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The first physical proof of the book is in the mail for the editor and I to look over while awaiting the official print cover art, and a select few beta readers have the pdf of the physical proof for digital proofing and beta reads before the book can be declared "ready" for the ebook. This first book tops out at 414 pages with the current print layout, fonts, and interior art. If you'd like to get a peek at the interior art, I will upload section divider images to the contents dividers on the archival site later. Not today though, but there will be an announcement. The website won't be updated with this installment until sometime on Wednesday after the kids and I are back home from dental work.

This is also the first post of the third section (Tidal Activation) of book one (Selkies' Skins: Castle and Well). Yes Vadise dear. You can be counted the father of a series. Everybody thank the man, because this project keeps me from doing things that would hurt such as unleashing my extreme klutziness upon hapless hiking trails (it's too cold for me lately anyway).


All that said...

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.

Selkies' Skins
Installment 59
Chapter 31
Return to the Beginning

 

Kirsty spent her waiting time at the stables for her aunt, once it had been made clear she intended to accompany her home. Some of the stalls were empty, but she could feel and hear occupants. If the light were better, she knew she would see the glamoured beasts. She wasn’t sure of what exactly they were, but she was aware of kelpie being part of their mix, as she heard mumbled words now and then.

Other stalls truly were empty, waiting for their occupants to return. Yet others held various other beasts...an old kelpie without the benefit of age freezing. His gnarled knees and shabby coat brought tears to her eyes. Before she curried Byron to occupy her hands she checked Mr. Ainsley’s chart he had by the stall.

It was nearing time for his medicine. To help Ainsley out, who was likely busy with rounding up children and getting them to the train, Kirsty read the bottle carefully before she administered it, then checked off that it had been done. She whispered to the old lad in Irish and then massaged away what she could of his aches while he lipped at her and watched with cataract clouded eyes.

“If I were a younger lad, I’d be repayin’s your gentle touches with a few of mine own...” The old one murmured as she stood up.

“If you were a younger lad, and you were giving her some gentle touches, then I’d be having a wee discussion about it.” Byron grumbled, having watched carefully the entire time. “You’d not be giving rides either. She’s younger than she looks.”

“A pity, ‘tis so hard to ken a lass’s age when her mind and spirit dunnae match her body.” The old one observed, still trying to hold himself in a manner fitting a young stallion. “By her smell I thought she was older.”

Kirsty looked confused and glanced at Byron, but he shook his head. He would answer the questions he saw forming out of earshot of hoary old males. He sighed deeply. Byron knew that this would only get worse till she was through her puberty. The selkie blood didn’t care a fig for what human ‘society’ thought would be a proper time to become a woman.

How many more generations would he go through before he just started trying again to eat anything male that looked the way of his female charges?

At last, Kirsty’s attentions turned to him, and he accepted the currying. Byron closed his eyes as the brush made its way through his fur and Kirsty’s humming wrapped around him. Finally though they were able to make their way back to the castle.

Only the children that were to stay the holidays remained, safely tucked away in the castle with their boisterous conversations or solitary wanderings. Professors MacLeòmhann and Guirmean stood beside the loch in the spot that David and Kirsty often retreated to, where the branches framed the castle and Kirsty had privacy for her lessons and changes. The two were in deep conversation when Byron and Kirsty arrived.

“Belara, for the thousandth time...I will send for you if something happens. There are few enough students to administer to that it will not harm anything for you to take a little break yourself to be there for Kirstin’s first trial.” Guirmean held her hand, his eyes caught somewhere between a sparkle and a somber reflection. “It’s better to accompany her home anyway with how clear it is she’s targeted.”

“I know...I just... Oh Artair, why is it always that so much happens during the pivotal life events?”

“Belara...” Guirmean smiled and pressed a mischievous finger to her lips. “You’ll scare the children.”

Kirsty blinked at walking up on such an odd display, and Byron smirked a little.

“Truly terrifying that she’s not a block of marble. You should have seen when she was younger.” Byron agreed, his smirk only growing wider.

Professor MacLeòmhann tossed a dirty look at Byron, and he smirked even wider.

“Well, you are human. You’re allowed emotions and family.” Byron snorted and kneeled down for the elder. “If everything’s taken care of, shall we be off?”

“Yes...” Professor MacLeòmhann got on Byron’s back, Professor Guirmean helping her get situated, and then assisted Kirsty up even though she didn’t need it. “Safe travels and easy tides.”

“Fair winds and may the rocks never trip you.” Byron replied, then looked expectantly toward the underwater gates. With the Things traveling the country more, he did not want to risk the barrier not closing behind him. It had been easy to enter, the barrier had him programmed into the spell with how many other Makays he had once brought or ran errands for.

There was something to be said when a mild paranoia might protect others’ children.

Byron felt the headmaster’s eyes on him as he carried the headmistress and Kirsty down into the water, then through the first and second and out past the mer-village. Each barrier that closed, he felt a different element move through the water and the planes realign behind. The water roiled behind him as the third barrier resolidified behind him, and there was a loud ‘click’ as of a lock being turned.

Byron smiled with satisfaction. He was out of the plane that the school was located in. Now what remained was his travel through the water element and its correspondence to the topography. The underground passage out to the sea loomed ahead of them, the current pushing and pulling like a child drinking and then blowing straw bubbles in his milk. The outrush blew the weeds toward them like the tangles of the Cailleach’s hair on a storm’s night.

Kirsty trembled with mingled excitement and trepidation. The pressure here was far more intense than nights she had snuck to this outer end of the loch the previous year, before the Things began to patrol more heavily. There were eyes here, she could feel them sizing her up. From inside came a growl, but she couldn’t be certain if it was real, or if it was all in her mind.

Byron didn’t pause, but slid into the gaping maw and past the weedy and stoney teeth, and through into the passage. The jagged walls closed in around her and the darkness consumed itself—and her. They breathed and oozed a presence that leered over her shoulder, and if she’d had whiskers they would be tingling from the movement of the giant eels that plied the magic tunnel further ahead.

Byron continued onward, his hoofs moving swiftly but placed carefully to minimize the sound and vibration. With such narrow passages and craggy sides a misstep could shred his cargo and release blood to call any hungry creature. Worse yet was the possibility that an eel would slither through anyway, investigating and hoping to win through to the loch and village for a meal. If it were only himself then he could have risked it.

Time stretched strangely for Kirsty, with her wand drawn and her phantom whiskers quivering while the rest of her reached out beyond her body listening. Her aunt pressed against her back lightly, and she knew without looking that she also had hers at the ready. 

Twice Byron pressed into the side of the passage, squeezing into the ripped gaps in the stone walls from whatever force had formed it. Twice they held their breath as they felt the large forms displacing water and gliding past. The second time Byron had his teeth bared when a glowing feeler nearly slid into their hiding place, but Kirsty was able to manipulate the water to allow it to slide harmlessly past and not find any of them.

An eternity passed as more than 60 feet of serpentine muscle slid by. Yet more stretched out between their heartbeats as they waited for it to be far enough along the passage to not feel their wake.

Finally, Byron moved them back out into the passage and began his speedy exit all over again.

Then they were through the passage, and Kirsty looked around expecting to see another giant eel ready to try the entryway to the loch and through into the layer of reality they had just left. No giant toothed head or grey body greeted them for now, and the relief spread through her veins like a divination tea.

Kirsty lay down against Byron’s outstretched neck, her arms wrapped around him as he galloped the miles of sea away. She tried to keep her thoughts fluid, to be less of a strain so that he could pass through at his swiftest. Her thoughts continually crystallized on the piece of her mother’s boat that the tern had brought.

Her aunt’s warmth pressed against her back, Belara’s arms around both her and Byron, despite how Byron would never let either of them fall. If either of them had noticed the sporadic tears mixed with the salt-sea, neither mentioned it. The three rode silently, Byron changing his course whenever the edges of his awareness prickled on ‘too cold.’

Byron had indeed noticed the tears. His stomach reeled, and his bones ached. At times like this he wished that he could still shift, pull the child into his arms and rock her while singing the songs from his hazy past. Instead he blazed through the water for home. The faster he got her there, the sooner she could be among the energies there, and the familiar faces and voices of forebears.

“The sooner Mara can take little Kirsty away too...” the thought rose unbidden, and he swallowed down bile and forced his frills to stay down. “No, it’s only to be Midwinter. She’ll be going down the well with The Lady...” The thought of seeing her tiny feet disappearing past the rock and dark water brought no more comfort. Byron tried to not fall into the blackness that stalked at the back of his mind.

Kirsty tried to shift a bit, and her warmth kept him on the stable side of the brink. He sighed when her weight grew and her breathing evened out. Belara’s presence on his back was much heavier. She was no sleek creature of the sea. Thin, yes. Sleek, yes. The land was just as heavy in her as it was in David, though in her case it could be described only as roots–great pine roots from the ancient forests too tired to latch onto each patch passed over–and granite. For him, it was rather like bearing the subfloor of the sea with padded feet that at least bore some of their own weight.

Or was it guilt that his searches were always futile slowing him, and that Kirsty would be stepping into too many roles far too soon? If she were Temple-bred, would things be different?

Yes and no. The hand now curling into his mane, just as it had when she was a baby, would not have been.

 

Expect the next episode around January 19th, unless an extra episode funds, in which case you might see the next on January 12th. If you'd like to have another episode sooner, feel free to use the Paypal button below. A total of $10 earns everyone an extra episode. If the ten 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.

Like the story? Vote here at Top Web Fiction (just remember, we're a long way from finishing the story here and there is a lot of ground to cover. If you're on Goodreads, the first ebook is already listed there with my other books. Got a question? Ask it and maybe the answer will be revealed in the story, or in a comment if not part of the story. Want to do a review? Visit the listing, or feel free to post one in your own blog, and don't forget to have a look at the other stories on the web fiction guide and of course you can now put one on the Goodreads page as well. 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.
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