"Human! How do I look?!" An excited child, not older than six threw himself towards a confused and disgruntled Cale like a supersonic missile. The red haired 'slacker' took a second to understand what was happening before picking up the exuberant child as if it was the most natural thing to do.
"Aigoo, you've become heavier." He grunted half-heartedly, as he fussed over the black haired, blue eyed child who was a mini carbon copy of himself.
You're jwust a weak human." Cale felt a strange emotion welling in his chest as the
child complained with his
"Dongsaeng why do I—Who is this child?!" Alberu, who had hurried over to Cale to
complain again talk about something, stopped mid-sentence as he looked at the possible father-son duo.
".....Dongsaeng, did you hide something important from me, again ?" His eyes curved as his face morphed into the typical 'why-don't-you-explain-the-situation-before-I-start-shouting' expression reserved for his troublesome brother in all but blood.
"I-" Cale frowned, feeling wronged. He had done nothing to warrant that expression. That smile and those curved eyes gave him the shivers, no matter how many times he was subjected to them.
"Just when did you father a secret child and how did he grow up so fast?"
"......... He's Raon." Cale deadpanned, unable to believe that Alberu didn't recognise the great and mighty dragon who was practically pampered by him.
"Ah." His hyung's expression relaxed. "So it's your third child!".
"Third? Who are the other two?" Cale asked, not denying the fact that Raon was his son.
This made the child nestled in his embrace clutch him tighter with a pleased smile and bright eyes.
"It's On and Hong, of course."
"Ah." Cale accepted it without a thought. But the weird feeling in his chest was slowly increasing in intensity.
"I want to know, how did you decide to turn into a human?"
"I wanted to be like Cale" Raon muttered softly in an uncharacteristic show of shyness.
"What?", asked Cale, unable to hear him properly. The crown prince, who had a naturally enhanced sense of hearing due to his dark elf heritage, smiled softly. He didn't yet know why, but he felt something in him slowly melting as he looked at his brother and nephew.
"The wolf chwildren told me that pwawents and their offspwings look alike. On a compwetely unwelated nwote, I dwecided to see how I looked like in my hwumanoid fowm" For some reason, Raon's lisp seemed to have worsened.
Cale nodded in understanding. To be honest, he had often wondered what the black dragon would look like in his humanoid form. He knew that dragons could change forms after their first growth phase, but he hadn't thought of mentioning that to Raon, since the baby dragon had traumatic memories associated with humans.
A knock interrupted their conversation. The father and son turned towards the door at the same time, as if it was something they practiced daily. Alberu had a hard time hiding his amusement. His dongsaeng and nephew were too cute, to be honest.
The door opened, revealing the man, Bud Illis.
"Hey! What-" His face slowly paled as he saw two 'Cales' looking at him with identical expressions.
"D-did you create a cloning device or something?" He asked with trepidation. "Wait, no. Don't tell me. I was just asking casually…." He tried to smile, but it came off worse than a grimace.
Cale raised his eyebrows, wondering if the mercenary king was having alcohol induced delusions. He didn't notice that Raon was copying his expression. The crown prince covered his mouth to stop his amused smile from leaking out.
Bud watched in growing horror as the mini Cale-Clone copied the movements of the original Cale Henituse. After a few seconds watching this bizarre (for him) scene, something in him snapped, and he ran away screaming "OH NO! THERE'S TWO OF THEM!".
"What's with him?" Cale muttered, completely bewildered. But his voice was drowned by the uncontrollable peals of laughter coming from his hyung. Alberu had finally lost the fight to control his amusement.
Cale just looked at his hyung, feeling weirdly happy for some reason. It couldn't possibly be due to witnessing the crown prince laugh sincerely without reservations. He didn't know when his lips had curved in a small smile of their own.
"Daad! I want to eat chwicken skewews! Let's go out to shop!"
Raon half tumbled and half ran to Cale. The baby dragon was still getting used to his humanoid body and as such, he was clumsier than a child his age. This didn't stop him from running around and crashing into things, though. Sometimes, he tried to fly and Cale shuddered to think what would happen if he wasn't there to keep an eye on this troublemaker child.
He conveniently forgot that Raon was a great and mighty dragon who could cast an unlimited number of spells, including flying magic.
It was a good thing that he had already told the servants in the Henituse manor to childproof certain parts of the house so that Raon could play in it without injuring himself.
He didn't notice the shocked looks they gave him when he brought Raon to the manor.
"Sure, but not now. Father has called for me for some reason." Cale indulged
the dragon-child as he rubbed his head full of soft black hair. The adorable little child, who was less than half the height of the redhead, hugged Cale's waist in return.
That weird feeling was worsening for some reason. He decided to ignore it since it wasn't uncomfortable
, he could even call it pleasant.
Cale knocked on the door to Deruth's study and entered it after hearing a reply.
For some reason, Cale was feeling nervous, like a son whose secret love child had been found by his father. He mentally scoffed at the ridiculous example and looked at Duke Deruth.
"Yes." The Henituse patriarch stayed silent for a few minutes, increasing Cale's apprehension. Finally, he found the words he wanted to say.
"Cale…..I know I haven't been a particularly good father. I don't always pay you the proper attention you require, and I have nothing to say for that, except that I am sorry." Deruth seemed to have aged a few years as he said this.
'What the hell? First it was the servants who refused to meet his eyes. Now it's my father, who's talking in circles!' the redhead thought in exasperation.
"What are you talking about?" He asked with a frown.
Deruth took in a deep breath, and continued as if he hadn't heard Cale.
"There are some things a father must tell his sons. Although I should've told this to you a long time ago, I neglected it. And look how it turned out!"
This…..this felt awfully like the infamous Talk TM he had heard about in his life as Kim Rok Soo. There had been nobody to put him through that torture in his last life, and he couldn't believe that he would be so unlucky to encounter it in a different life after he became an adult. He wasn't a teenager now. So hadn't that ship sailed a long time ago? Why were they having this talk now of all times ?
Cale stood there with a wooden face, thoroughly annoyed, as Deruth proceeded to tell him about 'the bird and the bees' in an awkward tone.
"....so you see, that's how babies are really made. I'm so sorry that I lied to you in your childhood, babies aren't really delivered by storks, but you hadn't been ready to know about such a heavy topic. And now it's too late for this."
'Exactly! So you agree that it's too late.' Cale nodded somewhat approvingly. But the Henituse patriarch's next words threw him into a loop again.
"This is so disappointing. To think I was five years too late. I should've paid more attention to where you went."
"Hmm...wait, what ?"
"Yes. I heard everything from the servants. You don't have to hide it from me anymore." Deruth replied gravely.
"Uh...may I ask what this is about?" Cale frowned, puzzled. It was true that he had hidden many things from his biological family, but how would they come to know about those things from the servants?
"I am disappointed that you felt the need to conceal such an important fact from us. I know that we have been lacking as a family, but please, keeping such huge secrets is detrimental to people other than you. " Deruth looked so downtrodden that even Cale felt sympathetic for him.
"I don't know what you're talking about! Can you just tell me what is happening? What kind of secret did you find out?" The red-haired slacker finally reached the end of his patience. He didn't have time for this. He wanted to get some rest and then take the children out for shopping.
"I'm talking about my grandson!"
"Yes. Don't even try to deny it. I can't believe that you kept him hidden for so long! You didn't even introduce him to us! We had to find out from the servants."
"Also, who is the mother? Violan is so excited about meeting her grandson. Everybody says that he looks just like you!"
Was…….was Duke Deruth eager ? To meet Raon? Well, Cale had already decided to introduce the children to his biological family. Since the kittens had stayed back in Harris village, he hadn't had the opportunity to tell the Henituse Clan about them.
'I guess they will meet Raon first', Cale thought with a shrug.
"I'll bring him to meet you during dinner"
Deruth's moustache twitched as he fought to keep his excitement under control. He was finally going to meet his grandson. If the rumors were true, then his grandson looked exactly like his son. He glanced at his wife and two children who had assembled to meet the new addition to their family.
"Hyung has a child! I am an aunt now! Aah finally someone who is younger than me!" Lily exclaimed gleefully, twirling a wooden sword in her hands.
"Lily, it's oppa for you." Violan admonished her daughter with a straight face, but the twinkle in her eyes and her fingers that refused to remain still gave away her excitement. "You should keep that sword in the training hall! What if my grandson is hurt?"
"B-but i wanted to show him my swordsmanship!"
"That can be done later. Besides, are you going to wave your sword in the dining hall? What if the child gets scared?"
Basen watched the mother and daughter bicker with a smile. They hadn't yet met the child, but he could tell that everybody would pamper him with everything they had. He wondered if his nephew would like the sweets he bought as a gift.
A sound of a crash, followed by cheerful giggles echoed in the suddenly silent dining hall.
"Raon! Don't run like that! Did you hurt yourself?"
Deruth craned his neck towards the source of noise, hoping to get a glimpse of his grandson.
'So his name is Raon. Aah I love him already!', he thought with a soft look in his eyes.
"Don't wowwy! I am not huwt!" A childish voice replied back.
"Looks like I have to carry you"
"Aigooo you've grown heavier. Must be all those cookies and apple pies hyung fed you."
"I wasn't the ownly one who ate thwem! You ate thwem too! Besides, uncle cookie bwings the best sweets."
After waiting for what felt like an eternity, the Henituse family could finally see the glimpse of the newest member of the clan.
The red haired hero walked slowly while carrying a child who looked like an exact copy of him. The only difference they had was their age, hair and eye colour.
Cale put Raon down, complaining about how difficult it was for him to carry him for so long, while the child in question pouted at his 'father'. The grumbling redhead smoothed their crumpled clothes before straightening up and smiling at his biological family.
Raon, who had been pouting till now, suddenly felt shy and partially hid himself behind Cale.
The redhead raised an eyebrow, apparently surprised, and asked "Are you feeling shy?"
"N-no! I'm not!"
"Really? Then why are you hiding behind me? And what is this, are you blushing?"
"I am not! "
Basen watched his brother and nephew 'argue'. The situation felt very familiar.
"Why don't you introduce yourself? Or do you want me to introduce you?"
"I will intwodwuce myself!" Raon said resolutely.
"Hewwo! My nwame is Waon Miwu and I am a gwand total of six yeaws owld!"
"AAAH SO CUTE! LET ME PINCH YOUR CHUBBY CHEEKS!" Lily squealed at her lisping nephew.
'Waon' blinked his big blue eyes at the overexcited girl, covering his cheeks. That would be a big fat 'no', then.
"Lily." Violan looked at her daughter disapprovingly, ignoring the fact that she wanted to do the same thing.
Lily deflated, chastened. However, she refused to give up.
"I am Lily Henituse, your aunt! Nice to meet you Raon! Let's play together."
Raon bobbed his small head in acknowledgement after saying "but leave my cheeks alone".
"I am Basen Henituse, your uncle. I-I bought some sweets for you, I hope you enjoy them."
Raon's eyes twinkled at the mention of sweets and Basen felt proud of his foresight.
"I am Violan Henituse, your grandmother. You can call me grandma. I am very happy to finally meet you." She beamed at her grandson and got a cheerful smile in return.
"I-I am Deruth Henituse. Your grandfather."
Deruth was…..shy? How surprising.
Cale raised an eyebrow. Were they so excited to meet Raon? Well, at least nobody was asking him difficult questions.
" So....When did you find out about him?"
……... He'd talked too soon.
"Around two years ago."
"Ah that makes sense. So this is why you suddenly grew responsible and mature."
…...Were they……. misunderstanding something?
"Who is the mother? I would like to meet her if she doesn't have any problem." Violan asked seriously.
"Uh…" Cale wondered how he should explain Sheritt's circumstances.
"She's currently living near Harris village, but she can't step out of the house because of her condition." The 'slacker' explained vaguely, knowing that his parents would freak if he told them he had a villa in the forest of darkness. Even though that place was practically his backyard now, it was still considered as a forbidden zone by most people. And Sheritt's condition was a long story. It was something he didn't want to explain if he could help it.
'So this is why he was so concerned about Harris Village.' Deruth felt enlightened.
"Is it a long term illness?" Violan asked in concern. She looked at her chubby little grandson and felt a pain in her chest. Raon deserved all the love he could get. She decided to spoil him a bit so that he wouldn't be without a mother's love.
'.....try 'death'' Cale deadpanned in his mind, trying to think up an excuse that wouldn't take much effort to explain. Then he decided to do what he always did—blame it on the white star. Because why not?
"It was because of the White Star" he replied with a straight face. Well, technically speaking , he was telling the truth.
The Duke and Duchess gasped in unison.
'Is this why he was so determined to fight the white star even though The White Star is so powerful? Did he love Raon's mother so much?' Deruth suddenly felt pity and sympathy for his eldest son. When he had first heard that Cale had a son, he had wanted to scold him for being so irresponsible. However, now that he heard the truth, he couldn't find it in himself to blame him.
Basen and Lily had heard about the might of the White Star and they had always wondered why their older brother was so dead-set on opposing him. After all, there were other stronger people to fight him. But after hearing the reason, they wished things hadn't been like this. Cale deserved happiness and love. Why did he have to go through this?
Violan closed her eyes in sorrow. She didn't know that her step-son was going through so many hardships. She suddenly wanted to hit herself. Why did she have to ask such an insensitive question? She had been happy that cale had grown responsible, but if this was the real reason for the change, then she'd rather he didn't mature at all.
"I am so sorry." She whispered with misty eyes.
"Huh? Why would you be sorry?" Cale asked warily. Just what meaning had they derived from his rather simple answer?
'Look at him, acting as if he isn't going through so much pain and sorrow.', they thought, mentally promising themselves to do everything in their power to keep him happy.
" Ahem" The duke cleared his throat. "I think it's time to eat", he said with a forced smile.
"Fwood!" Raon exclaimed cheerfully. Hearing his grandson’s cute voice, the Henituse Patriarch's smile became a bit more natural.
And just like that, the heavy veil of grief had been lifted by a single word from the bright eyed child.
The food served was nothing short of a celebratory feast. It seemed as if the chefs at the kitchen had left no stone unturned to make something that would suit the youngest master of the family.
Raon, who had trouble cutting his steak suddenly found five plates of well cut steak being offered to himself. He thanked everybody with a grateful smile and didn't spare a second in stuffing himself with the delicious food.
The clinking of cutlery was the only sound in the hall. However, most of its occupants were busy staring at the small child for various reasons. Cale had to make sure that Raon didn't choke himself, and the rest were feeling full just by looking at the endearing father-son duo.
Lily even squealed and cooed a few times, the Henituse Couple watched, wishing they could join her too.
The cheerful atmosphere would've made any onlooker feel happy, yet Cale couldn't shake off the feeling that he was forgetting something crucial.
He suddenly remembered what he had forgotten.
"Oh right! I forgot to tell you, Raon is a dragon."
It took them a few moments to process those words. Then, the sound of falling silverware echoed in the suddenly silent dining hall and four pairs of dumbfounded eyes looked at cale in unison.
" WHAT?! "