In Flagrante

Runeheim slows to a halt, the frigid winds locking the city into a standstill. Nighttime cold was too big a risk for most, so the shattering of glass went unnoticed. Crime was all too easy, businesses closing early, staying empty longer. It isn’t until the sun rises that a frantic bar maid sees the broken window, and rushes to unlock the door, terrified of what she might find. Are they ruined? Is there food? Will she have to find a new way to support her family? The door creaks open. The smell hits her just before the vision.

A scream wakes runeheim.

The tension grows in the silence. Svanhildr looks calm, but Skarde and Fritjof both feel the quiet rage filling the air.
“Breaking and entering.”
“I’ll pay for-” Skarde is quickly silenced by a fierce look from Svanhildr.
“And if that wasn’t bad enough. You do the one thing,  the one, specific thing I told you not to.”
“We just thought-” Fritjof is the one silenced this time, by a soft laugh, almost more terrifying than the stare down.
“You thought?! Tell me please, where have you been hiding that particular talent, and why have you not showcased it for me before now?! No. You two do not think. You were caught, fully nude, on a tavern table, Shaving!” Svanhildr’s voice barely raised, but their gaze grew even more severe as the two hooligans smiled and elbowed each other’s ribs playfully. “The window and the barkeeps discretion is already paid for by house Saenger. But you two owe me personally  for not throwing you both out on your ear. At the very least, some peace and quiet you owe me. Now, get out of here before I have someone throw one of you in the pillory just to keep you separated”

Skarde and Fritjof quickly exited Svanhildr’s study, pausing after they were out of earshot to look at each other before bursting into laughter and stepping once more into an embrace. “Your place or mine?”

A tangle of furs and body parts and sighs later, the two lay staring at the ceiling.
    “How was burying bodies?” Fritjof finally broke the ecstatic silence and he snuggled into Skarde’s chest.
    “Not as exciting as I hoped, Callistra is a bit shy” they both chuckled. “I missed you frit”
    “I know. I missed you too…” There’s a long pause before Fritjof speaks again, “I..I might have to leave you for a bit longer though”
    Skarde’s breath catches, “was I that bad this round?”
    “Hah, never” Fritjof kisses Skarde on the nose. “But I’ve had a lot of time to think and,…there’s some things I need to take care of. Look in to. All that”
    “Sure, I’ll pack and come-” Skarde is silenced by another kiss, this one on the lips.
    “I need to meet with someone alone.”
     “You…you’re going to come back right? Intact?”
      Fritjof brushes his thumb across the bare line he shaved into Skarde’s eyebrow the last time they spoke, and repeated the same words. “I’m not going to abandon you”

The Ghostkeeper’s Charge

The wooden wheels creaked as the cart rumbled over the broken earth. They would reach their destination soon, and Skarde’s grim work would begin. He needed to clear his mind so he could focus on memorizing the tales he would be told on the battlefield. He didn’t often get the opportunity to ask his subjects to repeat themselves. At least Tora had offered to drive the last stretch of road here.

Normally this kind of trip would have been perfect for getting him in the right headspace, Tora was a capable lover, No thoughts needed, just action, emotion, passion. The simple way. The good way. And Lady Callistra was so much fun to torment, he could tell she enjoyed herself, despite declining to join in. One day.

So why was Skarde feeling so unsatisfied?

Lady Callistra sighed softly in her sleep and shifted slightly, her head resting on Skarde’s shoulder. He had forgotten she was even there. Even with the movement, he found it hard to convince himself she was, there was an emptiness there at his side. Like something should be pressed up against him but wasn’t.

“Hear the tale of Fritjof, pack leader” Skarde whispered to himself. No, not quite right, he would have to keep working on it.

“We’re here!” Tora called from the driver’s seat, snapping Skarde back to the present. He suddenly realized the smell of blood hung heavy in the air, how had he not recognized it yet? Focus Skarde, focus. It was time for the Ghostkeeper to do his work.

Contention, Contentment

Rage boiled inside Luqa as the skald reiterated what he had said in the tavern. A ritual of Jorg? The inquisitor lied to my face. I came before him, I offered to swear to whatever he asked to keep a secret, I begged him for the truth of the matter, and he lied to my face and said the ritual was not of the old Gods. What else was a lie then? Obviously his claim that Rolf’s lionization wasn’t manipulative couldn’t be trusted.
“So you let him die for no reason then?”
Luqa’s blood ran cold. I wasn’t sure if it was from the unexpected comment from the Djinn in my mind, or because the Djinn was absolutely correct. The main thing that had kept me from performing the ritual of Sveas was the reassurance that there was another way. But Jorg, Sveas? What was the difference? None that I could see. Rage.
“You know, perhaps I can help?”
Luqa needed to meditate. “Over here Luqa!”, but father asher was calling him back to his duties. I was still supposed to be guarding the inquisitor, despite the jaunt into the woods. No meditation, no breath, no water. Only rage.
“You only have to ask me, i’ll take care of your problems, just let me free Luqa”
Luqa gritted his teeth, subconsciously going into a combat stance. “Point your damn spear upward Sharaqyn!” Captain Sinclair’s harsh words snapped me back to the present as i apologize and move away from the cappacian.
“Fine, then this one’s on me. Don’t say i’m not looking out for you young master”
Luqa barely had time to process the Djinn’s words before he saw the deer. Then the captain and the inquisitor saw the deer. Rage. Did he give in to what the Djinn obviously wanted? What did the Djinn gain? Time seemed to stretch infinitely, why was Asher’s back still turned? What was so mesmerizing about a damn deer in the woods?
“Or don’t take the shot i guess, if you really want to be alive for nothing…”
The flash of steel. a cry of pain. Blood. The purest cycle of time, spilling out onto the ground, again.

“Let me help quiet your mind at least”, Striga was obviously a hardened individual. It was unclear whether that was something to do with their personality, their scar, or simply the world around them. But that just made it all the more touching when they moved to join me on the floor, forsaking the much more comfortable chair to be eye level with a criminal. “When you think of home, what comes to mind?” I wasn’t sure, then, somewhere deep inside, I heard the soft burbling laugh of my mother, long forgotten from ages past. “My mother” i managed to choke out. “Ok, then just focus on my voice. Close your eyes. Imagine home, a quiet desert in winter, soft and smeared like pastels.” I closed my eyes, and tried to quiet my heart. The rage was gone, the fear of death was gone. I was left empty. “Think of an oasis, there is no wind, the water is still, the trees don’t move. Just you and your mother, in perfect calm” Try as i might, the peace would not come. When I closed my eyes, I just saw the disappointed face of Sister Solace telling me that she would execute me in the morning. No apology, no chastisement. She had already shut him out of her heart. “Just hold that love and peace in your heart. Breath.”
When striga told Luqa to breath, it all clicked. I looked back into their eyes. “Breath. Blood. Heart.” the tears were bursting forth as I spoke at this point, what had I done? “The purest cycle. Each breath, each heartbeat, a new circle” I had to break it. My breath was about to end, but if my cycle was ending, then there was another cycle that too should end.

A flash of steel.
A cry of pain.
Blood, my cycle this time, pouring out onto the ground.
“Djinn. Reveal the inquisitor’s true nature, and your wish is granted”

The cycle ends


“We could bring him back, you know…” The hoarse whisper echoed around the empty glade, and Luqa jumped, despite himself. It had been a long time since his other had made an offer.
“I don’t believe that’s actually in your power.” Luqa answered despite himself. He usually tried to ignore his passenger, but the audacity of the claim caught Luqa by surprise.
“Perhaps, perhaps not. We could get help, I’m sure the witch you met would be happy to get her claws into a saint!” Luqa sighed and closed his eyes again, ignoring the voice. Deep breath, move through the spear forms. Hear the beat of your heart in your ears.

Luqa is 8 years old, breathing heavily, tears of rage at some perceived slight cloud his vision as he stands over another child. A Sahirim monk passing by scolds him.

Luqa is 14, his heart pounding as he stabs the spear into the dummy, the Jinn chattering incessantly in his head.

Luqa is 23, his adrenaline racing, the first man he ever killed laying at his feet. The padishah was safe, but at what cost? Was this him now?

“Breath child, hear your heartbeat, listen to your body!” 8 year old Luqa looks up at the monk, not understanding. He stabs the spear into the dummy as the voice echoes in his head, drowning out the Jinn. “All time is a cycle, it continues the way you direct it into perpetuity.” Was the dead man his perpetuity? Was he destined to be a killer for all time? “The heartbeat is the purest cycle of time, with each breath and each beat, life flows through you.” Luqa focused on his breathing as he continued to stab the dummy. The Jinn would not control his life. “You can control the flow of your own time, one cycle, one heartbeat at a time” 8 year old Luqa ran home to hide behind his mother’s skirt. “Time is a circle, but it need not be the same circle” Luqa wipes the blood off of his spear. The other guards come to see the commotion, but Luqa is already resuming his patrol of the palace.

Luqa breathed out, then in again. Each cycle, new. No, he would not look back at the loss of St. Rolf the Unbroken. He would not continue to wallow in self pity for his part in Rolf’s death. But Rolf the Unbroken would live in each new breath.

“I will not be the same circle”