Once the full story is down, an ebook version is planned. This story is unassociated with my Dragon Shaman series available in my Lulu outlet and on Amazon, or any of my unpublished manuscripts.
If you don't wish to use the Selkies' Skin tag to find the entries, check the ToC on the Sticky Note.
The distant sound of voices swam into her consciousness, lapping like waves on a lake stroked by a breeze, breaking over her with the soothing hypnotic power that Etain always associated with water deities. Slowly, very slowly, the darkness retreated, the frigidity of the water registered, and the splinters of the plank below her dug into her bosom with all the comfort of embracing the fuzzy cactus that she had seen in Mrs. Kitsch's kitchen window whenever she went over to trade for her cheese and "fix" her water pump. Yet, she had never given an embrace to the fuzzy looking cactus in the Squib's window.
The fact that she was floating on a plank, partially in the water, began trickling through her mind, the cogs in her head began turning, and the brain fuzz began to clear. What were those things called, that would flit into ears and scramble thoughts? For half a moment, she wondered if she had somehow gotten a whole colony in her head. With the sorts of places she sometimes went, that explanation actually made perfect sense.
Etain pulled herself more fully onto the plank, thankful that it was at least a decently sized one. Unfortunately, she was cold, and currently only had her seal skin to wrap around herself to keep warm with, other than her own half-pelt.
The conversation carried on, and though she looked, she could not see who was speaking, nor could she make out what, exactly, was being said as she listened. To her normal eyes, she was the only thing on the face of the sea, riding the swells and drifting along on some unnamed current. To her inner eye, she was still too muddled to feel much clearly.
Current... before, there had been no current. No, She remembered instead dying water, choked with refuse, and the taste of poisons and potions mixing with the taint of oil, despite having been careful not to breathe, nor open her mouth. Rotting sea creatures floated, bloated, around her, and a hostile, sickened water spirit... And its pain, its anger, its disbelief had been a stone. She remembered the feel of her lungs burning, and there being no air to pull from the water, the tentacles of her hair screaming at her to get out, while her whiskers felt as if fire danced along them, that there was danger here, no matter what her deities and mistresses had charged her with, that it was beyond her power to work with and yet live.
And the brush of the shark, in water where no shark would have lived long. The touch of Mara, Goddess of the Bitter Sea, mercurial as ever. She that claimed so many souls, and caused the frustrations of men and women to drive them to insanity.
Oh yes, she remembered now. Things began to take on less of a dreamlike quality, becoming more vibrant and immediate. Once more, she felt herself slipping from observer to participant.
Her eyes scanned again, taking in all that she could on the night waters, adrift. Finally, she saw her craft, mentally called out to it, and felt the reply shiver through her timbers.
"You're awake. Good."
The voice passed through her in the same way that the boat's reply had, marrow deep, thrumming in horrifying depth from within, to without. Etain's hair rose and her heart constricted, the ancient spirit gathering her attention to an almost painful focus.
"Yes M'lady. I am awake and awaiting your pleasure."
"My pleasure..." The voice trailed off thoughtfully, and a shark fin circled her plank slowly, before a woman in greys and whites broke the surface to stand on the waters. She clasped a spear, and where her skin showed beneath shell mail and cloth, it bore the sleek look of sharkskin, though the pattern ever changed.
Rows of teeth flashed as she spoke, lips curling back. "My pleasure is that these seas be returned to their original state. Yet those under my direct power are few now, and those favored with magic fewer yet. My pleasure is yet a long way to being fulfilled. Just as my pleasure-"
The Ancient One took a breath, and the seas around them, which had begun to froth and steam, whitecaps just beginning to show, calmed again.
"You overwrote the taints here. That is what matters." Mara dipped her spearhead into the water, the blade alternating between clear quartz and wicked obsidian, stirring the water slowly. Spiraling outward, arms of power once more began to reach through the water as Etain watched.
Unbidden, Etain reached into her pouch, the straps miraculously having retained their hold, and drew out the small silver knife therein. White heat gave way to dark coolness and back into heat as the blade drew across her left palm, and the blood flowed from her hand, which she dipped into the water.
"Mistress Mother, accept my blood. Spare my kith and kin, howe're distant and thin the relation be. Fish, and mammal, and even further back. May my blood provide the spark that died."
"I accept the sacrifice. Life for life and death for death. Cycle ever flowing, the dreamer ever yet unknowing."
A baleful smile stole across Mara's face, cold, yet the gestures she made spoke of gentleness hidden deep within the paradox of salty brine and razor teeth. The water itself spoke, the spirit of the gyre slowly beginning to spin properly again.
"I acknowledge my death, I acknowledge my life."
Silent communication lapsed between the deity and the water, of which Etain was allowed no part, nor was it her place to pry. Coldness stole over her heart.
"There is more than one. She needs me elsewhere. And here I'd hoped for a swift and easy mission. I should know better after these years, and those that have been taken."
"Indeed. Return to your craft, my favored one. The Sea Witch answers you eagerly yet."
Etain winced, looking up at the deity and withdrawing her now healed hand from the waters, dismayed that her private thought had not been quite private enough.
The deity pointed toward the boat as it drew near, sea washed and storm battered, but intact. Etain frowned, noticing one of the cabin windows busted.
"Thank you, M'lady."
"I would be quick, if I were of flesh."
Sea spray brushed over her, dampening Etain even more, as the night was not allowing her to dry. Mara was gone, in presence and form, leaving Etain with the still sulky local spirit, as quickly as a tsunami recedes from the shore. Paddling carefully over, she reached her hand upward.
The boat answered, and the rope snaked down for her, wrapping around her body and hauling the Selkie quickly to the deck, forcing Etain to run up the side to keep from being scraped and gashed.
"Thank you..." She stroked the boat in word and deed, before walking to more closely inspect the damage the faithful craft had sustained, before even thinking of finding something warmer than the sealskin she held closed around herself.
As she expected, the cabin was dampened, and the lights would have been out if they were not magical. Once again, her hand reached without thought for the belt holding pouch and sling, and her fourteen inch acacia wood and Selkie hair cored companion quietly slipped out to swish subtly through the air. As quietly, the glass mended, and the cabin interior dried, all items that had been in disarray finding their proper places and states once more.
Descending below, all looked clear, other than a few items having been jogged loose, bindings having worn through during the storm. Deftly she re-secured and tidied, before finding dry clothing.
"If I'd been thinking clearly Byron, I would have left the others below. Am I getting so old that the water distracts me so much now? Think we can find our way back out of the pocket?"
Once dressed, she arranged the seal skin "cloak" back over her clothes, pouch, and wand-sling, looking around at no answer from her longtime companion and "familiar." Etain sighed, and sagged momentarily on remembering that he was back home still with the others. It was short lived though, she knew there was little time to spare with such dalliance.
A span of moments found her at the helm once more.
"Right then Sea Witch, heave ho. What other perils does the mistress lead us to?"
The boat creaked in reply and pushed eagerly forward, thrumming softly at her touch on the wheel.
From a distance, just beyond the range of her eldest living priestess, Mara watched the witch and boat set sail once more.
"Yes little one. Perils indeed, but needful to draw your pup back to me and force her to reconcile the path she wishes, with the path I demand, not just the health of my own realm. I hope, for your sake, it is not your life I must take to keep the line doing as we created you all for. My sister is too soft, on those that are hers."
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