Posts Tagged With: Story

Remembrance Day

Hello,

As many of you know, today is Remembrance Day or, if you’re living in the US, Veteran’s Day – it’s still the same thing, right? You know, with the poppies and a short silence to remember the fallen soldiers. I also found out that today is also Pocky Day…I’m not sure why Pocky decided to match up its celebration day with Remembrance Day but, well, it’s up to them, I guess.

This morning, the school had to line up for longer because we had this poppy ceremony where the teachers and important students (Head Girl and Boy) made speeches – or were they reciting a poem? – and then the important people who were invited stick poppies (fake, of course) onto the ground (again, not real) below a large poppy. Then, there was this familiar trumpet tune that was always played on 11/11 – since Mr. Phil has left the school, the played the song on some kind of music player, so it wasn’t played life. Well, it seemed like it wasn’t played life.

So I made this really short story for Remembrance Day. I always thought wars as something glorious yet horrible at the same time…mostly horrible, but when you win then it’s glorious. Weird, right? When a gruesome deed is deemed heroic just because you have proven yourself to be more powerful than the other side? I think war is basically mass murder under the disguise of “better future project”. Why would anyone do it in the first place? I know, you need to expand to find natural resources so you can survive, and yadda-yadda-yadda…But it’s not necessary to barge into other people’s houses, beat the owners to a pulp, turn the whole house upside-down, steal their food and other belongings, declare their house as you second home and say that what you did was perfectly justified. You just committed trespassing, technically beat the living daylights out of some innocent people, destroyed their home, steal their resources, conquer the place and tell the media that the whole violence was perfectly justified. And if you still don’t get why people hate it when you just appear out of the blue in your country to declare a missile party, then why don’t you host it at your own country? Or maybe some other place that, let’s say, don’t have that many population? I think you all know what I’m talking about.

Bottom line is: war is stupid. Hands down.

Moving on from the rant, here is the short story I prepared for our honourable brave soldiers. It may not be directly relevant to war but, well, it’s relevant in some ways. Enjoy!

 

The King is a Pawn

He’d had enough. All this time he had been pull by the strings by shadows behind the bushes. All this time he had been dancing obliviously while the audience laughed behind his back. All this time he had been riding on the wrong bus to get home for years straight, still not knowing why he hadn’t reached his destination yet. But the driver knew; the audience knew; the shadows knew. He was a puppet – merely a pawn amongst a coalition of kings. He didn’t want this humiliation, and he vowed to change his fate.

So he met up with That Woman. She was sitting down on a plain, single bed in a plain white room, situated at the top most floor of an apartment building, located somewhere near the outskirts of the city. Aside from the bed, there was a pasty blue dinner table with matching chairs – no cushions – and a little coffee table at the corner, at the foot of the bed, where an old TV sat. The kitchenette was located near the front door and in a few feet in front of the dinner table, while next to the kitchenette was the protruding section of the room that housed the bathroom. The place housed no decoration – it was kept trim and austere, just like her.

She didn’t seem to acknowledge him when he had entered the room, even though she was the one who had offered him assistance. He had been standing awkwardly by a dining chair, watching her stare at the wall in front of her. The wall was plain, just like her glassy eyes, just like her whole being. The silence in the confined space was unusual to him; everywhere he went (before all of this happened) was followed by noise – dreadful noise or amicable noise, or just noise. After what seemed like an eon, she inclined her head to him and smiled slightly.

“Good morning, Mr. Woodhink,” she greeted him in a soft yet curt voice. “Please have a seat, if you’d like.”

He nodded stiffly and sat himself upon the chair he had been standing next to. “It was very pleasant of you to offer me this very much needed assistance, Miss Mentir,” he said courteously. “If it weren’t for you, I would not be able to talk, yet along breath, at this very moment.”

“Yes, I have realised what a situation you are in, Mr. Woodhink,” she said in a serious tone, though her mannerisms made it seem as if she said it absentmindedly. She hadn’t made an eye contact yet. Her spin was stiff and rigid under her opaque black suit. She had her hands folded primly on her laps, and her chin was brought up so it was as if she was peering down. Domineering. He fought the urge to clench his fist at her attitude. “Not to be rude or anything, but I’d like to keep this meeting short and straight; I’ll tell you as much details about what you need to do as possible, and then you’ll have to do this as quickly and as soon as you can. No questions, Mr. Woodhink, for my ways are absolutely justified and effective.”

Woodhink clicked his jaws shut once Mentir stated this. He felt the cold sweat pouring down his whole body, drowning him in an ocean of fear and anticipation. “Please, do tell me what it is I need to do,” was all he said before Mentir took the lead.

“I believe your main problem is Mr. Verita Nascosta, correct? If he exists, he is a threat, but if he doesn’t then you wouldn’t need to worry. Simple, right?”

Realisation dawned upon Woodhink’s face. He was about to object to the absurdity and impossibility of the idea, but Mentir cut him to it. “I am not quite done yet, Mr. Woodhink. Although the notion may seem ridiculous, albeit impossibly easy and dangerous, to you, I can assure you that it is the right thing to do. Think about it – freedom, no strings attached! How do you think that will feel like? When was the last time you have looked at yourself in the mirror and be satisfied with what you see?”

Woodhink gulped in all of her words like fresh air. Whenever he saw his reflection, he felt bile rise up his throat. Cuts, bruises, scars – all because of that man. And for what? Service of the country? All he ever did was kill fearful nameless in foreign lands whilst being forced to watch his comrades melt into dirt one by one. And all he got for the trauma was a golden chip with vibrant ribbons attached to it, as well as fleeting praises, and fortune. Oh, the fortune – so pleasurable, yet so ephemeral. It left him with nothing but a transient feeling of joy, and an everlasting emptiness. Meaningless, his life had been. Woodhink lifted his head from his bowed position to finally look at Mentir squarely.

Foggy glass-like eyes, revealing everything but nothing, locked onto his desperate orbs. You cannot tell her age or her experience from her appearance, but her eyes would reveal everything to you. She smiled that patronizing smile once again, and continued. “You see? It will be simple – no fingerprints, no attachments…”

* * *

The gun felt lighter after I had used it. Verita Nascosta’s body was concealed within a potato sack, which had fresh bullet wounds on them. I would love to see his face, to hear more of his agony, but that would risk many things. I looked at my trembling hands, and I dropped the gun. The callused surface of my palm and fingertips looked more pronounced, as if someone had traced them over with a very bold marker. I brought up my shaking hand in front of me, marvelling at the power trapped within it. I smiled, and laughed – I am my own man, a powerful being in his own right! I clenched my hand into a fist and brought it against the nearest wall – no one can control me anymore! The pain that shot up my arm and crawled up my spine was nothing like what I’ve felt before; it felt so fresh, sharp, and real – this hand can do many things, and I, myself, will be the one to control it! I didn’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life. My head felt so light, I was sure I was flying.

The body was no moving. I briskly paced over to it and gave it a hard strike with my foot. My foot! The same foot that had stepped upon strange lands upon a lunatic’s orders! The same foot that had clobbered the same lunatic that had made me miserable! Free – free at last! The power is mine! I don’t think I can get enough of it!

I was still panting after I was done with my share of kicks. Clicking footsteps were approaching, growing louder as Mentir drew nearer. I turned around to greet her with a grin, and she returned it back with her own secluded smile. “You really are something, Mr. Woodhink – a soldier, indeed,” Mentir commented, eyes glinting with amusement.

“Soldier?” I scoffed. “I am a man! Soldier is a term for those clueless drones that would willingly serve this dolt!” I emphasised the last word with a kick to Verita Nascosta’s head. I cackled as the sack turned over so that its back was facing me. “Well, now that’s settled,” I said. “I think I have a vacation to see to–”

“However, Mr. Woodhink,” Mentir interrupted, blocking my way with her arm. “In order to be properly free, you are required to execute some more tasks.”

I frowned. This was not what she had offered. “What do you mean, Mentir?”

She smiled. Her glassy eyes were focused at Verita Nascosta’s back, at the visible bloodstains on the sack. “Did you know that Verita Nascosta had many alliances with other powerful men? These men I am talking about, according to my information, are willing to continue his ruling even after he has perished. Don’t you think it’s a problem for you, that Verita Nascosta has planned to continue his reign of terror?” Mentir sighed and clicked her tongue. “Such a fickle man, he is. Doing good for the country whilst making dire sacrifices? Are his truths really belieavable? Such a joke…”

Verita Nascosta had men? I did not know that…I was not free yet. In fact, I don’t think I can be free, so long as these men exist. I looked at my trembling hands. The hands that hold so much power. I can do this – for my freedom, for everyone’s freedom.

“For freedom,” I breathed. “Anything for freedom. If I have to kill twelve men, then so be it – so long as it’s for freedom.”

Mentir nodded and stepped aside. Her smile seemed to be more permanent and brighter than before. “And I lay all my trust in you, Mr. Woodhink,” she said. That was the last I saw of her before I received another set of tasks from my earpiece. I didn’t know what she was doing down there with Verita Nascosta’s corpse and though I was curious I didn’t look back. The future was all I see – a future of freedom and self righteousness; a future where there will be no bloodshed or public fallacy. True freedom, it was my future. As I neared the exit, I heard Mentir’s laugh for the first time, low and jubilant.

-rookieMANGAKA

Categories: Journal, Short Stories, Story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

365 Days – a story full of loose nuts

Hello,

I am still working on Deus Ex Machina Part 2 chapter 3 (let’s just say it’s chapter 18) but alongside it, I’ve also got a new idea for a story. The prologue for the story was written the day before my finals started and I’ve posted it two days ago on my FictionPress account. But, I also want you guys to read it, so I’ve decided to post it today. I’m currently working on Deus Ex Machina and this story – called 365 Days – and I plan to keep working on it even in the holidays. Maybe I can convince my brother to let me borrow his laptop so I can work on my stories. I have copies of my stories in my memory stick so I can just work on it in any laptop, but I like my brother’s laptop because it’s the one I’m most familiar with.

For this story, I’ve decided to not use the caption button thing because it doesn’t show the italics, and the italics in this story is really important. That aside, enjoy the prologue for 365 Days!

–CHAPTER START–

365 Days

Prologue

He knows it’s not right, but it felt good. The feeling of finally able to let everything fall off his shoulders, the way the throbbing in his head dissipate like a drop of black ink in water, the relieving sight of stark white blooming in his vision. He had thought that will be the end of everything, but the sight of the familiar landscape roused his insecurity once more, and fear crept up his spine tauntingly.

The sky was a forlorn shade of deep blue and the only thing visible was the hauntingly beautiful full moon that overlooked the barren wasteland. The inky black ground stretched endlessly as he walked on autopilot towards a luminous gangly white tree by a small pond. His ears rang uncomfortably from the silence, and he just wished it would stop as soon as he reached the pond. When it didn’t, he knew that what he did was a mistake.

Cheating is bad, they said. That’s why games don’t provide you with a list of cheat codes to make your game play easier to complete, because that’s just not the point of playing a game. You were supposed to love the challenge, to feel the thrill of danger and to express your awe at every surprise you find in every corner. Cheating is bad, because then you’ll miss all things beautiful when all you care about is winning the game, when really there’s nothing to win. Just the End.

The ringing seemed to grow louder as he neared the pond. The looming naked tree beckoned him closer, commanding him with its eerie prowess. He stopped just a step from the water’s edge. He looked at the nearly transparent pond, the water as murky as everything around him – save for the solemn moon that hung tirelessly above everything and the aged white tree across from him. White, the colour of purity, among the colour of corruption – what was it doing there? Like a guide for the lost souls, or possibly just a ghostly reminder of everything he had lost.

He lowered himself to the ground and peered into the dark water. He could see her; the one who had brought him salvation. His savior, cloaked in worn grey cloak with just her thin chapped lips and her pointy chin poking out of the shadow that was her face, laid still in the water, but he could feel her gaze upon him.

Satisfied, not?

He couldn’t find his voice. He didn’t have an answer.

Not what you wanted? Or is this better than your “home”?

He lifted his head and looked about him. Nothingness. It enveloped him. Suffocating him. When he looked back at the water, the lady saw his uncertainty.

This is what you wished for, what you prayed for. I gave you what you wanted – are you not satisfied?

He opened his mouth and closed it again repeatedly, like a man out of breath. He collected himself, and with a voice lower than a whisper said “This is not what I want.”

It isn’t, is it? You said you didn’t want a life full of suffering; this is the world you want. There’s nothing here – no sadness, no anger. No happiness, either.

He shook his head. “I don’t want this,” he found himself saying, “All I want is to disappear. To feel nothing.”

Ah, but you see, there is no such thing as nothing. You can’t feel nothing, nor can you see it, hear it or taste it. Nothing does not exist because there is always something. Nothing is just an illusion made by the fallen, made by the hopeless – a false salvation created out of desperation, out of madness. When you imagine nothing, you see black – that is not nothing, because that is black. And white is not nothing either. So you see, there is no such thing as nothing.

“Then…what is this place?” he asked.

This is Nonexistence. In your “home”, you are declared nonexistent; as long as you are here, you do not exist.

He held on to that for a while and then thought aloud, “If this is Nonexistence, then where are all the ghosts and aliens? The cryptids, the legends, the myths?”

They do not belong here, because they all exist, therefore they live in Existence. Every living thing lives in Existence – that is the first world you need to live in if you were to simply exist.

“So where is this ‘Existence’?” he pondered.

Through this pond. All you have to do is dive in and you’ll be in Existence. But why would you ask? Did you not want Nonexistence?

“I thought I’ll be going to the afterlife,” he admitted.

Foolish thoughts. To go to the afterlife, you’ll have to have God’s approval. Suicide will not grant you approval, and thus you’ll live here until what’s left of your soul vanishes into thin air.

“And how long will that take?”

It varies; sometimes hours, sometimes longer than millennia. If you do not want to waste the next hours or millennia waiting for the time for your soul to die off, you should go to Existence.

“Then I shall do that. I already don’t like this place,” he said.

But to crossover to Existence, your existence must be verified. Someone would have to realise that you exist and not merely a story from a drunkard’s mouth. See that tree in front of you? When that tree loses its glow, that means you are not supposed to be in Nonexistence and that you should crossover to Existence. Unfortunately for you, you still have time to spend in Nonexistence.

Just as she finished her sentence, the glowing tree emitted a high-pitched ringing noise, its shine stuttering until it slowly faded to black, just like everything else, save for the moon.

Well, aren’t you lucky! First you get to have your petty wish granted, and now you’ve gained yourself a believer. Hop in, then, before that believer loses their faith in you.

The lady vanished from the lake, leaving him with a reflection of himself and the moon. She said to just dive right in, but he remembered that he had not learnt how to swim in his life ever. He dipped a bony finger into the darkness and felt the icy coldness of it. But he didn’t feel it at the same time. Taking his chances, he grasped at the ledge and moved closer towards the pond’s surface until this nose was almost touching the surface but not quite. He closed his eyes and slowly, he lowered his face down until his head was engulfed in the water.

What he met on the other side was white. Once he got his eyes adjusted to the sudden change in surroundings, he found that there were also grey hologram-like objects, living and not, moving and not. A grey woman was sitting on a grey chair, just a member of an entire row of the same looking chair. A grey man was sitting next to her, and then he realised that the two people and the row of chairs were in a corridor, and on their right was a grey metal double door with rectangular translucent glass on each door, and a glowing grey symbol was perched dully just above the metal double door. There was no more ringing in the white place but it was replaced by a comfortable buzzing of life.

He realised that he was just a head poking out of the ground. Gingerly, he lifted the rest of his body out of the pool of liquid and then sat himself down by the woman’s feet. There was no pond or any sign of any liquid on the ground once he toes were exposed to the white realm.

He stood up and surveyed the walking people he could see from the end of the corridor, most wearing a long coat or some kind of plain uniform and carrying a clipboard or any other kind of equipment. He was tempted to go out and explore, but the set of doors did a better job of luring him in. Something about those doors attracted him towards it, maybe the sense of longing it hid from behind them, or maybe the sense of…regret it was emitting. Hesitantly, he reached out for the door, but he found his arm going right through it instead.

“So I’m a ghost now, huh?” he said to himself. Gaining confidence, he walks right through the door and was met with an unpleasant sight. And what was meant by unpleasant was a mixture of sad, regretful and relief.

He could see himself, fixed up to many tubes and wires which led to various machines that flashed their beady eyes, indicating that indeed he still exists. Many people with jellyfish-like hair and covered faces worked on the machines and did various tests on his body, just to make sure he was well and recovering. He could see the glow of their happiness, their satisfaction in saving a stranger’s life, something that he would certainly never feel. The people were still busy doing their check-ups when a gust blew behind him, signaling her return.

You do realise that because of you, you have cost many people time.

He nodded. “I can see that. However, I can’t feel the things I am supposed to feel.”

Then what can you feel?

“All the feelings I can feel is regarding myself, but sometimes – like right now – I can’t seem to feel anything. I don’t even feel the dread and what other feelings I should feel when I look at my own battered body, lying helplessly just a foot away from me.”

That is because you haven’t lived in all of the worlds you need to live in, yet.

“Worlds?” he asked, “What do you mean?”

In order to live the life you had, your soul needs to live in seven different worlds at the same time. The first is Existence, a world that things live in just to be recognised. The second is Realm of Space and Time; once you’re there, you need to obey the laws of space and time –

As if on cue, the white room froze and he was transported to a hall, so vast and spacious, with rows of desks and chairs housing many grey people. Hundreds – no, thousands – no, there were billions of these grey people as well as the desks and chairs. People of all ages were writing, and writing and writing and writing, writing all sorts of things onto their books, which seemed to have an infinite amount of pages. The people lifted their heads up at the same time for a few seconds before they resume to their writing, and this pattern continued on forever. He turned around and saw a gigantic blackboard, a blackboard so big that even when he craned his neck he couldn’t really see the top. The gigantic blackboard also stretched out to the sides, and at that moment he realised that these billions of people were copying all of the writings and formulae that were written upon the massive blackboard. The laws of Space and Time, he concluded.

All of these people are obeying the laws of space and time. They will only stop writing when their time is up, when they don’t need to obey them anymore. As you can see, some people write slowly and less than some; this is because some people tend to be more knowledgeable than others. However, once you’ve signed the agreement here –

He was teleported to a desk with a motionless man. The man – which was him – had his hand poised to write on the cover of the book, where there was a line below the words “I thereby agree to live by the laws of time and space. Here signed:”

– you are automatically a servant under the laws. All you have to do from this point onwards is learn.

“Learn?” he echoed.

Learn, my boy. Knowledge. But Knowledge is the fifth world that you have to live in, so by living in the second world you are also living in the fifth. But by living in Knowledge does not make you live in Emotions and Feelings, because that realm – the sixth realm – is not connected to Knowledge. Now then, will you sign this?

He looked at the book. It looked like a normal book; a stack of papers sandwiched between two covers and kept upright with a spine. But he needed to sign this in order to continue, right? So he might as well do. “I agree, then,” he said, and then the motionless arm of his other self moved his fingers rigidly and wrote on the line across the page, in neat handwriting with black ink pen, his name: Joseph Paine.

Within the blink of an eye, he was transported back to the white realm. The jellyfish people were still going over the machines and his unmoving but breathing body. Then, a man among them, a middle-aged man with glasses, removed his mask to move his mouth and nodded at the door. The others looked at one another before nodding, something that served as a signal for the glasses man to exit the room.

He followed the man outside and saw the previous woman and man listen with rapt attention to whatever the glasses man had to say. It seemed that whatever it was, it made the woman ten times happier, but it didn’t stop the waterfall that were her eyes to stop flowing. The man closed his eyes and uttered something before flopping down wearily at a nearby chair. The glasses man talked some more before he returned to the room, now instructing a few of his crew to do some preparations of some sort.

The third world is this one you are currently seeing – the Third Dimension, the Physical World. In order to fully enjoy the gifts of life, it is fully recommended to live in the Third Dimension. Some spirits, like the jinns, cannot live in the Third Dimension, but even so we can still feel their presence; this is what leads to the stories about ghosts and what not. Some special people get to see the living things that do not live in the Third Dimension, but because this power is not so common among people many had dismissed these gifted ones as madmen. Maybe I’ll consider giving you the ability to communicate with those outside the Third Dimension.

“Why would you do that?”

Something about you draws me in, child. Now quit wasting time – you will live in the Third Dimension, and you shall be grateful for my help once more. However, my good deeds never come cheap.

“What do you mean?” He was starting to feel like this was not a good idea in the first place. Of course, why would he listen to a cloaked stranger in the first place? Oh wait, he’s never rational to begin with, anyway.

I’ve decided to make your resurrection…amusing, to say the least. I guess I’ll make you earn your living with labour; you’ll have to serve me in order to live in the other worlds. I’ve let you live in three worlds now – the part I said about the fifth world, consider it a bonus from me, since you’ll need all the knowledge you have. Once you are in the third world, you will have to obey my commands in order to be fully human again.

He didn’t think it was a bad idea – a quest would make his life all the more lively, not bleak like the previous one. Unhesitant, he said “Fine by me, madam. I shall start as soon as I am reborn, then.”

A grin blooms ominously across the woman’s grim face.

Very well. I pray you good luck, Joseph.

–CHAPTER END–

-rookieMANGAKA

Categories: Series, Story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Posting this from school!

Hello,

This is the last day of proper school so not much is going on except for revision and do-whatever-you-want sessions. We’re also watching “Romeo+Juliet” in English, you know, the one by Baz Luhrmann with Leonardo DiCaprio. The only reason I’m in school is because I get to see DiCaprio being such a lovestruck sweetheart in the film – I mean, he is so beautiful! And yes, Juliet (played by Claire Danes) is beautiful too, so I guess that’s the only reason I’ve not laid a finger on her.

That aside, this is chapter 2 of Part 2! Enjoy!

Deus Ex Machina: Part II

17 – Aurora musis amica

Atticus Institute of Science’s main building looks like God had just dumped a large glass cube into the middle of nowhere. Whoever is in charge of the institute managed to remodel the land around it make it look more welcoming, like adding cypress trees, flower bushes and memorial statues. Other buildings, aside from the dormitories, are scattered around to form a circle so as to make navigation around the university ground easier; there are five buses and go back and forth from dorms and study buildings, and you can tell its destination by the colour of the bus, because different departments have different colours.

The dormitories for the fraternities and sororities are built to look like a comfy villa complete with a multiuse playground – it has two basketball baskets and drawn-on-wall goalposts – and a swimming pool which is only open in mid spring and summer, because by autumn and winter the weather will be too cold.

For the sorority and fraternities, they have three housing building. Inside a building, there are twelve rooms, each with their own bathroom. Six of the rooms have two bunk beds while the other six has twin beds – that means a dorm can house thirty-six students. The buildings are placed so they face the playground and swimming pool, which is situated in the middle of the three buildings. Sometimes, a building will not be used because not all students decide to stay in a dorm, so they will turn that building as a kind of party house. However, the dorm ground itself is famous for its ghost stories, so students will sometimes enter the deserted building and search for any paranormal activities.

On her first day at the sorority dorm A, Dea nearly got lost when she was searching for the meal hall – luckily she found it before breakfast session is done. There are six long tables and benches that can hold six girls per table and on the left hand side there is a rectangular hole in the wall where it houses the tray line server, and behind that you can see the chefs working on more food. Dea takes her healthy breakfast which consists of coleslaw with chicken fillet bits and orange juice. Seeing that the only empty table is the one at the corner, she makes her way past crowded benches and towards the lonely bench.

“Dea! Over here!” a familiar voice calls out. Dea turns around and spots Kalista sitting at a table with the dorm head and other students, who seem to not care about the duo. Dea walks over to the table and settles down at the empty space Kalista was patting. “Here’s Sleeping Beauty!” Kalista beams, “You look really tired yesterday so I let you be – sorry about that.”

“No, I think I’ll thank you because I feel well-rested now,” Dea replies.

“Oh, and I’m sure you know Helen,” Kalista gestures to the dorm head – Helen now – who gives a small wave and a placid smile. “I found that she’s actually really cool, and I’m sure you’ll like her and vice versa.”

“Hi, Helen,” Dea greets.

“I never thought I’ll ever see a Naitt,” Helen muses.

Dea gives a light laugh, “I honestly didn’t know the Naitts are so well-known here.” Beside them, the students who were previously uninterested are murmuring, throwing glances towards Dea once in a while. “But I guess the Pastors are respectable people, too – that peace treaty with the Troys went well, despite the things that happened.”

Helen shrugs. “But even though the declaration of piece had been signed, there’s still tension between us Pastors and the Troys. I guess it’ll take more time than I thought for us to completely bury the hatchet.”

Dea nods in agreement. Helen is a pleasant young lady to be with, lovely inside and out. She keeps her bronze curls in a high ponytail and her long bang is clipped to the left to let her glass-coloured eyes view the world calculatingly. Something about her makes Dea glow in respect, and though it doesn’t show Dea has the same effect to Helen. While Dea’s grace comes from her strong-headedness and leadership qualities, Helen’s aura was more lady-like and like the moonlight upon a pond.

The trio spends their breakfast until the last minute before they have to board their respective buses. Helen is learning law so she goes to the navy blue bus; Dea’s medicine department bus is the pastel green one and Kalista’s psychology department bus is the fuchsia one. Dea’s bus is packed with a close-to equal ratio for boys to girls. Spotting an empty seat at the very end, Dea squeezes her way through the cramped space and flops down on the seat when she finally has her foot in front of it. Unknown to her, there’s a girl seated at the far right of the back seat and she’s looking at Dea curiously. Dea notices her presence and smiles in greeting.

“I didn’t think I’ll see you here,” the girl says.

Dea laughs internally and says “And I forgot that you actually go here.”

The girl nods. “Actually, I doubt you’ll even remember me. Even Mum doesn’t communicate with me that much anymore. What’s been going on at home, anyway?”

Dea doesn’t say anything. How can she say this to her without causing a scene? Tell her in private. “There’s a lot to tell you, but I can’t tell you here. Meet me at the canteen tomorrow in lunch, okay. Or I’ll find you myself instead,” Dea says in a low voice.

The girl looks at her with dark slits – as dark as her mother’s. “Alright,” she says, “I’ll see you then, Deanna.” The bus halts to a stop and the girl stands up to leave. “By the way, what are you studying?”

Dea stands up and follows her. “Birthing and babies,” Dea simply says.

The girl laughs. “Decided to follow me?”

“Part of the reason. But I’ve always wanted to have a career with the babies.”

The two walk towards the medicine building whilst talking about the old times and catch up on what’s been happening. Dea makes sure she’s not mentioning about the whole Cornelius thing and so she only tells about the fun bits – it’s more like filtering sandy water; Dea can feel the filter paper getting heavier and heavier as more sand gets piled up and now there’s only a thin sliver of clear water that’s flowing through the wall of sand. Since Dea has to go to the introductory assembly before starting her first lecture, Dea bids farewell to the girl with a hug. “Good to see you again, Lucia,” Dea says.

“Send my regards to the others when you call home, okay?” Lucia says, “The last time I saw you guys, you were so young, especially Erin, Michael, Hiero and Brian. And I want to know how Mum and Ace are doing, too.” Lucia lets go and smiles. “I’ll see you soon, Dea.”

Dea watches Lucia’s retreating figure before she enters the auditorium, shoulders hunched from the burden of carrying ten albatrosses.

* * *

Even though all she did was sit through an hour-long(ish) speech, Dea feels so battered and worn, and the first thing she did when she arrives in her first class is to drop her head on her table like an anchor. The head of the medicine department was a meaty man with a balding head, but his otherwise comical appearance was sharpened with his jet black suit and permanent frown and angry wrinkles. His booming voice had snapped Dea out of her dream-like trances every now and then, and she had to suppress a dozen of yawn so that she won’t make a bad impression on herself and her family. The head then introduced the other professors one by one and each one would deliver their own version of we-wish-you-a-good-year speech. Though they were informative, it was deathly boring.

So before the professor comes, Dea plans on taking a short nap so she can be alert when her lesson starts. Dea wonders if Kalista is going through the same exhaustion, but Dea knows Helen isn’t because it’s her final year before she gets get bachelor’s degree, and their speeches are usually before the graduation (according to Lucia). A body seats itself on Dea’s right, and then another filled the space on her left. It seems like the two are conversing across her head and though they were whispering, she can clearly hear them despite her weary state.

“That assembly was so boring,” the one on the left says.

“Yeah! But I didn’t dare to yawn ‘cause the head looks so scary!” the left one says.

“Hell yeah, he did! And straight after that we have this – why can’t they put a five minute break or something?”

“But this day’s schedule’s only temporary; tomorrow will be according to the normal schedule, you know, the one we’re given.”

“Ugh! University life’s so hard! But, at least the people are nicer…”

“…Is she sleeping?” the right one whispers.

“She’s the Naitt, right?” the left one muses, “Should we ask her about it? I’m kinda dying to know –”

“Why are you being so inconsiderate?!” the right one hisses, “Think about her – she must be traumatised! And why would you care, anyway? Everyone should just give the Naitts a break for once!”

Dea feels thankful to the one on the right. Dea has never thought that strangers can care and all that, and now this unknown boy is defending her family’s privacy – such a gentleman. Dea lifts her head and feigns tiredness, looking lazily at the boys on either of her sides. The boy on her left is someone she has never seen before – she’s not interested. She turns to her right and she swore her heart nearly leap out of her throat. The boy is none other than Oscar.

“Holy – Oscar?!” Dea squeaks indignantly.

Oscar smiles sheepishly and gives his usual small wave, “Hi, Dea. I didn’t know you’ll be here.”

“And I didn’t know either!” Dea exclaims.

“Actually, I told you about AIS a little while ago, you know, during Careers Week?”

Dea blushes. “Oh, then I must’ve forgotten.” Or wasn’t listening, Dea cringes inwardly.

“That’s alright, but I thought you were going to the university in the next city. What changed?”

“Oh, well, I thought this is actually better,” Dea laughs nervously, “Jenny’s been complaining about how I waste such a good opportunity, so I thought about it and eyah, I think AIS is better. Obviously.”

Oscar smiles; Dea thinks she’s in heaven. “Well, I guess we’ll spend the rest of our years together, then.” Dea thinks “together” is such a strong word, and the thought of spending time with Oscar through difficulties would be wonderful, and she can act like his best friend so she can know more about him than she already does.

Oscar is not that drop-dead gorgeous type but his appearance is not that shabby either; in fact, Dea had almost dismissed him entirely the first time she met him. But something about him made Dea take a second look. They were lab partners in middle school, and the two would make small talks to get along through the school years. Then, they go to the same high school and they decided that they good companies for each other. When Dea shared her passion in hunting the boars, Oscar would sometimes tag along with her to hunt, much to Abel’s disapproval. Dea had thought of him as a loyal friend, but a basketball game celebration was what it took to change everything.

It was in the middle of her first year in high school, just after the basketball’s victory against the visitors. Oscar and Dea were celebrating by sharing a bucket of caramel popcorns whilst watching a cheesy romance film – they loved to watch those kind of films and then make fun of them, only to have them admit that it wasn’t so bad after all. They were at the cinema and since it was a school day, not much people were around, except for some adults and elders. When the film finished, just as the two were getting out of the cinema, a mugger jumped out of the blue and screamed shakily at the two of them to hand over their wallets, gripping his knife with a white-knuckled grip. Dea couldn’t really remember most of it, but she did remember the moment she charged forward at the man in an attempt to seize him – all the blame on the tomfoolery of youth, really. She heard Oscar call her name and then there was a lot of tumbling and disorientation and when Dea finally came to, Oscar got a hold of the knife with shaking hands, a black eye and a cut on his right cheek.

It looked as if he had just won a death match but he assured Dea that after Oscar beat the mugger up, he ran away without a glace, completely forgetting his knife. Dea felt so guilty, so foolish, so selfish to just put her friend’s life in danger because of her recklessness. But all Oscar said was:

“I don’t know what I’ll do without you, Dea.”

Okay, so there might be a chance that Dea had looked at that line too deep, however no one cannot possibly look at a man who had just wrestled an armed man for you without awe and gratitude, and these feelings slowly turned into some kind of attachment. Dea couldn’t stop thinking about how Oscar was so fierce yet so gentle, and as time passes she started to think about the little things he does that made her giddy. In conclusion, she fell in love.

If it was when Deanna Naitt was only a little girl, tomboyish and hot-headed, she would stubbornly say that she will never fall for a Prince Charming because that would prove her weak. The current Deanna Naitt thinks that it’s not so bad of a feeling.

Her flashback is cut short when a voice says “Umm, guys? Can you, uh, stop staring at each other? It’s kinda awkward…”

Dea blinks and snaps her head around to look towards the professor’s desk, flushing furiously. From the corner of her eye, she can see Oscar rubbing the nape of his neck, a gesture which means he’s nervous or embarrassed. The boy on Dea’s left smirks in amusement.  “So,” he starts, “you must be Deanna Naitt.”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah. Hello – uh, pleasure to meet you,” Dea says distractedly.

“Pleasure’s mine,” the boy says, “I’ve heard so much about you from Oscar –”

“Eric!” Oscar gasps.

“What? It’s true!” the boy – Eric – laughs, “You know, he just keeps on talking about how Deanna Naitt is so –”

“Awesome!” Oscar interjects, “Really, really awesome. You know, remember that time when you shot the boar right between the eyes? That was awesome. Awesome, you know what I mean?”

“Umm…I think I do,” Dea says slowly, trying to summon the said event. She can’t remember such a thing.

“Anyway,” Oscar rambles on, “we really need to get settled down because the professor can come any minute now – oh! Speak of the devil! We need to be quiet now. Especially you, Eric. Shut up.”

Eric throws his hand up in surrender and then snickers about how “smooth” Oscar was. Dea follows Oscar’s suggestion and readies herself for the lesson. She still can’t figure out why she can’t remember the event Oscar was talking about.

* * *

“I hate assemblies,” Kalista whines to her pillow, beating the mattress with her legs in a mock tantrum fashion. On her desk, Dea is going through what classes she has to attend tomorrow and their whereabouts, highlighting a map of the university and the rooms in the buildings she needs to be in. She is also organising what books to bring and for which lessons, and at what amount of time she will spend reading each books after lectures. Dea swivels around to face Kalista and says “At least we’re going to have a welcome party for dinner – I bet you’re definitely coming.”

Kalista jolts up. “Hell yeah, I am!” she beams.

“Good, now do something productive before it’s six,” Dea says, going back to her schedules, books and maps.

Kalista frowns. “Since when are you so organised?”

“Since forever,” was Dea’s simple answer.

“Yeah, but not even Helen’s that organised,” Kalista points out.

“We’re raised differently, I guess,” Dea mumbles.

Kalista considers that for a moment. Dea is from Myca, and Mycan’s are perfectionists – God, why didn’t she think of that?! Spears is a strict city too, with militarism being their main focus (according to recent studies, most of the country’s military consists of Spearsans). Helen is very good in athletics but since she’s the daughter of a very rich man, she gets to learn about lady-hood and the like, thus hiding her ferocity behind a silk veil. Meanwhile, Athna focuses more on law and order, knowledge above all, with the best thinkers and political figures produced in Athna; they said that while Spears is the country’s guts, Athna is the brain.

But what’s Myca, if not nothing but a fairytale city? If Kalista was to put it in her own words, she’s say Myca is the heart of the country because of the town’s ability to conjure up many emotions from tourists and locals.

“You’re going right?” Kalista asks.

“Of course, why not?” Dea says.

“I don’t think you have a reason not to,” Kalista says, “And you’re going to be the highlight of the event; everyone’s going to crowd over you and bombard you with questions, I bet.”

“A day here and it’s still absurd how famous the Naitts are,” Dea huffs, rolling her eyes.

Kalista shrugs, “Can’t help it, I guess. I’m just going to take a shower. When will you take yours?”

“I took one before you came; now I can just pick something to wear for the party and go without a fuss.”

Kalista sniffs and mutters about how a shower won’t entertain her. When Dea hears the shower running and Kalista’s humming, she takes out her phone and dials Abel. “Okay, I did not know Oscar’s in AIS,” she says as soon as Abel’s voice is heard.

“…He is?” Abel says, sounding guarded, “Then stay safe, Dea.”

“I don’t get why you hate him so much, Abel, it’s not like he kicked your puppy.”

“I don’t have a puppy.”

“It was an expression.”

“Whatever,” Abel huffs, “I just…I smell something weird about him.”

“Even in middle school?”

“Even then.”

“What has he ever done to you, anyway?”

“Nothing,” Abel answers.

“Then why on Earth do you hate him?!” Dea says exasperatedly.

“Just instincts, okay?” Abel snaps, “Now moving on, nothing’s been going on here. Erin’s health is improving but she’s still bedridden, and Ace goes in and out the house a lot. Annette is keeping Hiero oblivious but she’s also working on the case with her knowledge about law and stuff. Aside from studies, I’ve been doing nothing but check on the security systems and –” A loud beep is heard in the background. Abel sighs and excuses himself. Dea can make out a conversation somewhere not too far away and then there’s some sobbing and cursing and the sound of hurried footsteps. Just where in the world is Abel working at? It’s minutes later before Abel’s back on the phone. “Sorry, I’m actually in break in my part-time work and they need me to replace a co-worker – she has an emergency call or something – something about a baby.”

“Okay. Be careful,” Dea says.

“Relax, it’s just a cafe – worst thing that can happen is a couple break-up fight,” Abel jokes, “Be careful yourself, Dea.”

“I met Lucia – she sends her regards.”

“Lucia? Oh, I haven’t heard from her in a long while! I’ll get the message through, then.”

“Please do. Bye, Abel.”

“Be safe.” Abel hangs up.

Dea puts her phone on sleep and then taps it on her chin, thinking. Cornelius’s lack of moves leans more towards disconcerting than to relieving. His next move will be unpredictable like it always have been, or maybe Cornelius is currently focusing on pushing Zach to his edge of insanity – so that means there’s a possibility that Cornelius is in Athna or that he has accomplices that are stationed here. Chances are that he has minions, but Dea guesses that she’ll never know who’s who.

The shower turns off and there’s some shuffling. The echoing padding of wet feet gets louder until the bathroom door opens. Kalista is dressed in a comfortable lilac blouse and a pair of jeans that borders from indigo to navy blue. “I’m proven wrong – the shower was relaxing,” Kalista says, “You should get ready now; it’s almost six.”

Dea agrees and hauls herself from her seat. She goes over to her drawer and picks a sky blue frilly dress and a light knitted cardigan. She gets changed in the bathroom and when she goes out, Kalista expresses her awe. “If there are boys in the party, you are so going to get –”

“Let’s go, Kalista,” Dea says, dismissing Kalista’s remark.

“No, really,” Kalista says, following Dea out the door, “It’s either Helen or you, and I heard that even if the boys here are study freaks, they’re actually really good at –”

Dea hooks Kalista’s head under her arm and gives her a noogie. Kalista, despite her declaration of surrender, still brings the topic up for the sake of pulling Dea’s tail, much to Dea’s fond annoyance.

-rookieMANGAKA

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Like, what?

Hello,

So I was bored and whilst reading some random blog post, I found this website called I Write Like. Basically, it’s this website that lest you paste a sample of your writing and then it matches your style of writing to a famous author. In boredom – why else would I do it? – I decided to check this website out for myself and paste Deus Ex Machina chapter 15 to the paste box. The results were…well…surprising, if not impossible and unbelievable.

I write like
Dan Brown

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Truth: I thought it was bull. I don’t think my writing is as brilliant as “The Da Vinci Code” or “Angels and Demons”. So I did the thing again but this time with another story: “Somewhere Only We Know”. That’s right, the web machine gets to read it earlier than you! When I entered the story, it told me this:

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Don’t get me wrong; I love Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I didn’t really get what it meant, but I guess it depends on what kind of story I’m writing, because I tend to change my style and techniques depending on the subject and plot. Or sometimes it’s just based on what mood I’m in – when I’m too absorbed in the story, I tend to forget some details and when I’m fresh and thoughtful, I feel like adding more metaphors and imagery to my writing. And when under pressure, like in tests, I just write whatever crap comes to mind. However, through whatever haze, I guess there is similarities in my writing.

But I’m don’t really trust the results though, I mean, I did some background researches on the website and stuff (see what I do once I get hooked on a subject?) and I found out that besides from the fact that the website is quite new, the accuracy of the machine still needs improving and it only has 50 different authors and a few samples of their books in its database. I’m guessing that the creator only put really famous authors and not the beginners or not that well-known – no offence, by the way.

I do want to someday be on par with these awesome writers so my current aim – aside from getting to a good university, get my MD and then learn neurology – is to improve my writing skills so that I will be confident in truly publishing my stories (like what everyone told me to do) and proudly walk around town saying “Hi, I’m rookieMANGAKA!”. But first, I’ll need to check and edit my works, or possibly get someone to do that for me because really, I don’t trust my own judgement.

Well, anyway, see you next time!

-rookieMANGAKA

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Meet Kalista, your average girl

Hello,

And here is the first chapter of Part 2 of Deus Ex Machina! I’ll be going to this Japanese restaurant to celebrate my sister’s and my brother’s birthday – my sister’s is on 23rd and my brother’s on 24th, so Happy Belated Birthday, sis and bro! I think I’ll be gone for the rest of the day because my sister wants me to go shopping with her today, but at least I get to do something before I go. Aside from this chapter, I’ve also written “Somewhere Only We Know” songfic that will be posted hopefully today or someday. This chapter is kind of short (like the first chapter of the first part) and new characters will be introduced in later chapters but in this one, the main character will still be Dea, and a new face called Kalista Rivers (plus a minor character, Helen Pastor). Enjoy this chapter and I’ll see you later!

Deus Ex Machina: Part II

1 – In hunc effectum

In the small town of Myca, nothing ever happens, except for the coming and going of new and old faces. The people there are quiet and polite, but when provoked they won’t hesitate in protecting their properties and pride. The education in Myca was very good if not outstanding; by the recent years, the best undergraduates in Atticus Institute of Science were from Myca. Local games and festivals were often held with such splendor that could rival the fireworks in America on the fourth of July, because really, the people of Myca were not simple people. “The more the better” they would always say, and “Only the best is favourable”.

Aside from the extravagant behaviour, the lads and lasses in Myca were of the best breed. According to a tourist, “If you were to make all the girls in Myca enter the Miss Universe beauty pageant, they would all win, but you can never really choose one who is the most beautiful, appearance, personality and talent wise”. The men in Myca were like princes from fairy tales: charming, handsome, knowledgeable and such gentlemen. Basically, Myca was the land of fantasies in the eyes of foreigners.

But the people of Myca thought differently. You see, because of their perfectionist nature, they get easily stressed. Whenever tourists visit, they would work hard to impress them without realising that they are already perfect, and sometimes their plans would backfire. Although this doesn’t apply to every person, this was a majority. And this condition does not only affect their work performance.

You know those stereotype images of different cultures that would often be used to define certain people? If Myca was to have a stereotype image, it would be close to the Asians. Mycan parents would often stress their desire to make their children the best of the best – this would make the children feel inferior, thus inducing stress, insecurity and emotional imbalance. When a Mycan is being compared to someone else, Mycan or not, they would often feel worthless and would try to do anything that would make people see their worth. On the other side, Mycans would feel very proud if they were to be praised and would often gloat about it. Again, this does not apply to all Mycans; the exceptions in Myca would often include Mycans that were raised outside Myca, half Mycan children and immigrants.

So if foreigners think Myca was a paradise, what do Mycans think about the outside world? Is it to their standards, or is it even better? Can they blend in with the crowd? Do everyone understand them?

Kalista Rivers had met some Mycans before. In fact, her aunt is a Mycan, which meant that her cousins are half Mycans. Whenever she ask her aunt about Myca, her aunt would say “Oh, it’s like living in the sewers of Hell!” She had always thought she was exaggerating, but she would often get the same answer whenever she ask other Mycans. Maybe they just hate the pressure – Kalista was sure that she would snap if her parents would always remind her to study every second of the day. But Kalista is also intrigued by the fact that the tourists find Myca an astounding heaven.

Having born and bred in the city, Kalista never know what it feels like to be raised up in a seaside town where things were simple (well, maybe simpler than city life) and the people know each other very well. Do Mycans help each other when one is down? Or do they see them as unfit and jeer at their weakness? Her aunt was a beautiful woman in and out, so she guesses that Mycans are like Hobbits minus the simplicity and horrendous appetite. But Kalista had taught herself not to picture people who stereotype images.

Ever since she was little, Kalista is always fascinated about different cultures of many societies (way of life, especially) and other foreign things including history, geography and psychology. Psychology is her main focus; people from different places act differently, and she can also link their “normal” behaviours to their upbringing, which then leads back to history, geography and culture. With that in mind, she applied for Atticus Institute of Science in hopes of learning psychology and geography. She has to admit that getting in was not easy and she just barely made it, so her main goal for the remainder of her university years would be to get the best grades in her class.

Atticus Institute of Science has a sorority and a fraternity, their buildings on the east and west of the main campus respectively. She was, and still is, impressed by how high class everything is in the sorority building. She considers herself lucky to even set a foot on the campus grounds. After checking in with the receptionist, dumping her baggage in her room and then getting a tour around with the dorm head – Helen Pastor, daughter of Tyler Pastor, the owner of Pastor Industries – she finally has some time to just get a breath of fresh air. Athna had always been her home, but being in Atticus makes it seem like she’s in another realm.

Deciding that lying around would not be good for her, Kalista decides to store her clothes in the drawer under her bed (she had claimed the one next to the window) and organised her items on her desk. Helen had told her that she’ll be sharing a room with a student from Myca, but she didn’t really mention the name. So to make a good first impression, Kalista sorts her things out as neat as possible – Mycans always want the best.

It’s getting dark and her roommate hasn’t arrived yet. Kalista was just entertaining herself on her laptop, reading downloaded books by her favourite philosopher, Parslow. Part of her is dying to meet her roommate but, thought this may sound so rude, a part of her don’t care that much; she had shared rooms with her sister all her life so there is really nothing to worry about. But this is a stranger we’re talking about! And what’s taking her so long, anyway? Myca is not that far away from Athna – just a four hour train ride as opposed to two train rides that adds up to twelve hour if you were to live is Spears (but that’s only because the land between Athna and Spears are naturally dangerous). Kalista huffs and shuts her laptop down, deciding to get ready for bed.

Her room door opens without a warning a girl walks in with two suitcases – one of them with wheels while the other looks like it belonged to her grandfather. She has strikingly golden waves (as opposed to Kalista’s ginger-bordering-blonde bad reason of hair) and piercing blue eyes. Even with just a maroon hoodie, a pair of jeans and beaten sneakers, she looks so royal, making her old school clothes look like limited designer items. The girl dumps her baggage at the foot of her bed and looks at Kalista. “You must be Kalista Rivers,” she says.

Kalista nods. She leaps out of her bed and extends her hand. “Yeah, I’m Kalista – don’t know why I’m called that but I guess my parents were drunk at the time,” Kalista says lightly, giving her roommate a sloppy grin. The girl chuckles politely and shakes her hand. “So, what’s your name, then?”

The girl takes her hand away and shoves it inside her jeans pockets. “Deanna Naitt,” she says, “but you can call me Dea.”

Kalista’s eyes widens comically. “Oh my gosh – you’re a Naitt?!”

Dea raises an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with that?”

Kalista shakes her head. “No! Nothing! It’s just…Have you realised how famous your family is?”

“Uh…no, not really. I do know that my father’s headquarter is in Athna.”

“You don’t – Dude, the Naitts were a legend here!” Kalista exclaims, “Especially Ulrich and Gertrude Naitt. Man, your people are just awesome!”

“Why, thanks…I guess,” Dea says, smiling meekly.

“It’s a compliment!”

“And…what else do you know about us?”

“Well I know about the first Naitt shooting and the second one,” Kalista rambles, “You know, the first one was the death of Ulrich by an unknown assassin and the second one was the death of Cornelius, also by an unknown assassin. Everyone thought that the murders were related but they soon dropped the case when it just leads them to nowhere. But the conspiracy circles on until today – they say the next one who will die is Zach.” Kalista don’t miss the way Dea’s eye twitches at her last remark. “Oh, sorry about that. It must have a great impact on you.”

Dea shakes her head, either to repel the bad memories or to deny Kalista’s assumption. “No, it’s okay. I don’t really know much about the shooting, anyway. My father and his wife keep everything from us. Even my uncles and aunts and my grandparents won’t tell us a thing.” Kalista presumes that Dea’s father’s wife must be Dea’s stepmother, Jennifer Naitt. “That aside I hope the coming years here will be good for the two of us,” Dea says with a contagious smile.

“Yeah, me too,” Kalista grinned.

* * *

Kalista finds out that Dea is going to study neonatology after she finishes her overall medicine studies. Dea also likes animals even though she hunts the boars that live in the woods near her home, and she used to be a vegetarian until recently. She has a twin brother called Abel that goes to art school and many other half-siblings. The twins and their siblings get along very well, but something in Dea’s drooping eyes and melancholic tone makes Kalista suspect something else. As with Dea and her stepmother, Dea says that although they hate each other, there would be times when they would abandon their hatred and try to cope with each other’s annoyance.

Dea explains that her lateness was because of her train’s fifteen minutes delay and some confusion that happened at the station that involved a lost child, a panicking mother and a stressed out father. Since it was involving a child, Dea couldn’t resist the urge to help the family. The child turned out to have been left alone to wait at Helena Train Station in Myca after his parents told him to wait there while they get some souvenirs.

By the time they finish talking, Kalista is weary and retreats to bed before Dea, who enters the bathroom to do God knows what. Kalista turns off the table lamp and engulfs the room in comfortable darkness. Dea closes the door gently and when she is sure Kalista is asleep, she takes out her phone and presses the speed dial. The other line picks up after three seconds.

“Abel here,” the receiver says.

“How’s back home?” Dea says.

“Not much happening, except Ace got home looking like a train ran over him.”

“I wish I can just explain to him,” Dea sighs, raking her face with her hand.

“That aside, how are you?”

Dea leans back on the door and says “My roommate’s really fun and helpful. Did you know that the Naitts are really famous in Athna?”

“I had no idea,” Abel chuckled.

“Well, we are, mostly because of Ulrich and Gertrude, the first assassination and the second one. Apparently, the murderer was unknown and soon the authorities dropped the case because it was fruitless; conspiracies and faux legends circle around the Naitt family and the company, like how every person that will inherit the place as CEO will be destined to die sooner or later, or that the Naitts were cursed to die if they have too much power, or that the company or the Naitts deal with the mafia or any other dangerous people.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised of the later one, but really? A curse? That’s, like, going back to the fifteen-hundreds,” Abel scoffs.

“True. And since we’re famous for the killings here, it means there will be more chances for me to get enough information needed. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to find someone who knows about the Naitt case really well.”

Abel hums at the thought. “There is a big chance…Speaking of which, tell me when you get to see Zach, or not, since he’s really busy and all.”

“Yeah, I will,” Dea says, “Goodnight, Abel.”

“Goodnight, Dea.” Abel hangs up almost immediately. Dea closes her phone and flushes the unused toilet before exiting the bathroom and snuggles between her blanket and “hugging pillow”.

Athna is a big city with many people, some mysterious while some as open as the Mycans. Kalista is an example of a happy girl who was raised in a happy normal family; her parents have been married since forever and since she was an only child, she gets to have their full attention and love. Oh, how Dea felt the searing hot fire of jealousy and hate in the depths of her soul! Sometimes Dea just feels that life is never fair – how some people can live happily while some are left out of Eden is beyond her. Thinking over the years, the Earth is not so bad of a place, but not as good as heaven.

From what she has heard, Kalista knows some people who have focused their attention to the case and has some connections in the city too. Maybe she can ask Kalista about these people and then she’ll hopefully start the investigation someday this week. For the time being, Dea feels so worn out and didn’t resist the pull of sleep when the hands of the night invite her to her dreams.

-rookieMANGAKA

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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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Actually, I have an idea

Hello,

Okay, so here’s chapter 14. i did promise to post it earlier but the internet was no cooperating and exams are coming up – I’m Asian. Enough said. I have a plan for Deus Ex Machina, actually, and I have actually fallen in love with the story even though I have never written this kind of story before. It’s fun to write the suspense scenes and make up mysteries, and I hope you like to read them too. So anyway, there will be an announcement post along with chapter 15 next. I can’t really promise when it will be posted but keep in check! Enjoy!

Deus Ex Machina

14 – Aut viam inveniam aut faciam

 

Jenny felt like she was dreaming – or was she? There was no breeze at this time of the day and that made her head reel in the escalating heat; she should’ve stayed inside.

Deanna would never talk to her out of her own will, let alone look at her properly in the eyes. Their hate was mutual, but even despite their horrible thoughts on one another both of them would at least act civil. As civil as they can be, at least.

Dea overshadowed her novel, and it looked like she had no plans on moving. Jenny placed her clip-on bookmark on the top side of the left page, closed the book gently and placed it on the empty seat beside her. It felt like the sun was going to trace back its steps and sleep in the east. Even the trees were still. “Deanna,” she greeted curtly.

“Jennifer,” Dea returned.

“What did I do to deserve your rare visit?”

Dea looked troubled for once. This must be serious. “It’s about my university option.”

“Oh? And what about it?”

“I want to change it to my first option.”

Jenny quirked an eyebrow – so very Erin-like, Dea thought. “Do you hate me that much that you would move to the far end of the world? What about the others?”

“I make my own choices, Jenny. I think the first one will benefit me more,” Dea said shortly, “Anyways, make sure the others know; I don’t want them to dub me a traitor.”

Jenny nodded slowly. “Make sure you eat your meals, though, and clean your bed before leaving.”

“What are you? My mum?” Dea snapped, but it sounded playful. Jenny’s mouth twitched upwards briefly in a ghost of a smile. As said before – as civil as they could.

The Mario tune broke them out of their reverie – Jenny’s phone. Sometimes Dea thought Jenny had some sense of humour in her; she is, after all, related to Erin. Jenny snatched her phone out of her dress pocket and looked at the caller ID. “Annette. She usually texts me,” Jenny murmured. She pressed the call icon and brought her phone to her left ear. “Hello?” A sudden burst of gibber made Jenny recoil and distance her delicate ear from the hazard. She turned on the speaker option instead to safe herself. “Annette – hey, talk slowly. I don’t understand you.”

Annette’s voice was laced with phone static, but it didn’t hide the fear in her voice. “Jenny, it’s…it’s Erin – she’s – oh God – it’s really bad –!”

“Erin? What happened?” Now Jenny was, metaphorically and literally, on the edge of her seat. Dea, too, felt uneasy.

“She…” Dea and Jenny grew anxious at the sob. Alright, this was no prank. “She’s hurt – badly. She was shot.”

Jenny was on her feet in an instant. “What?! You – Erin – wait, what?! How – how did that –?” Jenny was baffled. Dea’s face drained in colour. Cornelius.

“It’s a long story…please, just come. We’re at the town hospital, the one near the mansion. Ace and Michael are here, too…And Erin’s in the ICU.” A deathly pause. “…They said she may not make it.”

Jenny wasted no second. She marched towards the garden gate leading to the outside, Dea at her heels. Jenny wrenched the gate open and slammed it close before Dea had a chance to slip through. “What the –”

“Too many people, Deanna,” Jenny explained, fixing her a steady gaze. “I’ll see her and sort this out.”

“But you don’t understand –”

“She’s my daughter, Deanna. You don’t understand,” Jenny snarled, but it sounded desperate.

“No, I mean, I…I know what happened,” Dea said in a low voice.

Jenny’s eyes narrow. “What on Earth are you talking about?”

Dea didn’t check her surroundings – she just blurted out her thoughts then and there. Jenny needed to know. “It’s Cornelius! He’s still alive and he’s planning to kill us all – no, his true plan was to kill Zach, and we’re just a lure and –”

“I’ll – I’ll deal with you later, Deanna. Take care of your other siblings for now,” Jenny cut in. Dea could still protest, but the look of urgency on Jenny’s face was genuine. Erin is her daughter. Dea nodded in understanding, Jenny returning the nod before leaving in a hurry. She could hear Jenny’s barks of demands to the gardener to get the car ready with or without the chauffeur, whichever was quicker. With a task on her mind, Dea went back inside the house.

Since the day Abel showed her the documents, Dea had been feeling more on edge than she had ever since she knew about Cornelius. Dea had dashed out of the study, ignoring Abel’s calls. Her mind was reeling with thoughts about Zach, about her family, about herself. She knew it was selfish but she had to get out of the town, the country if needed. She just hoped all will go well.

* * *

Jenny’s summer sandals made soft hurried footsteps as she approached the ICU, hands moulded into white-knuckled fists. Before she rounded the corner, the three children heard her approaching and straightened themselves for a hurricane. Sure enough, Ace dealt the first blow. Jenny backhanded her son with not enough yet very powerful slap across his wretched face. The other merely watched on the sidelines.

“Where did you take her?” Jenny asked, her voice frighteningly calm.

Ace’s eyes were trained on the ground, never meeting his mother’s. Though if it was in shame or fright, only he knew. “We visited someone near the outskirts of the town –”

“Who is this someone?”

“…Uncle Pietro.”

“Ha! That man brings trouble!” Jenny spat spitefully, “And what is your purpose?”

“…I can’t tell you.” Ace’s blood tuned down a few degrees when he saw his mother going still and blank. “No, really Mum, I can’t tell you –”

“Cornelius, isn’t it?”

Ace’s eyes widen to the size of dinner plates. Annette’s fingers twitched noticeably. Michael let out a garbled gasp, body going rigid. Jenny narrowed her eyes, nodding. “Dea was right, then. Sounded impossible but she just proved me wrong. Tell me, then – how did this start?”

Ace heaved a heavy sigh. “A letter was sent from Uncle Pietro not long ago to meet him at the place we were going. There, he told me all about Cornelius’s plans – his plot against the whole Naitt family, especially Zach. He told me to not let anything go in or out of the house that may be Cornelius related, but we were too late. On the other hand, Erin said she was the first to know out of all of us; I don’t know how, but as soon as she found out, she told Dea about it.”

Jenny clicked her tongue at the mention of Dea’s name. “So that’s where she got it from…Continue, then.”

“At first, Dea and Erin were working together on making sure the place was safe, but Dea lost her trust in Erin and discontinued the investigation. When Erin found out about my knowledge, she asked me to join her. Later on, Annette and Michael joined, because they were threatened too.” After Ace finished, Jenny dived into deep a thought, plunging the corridor in silence save from some nurses and machine sounds.

“Does this…have anything to do with Brian?” Jenny said.

“…Yes.”

“And you never told me anything,” Jenny snarled.

“If we were to tell anyone, we’d –”

“And you never told me anything!” Jenny repeated, her voice louder and harsher, “You children told each other but not to a single adult, who could possibly end all of this. And now look at what you’ve gotten all of yourselves into!” Jenny turned to Annette and Michael, both flinching from Jenny’s freezing glare. “Annette, I expected more from you. I expected recklessness from Ace and Michael, but I thought you were logical enough to warn me about this kind of thing.”

Annette wished the ground would swallow her up at that moment. She bowed her head in shame and murmured “I’m sorry…I was scared…”

“We all are,” Michael added, “The reason Brian died was because he told Dea information about Cornelius. Now that probably all of us know, we’re most probably doomed.”

Jenny nodded stiffly. “Right,” she said tightly. They were all doomed, Michael said. Jenny wondered if he was right. She remembered Cornelius and the reputation that waved about him, how her family and she had always feared him. Now that she thought about it, there was no one who could possibly like the man.

The mother’s shoulders sagged tiredly and she proceeded to rest on one of the waiting seats. As the tension slowly leaves her body, she let her suppressed emotions take over; tears fell, cries let out, body crumpling. Ace dropped down next to Jenny and wrapped his arm around her, his own share of tears blurring his eyes. All of them prayed to God that their little trickster would make it out of the godforsaken room alive.

It seemed like aeons since Jenny’s arrival; though deathly silent, all were tense and riled up like a tangled fishing hook inside. No one dared to make a sound lest they break their blissful (albeit momentary, they all feared) peace. Out of habit, Michael tapped out a rhythm with his fingers on his knee, though it was a subconscious action. The first time gained him a glare from Jenny – the second gave him a slap on the back of his head from Annette. Though no one admitted it, that little scene lifted their spirits up a tad bit.

The waiting went on and on, until their heads nearly nod off and their back became sore. Even Jenny started to wonder if Erin will never make it, and the thought itself was horrifying.

As if on cue, a doctor burst out of the room, sweat slicked forehead glinting under the neon lights. His round glasses were threatening to slide down his hawk-like nose but he pushed it over his nose bridge just before it fell. His thread-like lips were firmly pressed into a thin line, bringing the impression that the doctor was trying very hard to suppress whatever emotion he was having. The white lab-coat (or in this case “doctor coat”) hung loosely from his bony shoulders and draping his skinny form like a lampshade to a pole – he looked more like Grim than a saviour.

Jenny bolted up and strode over to the doctor as calmly as she could which, by this stage, was not much. “How is my daughter?” Jenny all but demanded.

The doctor, surprised by the sudden approach, brought his hands up in a surrendering gesture. “She’s alright, ma’am. Healing slowly, but otherwise alright.” Jenny’s shoulders sagged in relief, but the doctor’s next comment made her knots tighten again. “However, she is currently in a coma. It seems that her head hit a very hard surface – say, a wall or the ground – and had caused a pretty bad brain trauma. Also note that the bullet that shot her only missed a couple of inches from the heart; she was lucky, to say the least.”

“A…coma?” Jenny said, keeping her voice as neutral as possible, “And…when will she…wake up?”

“That is undetermined, ma’am. Best a couple of weeks – her wounds are not that fatal to make her dive into a decade-long coma.”

“You think this is funny?” Jenny sniped.

“No, ma’am, I’m not. There has been a case that the patient had stayed in a coma state for a decade, give or take, but that’s because the said patient had dealt severe brain trauma.”

“A few weeks, then,” Jenny sighed, a mixture of relief and remorse. “You’ll be taking care of her, yes? The hospital, I mean.”

“Yes. We just need to get some things straight and agree to documents relating to your daughter’s caring here. Follow me, ma’am – and, err, your other children can wait in the waiting room, if that’s alright with everyone.”

The said “other children” were Ace, Annette and Michael, of course, though only the term correctly applied to Ace. Jenny looked at the three of them blankly and then nodded to the doctor in agreement. So while Jenny left in brisk strides with the doctor, the three Naitt children dragged themselves to the waiting room, weighing the information carefully in their heads.

“Okay, it’s official – we can’t do anything that is Cornelius related,” Ace declared firmly.

“But then he’ll just do whatever he wants!” Annette protested, “Yes, we’ve got a man down but we still have to continue interfering with Cornelius’s plans. Don’t deny it Ace – if it were one of us, Erin would’ve said the same thing.”

“So you’re okay with sacrificing our family? You do realise that the more we get involved, the more people will die. And I still don’t get why any of us has to die! Zach’s the target – why’s he not dead yet? All he cares about is his job and reputation. I bet when Mum dies he won’t even bother to come home to see her casket!”

“Ace calm down, you’re getting it all wrong,” Annette said in a collected tone, “The reason for the deaths may simply be to eliminate the remaining Naitts, but there could be an underlying truth beneath it. Unless someone stops the scheme, the killing will continue, and so we will day sooner or later. We don’t know who will be next so we have to make sure no one dies in the hands of Cornelius.”

“Annette’s right,” Michael agreed, “If we stop that would leave a hole that Cornelius can tear. Besides, Erin would seriously chop our heads off if she finds out we’ve been slacking off while she’s out cold.” Michael gave his trademark lopsided smile at Ace and Annette, bringing out ragged giggles from the two. They all agreed that they needed to keep the operation going, no matter how terrifying the meandering road looked or the amount of loss they would leave in their wake. One way or another, they would be obliterated, so why not die trying? It’s better than dying a peaceful life.

The children spent the rest of their waiting time watching some random TV program on a silent rabbit-eared TV that hung from the ceiling on a black-painted beam. Other waiting clients either watched the program, entertain themselves with outdated magazines or play games on the cell phone; some chose to just twiddle their thumbs happily, or slouch down their seat. Occasional tune would ring out and the TV would momentarily flash out a number indicating a customer – some would get up and leave while some numbers would be left unnoticed. Sometimes they would see some patients arrive and leave, some in healthy states while others in a pitiful pose – some relieved to finally be able to be part of the everyday life once more while some looked glum in acknowledging their ongoing hospital care. Nurses or doctors would wander down the corridors saying some complicated medical terms or just talking away about their families or interesting events. The receptionist herself, a youthful woman in her twenties, was chatting on the phone and handling customers all at the same time; Michael seemed to admire the skill of multitasking. Annette, on the other hand, was more interested in the crappy TV show. But both their minds were only focused on a certain girl

Ace was jittery and alert since he had left their previous post. When he heard approaching footsteps his head would whip around to check if it was Jenny, only for his heart to deflate in disappointment and worry. A few weeks, though better than a decade, was worse than a backhand from Jenny. What will happen to Erin during her time in the hospital? What if her condition was to suddenly drop? What if the doctor was wrong – what if she was to never wake up again? The more he thought about these things, the more he was becoming suspicious of the things around him. He then concluded:

I can’t trust anyone.

When another set of footsteps approach, Ace was happy to see his mother and the wiry doctor. Ace marvelled at the strength of his mum, how she hadn’t shown any major weakness to anyone except the children ever since she stepped into the building. Even the doctor radiated an air of respect around her; Ace wondered about the things they were talking about when they were away (probably some work things and the like). Jenny beckoned to all of the children to get up and leave just after she had exchanged short pleasantries with the doctor.

The ride home was silent to the point of maddening. No one said a word, the only sound that can be heard being the car wheels grazing the road and the low rumble of engines. No one dared to touch the radio. Jenny kept her eyes fixed to the road, pointedly making her point that she was extremely upset, both because of the situation and the children’s actions. She continued this attitude until two weeks after the hospital visit.

The car parked inside the garage smoothly, its engine dying off with a final sigh before Jenny got out of the driver’s seat and waited for the others to exit before she locked the doors. Jenny didn’t leave the door open for the three children to get in. They had to go out and enter from the front door.

Ace quickly discarded his blood-soaked shirt and pants and took a long scalding shower. With Erin seriously injured and in a coma, they had lost their main source of information. How will they go against Cornelius like this? There were questions circling around Ace’s head – how did Erin know about Cornelius? Why didn’t she tell them the story from the beginning? Was it really Cornelius, or was it just a codename? What kind of person was Cornelius? Why would he want to kill Zach? The unanswered question made the hot water feel freezing.

Dinner was immensely thick with emotions and the clinks and clanks of cutlery didn’t help ease the tension. Dea was first to retreat, followed by Abel and Hiero, then Michael, Annette and Ace. Unfortunately for the redhead, Jenny held him back to have a word with him. “Alone,” she had emphasised.

Ace took a seat four chairs away on Jenny’s right (Jenny sits at the head because she’s always in charge when Zach’s not around). He fidgeted – which was an unlikely action for him – and waited as patiently as he could for Jenny to speak. Jenny seemed to relish in Ace’s obvious discomfort, finishing her meal deliberately slow and washing everything down with water as if it tasted like gold; Ace swore that he saw Jenny’s eyes sneering at him when Jenny wiped her mouth for the sixth time that evening. Ace was starting to think there really was nothing to talk about, and so he let his posture relax just a fraction –

Jenny cleared her throat to gain attention, “Well, I suppose you can already guess what we’re about to discuss then, Arthur?” That bliss dissipated as quickly as it had come.

Ace gulped thickly, “Is it about Erin?”

“More than that, sweetie.” Jenny would only call anyone that when she’s furious.

“Then…it’s about that thing?” Ace quipped, voice a few pitches higher.

“Yes, that thing,” Jenny said.

“But we can’t talk about it here!”

“Why not?”

Ace scooted closer to Jenny and said as lowly as he could “We’re bugged.”

“Well, then I’ll just have to lecture you about your attitude then,” Jenny said, “Seriously, Arthur, you can just tell me everything and we’ll work this out.”

“But we can’t!” Ace said, exasperated, “No one can! We were told to not tell anything, and look at Brian now – he’s six feet underground! What difference will there be if we do something or not? And I bet he knows we know about him already.” Ace said the last sentence in quiet whisper and continued in the same volume. “We should keep this to ourselves or else there will be more casualties.”

Jenny kept her eyes on Ace’s, lips in a grim thin needle. “I want to help,” she finally said in a soft tone. Ace smiled and held her hand in his.

“You don’t have to ask,” he said.

* * *

Dea took out her broken bow and caressed it lovingly, like she would always do when distracted. Music played soft ballads from her laptop and the curtains were drawn, making an artificial night. Dea hadn’t bothered to turn the lights on because she couldn’t feel calm under the scrutiny of bright lights (which was why she has stage fright and preferred to work backstage when there’s school plays). By now rain clawed weakly on her window and the occasional groans of thunder and momentary flashes of lightning did nothing to break her out of her thoughts.

Erin was down. Maybe the reason was because she knew too much. If it was, then Dea would be probably the next target. Dea lightly scraped her bow with her blunt nails, wondering – if this was the old Dea, she would stand her ground and fight with all she had. But the Dea right now thought otherwise. She needed to live; she still had things to do. She couldn’t let herself die in a piteous state, like a weak warrior or a daydreamer. It would be better to live as a coward, Dea had thought, because the brave would sometimes be seen as the foolish.

Hopefully the others would understand. Or at least know half of her reasons.

Feeling useless, Dea hauled herself up and stored her broken bow back inside her property chest. She grabbed her new one (the Ocean sisters’ bow) complete with thirty arrows, her emergency tool (a small purse full of face paint, drinking straws, nose and ear plugs, baby wipes, snack bars and some first aid equipments), a simple raincoat and boots, and then made her way outside and to the woods. Hunting had always made her feel better but now, ever since she stepped into the dark realm, she would feel uneasy at best. Shaking the feeling off, she climbed a nearby tree and made herself comfortable until something worth shooting comes along.

Two hours have passed and still there was nothing to see. The rain didn’t subside either and if seemed like it was getting heavier. Seeing no point in continuing, Dea climbed down safely to make her way back to the mansion. The ground was too soft and mucky, making her walk back filled with squelching noises and a few instances when she had to pull her foot (or feet) from muddy pits. Her bow and arrows were safely tucked beneath her raincoat where she had made sure to be dry.

A thunder grumbled overhead and Dea made haste. Her bangs were plastered onto her forehead and face but whenever she brushed them off they would always find a way to fall back into their previous positions. Without the occasional thunder, the rain itself was already unbearably loud.

So loud she nearly missed the footsteps.

Dea only noticed the footsteps when she had stopped to pull her foot from an especially deep pit. She stilled, like a deer under the eyes of a hunter. The person seemed to sense her fear and so the heavy squelching stopped. Taking her chances, Dea lifted her feet one by one and made a slow, silent trek towards the mansion. This time, she could hear the footsteps more clearly.

But because of her slow pace, the footsteps were getting louder. And louder. And louder. And faster.

Dea leaped behind a nearby tree and rolled herself onto the mud, covering her swap green raincoat in wet slimy soil. Camouflage would work best in this kind of weather and place. The footsteps came closer to the tree she was hiding from. Dea scooted further back so the person couldn’t see her. She took out a straw, a nose plug and a quick-drying face paint. The first thing she did was spray her face with green paint and then haphazardly buried the can under the ground. Next she placed the nose plug securely over her nose. Her bow and arrows were carefully wrapped around the raincoat, the bundle then buried deeply beside the tree. She showered herself in dirt and then laid herself as flat as she could on the ground, sinking her body deeper into the muck and then carefully covering her face with mud to top off her deep green face. The result was a perfect replica of a lumpy wet ground, with a straw sticking out of it.

The footstep slowed down when it went to her tree. Dea slowed down her breathing as best as she could so that her straw wouldn’t make its usual dry slurping noise. When she heard the loud squelch of a boot just a foot away from her, she held her breath. The person stayed where they were standing by the tree – according to her instincts, they were looking around or possibly wait for any sign of life. It seemed like ages since the person arrived. Dea couldn’t hold her breath for much longer. Silently and slowly, she sucked in as much wet air as she could before exhaling the waste air just as slowly. Admittedly, it was painful, but that suffocating pain was what kept her alive.

Just as she was about to feel light-headed, the person turned and made a slow trek towards the direction he came from. Their feet carried him downwards to the town, leaving a wake of boot prints. When Dea couldn’t hear them anymore, she waited a good few moments before she gathered her things from their hiding places, leapt up and raced up the slope. By the time she had reached the front gates she had lost both of her boots, but all she cared about was to get to the safety of Olympia – screw everything else, Dea was scared out of her wits!

Dea all but jerked the door open and slammed it back, gasping and feeling hot tears warming her frozen cheeks. She heard Jenny’s complaints as she approached the front door; she wasn’t surprised to see her red as a tomato topped with hot sauce. “If it isn’t you,” Jenny grumbled.

“Okay, I have a good explanation for this –”

“You’ve gone out to the woods, rolled yourself in mud and return home with earthy feet. Where are your boots? Oh, wait – I shouldn’t have asked; they’re stuck in the puddle, aren’t they?” Jenny deadpanned; she was close to accurate that it was as if she was there herself. “I would have kicked you out right now if I hadn’t noticed you were a human.”

“As I said, I have a good explanation for this.”

“That is?”

A loud crack resounded through the rain. Splinters showered Dea from above, a bullet missing her by two heads. The family picture that was hung on the wall where two stairs met had its top blasted off, leaving an ugly hole in between Timothy’s and Vincent’s heads.  Dea and Jenny stood frozen. They would’ve stayed there rooted in shock and amazement if Abel hadn’t yanked Dea to the side and Ace pulled Jenny behind a display cabinet containing different kinds of bullets and mini missiles.

All of them expected another shot. The hole that was made was probably as big as – or bigger than – an adult thumb. Silence. The four of them stood up tentatively and waited for any sign of more threats.

A sharp thump was head outside the door. Dea shrieked in surprise and tried to shrink further towards Abel. After what felt like hours, Ace decided to check what was outside. Jenny had insisted to call the police but everyone agreed that it’s better to see how the culprit looks like to make things easier for everyone.

Ace pulled the door handle downwards and let the door swing inside just for a fraction. With an umbrella, he gingerly let dull light in and made sure no one was in the light’s way. Nothing. He poked the umbrella outside and waved it around. Nothing.

It seemed like the culprit ran away. When Ace peered to outside, he noticed an arrow embedded into the aging oak door. On it he noticed a dirty piece of paper skewered through it. Ace pulled the arrow free from its spot and carefully removed the crumpled letter. Abel stepped forward to Ace and asked “What’s that?”

“A note, apparently,” Ace said distractedly. After he had read the note, his eyes widen and mouth clamped shut. Abel snatched the letter from Ace’s slack hands and examined it. It said:

It’s a pity there is no more little lambs in the Naitt family. But that will
make the murders far less guilty to commit. Mind if we borrow some
people later on? Please take note that we will take what we want with
any way possible. Any varmints too smart for our liking will be
eliminated. Four rats have been exterminated. Who’s next?
Oh, and by the way…

I WILL COME AND KILL YOU ALL IF YOU DARE SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT MY EXISTENCE. THIS IS A WARNING. YOU CAN RUN AND FORGET EVERYTHING AS LONG AS I CARE, BUT IF ANYONE WAS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS OUTSIDE THE FAMILY, IT’S YOUR FAULT THAT YOUR WORLD WILL BE A TWSITED WONDERLAND.

If you wish to leave, contact us to this e-mail address:

corncob4444@chainmail.com

If you leave without telling, we won’t hesitate to disqualify you from the game.

We will look forward to your participation in the event.

Have a nice day.

 

If it was just another day, Abel would’ve brushed this off as one of Erin’s prank. But the scarring reality made these superficial words turn into steel claws. However, the last part was the cool water to a burn. Anyone can leave. There will be a chance they’ll be safe!

But what about Zach? They can’t just give him up to the predators that easily.

…But can they?

Dea ripped the paper from Abel’s grip to read it herself. Jenny stood behind her and skimmed through the note. Not long after Annette, Michael and Hiero dashed in and gave their own set of reactions to the attack. “Jenny, Dea,” Hiero asked, “what are you reading?”

The two snapped their attention to the young boy – so young and full of opportunities, being the only one who’s oblivious to the situation. Jenny quickly snatched the paper and crumpled it under her shaking hand. “Just one of the letters of university acceptance,” Jenny nonchalantly said.

“But…why did you destroy it?”

“Because Dea had decided to go to her first choice of university instead,” Jenny shrugged. That was probably the worst thing to say.

Everyone’s head snapped up to look at Dea as if she had grown horns and fangs. Betrayal. Desertion. Her out of all people.

“…What?” Ace whispered.

“Uh…isn’t it good?” Hiero piped up, “I mean, that university’s really good and stuff, and they also have –”

“What were you thinking?!” Ace bellowed. Dea flinched as the accusation in his tone.

Dea simply shrugged half-heartedly, “Hiero’s right; the university’s way better than the second choice. Besides, I plan on being a doctor –”

“What were you thinking?!” Ace repeated, louder than before. Jenny didn’t even bother to stop the commotion. “What, just when the situation’s at its worst you’ve decided to chicken out? You were the one who insisted that he was real – that he was a real threat! You – oh God – And you call me the reckless one?”

Dea turned to look at Ace in the eyes. “I still need to do things –”

“We all still have things to do! We all want to live! What about your own twin?! You’re just going to leave him in this godforsaken place –”

“I am!” Dea screamed. Ace fell silent at her reply, face a hardened mould of anger and betrayal. Dea continued on a softer – and more broken – tone. “I will be leaving. But do understand this is for the better, I promise. I…I have my own reasons, but I can’t tell you.” Dea looked towards the left staircase. Before she turned to leave, she added “I’ll be sending him an e-mail now. The graduation will be in a week; I’ll be leaving in the evening.” Without another word or a last look, she left.

-rookieMANGAKA

Categories: Series, Story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

I should get an award for being awesome

Hello,

Chapter 13 is very…I don’t know how to say it. I guess you could say that three people dead or seriously injured in a chapter is pretty bloody. Well, at least I didn’t make it as graphic to make it rated 18. So one of our major characters will take a leave for maybe forever – who is it? Enjoy the chapter!

Deus Ex Machina

13 – Orbis non sufficit

Michael remembered his talk with Erin not too long ago at midnight, just as she had told him to do. Erin snuck out of her room stealthily, padded along the cold grass bare-feet and seated herself calmly at the garden bench by a small artificial pond, panting from exhaustion and relief that no one – especially Jenny – hadn’t caught her. Lotuses gazed up at the full moon that showered them with magical moonlight that made them look beautiful even in the dead of night, where not many could see these lonely flowers swayed ever so gently on the surface of the water. Crickets called for their lost soul mate, chiming their signature music like many church bells on a Sunday. If Erin strained hard enough, she could make out the whispers of the wind and the soft snoring of trees.

Meanwhile, Michael climbed down the tree house ladder and trudged sleepily towards the garden. His memory of the mansion was vague but the path towards the centre of the garden was still clear as day to him. He remembered spending his time with the younger Naitt children in the garden because they were not old enough to go to the tree house. If his memory was right, there was a miniature pond sprinkled with pastel pink and pristine white lotuses crowned on forest green lily pads. Beside the pond stood a cherry blossom tree and not too far away from it was a party of multicoloured wisterias, where the benches were situated at. Form the bench during springtime, you would be able to observe the petit scenery whilst being showered with wisteria petals that fall like angel feathers.

Michael saw the budding cherry blossom tree and walk on towards the flowering wisterias where he could make out a slight figure of Erin, who looked up when she heard his footsteps approaching. “You are late,” Erin deadpanned.

“I’m not.” A pause. “Okay, kinda. But at least you didn’t freeze to death!”

“It was freezing,” Erin said, “but that aside, we need to talk. Sit down.” Erin patted the space next to her and scooted an inch away from it to make more space – as if Erin was not small enough to make room for two more people. Michael took a seat and watched the lotuses dance in tiny steps above the water, the wind accompanying them in a silent orchestra. “Should we start now?” Erin enquired.

Michael shrugged, “Anytime you want, I guess.”

Erin nodded, “I want to talk to you about Cornelius. Don’t worry – Dea had removed the bugs in the garden not too long ago, before our pact was broken. This place is as safe as in the next city, unless Cornelius is out there eavesdropping.” Erin’s dark eyes scanned the garden while she was saying this. Her eyes reminded Michael of Ace and Jenny’s, and many of Jenny’s other children – darker than the abyss but holding a mysterious glint to it.

“It’s not related to our topic,” Michael said, “but why did you die your hair? Brown was not that bad.”

Erin paused for a moment. “My hair was dark brown, actually. I thought it didn’t suit my eyes, so I have decided to keep it as dark as my eyes. Besides, many favour this look more,” Erin shrugged nonchalantly. “They said it suits me more, being a sneaky introvert and all.”

“You’re like the opposite of Ace,” Michael commented.

“But like a twin of Timothy.” Erin didn’t miss the twitch of Michael’s eye when she mentioned her brother’s name. “I apologise for his past actions; I admit, he was not a very pleasant person.”

Michael nodded distractedly, “Yeah, no – it’s okay. It was a long time ago.”

“Moving on, I am pretty sure no one is here to listen to us so let’s proceed.” Erin clasped her hands and placed them upon her lap, a gesture she had adopted from Jenny when she’s being dead serious. “First of all, the thing you said about Cornelius having something to do with Zach is correct; it seems like he’s planning to eliminate Zach in order to achieve something. I guarantee you the purpose will be absurdly selfish. And how do I know this? This part is interesting.

“One day, I wandered off to Zach’s study for a bit of reminiscing and while I was skimming my hand on his desk, I heard a weird beeping sound at the bottom of the desk. Out of pure curiosity, I pulled the beeping object, which pulled a wire that opened a trap door that led to a stash of documents. They look like any of Zach’s other documents but what made me curious was the fact that the whole thing was written in Latin. Out of everyone in the current Naitt family, I’m the only who understand Latin fluently; the others’ skills are mediocre if not beginner. From what I have read, Cornelius has collected data of Zach’s usual activities inside and outside the town, as well as Zach’s business status before and current. There were also photographs, mainly of Zach but there were also of the others like Mum, Deanna, Annette and Ace. There were those of you and Brian, too. And of those close to you.”

Michael grew uneasy when Erin mentioned his and Brian’s name. The feeling intensified when the thought of his mother came to mind. The piercing fear he felt then was nothing compared to the pikes that tear through him when he received the message. Nevertheless, it was a terrible feeling.

Erin continued describing her investigation. “They were of our everyday activities, complete with accurate predictions of actions we’ll take based on our personalities, which were described with precision. Our talents, educational skills, and physical and mental capabilities and weaknesses were also taken into account; mine, yours, Brian’s and Vivianne’s skills ranking are at the bottom. Take note that I’m beneath Abel and Deanna while you are second to last.” Erin smirked impishly.

“I am not that weak! I’m, like, Randy Orton’s successor!” Michael exclaimed.

“I would love to rub that fact on your face for as long as this case lives,” Erin mused.

“You wouldn’t. Continue, please,” Michael huffed.

“Back to the rankings, Cornelius is planning to make some of us join his side, and these people are Ace, Annette and Nicky, Annette’s sister, because their skills were ranked the highest; Hiero’s was second but he was left out because, though he’s gullible, he must not be underestimated. Dea and Abel were also good choices but their loyalty to Zach must not be ignored.” Michael listened intently to Erin’s report but when she had stopped at that, he looked up, bewildered. “I truly am sorry, the rest of the document was written in an undecipherable code; Cornelius must have predicted that there will be a slight chance that I might read through his documents.”

“Oh, alright, then,” Michael nodded, “So…what now?”

“I say we must be on guard. Make sure you don’t do anything that will endanger your family or anyone close back at the outskirts.” Erin made Michael stare deep into her dark eyes, urging him to swear not to do anything. He promised. “Good, now you can go back to your slumber. I need mine, too.” Erin left without a word after that, yawning frequently as she made her way towards her room.

* * *

Ace was not the oldest Naitt child in the current Naitt children circle. In actuality, Vivianne was the oldest, followed by Annette, then Deanna and Abel and then finally him, Arthur Marcus Naitt (better known as Ace). Zach’s affair with Annette’s mother, Tammy Waters, was two months before the Peters incident. When Jenny had found out about the pregnant Tammy Waters, well, she was not pleased. Ace was five when Jenny had found out about Annette. The pure rage she showed that day was as clear as a fresh left hook to the temple. Vivianne was off the hook because she was adopted into the family by a Grandma Rae, so Jenny had no say in what to do with her.

And then Ace would wonder how furious Jenny would be when she one day finds out about his involvement with Cornelius – worry-anger is always bitter-sweet, right? Ace had to rethink about that because he remembered the silent roar of Jenny’s anger when he once went home with bruises the size of Russia. The next day, the upperclassman who bullied him moved out of the country because their parents “got a transfer due to promotion”. His mother was an author and his father was a doctor.

To add to Ace’s budding fear, there was Pietro Naitt, their estranged uncle. Jenny did not exactly hate Pietro; it was just that his trouble could someday be the death of her. Jenny would do her best to stay as far away from him, but according to the maids Jenny would sometimes meet up with Phillipa for a girls’ day out. She would also give gifts for both Pietro and Phillipa, usually consisting of household necessities and treats like fine wine and patisseries; behind Jenny’s spiked mask was a gentle girl.

But that didn’t mean that Jenny would help Pietro in whatever scheme he was planning. Ever since Phillipa’s kidnapping, Jenny had made it clear that if Pietro was to start any foolish charade, it will be Jenny’s hands that will squeeze the life out of him. Sure enough, Uncle Pietro got the point.

Ace stalled in his path when Erin walked up the set of steps in front of the house Uncle Pietro resided in. “Guys, you do realise Jenny will seriously kill us all if she finds out,” Ace said.

“Uh, yeah, we do. And since when did you become such a sissy?” Michael rolled his eyes exasperatedly.

“Since forever. Now let’s get in and get it done with!” Annette said impatiently. Erin nodded and knocked on the door to signal their arrival. At first there was no answer but just as Erin was about to give another set of knocks, the door was wretched open by Pietro, sending Erin stumbling past him and into the house. Michael suppressed a snort, and Annette bit her cheek whilst elbowing Ace to tell him not to snicker so loud. An amused grin grew on Uncle Pietro’s face, making his look a tad bit younger and more suitable for his age. “Hello, sir,” Annette greeted, having difficulty in remaining placid, “I assume you are aware of our presence?”

“Yes. I was the one who talked to Ace about bringing you all here,” Pietro said, “Come inside, then. Erin, it’s not nice to throw daggers at people, dear.” Erin ripped her glare from her siblings to look at her uncle. Everyone was right – he looked like her. Except that his hair was naturally black whilst hers was died, and he wore black contacts whilst her eyes were naturally dark (Erin could tell because of her experience around Vivianne and her aeon-long lecture about contact lenses and fake lashes).

The children filed in to the living room where they were all seated comfortably on any form of seating object; they’ve left a certain armchair so that Pietro could sit with them. Phillipa called out from the kitchen and asked what they would prefer to have for their drinks. All answered water. Pietro walked into the kitchen and exchanged some word with Phillipa before he walked back into the living room, taking the vacant armchair, legs crossed and leaning back as if he was at an interesting showcase. “We have not much time to talk about things so I’ll make it brief,” Pietro started.

“I’ve heard about Brian’s death and I’ve visited his death, first of all. Second is that Cornelius’s plans are working too fast for our good. Currently, he had successfully created a distraction as well as lowering our strength and motivation. I don’t know what he’ll be doing next but I need you to stay on guard. How many of you are aware of the documents in Zach’s study?” Erin and Michael raised their hands up – Annette and Ace shook their heads. “I don’t need all of you to know it – Erin can tell you the necessities. And have you unbugged the mansion?”

“Dea had done that a long while ago, but I think there might be some unidentifiable bugs still lying around the house,” Erin said.

“And that’s why you’re all here. Well, with the graduation coming up, there’s not much you can really do, with some of you moving out or being rarely home. But, you can help by doing research outside the box.” Pietro leaned forward, uncrossing his legs and resting his elbows on his knees. “See, Cornelius is a dead man. No one believes in his existence anymore and that’s what makes him a dangerous man. He can do anything without anyone’s consent, and then he’ll blame it on whoever he wants. But there is a way to make us see a ghost.

“Cornelius is likely to reside in this town but his precise whereabouts are unknown. You have to look out for elderly men that may seem suspicious – heck, look out for anyone that seem suspicious. Next, you’ll need to decode the contents of the document. Here is a list of possible code deciphering techniques.” Pietro pulled out a piece of paper from his pockets and places it on the table. It was filled with notes written in neat but miniscule handwriting. “Try these and if you still can’t decode it, contact me; I’ll be here for as long as I’m needed. The contents we can read in the folder might be a diversion. We need to know what that folder really contains in order to stop Cornelius.”

Pietro settled back into his chair when he had finished with his explanation. He gave a big sigh and called for Phillipa. “Honey, we’re done now. You can bring the food out.”

Phillipa walked in on cue with a tray of biscuits and teacakes and four glasses of water. “It’s not much but enjoy it, dears,” Phillipa said, flashing them a welcoming smile.

Though Phillipa was a very kindly and passive lady, an eerie air hanged around her – maybe that was Pietro’s influence. Even now, she was wearing an oversized sweater when it was clearly warm outside. What was she hiding? Nevertheless, everyone could easily relax around her and bring up a carefree conversation when her presence is nearby.

But the children took only one biscuit each, feeling tired and alert all at the same time that it frustrated them. Meanwhile, Pietro retreated to the kitchen with Phillipa. He casted a backward glance before he spoke, “All clear?”

“Not sure. I can’t see anyone out there but I still feel uneasy,” Phillipa said, biting her lower lip in worry.

“You’ve unlocked the escape route when something happens, right?”

“Yeah.” Phillipa leaned closer to Pietro, resting her head on his shoulder. “Pietro, I don’t really what’s going on. All of these things frustrate me and I just wish we were not involved in the first place.”

Pietro hummed thoughtfully and stroke her head affectionately. “Just a while more. Just a while more and we’ll go back home, okay? These kids need our help. Zach needs our help. He might be an annoying douche most of the time but he’s still my brother, and I love him.”

Phillipa snorted, “And I thought you were cruel.”

“I thought that, too.”

“But it’s only what people believe you to be. You were never cruel – you were just playing your part. Like Erin.”

Pietro stopped his caressing. He looked back at Erin, her small figure hidden amongst her other siblings. Her gaze was always downward but her posture held a no-nonsense frame, just like her mother. She was a sickly little girl who would be suitable for a punching bag, but she had that silver tongue and tough trickster attitude that could send a T-Rex crying back to his mamma. Everyone was right – she was just like him.

Phillipa stepped back and smiled at Pietro. As if she had read his mind, she said “See? Just like you.”

Pietro smiled back and stepped forward to reach for her –

The kitchen window smashed open with a loud crash. Phillipa jerked forward violently as if someone had just punched the air out of her lungs. Her eyes were wide, her mouth agape in surprise, but she was not responding. Pietro stood there in silence. Phillipa fell into his arms.

Two small objects flew through the window – one hitting Phillipa on her right shoulder and one hitting Pietro’s left side, a few inches above the heart. He stumbled backward, attempting a retreat, but another bullet drove through his right side, the bullet that missed Phillipa’s head by a few millimetres. But her scalp was still bleeding profusely – a scrape. Another bullet scraped the skin off his neck and another nipped off his right ear. The couple fell into a bloody head on the kitchen floor.

His consciousness was threatening to fade away. He could still feel the soft material of Phillipa’s sweater and the sweet fragrance of her honey brown hair –

Is she alright? Is she still breathing?

He could feel the blood bathing him in sickly red – his head spun and felt as if it will float away from his battered body. Everything spun and blur – it looked like the view when you ride on those spinning cups – he remembered how Phillipa would squeal whenever they spin so fast. He could hear her squeal at the back of his head, the image of her grinning face etched behind his eyelids.

No. Stop. Wake up!

Pietro Hadley Naitt, get a hold of yourself! There are matters more important than dying!

Pietro snapped his eyes open, regretting the motion when he felt bile rising up. The comfortable and familiar weight on his body made his eyes sting. He placed a hand on the nape of her neck and hauled in a long breath. Pietro turned his head towards the living room.

There, the children were crouched low. Annette was screaming for her dear life, her ears covered and eyes snapped shut. Ace held Erin close, covering her form with his bulk like a protective duvet. Michael’s eyes were wide and unfocused, his hands gripping his hair too tight, too frantically, too desperately. Bullets were screeching and hooting everywhere. Objects broken, glass shards flying like fallen wisteria petals in the wind, whizzing and whistling coming from every direction – they were ambushed.

Ace! Ace! What’s happening?! Who is –!

Guys, keep low! What the – oh my gosh! Uncle Pietro – hey, are you okay?!

Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshwhatthehellishappeningwhatthehellishappening –

No where’s safe. I should’ve known. I should’ve known.

Pietro sucked in coppery air and hollered as loud as he could. “Arthur! Get them – cough – get them out! Arthur!”

Ace looked up. His mouth was opening and closing like a dying fish out of water. No time for objections. “Arthur! Get. Them. Out!” There was a few milliseconds of soul searching and debate, with Pietro shooting venom from his eyes and Ace pleading with all he had. At long last, Ace nodded, eyes full of regret. He gave a last salute before he grabbed the Naitt children by the collar and dragged-crawled them out of the room.

Dragging the three other people were easier than Ace had thought – the others were too stunned to comprehend what was going on. Once he had gotten to a deeper part of the house, Ace stood up and dragged the three roughly towards a room of what seemed like a make-do study, boxes with books stacked neatly in a corner while a half-filled – or half-empty – bookcase stood in a corner, overlooking sullenly out the window.

Ace dropped the children to move the bookcase to the left, revealing a hidden door tall enough to fit a hobbit. He jerked the door open, turned towards the others and barked “All of you – get in! And don’t look back once you get outside. Run on until you’ve reached home.”

Only Annette responded, nodding her head frantically, and then tugging Michael’s and Erin’s shirts towards the open passage way. Annette crawled in first, followed by Erin, Michael and lastly Ace, who made sure no one followed. And to make a promise to Pietro that he’ll carry on their duty.

The cramped passage way led to the back of the house where it was shadowed by bushes and brambles. Annette looked both ways first before signalling the others to dart straight towards town. Ace ushered Erin and Michael when they were slacking or were distracted by the ongoing tirade of gunfire. Ace thought about Pietro and Phillipa’s fate – were they okay? The two were bleeding like a leaking water bed, slowly deflating into pathetic-looking pile of meat suits. He restrained himself from looking back, or even try to get back to the house, since his efforts might bring danger to his siblings, or could end into something pointless.

Ace heard a sharp yelp from ahead. He looked up and spotted Annette on the ground, clutching her ankle with a steel grip. Michael took the liberty of pulling her to the shadows while Erin stayed close to her, trying to inspect her injury. Ace skittered closer to the others and looked at Annette’s ankle.

Annette hissed in pain, clawing at her calf and shin to try to direct her attention anywhere but her ankle. Ace gingerly picked up her foot and inspected the swell, suggesting a sprain. Annette’s toes would curl in and spread out in response to the pain. Ace clicked his tongue and told Annette to climb onto his back. Reluctantly, Annette obliged. “Only because we’ll be full of holes, otherwise I’d choose to crawl,” Annette murmured heatedly.

Once they were settled, the children went out of their temporary resting post and sped down the slope, none daring themselves to see their pursuers. The sounds of destruction had faded into nothing more than a vague drum march, leaving them nothing but the faint smell of atrocity and the sharp, throbbing wound of loss. Their sprint slowly turned into a jog before they finally dropped to a stroll. Michael was first to stop, head hung low, giving the others an image of a pale forlorn ghost. Erin came up and rubbed his back soothingly, urging him to know that none of these was his fault – if they were to have someone to blame, it would be Cornelius. On Ace’s back, Annette willed herself not to tremble too much and to stifle her sob and tears; if Ace had felt the tremors and the wet puddles on his shirt, he had ignored it. It seemed as if mourning had become a regular activity for the Naitt children.

“…We should head back,” Michael rasped, voice rough from his attempt to hold his ragged soul upright.

Ace nodded in agreement and then added “And treat Annette…And we should take a break from all of this, while we’re at it –”

“We can’t rest, Ace. Anyone in a battle would never let their enemy rest,” Erin snapped, “All we can do is bide our time before another tragedy is executed, but that does not mean we can have all the spare time trying to escape reality – this Hell is reality, Ace. Our family is in danger. We’re in danger. There is no tree that can provide us shade. We can’t be sure that everyone is our ally.”

All was silent at that. Realisation dawned on everyone’s face – this Hell is reality. Anyone from their family could perish in any second of any day, and they would not be able to stop the deaths unless they continue to try to stop its source. After all, you get rid of weeds by pulling them to their roots.

Erin shoved Ace roughly, making him stagger back a few steps and nearly dropping Annette. Erin may be rational and cool-headed most of the time but her temper could match that of Jenny’s, and subsequently Ace’s – she would throw some blows if her top was to be blown off. He huffed a sigh and tried to calm her down. “Erin, really, I’m sorry for even thinking about dropping the case. I mean, I’m only worried about everyone’s well-being…” The rest of his sentence trailed off as Erin’s head collided with the blood-stained concrete pavement loudly.

Blood.

She was shot.

Ace’s tongue was dry and heavy on his mouth.

Michael could do nothing but freeze and stare.

Annette’s mouth was locked in a silent scream.

His body reacted before his head did. He would apologise to Annette later for throwing her off his back haphazardly. Michael stepped in to catch her, gripping her body for his dear life.

How? There was no sound. Silencer? Where is the killer?

Without hesitance, Ace brought his sister’s body close to him. He shook her shoulders violently – nothing. Warm blood trickled from her back, bathing both of the siblings in deep scarlet. Ace couldn’t hear a thing. He felt his mouth move – he could make out Annette’s sobbing figure and Michael’s terrified look from the corner of his eye – but all was deafeningly silent. Erin’s chest rose and fell slowly, but not for long, Ace thought.

He hauled Erin up and sprinted down the path. Blood deafened his senses. He didn’t make sure if the others followed – his sister was dying.

“Hey – hey, Erin,” Ace gasped and panted, trying to keep his sister awake, “Erin, hey – can you hear me? I – I’m sorry for bringing that up. Brian’s dead now because of Cornelius. I don’t want anyone else to go – especially you. You know why?” There was no response, but Ace continued as if Erin was there.

“R-remember that time Timothy and I fought?” Ace choked back a lump in his throat and gulped in air before he talked. “Our siblings blamed it on me – they said I was just a dumb kid and will always be. Our half-siblings were too afraid to stand up for me. But you were there.” Ace reached a crossroad. The pedestrian light was red but he continued on. Honking cars and crude curses didn’t stop him – he talked on. “You have always were. Do you remember it? The prank you pulled on Timothy?” Ace let out a broken laugh. “It was the best – we even took a picture of his face and paraded it around the web. You were a genius. Some may hate you for being different, but I love you for it, for being able to bravely tell the world that you were not afraid of being hated.

“You have always been the stronger one, Erin.

“Why aren’t you rolling your eyes right now?

“You’re not teasing or beating me up, either.

“Hey, Erin?

“Erin.

“Don’t leave me.”

-rookieMANGAKA

Categories: Series, Story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

So here’s the missing chapter…

Hello,

Chapter 11’s here guys, sorry if you read chapter 12 before it. I don’t really know what happened, but I did mention about horrible internet connection about two weeks ago(ish?), so I guess that was why. Enjoy!

Deus Ex Machina

11 – Ad mortem

 

A small, dingy apartment stood near the outskirts of the town, about three kilometres away from the nearest supermarket and seven miles before reaching the woods to its west. A streetlight flickered in the night, its willowy figure accompanied with some eager moths who swooned at its brightness. The sun was just setting, the sky a lovely orange-to-navy-blue shade, the stars visible and waltzing silently in the darkness. The moon was new, just a circular silhouette that hung eerily in the sky. The wind was silent.

A young man walked down the lonely street, head hung low and a plastic shopping bag in one hand while the other hand was tucked snugly in his pocket. His thin jacket wrapped him up like a candy wrapper, creating an image of a straitjacket, and to top it off was his messy mop of dirty blonde hair which dangled in front of his face. His worn-out sneakers scraped the pavement as he dragged his wiry self towards the apartment. The wind suddenly whistled audibly, making the boy turn around rapidly and scan his surroundings.

…Nothing.

Turning back slowly, he continued his trip back to his apartment.

The door, as he had expected, was unlocked. His relatives had a knack for not believing in the dangers of the world and preferred to keep the door open to “let the cool wind in”. They hadn’t meant it in a literal sense, and the full meaning of the phrase was mostly hidden in the gutters. The boy walked past the living room, catching a glimpse of a middle aged man snoring peacefully in front of the TV with an empty bottle of gin in one hand, its siblings scattered carelessly around the beaten armchair. The TV was playing a rerun of a midday show, something about getting pregnant and family issues. The boy was not interested in that.

He made his way to the kitchen island and dropped the shopping back onto it to empty its contents. Canned foods, some fresh veggies and fruits, a loaf of bread, cans of beers (he’s going to stash those for himself), a bottle of shampoo, and two toothpastes. He placed all of the canned foods in the cabinet, the veggies and fruits in the fridge, and left the others on the island. Save for a can of beer, which he took to his room.

He clicked the can open and took a sip, taking the help of the railings in getting upstairs. He wringed the handle of his door open, not noticing that it was already opened. Three steps he took, he turned at the door closing by itself – a dull thump, like two meteors colliding. Stars, green stars, glittering in his vision – his head throbbed painfully, his vision was extremely blurry – the stars rained onto the dark ground, bouncing off in a feeble attempt to return to the sky – he saw a boot but no more, for he couldn’t move his eyes high enough to take in more image.

Then everything fades, the stars nothing more than dull glints of jade shards, the boot scraping the floor and the heavy beats of footsteps.

The ache in his head lessens slowly, becoming more of an annoying headache, then to what felt like the sound of a hammer hitting the roof of a car. It was nothing more than an innuendo of pain now, a fading reality, and the Sandman was inviting him to his palace among the stars.

It felt sweet. He needed rest, anyway – he was tired.

Sorry, Mike – couldn’t help ya.

* * *

The funeral was small but homely, with only families attending. Brian had never been one for friends – his only friends were the Naitt children, with his best buddy being Michael.

Michael.

His face was stony, cold and closed. His lips were set into a grim line, a rare sight upon Michael Naitt’s face. His body was rigid but it attained its formality, his head bowing in a tell-tale sign of grief, hands laced together in front of his. His clouded blue eyes refused to meet the scene in front of him, keeping it trained on his polished straight-tip shoes. Though surrounded my family, it was like he was alone, the atmosphere around him chasing off any hospitality offered,

Dea couldn’t do anything but watch her half sibling mourn for his best friend. Any form of console for him would be rejected at the moment, so she had proceeded to turn her attention towards the funeral once more. Nobody gave any speeches – Brian hated cheesy things. Instead, they proceeded to bury the casket immediately. At this Michael couldn’t take anymore – he let out a feral growl and stormed out of the place. Dea caught a glimpse of tears in Michael’s eyes. It was rare for Michael to cry.

Abel reached out for his sister’s hand and squeezed for assurance and to give assurance. Dea squeezed back, understanding that Abel had been watching Michael too. The other Naitts who attended – Jenny, Ace, Annette, Vivianne, Erin and Hiero – had kept their face stoic and professional…as if anyone needed any of that at the moment. Why didn’t anybody shed a tear for Brian? Why didn’t anybody forget about the funeral and go after Michael? Why did they act as if they don’t care? It’s not wrong to express yourself, and yet…Dea had restrained her heart from taking action. She should at least make an effort, but she didn’t. The free spirit of Naitt had constricted herself with her own chains.

Once the ceremony was done, the small crowd dispersed; Jenny whipped out her phone and made to contact Zach, cursing under her breath when he didn’t pick up. Hiero made a choking noise and rubbed furiously at his eyes while Annette rubbed his back in soothing circles. Erin’s face scrunched up like a melting snowman under the summer sun – she had been close in age to Brian and she had been the second closest to him, always contacting him whenever there’s a big even and Brian would do the same. Ace placed a gentle hand upon Erin’s shoulder, face stuck in disbelief, anger and sorrow. Vivianne said her goodbyes hurriedly, giving quick hugs before tearfully departing for home.

The sun shone as if nothing had happened. That was the first time Dea had hated the sun. She looked around for any sign of any mop of incredibly blonde hair but found none. She excused herself to Abel and took off to find Michael. Abel had wanted to come too, but he thought a person was enough for Michael at the moment; he said he’ll wait for them at the gate.

Dea entered the forest, all the while calling out to Michael. She thought it would take hours to find the boy but she found him crouched among a cluster of bushes, his head popping out of the green like a light bulb. She made slow progression towards him, letting him acknowledge her presence bit by bit. She lowered herself beside him and pulled her legs towards her chest, enveloping them in a hug, and she stared upwards towards the bright sky among the silhouette of leaves.

Michael rested his chin on his arms which were seated upon his drawn knees, eyes staring up ahead at nothing. He had welcomed Dea with comfortable silence, letting her warm aura seep into him and calm him down. Dea had noticed the faint tear tracks down his cheecks and how red and puffed up his eyes looked from bawling. The last time Dea had seen Michael like that was when Michael found out about Jenny’s hatred towards him and his mother and how she was going to kick them out of Olympia. He had organised a sleepover for all of the Naitt children, believing that that night might be his last chance in spending time with any of them. Dea closed her eyes and recalled every detail of the sleepover – she remembered how Michael had insisted that everyone should sleep as closely next to each other as they could, how desperate he sounded.

“When I last saw him,” Michael started, snapping Dea back to the present, “he said he’ll check up on Mama every day and make sure nothing’s wrong. I forgot that he needed to be checked up on, too.”

Dea looked at Michael before replying, “It’s not your fault and we all know that. The police had suspected his relative to be the suspect, since he was the only one present at the scene at the time of the happening, as well as the amount of evidence there was around him. Drunken men can do the weirdest.” She knew that after watching Zach get drunk at a New Year gathering, where he proceeded to dance on the dinner table while swinging his shirt around.

Michael shook his head, eyes determined, “No. It’s not his relative. It’s someone else.”

“How would you know?” Dea asked, genuinely confused and curious.

“I…I received a message last night. I don’t know who the sender was but that number looked familiar.” Michael gazed deeply into Dea’s eyes. “I think it was that man.”

Dea was lost. “…Who?”

Michael was hesitating. He then looked around as if he was expecting someone or something to be watching him. “…A man claiming himself to be Cornelius,” he whispered grimly.

Dea froze. It was true! “A-are you sure? This guy…what did he look like?”

“Shh – not too loud! He’s everywhere!” Michael whispered hoarsely.

He’s everywhere.

“…Brian said the same thing…” Dea murmured.

“…What?”

“Okay, so I called Brian the other day to ask about why you had ran away. He told me things – things I suppose he shouldn’t tell – and when I asked him why he was leaving important bits out, he said that ‘he’s everywhere’.” Michael went silent. His eyes were searching Dea’s eyes, trying to find any lies. “I’m…sorry, I know I shouldn’t involve myself in things I shouldn’t involve myself in but –”

“Oh…Brian!” Michael half-cried and half-chuckled, “What. An. Idiot!” Michael laughed forlornly afterwards, throwing his head back in a mocking re-enactment of a joyous laugh. “You are an idiot!” Michael laughed at the sky. “You’re an idiot! Idiot! Heck – I’m an idiot! An idiot for telling you! An idiot for telling anyone! An idiot for being me! If it weren’t for me, you’d still be…” Michael’s hysteria died out, the manic light fading from his eyes, leaving them empty and remorseful – an empty ocean, a lonely blue. “If it weren’t for me, you’d still be…” A child alone in a world far too big for himself.

Frightened by Michael’s emotional turmoil, Dea tentatively put a hand at his back and rubbed it soothingly. Maybe this is what she would be like if she had lost Abel and vice versa, or maybe even worse. But surprisingly, Michael held no grudges for the man who had killed Brian. Dea asked him why this was, to which Michael responded:

“Because he was not in his right mind – he didn’t do it, but the Devil did.”

Dea understood it. She had times when she was too deep in an emotion that she began doing things she wished she hadn’t done. Maybe that was how Ace and Brian’s relative had felt, too. Maybe their head was clouded by the Devil’s whispers that they couldn’t see straight, and their mind would keep on falling and falling and falling, until they would lose control of their body.

But surely you’d still be able to hate them, right?

“I do hate him for what he did, Dea, but it’s not good to hate someone forever. If you let yourself to be controlled by hate, you’ll turn into the bad guy.”

Dea hadn’t expected to learn something from someone two years her junior, but Michael did experience hardships she hadn’t – Michael was bound to grow up to be wiser than her. Deanna Naitt had realised just how pampered and childish she really was.

The two sat in peaceful silence before deciding that it was time to return. Abel, as he had promised, was waiting by the gate, looking like a grumpy cat when he saw Dea and Michael approach, but his face softened by many degrees when Michael flashed him his usual smile. The trio walked home together, down the lonesome pavement while weaving friendly small talks.

The sunshine filtered through the creeping silver clouds that had suddenly invaded the sky, darkening the surroundings but at the same time creating elegant pillars of light. When the children passed Dea’s favourite coffee shop, the old man Dea met the other day had just come out of the said coffee shop with a steaming cup of their famous beverage, the Black Whirlwind. The man noticed the children and his beady eyes took on a pitying edge. He walked towards them and placed a hand on Michael’s shoulder.

“Heard what happened, boy. I’m really sorry,” the man said.

“It’s alright, sir,” Michael replied, confused as to how this man could be so familiar with them.

“I mean, yeah, we’re still grieving and in shock but we can’t just be like that forever,” Dea took over, “It’s been three days since he died, and we didn’t really have the sadness in us anymore. Brian didn’t like sad stuff.” Dea smiled nostalgically at this.

The old man smiled sympathetically at this. “Well, it’s good that you have some sweet things to remember him,” he said.

“Yeah…Oh, right!” Dea turned to Abel and Michael, gesturing in to introduce the old man and her brothers. “Sir, this is my twin brother Abel and my other brother Michael,” Dea pointed to the two boys respectively. “Guys, this is Mr…?”

“Craig. You can call me Craig,” the old man – Craig, now – said.

“He’s my fan!” Dea whispered to Abel gleefully. Abel mouthed an “Oh” and looked at the old man in more recognition. “Anyway, I’m sorry to have to cut our meeting short but we have to go now, sir.”

“I told you to call me Craig! But oh well – be careful, kids.” The three kids walked on towards their house with Craig watching them with soft eyes. “Kids grow up so fast, nowadays,” he muttered good-naturedly.

* * *

Annette’s door blasted open as Ace barged in, suspicion heavy in his eyes. “Alright, Annie – spit it out. I know you know something,” he demanded dangerously.

Annette flinched when the door slammed loudly against the wall, turning towards Ace from where she was perched at her bed, back facing the door. “…Jenny is going to kill you for that,” she said tiredly.

“She’s out right now and even if she was here I wouldn’t care.” Ace took long strides forwards and stood in front of Annette’s bed. “Now talk.”

The brunette watched Ace for a moment, working out an escape route – alas, Ace was a persistent person, and he would always get what he wants. “How did you know?” Annette asked calmly.

“Uncle Pietro told me that the people Cornelius would force to join him would be Michael, you and I. And yes, I met Uncle Pietro – that was why I ran out of the house and returned looking like a truck had hit me…Or so Erin told me.”

“Why were you talking to him?”

“As I had hinted just now, we were talking about Cornelius, and he told me not to let him inside the house but we realised that it was too late. I remembered what Dea had said about someone she assumed was Cornelius sneaking into our house at night. She was right. Now he had put forth his plans smoothly as if we’re nothing but twigs. He sent you an ‘invitation’, right? And he confronted Michael face-to-face. He was the one who killed Brian in order for us to relent.” Annette winced visibly at the mention of Brian’s name, and then her face morphed into disbelief and anger. “So, you’d better tell me – us, you need to tell us all – about the letter. We can help you, Anne.”

Weighing Ace’s words carefully, Annette finally got up and walked over to her monitor, turning it on and opening the link to her e-mail. A formal-looking e-mail sprung to life, glaring critically at the two. Ace read the e-mail quickly and frowned deeply when he had finished. “That filthy backstabber,” he growled.

“I was thinking on whether or not I should tell anyone, especially at the part where he  would most certainly murder those we hold dear if Jenny or Zach were to know,” Annete said gravely, “My mum came up to my mind first. Then it was you all, the Naitt children. Lastly it was Zach. I don’t – I don’t know what to do.” Annette nearly choked on her last words. She buried her face in her hands, eyes screwed shut in fear she would cry. How did it come to this? She knew being born to this privileged family would bring nothing but sorrow. If she could, she would rather be reborn as a farm girl than the brilliant Annette Marion Naitt, illegitimate daughter of Zacharias Jonathan Naitt.

But even through her turmoil she didn’t let a tear escape her glass-coloured eyes. Naitt or not, she was still a woman full of dignity. Annette brought her head up and looked at Ace determinedly. “How will you help?”

Ace smirked at Annette’s strength, caught between acknowledgement and surprise. “Well,” he said, “we need to have some things to sort out first –”

“– Like getting Michael to work with us,” Erin piped up from the door. Annette snapped her head towards her, an eyebrow arched in question. “But,” Erin continued, “we mustn’t let Dea know in fear of interference. Abel and Hiero must not know either, for they are known to be loyal to Dea. Therefore, we must confront Michael espionage style.”

“But Michael’s close to Dea, too,” Annette pointed out, “How are you going to get him to trust you?”

“Ah…Michael may be close to Dea, but he is closer to me,” Erin smirked, “If I can convince him enough to trust me more than Dea then we are successful.”

“That sounds like you’re trying to make Dea a bad person, Erin,” Annette frowned.

“Don’t worry; I’m not going to worsen the family relationship. This is just for everyone’s good. Once this is all over, I will personally clear off any misunderstandings.” What Erin had missed out on her declaration was that this was the chance for her to get back on Dea for sabotaging her otherwise perfect plan to find out more about Cornelius Naitt. And so Erin smiled innocently at Ace and Annette whilst her mind worked out evil(?) schemes.

-rookieMANGAKA

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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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