Selkies' SkinsInstallment 66Chapter 35 (part one)
Kirsty could not be sure if it was hours or days that she swam. It could have easily been both since she was most definitely not in the mortal realm, or at least not the one she knew of. All she knew currently of time was that every muscle burned and ached – including ones she didn’t know she had in not so very genteel places, never mind that she didn’t count herself as ‘genteel’ – and that she was beginning to loose feeling as she moved beyond that. Her hair had long since matted from her actions, and it was scrambling the information from the water so badly that she ‘heard’ a constant low static.
Now and then she came upon half-formed fish, or what she assumed were meant to be fish. The fins curved and swept far more than ornamental goldfish, sweeping wide like Dactyloptena orientalis’ enlarged pectoral fins, and brighter than the neon-hued Mandarinfish. These had spines as intimidating as lionfish, and she made sure to give them a wide berth in case they were poisonous. Those that she did find stationary began to wilt, and they stared at her with gaping eyes as if waiting for her to utter the word to finish their creation.
Where she had been taken there no longer was any floor to rest on, which did not help. She’d tried floating in place only to find that if she did everything spun around her and left her innards trying to escape, revealing why she so rarely found any life here stationary. After yet more aeons she finally found her way from the limitless expanse of lunar realm waters into a tunnel back to the previous reality.
A burning thought wormed its way to the surface of her consciousness. “If this were the way deities experience time, it is a wonder that all of them aren’t insane.” The thought drowned just as quickly, her mind too tired to grasp it.
The farther she passed down the passage the more she grew aware of the sense of taste returning. The effects of the moon deity’s touch still rode through her, but she was glad to once again taste something other than sweet. With the passing of the taste her head cleared, but she was left with a dull throb at the center of her brain when she gained the forking of the ways once more.
Without hesitation she took the path marked with Mara’s waves, never wavering from these runes. Nine times she followed the marked path, each time it being found in a different direction. The marks were not always clear, sometimes she had to both see and feel the stone walls to find them, and once she even resorted to using the sense of taste when the runes were so lightly engraven that she was doubting whether she had actually found any.
“At least Imp isn’t here to tell David, ‘Master...I don’t think Mistress is well. She was licking walls and mumbling to herself during her secondary initiation.’ Yes, just the thing he needs to be wondering about, if I’m going insane.” Kirsty grumbled to herself, purely to break the silence that pressed in around her.
A flash of velvet smoothness and the intense crush of muscle around her stilled the mumbles, restoring the silence once more. She kept her hand on the wall here, resting now that the water would allow her. The pressure mounted, and she dimly became aware of the pulse of waves. The desire to move forward devoured her, but she was held still by the need to find the correct direction.
“This has to be the last one then.” She thought, feeling the spectral muscles crushing around her.
The veil drew tighter around her with the familiar wisps and brushes of uncounted threads and yarns, just as surely as the muscles continued to bear down on her body. Unwelcome half-memories clawed through her of another time muscles bore down around her, and she felt smaller and just as clumsy. There was definite pain again, it had managed to get beyond the previous muscle numbness. The edges of her vision alternated between red and black.
“Such an aweful feeling and strange symptoms since she made me part fish too...or woke whatever was in me from the Creation...” She tried to think with gritted teeth. “No, maybe not. Still so much mammalian.”
The pressure let up, then bore down again harder and faster. The spaces between were shorter. The urge to just go mounted til she trembled with it.
Kirsty tried to draw breath at the next loosening, disturbed at the shift occurring beneath her fingers. The rock continued to smooth and soften, gaining a definite, but slow, pulse. She snatched her hand away and stared with wide eyes, depending on the slight glow becoming visible from the wall. To her vision the rock looked exactly the same as before, merely simple – but smooth – rock.
The light tang of salt finally met her tongue and she turned in its direction. One kick of her tail followed another to propel her down the passage as the specter of a birth canal continued, and she hoped it was not a final trick of the deity she had recently left. The action of her tail’s kicks seemed multiplied by the squeezing and the walls passed her by too quickly to notice.
All she knew was that she was crossing vast distances in more ways than one. The sea called her, Mara called her, and she focused on these so as to not somehow wind up somewhere else. The veil continued to tighten, and finally she could see it.
A mist hung thick in the ever-tightening passage before her, an extension of what held her. A half-formed phantasm moved on the other side. Was it a guardian? Would she have to fight this? There was certainly no going back the direction she had come from. The pressure was too intense. She very well might explode with it.
The mist was a wall as soon as she reached it, slamming into it just as hard as if she’d been blasted into Castle Carrick’s wall during Dueling Club. Once again she was seeing stars, this time purely in her own head thanks to the headlong blow.
Kirsty grabbed her head and screamed, trying not to wretch.
The pressure from behind kept mounting and she was crushed up against the barrier. Her heart pounded, and the breath was pressed from her as if she were trapped in her own mortar and pestle. Worse, she could feel that she was being ground as she found herself sometimes being drawn against the mist-wall in a circle, and then other times pounded.
She watched in mingled horror and fascination as her body began to dissolve. She watched as molecules broke down and as atomic bonds severed. She had fallen beyond the pain by this point and could feel everything vibrating around her far more clearly than ever before. If she wanted to she could turn away from this and simply cease to be.
There was a firm tug at her heart and an insistent heat at her waist where her pouch lay against her. Simultaneously a bright light shone in her mind, and she became aware of direction. She had a home she had to return to. She had People and somewhat of a purpose, nevermind issues of species.
Kirsty clawed at the barrier and her tangled hair fanned out as her frustration mounted and began to crackle through it. Wherever her hair touched the mist it began to burn away. Her nails began to sting and burn, and she dimly became aware of a strange ooze forming and running down the grooves beside her nails. Her mind grasped the mist, in case it was made of water, trying to rend it or bend it to her will.
The sound and taste of the sea increased. So did the pressure behind her.
There was a shift, a click, a rift. Kirsty felt something fall away from herself energetically. There was movement as something came through the water and claimed that, but she could not pay attention. She needed through.
The shapes in the mist became clearer to her. The taste and smell came to her as she won her way into the mist.
Justin cautiously swam along the Irish coastline, watching for the sharks that sometimes patrolled the waters, or perhaps one of the bull selkies protecting the edges of colonies. He skirted the areas the selkies had been during his last raid on this shore. Here Mara’s power was great. Here was where the greatest prizes could be taken. Care had to be taken though, or Aegir would step in and have a say about the trespass on another deity’s territory.
It wasn’t that that the raids were entirely bad. They kept the blood of the Finmen strong, and should have done so for the blood of those that dwelled on Seal Point. No elders remembered why these had started, only that women and children were needed to supply their number and in some cases supply their meat.
The shift in the waters had been strong since the last Turn of the season. Another portion of Mara was absent. Where he could not say. He wasn’t trained in such things and the Seidhrmenn were not the least inclined to teach him.
He rubbed at a spot where they had recently re-instilled some of their spellwork on his flesh. It wasn’t infected and pus-ridden, thankfully, but here something within him always actively tried to rid itself of...whatever had been done to him for so long.
Justin smiled in relief when he slipped onto the beach where the water from the underground stream formed the pool that spilled into the sea. He was surprised at the lack of bulls in this area today. The Seidhrmenn had said the last remaining female Makay was supposed to be undergoing some sort of test. Wouldn’t the selkies want to protect the one that would be taking care of the well they had their tools blessed by, and who very likely would be midwifing those rare pregnancies that resulted in skinless babes? He might be considered a pariah among the Finmen, but those tests he had to go through were still guarded against interference lest he escape them.
Careful steps took him up the waters, and though he was now wading his contact was enough that he would not dry out fully and regain a wholely human visage. As he entered into the pool the waters flowed welcomingly and he had brief flashes of dark blue eyes and warm arms...with a little dark brown fur to nestle into.
The others avoided this pool whenever they landed for raids. For reasons he never could fathom he was the only one that never suffered any ill effects from the waters of the streams here, hence his blissful alone time.
Stealing a look around first he cupped his hands and drank of the fresh water. He wanted to close his eyes and savor the forbidden drink, he’d likely be paying for it later if one of the Seidhrmenn found out, but he wasn’t ready to believe that someone wasn’t going to come leaping off the cliff and blasting at him, or hurling spears, or that a sharp fanged kelpie wasn’t going to attempt to eat him.
Justin shivered, remembering the time he’d tried to lure off a very young and tasty looking girl-child from near here several years ago, using his flute’s melody. That kelpie had come thundering down the bluff at him already bloodied from who knew whom he’d been eating.
He calmed his breathing, allowing the water to soothe him. It went from cool to warm and pulled at him. After a moment he made his way further through the pool, past the hollow that the water seemed to try guiding him into. It made his heart hurt, as if someone had hollowed him out and placed a slow-burning cinder there to dry him out from the inside out. This was no place to tarry, and he had a mission anyway.
If successful, perhaps one of the unpartnered women in his village would consider him favorably, such as he was. Or perhaps he could finally prove that he was trustworthy enough to be taught some form of runework. Justin snorted at himself for even considering that any of their women would consider him. If he wanted a female companion, he’d have to steal one and then get her to understand he wasn’t as bad as the others. As for learning the mastery of runes, they’d been far more suspicious after the ‘visit’ from a couple strange dragons that had freed part of his soul from their power.
Justin eyed the water that poured out in a waterfall to form this pool, pondering how he would be able to open the gate. Climbing the rocks to gain access to the physical hole the water poured from was an easy thing...but that was not all he’d have to do.
“Your flute is your key, remember well the tune you’re always humming.” The raspy, hoarse voice of the Eldest grated and scratched through his memory like a spearhead on the sharpening stone.
Justin bit his lip, securing his spear to the sling he wore, and patted the pouch at his waist before scaling the rockfall, then picked the least precarious perch he could find. The rock was stable, but the moss was slick and a little prickly as it objected to his presence. Looking around once more to ensure that he was truly alone he gingerly withdrew the coral pipe.
His fingers caressed the smooth surface, basking in the warmth and pulse. Justin drew a calming breath, allowing himself to settle more firmly and the soul fluttering within the flute to settle as well. Tentative notes picked out the half-remembered lullaby that haunted him, rolling out from mind, soul, and heart, the body walking fingers over the soul’s prison to free those notes. The hardness of his face and body fell away for a time, leaving him looking much younger than his usual.
Justin’s body warmed with the feeling of home and safety as it spread, and the rocks and waters listened. Images flitted through his mind, never long enough or clear enough to see, but as he launched into the second stanza there was a definite shift around him. The breeze picked up, blowing from land to sea, carrying sighs and the drift of voices from the top of the hill. He let these wash over his ears, secure that the breeze was carrying his sounds away from the ears of the land dwellers.
The breeze fell away as the shift finished and he found himself overhearing heated conversation.
“What are you playing at? You were only to answer her question...not give her a dose of that.” Hissed a vaguely familiar voice. It bubbled as if coming from the spring.
“She’s wandering and you know it.” A calmer voice replied. “I was protecting the two of you as I have always done.” This voice was far more familiar. He’d heard it many a moonlit night while hunting or simply playing for his own amusement on his favorite rocks. “The sugar of my inspiration will lead her fully back and she’ll find a way to fit the better for it.”
“We gave them free will for a reason. You drugged her.”
“Yet the descendants you keep bound by blood so they stay direct.”
Justin opened his eyes. The side of the cliff had opened, and where the water flowed out from the formerly small cleft was now more than large enough of a cave for him to get into, and even to have fighting room. The voices came from within though. It was only with great caution that he crept in, secreting himself behind rocks and peering around to determine the source of the voices before moving further.
“We do not keep them bound!”
“Herne would agree with me.” The voice dropped and left Justin fighting weight and sadness. “We all bind those we’ve claimed for our own. Yes, it’s best when they stay because they enjoy being ours, best that they don’t become like all the others that have forgotten us...but bind them we do. Because they are ours.”
A third voice, this just as familiar as the voice of the Moon, crashed in. “Be silent. He is here.” The argument died and he felt a spear nudging him from behind, prodding him out of his hiding spot. “You took long enough, Boy.”
He turned his head to get a glimpse of the one that had snuck behind him. The stern face and deep eyes were the only glimpse he needed. To linger on the shark-like lines and dark hair was to invite his death.
“Yes, yes it is.” Mara agreed, smelling the whiff of his wariness and reading his vibrations. A smile curled her agreement and she continued walking him forward. “As I’m sure you guess, you were merely allowed to come, and you did not sneak through by luck.”
“Always as the Lady wishes...” Justin stated cautiously. The few encounters he’d had with the deity the Finmen followed had led to him being distrustful of any of them. An enemy deity though? He’d sooner take his chances with a real shark, instead of the mother of them and all sea life.
“Not always...” Mara’s voice trailed off, and Justin noticed that the other goddess had a strange look on her face. That one bit her lip and cast her gaze to the ground, as if his presence pained her. The moon god rested hir hand lightly on hers, as if to pass some inkling of strength against whatever caused the pain. “Go do what you came to do. Or try.”
“You’re not stopping me?” He could feel his face furrowing.
“Why should I? If the bloodline isn’t strong enough to take on one of your kind, what guarantee do I have this one will be a fit champion?” Mara removed the spear from his back. “You have your worth, even in such a state as you are. By all means: Attack, kidnap, kill for food if you can, or see her wed to whoever will buy her from you.”
The Lady’s fists balled and her light and form went from pale blue to a muddy flood-roil. Justin noted the way her eyes flashed as she regarded Mara behind him. He wasn’t sure why, but he understood, somewhat, the emotions the land’s water goddess tried to keep in check.
“Maybe I shouldn’t if she means so little to you. I’m only here because the elders say she means enough to make it worth sending me.” His own fingers were curling into fists, and he could feel his hackles rising. His nose twitched and an odd clawing sensation started in his chest, as if a caged grindylow had gone rabid.
“I didn’t say that she meant little, mortal.” Her teeth could be heard, and Justin swore that he could feel her circling him even as she stood still. “Show me your worth.”
The Lady was trembling now, and the tendrils of her hair beginning to writhe. The Moon God had a firm grip on the land sister now, pulling her back and away from Mara.
“Not now, dear Lady...not now.” Shi ground out. “Lad, do as she says. Maybe you’ll understand later.” Shi shook hir head and then blew a strange sparkling dust toward him.
Justin tried to avoid it, eyes widening, but Mara grabbed him and held him fast. She allowed the full dose of the substance to douse him while manipulating the water of his body to absorb it faster through his skin when he refused the instinct to lick his lips. His vision sharpened and he felt almost as if he could see through his skin.
“Even footing. Now take this quest, since you already accepted it.” The Moon God’s comment was fading even as the deities themselves were.
The sugar coursed through his veins and into his brain, clouding his judgment while waking other parts of his brain he rather actively sought to suppress. The need for experience grew sharper in him, and his body pushed itself onward to where he could feel his quarry. As the water deepened, he swam against it like salmon. It tasted of fish, selkie, and human.
Time and distance lost meaning. All he knew was that the worst of the effects were finally beginning to wear off when he found a barrier in his way. His mind warred with his body as he tried to purge the moon’s hold. It was a dangerous thing to have clouding one’s mind before battle or mission, and more than one tribe had fallen prey before to how it clouded mind and perception. The rocks still wavered and danced around him, reaching for him with lover’s arms.
Seaswimmer’s scent continued to mount, and he could feel her energy growing closer. Justin prowled for a bit at first, searching for a way through. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but if she made it through on her own then she would be a changed being. If he could prevent that, perhaps be the one that brought her through, then whatever she would become would be stillbirthed. Or perhaps any powers that would have been awakened would transfer to him instead.
His hands ran over the hardened mist and his nails scratched and dug, but he was unable to claw through. Throwing a large rock only rebounded it in an amplified form toward himself. Justin threw himself to the left when it came back and felt it scrape past him when it hadn’t even touched him. After picking himself up again he examined the rock, finding where it had collided had liquified and reformed.
There was no way he was going to throw a kick or a punch at that. Likewise there was no good spot to lay in ambush. Justin continued to prowl, spear drawn and as large as he could make himself. Perhaps he could delay her by frightening her away from this...membrane.
She came faster than he was prepared for, as if she had slipped from one realm to another. A dark blot impacted the barrier and fell back, and the sonic wave she unleased pushed him back even through it. It fell away into a normal scream and wavered, not quite a violin note, and certainly less pleasant.
Justin readied himself, recovering as swiftly as possible despite how he could barely hear and his head rang. Seaswimmer was clawing at the membrane, and he could see her claws deforming it but never quite breaking through. An electrical current began to form like when the giant eels prepared to strike. It tasted of ozone. The membrane stretched more under the onslaught, and the closer she came the more the moon’s effects began to return.
He readied his spear, his hackles rising again the further she deformed the barrier. Before he was aware of what he was doing, his blood carried him forward and the spear tip into the solidified but stretching mist. Instead of rebounding it punched through, and a torrent of odd tasting water rushed over him. His momentum carried him through the veil.
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