When the time of Beltane plays
At midnight hour it is the power
Unto a ritual it is for told.
Seek hallowed ground
From dirt that’s old.
To hide from sins and thoughts that dwell
Let all the ghosts sleep from this spell.
Now the Seeker can not glean
All the trouble that follows thee.
There is magic in the air tonight.
A wave of song and mystic light.
*The Seekers Prayer*
“Strawberries, I want strawberries,” she said. Her big blue eyes were so innocent to all the ways magic could harm. In her little hands, with her small excited voice, Isabelle could do no wrong, and Nicolia couldn‘t help but grant her small desire. He placed a rose in her hand.
“Cover it with the other hand and close your eyes,” he said to her.
She smiled with joy when a warm sensation flooded her hands. The curiosity was almost too much to bare and so she squeezed her eyes as tight as she could.
Nicolia gave her a quick peck on the cheek, “You can open them now,” he said.
With wondrous surprise, she opened her eyes to see the most beautiful red strawberry she had ever seen in her life. She raised it to her nose and inhaled the sweet scent, then took a bite from it. “It’s real,” she exclaimed.
“Of course it is. What did you think it would be, a rock of some sort?” He laughed.
She looked at him with a glittering light in her eyes. “Are you going to the Seeker today?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t decided. Why would I want to know what I’m going to do in the future if I don’t know what I’m going to do today?” He asked.
“When my coming of age is here, I can’t wait to see what the Seeker says,” she smiled. She picked up a handful of grass and tossed it on her brother’s head then raced off to the house.
The hanging fire was lit for the two of them and a note sat on the table. “Off to the market. Fresh bread in the cupboard. Mind your brother.” Ma.
Though it was unusual for a woman and a peasant at that to be able to read and write, their mother was taken in by an old woman a long time ago who wanted a maid but couldn’t pay in coins. Instead, she gave their mother a gift that lasted for generations. It was the gift of knowledge. What more could a curious young woman want when she had no husband nor any thoughts of children? Knowledge, she knew that would take her places. She accepted the offer and stayed with the old woman long after her contract was up, because of this, when she passed, the old woman left their mother with a dowry fit for any noble woman. There was only one small request, her children had to be taught the old ways. So it was written and so it was done. Little did she know then, that her children would be blessed with innate gifts. Some how she knew, the old woman must have known.
Nicolia watched his sister’s eyes light up with glee. “We can go to the Seeker tonight,” she said.
“I already told you. I don’t know if I want to know,” he said.
“Please, there isn’t anything else to do. Besides, I want to see if any of my friends are there. Most of them have already reached the age and you, you’re way past it. I want to know,” she said.
Nicolia contemplated while he watched his sister plea. She was right, he was two years past the age of knowing and still hadn’t stood in the line. “I don’t want to hear a single word about it if it turns out that I’m nothing more than I am right now. Got it?”
She jumped up and down for joy. “Yes!” she said.
She packed a small bag of food to take with them in case they got hungry. A little bread and cheese and even a little of the smoked pork. She carried the small bag around her waste and raced towards the door, then stopped. “Wait. We need the fee. You can’t see a Seeker without the fee,” she said.
She’s just like mother, she doesn’t miss anything. I’m not going to get out of it this time. he thought.
Nicolai could tell it was just late afternoon because the sun was sitting just to the west. He knew they wouldn’t reach town for another hour and still that gave too much time to stand in that awful line. It wasn’t so much the line itself that bothered him, it was the way the Seekers looked. Seekers were born of the Crystal Vale. They didn’t look like they were from here. They all had ivory white skin and pointed ears. Their eyes looked like a cats and their fingers looked longer than normal. They either had silver hair or black hair, nothing else. Nicolai didn’t know much more than that, their robes hid everything else there was to hide. He did hear they all had some sort of weird tail, but so far, that was just a rumor. As rumors went though, that one made him the most leery to enter the line. The Vale had what most called innate magic, where as most Walkers, as the Vale called humans, weren’t born with innate magic. Nicolai and Isabelle were special. Neither of them knew their father and still, it didn’t seem to matter. They were Walkers, that meant they may have been poor, but they were still a leg up on the Vale.
Some how though, none of that bothered Nicolai, it was the tail that bothered him the most.
The two of them could already hear the sounds of the market even before they crossed over the hill. Flutist played while a juggler juggled fire. All the market was alive with people trying to get their wares noticed. All accept their mothers booth. Hers was always busy. Men and women came from all around to get some of her soaps and pretty fragrances. They were legendary across the Four Corners. Nicolia watched his mother carry herself with more grace and elegance then some of what you would call the upper class. Her smile was radiant and her curly hair was put in a lose bun. A light wisp of her hair had fallen out from the soft breeze.
Nicolai watched his sister race up to her and jump into their mother’s arms. He laughed in spite of wanting to yell at her for interfering with their mother’s business. He waved when Isabelle pointed him out. He could tell she was telling their mother about him going to see the Seeker after all this time. Their mother smiled at him and waved him over.
‘Here we go.’ He thought.
Nicolai walked over to his mother’s booth and smiled at her. He couldn’t help but notice when she looked to see how short the line was for the Seeker.
She’s going to make me go this time. I just know it. The time of the Beltane is rising and now I have no choice but to face it.
Hesitant of standing in the line, his mother excused herself and walked over to her son. “What’s the problem. It’s long overdue. Come on, you have the fee. No more excuses. Go see what life is going to give you,” she said.
As much as it pained Nicolai to admit, he was a little curious about what he should and would be doing with his life. He knew he was going to miss the everyday surprise life had to offer. The closer he got to the line, the more his stomach weaved into knots. He couldn’t see the Vale because of the curtain door, but he knew without a doubt the Seeker was there. When he stepped closer to the front of the line, he realized why he was afraid.
He was afraid of what the Vale would think of him being an innate Walker. Those are rare indeed and he and his sister were both innate, born with powers they didn’t understand and even worse, couldn’t always control. Such a thing could be used for the wrong reasons. Even Isabelle was old enough to understand that.
“Who is next?” the voice called snapping Nicolai out of his thoughts.
He walked into the curtain and sat down at the table. The Seeker came forward and looked him in the eyes. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. All the rumors of tails and what not, were nothing more than that. Her deep marble blue cat eyes had a since of wander and wisdom. She stood about a foot smaller then Nicolai and had a soft sweet voice. Nicolai felt enamored by her and couldn’t help but do what she said. He was sure if she would have said go rob the booth next to him, he would have.
There was glowing soft light from the hole in the center of the table. Hanging fire glittered along the walls of the tent without catching it on fire. The magic that was in the air made him feel even more powerful inside.
“You’re innate,” she spoke.
Nicolai held his breath. “I am,” he said.
“An innate Walker. That’s a rare find. Guard your power well,” she said.
The Seeker closed her eyes and took his hands. She brought them over the hole in the center of the table. Sure he was going to be burned, Nicolai was surprised by the cool sensation that came from the hole in the table.
“What is that?” He asked.
“That is nothing more than a crystal taken from the Chaos past the wall where all Vale are born,” she said.
“Chaos, is that why you look different. Because you were born so close to the Chaos?” He asked.
“It is. You are a curious boy who catches on quick. That is going to come in handy in the days to come. Your sister is also an innate Walker. Be careful of the Priory. He is looking for the two of you,” she warned. “That is why the old woman was sent all those years ago. She was sent to teach your mother so that she could teach you. Take all that you know and keep your wits.”
Her face squirmed a little and her eyes filled with pain. Nicolai didn’t know what she was talking about but could tell there was something she wasn’t saying. “What is it?” He asked.
“There is going to be a death. Someone close to you. I can’t see more. You can stop this though. That’s all I see,” she said.
Nicolai’s heart dropped. He couldn’t understand who would want to kill anyone he knew. He was a poor kid from a poor home.
The light from the day passed, taking with it all the bold beautiful colors. Nicolai was thankful for that. At least the worry on his face would be hidden from all the Seeker said. The tower of the Beltane rang in the distance, letting everyone know it was time to pack it in for the day. They all gathered around the bonfire and danced and sang, sharing food and wine from the days trade. Music played in the air and a few of the people headed for the Goddess’s Tower to ask for protection from the coming of the between. The time when all the long dead spirits of those who you have wronged can come back and take what they deem is theirs.
Nicolai sat and watched his mother dance with his sister. To him, they were the only two people who mattered in the whole world.
A young woman about his age sat next to him. She had on a long purple dress with silver bead work that glittered in all the right places. Her long wavy curly red hair and fair skin made her look like something from a story. He looked at her, just a glance was all it took. She was beauty beyond compare.
“My name is Nicolai,” he said.
“I’m Jocelyn,” she said.
The thoughts of the day were gone along with the warning from the Seeker. All he could see before him was the fair lady, Jocelyn. She smiled at him and he blushed a little.
“I have been sent here to find you,” she said.
Jack, the only name he is known by in Beltane went by many names across the Four Corners. Secret names. He sat in the back corner of the tavern watching the door, never once taking his eyes off it. He had been sent by the Priory to find a kid and wasn’t told what he looked like. All he was given was a name…Nicolai.
Still he was sure if he waited around the Tavern long enough he would find someone who was familiar with the name. ‘If you ever want to know something about some one, go to the tavern.’ He always said when he was given such an assignment. He never paid attention to the person who assigned his tasks, only the coin in the purse. He didn’t mind it either. He enjoyed being able to travel from place to place and making those who hired him, pay for what he wanted and needed. A request from the Priory always made him question what was going on, but in the long run he didn’t care as long as the purse was good.
The Tavern began to fill with all sorts of people, Vale and Walkers alike. Jack wasn’t a huge fan of the Vale. He thought it was unnatural the way they were looked and hated they were born with innate magic. It wasn’t right as far as he was concerned. Most of the taverns in the Four Corners didn't serve their kind but Beltane was different. They were a tolerant sort of people. It was something Jack never understood but he stayed in the Beltane for this reason....Vale or no Vale. It was for all in tense and purpose, his home.
Live music danced through the smoke coming from the patrons. A loud wentch with a tray of ale walked to the table next to him. A big burly man with missing teeth and sweat poring off of him grabbed her and pulled her to his lap. Her loud boisterous laugh hurt Jack's ears. He got a kick out of her when she slapped the man. For a minute it looked like he was going to have step in, just so he could continue watching the door. A since of satisfaction rushed through him when she walked away. There wasn't any purse in a bar fight and most of the time it ended up costing you.
A woman walked in wearing a long hooded robe. She walked over to the bar keep and handed him a note. Jack didn’t miss a beat. He watched her sit next to the door. She moved like a woman out of place, like she didn’t belong. He waited to see what would happen next. A young man walked in and sat next to her. She removed her hood and smiled at him.
“A secret rendez vous.” He thought.
Too far away to hear the conversation, Jack was glad he had picked up the ability to read lips. It was something that came in handy on more than one occasion.
“Why involve Nicolai, he’s a good kid. He doesn’t know anything about any of this. I’ve known him my whole life,” the young man said.
“He is the key,” she replied.
“The key to what?” He asked.
“To retrieving the Chaos that is protected by the Vale,” she said.
‘No wonder the Priory wants him so bad. It has to be. For a Walker to be able to retrieve Chaos, well, that’s damn near impossible. Then again, an innate Walker, well that’s rare indeed.’ Jack thought.
He watched the conversation continue.
“You want to be with the fair Aleria, don’t you? There will be more than enough gold to make a good life for the two of you,” the woman said.
The young man had a disconcerted look on his face. He just nodded his head in agreement. “He’s not to be hurt. Is that understood?” The young man replied.
The woman nodded in agreement. She smiled at the young man and held up her cup to toast. She was the first to get up and leave, she handed him a purse, no doubt filled with coin.
‘How many people are after this kid, and does he even know?’ Jack wondered. He finished his pint then waited for the young man to leave.
Jack listened to the bell tole, and knew it was time to head to the Temple of the Goddess. The between time was coming soon. His soul gave a quiver, telling him the spirits would be lose soon. Their time was now and he didn't want to stick around to find out how many would be coming his way. With all the blood on his hands, he was surprised he was haunted by one of them, if not all. Still it didn't matter as long as the purse was good.
He left the tavern and headed to the temple. On the way, he watched people of the Beltane dance and sing, celebrating the time of the between. In some ways, perhaps in just this one. He was sorry he had to hide out. His eye caught a glimpse of a woman dancing with a little girl. Her smile lit up the night. Her hair waved in the breeze and for a moment, he could hear her laughter. It was the most peaceful sound he heard in a long time. She looked over at him, shaking him a little inside. With a tilt of his head, he continued about his way.
The clock was going to strike again. The between time had come. Getting the kid would have to wait. Still, he had a face to picture while he was attacked through the night. Perhaps that single glance and cheer in the lady's laugh would help him. He knew he didn't deserve it, but what else could he do?
The Temple of the Goddess located in the Beltane was by far the simplest, and still it was the most beautiful. Upon entrance, there was a fountain to wash your feet. It was called Bathing in the light. A single hole in the ceiling let the light from the night in and allowed the rays of the sun echo off the statue of the goddess during the day. Candles were lit all around. Each section was set up in different colors depending on the prayer. The marble floors were shined to perfection, often during the time of the between, the spirits of the past could be seen in them.
A special room was designed for those who were in need, those like Jack who needed protection from the spirits. The room had long satin blue curtains that flowed from the ceiling to the floor. They waved in the night’s soft breeze. Hanging fire hovered in the middle of the room. Soft pillows lined the floor in a circle. He was thankful he was alone tonight. Something about the magic in the air sent a shiver throughout his body. He didn’t know why because he knew what to expect. He has been going through this since he was 13. Over twenty years of doing the kind of work he does, that’s enough to send even the sweetest spirit after him. He worried about one thing, maintaining his sanity.
The bell banged out the last strike, now it was the between time. It comes once a season, and strikes on the midnight hour. The gates open to the spirit world letting the wronged come out and face their doer.
Jack sat against the wall with his head down, while the Temple Mistress focused a prayer over him. With her arms raised in the air, she spoke.
Spirits of the night be true
Know that I am watching you
Come and say what needs said
Just remember from this thread
Let no harm come to his soul tonight
So says the Goddess of the light.
Her spirit shined from within, purity on all levels. Jack knew she was a strong Temple Mistress. He could feel the magic around him and the protection from her spell wash over him.
His mind filled with the screams from the first person he killed. Jack was racing his father’s carriage along the road. He wanted to push the horses as hard as he could, with every whip of the reigns, the carriage went fast and his adrenaline pumped. He didn’t see the little girl coming out of the field. Just when she stepped out, tried to stop. He didn’t want to run her over. Had it been the neighbor, it would have been different. The carriage careened against the tree and flung him forward. He landed in a patch of grass. Sore, but not broken, he got up and walked to the girl who caused the accident. He watched the breath fall out of her.
“Water,” she said.
“You broke my father’s carriage. Get it yourself,” he replied.
Jack learned that day words like guilt and remorse didn’t apply to him. Even now, with the between time at hand, he didn’t feel anything for the lives he had taken.
Here she was as always, standing in front of him. “You took my life and couldn’t give me a drink of water?”
He looked at her and smiled. “You taught me who I am,” he said.
His mind wondered back to the woman dancing with the little girl. He wanted to know what it was like to feel that normal. To feel anything would be better then feeling nothing at all. The little girls wronged spirit taunts raged on then faded into the background, making way for his master. Sullivan. That’s the only name he knew about, Sully for short. He taught him how to use a blade. Sully was the first person he met when he ran away from home the day he killed the little girl. It took two years to learn all he could from him. Two years of slashes with the whip to gain the knowledge he wanted. It seemed like a small price to pay. He took out his blade one night and slashed Sully’s throat while he slept. He didn’t want a partner. Too many things can go wrong and often did.
He felt scratches on his back, and a punch in the ribs. His mind faded back again. He knew without a doubt who it was. Renier, a young man he actually thought he loved. Renier stood tall. His eyes were still of the innocent. Perhaps that’s what drew him. The two of them became friends. The sailed on a merchant ship. When they came to port. He was introduced to his fiancé’, Mary. She was and still is the most beautiful woman he had ever met. It was out of jealousy that he killed Renier.
It was a clear night and the moon hung high in the sky. The streets were busy and all the whore houses were packed with patrons who had been out at sea for months. Jack and Renier walked to Mary’s home. She welcomed both of them, but gave him a small glare. Renier just learned her father was going to give him a ship to captain. He was so excited, he begged Jack to celebrate with him. After a few drinks, Jack couldn’t hold the jealousy any longer. He pulled out his blade and stabbed him. “You’re life should be mine,” he said when the breath left his body.
Mary didn’t do what he had hoped. She didn’t turn to him. She turned instead to her own poison. Jack knew the two of them would show tonight. It was the anniversary and they always came on the same night every year.
Jacks body ached from all the punches to the gut. It’s amazing what the body can survive. The protection spell didn’t work on those who had been betrayed. Only those he took for nothing more than coin. The three of them, Sully, Renier and Mary threw blow after blow at him. His face was covered in scratches from Mary. He looked down at his hands to see they were covered in blood. The sound of a whip flew past his ear. Sully’s favorite tool to use. He arched his back in pain. He felt the stinging blows from Sully’s whip and heard the cries of betrayal. “I’ll whip you like the dog you are.” he said.
A piercing high pitched shrill went through his soul. He felt Mary’s pain. It was the first time he ever felt the pain he had caused. Curled up on the floor, he looked up at the Temple Mistress and begged for her help.
She looked down at him. “There is only so much I can do for a soul as dark as yours. You must find a way to redeem yourself for all you have done. I warn you, most black souls never return. You are in pieces inside. All I can do, I have done,” she said.
He rolled over and waited for the sound of the bell again. The whips kept coming as did the pain from Mary and Renier. He longed for it to be over. The several pieces of his soul began to scream out for the pain to stop. The Temple Goddess repeated the one line in the spell she knew would make them stop. “Let no harm come to his soul tonight,” she said. The spell took hold again.
With her hands held over his body, she brushed aside the spirits who attacked him. The pain and the screams subsided, giving him a moment of relief. It was something he knew he didn’t deserve. All the real pain he caused so many countless nameless others crashed into his heart and he cried. The Temple Mistress looked down at him and said, “Perhaps there is hope for you yet assassin.”
He looked up at her warm eyes, thankful, then put his head down on the pillow. His body was sore from the attack, but his heart hurt more. What was it to live a normal life? He didn’t know. He had never known real pain. He had never regretted anything he had done. Not until now. What made this night different from the rest? His hardened broken soul could only think of one answer, he was suppose to do something different. The question now was what?
‘The kid.’ He thought then fell into a deep sleep.
Time takes many things and many forms. In most cases what time takes is subtle. Walking around the Beltane in the between time with a beautiful girl was something Nicolai was sure he would mark for the rest of his life. He knew her from somewhere, he just couldn’t seem to place it. His gut told him to trust her.
There are secret passageways deep beneath the surface of the Beltane. It’s a small labyrinth that leads to the center of Beltane Castle. Jocelyn led Nicolai by the hand through the woods to the edge of a brook that had a small cave entrance.
“What I’m about to show you is one of the biggest known secrets. Most people consider this place a myth. Can you keep a secret Innate?” She asked.
Nicolai’s interest peaked a little. ‘Why would she want to show me the secret entrance to the palace?’
He took a deep breath, another thought entered his mind. ‘She knows.’
“Well, you know my secret, so I might as well know yours,” He said.
Jocelyn smiled a little then took his hand again. Butterflies filled Nicolai’s stomach. He didn’t know if it was because she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen or if it was because of all that was happening. He accepted it as part of the fates and walked in with her. She didn’t speak again. Nicolai could feel the Chaos run through the veins of the cave walls. The deeper in, the stronger it became. A soft hue of blue and gold light became stronger as they approached the center of the passageway.
“We are almost there. Come. There is much to talk about.” Jocelyn said.
“Talk with who?” Nicolai asked.
"No more questions. There is much you don’t know.” She said.
‘That is understating the most obvious.’ He thought.
A cool breeze brushed past, sending shivers through Nicolai. Ancient drawings covered the walls. Some of them were familiar to him. “This one is about the sword of life, and this one is about the sword of Death. I thought they were nothing more than bedtime stories told. What is all this about? Why are you taking me here?” Nicolai asked.
“We don’t have a lot of time. The Between time is almost over. The bad man comes,” Jocelyn said.
“Bad man? What are you talking about?” He asked.
“I promise to tell you everything as soon as we are safe,” She said. She tugged on his hand and pulled him towards her. Nicolai felt his skin tingle. He looked into her eyes.
“As you wish,” He said with a slight grin on his face.
He smiled and pulled him down the passage way until they came to a chamber. The large room had three doors. Above each door in ancient Vale words said, Past Present Future. A high ceiling with beautiful beams of decorated wood formed an octagon at the top. Three hanging fires topped the center of each door. Two large crystals stood in the center of the room. Each one of them had the handle of a sword sticking out of it.
Nicolai stood in front of them in awe. “They’re real,” he whispered.
“Now, we wait. My brother should be here soon,” Jocelyn said.
“Who is your brother?” Nicolai asked.
“Perhaps its better if I explain,” A different voice answered.
Nicolai turned around and then bowed in the presence of Prince Albert.
“Sire,” Nicolai said.
“I’m sorry about the ruse. It was necessary so I could talk to you about something that is going on in the palace. I fear we are all in danger,” Prince Albert said.
“Why would you want to talk to me?” Nicolai asked. “I’m nothing but a poor merchant’s son.”
“My Seeker said you would say that. Seems she was spot on, huh sister?” Prince Albert said.
“Mwertle spoke of me?” Nicolai asked.
“Yes. He did. We will get into that a little more later, for now. I need you to listen to all that has happened over the last few months. An evil has invaded the walls of the Beltane. I don’t know where it comes from yet, but I know it has infected my family.”
A loud noise sounded from the ground above, causing the ceiling to shake.
“It’s started. We’re too late. Jocelyn, you know what to do. Now! Go!” Prince Albert yelled.
Nicolai stood still for a moment. His mind flashed to his mother and sister. Hoardes of footsteps sounded down the passageway. Prince Albert turned to his sister, “Go!”
She ran towards the middle door. A piece of the ceiling fell to the floor, blocking the door. “The way is blocked!” She yelled at her brother.
“Do you have a sword?” Prince Albert asked.
Nicolai rushed over to the silver sword with the blue gem in it. “I’ll borrow this,” he said before Prince Albert could stop him. Nicolai lifted the sword from the Chaos Crystal.
A glow appeared from the sword when he lifted it from its home. A soft song filled the air. Prince Albert looked at the boy in front of him. “You should be dead.”
A loud yell from the hoards echoed through the passageway. “Never mind that now.” Prince Albert said.
Nicolai could feel the magic of the sword flow through to his very soul. He couldn’t stop looking at it. The way it shined in the light from the hanging fire made it look like something that wasn’t from this world.
“By the gods. There must be a hundred of them coming.” Prince Albert said.
“A wise man once said tis better to flee and live to fight back than to fight impossible odds.” Jocelyn said.
“Where are we suppose to go? The passage to the present is blocked and if we go back to the past, we risk doing more harm than good.” Prince Albert said.
“What are you talking about?” Nicolai asked.
“There is always the future. What choice do we have? Our uncle has gone mad with power and our mother is under his spell.” Jocelyn said.
A scouting hoard entered the room. It stood as tall as a giant. It had coal black tree bark looking skin, sharp pointed teeth and a flat face. Prince Albert lunged at the hoard with his sword. His sword didn’t penetrate the bark skin. Nicolai followed suit. Blood spurted from the wound Nicolai’s sword made. He lunged again at the hoard again, this time he thrust the sword into its heart. The hoard fell to the ground.
“Alright! Come on. If we’re going to do this, let’s go.” Prince Albert said.
Nicolai didn’t wait for an invitation; he followed the prince and princess through the door. Part of him didn’t believe it would lead to the future. Then again, he was sure the swords were nothing more than bedtime stories too.
When the time of Beltane plays