Book Two (Temple and Skinquest) is currently on Chapter Five in the manuscript. The next installment (after a break) will begin the second book in the entire storyline.
Selkies' SkinsInstallment 71Chapter 39
Two days later Kirsty sighed and picked at the stitching of her dress, scuffing her feet on the floor. The rug was a sea blue with a slight wave pattern. She looked from there to the tiny aquarium by the desk where some little pink crabs scuttled around in rocks and a starfish slowly plied the side. Then she let them roam to the tiny hyacinth-pink conch shell on the front desk.
“Are you sure you’d rather not wait in your father’s office for your aunt?” Hyacinth asked, looking up from her desk. “You’re changing the tide in the aquarium and making me thirsty.”
“Da’ needs to concentrate on the conference with that diplomat he’s lobbying. I don’t think Mr. Whatsis would really appreciate a girl in weirdly old-fashioned clothes listening in.” Kirsty shifted again, and the clock struck the hour from the corner.
Hyacinth leaned back in her creaky desk chair and chuckled. “Afraid you’ll make him nervous and not consider what he’s being told about those ejected selkie herds?”
“Very. Do you think we’ll be seeing more coming to the Point this summer?” Kirsty flexed her toes in her shoes and squirmed.
“Maybe. Your father always makes it sound so safe. I wish I could live somewhere like that. Must be neat to be in a place that’s there but not. Tea?”
“Shells and spines, yes. But just a little. What if it comes back up at the Department of Myths...all over some priceless knickknack.” Her blood pressure rose as she imagined the look on her aunt’s face, who had gone to such lengths to ensure that she could get everything done legally without raising suspicion as to why she had learned to shift.
Hyacinth nodded slightly and flowed over to the corner table. Methodically she poured out a half cup of tea into one of the plain waxed paper cups. It took a moment to remember the proportions of sugar and cream that Kirsty liked, but Hyacinth prided herself on being able to mix a drink just perfect for the drinker. “You’ll do fine. What I’ve seen here, you do just fine in turning into a fluffy cute kitty.”
“I’m not cute.” She took the cup and gave Hyacinth a wan smile when she brought it. “But thanks. What I’m worried about is the stress element that they’ll add when testing for the registry. As keen as they are to quantify anything that might not be regarded ‘human’ and anything like the old tales of witches, I hear some of those in the Department really like when they can make someone get stuck and can shunt them off into ‘Beast.’” Kirsty took a slow sip.
“I never did understand why so many ministries and departments.” Hyacinth sat back down as the tea started its work on the girl. “Really, are they under the aegis of the country’s government, or are they supra-governmental? Or just merely hidden? Trying to take over the world? It’s more confusing than the UN.”
Kirsty groaned. Even when she did grow up and immerse fully in potions, the United Nations she would still have to pay attention to while filling Mara’s duties of protecting the resources she used. “I haven’t the foggiest. I think its some weird combination. Maybe its some complicated plot to take over the world, like those Illuminati that the Cowan think aren’t real. I’m really not looking forward to possibly dealing with all that stuff.”
“I don’t think most in the Order do.” Hyacinth leaned forward. “We’re counted on though, for all our little contributions.”
“This is going to be one of your ‘if you can do this, then you can do that’ talks. Isn’t it?” Kirsty’s eyes took on a tinge of seafoam when they looked over the partially tilted cup. “I’m not a full member yet since I’m still a minor.”
“But you’ve already got the white cape.”
Kirsty snorted. “That’s because of being a priestess by birth and my coloring. This one’s not earned.”
“But you’re earning it going through the magic school, and through the training for the high magic. The combination of what each member of your family has to attempt on their own is much more stringent than the general Order requirements.” Hyacinth shifted the paperwork that waited for her return to processing. “So what’s one little test of whether you can transform while being confronted with your deepest fears?”
“I’d rather not see David or anyone dead... I didn’t like that class even though it was only illusion.” Kirsty pouted, scuffing the carpet with a black leather toe again before kicking out to lay her boot heels on it. She finished her tea while trying to think of a retort that made sense.
Hyacinth looked down and smirked behind her hair when the pause had gone on long enough, not at the idea of some boy she’d never met being dead, but instead at how firmly child-like this girl was.
“Fine. You win this one. I’ll try to be confident.” Kirsty got up and went to make herself a full cup of tea. “I’d like more, I’ll get it though. You have things to do before someone comes in.”
Hyacinth’s smirk turned to a grin. Kirsty prepared her tea, carefully measuring each spoonful several times before finally adding it. She hovered by the table and drank, and by the time her cup was drained again Professor MacLeòmhann pushed the door open to set off the tinkling bell.
As usual Professor MacLeòmhann was swathed in green, though this time in the green and blue of the Highland MacKays, hiding the clan in plain sight with the association and shared tartan with the Makays, with small nods to her birth clan in gold and red. “Hyacinth, I hope I’m not late.”
“No Belara, you’re actually a little early. I think you came at the right time though.” Hyacinth nodded her blonde head meaningfully toward Kirsty. “She’s over there filling her bladder.”
“Thank you.” Professor MacLeòmhann nodded at the receptionist and held her arms open to Kirsty.
Kirsty dropped her empty cup in the bin and slid into her aunt’s arms, resting her head against her chest and inhaling her comforting scent. The thin arms folded around her. Kirsty gripped a little tighter.
“I heard the well trial did not go smoothly?” The last of her professor role fell away for a time, leaving only Belara stroking the child’s head. If only she had been able to have children in her long ago youth. But then she would have had her own children trying to earn skins if they had taken after her departed husband, not just distant nieces and nephews. She rested her nose on top of Kirsty’s hair. While Hyacinth returned to her paperwork, “We can wait another year for this if you need to, I could make it happen somehow.”
“It was a bit of rough water, but it’s done. I’m not so sure of what to think about some things and it’s too late now, if there ever was a time.” Kirsty looked up at her aunt and noticed a few new lines had formed on her face since she’d last seen her. Surely those couldn’t all be from worrying about her. “The faster this is done, the better so they can’t harass me later and find out something more sensitive.”
“Very well Kirstin.” A final stroke of her hair and Belara let Kirsty go.
“I’ll let Finnol know you’ve left, once he gets out.” Hyacinth didn’t look up from her papers.
“Thank you Hyacinth.” Belara nodded and guided Kirsty out the door.
The docks smelled of caught sea and fish to Kirsty, and the boats all nodded together like wise old men save for her father’s. The Corsantóir held still and heavy on the swells, just as it had handled sluggish and surly on the earlier commute to the Office. Da’ had told her earlier that since they’d found the Sea Witch wrecked that his boat had taken to being moody and pitching things across the decks when it was just the two of them. On the other end a boom was busy transferring loads from a larger boat to the wharf. She could distantly hear workmen’s shouts. The ground fell away under her feet at her aunt led her to the bus stop several blocks away.
There was enough time to sit, but though the bench was clean neither witch did so. As they came to the stop from one direction a young mother with two small children came from the other side. Her dark short hair had begun to snarl, and there were still wet patches on her shirt which had been wiped at but remained stubborn. The woman smelled of bile to Kirsty, and she wondered which of the young ones had recently spit up on her.
The woman looked between them, her breath labored from her exertion. Belara shook her head and Kirsty waved to the bench. The mother needed to sit and rest during the wait more than they did.
“Thank you.” The woman sank down and held the children close. “You have such pretty dresses. I wish I could dress like that. It may be a few years before I can buy anything so pretty and flowy again. Re-enactors? Is there a Faire?”
“You could say that, we’re not going to a Faire today though.” Belara smiled. The eldest of the pair, possibly around three or four, fussed at his mother insistently, tugging at her top. “Do you mind if I give the children some biscuits?”
“If that’s not too much trouble, we were so rushed that I forgot their snacks. I only have enough on me for the fare though.” The woman’s brow furrowed between the eyes, her eyes meeting Belara’s and then flitting away while the color on her cheeks rose.
Belara reached into her pocket and drew out three packs of gingersnap animals, still in wrappers. She carefully opened two and handed them to the children, then handed the third to the mother. “It looks like you could use a little something to eat yourself.”
Kirsty smiled, trying not to watch too much while the small family nibbled their blood sugars and stomachs back into sane states. Her aunt winked at her while no one was watching and Kirsty flashed her teeth back.
When the bus pulled up they boarded with the family, just behind, and slipped their change into the fare box. The bus driver looked down at his clipboard as they boarded and passed, double checking his next stop and checking off the current one. They sat quickly in an empty seat, and Kirsty sat a little closer to her aunt than was strictly necessary. She stifled the urge to hold her ears at all the noise and watched the scenery go by, and then the people getting on and off at the stops.
When they got to the proper stop, one that the name when called garbled incoherently to anyone except those that the spell didn’t exclude, they disembarked. Once more the bus driver looked down at his clipboard and took no notice of them. Whether either Kirsty or Belara agreed with the measures that their community took to ensure some measure of intermingling for those born to the Cowan community, they could agree that the measures on the bus system worked.
Belara swept Kirsty with her in through the glass front doors, the family relationship once more retreating behind the thick mask of professionalism that her job required. A pair of young security guards kept watch inside, taking their garb into account.
“Bit odd to see your like coming in. Usually we’ve got the suits and skirts through our door.” Slightly buck toothed, the thinner of the two had a slight lisp but a genial twinkle to his eye. “What brings you lovely lasses this time ‘Ms. Greene’?”
“Walter...” Professor MacLeòmhann shook her head at him. “Mind yourself. Ms. Makay has some business of her own to conduct.”
“Good luck with it then.” Walter winked at Kirsty while his partner kept an eye on the doors for anyone else coming. “The lift should be clear by now.”
“Thank you.” Professor MacLeòmhann murmured.
Kirsty nodded in acknowledgement. A quick glance aimed at her aunt widened her eyes slightly as she tried to think where the lift they needed would be, since she had never entered the building through the front entrance. Professor MacLeòmhann led the way without missing a beat, pressing further in and through a second set of doors. A lobby lurked here, cold, stark, and efficient in dark lines of power and sweeping walls. A hall led off of this, mercifully broken with potted trees and ferns of human size. They ducked behind one of these and into the lift doors that came to life at their touch.
Kirsty shivered at the sensation of walking through thick spider webs and through the portal. The division between the concurrent spaces that shared space was sharp, not a gentle and natural phasing like what happened at the entrances to Seal Point or the school.
The ride down was swift and they stepped into the mezzanine. This ‘room’ was large enough to feel as if they were outside, and intentionally set up to mimic the outdoors as much as possible. Each department of the ministries had their own buildings within this space, and she followed her aunt past a fountain depicting the supposed ‘order of things’ toward the building that looked modeled on ancient temples of various pantheons.
The triumphant witch gazed after them, the wings of an injured tailed Angelic being ‘bandaged’ while other ‘lost’ creatures looks to the humans for help. To Kirsty it looked more as if all the evils they suffered had been imposed by the ‘perfect’ pair.
Kirsty bit her lip and ducked her head. There was a strange feeling that the building put off which reminded her too much of the way Morvan felt to her. The doors this time depicted a group of humans dismantling one of the old sacred wells and driving the essence from it into a box. The door burned when she touched it, but nothing else seemed to happen.
Once through the door it was no better. Orbs of palest orange fairy flame lit the walls and gave the stone walls a tomb-like feel. It was cold, and those already inside pulled heavy cloaks around themselves. Kirsty pulled her white lambskin cloak tight, grateful for the fur beneath her heavy blue dress.
“Appointments Only. Name and purpose,” a clerk drawled from behind the counter, an ornate blue plume paused at the end of his sentence. His robes still bore the dust of the ancient texts that he was working with.
Kirsty glanced at her aunt briefly and then stepped to the desk. “Kirstin Makay, I am here to test and register as a Shifter.”
He looked her over, raising his brows and sneering while speaking through his nose. “Age and transformation specie or ability, little girl?” Said nose rose at the end with a superior smirk.
Professor MacLeòmhann’s hand closed on her shoulder, and Kirsty realized she’d begun to bristle. She closed her eyes and centered herself, visualizing how amusing it would be if when he went to wash the dust just wouldn’t come off.
“Thirteen still, long-haired white cat.” Kirsty breathed, not allowing the smile at the image to reach her lips.
He looked at the professor for confirmation. She nodded. His brows rose further.
“Well then, this way please. I suppose you must be the Kirstin Makay they are waiting for.” He hopped down from his seat.
He was much shorter than Kirsty had expected, though still much taller than herself. He bustled down the hallway deeper into the building, and they followed. The oppressive air grew the deeper in they went, and as he turned into a stairwell the chill grew and seeped into her. The air grew heavier each step down and whispers in the dark at the edges of the light orbs swirled in various languages she only half caught.
Glancing at her aunt over her shoulder it did not look like the woman felt the presence. Ahead of her the clerk gave no sign of feeling it either. More stairs lead to another hallway. Nine doors down they arrived at their destination.
“I believe you can handle the rest from here.” The clerk’s voice clipped and he nodded before withdrawing with brisk steps back the way he had came from.
Kirsty watched him, then murmured once he was beyond earshot. “He seems...”
“He’s that way because he either thinks us intruders or dislikes shifters or anything tied to the old myths.” Belara looked down at Kirsty’s darkened eyes. “Don’t let it get to you.”
“Why work here then?”
“To control fear, most likely.”
Kirsty chewed on her lip. Professor MacLeòmhann pushed open the door and they went inside. The room here seemed smaller than it really was. Books and scrolls lay on shelves behind thick glass. One side of the room held a case with various strange contraptions, partitioned away from artefacts of stone, metal, and clay which gave off auras of power and gleamed dully. A small door lurked in the back, barred with iron and chained with silver.
“Ms MacLeòmhann... Miss Makay... nice of you to join us today. You’re late by a week, but I am glad you are feeling better.” A thin bespectacled woman with a beakish nose stepped out of the shadows of a corner.
“Um. Yes Ma’am, sorry ma’am.” Kirsty looked her over and then looked down, feeling a sting on her cheeks.
“Ms. Henn.” The woman nodded. “So, by your presence your instructor feels that you have mastered the change enough for examination. It is a strange branch of magic to be gifted in, and closely monitored as I am sure you understand. So, why?”
Kirsty was careful not to think of David, in case the Examiner was a Reader. “I like fuzzy things,” she half lied. “There also have been a few times that I wish I could just have sneaked away to avoid problems that weren’t worth my time.” That, at least, was a full truth. “I think that being able to take on a different form also helps to give a different view of the world, which can help keep things in perspective.”
“A decent enough reason. If you pass you’ll be put on the registry and your form recorded for if you use this skill to do anything illegal. Since you are a minor though, your entry won’t be publicly visible until you’ve reached the age of majority. This might be at 16 since that is what it is here, or it might be 18 since that is your home country’s.” Ms. Henn leaned down slightly, bringing her head closer to Kirsty’s. “If it were me I would be braced for the lower age of the two,” she whispered with a slight wink and head bob.
“I would have thought that the age standards would have been sorted by now.” Professor MacLeòmhann mused, her voice sliding between Kirsty and the Examiner.
“Well, until there is a more unified government I doubt it will happen. It will some day though, I am sure, and that will make things easier for everyone.” Ms. Henn smiled, her eyes dark and gleaming. “If it doesn’t happen in the open community then it will start in ours and it will be the job of our next generation to spread that for a better and more stable world.”
Ms. Henn turned briskly and pecked toward the door, giving it a lingering caress before undoing the chains. Kirsty wrinkled her nose and glanced up at her aunt, silently asking her if she really had just heard what she thought, or if the test was already started and it just wasn’t what she had trained and braced for. The professor’s eyes were trained on the door and Examiner, narrowed and emerald green sparking with gold, as if she wished to pounce.
No acknowledgement was forthcoming, so Kirsty looked harder, opening her senses past her comfort and searching for answers as to why Ms. Henn seemed so fanatic with her opinion. All that greeted her when looking in this fashion was a dark mist that tickled warnings and vague memories of discussions with the Lady. Ms. Henn turned her head toward them as the door swung open.
Kirsty slammed herself shut again.
“Ms. Makay, if you will accompany me inside the testing chamber. Professor, I am sure that you won’t mind waiting here.”
“Of course...” The professor nodded curtly. “I’ll just conjure myself a chair then while I wait for you to finish.”
“Oh, no need. I’m sure this won’t take long at all.” Ms. Henn smiled, though it didn’t reach her eyes.
“Perhaps, but it is better to be prepared.” She conjured herself a chair anyway in an out of the way corner facing the testing door. It was a simple wood affair with a deep green cushion seat near enough that she would be able to spring up if her niece returned being carried. Professor MacLeòmhann quirked her eyebrow at Kirsty.
Kirsty nodded imperceptibly. Obviously it was not who her aunt had been hoping for. Maybe later she would have time to puzzle out what the past history between the two was. It prickled her skin as badly as whatever the other thing she was sensing did.
Once ushered through the door it closed with a heavy boom, the chains rattling as they resecured themselves. Here the air weighed on her even more, and she regretted not practicing deeper sea dives to cope with the atmosphere...even though it wasn’t the same sort of pressure. It pressed her lungs anyway.
“Well then, it’s just you and me, isn’t it?” Ms. Henn traipsed slowly behind her, running a hand over her shoulders as the darkness grew. “I’m going to have fun with this. How well can you change when everything is falling apart around you?”
Kirsty didn’t answer and Ms Henn smiled. “Wise girl. Show me.”
Without much thought, Kirsty let her bones slip, remembering what the body of a cat should feel like. She wrapped her puffy white tail around herself and looked up, black whiskers twitching once in question. Faint grey lines twined around her left wrist where the tattooing was on her human form, blurred from the fur. A very faint silver crescent moon lurked on her chest so pale as to be easily merely a fold in the natural fur flow and disappeared when her neck stretched up.
The transformation back was just as simple when given the order. After all, she had been working on this for quite some time now. “It’s not going to be this easy. What’s she planning? No fears pulled out yet...”
The strange creeping dread about the room began to press in on her more, wrapping unseen tendrils around her body and brain. She stiffened and tried to push them back, but they wormed in deeper and tickled mental recesses that she had been trying to avoid.
“Except this one so far.” Kirsty amended to herself. She kept breathing through it, ignoring the feeling of being judged and found to be lacking.
She felt the push of a mind against her own and sharp pecks from unexpected quarters. Instinctively she tried to repel the mental invasion, but the witch was older and more experienced, and slip through the waters as she could...Ms. Henn still managed to break through.
Ms. Henn clucked and pursed her lips, scratching through the child’s darkest corners eagerly for the deepest fears and eagerly casting them into the light. Around them the room began to shift while these combined to form a scenario.
The Examiner squawked and flapped mental wings at finding a tightly sealed chest in Kirsty’s mind. Scratching at the seals gave her no purchase to open, nor did her unlocking spells. Around them the storm began to form. The floor became a listing deck and waves crashed over the side of a boat.
Kirsty nearly lost what little edge she managed to keep on the contents of her mental chest when the deck began to tilt. The room’s magic had nearly completed the spacial shift, surely her Examiner had enough to be working with by now?
Ms. Henn narrowed her eyes and ducked her head against the spray, still trying to force open the chest. Kirsty looked at her feet and staggered to keep her balance. If this continued too long then those secret might be found, and since they weren’t hers there was only one thing that she could do.
Without being told when by the Examiner she wasn’t sure if this plan would fail her. She let her mind slip toward the cat that had started taking up residence within her mind, wishing that it would work for a seal transformation. If she could, then she could get away that way while showing that she could transform.
Her thoughts did not slow, but they focused. They did not simplify, oh how she wished that they would, but the constant buzz of her mind did fade when the unimportant ones were left aside. Kirsty focused as hard as she could to speed it...if she got stuck here she could wind up part cat and need assistance regaining herself. Ms. Henn’s heckling and psychic pecking combined with the magically produced stimuli of the Examin-ation chamber constantly kept her away from her center and kept away the warm feeling of freely flowing magic.
Her bones burned. She tried to hold her focus and to relax, but it simply wasn’t happening. Every time she relaxed enough for the burn to ebb a bit, that infernal woman as at the lock. The winds of the sea storm raged and she heard her mother’s screams.
“It’s illusion.” Kirsty clamped more firmly on herself, keeping her head from turning toward the source. She felt her shifting bones and grimaced.
A green suckered arm reached up over the ship and slammed down just behind Ms. Henn. Kirsty’s eyes flung open at the sound to see the thick muscle curling to encompass them. Adrenaline pumped through her and she hissed, springing up. Getting away from that was now all that mattered, nevermind keeping Ms. Henn out of her deepest secrets.
She landed on the arm with all four paws, undershooting her target but unsheathing and driving her claws deep through the slimy hide. It smelled of squid and she sank her fangs as another arm wrapped around the ship. Kirsty shook her head for all she was worth to rip as big a chunk free as possible, since with this form she was unable to use her main defensive spells.
The blood and squid flesh tasted sweet to her, though she did not have the time to enjoy it. She released the squid and was leaping for the mast, climbing that as desperately as she had when David had chased her that first year. Ms. Henn’s mental assaults let up unnoticed by Kirsty, so focused she was on getting up to the crow’s nest of this generic and ever shifting ship.
Landing in the bottom of the basket she shifted back with slightly less difficulty, nearing the edge of how many times her stamina would likely allow her to shift. She barely remembered to pull her wand to hide the source of the spell and then unleashed a focused blast of water, trying desperately to pinpoint it enough to produce a blade to sever the arms that had materialized during her climb. Her breath was swift, her ears rang, she trembled. Bile rose in her mouth and scorched her esophagus.
The strike was partially good. Two of the three she targeted fell away with an earsplitting cry from the kraken. A shudder ran over her again and her heart felt as if it would explode.
Kirsty looked down more thoroughly. Ms. Henn was nowhere to be found. “Did it get her? Was Auntie right about being able to die during this test? What happens if the Examiner dies? I have to find her!”
She looked for her harder, hoping that perhaps Ms. Henn had just taken cover and would either end the test or help deal with the kraken...the storm was a separate issue. Against her better judgement she risked attracting the kraken’s attention and called out for her.
At least when her aunt had had her practicing to be ready for this, and had had David there to help if she got lost, she knew they were likely to be safe.
“I think that I’ve seen all that I need to.” The voice scratched and clucked irritably over the wind and wails.
The scene around her faded and the dim room returned. Kirsty landed hard, her knees buckling under her and then cracking against the floor. She curled up briefly around them, unable to stifle the initial cry of shock and pain, but managed to hold back the rest.
“You took far too long to transform. You’re lucky that you were not stuck longer halfway.” Ms. Henn’s pointed black leather booties came to the top of Kirsty’s vision, before she turned her head up. Ms. Henn’s eyes bored into her own, flashing angrily, “I don’t know if I should fail you on that, or pass you for the completeness of the change and swift thinking in heading for the high ground for your attack.”
“I was distracted,” Kirsty looked back down and admitted, not rising yet and chest still heaving. “I don’t like having my mind explored and pecked at like that.” She winced after realizing the word she’d used for the sensation.
“Hm... You did put up a rather good fight on that end, for a child with a long way to go.” Ms. Henn crossed her arms. “Perhaps you just earned a few extra points as well.”
Kirsty looked up, her eyes wide. “Why?”
Ms. Henn shook her head, unwilling to reveal what her transformation animal was. “It is just something that you said child. If you can get up, go to the book at the end of the room.”
Ms. Henn did not wait, nor did she help Kirsty up. She only moved toward the large black book on the stone podium that appeared when called, and picked up an ornate red quill.
Kirsty got to her feet shakily and pushed herself that way, refusing to show how queasy each step felt and unable to recall the last time the shift had been so hard on her. She eyed the book warily, her hair on her arms raising further, or would have if it could have. An oily vibe rolled off of the ledger, and Ms. Henn stroked it lightly.
“This registry goes back centuries and records some truly excellent wizards, sorcerers, magicians, witches, healers...and of course the stray warlock or two.” Ms. Henn smiled, it being just as oily. “It dates back to the first Ministry. Nearly everyone that has a shifting power is recorded here, and soon your name and passing will be as well.”
“Not everyone...” Kirsty thought, “Far too many selkies, kelpies, and faeries to record them all.”
The woman grabbed Kirsty’s hand and jabbed the tip of her quill into her finger. Kirsty tried to pull back, but was still too weak to manage it. The quill sucked up enough blood to fill itself and then Ms. Henn removed it from her finger. Kirsty popped it into her mouth and sucked wide eyed before holding her tongue tightly against the wound and humming a sublingual healing tone.
“Now, now. Big girls shouldn’t be sucking their booboos. You and your family are safe now, after all.” Ms. Henn clucked in satisfaction. Kirsty’s blood mingled with the ink that had already been loaded in the chamber and then flowed across the page with her details and the test results in a tidy but thorough summary.
“If any deities can hear me and act, please remove my blood from that infernal book. It’s Tainted.” Kirsty prayed, eying it. A faint ripple went through the room and a brief cool wisp of air settled onto her head, just the vaguest impression of a breeze under the moon, then was gone. She nodded her head lightly, feeling that at least she had been heard, and hoping her prayer would be granted.
“It doesn’t–” She started, then removed her finger from her mouth, “It doesn’t look that old. Even with preservation magic the books that are in the same age range tend to show more wear.”
Kirsty wished that she knew a spell to see through illusions, just in case it was a substitute. There were only the two choices. The original roll had been Tainted, which could be dangerous for any known shifter, or it was a fake.
“Don’t be silly.” Ms. Henn finished the final word with a flourish and a jabbed dot of satisfaction. “The only time this is handled is when the list must be consulted for Witch Trials if a shifter gets to the highest court for crimes related. This links to copies that see more every day handling and updates them when it is updated. Your name, of course, stays sealed until you are of age.”
Ms. Henn blew over the ink to dry it and then closed it. The whole affair disappeared: podium, ledger, quill, ink pot, and all. She then ushered Kirsty to the door, undid the chains, and Kirsty emerged again to the light.
A clock that had previously gone unnoticed presented itself in her peripheral vision as Professor MacLeòmhann squeezed the air from her and irritated already abused bones. It read five o’clock. “You were gone so long, I was worried. I tried to get through the door after the first several hours, but the locks...” She squdged Kirsty again.
“Yes, I made them self-healing and self-relocking after the last student of yours that was registered.” I couldn’t have you barging in to save someone at a crucial last moment in their Examination, now could I?” Ms. Henn smiled, showing her teeth even though no warmth touched her eyes. “That boy really did deserve to die for the things he said about our government.”
“No one deserves to die for questioning logic and methods. Since Miss Makay is here and well I assume that the Examination is over, and I have total faith that she passed, so register her and we’ll be on our way.”
“Oh yes, she did pass, and put up a very good attempt to keep me from using her fears and keeping me out of private things while not letting the scenario she made kill her.” Ms. Henn scratched at the top of her left hand, then made her way to a cabinet. She drew out a glass and poured a thick liquid from a decanter, keeping her body between them and it. After checking to make sure she had as much as she needed she quaffed it before continuing. “Miss Makay I have already taken the liberty of recording, so you are free to go. I’m sure you can show yourselves out. I must...rest now after such an ordeal.”
When Ms. Henn turned around she kept her hand hidden. This time the smile was somehow toothier.
“Of course.” Professor MacLeòmhann nodded her head, her own smile not reaching her eyes. “Thank you for your time, Ms. Henn.”
She guided Kirsty firmly out of the room, and shushed her in the hall when Kirsty opened her mouth to ask a question. The clerk in the entry of the department was gone by the time that they got there, and they continued on. Each moment that Kirsty could not ask about the odd feeling stretched three times as long as she thought it ought. They were at least walking away from whatever was in the Department of Myths.
The bus ride was just as bad and everything crashed around like a ship in a high storm. Before Kirsty could ask about what had been off, and before Hyacinth could even finish her greeting, Professor MacLeòmhann marched to the tea nook and took the last of what was hot, quaffing it without sugar.
“I suppose things over in Myths are worse by that, or Kirsty failed. What happened, and should I get Finnol first?” Hyacinth’s question barely registered on Belara, who gave a short start after a moment.
“Oh? Yes. Yes go get Finnol if he’s free now.” Belara sighed and looked contemplatively at the teapot before making a gesture to begin more.
Hyacinth nodded and then went down the hall toward Finnol’s office.
“So...can I ask now what was wrong with that lady and that place? She was really...” Kirsty faded, trying but unable to think of a word that adequately conveyed what she needed.
“I’m not sure what happened, but Ms. Henn was more adversarial than usual. The recording is usually done in front of the sponsoring teacher,” the professor tapped her fingers together thoughtfully. “I am not convinced that really was Ms. Henn, but I don’t have any proof.”
“Is is usual to sign with my blood?” Kirsty stepped closer, getting a cup herself while keeping track of how long until the fresh tea could be poured. “I wasn’t prepared for that, especially not with the other uses of my blood.”
“No.” The single word dropped like a cannonball. MacLeòmhann looked sternly at her. “I hope you didn’t let her. Blood is not required for the registry.”
“Well, I didn’t let her. It was more like she stole it with a strange quill and mixed it with ink. It was harder to stop the bloodflow than usual after she pricked me, and she seemed especially pleased about having my blood and the book.”
“Hmm..” The tea poured itself while her aunt mused.
Kirsty added sugar, continuing when it became obvious the professor was giving her space to. “There was something oily about it, and her, and the book. A definite taint, but the source was from somewhere else.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me. There have been many taints in the whole Ministry, and not just that one. They all are.” Finnol’s tone was stern and cold, measured as if he was restraining himself from going straight to the Ministry Overlap and razing the place. He had been in a fine mood after finishing the earlier conference, and then getting notification from one of their contacts that the poachers he had been pursuing had been caught in the act...by the Sea Shepherd ship at that. The irony had pleased him. This latest news about the Ministry’s corruption spreading caused his happiness to evaporate like summer mist. “I heard what you said down the hall about the blood as well. I think you forgot that this place is designed to carry whispers to office heads’ ears as we’re out and about?”
Kirsty’s heart thudded and then stopped, then her head drooped. “Sorry Da’. I couldn’t wait till you got here and we really needed the tea...”
Finnol shook his head and came to wrap his arms around her. “No, I’m the one that’s sorry that work kept me from being able to go with you for this, even if I were relegated to wait somewhere.”
“Your work’s important Da’.” Kirsty wrapped the arm that didn’t have the tea in it around him and let his chest take the weight of her head. “How else is the Order going to have the contacts it needs, or the Fisheries Department going to get the public stuff done?”
Finnol made a frustrated sound and held her tight for a moment, resting his forehead on her head and closing his eyes. “I’d leave it if I could, you know.”
“I know Da’, but then Mara would be angry with you, and who would do all the things among the Cowan that you take care of?” she rephrased her statement, making sure to dig in with her point. Yes it hurt, but she had no idea what like would be like if the previous head hadn’t worked so hard. She couldn’t be selfish about her Da’ then, since his work meant a better world for her pups...should she have any.
Finnol smiled slightly. “Anyone can do it. But I’m more worried about your blood being in potential enemy hands. Blood magic is usually dark and powerful. Few witches do with it what the Ladies have their Priestesses do.” Finnol mused, “In a way, I wish your school taught more about Dark Arts than just defense courses. Then at least you would be as prepared as Schneiengert’s.”
“As am I.” Belara reached for more tea, having drained her cup already. “You know very well why the how of those arts are not taught at Carrick though young man.” The professor glared at him over her tea, brows drawn down and lips tight. “You shouldn’t speak that way in front of Kirstin.”
“Is it really dark if it’s not taken to a dark place?” Kirsty couldn’t resist asking. “Is what I do dark?”
“No, chailín, what you do and will do keeps things tied, even though I don’t like it for either of my girls. How can it be dark unless you make it so?” Finnol reassured her, stroking lightly.
“So what do we do about Henn having my blood, and the maybe fake book?” She worried her lower lip, trying to figure out what the most dangerous use might be. “I asked any listening deities to get my blood out of there. I got a sign I was heard too, though I’m not sure who it was from.”
“I can get espionage to look into the book, maybe I can pull a few strings...unless the Lilitus are involved.” Finnol thought and rubbed his forehead and sank into a chair. It was rather painfully obvious to him that he wouldn’t get aunt or daughter away from the tea. He wished hard for a glass of Scotch, but was not desperate enough to conjure himself one. Seeing the woman who had raised him in such a state as to suck the tea so swiftly threatened to send him mentally back to the paralysis that had come with the lost of his first child.
Hyacinth had come to a similar conclusion and locked the door. It was long past normal business hours anyway. If anyone of the Order came for some reason then they could always be let in.
“Be careful about how much faith you place in them. They act when it serves them to, Kirsty. Remember Mara can only come aground under certain circumstances, the Lady has lost much, and anyone else...” Finnol trailed off with a grimace. “As blessed as we are...” He sighed and crossed his arms. How could he continue when every way he could think of what he was trying to say would only invite wrath? He’d not traded his father’s skin to preserve his youngest’s life just for this.
“I understand Da’...” Kirsty put her cup down and sat on his knee carefully, trying not to rest too much weight on him. “So what should I do?”
“Pray that whatever I come up with works.” He quirked his lips up and to the right bitterly, patting her knee. “And concentrate on getting through the last half of the year so you can do your sea trial.”
“What we come up with Finnol Makay.” Professor MacLeòmhann’s voice pressed down on them as sharply as a ruler rapping recalcitrant knuckles. “You’re a part of the Order, we’ve all got concerns with everyone staying alive and unBound, including those that will be its future.”
Hyacinth nodded, “I think Etain might have wanted me to smack you for acting like its all on your shoulders.”
Finnol sighed. “Right then. Guess we call a meeting, and sort out getting Kirsty back to the school where she’ll be safe.”
Kirsty snorted, wondering if there would ever come a time where it didn’t come back to being seen as an object in some convoluted fashion. Did other mixed blood kids have this problem? In irritation she shifted into cat form and curled up in his lap.
The adults would want to talk. They would of course want to exclude her from these discussions even though it was her blood in question. Kirsty knew they cared and only wanted to protect her so that she could focus. David certainly would have looked at her more as a person when coming to the thought of protecting her, and not a tiny pup unable to defend herself.
As a cat these thoughts simplified somewhat. Kirsty took some satisfaction on the amount of long white hairs that were surely going to be clinging to her father’s pants.
Be watching for book two
Selkies’ Skins: Temple and Skinquest
Will Etain come home? Will Kirsty survive the second part of her trials? If so will she return to land?
I intend to take a break for a month or two in order to generate more of a backlog to post from, as well as to deal with some issues such as spending time with the kids. When I begin to post it will still be findable under the selkies' skins tag, as well as its own tag.
Thank you for reading along with the webnovel version of this book. This also exists in print (hardcover and paperback) and various ebook formats. An audiobook is expected to be released late this year or sometime next year, depending on how quickly the narrator is able to finish with his many responsibilities.