World of Vala: the Next Generation
By Lemon Pop
Angelo observed the boy who was sitting quietly on a rock in front of Breezehome, deeply focused on a book. The kid looked just like his mother. Dark brown eyes – the mother's. Black hair – well, both parents had it, but the way the child's short locks were silken and well behaved, that was no doubt the mother's, compared to Angelo’s kinky hair. Pale skin – compared to the dark skin of his father. That was the mother's. Even the masculine features, such as the strong chin and broad shoulders, still somehow resembled the mother.
From his advantage point on the roof of his house, he watched as the kid obviously flipped a page. He even acted like the mother, sweet but introverted, quick witted, a bit lonely, oddly quiet for a child his age. Angelo briefly wondered if that was how the mother had behaved when young, too. At first he had thought her reclusiveness came from her bad experiences, but now, inspecting her son, he realized maybe it was just a trait of her personality.
"Something bothering you, Angelo?"
He turned to see his friend Adesina approaching from the stairs behind. She leaned next to him against the rail and followed his gaze to the peacefully entertained youngster below.
"He looks nothing like me," He grumbled, a bit irked.
The druid frowned. "You think she went bed-hopping and the kid is someone else's?"
No, not at all. The mother's faithfulness was something he never even bothered to question – he trusted her completely.
"I'm more worried that she somehow had a baby with herself. The boy is so much her, it's scary. See him reading, there? She loves to read."
"You like books, too," She pointed out.
"Yes, but – Look! Will you look at that!" He pointed, exasperated. "He even licks his fingers before turning the pages, like she does!"
Adesina laughed a bit at that. "Well, it's only natural for a Vaconic child to resemble the Vaconic parent."
"Still. Would it hurt if he was a little like me? Even a teeny tiny little bit?"
She rolled her eyes. "Nonsense. I'm sure there's something of you in him. Tell you what, I'll show you."
Without waiting for a reply, she turned back, climbed down the stairs and approached the boy. Angelo hid in the shadows and followed her, eager to see what his friend had in mind. He hid in a secluded spot and observed keenly.
"Hey, kiddie," Adesina greeted, ruffling the boy's short hair. The youth slowly lifted his gaze from the book.
"Good afternoon, Master Druid," He responded.
'Good afternoon, Master Druid? The manners of that boy. He was so polite it was borderline ridiculous – he was ten, for the love of Vala. What happened to 'Hi Aunt Adesina, did you bring me a cookie? What happened to 'Did you see a beast today'? Where did the enthusiastic 'Tell me a story about your travels go?
'Good afternoon, Master Druid? Honestly? His boy was more educated than the children of the King. Which, come to think of it, wasn't really that difficult. But that, that eloquent, aristocratically elegant way of talking?
That was the mother's.
Adesina blinked, apparently thinking something similar. "Hmm. What do you say about taking the skies with me and Valor? I could even take you to see the inland sea."
The lad frowned a little. The way his eyebrows scrunched up cutely above the brown eyes made him look just like the mother.
"I don't think it would be wise. Mother expects me home by sunset, and said curfew is almost upon me."
And of course the child actually followed rules. What kind of ten-year-old passed down a trip to take flight on a dragon only to obey his mother's curfew? That couldn't be natural.
Got it from his mother.
"Oh." The druid muttered. "Why don't you leave her a message, then?"
The boy considered that for a bit. "I suppose I could, but the surprise of finding a note in my stead wouldn't please her. If you don't mind, I would rather wait and get her consent. Have a seat, Aunt Druid. She won't be long."
Adesina sat down next to the kid, distinctly puzzled, the child returned his attention to the book.
"So," Adesina interrupted his reading, "Where is your ma off to?"
"The Hall of the Dead," He answered, eyes still glued to the page. "To pay her respects to her dead master, I reckon."
"Or maybe she's raising an army of undead to take over Vala, eh? Think she would do that?" The Druid teased, poking the lad's ribs.
He lowered the book and lifted his head to face her. He tilted his head to the side, like the mother did when she was thoughtful.
"Possible, but unlikely. She certainly has the skills, but I fail to see any motivation. We already have a castle, anyway."
The Druid seemed dumbstruck by the boy's pragmatic reply, and the Angelo shared her surprise. For a while, the two just sat there in silence, she looking at the distance, he deeply immersed in his story. Darkness slowly climbed up the horizon and the kid twitched his wrist absently, summoning a ball of light. The Angelo frowned. He was an atrocious mage. The child's spells and the magical aptitude?
Surely got it all from the mother.
"Why are you not out there playing with the other children?" Adesina questioned abruptly.
He shrugged. "Braith's been avoiding me ever since I told her I'd turn her into a toad –"
"You what?" Adesina asked incredulously.
"She likes to pick on Lars," He explained. "He started staying home to avoid her, and then she decided to pick on me, so I told her I was a mage and I'd turn her into a toad if she tried to beat me."
The Druid burst out laughing. "And she believed you?"
The kid grinned. "Not at first. But I used a spell mother taught me to send her running."
The Druid gave him a light slap on the back of his head. "But you can't really turn her into a toad. Didn't your mom teach you not to lie?"
His eyes sparkled a bit in defiance. "She taught me not to get caught lying," He retorted.
Angelo mentally swore to have a serious chat with the mother about the boy's moral education.
"What about the other children?" The Huntress snapped, changing subject.
"Lars is a wimp, but he follows me around ever since I scared Braith off. I get him to do my chores sometimes, but he's not very fun to play with."
"You can't bully other children into doing your work for you," Adesina chided.
"I don't. He offers to do it because he's in awe of me, and I just play along. People frown upon him and his cowardice, and he's often so needy for positive attention, if you give him a bit of praise he'll be happy like a puppy."
Dear divines, his son was a psychopath.
His friend's jaw dropped, and Angelo's went down with it. He moved that morality chat up on his list of priorities. Though, come to think of it, there wasn't really much to do. That manipulative streak, the way he got people to do what he wanted and do it happily? Angelo knew it all too well. That was probably how he ended up with the boy's mother on first place.
"Mila is nice," He continued casually, closing his book. "But she's helping her mother with the shop right now. I like Lucia, too, but she can hardly ever play. She's usually off looking for some sort of way to feed herself. I always give her my snacks when we meet."
Lucia was probably the orphan Angelo saw every once in a while at the plaza. His heart broke for the many stray children the war left behind.
"What about the kiings kids?"
He snorted. "Sara is a bit dull in the head – all he wants to do is fistfight. And the other two are just insufferable. Plus, I'm led to believe the youngest one, Nelkir, is involved with Vano woship."
Adesina smirked at that, raising a quizzical eyebrow. Angelo could understand her reaction – talking and playing games about Vanowere as popular among children as games about other monsters. Every kid loved to fantasize about the boogeymen, and apparently that included Angelo's own boy.
"Ooh? Is that so?" The Druid said. "Tell me more then, about this Vano."
The lad narrowed his eyes, vaguely suspicious he was being treated with condescendence. Dear divines, his guarded expression looked so much like the mother's, when she and Angelo first met. He sighed and spoke anyway.
"Nelkir calls her The Whispering Lady. Says she lives in the basement."
"Hmm, so the King arl has a Vano entity in the basement?" She said, pulling the boy onto her lap, much to his indignation. "And have you ever seen this Whispering Lady?"
"Heard her once," He replied.
Angelo and the Huntress frowned in sync. That was one kid with a vivid imagination, there.
"And what did she tell you?"
"It is more about what she did not tell me," He replied. "She said she knew terrible things about both my parents. She said… she told me mother orchestrated the death of a God."
Angelo felt his blood freeze in his veins. Where in the world had the youngster heard about that?
"Those are some crazy lies," Adesina snarled at him.
He didn't flinch – instead, he boldly met her gaze.
"Are they? Family stories tend to be quite public when your father is the Angelo."
Of course the kid would eventually find out the truth, but it was way too early.
"And what did you tell the Whispering Lady?" The druid asked, drawing the boy closer. Truthfully, what she had actually asked was how he felt about the whole thing, and Angelo held his breath in anticipation.
"The most important is what she did not say," He repeated. "I told her I could not inflict a verdict without knowing the whole story. What they did sounds wrong, yes, but I trust my parents' judgment. I believe they had a good purpose."
That was…surprisingly quite reasonable. He felt his heart melt at the trust the kid placed on him, and resisted the urge to jump off his hidden spot to snuggle his little one. He loved the lad, really did.
"That's good, kiddie," The Druid praised, caressing his hair. "Your ma and I don't always see eye to eye, but she did the right thing."
"Then," The boy continued, "She said I could return if I wanted to know more, and I told her I did not like the way she was trying to pull strings on me. So I didn't go back there anymore. Look, there comes mother."
Angelo snapped his neck to the side and there indeed came the mother, breathtaking as always.
"Adesina," She said in a carefully neutral tone.
"Serana." The druid greeted back.
The two never really got along – their dissent was religious – but they ended up reaching a spot of mutual tolerance after a while. They acted civil around one another, and that was probably the best he would ever get. His friend let the boy get up to welcome back the mother.
"Mommy!" He called, hugging her legs. "Can I go out with Adesina? Please?"
"Kiddie was just telling me about how the King has a monster in his basement," The druid said, getting up herself.
"A monster? Gardain, you know you shouldn't joke –"
She stopped at a glare from the Druid, a look that seemed to say 'let the kid be a kid'. She sighed in defeat.
" – Fine. Go hunt a monster with Adesina, then. But be back before dinner or you'll go to bed hungry!"
The boy's grin went from ear to ear, and the mother couldn't help but beam back at him. They were so alike it almost hurt. Even the little dimples when they smiled were the same. Divines, they were both so cute.
"Thanks ma, love you!" The kid yelped, before grabbing the Druid’s hand and dragging her along. "– will see I'm telling the truth! There is a monster in the basement!"
He watched the kid go in awe. Sometimes, the surprise of having a son still truck him hard. A daddy, him. He jumped off his hidden spot.
"What were you doing on the roof?" Marizmech asked, intrigued.
"Just watching. You know, him. And you. "
She opened the door to there home and they stepped inside.
"You're really alike, the two of you," He continued, moving to the cooking pot to make dinner.
"Naturally. I'm his mother."
"Speaking of which," Angelo began. "We have to talk. About his moral education."
She crossed her arms over her chest. "Has he killed anyone for no good reason?"
"Mortally wounded or handicapped?" She continued.
"Has he stolen anything?"
That one was accompanied by a sharp accusatory glare on her part.
"No, but –"
"Then there's nothing to talk about."
"That's not fair," He protested. "You're making him your minion. He's turning into mini-you."
She smiled, her scars strained on her face "I fail to see the problem with that."
"It's not fair," He repeated. "He already looks like you and acts like you and even talks like you. Why does he get to have your blue-and-orange morality as well?"
"As opposed to what?" She challenged. "Your sweet roll-and-stew one? You're just jealous he takes after me so much."
"Well, yes." He admitted.
She turned to him, surprised. "Really?"
"It doesn't help that you won't marry me," He accused. "So I always half expect you to grab my son and vanish into the night."
She stepped closed to him, bore her eye into his. He had always loved that glowing orb.
"Don't be a fool," She whispered, making his heart race. A mischievous smile – "I can grab my little underling and vanish into the night, regardless of being married or not."
He must have looked pretty stunned then, because she burst out laughing. "But I won't, because you are a good daddy." She playfully pulled on a stray lock of his hair. "And stop giving me those puppy eyes."
The hiss of steam from the pot told him dinner was ready, and he took the pan to the table and had a seat. Marizmech sat down next to him, and they ate in peaceful silence until he finally voiced the question that had been nagging him all along.
"Say, Marizmech?" He began, uncertain.
"How do you feel about adopting?"
She tilted her head to the side, just like their son did. "You want another kid?"
"I guess? I heard Gardain talking about his little friend, Lucia. Said she has nowhere to go. Nothing to eat." He gave her a long, pensive look. "And we have this empty room here since Lydia moved out, and more than enough space in Proudspire, so I thought why not?"
"Lucia, Lucia," She muttered under her breath. "The little one he always gives his snacks to? Ah." She put on an impish smirk. "You and him are more alike than you think."
He frowned, but before he could ask what exactly she had meant, she shrugged. "We have the space, and the money, and Gardain could use a little sister. Besides, I wouldn't mind having another – what did you call them? Minions. A girl minion would be nice."
His grin was huge and sheepish. "I really, really, really love you, Marizmech."
She rolled her eyes at him. "You're tolerable, I suppose."
He stuck his tongue out at her. Smiling, she moved close to him and ran her fingers through his hair. She gave it a tug and he bowed his head to allow her to braid it.
"He missed dinner," She commented as her skilled fingers weaved his locks.
"You worry too much," He grumbled.
"Of course. He is his father's son, after all."
That was outrageous on so many levels.
"What do you mean by that?" He inquired.
"That he clearly has a knack for getting into trouble."
An image of the boy serenely reading on the yard flashed through his head.
"What? The kid is an angel."
"Yes, and you have me to thanks for that," She muttered.
"You're not making any sense."
She released him, and he looked up at her, a single braid dangling on the side of his head. She liked his hair weaved. He liked her hair free. She eyed him intently as he extended his hand and pulled on her hairdo, letting loose one side. Now they both had a single braid, but she had adorable bangs covering half her face.
"Tell you what," Marizmech smirked, tucking her curls below her ear. "A hundred gold coins says they actually find a monster in the kings basement."
It was past midnight when Adesina finally returned, looking disheveled and carrying a sleeping kid on her shoulder. Angelo stepped up from where he had been standing to take his boy from her, and his friend did not hesitate in grabbing a bottle of mead and straddling the nearest chair.
"You won't believe what happened," She said even as she bit off the cork of her drink.
He walked to the side room in order to place the lad on his bed. On his way, taking a quick glance back, he spotted a very triumphant looking Marizmech.
"Do tell," He heard the mother prompt.
"There was a monster in the kings basement."
The Angelo placed his son on the mattress with the uttermost care, then took a moment to admire the sight before him. A father, him. Who would have guessed? He pulled the covers over the kid and blew out the candle, feeling somehow unexplainably proud.
"That's my boy," He muttered to himself.
He heard a yell of 'Don't forget my money' coming from the living room, and reached out for his coin purse, grinning all the way. It was his boy, all right.