Welcome back to the story! If you don't wish to use the Selkies' Skin tag to find the entries, check the ToC on the Sticky Note at Dreamwidth. Story is mirrored to myLiveJournal, from my Dreamwidth, as well as on a dedicated site. For story news and more, subscribe to my Twitter (@AmehanaArashi) or go on Facebook and like either THG StarDragon Publishing or Selkies' Skins. As always, the main tag for the full story is selkies' skins and the tag for "Temple and Skinquest" is selkies' skins 2. Book one (Castle and Well) of Selkies' Skins is available in entirety in ebook format as of March 16th, beginning at Smashwords. The print edition is now available on Amazon and Lulu with Samantha Buckley's stunning cover depicting Kirsty and the storm. An audio edition of the first book in the series narrated by Illya Leonov and now available on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible, with other venues pending. He has finished "Book of Seals: Pearls of Sea and Stone" which accompanies and precedes Selkies' Skins: Castle and Well which will be available in full audiobook format soon. (click to hear what he sounds like in past recordings of other projects)
My apologies for the long delay. At least the move is done and I can get back to work and writing.
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Selkies' Skins 2
Section 2: Temple's Light
Chapter 13 part 3
The familiar trickle began again from Kirsty’s nose and the taste of salt slipped over her tongue. Tearing, that was the best way she could comprehend the feeling in her head. Another bit of herself tearing away, a thread being pulled stiffly and inexorably from her being, from her past. Unraveling. Skinning. Worse than having had to give up her human covering to be fit to be reborn.
“We can fix this, tell me, what do you see with your sight, Daughter?” The Weissefrau’s voice cut through the pain. She drew Kirsty into the water step by step. It rose higher as they went.
The lad with them reached for Kirsty, but was restrained by the old Lightkeeper.
Kirsty wiped at her nose with he sleeve as she gathered her focus to look. “There’s a red light all around the edges, pulsing like a heart. I feel… something. It’s not right.”
The Weissefrau had her to her shoulders now in the cold waters. “Like you’re being unmade, my dear?”
“Then on you go. Follow the light like a good girl on out. Begin to be remade.” Before Kirsty’s eyes could clear and her lips form the question she shoved the maid down. Kirsty’s mouth was still open and the human sputtered as the last of what was holding her was pulled away by some celestial weaver beyond the span of space and time known to mortals. Bubbles of air rose to the surface as the blood flowed again and the water turned red.
The lad wrenched himself free of the Lightkeeper finally, heaving himself at the terrible goddess of water and bone left in the natural well. Before he collided a wall of water engulfed him and held him to face the Weissefrau. Her ice grey eyes bored into him as she watched the water win its way into him. “Noble intent, poor execution, mere human understanding after all you’ve seen. I am not the one that will harm her. You might have seen her success and your children might have mingled with her had you heeded my Lightkeeper and your vows to me.”
As Kirsty’s body was pulled through a passage below, the lad’s body floated to one side of the deity’s domain. The Weissefrau threw back her head and howled. In the distance a pack of wolves answered and began their way. The Lightkeeper looked away, and she smiled grimly. “Perhaps in a way, he still might get what he’d have liked just not as he’d hoped.”
“My Lady?” The Lightkeeper chanced a look at her. She still was too terrible to behold for long and he looked away well aware his sleep would be disturbed for some time by her visage.
She shook her head and adjusted a cloak around herself before sitting on a rock. “Stop blaming yourself, I know you are. He’d have stolen it if she does survive this turn. You can go back now. If they ask, I have claimed them.”
“As you say.” He kept his face and his feeling so long as he could control them neutral as possible until he was back off her path. The deity, for her part, dispersed back into her water, releasing herself to it and trying to be fluid enough to determine what was being changed.
Farther back in the tunnel Raechel found a thick oak door reinforced with spells and hammered iron. The tunnel continued further beyond the door, beckoning. Below her she could feel a passage of water leading back to the sea, presumably through the cave she had come through. The passage below would have of necessity worn through some weakness in the stone around her.
Behind the door is what interested her most. Something large was contained within the chamber. Though it seemed to sleep it pressed at the edges of the containment much the same as did the creatures that Mara kept contained in certain rooms of her central temple and the deepest depths. Its presence was palpable, causing her short-hairs to prickle and rise in warning and her longer hairs to lift a little as she tensed. Trying the door she could not unlock it, nor could she force or undo these spells, not without trying to blast it off the hinges with energy she preferred to keep for later. She did feel the thing behind the door move though. The shifting turned her stomach, made her quake, and yet thrilled her.
“I’ll be back for you later, perhaps.” She whispered through the door, pressing against it and grinning. “We’ll have some fun, yes? Whatever you are.”
There was a smack of something on rock behind, and a splash. Raechel giggled and squirmed, stroking the door as a shimmer of green continued fighting against the purifying spell the child had unleashed on her.
She blew a kiss to the thing behind the door and continued along the passage, following it upward.
Raechel’s exploration ended at a thick oak door at the top of a long, narrow, cramped set of steep stairs. The cliff stone complained darkly on her way up. Here things sat silent and brooding over untold secrets, lies, and a hint of blood. The door barring her way was not like the doors below the sea. No hinge revealed which way it swung. There was iron binding it, but instead was in bands reinforcing all the way across. Her hands explored and fingers prodded everything that looked as if it might be a trigger.
She winced when her fingers brushed the iron, placed the worst of them in her mouth and frowned. A sickly green pulsed briefly and red mist spread along the bar.
Behind the door a presence lingered, stirred, its attention gained by her searching.
She stilled, breath bated, listening, straining.
The table beside his chair held the dregs of cold tea, dark and muddy as the hearts of most of his family but at least slightly warmer. Belial leaned forward in his chair, slender hands covering his face and fingers trying to press away the aches within his skull. Tendrils of bleached sun had worked out of the ribbon he used to bind back his hair, sticking with sweat. Before him on the grate tinges of blue, green, and purple leached out of the fire and back into the wholesome reds and oranges that indicated no demon manifested within it to him today. On the walls around him lurked memorabilia of wrecks, or more accurately ‘harvests’ that those sharing his name had done before him. Among them hung several of their ancient rival’s inhuman pelts.
Glazed eyes gazed down upon him, thoughts guarded.
They did not speak to his siblings or the others, but sometimes they gave him wary advice, and even comfort.
The pelt he kept tucked and hidden safe inside his clothing continued murmuring to him, pleas and curses, promises and threats. Choking soul screamed questions dug deep into his ears and heart with poison tipped claws. Had his storm turned her course though? Had he managed to keep her from going there despite her headstrong and imperious burning of his warning letter?
He knew she burnt it. He’d seen it in his gazing ball. He’d heard the little harrumph of said pelt. How many times had she made that sound at him before when he asked her to be careful?
Perhaps this duplicitous treachery of his family name was finally driving him insane, but it was worth it. He rarely got to see her, and when in public when acknowledging each other they had to fight to keep suspicion at bay. Those nights when she came to dance with her brothers and sisters of the pelt below the moon were worth it, every fear-lanced moment that he watched and feared the others would also pick her out among them. So too were the brief times he got to be father to the little one.
He winced when the log in the fire popped and sang, doing what it could to drive out the chill that always fell whenever he gazed or rose the storms. His fingers dug harder. He tried to weave and coax the energies the way Salena had tried to teach him one horribly hungover morning in a port far away, but his clumsy fingers merely slipped, and the spell tangled and died. Healing never had been his gift.
The ball of quartz on the table beside his chair clouded again, this time with red mist. Pulsing, beating, it continued and waited for his eyes to fall on it. He, however, eventually stood and made his way out of the room. He needed something stronger than what he had recently taken in order to tame the still mounting headache. The mist grew insistently thicker within the orb, but the master paid no heed and the door shut behind him.
After a timeless stretch of suspended breath Raechel began moving again and broadening her search. She conjured another orb of light and suspended it to light her way, finally finding a snake shaped protuberance to her right side in the stone. Running her fingers over the smoothness she finally found the trigger and the door slid to the side revealing a room that looked in her eyes to be some sort of combination of library and soul prison.
She stepped inside and the door — it was truly a whole book case — slid back into position. Unless she could find the trigger later she was trapped. A gazing orb throbbed an angry, furious blood-red on the stand where it lurked. If her eye lingered she saw the equally furious spirit pounding the barrier of crystal as it screamed unheard alarms. The selkie skins mounted about the room refused eye contact and speech with her. She could see they still contained part of the soul and consciousness of their former owners, but each eye contained the unfocused and glassy look of rejection. Raechel knew this gaze well already. The Sleeping Souls put to rest in the Temple back home all rebuked her in the same way since she gained the Taint whenever she entered the Chambers of the Box to lay out another set aside skin for the day it would be needed again.
Raechel closed her eyes and forced back the tear that threatened before turning to inspect more of the room. These probably all belonged to surface dwellers. What did they know, traitors? Perhaps these skins were better out of circulation, like The Ronan’s.
The pull started again, leading her away from the lavish darknesses of the firelit room and its rich wooden cases to before the fireplace itself. Of their own will her hands rose to the mantle and she heard herself speaking strange words her throat should not have been capable of. They came from deep inside, curling and coiling out with languid stretches and tickling places that her former love had not been able to reach, nor had the courage to search for. A slow smile curled in response, thirsty for more.
The invocation ended and the fire turned a sickly green.
A form gathered in the flames, the face of a darkly handsome male. The eyes bored into her know, finally out of the dreams that dominated her nights. For now any memory of Bethrise, whether during their fight or their good times, faded. She barely felt the tingles from the frayed ends of the roughly severed thread as the other end attempted to reach her.
“You are Astereth.” Raechel was not fully sure where the knowledge came from.
This should have bothered her. She should reject him. Now.
“Yet you do not wish me removed from your blood.”
“You feel empty. Rejected.”
“You feel that Mara prefers the land dweller, and an interbred bloodline at that.”
Raechel nodded, bit her lip, curled it and snorted whilst displaying a fang.
“She does, you know.” The being continued. “I know their bloodline well. She always has preferred them over the ones that stay within her.” The voice curled and stroked her ears, caressed the sensitive place on the bridge of her nose that all selkies shared.
“Why am I not good enough? I’ve given her myself. I’ve lost my mate. I wield her spear even though she’s damn well capable of doing so herself were she bothered. Why am I not enough?” Raechel hissed, stepping closer to the fire and pressing into the caresses. Unnoticed flames licked her feet as her eyes stayed pinned by the apparition.
“Nothing is ever enough for her, nor her sister either truthfully. They press, they demand, they entice. Yet they leave their dedicants in the end. I know of the pain, too personally. I would not leave you for some child that isn’t even a whole being.”
Raechel shivered, arched into the promise and then as quickly pulled away.
“I know you’ve heard similar before. I can prove my troth though. Come through the fire. There is a talisman in the vaults hidden here that you can use against your burrowing insect. Make her hurt, make her bleed. Already there is one using it in another time to do the same, and you can make it worse for her. You can even use it to regain your mate, make him abandon those soft ones you envy so. Perhaps even bend the rejectors of the Cailleach to your will as well. Come.”
Raechel stepped through the flames, taken through the wards and into the vaults that once were innermost parts of the Sacred Cavern before the land had risen and the sea fallen in the area. Saltwater lay still in a pool in the center of the room. In the midst of this rose the stark remains of a dais where a sundered seat and broken box of stone from which trickled a steady stream of surprisingly fresh smelling water held court over an array of riches and dangers. A being of sickly flame stood at the edge of the pool.
“Right now it is down there due to a ill planned move.” The being spared a poisonous look back the way they had come. “I cannot go down to fish it out, nor would I be able to bring it up even if I could penetrate her waters. There are two bloods that can, and I bear none.” Astereth chuckled a bit, then scowled as his companion did not respond to his joke.
Raechel did not wince from him. “Is there anything I should know before I dive in?”
“I am not sure. It is being protected, but the fall obscured certain knowledge from me regarding the spell that went in with it.”
Raechel wrinkled her nose and knelt at the edge, adjusting her skin around herself as she gazed in. She brushed her senses over the water, closed the skin and shivered her whiskers. Gingerly she dipped a flipper in.
She slipped in. Astereth smiled. The water pulsed. Astereth scowled. On the table in the library above the gazing orb filled the room with a baleful light as it awaited its master.
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