FATHERS AND SONS
Ella and Eggor silently observed a rather queer scene transpiring in front of their eyes. Inside a small room lit up by a hanging chandelier, the man that had just a few hours ago terrified the entire fortress down to its knees, was holding a baby boy and playing with him, laughing and rolling over the floor as the boy grabbed at his beard and laughed back. It was the sort of scene the rest of the world wasn’t privy to, the sort Lino would only ever allow those closest to him to see.
However, he’d long since forgotten Ella and Eggor were in the room; the little baby boy had consumed his attention, dragging him into an entirely different world from the one he knows. The boy had Ella’s piercing, blue eyes and Eggor’s dark, black hair. In a way, Criador represented everything Lino fought for at his core; a chance for the innocent future, where kids like him wouldn’t have to grow up with swords and shields and axes in their arms, hollering at the ills and evils, bounding for early graves while their mothers and fathers lit the hopeless and hapless pyres in vain attempt to let go.
The boy lay on all four across Lino’s chest, tugging at the latter’s beard with odd fascination, occasionally giggling freely, exposing the mouth hollow of most teeth. Peaceful, warm, gentle; it was everything a child was supposed to bring into one’s life.
“Ho ho, you’re gonna grow up into a strong boy, aren’t ya’?” Lino chuckled as the boy tugged as his beard once more. “Come on, make Brother Lino happy though; say Lino. Come on.”
“Aww, come on; I know you’ve got enough wit about you boy, don’t you hide your smarts from me,” Lino persisted as Eggor scoffed; after all, he’d been pestering at the boy to call him ‘dad’ or ‘father’ for months now to no avail. “You and I, we’re gonna own the world kiddo. Come on, sign that pact. Lino!”
“Say Lino! L-i-n-o! Lino! Maybe you want to call me Lyonel? Ah, that’s way too complex for ya’. Lino! L-i-n-o! Lino!”
“Lino!” the boy loudly exclaimed as Lino suddenly had an urge to throw up a bucketful of blood due to pure joy and bliss. On the other hand, Ella watched Eggor’s face go from copper-dye to pale-white, much like snow, his eyes turning into massive saucers as he nearly collapsed off the chair.
“O-o-oh my god... y-you... you called my name...” Lino stuttered with tears in his eyes.
“Lino! Lino! He he, Lino! Lino!” young Criador cried out time and again, each strike beating at Lino’s soul more so than any other attack he’d received in his life.
“E-Ella... t-take him...” he quickly handed the boy over, holding his hand over his mouth. “The lil’ bastard might just kill me with his cuteness...”
“Ha ha ha,” Ella laughed freely for the moment as she picked the boy, tucking him into her arms. “You two are adorable...”
“Lino!! He he! Lino!” the young boy still kept crying out for Lino, however, who found himself weak in his knees.
“G-get out! Seriously! I will die!”
“Ha ha ha ha...” Ella took the boy and slowly left, leaving behind clear, pure laughter. It was only then that Lino noticed Eggor crouching in the corner, drawing circles on the ground with his finger.
“What’s wrong old man?” Lino walked over and asked, wondering whether there was something interesting in the corner.
“... shut up you bastard. Go away. I’ll skin you alive. I’ll use your face to make a punching dummy and punch it till I tire myself out to death.”
“... yeah, I don’t think even the Holy Grounds hate me that much,” Lino said, sucking in a cold breath as he sat down and took out a bottle of wine, pouring two glasses full. “And they actually have a reason to hate me that much.”
“... you know he still hasn’t even called me ‘dad’?!” Eggor exploded, still standing up however and sitting across Lino. “And you got him crying out your name like the little bastard’s in love with you or something!!”
“Well, you know, I am rather handsome.” Lino said.
“And you’re saying I’m not, you lil’ bastard?!”
“... yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Lino replied, expressionless. “Have you looked yourself in the mirror? You’re like that boogeyman mothers make up to scare their children away from the dark and ghastly places.”
“Good gods, someone ought to cut that tongue of yours clean off,” Eggor said, simmering down. “It’s the filthiest thing in this whole, wide world.”
“... ah, how ugly jealousy can be; please, don’t parade it around so freely. It’s dirtier than my tongue.” Lino said with a faint grin.
“Humph, just wait till you have a kid and the bastard refuses to call you dad,” Eggor lamented. “Maybe you’ll understand my growing pains.”
“... Hannah and I have been trying.” Lino said after short silence.
“Eh? You’re serious?” Eggor exclaimed in surprise.
“But you two ain’t even married yet.”
“Eh, it’s not as though we haven’t talked about it,” Lino said, taking a sip. “It’s just a ceremony, in the end. We can have it whenever we want.”
“... wow. You really are serious.” Eggor said, taking a sip as well. “If that’s the case, the fuck for are we drinking this goddamn wine? We ought to be getting piss-drunk, not drinking this piss.”
“So you’re gonna take out your special stash?” Lino mumbled as a glimmer of greed flashed through his eyes.
“Ugh,” Eggor coughed angrily. “This was your plan all along, huh? Fine, fine. You lil’ bastard.” Eggor took out two, hand-sized, transparent bottles full of strange, mist-surging liquid. Lino quickly grabbed at one, chilly feeling spreading throughout his entire arm.
“You know, I’ve been aiming for this thing for like twenty years now,” Lino commented, his eyes shining. “Ever since I saw you and Ella drinkin’ it that one time you lot thought I was sleeping.”
“... you didn’t lie to me just ‘cause you wanted to drink this, right?” Eggor quizzed, squinting his eyes. “’Cause that would have been a new damn low even for you.”
“Nah,” Lino shook his head, slowly uncapping the bottle as milky-white mist streamed out slowly like smoke. “I may be a bastard, but even I wouldn’t lie about that. I mean, I said we’ve been trying, but we only did it like three times since we decided to have a kid. We were kinda rushing back here.”
“... kid’s a big responsibility, Lino,” Eggor warned. “Are you sure you can afford another one on your shoulders right now?”
“... when, then?” Lino asked back. “It will never get easier, and you know it. Wait till it’s over? Who knows how long will that take and whether I’ll even live to see it. And you should have seen Hannah’s face light up when I told her,” Lino’s lips curled up into a warm smile. “It was like if all the stars fell from the sky and into her eyes.”
“... yeah,” Eggor chuckled faintly. “They really have ability to look beyond beautiful at times. Perhaps this warning comes late, but that’s how they get ya’ son; they figure out you’re weak to those looks of theirs, and when they start lookin’ at ya’ like that, you know they want something.”
“... psh, Hannah’s been lookin’ at me for years now, old man,” Lino scoffed. “Where was your golden advice back then?”
“Ha ha ha,” both of them laughed for a moment as they took a sip of the strange liquid; it broke into pure air inside Lino’s mouth, chilling his whole being to the point where he audibly moaned lowly, causing Eggor to curse at him under his breath. “You’re gonna have to fight alone for a while, then.”
“... eh, it’s a double victory for me,” Lino shrugged. “I get a kid, and I don’t get to watch the woman I love being beaten black and blue trying to fight my battles. Though, if you ever tell her that, I will literally have to kill you, ‘cause she will literally kill me.”
“... you really don’t want her fighting by your side?” Eggor asked.
“... I do,” Lino sighed. “I really do. Whenever I know she’s there, I feel invincible. But, still... I don’t know. A part of me just wants to take her and protect her from everything. Never let her lose as much as a single hair, let alone get bruised and scarred.”
“... preachin’ to the choir,” Eggor mumbled. “You have it easy lad. At the very least, you’re strong enough to protect her. What ‘bout me? All along, I would sit in the damn shadows and watch the love of my life take on the world alone. One time, ha ha, I created this full-body suit of armor, and it was so goddamn fuckin’ ugly even goddamn toads wouldn’t wear it, and ‘cause I told her it would make me feel better about her fightin’, she wore it -- she wore the damn thing for like a month. It made her look like a giant piece of metallic turd. But, hah... she still wore it.”
“... in a way, I’m sure they feel the same pains we do,” Lino said, taking another sip and letting it seep into every part of his body. “Ella fought so your weak, crafting-ass wouldn’t, and I’m sure every time I’m doing one of the many insane things I do, Hannah too feels like locking me up inside a cage where I can’t get hurt. They fight their own fight in regards to us, and we fight our own in regards to them.”
“... I still can’t believe you’re going to be a dad,” Eggor said, suddenly smiling warmly. “It still feels like yesterday when you crawled into my backyard and asked to wipe my ass in exchange for me letting you go.”
“... ha ha ha, yeah, yeah, that does sound like something I’d say.” Lino laughed.
“A scrawny brat’s grown up into a man,” Eggor said, his thick beard trembling slightly. “I’m proud of ya’. And Ella, well, sheesh, she adores you. In her eyes, you’re some kind of a miracle.”
“... thank you.” Lino replied lowly, his voice cracking slightly. “I wouldn’t have made it without you two, you know?”
“... you woulda’.”
“Nah,” Lino shook his head. “I would have died a long-ass time ago, becoming one of the many nameless graves in the middle of nowhere. I’m here because you two had... have hearts the size of this entire world. And no matter what happens, what anyone says, or what future brings us, to me you’ll always be the slightly quirky mother and father, and I’ll be the seemingly ungrateful son who is secretly willing to lay down his life for you two.”
“... we don’t need your life kiddo,” Eggor said. “What we need you is to keep drinkin’. I ain’t opened my treasure to watch you piss it away.”
“Your kid’s the luckiest bastard in the world,” Lino said as the two clanked their bottles together. “Well, second luckiest. After mine after all. I mean, he’s gonna have the coolest dad, the best mom, the over-protective, over-powered grandma, and a granddad who’s gonna craft ‘im a crib that can fly for his first birthday. Fuck, now I kinda don’t want a kid. That little bastard’s gonna have everything I want.”
“... you’re a weird little man.” Eggor grumbled, both of them already flushed red in their cheeks, clearly drunk.
“Oh, fuck off, you oversized bear. Everyone’s ‘little man’ compared to you.”
“.....” meanwhile, Hannah and Ella were standing quite literally next to the table, listening in on the conversation, yet the two sitting seemed none the wiser. Hannah’s cheeks were as red as blood, while Ella could barely contain a smile on her face. Little baby boy in her arms sucked at his thumb, suddenly pointing at Eggor and exclaiming, “Dad!!” the old man, however, would have to wait for a few weeks still to hear it... and remember it.