“Lejon! She was there! My sister, Sanna, she was there and …….she could see me.” His voice trailed off as he closed his eyes and locked the vision of her in his mind. Lejon and The Regulator were back on the sandstone cliff, overlooking the Colorado River. The sun was setting and the air was starting to lose its comfort. The desert is very quiet and altogether alive at sunset. In the animal kingdom, it is the changing of the guard. Some will be calling it a day and other will be stalking out to own the night. Only a few occupy both worlds. They both stood watching to the west.
“She has come back, Bob. But then again she never really left, did she?” Lejon said with a calm notification in his voice. “You have felt her. Have you not?”
“I have always felt her. Somewhere close but somehow just out of reach. I just accepted that she wanted it that way. She liked it there. Somewhere on the periphery.”
“Sanna was trained to live in the shadows. She was born for it. Even better than you.” There was a satisfied snicker in the lion’s tone. “But soon the shadows will give way to a blinding light.”
“She said I would not go through this alone. Do you think she will return to the family? To the clan? I mean, she made her decision so long ago, knowing the possibility of coming back would be extremely limited. She knew the consequences.” He paused for a second and then thought about something the lion had said. “Blinding light?” What do you mean?”
“Sanna is the one truth in all this, Regulator. She is the one person that can guide you the most in your quest.”
“Quest? What quest?! I don’t have a quest. I have a job. I have a duty to fulfill. To my family, to my father, to the Clan. Maybe to the gods, if they even exist. Let ‘s face it, Lejon, I took the easy way. I chose to follow the path my family laid out for me. Granted, I have a gift for it, but we both know I don’t have the constitution for it.”
The lion nodded his head in agreement. He knew he could not argue with Bob on this point. Bob did not have an empty, mindless heart. He was not a robot to be turned on and kill at the drop of a hat for any reason. He was a self-preservationist and driven by family honor and duty. In the end, he did love his family above all else, but there was another side to him that looked farther out into the world. A part that wanted to live peacefully among the masses. Just another Joe going about his life.
Bob continued, “I pray before every kill that the gods will take me away. That the sickness in my stomach will prevent me from moving forward. That I can’t walk that final mile. Somehow, I always overcome and follow through. Driven by something only the gods could explain. I do my job.” He conjured up the image of his sister again, “But she somehow refused. She chose to choose better. She chose for herself. I know a lot of people found it selfish, but I always found it to be courageous. She wouldn’t be forced to live as the elders, and the sages had deemed. She took their teachings and her given skills and disappeared. But yes, I always knew she was close. Many others knew she was still around, but no one could verify it. Even my father knew, but I don’t think he ever really looked.”
Bob was standing, facing the last of the day’s sun as it poured needles into his eyes. He reached down and grabbed a small handful of sand. He put some in his mouth. The grit of the earth on his teeth and tongue reminded him from where he came. He was of the earth and would one day return there. He was but borrowed energy that would someday need to be returned. To feed future generations. In this sense he was immortal. One of a few old myths he believed.
Lejon turned from the sun and greeted the full moon rising in the east. “Did you see the faces you needed to see? Did you see the reasons for your quest? There are jealous and greedy minds working to empty the house of Johnson. Yes, you have a duty to your father to justify his death with yet more death, but this is just the surface of things. The real challenge is in determining the future of the family. You and Sanna will redefine the ways of the clan. You will do this, or you will turn back to the earth. I am sorry Bob, but these are the only paths you are now given.”
Regulator Bob didn’t turn to watch the moon rise. He wanted to see the last rays of sun pull back over the horizon. He wanted to feel the cooling western breeze push through his linen clothes. The night could wait a few more minutes. Soon he shifted to face south and turned his head side to side. Setting sun, rising moon. Cycles of days and nights came into his imagination. Cycles of moons, of seasons and years. Cycles of lives and deaths and of traditions lost and gained. He felt the power of the in-between start to fill him up. The power of not belonging to just one world. The power of being seen and of not being seen. A creature in the shadows left without true connection. The full moon was his confidant. Reflecting just enough light to see his prey but providing adequate dark to hide his will. He could feel a new time coming for him. A time to leave the shadow world behind. A time to chase down the sun. He turned his back to the moon and started walking. Walking to the west. Moving toward the sun.
The Regulator woke in a dark room. Not pitch black like his collapsing stone cell. The dark was escaping under the door and in its place came a dull glow. He was lying in the bed he had fallen on after the old sage gave him a glass of water. The room was full of a familiar mix of smells including wood fire and old dust. He was back at the Altar. He sat up to find his head throbbing and Nagli sitting upright in a chair across the small room. Nagli’s eyes were closed and he breathed deeply and soundly.
Cupping his head in his hands, Bob exclaimed, “Can’t you give a guy a warning before you drug him up with that spirit water shit?” The sage did not move.
Bob looked up.”Hey! Wake up, old man.”
Nagli jumped awake and looked hurriedly around then slumped down in his chair. “Dammit, Regulator, I hadn’t finished my conversation with Lejon!”
“I believe the old lion has said enough for the next 20 years. Why were you to talk to my spiritual guider?”
“I just needed to collect some intel, or may it be rumors from the other side. I wanted to know what the talk was about this disturbance in Valhalla. Although I understand rules have been broken and disrespect has been portrayed, the ostracizing of so many spirits from the other side to this realm is unprecedented.” Nagli stared off into the corner to the room where the light had slowed and the darkness eddied.
The Regulator sat watching the sage closely, “I have not seen you this quiet in all my years. This truely is weighing on you. For all our sakes I hope you figure it out. I for one have my marching orders. It seems I will need to be productive over the next few days. .”
“Productive indeed.” The sage nodded but did not take his eyes off the corner of the room.
The Regulator looked from Nagli to the corner and back again, hesitated and said, “Well, nice seeing you again, Nagli. I wish you the best in solving all this. I will be on my way after a true glass of water, perhaps?” He was trying to pull the sage from his contemplation.
Without moving an eye, Nagli said. “You have much more to do with the state of the spirit world than you will ever know and I have nothing to solve. You on the other hand, or to be more precise, you and your sister have many things to solve.”
The Regulator took in a deep breath and sighed. ” Ya know what? Just once I would love for one of you spirit people or spirit animals or whatever you are to talk in plain terms and not riddles. Just come up to me and say, ‘Guess what? Since X, Y and Z happened, so A, B and C now have to happen.’ Understand? Great! Now get on with it.”
“OK then.” The sage finally dropped his gaze from the corner to the Regulator. Eyes that were open to a vortex of ageless wisdom bore into Bob. For a second he wished he had not taken a harsh tone with the good old man. Nagli took in a deep breath, leveled his voice and the words starting falling from his mouth. “Your father’s death was a result of a generations-old family battle. A battle birthed by greed and ego and discontent. The Johnsons have held sway over the clans for many generations now. Hundreds of years! They have ruled through both hard times and good times and all times in between. This rule has fostered both friends and enemies and many times these two are one in the same. There have been many alliances made and broken. Some alliances have been purely out of necessity. Let me reiterate that. When dealing in the human psyche, the majority of alliances are made out of necessity. Alliances are fickle things but mostly far from fair and balanced. One party typically has the upper hand. Even if it is 51% to 49% someone is a loser and someone is the winner. A very long time ago an alliance was made between the Johnson and Hansen families. This alliance was forged in a time of duress for the Hansens.”
Bod had heard a bit about the pact made long ago in the old land. He believed it was in his great-great- great-grandfather that brokered the deal. It is one of the most fabled family alliances. Never to be broken. Or so Bob was told. The length and the loyalty of this family alliance are the reasons why Bob was surprised to find that Axel Hansen was involved in anything to do in his father’s death.
The wise old man kept the facts of the matter coming. Bob sat and remembered that this was exactly what he asked for. “The eldest Hansen at the time, Thronen, had been an ego-driven and hard-headed man with a severe lack in the critical thinking department. He had gotten himself in trouble with the clan elder. Apparently, he had done some freelance raiding along the cost of what was then Saxony. He was a formidable warrior and not a horrible slave trader. But like I said he was not overly smart and not one to think through all the details. The elder found out about the raiding and was not all too happy about not getting his fair share. After all, Thronen was under the clan protection of the elder. Without the elder, he would not have ships to sail or land to sail from. Realizing his fate, death, for his treason he brokered a deal with Lars Johnson. Thronen pledged that the Hansen family would support and side with the Johnsons in any business or warrior matters for next ten generations.” Bob was trying to figure out how many “greats” that would be in front of the “grandfather”. “The Johnsons at the time were already a formidable family with much land and many feared warriors. They held a lofty position but Lars wanted full control of the Clan and the elder and his kin were not fully Lars’ kind of people. He saw the elders family as weak and feared that another clan would seek to take advantage of it. Lars saw Thronen’s plight as opportunity knocking. He never expected the pledge would be fulfilled past one generation much less last the full 10. Just for good measure, he made Thronen promise that the death of all the eldest sons would be punishment for any breaking of the alliance. He also required that it be bonded in writing. Not the common method of the day. There were few that could write and just as many that could read. Nevertheless they found a scribe and the Johnson – Hansen alliance was forged, written down and family stamps applied. Now, like I said no one expected this to last much longer past the Johnson family obtaining the elder rule, but your family has two enduring traits. They are studious record keepers and vicious constables of the law. So, to save his worthless hide, Thronen sold his family into ten generations of servitude to the Johnson’s and the Johnson’s have quietly held the alliance over the Hansens.”
The Regulator, now seeing where this soliloquy was headed, chimed in, “Let me guess. Time is up and I am the 11th generation. This is why my father was always going on about how the times are changing. He wasn’t some old guy pining for the past but a father trying to navigate and warn his son of a shift in the family’s business. A threat to his and his family’s way of life was coming and I am guessing he was not too sure how to manage it.”
Nagli’s eyes squinted. “Oh, he knew how to manage it, but his fortitude to do what needed to be done was not in your father’s skill set. Your father had a very strategical mind but not a vicious one. He knew that to keep the position of the family in the years to come. The years outside the alliance. He would have to rule with a certain amount of brutality as well as with brains. He was not comfortable with this.”
The Regulator thought for a second in silence. A few pieces on the chessboard in his brain lit up and things got a bit more clear. A flat voice fell out of him, “He meant to die. He knew what was coming and he let it.” He sat in silence a second longer and the sage watched the gears turn. ” Well don’t that just suck balls. What a puss.” Bob was not apt to let his emotions come out, but now he was just pissed. He sat with nothing more to say and the silence beat in his ears. But now more pieces and moves started to present themselves. “No!” The Regulator switched his tone, “He was not running away. He was leading me forward. Damn the gods, he was smart. Hell, even in his death he is smarter than most of us. Axel Hansen and Jane thought that they were striking early to cause disruption and a power gap. They thought he needed time. Time to train me. To bring me up to speed on the changes to come. He made sure they knew my ignorance of the new family order. Then he let me be a shadow of death. He let me perfect my skills. He let me be a decoy. All the while training another to take control and run this beast of a business. The one person with the brutal skills to take on the new order. Sanna. That is why she said I would not go through this alone.” The Regulator sat with understanding and admiration welling up in his heart. What he thought was a fragmented family unit was Reynor playing the long game. It all started back when his mother left. The family had always been together, just working from obtuse angles. Just like Reynor liked it. The Regulator liked this, and he smiled a mischievous smile. “But, I have one important question.”
Nagli cocked his head, “Just one?” he said with cool amusement.
“Yeah. What’s the deal with all the misplaced spirits and what does that have to do with all the shit going on in this realm?
“Ah, well how much time do you have? Do you want the short or long of it?” Nagli smiled broadly.
The Regulator laughed a bit and said, “Bring it, old man. the more I know, the better…..”