Selkies' SkinsInstallment 48Chapter 25 (part three)
The Old Ones
The Old Ones
Mara lunged at Kirsty, and on instinct she dodged. The dodge had been the wrong way though, and too hard. Her spirit separated from her body, which her aunt caught and lowered. Kirsty was unable to see the pallor and tightness of her face as she carefully lowered her physical encasement, falling through the stone altar where the lightning had struck instead.
Kirsty found herself plunging down a natural well, or at least so it seemed, the sheer rock walls rushing by her and the scent of water growing in her nose. There were passages that she could feel passing by, but she moved too quickly and it was too dark to see them.
Out of one poured forth an underground river, cascading down this aperture and changing its shape. She slipped into it and the coldness would have taken her breath, if she truly breathed. Mingling with that roar now around her was the surge of the tide and scent of salt below. Then the crash came, the water surging up over her, literally rising to meet her as fast as she was plummeting to it.
Arms of fresh water from the underground river feeding this astral world-well drew her along one of the passages at the same time that the water deities swam beside her, and this then opened to reveal a chamber where the types of waters met in peace, instead of the war she had just gone through. The cavern, strangely enough, had window-like apertures through which she could see the ebb and flow of tide through the seaweed.
Selkies – true selkies – went about their daily tasks outside, swimming and flipping past either in full seal form, or half form. None looked her way. There was no reason, despite the statues that she saw outside. Indeed, they seemed to be far too concerned with chasing fish and each other to pay her any mind.
"Well?" Mara pulled a purple sea kelp and anemone curtain over the more distracting of the openings.
Kirsty took a few more moments to process the change, and looked herself over as she realized that she could feel the water in her lungs. It took effort to remember that her real body lay in the stone circle.
Oddly, she felt a bit more complete here. She scanned the room, trying to find out why. The insides of her bones tingled as they had the first time David had told her he liked her.
Her eyes fell on a small stone chest, near a simple stone bench, both etched and worked with many of the changing creatures from the sea. This chest was heavily locked, and it was from here the magnetism seemed to be emanating.
"You could have warned her, or at least changed her so her mind would process this better," the Lady murmured, from by a silver basin near the middle of the room. She poured some water from a conch-shaped vessel into the scallop, then placed a lightly glowing crystal into it.
"She knew we'd be taking her out of her body." Mara gathered Kirsty to herself and trundled her toward the basin, almost tenderly, with a few flicks of her tail. "She knows that we won't allow her to drown... for now."
Kirsty wasn't sure when the deity had shifted her form, but she settled where she was placed and gazed into the water at the crystal.
"That's like the ones you showed me this summer, what you used to make it so David can swim with me while I'm preparing."
Mara nodded. "We like them, so we use them." She pulled a strand of Kirsty's hair and wrapped it around the crystal without taking it from the water.
Kirsty looked at Mara. Something was different about her here, more collected and smooth. Whale song rolled through the water, and the shark goddess closed her eyes for a moment.
Here, she was almost calm.
Mara's eyes opened again and her gaze focused on the crystal. "Between the three of us, we should be able to lift some of that fog shrouding Etain so we can find her. Whoever it is, I doubt they'll expect a mortal calling on her own blood." Mara's gaze flicked to the Lady, "Don't say it Sister..."
The Lady sighed in exasperation. "Fine. But I'm right."
"I won't. No."
Kirsty listened, trying not to seem as if she were paying attention, but as suddenly as the door into the goddess' mind had opened, the opportunity had gone.
What had she missed that she needed to know?
"This isn't going to involve more of my blood, is it...?"
"Tears actually," The Lady answered, before Mara could. "Not just blood. The blood may come into play, but it will be later if it does."
Mara deflated slightly, but nodded in agreement. "Yes, we need both blood and tears. We will all gaze into the basin, and concentrate on your máthair. You will repeat our words, and you will know when to do so. The rest of the time you must be silent, or the call will go awry."
Kirsty nodded. Tears would be easy to produce, but she was not so certain that Mara would be able to. This was the softest that she could ever recall seeing her. The idea of the ever hungry, capricious, blustery goddess just did not go with the thought.
Then again, the sea wasn't always that way. More often than not, it was deceptively calm and gentle on the surface. Still, when her seanmhuintir died, it had been the Lady that had wailed for days after each occurrence... Mara had raged and stormed around the Point so much on the night of grandfather's that she had destroyed both the lighthouse and the rock that had once lain off of it... and Mrs. Kitsch's childhood home. She remembered those nights of terror clutched by her mother by the hearth much later on the night of grandmother's passing.
"Do you understand?" Mara's voice, firm and unforgiving, cut into her thoughts, calling her back from pre-toddlerhood.
"I understand, my Ladies." Kirsty nodded.
Mara wrapped her arms tight around Kirsty, and she stiffened at the unexpected gesture. Just as suddenly, Mara had released her and stepped back, an unreadable expression sliding over her face similar to statues she had seen in old library books of forgotten deities.
The dark hair fell around the deity's face as she hurriedly bent over the basin, sprinkles of phosphorescent starlight in the velvet of abyssal depths, and seven tears fell in quick succession. Each of those produced a percussion as strong as one of the great gongs the Director never allowed the students to use.
The Lady shook her head at Kirsty and pulled her forward, then silently shed seven tears, squeezing her right hand. The third set of seven soon joined the immortal tears, and with them memories of moonlit nights singing on the seashore and dreams of what might be when her mum returned home.
She was surprised when, after the tears landed and mingled, she had images of her mother as a laughing young child dancing before her eyes. Etain's dark hair, glinting red and black where the sun spun in it, whirled around her as the sand and spray kicked up around her. Arms held the laughing child up, Etain's arms wide and yearning like seal flippers for the wave. These arms holding her high to the sky were not her own though, silver sharkskin ran from elbow to wrist.
The image morphed and changed, and years passed in a blink. The Lady sat on a rock where one of the underground streams burst out from the cliff to carve coves, and Etain paddled around after fish on a blazing summer day. There was laughter and clapping when Etain popped her head above water with a wiggling fish in her mouth – her first caught that way according to the knowledge that flowed to her – and the same skin flashing in her vision as the hands clapped.
Later, in that same pool, those arms were holding Etain and Finnol both. Behind the dark haired midwife, a full selkie with her skin spread waiting over the nearby rocks, the Lady stood, that ever translucent liquid hand resting on the midwife's shoulder. With a wash of pink slipped out a tiny, slick, and partly furred form which instinctively turned toward the surface before the midwife could catch it and check the child over. Here, she saw Mara fully, holding her parents – both exhausted looking – tightly and with unmistakable relief.
Mara was speaking, and she tried to listen, but the language was not one that she had ever heard before. Somehow, she understood it, and it was a long list of children, and statements of who she was.
Kirsty felt someone listening, one at first and then joined by others. The Lady took up the call next, repeating much of the same, but where her name should have been, she stopped abruptly to search.
There was nothing, and so that was what the Lady put into the call, the nagging sense of missing parts.
There was a stirring, a whispering, the clacking of looms and the shush of warp on weft with the feeling of being both everywhere and nowhere. Then Kirsty felt and heard her voice join in with this strange language welling up from within, releasing her hope and her fears for her mother like burbles of hot mud from unexplained and hitherto unexplored vents.
The story of her mother's life halted at the moment she had last seen her, and then stuttered forward. Kirsty could feel the goddesses sorting and sifting, searching for the thread forward, just as she was. The spell caught, time flowed forward.
Kirsty watched as her mother gave her life to clear a sickened and dying part of the sea, that fateful gyre draining her greedily of that strange thing they carried in their blood. Etain tried to take breath, and only got dead water devoid of life. A large shark nosed the half form back to the surface, then transformed herself and dragged the grey form onto the nearest large bit of flotsam... An aspect of Mara bent over the shell and gave that life back, driving the water from her lungs – Kirsty felt the pain that came with it – confirming some of the visions that had plagued her sleep.
She couldn't help the morbid thought that followed. "That's one, isn't it three times the drowning man goes down?"
Etain awoke and the Sea Witch brought its mistress aboard, then vanished. All that followed were blips, flashes of a strange Triton, a demolished throne room, followed by an endless sea of kelp.
They could feel Etain though, in those blank places, clouded over by woven mists that none of them could part for long enough.
Mara curled her lips and exposed her teeth in frustration. Her tail flicked to the side and hit Kirsty, not hard enough to do much, but it stayed curled around her.
The crystal in the basin glowed, switching rapidly from blue to purple-pink and back, faster and faster the more the power built. Kirsty had the strange intuition that similar conditions had happened in the creation of... something...
Then that intuition was gone and forgotten.
The sound of weaving intensified, attaining a maddening pace, the whooshing sound of a spinning distaff joined it, hastily producing more ammunition for whatever group of deities they now warred with.
As one, her goddesses asked the identities of those they were locked with, while Kirsty held her tongue. This language was now too ancient to understand at all, and she only had brief flashes of elderly women to go on. The number eluded her. Was it three, eight, nine? There was someone beyond them, someone that had stepped in.
Kirsty saw the flash of a pattern in the cosmic tapestry on a vast loom, if she had the time she could make out many other stories being woven – or to look ahead and see the outcome of her family's pattern.
She caught herself and redirected her focus to her mother, a single desire consuming her. Kirsty cared nothing for these balances and battles between the old ones. All she wanted was her mother safely at port, and for everything to finally be right and everyone to be whole.
"Let my Mum go."
She hadn't even been aware she'd said anything, but the battle of wills around her ceased. She felt little tiny threads, thicker cords and even cables fray and snap. Somewhere out there, a storm began, released by the sudden and unexpected break.
The sting was unexpected. Cords cut into her spirit as they broke around her, and she could feel the blood flow from the wounds. The goddesses had not escaped, in fact they seemed to take the brunt of it, both moving to block what they could from her without leaving their places.
For a split second she was back within the world-net. Blue eyes locked with her own, and then drove through her in confusion – dark blue as if held below the depths of the waves, and she saw her mother. Etain rested on her bed in the Sea Witch, still pale and haggard from the recent large uses of her magic.
Kirsty heard a shout, a deep male voice that shook the boat as surely as thunder... which followed. Etain got up hurriedly, looking toward the voice.
"So Mote It Be, then. We release her, little Changeling. She must weave her own fate home, and in exchange we take your destiny to shape instead." The Voices of the mysterious Weavers intoned, still faceless.
Kirsty felt sick, and the vision vanished. The Lady slumped and rested hands and forehead on the basin's edge. Mara pulled her close, still staring into the basin, now empty of water – odd for an underwater cavern.
"No... she wasn't supposed to speak yet..." Mara squeezed her tighter than she was likely aware, glaring into the basin, teeth bared and growling to herself. Then she lashed out at the basin with her tail, upending it.
"I have a general idea where she was hidden... Sister! Get up and take her back. I will report when I can." Mara pushed Kirsty into her, waited for her to register and wrap her arms around the child, then tore out through one of the curtained openings, fading from sight.
Kirsty watched in confusion. "Who were they?"
"Others like us, child. With names far older than ours. At least, we think so. Ages of Old Ones are hard to calculate since we can count either from our Becoming or our finding our Names." The Lady of the Well replied.
"Older? I don't feel so well, my Lady..."
"Nor do I... But come, we must return. There will at least be news soon, and much time will have passed back on the material plane."
Kirsty could not help looking over her shoulder at the strange chest as she was drawn from the room and back to her body. Somehow, it felt as if she were losing something important all over again, before she'd fully had time to even know of it.
"I... don't think I want to go yet."
The Lady of the Wells and Waters gave her a knowing look, then pulled her along. "You will return, later."
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