Severo froze. Every instinct of training within him told the young knight not to answer, though the homesick child somewhere deep inside was begging him to. He had buried that side of himself years ago out of necessity. And yet something about that man’s voice brought it all screaming back to the surface like the false-fleshed body which had served as his corpse. He had done his best to avoid such feelings on the night of the attack, but he knew it would only be a matter of time before his father managed to track him down. Pontius.
“You are my son…are you not?”
Shit. There was no avoiding it now. Sure, he could put up a psychic barrier between them to make his father believe he wasn’t there, but that would be far more effort than it was worth. As it was, the man had lived with a substantial guilt over losing him all those years ago in Helias. Perhaps that was the weight Severo felt in his chest now. His father’s feeling…so much pain. So much anger and sorrow. So much love for his son. Tears streamed down the boy’s face, though he refused to budge.
“I am,” he answered. His heart thudded furiously in his chest.
“What the hell happened, Sev?”
“I did what I had to do,” the boy breathed. “I’m sorry I hurt you, but you had to let me go. It wasn’t safe for you-”
“Bullshit! Look at me,” Pontius cut him off. The knight hesitated. “Turn around Severo, and look at me! Don’t you dare shut me out. You used to do that when you were a kid. I won’t have it. Not now.”
“I don’t know why you think I feel ANYTHING for you!” the boy snapped, facing his father. “You never knew when to let go, even after I died! That day on the beach, when you took a picture of me holding the trout. I saw you in the distance with your camera, and though your face was hidden, I knew it was you. I could have had you thrown in prison.”
“Everyone called me insane when I told them you were still alive. Everyone! So what, am I supposed to be grateful-”
“Goddamn, they’ve done quite a number on you.”
“Perhaps I’m not your son.” Severo clenched his teeth as he felt his lower lip begin to tremble. “Maybe he really did drown and wash up on the beach that day.”
“No,” Pontius shook his head. “I can’t accept that. I won’t! I saw you on the Cassius, and we were…we were heading home,” the man choked through his tears. “I was going to bring you home, Sev!”
“Don’t you understand? I was home. I made my choice, and it wasn’t you…I’m sorry.”
Pontius bit his lip and looked nervously about the room, avoiding his son’s stone cold gaze. Severo did not feel he owed the man anything. He was Dalishkova now, through and through, and his father was branded a permanent enemy of Helias. For years, Pontius had completely cut him off from his mother and denied him of his true purpose. He had kidnapped him and brought him to live in Cavarice, where life was miserable and devoid of freedom. Anyone who spoke out against the city’s oligarchy faced imprisonment or death. And while the Dalishkova in Helias were certainly strict, it was nowhere near as bad as living beneath the constant smokescreen of Viktorium’s capital city.
“At least tell me what you’re doing here, huh?” Pontius sighed.
“I’m on a mission. That’s all I can tell you. Don’t worry, I won’t get in your way.”
“I’ll try to stay clear too,” the man nodded. “How’s the training going?”
“I’ve completed Five of the Seven Trials. After this, I’ll be returning to Helias for the final Two.”
“Impressive,” his father raised an eyebrow. “I know those aren’t easy for initiates.”
“They are difficult, but…I’ve so far been at the top of my class.” Severo relented as a sudden sympathetic feeling began to overcome him. This was a man who, despite his many faults, clearly loved his son. Perhaps it was time to put the past away.
“Good…that’s great,” Pontius smiled. “I’m proud of you. I mean that.” The two again avoided looking one another in the eye, perhaps out of fear of what they might find if they did. The gravitational pull in Severo’s chest created such a feeling of tension, he wished he could slice it with a sword. Still, he knew that even once they had both left this room, they would each carry a piece of it with them, a sense of connection and longing to continue their relationship from the moment of lost time in which they’d abandoned it. “Well hey, I should probably leave you to it,” the former district commander said, moving for the door.
“Pontius!” Severo stopped him. The knight immediately realized he sounded a bit more desperate than he’d intended, but at least his father turned back. “Just…take care of yourself, all right?”
His father beamed. “You too, kid.”
“Maybe when this is all over…”
“Yeah…tell you what, you complete those Seven Trials, and I’ll buy you a drink.”
“Deal,” the boy grinned.
He threw up a psychic wall to render himself invisible from his father’s field of vision, though stayed just long enough to watch the man leave. Pontius had earned one final good memory of his son. That smile, Severo knew, would carry him through and become a source of refuge, of true belief that the prayer amulet could never have provided. For gone, now, was the pervasive sense of gravity in the knight’s chest. He surveyed the room one final time, secure in the knowledge of what to do next.
“Don’t worry, Igor,” he whispered. “It’s almost time to rest.”