Sera then continued. “What are you doing?”
The man appeared very melancholy as he stood there, but he didn’t reply. The three of us cautiously approached him.
“Sagar, do you know what’s happening?” Milo asked. “Who’s side are you on?”
Sagar unflinchingly remained steadfast, until he eventually spoke.
“Razo entrusted me to keep you from going down to his area.”
“Still following Commander Razo?” Milo asked.
The man nodded.
“You know he could just be a puppet of Teklos, right?”
“It’s possible. But I trust him. If he has abandoned Tsalderek, his intentions must be good. I’ve been loyal to him my entire life, and I won’t betray him now.”
“Fine.” Milo walked past him without another word, heading for a modern-looking door on the wall.
Without turning around, Sagar addressed him.
“It’s locked. I have the only key other than the Bowden twins, and they went down already. You can’t go down there.”
Milo turned to face the man’s back.
“Sagar, you don’t want to do this. You know we have to go down there.”
“Razo is watching my every move with cameras. I can’t let you pass without him knowing of my betrayal. But even if he weren’t, I can’t turn against him now.”
Sagar then walked in a half circle and looked at the younger man.
“You have to fight me. And Milo, I want you to kill me.”
Milo shook his head.
“I can’t do that. You’ve been like a father to me for years. You’re the only one I ever could look up to.”
“Please. I’ve done too many evil things to be allowed to live. My hands are covered with innocent blood. I couldn’t be redeemed before, and I certainly can’t now. I know that Teklos is wrong, but it’s too late for me to start anew.”
“No! It’s never too late!” Sera added her input.
Sagar just ignored her.
“Please, Milo. If you have any respect for me, do what I’m telling you. I deserve to die, and you need that key. Just let me go down doing what I’ve always done, serving my master until the end.”
“If that’s what you really want, then I’ll do it. Just know that I don’t hate you, and I’ll always remember you as my father.”
“Thank you. Now, let’s not waste any more time.”
Both of them took a fighting stance. Sera and I stepped back. There was nothing we could do. This was something that had to just take its course.
In a flash, Milo came in on the attack. For the first time since I had known him, his former master removed his hands from his coat pockets to block the series of jumping front kicks. Milo landed and immediately followed with a low spin, and a spinning back fist. Sagar avoided both moves, and came in with his own offense.
Although their fighting moves were very similar, it was easily apparent that they had their own unique styles. Milo was faster, with more acrobatic motions and patterns. Sagar was calmer, and his experience and patience, coupled with great skill and speed, allowed him to intercept attacks easily and counter. He also always moved both sides of his body; each movement was a well-coordinated synchrony of both arms or legs. His obvious ambidexterity served him well in combat.
Their duel was impressive to watch. Both showing absolute mastery of their martial abilities. However, Milo was able to gain the upper hand. Using misleading strikes and great mobility, he landed a number of solid hits.
The boy shuffled to his right and made a low kick. Sagar simultaneously blocked with one hand and punched with the other. Milo grabbed the attacking arm and attempted to twist into a throw. Sagar knocked off Milo’s grip while leaping sideways, his long coat flailing outward. Milo anticipated his move and released a left roundhouse kick. The older man blocked, but was left off balance. Milo pressed his advantage with several quick high jabs. Sagar deflected while moving backward. Then, the younger man faked a punch, instead grabbing the target’s arm.
He twisted it forward, forcing Sagar’s head downward where he pounded it against his rising knee. While still holding his arm, he delivered a side kick into his ribs, sending the man stumbling backward. Finally, Milo whipped out a blade from his wrist-mounted device and leapt into the air. He used one foot to sweep Sagar’s defenses aside, and plunged the knife into his chest.
The man froze in painful shock. Milo pulled his arm back and the knife flipped back into the Survivortex. Sagar stumbled backward a number of steps before his back pressed against a wall. His feet then failed him, and he slid down the wall to the floor.
Milo approached and stood over him.
Sagar motioned with his hand for Milo to lower down. Then, he turned his gaze to Sera, and beckoned her over. She hesitated for a second, but then hurried toward the two men. The twins squatted down in front of their mortally wounded mentor.
“I…have something to tell you. You’ve always had…so many questions…but it wasn’t…the right time…”
His breathing was labored, but he pressed on. Neither Milo nor Sera said a word to interrupt him. They must have been waiting for these answers for a long time.
“I…now I’ll answer…those questions. You see…I didn’t tell you the whole truth before. Yes, there was a woman from Tsalderek who fell in love with a man from Nahalore, but the truth is… the story didn’t just end there. I…knew them. In fact, I was in love with your mother. Her name was Eva. For years…I never told her. I’m not even sure if she ever found out. I…was too afraid. Afraid of rejection, and afraid of hurting her. Then…she met him.
“He had one of the funniest names…I ever heard. It was Thomas Thomas. His parents must have been…real assholes. Anyway…there was a fight between the two organizations, and he was injured. They met in a cave near the battlefield… Instead of killing him, she nursed him back to health, and they fell in love.
“From then, everything went back to normal for a while. But…I noticed that she disappeared every so often. I was suspicious, but I didn’t want to get her in trouble. Then one day…I caught them together. Part of me wanted to…kill her lover, and maybe we could be together. But what I wanted…more than anything…was for her to be happy. So… I helped them escape.
“They ran away together, and lived in a nearby town. They were so grateful to me for my help, that we became friends, and they invited me…to see them sometimes. I learned that your father and his entire family were rare ‘Shadow-Callers”’ which were under heavy discrimination by Nahalore. So all of the shadow-callers and Eva were living together in hiding.”
The man grabbed one of each of the twins’ hands and held tightly.
“I was there when you were born. Only five minutes apart. Sera: 11:57 pm February 29th. Milo: 12:02 am March 1st.”
“HA! I knew I was the oldest! BOOM! Told ya!” Sera stood up and pumped her fist.
Milo looked at her.
“Do you know what February 29th is?”
“Sure! Leap day! Only happens once every 4 years! I’m not stupid!”
“So, how many birthdays have you had since then?”
Suddenly, the implications of the situation of her birth began to dawn on her. And expression of absolute horror came to her face.
“I’m only… FOUR?!?!”
Milo smiled a big devious grin.
“And a little bit over!”
“NOOOOOO!!! How…is…this…possible…I’m… the big sister…”
Sagar smiled feebly, but warmly.
“Your parents were so surprised to see Sera’s appearance. Her bright orange eyes and hair we completely unexpected. Both Eva and Thomas had dark hair and eyes.
“I was so happy…that they allowed me to be a part of…that wonderful moment. But…it couldn’t last.”
The storyteller took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“Razo had found out that I let them escape. He told me through his advisors at the time…that I was a traitor…and would be put to death. All I had ever wanted was to be loyal to him, and I asked if there was any way I could redeem myself. He told me, I had to lead a squad…to kill Eva and her new family. I… made the worst mistake of my life. I agreed.
“I took the men to the Thomas’ home, and we killed every one of the shadow-callers. The other soldiers had not found where Eva, Thomas, and their babies were hiding, but I did. I told them I was sorry for…what I was doing. I didn’t know what else I could do. Eva…the woman I loved…looked straight into my eyes. Although she was crying, she remained strong. She said she…didn’t blame me. Then she begged me to watch over her children…when she was gone. I told her I would…before I killed both her and her husband myself.
“I put the two of you…in an orphanage in the U.S…Michigan…where I could watch over you. But…a few months later, it burned down to the ground. Many of the children…died. And those that didn’t were taken to different orphanages in the area…and I thought I had lost you forever. But then… I found you…Milo. I was finally happy again…like I had a second chance.”
Milo and Sera looked completely awestruck at what they were hearing. Tears filled their eyes as they finally learned the truth.
“I recognized you immediately, Milo. You’re so much like her! She was strong, and dedicated, and solemn. I knew you were her son, and I could finally make good on my promise to Eva. But things went out of control. When I failed to prevent Teklos from attacking and killing so many of us, you changed. We both did. You became filled with anger and hate, and I felt more and more condemned for everything that I had done, and failed to do.
“I just wanted to say, I am proud of you Milo. Who you’ve become, everything you’ve done…I couldn’t be prouder if you were my own son, and…”
“I know your parents would be proud of you, too. I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done…to you…”
“Sagar.” Milo’s voice was choked with unshed tears. “You know I forgive you. I don’t want you to…”
“I’m…beyond forgiving, Milo. I’ve killed so many people. When you were running from Tsalderek and two people started chasing you…I killed them, too. It’s something I can’t stop anymore. I can never be redeemed. Thank you…for putting an end to my pitiful existence.”
Milo’s expression changed.
“Oh, that? You didn’t recognize this? You’re the one who snuck it into my motorcycle bag!”
He held up his arm with the Survivortex 3000, and flipped out the blade.
“This is a specially designed prototype knife for cutting English muffins while preserving those delicious nooks and crannies. I didn’t deliver a killing cut at all. You’ll live.”
“You messed up. But if everyone that messed up got killed, there wouldn’t be anyone left, and I’d be the first to go. There is a forgiveness that’s stronger than any sin that anyone could ever commit, and you still have to find it. You can’t give up yet.”
“Sagar. Thank you for telling us everything. I know you don’t feel like you can go on, but there’s someone who already died for everything you did. I want you to think about that for a while.”
The boy turned and walked away. Sera went up to the wounded man, reached into his pocket, and took out a small metallic cube with lights on it.
“We will take this, though.”
The three of us left the bewildered man where he lay. Milo took the cube, and pressed it up against a panel next to the door. It slid open, and we entered the elevator car. As the doors closed, all of the amazement at what I had just heard began to be replaced with apprehension of what lay just ahead.