“Eek!”, yelped Mourner, turning quickly to the sound of a twig snapping under his weight.
“Are you all right, Mourner?”, asked his Mistress, with an uncaring tone, sauntering through the jungle.
“Yes, Mistress.”, Mourner answered politely, trying to quietly trail behind his Mistress without getting the attention of the giant serpent lazily hanging above in the trees, eyeing them in what Mourner could only assume was a hungry gaze.
“Good” his Mistress spoke, with a cheeky grin on her face,” We are almost there,”
Lalo had one job. That was it. Deliver the child and be done with this mess that his sire had brought upon him. Of course, Lalo wasn’t very fond of the self-proclaimed emperor, but he needed the gold. He was the personal assistant of the Emperor Chonulo, and he had the life of a wealthy man, but he knew something wasn’t right about the trade that had occurred between The Emperor and the stranger that was Oshinawa.
Lalo thought back to when he had heard his majesty speak with a woman, whom he had later found out was a witch, about spreading his empire, which was just a village at that time. He could swear he heard the Emperor suggest using and trading with a demon to help his town grow in wealth, size, and power. He knew no good was going to come out of this, but still, he obediently followed instructions. He was there when the witch had made an offering to what she called The Eastern Spirits. He didn’t know what she had offered since she spoke in a strange, guttural language, but if he had to guess, it had something to do with her body. Since that moment, he saw how she changed. Her abdomen appeared to grow in size as if she were pregnant gradually. The emperor had ordered Lalo to oversee how the witch was doing day and night and to care for her by doing all she desired. He was technically her slave. He was always with her and remained calm even though the witch abused him and yelled her orders at him in broken Spanish in an accent so terrible; he barely understood anything she said.
One would assume that since she was so cruel and abusive, and a witch, that she would be a nasty hag, but that was not the case. She was beautiful, but Lalo wasn’t so easily fooled. He knew that was just a spell. Lalo guessed that she was a very powerful witch and was in no doubt immersed in the dark arts. She would often threaten Lalo by saying that she would put a curse on him if she were not taken care of or if he didn't listen to her. She wanted him with her all the time and overworked him. He did not have a chance for a break and was forced to sleep with her in her bed, so Lalo witnessed first-hand when the child was born.
A severe thunderstorm seemed to appear out of nowhere as the child was born, the harsh winds howling viciously outside of the room they dwelled in. He remembered as the once bright day darkened in a matter of seconds, foul clouds of rain succeeding in covering the once warm rays of the sun to welcome a chilly typhoon, but just as the storm had appeared, it stopped abruptly at the cry of the child. Lalo's breathing had ended, and the only sound he could hear was the wailing of the baby.
He remembered holding the child in his arms, wrapped in the best cloth that he had found. He will never forget the sight of the baby covered in his arms as it opened its eyes and stared at Lalo, with one a soft, creamy caramel and the other a bright, neon blue. He immediately knew that the baby was different. The witch had passed out, breathing heavily in her sleep, so he had taken the baby to a prepared nursery, still captivated by the baby’s sleepy gaze.
Lalo didn’t remember how long he had stayed at the nursery, staring at the baby’s beautiful tan skin, his handsome face and his strange pointy ears, but suddenly he heard sharp shouts coming from the outside of the nursery, gradually getting closer. Interested and somewhat in a panic, he left the room and was tackled down by a soldier, heavily falling on his stomach and losing his breath — the soldier on top of him holding his arms behind his back, resulting in Lalo to yelp in pain.
“Where is it, Lalo?” he heard the gruff voice of his sire ask. He tried to speak, but what came out was a mere grunt. The soldier tightened his hold on Lalo’s arms, but Lalo could only scream in pain. “Is it in the nursery? Answer me, pathetic thief!” accused the Emperor, but all Lalo could muster was a shaky and sharp nod. “Look in there, hurry!” ordered the Emperor, telling the soldier to pick up Lalo and bring him to the nursery as well. The soldier hefted him up and roughly pushed him to the nursery.
“Y-you don’t understand!”, tried Lalo, but he was cut off abruptly by the soldier smacking his head, warning him to be silent, but he didn’t need the soldier to tell him anything, because when he was pushed inside the nursery, he found himself gawking, like the others, at what was before them.
The kid was sitting in the crib that it had been placed in, but it seemed to be bigger, appearing to be a toddler now. It was sitting with its back turned to him, fumbling with the cloth that was wrapped around it. It turned its head to the crowd that had entered the nursery and stared at them with its caramel and blue eyes. Lalo’s breath hitched. How was this possible? Lalo glanced towards the Emperor, and he was greeted with an accusing glare. “Where is the baby, Lalo?” asked the Emperor angrily, turning his full attention on Lalo. Lalo lets merely his head down and snorted. They didn’t know that it was right in front of them. Suddenly, he was thrown onto the ground and was proceeded to be kicked, taking away his breath once again as he was harshly kicked in the gut. He went into a fetal position and waited till the kicking stopped for him to raise his head. Everybody’s attention was aimed towards the crib again. He followed their line of sight and was surprised to find that the kid was now standing in front of them, with nothing to cover itself. Everyone could see now that it was a boy.
The Emperor gasped and took some steps back, the soldiers appearing at his sides and taking on a defensive stance, apparently attempting to protect the Emperor, but they couldn’t fool Lalo. He could see them shaking as well.
“Wait!” Lalo heard someone yell behind them. Storming inside, the witch stood in front of the boy with her arms spread wide, hiding the kid behind her garments. “He da babee!” she shrieked. The room filled with silence, rudely interrupted by the Emperor as he fell to his knees, raising his hands towards his face shakily with his mouth open in a silent scream.
Lalo thought that was a rather strange reaction, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it. A sharp hit to the head made Lalo lose consciousness, sending him into a deep dark void.
When he woke with a start, he was immediately taken to the Emperor by the guards that had been patiently waiting by his bed in the dungeon. No time for food, no time to dress appropriately. No time for anything. He remembered being shoved into the Emperor’s study, where he found the witch and the Emperor standing by a large window, staring at him with grim expressions. He took in his surroundings, bewitched by all the millions of books that seemed to adorn the study’s walls. The color of the barriers that were not covered by anything was a pleasant peach, the rich dark reds of the curtains accenting quite nicely. In the middle of the room, there were two burgundy lounge chairs and a large sofa, sitting on a dark red carpet, looking super comfortable. Lalo’s legs twitched, him restraining himself from going over to one and sinking into it with glee. He seemed to remember what was going on at the moment and he was going to ask what was going on when he suddenly felt something soft tug at his hand. He glanced down and immediately jumped away. There was the toddler, who was dressed in white pants and a black shirt with white sandals hugging his tiny feet perfectly. The boy now looked at Lalo with a shocked expression. Lalo tried to calm his rapidly beating heart and turned a confused gaze at the Emperor and the witch.
“Remarkable, isn’t...he?” the Emperor asked, moving towards the chairs and taking a seat, the witch following him and sitting at the other. Lalo took this as an invitation and sat warily on the sofa, putting his hands on his lap, feeling nervous for what the Emperor would say. The boy followed Lalo and jumped on the sofa, leaning against him and closing his eyes. Lalo simply tensed and tried to shrug him away, but the boy would not budge. After a few more attempts he finally gave up and sighed, turning his attention to the Emperor and the witch, finding them staring at him and the boy with deep looks. Lalo started to ask what was wrong but was cut off by the Emperor raising his hand at him. “No, Lalo. You will not have to apologize. It is I who has to apologize. I deemed you a thief, and I hurt you. I should not have hurt you. It was a mistake on my part and will not be repeated.”
Lalo stared at the Emperor with a shocked expression. He could not believe what he was hearing. The Emperor- no, his sire! He was apologizing! Maybe he was not as bad as he had thought! Maybe-! “I wasn’t finished, Lalo.” the Emperor said, interrupting Lalo’s train of thought. “I apologize for hurting you, for that was my mistake. Yes, yes. It was a grave mistake. Instead...I should have killed you.”
Lalo froze. “W-what?”
“Look, Lalo. You have served me as a magnificent assistant. You followed every order that was given and followed them through till the end without complaint.” The Emperor then looked Lalo up and down slowly, grinning. “You even pleased me in ways that my wife, may she rest in peace, could not please me in.” he purred. Lalo hated it when he purred.
The witch looked over at Lalo and gave him a look as if asking him if it was true. He immediately felt his face burn and flush with color. The Emperor had sworn he’d never mention it to anybody. Lalo guessed he was lying then too.
“But nonetheless”, the Emperor continued, “you stole the...boy from the witch’s arms and ran to the nursery to do some wicked act, as explained by my lovely companion here.” he motioned towards the witch, who sneered at Lalo, “so for that I am forced to take amends into my own hands and follow the law of this growing and flourishing empire that is Papian, and punish a thief by the appropriate punishment: Death.”
Lalo threw himself to the floor, startling the boy from rest. Lalo remembered himself begging for his life as if he were a culprit. “PLEASE! NO! I BEG YOU! SPARE MY LIFE!” He would scream while shaking uncontrollably. Lalo knew he had done nothing wrong, but how could he explain this to the Emperor when he considered ending Lalo’s life already?
“Calm down, Lalo!” the Emperor ordered. Lalo immediately silenced his begging. “ I am considering your execution, but due to your service, I have decided that I will give you a second chance. All you need to do is take that boy to the forest out by the farmlands. Do you know the one?” Lalo nodded quickly, gulping loudly. "All right. There you will stay until my guards return for you. Even if it takes day and night. Do you understand, Lalo?” Once again, Lalo nodded.
With that, Lalo was dismissed and immediately escorted to the mentioned forest, where he stood with the boy beside him at the moment. Lalo didn’t remember the Emperor ordered him to stay in one spot, but he was afraid the guards would miss them when they returned, so he sought the nearest tree and sat down, the boy sitting beside him. Lalo looked over at the boy and noticed that the boy was looking around him in amazement. He also saw that the boy had grown more significant since the last time. No doubt he seemed to be five or six years old. Lalo found it strange, but as he was pondering that thought, the boy turned to him and looked him directly in his eyes and spoke, “Is something wrong?”
Lalo jumped to his feet and put some distance between him and the boy. Had he just spoken? He couldn’t believe it! The boy simply tilted his head in confusion and lifted a brow in question and obvious amusement. Lalo was freaked out, but he was also extremely curious. “ Um, I apologize, I didn’t know you could talk. I mean, I know you can speak now, but you were born approximately two days ago, and you shouldn’t even be so...BIG! You, uh, um, y-you, um-!
The boy burst out laughing, and Lalo went silent. It was a beautiful sound to hear someone laugh. It had been a long time since he had heard such a genuine laugh, unlike the cackles of the witch or the mocking laughter of the royal guards. It was pure and sweet. “I apologize sir, but it is very comedic to watch you trip in your own words. I do not know how I can speak either, but I do enjoy it instead of thinking all the time and not being able share what is on my mind, like how I thought about the strange creatures and leaves in this dense forest and enjoyed the warmth from the sun and I…” the boy kept talking, but Lalo was left baffled by what he was hearing. How did the boy know what a forest even was or how did the boy even know such complicated words?
They began to converse about the simplest of things — the clouds, the creatures in the forest, the beasts in the jungle that was near this forest, and about the different trees in the area. Lalo was surprised to see that the boy held basic knowledge about wild animals and flora. The boy, however, did not know anything else. Lalo asked him about the stars and was greeted with a confused gaze. Lalo then decided to speak about what the boy knew and quickly began to feel at ease around him, relaxing and laughing as the boy amused him with his excitement and wonder at the world.