I've decided to post the entire chapter this time, there really wasn't any semi-even breakpoint. This particular chapter my daughter was the one to name after listening to me trying to figure out one that fit.
All that said...
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Selkies' SkinsInstallment 58Chapter 30
Snow lay thick on the grounds outside and the fire in the grate crackled and smoked with the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg that had been laid in for the festive odor. Earlier in the month they had hung garlands of pine, holly, tinsel, and the odd sprig of mistletoe.
Kirsty drew the line at helping Ally try out a paper poppet love spell they’d found in the library while working on a paper for one of Ally’s classes. This morning she then found a strange discovery dangling from one of the posts. A white and red stocking hung at eye height. Groggy, she carefully as possible took it down and opened it, then groaned.
Inside she found two paper poppets labeled carefully with her name and David’s, and some suspiciously familiar glyphs, although one or two looked a bit different than what she remembered reading. She sniffed it, her eyes widening once it registered. Rose oil curled tantalizing inside her nose, filling her with wistful sighs and roaming thoughts that she hurriedly stamped down.
“Aw, come on! Now what do I do? How am I supposed to undo that without making him avoid me. Ally!” Kirsty sighed and tucked it into one of her skirt pockets.
With luck she’d figure out a way to talk to him about it without making it look like it had been her idea. With even more luck maybe her aunt or someone would help her figure out a way to undo any spell that had been cast if this wasn’t just an uncharged prank, without damaging her current relationship or her friendship with David. If anything continued on, she wanted to be sure it wasn’t the result of some silly teenage love spell.
Kirsty looked one final time around the dorm to make sure that she was fully packed for break. Ally’s posters were still up, as still as always. Everything else was packed and ready for them to go spend their holidays at their homes.
It looked quite empty in her opinion.
As excited as she was to be going home, she couldn’t help the flipflops in her bowels. Perhaps, if she was lucky, her mother would come home while she was there and prove all of those dreams to be mere phantasms.
“What if I don’t come back..?” Kirsty wondered briefly what David would do if she did die over the break. Fourteen or so days was a short time to cram any quest into, partial or not.
She pushed the thought out of her mind. If she did, David would likely just continue to carry on. The loss of one half-breed wasn’t going to bring his world to an end. If she were going to die or forget about the land, better it be while young and before anyone besides her parents formed too strong an attachment.
“Riiight...” Kirsty frowned at herself for the strange path of her thoughts and her brain’s insistence that everything would start crashing down around her ears. “What if something goes wrong and suddenly he and the others won’t like who I am?”
She snorted at herself. “Grow up little girl. You didn’t have friends your age before, because of who you are. You’ll make do if they all change their minds.”
Kirsty went to pick up her trunk, fully prepared to carry it down herself, but it was already gone from the foot of her bed. On a little plate at the foot were a few squares of kelp candies arranged in a messy smiley face, still in their green metallic wrappers. Her lips twitched upward a bit.
“Thanks Imp. I could have gotten it myself...but thanks.” She murmured, placing one in her mouth and the rest in her pockets.
Kirsty scowled and nearly spat the treat out once the taste registered. It was not the toasted-salt crunch of kelp candies that greeted her tongue, but the acrid tang of the health tonic that her imp had lately taken to foisting on her at every opportunity. The water imp most likely had been looking through her notes again on what worked and what didn’t, or something had riled him up again.
Breakfast in the feasting hall was a peckish affair of plain toast and unsugared mintkelp tea that had been slipped up from the kitchens. She attempted an orange, but two sections of its acidic flesh revealed it as a mistake when her stomach started cramping.
She placed the fruit back on her plate before the flurry of straggling letters arrived. A large white tern dropped a longish package in front of her, causing several cups to spill. Ally and Nevin leaned over curiously to watch as she carefully unwrapped it. The tern circled the hall querulously instead of doing as the other messengers did and refused retreating, as if awaiting some form of reply or reaction.
Kirsten, I want you to be especially careful. Remember I love you no matter what. She’s got her ‘lucky charm’ so she could still show up.
We can pray.
When you get home, if you get there before me, make sure Mrs. Kitsch actually reads the message I sent her. She might not be out at the lighthouse anymore, but she’ll remember what to do still. I think.
Kirsty frowned as she read the letter, and then turned the board over that had been revealed. She wanted to scream, sucked in a chestful of air...but the pain was too deep to let her. The world was a greyscale graphite drawing, cold and empty.
Instead she grabbed some cold cuts and bread for later, then went down to the games pitch to wait for the hour to load into the carriages. For once the water held no draw, and though she wanted to go for a good run through the forest that was not an option at the time. The games pitch was the best that she could do, and by lurking around the bushy thickets that made the edges she could almost pretend that she was shrouded in the trees. Kirsty wandered among the mazes picking over the usual bothersome paths of her mind, the pitch conforming to her needs and the hedges becoming thicker.
The memory of her latest nightmares mocked her, and that package had killed her last hope that they were not accurate visions. For a short time she wrapped her arms around herself and leaned into the bare hedge, ignoring how the twigs scratched her through her thick winter clothes.
Kirsty shuddered as the tears came. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She hadn’t even won her skin yet, much less gotten fully through the initiation.
“Why didn’t you tell me! You’re the sea goddess. We pray to you for safe passage, and you guide us home.” She beat the hedge behind herself and scuffed the ground, working out her emotions in the safest way that she new how.
A whimpering broke her out of the thoughts, and she looked from her feet to the sound. The black mangy dog from before, even thinner than the last she’d seen him up close, wagged a bedraggled tail hopefully.
“Hey boy...you’re still here, huh? Wish I knew something better to call you.” Kirsty wiped her face, then she pulled out some of the meat and bread, making it into a rough sandwich before holding it out for the dog. “I thought you’d gone since I’ve not seen you since that night.”
The dog’s eyes brightened, and he slobbered all over her hand as he took the sandwich from her.
“What are you doing here?” She dropped down to look into his eyes, easier than continuing to bend down, and hoped it was less threatening since if animals talked they were more willing to do so when not confronted. “You look like just a regular dog now. But I’m positive I heard you talk before. You look a lot less like an Angus now, and more like just some dropped off stray.”
The dog only wagged his tail harder and begged for more. There was a rustle off to her right, but not quite loud enough to attract her.
The newcomer stepped a little harder, intentionally making more noise, but he was downwind and Kirsty was not in a state to focus on more than one thing. The dog heard him, but since the boy wasn’t a threat he continued to not react, opting instead to keep eating what the strange sea-salt smelling girl continued to offer. It had been so long since the last meal he’d found. The food eased the cramping in his gut somewhat.
“You probably shouldn’t talk to strange dogs Kirsty. What if it’s sick or crazy?” David’s rustling of the hedges to announce himself had been too soft to attract Kirsty’s attention in any other way. He hung back a little, trying not to get her running again.
Kirsty shrieked and spun around to face David, drawing her wand as she turned. David jumped out of her way, drawing his own wand. When she saw it was only him the spell in her wand died and she clutched her chest.
“David! What are you doing sneaking up like that? I could have hurt you!” She pressed a bit harder at the pain in her chest, trying to ease it. Such a strange symptom had been happening more and more often when startled.
“Coming after you to make sure that you’re ok. You don’t have to attack me if you want to be alone. Just telling me will do.” His voice was cool and still as a dead lake, and Kirsty couldn’t read his eyes for once. Only after looking into his eyes for a moment did she register the wood he held.
Kirsty very gingerly reached out for the remnant of her mother’s boat, and he pressed it into her hand. “No... I’m sorry. I just wish you’d not scared me is all. Don’t go.” To her own ears she sounded petulant and clingy, and she silently berated herself. “Way to look the part of some melodramatic twit, Kirsty,” she thought irritably.
David sighed and shook his head. Her fear and the salts still curled in his nose, but now it was joined with another scent he’d become far more accustomed to. Embarrassment.
He smelled that as well as she could smell his exasperation. Maybe that look of being caught unprepared was just part of what she was. He still hadn’t interacted with enough of them to draw any conclusions on selkies beyond the short lesson in Professor Gerwulf’s class.
“You still should be careful with strange dogs.” His wand slid silently back into its sheath, as did Kirsty’s into her own. “Even the friendliest can bite if too eager. Or when they get spooked.”
Kirsty blushed a bit. “He’s alright, just a wee hungered. This is the one that helped me that one night.”
David looked the dog over again. Skin, bone, and fur, that’s all he was other than some gold eyes. There was something a bit ‘more’ to him that he simply could not place though. “A ‘wee?’” He mimicked her tone. “He’s not going to be getting a lot with the castle clearing out. What’s keeping him here?”
Kirsty shrugged and made the dog another sandwich. “Poor fellow.”
“You’re not feeding him all your breakfast I hope...”
“You’re going to regret that when all you’ll have access to on the way home are sweets.” Despite his words, David did pull out some of the sundries he’d filled his own pockets with, and laid them out for the dog.
He wasn’t going to place his hand anywhere near the strange dog’s mouth though. Not after things he’d seen and tales he’d been told.
“Thank you children... As for why I’m here, neither of you would believe me anyway. Let’s just say I’m keeping an eye on things that need not concern you.”
Kirsty jumped backward, mostly as she’d heard the voice with her ears instead of her mind, and temporarily vanished to David’s eye, regarding the dog carefully. David, however, did not notice that she’d gained temporary invisibility as she was behind him by the time it fully settled. His focus was on finding the voice...but it sounded like it had come from the busily chewing dog.
The dog continued eating calmly, tucking his tail under him to look less threatening, and then licking his chops clean after finishing and looking where Kirsty had been. “Well, that’s an odd thing.”
“Quite...” David agreed. “I’m not used to hearing dogs talk.”
“Well... I’m not quite a dog. Not really. I was referring to the vanishing girl.”
Kirsty’s instinctive spell began to wear off.
Before he had a chance to explain—the fact that these children could hear and see him was indeed a comforting thing—the familiar chill overrode the already frozen winter morning.
Kirsty moved in closer to David as their wands sprang back out. Basilisk feather and selkie hair cores both hissed and sang their separate songs as they placed their backs together...or as close as their separate energies would allow.
“In broad daylight?” Kirsty hissed, eyes darting around and scanning her half. “This is ridiculous.”
“They’ve had a target set, they’ll keep coming in until the hole’s found and taken back. Defectors.” The dog spat and growled, mumbling worse epithets.
David glanced at the dog and then went back to scouring his half of the circle, reaching back with his non-dominant hand for Kirsty, intending to encourage her to follow him. “For more than just finding mixed bloods like we’ve been told?”
“Oh no boy, there’s some doing that too. Also Defectors. But some are after whoever the current owner of the Black Gate wants to die.” The dog replied. “It’s here somewhere, but I’ve not found who’s got it yet.”
“Spiffing...” Kirsty grumbled low, edging the way David was guiding her. The familiar panic was warring with the calm she tried to maintain, and the suppressed memories were digging gnarled fingers into her consciousness as they tried to haul themselves back to the forefront of her mind.
Sharp green clawed fingers and matted tangles of fur, rotting seaweed, and the flash of scales surrounded glowing green eyes that stared into her window seemingly every night as a toddler. Those fingers she knew wanted to close around her throat, or to drag her from the shore under the waves.
David’s hand squeezed tighter on hers as she stumbled on a rock under the snow. She was here in this time, not sleeping in her parents’ room to escape the eyes.
The things congealed, shadows where no shadows had been before, and two of them circling with their rotting black winding sheets flapping. In the daylight their pale flesh seemed to hold a strange glow, almost hypnotic in its horror...not quite bone and not quite flesh, but very definitely more than the shadows that some texts claimed them to be.
If these were just the congealed essence of terrors, then they were the result of aeons worth.
The things lunged for them with arms outstretched, but their brumal atmosphere reached them first, blasting through them. It burned their faces and nearly froze their senses.
Kirsty tried to recall the feeling of calling up the volcanic waters, and channeled it through her wand. The heat thawed her insides and she could feel the fingers of terror lessening their grip on her mind. The steam rose high and thick as it hit her attacker and drove it back. Simultaneously David summoned his fire-snake from his own wand, which struck at the attacker on David’s side and coiled around the pair once the last of Kirsty’s heated blast had cleared where it might fall on him. Both blows stuck their targets, but not directly, leaving gaping holes in the rags which smouldered, the things managing to dodge at the last and circling them again for another pass.
The screams of pain and rage shook snow from the hedges. Somewhere in the forest within their range a sleeping squirrel’s heart froze over.
Kirsty’s breath came in rapid pants as she tried to protect her lungs from the searing cold, David’s much the same. Even though they had a buffer between them and their adversaries they were forced to keep circling. The fire-snake’s presence around them did dispel the unnatural chill somewhat, but not enough for them. It settled in their chests as heavily as a nightmare’s head.
The snake hissed and wove, striking at every opening that it deemed likely. Likewise the things continued to dodge its blows and make strikes of their own, the battle becoming increasingly frenzied.
“Plan?” Kirsty asked.
“Live.” David replied. “Kill.”
“Some plan.” Kirsty’s eyes never left her thing. When she saw her chance as it started, she tried again to bring down hers. She couldn’t create a serpent, but the thing certainly wailed at the superheated water she streamed at it.
David made no reply, his consciousness slipping more into the snake the longer it remained manifested. The dog growled and bristled as much as possible at the things, puffing protectively but left no opening to get through between the strange children’s efforts in order to rip at former fellow servants.
David started to slump, and Kirsty left off her adversary in favor of catching him. The snake grew in size and heat, the snow melting and the grass below it scorching black as a stump left over from a forest fire.
Kirsty shook a bit as she held him up. The snake lunged at the nearest adversary and caught it with full fang, then whipped around after the one that Kirsty had weakened. The fire serpent was a wall of flame and it was all Kirsty could do to keep the air around them moist enough now to breathe.
When the fire went down, and the serpent lay coiled again, the things were gone, and the pitch considerably warmer. At the edges, beyond where the burn had happened, some of the plants had mistaken it for spring and begun to sprout again. Those Kirsty knew would not make the hour, if even that. David, however, took some time to recover after the considerably larger and likely fed manifestation looked down at her. She was quite certain that she saw something of him in the eyes before it all vanished back into the wand.
Kirsty kissed the lad and held him close, hoping that somehow some of her energy—as little of it as there was after pulling such hot water so far from the sea’s depths—would pass to him and restore what he had just used up. She tingled as it trickled from the source of the Well, through her heart, and then past the chastely closed gates of her lips to him.
In her mind she could see the familiar glowing blue outline of the Lady and the unnaturally blue eyes. She saw a silver sword belted at the Lady’s waist before the contact faded. The whole experience spanned less than a heartbeat, and somehow was outside of time all at once.
When David was awake enough he slipped his arms back around her in return, kissing back. As the flow tapered off Kirsty broke the kiss and pressed her forehead to his, squeezing him in relief.
“Are you alright?” She murmured.
“I will be.” He sighed. Truthfully he was very tired and would be very glad of several hours sleep, after food if possible, but since he wouldn’t be likely to get that he was not going to say anything to worry her.
“You should be heading back.” The dog snuffled at where he’d seen the things disappear when the snake burned them as it ate. “I wouldn’t be wandering anywhere alone though until I can find and take the Black Gate back to my Mistress.” He pinned them with his now glowing eyes, “and so I can report to my mistress that two of the Defectors are no more,” he thought.
They nodded, and went to see if the carriages were ready yet. When they got there, they found Byron waiting by one. A puddle of water was beginning to turn to slush around him.
Kirsty frowned. “I suppose this means that I’m not going home the usual way...”
David nodded. “Go on Kirsty. Be careful. I’ll see you after break.” He tried not to let his uncertainty show. What should he say here?
Kirsty nodded, her mouth suddenly dry and tongue thick. She shifted awkwardly. “I’ll try.” She then looked at Byron and put her arms around his neck. “I need to talk to auntie before we go home.”
Byron glanced at David briefly, then drooped his neck down Kirsty’s back, pressing the underside of his jaw lightly against her to approximate a hug. “I got here a smidge too late to take care of something, didn’t I?” He asked.
“We managed, Byron. We expected to see you in London, actually.” David said.
“Faster this way. Mara’s in a very bad mood. I guess my letter wasn’t received.”
“No...” Kirsty replied. “It’s not come unless it did after Da’s”
Byron sighed. “Of course.”
“I’d appreciate it if you could wait until after the other students have left, Byron.” Professor MacLeòmhann murmured, a hand tightening on Kirsty’s shoulder.
The kelpie gave her a measured look. “Of course, that gives me a little time to rest anyway.”
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