Selkies' SkinsInstallment 64Chapter 33 part 2
Lady of the Waters
Lady of the Waters
Kirsty rolled to her back and closed her eyes, resting and trying to keep from feeling like someone was going to pop out of the water or a rock wall at any moment and find her in her frillies, not that they were very frilly. They actually were more modest than most bathing suits she saw the girls at school use, and at least they weren’t white. That was one of the last things she needed in a blacklit underground water system.
At least she didn’t have to poke anyone’s eyes out. She was freezing, and it stung, but at least she wasn’t carrying extra weight where she couldn’t afford to.
Kirsty brightened her light with what energy she could draw from the water and stone, then examined the passages carefully. At one shone a moon with a pale silver light. Two passages held the familiar sea and river glyphs. The central passage seemed to be marked with licking flames whose lines glowed a golden-copper, and she had dim memories of seeing these on stones at the abandoned village forge. The fifth glyph, however, she was unfamiliar with. It stayed a strange green, but constantly morphed.
“Right then...only one. WHY are there five though? Mara’s I understand. Who are the moon, the flame, and the...whatever that is? Imp?” Kirsty sighed when she remembered that he would not be lurking and waiting for her to call...This was her test, her further initiation.
When she was rested enough, she took the passage marked by the glyph that she thought was the Lady’s, praying that she chose correctly. She could feel presences watching and weighing her actions. With the pressure of the eyes she regretted stripping down so far, but the further she went the more bogged down she was by what little cloth she continued wearing.
The water became thicker the farther down the passage she stroked, until it felt like it was not water but sand that she propelled and undulated through, despite how she could see and taste what it truly was.
Kirsty frowned, sending her consciousness further into the water and trying to find why it rejected her so. Any hint of what she could do to remedy the situation would be a vast improvement and giant step forward.
It was a puzzle.
She liked puzzles.
The water’s energy slipped away like a fish and her mind followed, her body a trailing afterthought. It flashed in the light of the phosphorescence, shimmering moonbeams trapped in an eternal night, the glimpse of the Salmon of Wisdom that Taliesin became briefly. The further her mind chased, the further her body flowed.
Finally her hands closed around the flash. It struggled to burst free but she held firmer to the slippery essence, trying to use body and mind to contain it. If she could just master the water’s energy, hold it a little longer then maybe she could get the water to let her through better.
The light grew brighter, exploding into a thousand swirling suns each showering the area with luminescence. Kirsty floated motionless in the water. She did not process the fact that she really had finally made her way through the watery passages to the center of the subterranean labyrinth. Instead she desperately tried to see or sense what was around her.
Her world was awash with echoes vibrating through her, tickling skin, pelt, and bone. She both saw nothing, and yet still saw every detail of the central cavern in excruciating detail. Her ears filled with the slow plink as the water filtered down, and the inexorable beat of the far distant sea.
Kirsty finally gained awareness of her body and the vast distance that she had swum. Her cells still vibrated, far more than what she would feel when Byron would become water while carrying her. The lack of a proper skin screamed from her core far louder than usual and the little pelt covering her torso suddenly was not enough, instead of an embarrassing seal-trait to hide. She ran her hands over herself as she tread the water, wishing for the change.
If she could find her way out to the sea, and play along the shoreline or let the saline waters course over her, would she then feel complete? She was really a seal, wasn’t she? Not this strange body with the odd fins for the land? Just where was her fur?
A tug on her heart broke her thoughts, while she took stock of herself, and then another.
Still treading, she closed her eyes and sought for the thread binding her. One hand reached for her heart, the other falling lightly on the pouch that still clung to her waist. Her breathing slowed, falling back into a rhythm that matched the eternal water’s dance.
Instead of one thread she found several threads. Some there very thin and tenuous wisps. Others were like sewing thread. Kirsty watched these dispassionately.
Who were these people? She could not remember and knew that she should. There should be names and faces, or glimpses of at least something when she touched teach of them. Yet there was nothing.
Slowly she began the work of plucking them. With every broken thread she felt less entangled, and Kirsty smiled. With each removed tie, each bit of the netting that held her, she grew more eager to sever the bonds. Soon there were only a few left and she remembered less of her life on land.
Seaswimmer fingered these remaining thicker threads thoughtfully. They were more like twine or yarn, and much stronger. Idly she rolled onto her back and floated, resting.
One belonged to Byron, she remembered him well. Seaswimmer smiled when thinking of his sharp teeth and the sharper wit that he liked to use. Seaswimmer let that tie stay. Her finger moved to another, and she discovered her father at the other end, and his eyes and smell. He waited above the well, but would she return? What if she decided that she’d rather stay in this pool in the cavern. There were plenty of cave fish. Their passage licked through the water and tickled her without touching.
She liked fish.
Seaswimmer allowed that thread to stay as well, and moved to the next.
This cord was fraying as if rubbed between two rocks for a short time so that it bore little fuzzy threads striving to bind itself back together. A wave of sorrow and worry washed over her. Her mother’s face should have greeted her even fleetingly. Instead all she found here was darkness and danger.
Seaswimmer caressed that cord thoughtfully. Perhaps she should swim after it and help her mother. What if she were out there waiting for her? What if she’d lost her skin, or it had gotten cut up beyond a speedy enough healing to come home? She stroked that cord softly, as if it were one of the fox kits, then moved to the next. That cord would also stay.
The next cord she found was a complicated one. Two tied together came in close by each other, and Seaswimmer got flashes of a girl that looked very like herself, laughing and dancing with those on the other end. One held some sort of stringed instrument, and had strange robes. The other had a head of red hair and a mischievous grin. Her heart throbbed again, differently than the pangs she’d felt with her parents.
Seaswimmer frowned as other memories of land tried to push through. It was a silly thing, as if she had lived on land. She was a selkie though. Surely these were false memories then and she really belonged to the sea.
Or was it to the underground water system? How did she get here in the first place? Where did she really come from?
Seaswimmer paddled thoughtful circles, still lounging on her back, trying to remember her name. She tried to pluck the twinned cords, but a third wrapped these protectively, a shimmer of light that repelled her fingers as soon as the thought to sever the troubling cords had formed. There was the flash of an elder’s face and silver hair, and the scent of a fire on a fog-shrouded day.
Why would the Light Keeper’s cord protect these? As she watched it wrapped around them to form a thicker yarn. Seaswimmer turned her attention to the last cord instead.
This cord made her smile as soon as she touched it, but it made her heart ache at the same time. Recently something had been done to make it thicker and stronger. Running her fingers on it curiously, the story revealed to her fingers told of both sides feeding into the fiber...but someone else had tried to augment this, almost as if to protect it from threat.
A dull throbbing sensation came from the pouch at her waist, and her fingers played over it without diving in. A hazy memory of a set of red paper poppets and twine swam to the surface before diving back down, and she blushed. The memory of a warm voice, sandy hair, and ice-blue eyes was next, and she touched her cheeks curiously to trace the still increasing warmth as a flood soon followed.
Kirsty scowled and flipped back to her stomach and tried to sense where to go next. How could she have forgotten so easily? What had happened that she temporarily misplaced that part of herself? She had to find the Lady, talk to her and see what it was that needed to be done to complete the initiation and finally stand ready for whatever trials would be found in the sea.
After what seemed to be an eon she finally found an island in the middle of the underground lake. She hauled herself carefully onto to smooth dripstone and waited for the water to fall away and her muscles to get used to the lack of support.
“That took longer than I expected it to.” The voice was soft and slightly disappointed as it welled up from the water.
Kirsty looked where she thought it centered. A light gathered and streamed together into a ball deep below the surface, then slowly rose. By the time it broke through the surface, the orb was the familiar water deity, this time clothed in a silver gown and once more with a sword at her waist.
“I’m sorry, Lady.” Kirsty bowed her head. “I wasn’t sure of what I was supposed to be doing to find you since you usually come to me.”
“That’s why you had to find me first.” The Lady stepped onto the island, bringing the soft light with her. “An initiation is a rebirth, very different from the initiation that your school offers.”
“Is that why I forgot who I was?”
“In part.” The Lady looked into her eyes, her own eyes endless pools of eternity of undeterminable hue. “It happens to each that undergoes the Trial of the Paths.”
Kirsty made a quiet inquisitive sound, only a slight squeak.
The Lady smiled, catching the thoughts that went unvoiced and half formed. “You were just tested on which of us you are most likely to follow and who is your core. I was already fairly certain that you would find my path here. The others would have eventually led you to me here as well but they also would have revealed different tests at the end.”
“Mara would be the waves I guess, so it would have had something to do with the sea?” Kirsty felt her brow creasing.
“Yes. If you had followed the moon you would have had a dream or an illusion perhaps. We have overlapping areas just as shi has overlapping areas with Mara.” The Lady smiled a bit. “Shi has always been a very good ally and friend.”
“What about the flame?” Kirsty wanted to lean forward in her curiosity, but managed to refrain.
“Brigid left a long time ago when she consolidated her forges at Draiganpáirc under the care of the O’Drake family. Your test would have had to do with creativity most likely.” Sorrow flitted across the Lady’s face and she briefly glanced away, as if in the direction the other deity had withdrawn to.
“What about the fifth?” Kirsty pressed.
“You might yet undergo a challenge from him, or one like him. You’d have had to hunt for me more than you did, and in a different place than you would have expected me. His test would have been a very good one. I think that just having to overcome a problem similar to my own is fitting for you though.” The Lady watched Kirsty with unreadable eyes.
“He who, Lady?”
She smiled. “Someone already involved and watching you. You know of whom I speak.”
Kirsty frowned. What other deity would be watching? The Moon of course made sense. Selkies had their own lunar rituals, whether she shirked them or not in favor of lending David her healing touch.
Her eyes widened. “Herne?”
She paled as the Lady nodded. Kirsty’s stomach roiled. It was hard enough trying to keep up with the expectations of two goddesses. She already knew he’d likely be watching and evaluating, but the thought was still terrifying, like being expected to successfully cast a complicated spell the first time without being told what it was she was supposed to be casting.
The Lady laughed. “It’s not that bad, child!”
Kirsty looked at her doubtfully. “I’m still terrified I’ll mess up something.”
“Yet you also can’t really fully think about life without him being some part of it, can you?” She pressed.
“Well...no... If I’d have fully become Seaswimmer I probably still would have found my way to him eventually. Going by migrational patterns anyway, and I think I would have done so.” Kirsty wanted the dripstone to swallow her.
“I think you would,” the Lady nodded. “Especially as his home is so accessible from the sea.”
She lifted Kirsty’s left hand and turned the palm and inner wrist toward her. Starting there she drew a small spiral before twining around the whole wrist with a vine-like line that returned to the spiral. The design, glowing a bright blue as well as inked into her skin, looked strangely incomplete. The more Kirsty studied, the more it looked like it needed another half. Once the lines met the Lady embedded a small crystal shard.
Kirsty screamed as the crystal pushed below her skin but did not pull away. She was afraid that if she so much as flinched that something major would be damaged. She knew one of the methods of suicide. While she held still she could feel the power of the lady stream in through the wound and through her blood.
Suddenly she felt dry and she found herself gasping for breath. When the Lady let go of her wrist Kirsty reached for her throat, her eyes going even wider. Her body threw itself into the water before she knew what was happening, while the crystal dissolved in her blood and began to spread through her cells.
She tried not to breathe the water, but her body had other plans. Slits along her neck opened and she could feel tissues growing that hadn’t been there before. The water went deep, and then back out, some force expelling the water from her lungs with each breath and pulling the air with it. At the same time she could feel the gills working, and she inhaled and exhaled through those. The whole experience was very dizzying, and it took some time to figure out how to orient properly.
“That’s one part. Now little fish-child, that part of you is activated and just as real as the selkie skin you crave so badly from my sister.” Her voice was slightly bitter, but still supportive and loving as it had always been. “Just remember not to lose yourself, and to return. Now though you must run to the sea. This ability will serve you well during this summer’s trials... However, be aware that after that it will not work for weeks at a time, only ‘short’ spans. Then you will need air.”
“Wait! I had a question I needed to ask you that’s been bothering me since Samhain. There was this Finman and his eyes won’t leave me be.”
“It would be best then to take one of the lunar tunnels before returning to my sister’s path. The moon sees more than I.” While Kirsty watched, the goddess dispersed, taking the light with her.
Kirsty sighed and spread her fingers, looking at the webbing that was now even more prominent between them.
“Right then...” Kirsty allowed herself to sink a bit lower, resting on the bottom of the pool and blowing bubbles out her nose. “Of course she wouldn’t know. Must have driven them nuts when people believed in them...”
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