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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 story is selkies' skins.

This is coming a few days early for a very special man that's had a bit of a busy week. His name might begin with V and end with an E. He might even be the sweetest man on Earth when he's feeling good, or I could just be biased and like to toss out true and nice things about him now and then. Maybe it's both. Or maybe it just drives me nuts that he's so far away and I can't give him a proper hug after work. I also decided that I'd make it a double installment.

Selkies' Skins
Installment 50
Chapter 26 (part two)
The Mark

 

"There has never been so many, Artair... Not since..." Belara broke herself off and pressed her lips together.

The Headmaster hrmed and nodded, then returned to mending the bump on the back of Morvan's head. His eyes focused on unseen vistas as he concentrated on the inner ministrations.

"Aye Headmaster. 'N they didnae head for the village like I would have expected. Like they was after sumthing, sir." Ainsley crossed his arms. "Wiped many a memory tonight."

"At least it was not the things. The distraction arranged earlier at least seems to have worked."

"An' yer said my idea was a barrel o' crackers..." Ainsley huffed a bit, flashing teeth in a satisfied smirk.

"The white and red cloaks rarely lend their aid for anything not related to the water. I doubt they will do it again once the things are calm again." Belara hissed, her eyes flicking to Kirsty and back – too swift for the students to catch it.

Kirsty flinched, pulling her cloak more tightly around herself and looking at the ground. If her ears could, she would droop them. As it was she had the disturbing feeling of non-existent whiskers drooping from her lips.

"Please don't argue." Guirmean interjected, finishing. "It was worse than expected, but not as bad as what could have been. We are all here, safe, and various communities will be going on as they should."

The students gathered together. While the adults conferred the Observers stepping out of their circle as soon as the Anchor was released.

Kirsty glared toward the sea, silently daring any more Finmen to materialize, even though there were likely no reinforcements. She sulked as it fully sank in that she had done yet another favor for Morvan. "Unicorns, and now Finmen... What next?" An ashray?

"Maybe the bean-fionn when it warms up enough for him to get in the loch." Imp whispered in her ear after hopping invisibly to her shoulder. "He's irritating the deities, Mistress. The Cailleach is cross with him."

Kirsty tried to step discretely away from the group, before they were finished discussing and preparing Morvan for the transport back.

"I didn't ask you to spy on him..." She frowned, speaking barely loud enough for it to reach her shoulder as he worked his way into her clothes.

"He was acting funny before you got hurt, so I went."

"Kirstin... dunnae wander off." Ainsley called, turning his head after glimpsing the movement. "While we was over village-side there were signs of thing activity."

"No sir." She agreed, shifting back toward the group with a shudder. She couldn't help clutching her belly at the thought of them coming this way.

They likely would come, after such a large concentration of the Finmen, and the recent battle. Her adrenaline rush was ebbing now, leaving her sick to her stomach, and her limbs feeling strangely heavy and shaky.

The headmaster tapped on the travel-stone again once the crane alighted back on his staff and returned to its inanimate form. Ainsley clutched Morvan, curling his lip a bit in displeasure. Kirsty tried to avoid Morvan's draped hand, but was unable to do so in the press of bodies as each gripped the key for the transport through the matrix.

She snarled at his touch, even though he was unconscious for the trip. Instead she fixed her gaze stubbornly on the spot where her aunt and Guirmean's hands touched each other as they grasped the stang together.

With effort she considered the contrast between their hands, and the way the rivers ran beneath their skins through the earth bones – anything to keep her thoughts from chewing over the service she had done, even if he were now deeper in her debt.

A flapping pulled her from her thoughts. Kirsty turned her head, ignoring the nausea that came with the view change. Time began to stretch again, it should not take nearly so long to return. Then she saw the raven where it followed them, morphing into the spectral black robes of the Cailleach.

Instead of the bone pale skin she was used to glimpsing the rare times she saw this goddess the Cailleach was more blue. Her finger reached out and prodded Morvan, stabbed was a more accurate description. The cold descended, as if there were several things already there and preparing to drag her soul away to rend and feast upon.

Just as quickly, she was gone again.

Morvan screamed but did not wake.

The stone outside the castle gate was below them once more. Ainsely nearly dropped Morvan at the scream. All eyes swiveled to Kirsty afterward.

"I didn't do anything!" Kirsty glowered around at her classmates, daring them to say any different and her hair waving in the breeze like jellyfish tentacles in a current. She continued softly and looked around. "I don't like what I feel."

Ingrid smiled a bit at Kirsty. Normally it was good to see her smile, it usually came before a hand clap and an attempt to mimic her steps while people drummed out a tune. This time it made her heart pound and the ice flow. "I feel it too. They are close."

"Indeed." Guirmean waved a hand and the gate opened with a silver ripple, invisible curtains rolling back to expose the silver screens.

They moved quickly along the path. Kirsty was not certain whether it was the Headmaster or the Headmistress that loaned wings to their heels and the winds to their step. The distance was covered swifter than normal all the same, and she made a note to ask about that spell and the possibility of learning it at another time. It would certainly prove useful if she could talk it out of them.

The group passed through the great doors and the Examiners awoke to watch them. Kirsty could feel them prodding their minds for the results of the excursion. Each Moot at Artenhame was more than simple ritual, and although technically extracurricular their performance also affected their grades in the appropriate subjects. She could almost hear their thoughts and comments on what she had done as the group paused with their own momentary daze.

"Still only able to act defensively best when it's for others, lassie? You'd be well served fixing this." "Waterwitch. My thanks for assisting my snakelet, I will take this into account when discussing Defense scores with his head of house." "What have you learned about yourself, young lady? Come talk to us later, while the other two sleep."

"Return to your houses, students. Remember to be working on your reports tomorrow." Professor MacLeomhann murmured.

The three adults took Morvan to the Healer's wing. The students paused for a bit, exchanging quiet goodnights. Ally shuffled, and then hesitantly pecked Thomas on the cheek, his eyes widening and knees nearly giving out below her – then dashed up the stairs. The rest of her housemates followed thoughtfully, some grinning.

Kirsty eyed Ingrid as they followed Ally, Floyd, Darcy, Bartolomew, and Nevin. Ingrid darted a small smile to Floyd when he glanced back before looking back to Kirsty.

"What did she do? What's happening?" Kirsty hissed, leaning close as they took the stairs.

"Justice. What else happens when one of the dark goddesses has someone in need of correction come so close?" Ingrid said with a satisfied nod.

"Cannae I be allowed to work out the scales for myself in my own way without her getting involved?" Kirsty's nostrils flared as they whispered. "Not that I'm not honored by the attention," she amended in a rush as her eyes darted around, in case the deity was listening and took offense.

"You two coming? I'd like to get to the commons and thaw myself by the fire, especially after seeing those monsters." Nevin's voice broke in from the front of the line.

"Coming, coming. Kirsty's just being overly troubled." Ingrid replied. "Maybe we'll be lucky and someone's pinched some cider."

"We could all use some before bed." Darcy nodded, pausing in front of Mrs. Bloomsworth, who had a visitor.

An older woman with polished silver shot through faded flame hair, clad in a brown leather corset, white blouse, red velvet skirt, tooled baldric and a white cloak carelessly tossed over her shoulder leaned against the painted wall and watched the group. A bold grin flashed as she tipped a feathered tricorn hat at them, winking conspiratorially at Corriander's comment.

Kirsty blinked and flushed under the combined gaze of the two.

"Could use some what, children?" Bloomsworth eyed them, tapping fingers on opposing arms and raising brows to her blonde hairline.

"Some coco, Madam." Floyd slipped in. "It was a cold night and a bigger test of our skills to go with the ritual than we were prepared for."

The door guardian eyed them dubiously.

Her guest did not bother to hide her grin or her bark. "Myself would favor a bit o' grog before, or perchance a measure or two of the rum in the coco."

"Don't encourage them Kara..." Mrs. Bloomsworth glared briefly in her direction.

"Oh, we were young once. No harm in a mug of something after a night out, just to brace and get the sails brought in before going below deck."

"With your advice their 'sheets would be full to the wind' as I believe you've put it before."

Kara shrugged, then covered her ears. "Proceed to deliver thine cipher, and carry on me hearties. Live hard before the sea or fire might take ye." She gave an exaggerated wink, causing her friend to groan, and all but one of the Leomaris students to giggle.

Kirsty, however, only flushed and studied her shoes, finding the leather scuffed and already in need of replacing.

"Mizzenmast, crow's nest, and the North Star."Floyd leaned forward while whispering the phrase, and Nevin sighed in relief at not having to try remembering the phrase, more complicated than the last week's.

The entrance opened. Only after each of the students had gone inside and the door shut behind them did Kara slip away to relay her message... hoping that the recipient was at the other end of the few portals left and that she would not have to lob things to get attention.

There was no one up still when they got to the common room, but somebody had left some mugs, bottles, and a pitcher on one of the tables. The fireplace flared up as they approached.

"Ally's getting bold, making advances on Thomas like that. You'll have him all thumbs and I'll wind up turned into a toad while he's fiddling with his term project in Talismanic Magic." Bartholomew said, pouring out some of the cider from a bottle. "Oh look, Floyd gets his coco."

Ally colored and flumped down by the fire, next to Kirsty's slumped form. "It's... not like that."

"Yeah right. He's liked you since first year. You just refused to listen to any of us." Darcy brought them over mugs of the cider while Floyd got comfortable in one of the chairs with both cider and coco.

Kirsty gazed into the flames, slipping her fingers into her pouch. They plunged past the wrapped vials, brushing them even in this state soothed her blood somewhat. She wrapped her fingers around her scrying crystal and drew it out sleepily. Her other hand accepted the mug, and she sipped with a nod to her companions.

"Told you so, didn't I? You'd have seen the way he almost fell if you hadn't run off so fast." Kirsty said quietly, trying to join the conversation so as not to worry Ally about slipping into a brood.

Ingrid settled on the arm of Floyd's chair to drain her drink. "As inevitable as battle and the winding sheet."

"That's disturbingly morose, comparing love, war, and death." Kirsty sipped after that and clutched her crystal tighter. She wasn't sure why, but she felt a little closer to David when she did, a little more anchored. "Gods and spirits help whatever man you choose to marry, Ingrid."

"Truly a terrifying thought! That could mean baby Ingrids running about – with scissors." Bartholomew clutched his chest in mock horror.

"Baby's first spear, more like." Floyd smirked before quaffing a full quarter of the mug. "You can find it on the centerfold of Warrior Times Daily, now with Accura-Flight. Good for getting you to Point Z and impaling your enemies."

Everyone stared at Floyd. "My gods... I was joking." He cried.

"I want one..." Ingrid replied.

"I don't know... I think mini Floyds are scarier. Imagine coming home from work, opening the door, and getting swamped by a pack of Creightons." Darcy swirled his mug a bit, looking into it thoughtfully. "Scarier than werewolves even."

Kirsty tensed. "I doubt all werewolves are bad."

"Rather respectable opinion." Floyd kicked his shoe off in Darcy's direction, which Darcy carelessly leaned over to let past. "I always figured that there were more types than what we learn about in class. I was looking in the Mythology stacks a week ago to find more on Herne and Kernunnos for the term paper, just to see if I could learn a bit more about the dogs. I found something about Herne that looked promising, but it was in Old German."

"Mythology...just doing your homework is an adventure..." several of the students intoned together.

Ally looked at the group. "I don't understand why you lot put yourselves through this. Why do you go to these deities and how do you get Bound?"

"Some of us don't have a choice. We're born into it and into a role."Kirsty looked at her friend. "My mum was born for this. Before that, Mara had a little more choice in who from the family line she chose for it."

"But why?" Ally asked, leaning forward and cupping her mug.

Kirsty shrugged. "Mara's got her reasons. She's always liked the family." She hedged, thinking of some of the intimations from the musty book she'd found first year. She still went back to it often, drawn by the strange fur cover.

"Others of us choose it because we want to learn a bit more about the why of life being the way it is. Example: Why are the different worlds kept separate?" Floyd picked up for Kirsty. "And then we have people like Ingrid, who get chosen because of their winning personality and craving for justice in the land."

"So...why do you think Thomas Participates?" Ally mused.

Kirsty yawned and put her crystal back in her pouch. She pulled her drop spindle out instead and a bit of the hippocampus wool she'd been working, causing Ally to doubletake when she began work. "Maybe a combination. Did you ever notice how hard it was to even hear, much less remember, his last name during the first couple years?"

The wool slipped through her fingers as the spindle span. She began humming as the cider finally began to circulate through her system. Her muscles relaxed as her eyes focused, and she could feel the gaze of the others.

The others grew quieter, also relaxing and beginning to yawn.

"So... who is his deity then?" Ally pressed.

Kirsty looked up at her. " You'd have to ask him. It's not our place to tell you. Remember that not everyone can be open about their connections with the Fey or the Deities."

Ally nodded, eyes still fixed on the spindle and Kirsty's work. Kirsty continued humming, not paying attention to the time. She was a little leery of going to lay down, and this served a good excuse as well as helping the others settle.

Ingrid was the first to get up. "I should go. I think my body's ready, and I'm being Called."

Floyd nodded. "Same. It's been a long day." He looked at Kirsty. "I'm glad you were given your voice back. Try to get some sleep tonight...and maybe ask your bloke to come be your Observer Anchor the next High Day, or one of the Guardians."

Kirsty nodded and smiled a bit, but only slightly. "Will ask him then, but I won't be here for Yule."

"Well bugger... Maybe you could talk him into becoming a regular Guardian anyway, in case Slimy gets detention again and another lesson in whatever Lilitu was being schooled on..." Floyd grinned a bit. "Maybe he could 'slip' then, knock him down, and he'll be out of our way again."

"I don't know about a 'regular,' Floyd... He does have an awful lot on his own plate, so no promises." She finished up and stowed her spindle, causing Ally to jump and fall out of the trance she'd been lulled into.

Ally followed Kirsty to their dorm in a daze, nearly walking into the wall when the stairs curved. Kirsty frowned, keeping her ear on her friend as they walked and trailing her fingers over the old stone, absentmindedly gathering up some of the condensation.

They fell into bed readily, Ally curling up around her pillow and Kirsty checking to make sure that no one had switched out her muffle-charmed pillow.

For a while Kirsty was allowed to just simply sleep, floating in a sea of solitude and silence. It was soft and silken as her mother's sealskin, like when her mother wrapped it around her while she was sick, thankfully not coarse and scratchy like Da’s chest-hair—comforting though that was—and she could feel that she was not truly alone in this sea.

She paddled toward the presence, or tried to, one slow flip of her tail after another and floating between. Eventually she found a warm form and bumped into it, dissolving into comfort and the familiar scent.

An interminable time passed and the warm form was swept away by swiftly growing swells. Rain pelted her face and she turn over to her belly again, still keeping her head above water and holding her fins out to her side for some stability as she tried to take stock.

The swells continued growing and she found herself heaved skyward. She flailed when the water left her, keeping her mouth shut against the scream she would have liked to voice.

While up and defenseless in the sky she could see the waves beating against rocks, and a craft being inexorably pushed in their direction.

 

She fell again, back into the sea, and the silver bubbles streamed around her in the depths till she fought her way back to the surface. Kirsty knew she needed to make landfall, or to wake. There was no land though, and the current was drawing her to the rocks as well.

 


Expect the next episode around September 22nd, unless an extra episode funds, in which case you might see the next on September 15th. 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.


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