The fog was growing thick. It wafted through the city streets outside the window, and made the neighborhood seem strange and unfamiliar. Theodore was shaken from his daze when he heard shouting coming from downstairs.
“Theo!” The walls shook. Father was stomping through the halls in his heavy boots somewhere below. “Where are you?!”
They had played this game for years now, but somehow Lance did not know the answer. Theodore was in the library, like he always was. He leaned back, shoving his face back in the book he had chosen. The argument was coming. There was no point in getting up when it would come to him. It didn’t matter what he did. It never did.
Lance Grayweather stormed past the door, and for a moment Theodore wondered if his father had missed him. He wasn’t that lucky. The Hero Champion came barreling back into the room in full battle armor. A mountain of a man, with amber skin and dark hair quaffed to look daring. He was everything scrawny young Theodore was not.
“There you are!” Lance said. “What are you doing here?! You were supposed to meet with the Knight Commander two hours ago!”
“Are you surprised?” Theodore did not look up from his book. “I told you I wouldn’t go. Shocking how that turned out.”
Lance buried his face in his palm to stifle a growl. “Son, we’ve talked about this! You can’t throw away an opportunity like this. Do you have any idea how much most men would give up for a chance to join the Knights of the Realm?! Think of your future!”
Theodore stared at the words on the page, unable to read them. The Order of the Realm spent its days traipsing across the countryside looking for bandits to fight and monsters to slay. “I don’t want to be a knight.”
The words stung. It was a moment before Lance opened his eyes again. “Every Grayweather is a knight.” He was straining to stay calm. “Duty and honor are in your blood, whether you like it or not. I’m not going to let you squander your potential like this!”
“I said I don’t want to be a knight!” Theodore slammed his book onto the table. “Why won’t you ever listen to me!? I’m not strong, and I don’t want to fight! I want to go to the university! I want to teach!”
He laughed. “Do you think I’m going to pay for that? Pay for you to throw away your career?!”
“I don’t need your money!” Theodore would rather lose his inheritance than cave in to his father. “I’ll work if I have to! I don’t want your help!”
Lance paced, pounding the floor like a tiger in a cage. “You’re so damn stubborn. Why are you like this? I know you have the knack, if you’d just apply yourself!”
“I’m not like you!” Theodore said. “You’re just a thug! An old killer they dressed up nice! I’d rather kill myself than be like you!”
Everything stopped. This argument had happened so many times that Theodore had lost track of how often. It was the same every time. Father would plead, wheedle and guilt hoping to convince Theodore to somehow change who he was. Since that never worked, it escalated to screaming and cursing until a door was slammed and both would stew until they could pretend nothing had happened.
This was different. Lance Grayweather, the Hero Champion of Laien, stopped shouting and stared at his son with eyes so full of hurt that it was burned forever into Theodore’s memory. A haunting silence stretched on for what felt like hours.
Lance hung in the doorway, turning away. “I don’t have time for this.” His voice was firm, but hollow. “I have to see to a mission. We’ll talk more when I return.”
Theodore’s throat tightened. This moment, this unbearable scene, had happened before. The anger and sorrow clicked in his mind like a key, and he remembered with crystal certainty that his father would never come home again after walking through that door. Lance was found dead on the trade road a week later, his body brutalized. The funeral flashed in Theodore’s mind like a prophecy. If Lance left home, if Theodore didn’t do something, he was going to die on his mission, and these would be the last words they would share with one another.
“Wait!” He reached out and grabbed his father’s wrist to stop him. It was stiff, and cold to the touch. The room went dark, as if the sun has been snuffed. Lance turned back, his eyes dead, and took Theodore by the arm with a crushing grip.
“You killed me.”
Theodore pulled away. His home warped and melted around him. The rain came pouring down, and he ran.