp cheeks.

The train began to speed up. Ace followed all the way. “How could you?” he said loudly. The train picked up its pace. “How could you?!” The train sprinted away from the station. Ace was standing at the end of the platform. His torch-like hair blared clearly from the distance. “HOW COULD YOU?!”

Dea didn’t let her head drop into her hands until the station was well out of sight. This was her choice. She had broken the oath and was (though unofficially) not a Naitt anymore. But this was for the good of everyone. She could save Zach this way. She could save the family. She could save herself.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Drying her eyes briskly, Dea answered with a steeled greeting. “You met Ace didn’t you?” the voice said.

“…Why was he there, anyway?” Dea asked.

“Not long after you leave, he followed the taxi; he said he had some things to sort out.” Dea scoffed. They didn’t sort anything out. “So, the plan has officially started?”

Dea looked out her window. The scenery before her was nothing but a panorama of green and blue blur, with the occasional appearances of phone poles. Darkness enveloped her when the train entered a tunnel and she could see herself. Her face looked weary and old, but the gleam in her crystal blue eyes could never be mistaken for any weakness. Her golden hair framed her oval face perfectly. She tried to imagine she was seeing Abel’s face – she cut her reflection’s hair shorter and added more angles and sharpness into her face structure. With determination in her voice, she said “Abel, the operation has started. Execute the first protocol immediately after this call.”

Dea would feel the grin on the other end of the line. “Roger that, missy.”

When the line went dead, Dea stuffed her phone back to her pocket and laced her fingers on her lap. The scenery returned once more, but this time there were other colours doting the vast meadow – blue, yellow, red, pink, and many other colours she could name. Herds of sheep could be lazing around under the warm sky, and a couple of horses raced each other across the plain. Some birds raced with the train against the wind, defying their sense of safety, and right then and there Dea thought that she was like the birds. She had sworn she’ll bear the burden, and she planned on carrying it until Cornelius is truly gone from the face of the universe.

-rookieMANGAKA

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