Selkies' SkinsInstallment 47Chapter 25 (part two)
The Old Ones
The Old Ones
Kirsty observed the shimmering energy in front of her, and the space beyond. To her, this barrier smelled of the lightning over a high sea, mingled with the newly mown grass after Ainsley had ridden Reaper around on his kicks to tame both sod and cloud.
Then she was through the barrier and queuing up beside Thomas. Steadily he picked out the haunting refrain the stones chimed in subsonic symphonies. The primal energy pooled in her as she instinctively drank it in and tilted her face to the moon, spreading her arms and brushing shoulders as if to shed the skin that wasn't there. With an effort, she tried her voice again, joining the toning stones, silvered strings, and haunting wails. Though still weak, it hurt less to try.
The music carrying in the night, as sound often does, would be making the locals believe, for a night, in the sidhe. For them, the hills would open once more and the fair ones might venture forth.
The old magics would remain in the world in some form till the next time for the portals to open. Kirsty could feel, somehow, as each of the power points on the Isles were activated.
In brief flashes, she saw the true ancient rituals, more as touches of wind than as vision. More recent events followed as the stones around her remembered, such as the nights the local witches stood to defend German invasion attempts, and the more concerted efforts to aid distantly for D-day, only known for fact to the most obscure Cowan historians, and thought to be only folklore to most of the populace... but which was still too incendiary a topic for non-Cowans to discuss among themselves despite the passage of generations.
Perhaps, somewhere out there, someone not of magical blood would be feeling the passage of the Old Ones. Perhaps it could even be one of those that decried their existence as folktales.
For now, the stones remembered, and recorded.
A riff of laughter pulled her eyes to the one beside her, and she began to remember who she was and why she was there.
Thomas actually was beginning to look a little drunk, flushed behind the mask and beneath his hat. The way his smile spread and teeth began to glint under the emboldened stars brought a small smile to her own lips.
"I'd forgotten how good this place feels..." The hair on her arms and in her half pelt rose in response. Kirsty closed her eyes. She wanted to dance on the beach, but odder was the urge – no, need – to hunt, widening her eyes and her body lifting and falling at the realization.
Soon enough all five of them were around the stone altar, their breathing falling into creative cadence as they waited and the land thrummed. Professor MacLeomhann circumnavigated the perimeter and scribed the appropriate sigils – Ogham that had been used by the builders.
The brush of her aunt's abyssopelagic aura against her own pulled her out of the trance she was slipping into.
"The Representatives of the Tribes shall now state their deities."
"Cerridwen," "Mara, and the Lady of the Waters," "the White Lady," "Cailleach," "Kernunnos, and the Oak King," intoned each in turn. They passed the calls around the circle, first to three, and then to the three-fold three, swifter and louder each round. Kirsty's voice was a mere wash of sound like a distant surf when her turn came, while Diana was a ripple on a midnight lake. Thomas was a riff of notes and the crackle of flame under Cerridwen's cauldron. Ingrid's evocation was landslides and the clash of battle, whilst Floyd's voice was blaring horns and the sounds of hooves on forgotten moss.
With each round the energy of the nexus grew stronger and stronger. A wind roared through the stones from five different directions, meeting over the altar and then tearing down into it and below.
If any sounds would carry to those anchoring them to the world they came from, it would be this, and the moaning of the earth as she stretched and accepted the sky.
Each of them laid their hands on the stone. Lightning came from the still cloudless sky directly above.
MacLeomhann's cry as the power broke was drowned by the thunder. It coursed through the stone and into each of them. The student Priests and Priestesses, eyes locked on the eyes of those that had chosen them, stood transfixed by the summoned deities.
As one, the group nodded at the elderly professor. She removed her hands from the stone and stepped back.
"You have done well Belara, as usual." The Lady of the Waters smiled at MacLeomhann, as translucent and luminescent as she remembered.
"I will ensure that you will be seeing your husband tonight when all is quiet and you are in your chambers." The Cailleach stepped down off the stone. "I will not be staying long, and will return the trainee swiftly."
"My thanks, Lady."
Cailleach laid her hands on Ingrid's shoulders, drawing her away from the group. "Come child, much awaits."
Ingrid fell down to the sod, her body sleeping and her soul, now armored, racing like a hind after the war goddess.
"We must fly as well." Kernunnos, covered with the skins from his hunts and always morphing slightly, cast a measuring look at Kirsty before he stepped off. His head was helmeted by a skull of some heavily antlered creature that had not roamed the planet in aeons – perhaps ever – and where the eyes should have been, only the starry depths of the night sky before the Industrial age looked at at any foolish enough to lock eyes with him.
The butt of his dark spear sounded on a stone. Floyd also passed into sleep.
"Aren't you missing one?" His companion asked, crossing his arms and smelling of musk. "I'm quite certain I smell-"
"That was last night, and this is the wrong aspect. Is your nose going?" Kernnunos crackled. "Let's get going, I want as much use of this moon's phase as possible."
Kirsty couldn’t help smiling at that. He did not seem as bothered as she had been afraid that Herne would be. Though this was a different aspect, there were some things that carried, and he was not looking at her accusingly or demanding time she didn’t have tonight.
"Well, now that you mention it, just a few hours ago there was this coven of Cowan teenagers that called me up, and then thought I was some demon to do their bidding. Tons of sul--"
"Get hunting or I'll be hunting you next! And stop sniffing toward the water girl! Off limits!"
"Yes, yes. Just a few steps behind. You'd be less cranky if you'd hunt other things once in a while." The Oak King grabbed MacLeomhann and stole a kiss before she could fend him off, leaving her blushing furiously when he released her struggling form and dashed off after Kernunnos and the trainee.
The debacle ensuing from the stolen kiss was enough to draw the wide eyes of those remaining to be taken.
"Oakie is right you know, Cerridwen." The White Lady grinned a bit and calmly helped MacLeomhan to straighten herself, then gave a subtle nod toward Mara, who had already leaped off the stone and was pacing as if to stop meant the ceasing of breath. "I think something ought to be done in a couple cases."
"Here is not the place to discuss it. I come to test the Harper and see if he is worthy of his next step, not to meddle in affairs of musk glands, certain hunts, or that sort of inspiration." Cerridwen's voice was the simmering of long-forgotten and yet to be learned potions, and songs yet to be sung.
Both eyed Mara warily, who glowered at them momentarily and crossed her arms. The sea water following and flowing around her feet seethed.
"Agreed... Now is not the best of times. Come my young one, I have much to share tonight." The White Lady gathered Diana to herself and discarded the body. In less than a flash, the pair swam away through the sky on a narwhal.
"Shi did that on purpose..." Mara watched them swim away, the sleeping bodies of the youths around them. "Wait a minute... Shi took Compánach- Come back with my narwhal, you have some of your own!"
"You need a leannán..." The White Lady's voice sifted down like starlight and moonsugar, the source already far distant, yet carrying in the way of the Elders.
"He means well Mara, and just worries about the effects of... you know."
"Shi didn't prod about such things for either of us a few centuries back. Now shi mates if someone is visionary and sensitive enough." Mara stalked the perimeter, grinning and licking her lips a bit when her eyes fell on Morvan, then looked back. "I have better things to do than set myself up again."
"This also may not be the best conversation to pursue, Lady Mara... Presence of your Acolyte or not... Please forgive my intrusion." MacLeomhann once more had her composure, flowing deosil around the circle and carefully arranging the discarded bodies more comfortably than how they had fallen. "Kirsten has some pressing matters that we hope can be taken care of..."
"Yes sister. I agree with Belara." The Lady of the Water chimed in, flowing her way to Mara and laying a hand on her arm. "We should take her soon, lest the others return before us."
"Fine. We have matters to discuss and insist on as well."
Kirsty blanched and drew back, the tone was unmistakable. Somewhere, she feared this would be the night she'd been dreading since she could first remember. She opened her mouth to give proper acknowledgment, but all that came was a hoarse squeak.
Cerridwen eyed Kirsty. "What's wrong with the child? I was hoping to have heard her gift tonight as well." A heartbeat passed and the fire haired goddess wrinkled her nose. "Mara, I'm stepping into your territory to fix my territory. Don't eat any parts of those that are mine to even the balances."
Mara snorted. "Please do."
"I mean it. Don't go nipping Harper's fingers while he's taking an after hours bath or something."
Thomas hid his hands, his eyes widening, mouth forming a small o, and blushing furiously all at once, then flicking guiltily around.
Kirsty and Thomas both flinched when Cerridwen laid her hand on Kirsty's throat. Her eyes locked on his for a moment, then took on the glassy inwardness.
For a moment, the shifting seas reflecting in her eyes gave way to a banked fire, then the flames coaxed upward, before becoming the shifting seas again.
She reached for her throat tentatively, locking eyes with the deity.
"Thank you, Lady Cerridwen..." She curtsied in the low, grandiose way that Mara preferred her to, spreading the skirts wide and exposing the back of her neck. "How should I repay your kindness?"
"Pay better attention, young one." The elder deity smiled and nodded. "And perhaps do like you are supposed to do under the moon a bit more often. I miss the dancing and singing, and I'm not the only one missing it since you found a way to keep that white pup company while he's contained."
"Yes Lady Cerridwen..."
Mara snorted a bit, and an elbow in her side from her sister produced an exasperated sigh to follow it.
"Well then, it's sorted. Come young Harper, we have much to do, and a short night." With that, Cerridwen drew Thomas over to a more private area, and cloaked their area further with mist.
Mara dipped her head and resumed her prowling.
The Lady of the Well sat lightly on the ground and patted it gently. "Sit with me Kirsty. What's troubling you?"
"Where is my mother?"
"I don't know... that's something that Sister and I wanted to discuss with you. We know she's alive but-"
"She's been hidden from me. From my waters, she's been taken from me!" Mara stalked the circle again, at a pace swift enough pace to make Kirsty feel like a whirlpool would open up in the center. "That leaves you my only remaining land-based priestess that I can access."
Kirsty clenched her fists and trembled, her stomach churning... it was good that she'd not eaten as well as usual. She was cold, and she could feel the sweat beginning to form.
"She can't leave school. She's not old enough yet." Belara's hand settled on her shoulder, and she felt her settle on her left side, shielding her. "Remember the laws have changed since your race began to fade from sight."
"Aye... I remember well." Mara paused in front of Kirsty. "But it can't be helped. While there are still others of my children beached, I still have to have access to a properly trained priestess that has passed her initial examinations – skin or no, potions or no!"
"This Yule Kirsten must be home for the first test. At night, in her dreams, myself, Mara, or the White One will feed her a little more of what we desire her to know, since she cannot attend one of the Temples." The Lady patted Kirsty's thigh lightly. "She also must come visit with me in the well when she returns.
Kirsty stared at the slender, translucent, hand where it glowed blue and lit the darkening night.
"I’m supposed to test this break for registering as a shifter though. I'm the only one? I know half-breeds tend to get hunted and we're looked down on... but there aren't any others that are acceptable?"
"No. I'm afraid not, and your registration will just have to wait for the spring recess. Some candidates don't have the magic they'll need to withstand us both. There are those that abandoned one or the other of us for some other deity or no deity at all. Others don't have ancestry from the right bloodlines-"
"And a few I just plain don't like how they are deciding to be, and more that are too diluted and just simply don't see me. It's worse than if a human does not see, since even one drop of selkie blood and a child is mine 'til certain conditions are met or it shares the blood of another." Mara stalked and swirled, gills flashing at her neck. "Ever try to talk to someone that doesn't know you even exist? They walk toward you at the beach when they visit the sea, feel you, but to them you're not there. Only the seafoam on the wave and the spray on their skin. Especially if it's a marriage that brings them."
Mara shuddered, and seemed to stop short of hugging herself before that vulnerability was lost again in malice.
"Mara..." The Lady whispered and gestured to her hem. "You're showing seafloor..."
Mara drew a breath, nostrils flaring and knuckles white on the shaft of her spear.
Were those tears that she saw, catching some of the light from the glowstones and her sister?
Closer inspection of the goddess revealed that the dress of seasilk indeed was showing seafloor in places. Odder yet, she trembled slightly.
"Then... I suppose I have to abide by your demand..."
Kirsty was not sure which of them it had been. Her stomach felt leaden though, as if she had just made a pact she would later regret. She examined her left hand and sighed.
"Hidden... Why.. Who..?"
"So what do we do to find my niece?" Belara asked, before Kirsty had a chance to sink too far back into her thoughts. "Finnol certainly won't take this well."
"We call... Whoever is keeping her from me is much older and more powerful-"
"And more subtle..." The Lady brushed her skirts a bit, and a school of fish darted to the other leg.
Mara glared at her sister. "You're lucky you lost your name..."
Expect the next episode around August 11th, unless an extra episode funds, in which case you might see the next on August 4th. If you'd like to have another episode sooner, feel free to use the Paypal button below. A total of $5 earns everyone an extra episode. If the five dollars is not met, then the amount rolls over toward the next early episode. You can see how close we are to having an extra episode by checking the meter on the sticky post.
Please do consider making a donation, or buying the complete book once it's available. The donations accelerate postings, but also help put food on the table. Rather make an offline tip? Write me for a mailing address.