Book one (Castle and Well) of Selkies' Skins is available in entirety in ebook format as of March 16th, beginning at Smashwords. The print edition is now available on Amazon and Lulu with Samantha Buckley's stunning cover depicting Kirsty and the storm, and an audio edition is currently being narrated by Illya Leonov, currently working with the Glossary and has finished Chapter 39 (click to hear what he sounds like in past recordings of other projects).
And now to begin the webserial for "Selkies' Skins: Temple and Skinquest."
Selkies' Skins 2
Section 1: DescentInstallment 4Chapter 2 part 2
Section 1: Descent
Kirsty inhaled the scent of the forest deeply and listened as snow and pine needles crunched underfoot, listening to the soothing sound of the Defense professor's voice and the rustles of the wind high above the trees. The wind, so high above that it didn't stir any of the students' robs, sounded to her as the scales of a dragon far longer than Urma sliding over the treetops. She entertained the idea of Urma dallying in the forest, but knew that she'd have long since returned to her northern home and David's father.
“Stay to the path and be especially polite to the trees children. It is a rare thing for the centaurs to allow a look at them. Remember your promises.” Professor Gerwulf's voice prevented a Spiralis student from touching the thick bole that had caught his attention.
Kirsty looked over her shoulder and past David to see which of them it had been that had pricked his senses. David shook his head, and after she had seen that the student had indeed listened to the professor she turned her eyes back to the path before her. Rustles now and then sounded, very rarely, off to the sides. Whether anyone other than she, David, and the professor heard them she did not know. All she knew was that they likely were being watched on their approach.
After a long hike the pressing sides of the forest drew back to reveal a clearing. Bars of sunlight streamed down like the water flowing in the creek that passed alongside. Bushes frothed around the edge of the clearing, sparser in some areas where paths could barely be seen. The clearing itself was perfectly circular, the thick boles of the trees straight and reaching for the sky. The trees gave evidence of having been carefully place and not just a product of chance.
Imp bounced excitedly on her shoulder below her hair and giggled audibly enough for both Kirsty and David to hear. “Splash! Funny memories.”
David exhaled and shook his head, an almost memory picking at the edges of his awareness of his first encounter with Imp. For some reason he'd avoided this particular creek every month since in his moontime, even with Imp being with Kirsty.
Kirsty brought her hand up to stop Imp's jumping, turning her body a bit toward David to mask it being an unusual movement. “Shush. Tell us later.” The words barely moved further than her lips, but Imp heard. The waterspirit settled.
The students bunched into the space, despite how large the clearing actually was. A pit was in the center, unlit but prepared. The pale professor smiled wanly, growing tired the closer to the full the moon came again. His dark hair hung limp, the silver streak laying beside his face as if still freshly gained, though it truly had only been a matter of months.
Morvan looked around with a sneer, his pale hair light by one of the reaching rays impregnating the clearing. “I thought you said we were hear to learn about the forest's spirits. I see no spirits.”
Professor Gerwulf smiled and gave a silent laugh, short as a sparrow wing, with a tiny toss of the head. His eyes traveled further away from the cocky youth and to the pit. Slowly he kneeled down and laid on the nine small logs that waited around it, each a different type. “First you have to discard that, or they will only glare from the shadows and be dark. Welcome them as equals or teachers, and the experience changes. Class, please sit around the circle.”
The professor gestured serenely, and around the firepit the grasses grew, softened, and clumped. Most of the students settled, bemused. Professor Gerwulf made no move to light the logs and stayed on his haunches instead, listening, waiting. Kirsty slipped her hand into David's and shot him a shy smile. He smiled in return and helped her settle, causing her to blush and to raise her eyebrows, having hoped they would sit as one on the hummock.
“Wait...as one? When did that-?” She thought, then shushed herself.
David sat next to her, visibly relaxed but still paying close attention, listening as well. The more still the students became, the more the sounds and calls of the forest resumed. Morvan settled grudgingly and the professor's teeth showed in a brief flash before his smiled slipped back away.
Ally's red hair leaned and spilled over Thomas' shoulder while Nevin tried to help the pale Diana get comfortable. Even Morvan's soft side allowed itself to be seen as he gave Maldein the softer clump beside him and spread his own robe to protect hers from grass stains. One of the sunbeams began to focus and slide toward the wood, but the professor still continued to make no move to light it.
“Aren't we lighting it, professor?” Morvan's voice poked a finger into the fabric of content silence that was being woven.
The professor merely lifed a hand in answer. David looked to the north and into the forest, though there had been no sound that Kirsty had heard.
A voice, deep and strong with a somehow equine quality that made Kirsty think of Byron spoke from the direction David had looked in. It was still shrouded in forest shadow. “Because if human hands light a fire here with their tools it will weaken the forest we have grown. The spirits will leave, the animals dwindle, the borders no longer shield the unicorns, and the streams and loch will be thrown off balance. We would rather avoid having to call on certain types of magic users whose numbers have been forced to dwindle as much as our own.”
The centaur stepped out of the shadows, his body lean in the way of runners and his brunette hair caught back with a twine braided of some thin vine. His eyes flicked and met briefly with Kirsty's, a swift nod barely manifesting before he met David's gaze. No other students had their eyes graced with the eyes of new-growth green that showed only forest and flower in the way of the unicorns. Instead he settled warily beside the professor and pulled a quartz crystal from the pouch slung at his waist. This he used to catch the light and direct it to the center of the crossed wood. It began to smolder and then caught, releasing twisting, curling smoke tendrils to dance clockwise swirls up around the sunbeam.
“They don't like your kind much since it is your people that usurped their power for yourselves and locked it away, and made deities weary of this world.” He continued, putting the crystal away. “Count yourselves lucky that Professor Gerwulf has gained our respect enough to grant the ability to teach this lesson within one of our circles and from something besides dead paper, human foals.”
Morvan opened his mouth, but did not make his retort when the centaur turned his gaze from the fire to the boy's eyes. The equine challenged the lad, stared him down, and when Morvan drew back he lifted on side of his lip to reveal starlight white teeth that still refused to show the wear of his diet, despite his mid-age.
“Renovan is correct about all of it, don't doubt him. It is not something the powers that be particularly want you all to know about. You should at least hear of it though.” The professor sighed. “Our kind has done much to upset the world, but if we learn respect we can let it come back and still be safe.”
The sun moved on and the light began to fade until the fire provided the main light despite the time of day. The professor opened the pack he had carried and set out bread, milk, and honey in depressions on the stones of the pit.
The centaur smiled at the professor's actions and nodded. Renovan reached into his pouch again and withdrew a wooden flute. He lifted it to his mouth, preparing to play, then paused. “Perhaps the unicorn tamer would provide some mouthmusic. They like that.”
He began to play a few bars of a growth song while Kirsty blushed and nodded, listening to the tune carefully.
Maldein sputtered in her place beside Morvan, leaning toward his ear. “Why didn't he ask me? I sing too.”
Morvan patted her arm and leaned toward her. “Poor taste dear. The horse has not heard you sing.”
Renovan's eyes flashed and he stamped his left rear leg, yet he did not stop playing.
“Oh no.” The professor smiled, overhearing the exchange with the usual ease that made him unpopular with some of the less behaved students. “Renovan has. He pays close attention to what is in hearing distance of the forest edge. Maldein simply has not done anything with her voice he deems worthy.”
Maldein sniffed and lifted her pointed nose, crossing her arms. The professor shook his head sadly before turning his gaze to the forest. Morvan put an arm around Maldein and glared at both the professor and David as if it was their fault Kirsty had been chosen instead.
Kirsty missed the exchange, hyperfocusing on the music. Her world focused instead on the importance of learning the song being imparted. There was no other reason that the centaur would have invited her to help with it.
Thank you for reading along with the webnovel version of this book. After three installments have been posted I will be able to open an entry at Top Web Fiction for this particular book in the series.