This was originally two separate parts, but I put them together for length since these were divided when I was using smaller sections.
Selkies' SkinsInstallment 46Chapter 25 (part one)
The Old Ones
The Old Ones
Morvan watched as some of the students separated from them and followed the headmistress, the Makay girl among them. He pondered the way she looked longingly to the spring after tearing her eyes from the sea, and the momentary flash of terror, then the confusion he had seen twisting and raising her brows. Stranger yet was the purpose in her step once she started moving, the dreamy hesitancy he was accustomed to seeing – gone.
That was not the Makay girl that he knew. He was not sure who this was. Even that moon-crazed Demeter girl had a more powerful and direct aspect around her instead of being lost in daydreams.
This version of Makay possessed a tangible wariness, which reminded him of how the doves watched the cats and owls. He wasn't sure if she was the cat, the dove, or the owl, nor was he sure he wanted to know. She might eat him.
Each of the Observers called up previously carved turnips, the predecessors to the now ubiquitous pumpkins introduced from American cousins. Purple and white, wood-hard and the size of doubled fists, some were simply scooped out glorified candle holders, while others had obviously had longer to work and steadfastly managed to scrape out recognizable faces to leer... or gaze benignly.
As one, each Observer held up their turnip lanterns, which varied in size and complexity even more as they began to take on life, and murmured their own prayers.
"I ask the Lord Of All That Is to watch over and protect my friends. Please extend your hand and bring them back to yourself, and forgive their mistakes. Don't let them get hurt." Ally whispered, dipping her head and closing her eyes, far more pale than when they had set out.
Morvan wondered what she had seen during the transit.
"May the Lord of All Flesh grant the safe return of our friends, and the safety of all of us." Nevin agreed, nodding, equally pale.
"May Enlightenment and connection to Truth be gained by all in following the Way" Enid and Devan murmured as one.
"Amen," Guirmean nodded toward Ally and Nevin. "So Mote It Be." Guirmean nodded again the end of the other prayers.
"Wait, I thought this thing was a Pagan moot. Those didn't sound Pagan." Morvan hid his smirk, but crossed his arms.
Ally and Nevin flinched. Enid and Devan sighed and shook their heads.
"What's yer row with that? 'S like guests at a church." A mostly brown student from among the Guardians hissed and sighed.
"Observers don't have to share the same faith. They just have to care about those that wander between worlds, Lilitu! Just because we're all different doesn't mean we don't get along." Creighton spat at the same time. The dark haired male from the Participants stepped forward, eyes flashing and fixed as if he were a deer.
Something dark and horned overshadowed Creighton, and for just a moment Morvan caught the scent of musk, the chase, and birch trees.
Well, more of the scent of birch than was usual for Creighton, who smelled of summer birch stands even at Christmastide.
"Be still, Creighton." MacLeomhann's tone pinned the lad.
"Yes Professor..." He cast one last look at Morvan.
"Halfblood ghillie dhu..." Morvan muttered.
"The same goes for you Lilitu." MacLeomhann growled. "You will learn your lesson."
"Insinuating something about my mother, Lilitu?" Creighton continued, hand still fisted.
"I can have you serve detention together tomorrow night if you won't stop. Kirstin, don't you dare think about joining in." MacLeomhann's gaze snapped sharply toward Kirsty at the sound of willow and selkie hair beginning to swish. "They listen even now."
"Yes Headmistress..." They grumbled together, going with the higher of her titles, all hoping for some favor points.
"Damnitall..." Kirsty blinked with what she hoped looked like innocence, then conjured her own turnip, instead of making mud swallow him. She cast a wary look to Creighton and the darker haired female. With an unobtrusive sniff she tried to identify the scents coming from them.
Battle and/or the Cailleach was not something she needed to have following her, or to be blundering into. Mara's insistent tugs were enough to deal with.
Next, the other ritual participants each conjured their own, and lit the candles of their Observers and ties back to the world of man.
"Light at the windowsill and hearth always bring us home, through darkest night and wildest storm." The five Participants chanted in unison, each touching or brandishing some mark of their deity, before touching the wicks of their turnips to the flames offered.
Thomas sighed and shook a bit, touching the lump beneath his cloak again once his flame was lit from Ally, and watched Kirsty rub the twinned bracelet at her left wrist once she was lit from the same source.
Creighton winked and patted the bone spearhead strung at his neck, once done accepting fire from the dark haired one. "Let's hope Kernnunos and the Oak King grant blessings, Enid. See you with a prize hopefully." Enid smiled a bit and nodded, adjusting the mask she wore.
"Of course they will. Didn't you hear the sounds of Herne's Hunt last night? They're all riled." Stone grinned, her pale blond hair for a moment looking too white for Morvan's comfort. "I can't wait to find out directly what She wants me to do."
Gale looked into the turnip he held after Stone's had been lit. "Just be careful Ingrid... Remember last time. Come back."
"'Don't wind up like the girl that bonded too close with Brigit.' Don't worry, I won't."
"Uh huh... I wonder sometimes." He muttered.
Morvan wasn't the only one looking at how Stone's hair was closer to the shade of moonlight.
Gravely, the Observers shared their light with the Guardians... except for Morvan.
Try as he could earlier in the day, he had not carved a turnip with the other students during the preparations for the time. Nothing would form in his mind either. Now he understood somewhat why people worked for hours and days on the superstitious oddities...
No turnip, no flame, no light would he have.
None would have been offered to him anyway. Superstitious fools.
He tried one more time to conjure something, but all he managed was a gnarled stub.
The looks some of the others gave him... He was unaccustomed to this feeling it brought him. Even out under the open sky he began to feel claustrophobic.
Professor Guirmean moved to light Morvan's wick for him, but Kirsty held forth her flame instead. Her gut twisted, and she fought it, but some force pulled her toward him like fish in a net.
The cold that flowed through and around her, an arctic blast over frozen seas, made her squeeze her eyes shut. Images formed before her and then were torn away too quickly to grasp.
The flame danced between them, and kindled the wick of that misshapen gnarl, and the scent of some unnamed creature (which she likely didn't want to know by how it turned her stomach and made her think of the last she'd burned her hand) coiled up from the tallow and overpowered the clean herbs in her beeswax.
With a nod, she drew back, and felt things unseen click into place. She had done Mara's or the Lady's will... and that was all she knew.
Was that pity on Makay's face? Surely not. She had said nothing, so there was no way for Morvan to verify. Neither would the others speak to him. So what was that flicker in her eyes and the hated tie he had thought he had felt?
Thomas Harper the was first behind MacLeomhann, plucking a few strains on his lute and making his turnip do a jaunty spin above his head like a demented will o' the wisp. Makay fell in line behind him, holding her head high. A strange, barely audible warble came from her, weakened further, then fell silent as she winced and reached for her throat. Diana Demeter looked up to the moon, as if she expected that low hanging orb to speak. Indeed, it did appear to be listening attentively. She too then got into line, resting her hand momentarily on the shaking shoulder.
Morvan already disliked those three, but the other two, Ingrid Stone and Floyd Creighton he knew little of besides their names and that they were of Leomaris. They were as withdrawn as Valnarius, usually.
Creighton looked his way and pulled up an antlered hood, oak leaves clinging here and there as if the great hart they came from had last crashed through a thicket of saplings. He curled his lip in disdain, holding Morvan's eyes, but talking to the one beside him. "A Spiralis... still can't believe one came with what they say about the Old Ways."
"Floyd, the heads will hear." Stone elbowed him while hissing. "We can hope 'They' will unleash us, 'til then..."
Stone's hood came up. An eerie darkness emanated from her, an impossibility that gave Morvan a headache. Without a word, she glided to the line, followed by her housemate.
The adults continued in their preparations and gestures. Ainsley carefully placed a circle of what looked to be salt around the observers, with garlic and silver at the quarters.
The crimson sun touched the edge of the mist and slid below. A bloody path formed over the water, though as far as Morvan knew, the path of the sun shouldn't have been seen under such conditions.
For a moment, he thought he saw a large, triangular, fin breaking the water. When he tried to focus on it, it was gone.
So why did it leave the sense of foreboding, as if a white masked closet dweller with a cleaver had just creaked the door open?
One by one the Participants wended around the tor, away from the beach, and into the stone circle, accompanied by MacLeomhann's chants and the wails of the floating pipes. One by one they passed through the dividing line, flares and pulses passing through the Observers.
The last of the sun's light flared, the final stab to its daily life, as if from the Morrigan's spear. At last, MacLeomhann herself entered, and Morvan heard her no more.
"Now we wait, and guard." Guirmean answered the unasked question. "Mr. Ainsley will take half of you and guard the village side, the rest of us will be stationed here."
The moon now hung low over the stones, as if watching the forms which he could no longer see. For a moment, he thought he almost could pick out a satisfied smile in the great shining face.
Or was the moon rimmed by rows of serrated teeth?
The wind rose.
Ainsley pointed to his two to follow, singling out who he knew from the roll call would be Darcy Green from Leomaris and Corriander Comely from Bertramus, in their dark leather Hunter's garb. Ainsely gave him a fierce and haunting glare, and the Head's comment 'half' momentarily whispered through his mind. Ainsely grinned a bit, though what it meant Morvan wasn't sure. Then they too disappeared into the fog, ostensibly to position his two young guardians where he wanted them to haunt. Morvan was now "alone" with Bartholomew Brown, Stanley Wookey of Leomaris, and the Headmaster to "protect" the Observers.
McNamara fiddled with the edge of her cloak, peering up at the stones. "Are you sure they're really going to be all right? Thomas really does this every High Day?"
Morvan listened partially and looked around for- he didn't know what. Some moving shape perhaps.
There was breathing behind his ear, but every time he looked, he saw only the settling night.
"Every High Day." Guirmean replied, resting a hand on her shoulder.
"What about Kirsty? Are these really as dangerous as people going missing? If she does these all the time, but not always with a group-?"
"Which is why she's here for this one. I have full confidence in Professor MacLeomhann's abilities to midwife them back and forth." His tone was final, and calm as the soft thump of a thick tome closed for a final time.
Ally reached up and grasped the silver cross where it dangled from its stout chain. She bit and sucked her lip thoughtfully, then sighed as if pondering a question from History, Ethics, or maybe that sparsely attended World Religions seminar.
Time stretched out further, and the dark fell faster, as if the Unseelie Court galloped across the sky drawing a tattered cloak of darkness behind.
The wind called his name, but as Morvan looked around, none seemed to hear it.
"I don't think I want to know if they're real anymore..." He thought. "Not in a place like this..."
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Ok, scheduling it for tomorrow didn't work as intended. So it's here early and will go up on the website tomorrow.