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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 full story is selkies' skins and the tag for "Temple and Skinquest" is selkies' skins 2.

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. Aan audio edition of the first book in the series narrated by Illya Leonov and now available on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible, with other venues pending. (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: Descent
Installment 9
Chapter 5
Black Swallower

 Kirsty made her way through the waters, following the tugs and pulls further and further from the shore, plunging ever deeper into the abyss. She still wasn't sure what to think about the mishmash of fish and seal features the crystal long dispersed through her cells insisted on giving her for this quest, but she was glad of not having to return periodically to the surface for air. She knew that she should have been without what the Lady had implanted and without Byron there to make the water breathable for her.

Her senses picked up far more than she thought she would, far more than they had even back at the loch beside Castle Carrick. That had been distracting enough. Here she nearly could feel each individual heartbeat of any creature for leagues, if she let herself. It was worse than the Feasting Hall on Samhain night after everyone was hyped up on sugars. The only thing she could compare the figurative energetic din to, even with how spread out most of the life was, was being trapped in a major sporting event with no hope of finding a quiet corner for a read or a cuddle.

Then again, Kirsty admitted to herself, she was withdrawing more and more from nearly everyone.

After what seemed to be eons of swimming it dawned on her that she would need to eat soon. How many nautical miles was she from shore? She tried to sense it, but there was no sense of where shore was.

When I went through Mara's gate, did the whole world become the sea?” She mused to herself, floating a moment to rest her aching tail. Her attention was drawn to a school of fish, her stomach taking back over her most immediate concerns.

Silver they flashed, glowing a bit with soft green light, and though she had thought she'd known most of the fish species already thanks to her father's droning on about them at dinner so often she could not identify these. Still, she chased them. Her stomach demanded it. The more she let her gaze fall on these fish, the less hungry she became and the more she desired to simply float and watch them.

Here was danger; here was distraction. Kirsty, Seaswimmer, steeled herself against the beauty. Perhaps these weren't even fish. Perhaps these were some of the illusions and distractions that the Book of Seals had whispered to her about...on a long ago night that she had yet to live for herself.

Kirsty shook her head, her vision briefly flashing back to distant halls and a familiar face that caused her to blush, though she could not hear what he was so avidly discussing with her, or the sound of his laughter. Then the flash was gone, and her focus was again on this point in time, this now which she had willingly sent herself to live out. No, she would not fall prey to such as this. Her forebears had not, so she must not. Her hunger returned, both of soul and of more physical varieties. She had to finish so that she could return to him even if David didn't know she was currently gone...or knew she was partially gone...or...

Her head ached as it tried again to grasp and make sense of two time-realities at once. Perhaps she shouldn't have gone through the portal the Lintel Examiners offered.

Lord Hearn, if your realm does extend into the sea as my family believes, I hope that I can find something proper to hunt to eat that would be pleasing to you, that I not inadvertently offend you in my need to feed myself. Lady Mara, if the hunting of the seas is your realm alone as some believe it, then I ask that if keeping myself fed is indeed considered part of this quest for myself and my skin, that only those things worthy of being hunted for my feed be what lies in my path.” Kirsty prayed internally, knowing full well that the sincerity from her heart would magnify the prayer far better than her voice. A shred of doubt tickled the back of mer mind that perhaps she should have voiced the prayer anyway, somehow sung it, but the fish she gazed on were somehow too beautiful to risk startling.

These are not food.” The knowledge sang through her, blood and bone, louder and louder. “Not for me anyway. Not good for selkies.” Kirsty firmly reminded herself and swam on, ripping her eyes from the hypnotic flashing creatures.

Several sets of eyes watched her from their own realms and places. Mara smiled a little, a touch of her ancient warmth coming back, caught between realms herself. The thoughts of her distant progeny were always amusing, although she often felt an irritating and equally ancient pain in her heart whenever Kirsten's thoughts touched long on Herne's young Hound.

“Troublesome and yet beautiful.” Mara murmured to herself and the large white narwhal slipping slowly around the cavernous chamber. “The longer that passes, the stronger the bond, and the more strength it seems to give either of them when needed.” She sighed. “Troublesome, but it does give some hope, Compánach.”

The whale answered back in song, undulating in long sways and contributing to the sea's cycles.

“Yes, it has been a long time indeed for me.” Mara's eyes looked back into the gazing bowl, smiling bitterly. “I've given up on it.”

The whale brushed past Mara, and she leaned into his caress as he passed. Compánach crooned softly for her, a gentle reminder of being more than what the others saw.

“My old function was forgotten long ago...you know that, and mostly sealed when sister lost her name to that Changeling...” Mara put her arms around the whale in a hug as it continued to slip by. “As bitter as this is for me, it gives me hope though that one day someone will remember.”

The whale continued to sing, both for his mother-mistress and for his mate outside where she took care of their calf...even though he wasn't fully convinced it was truly his and that the moon deity that spent one night a month in Mara's temple with her had not been involved somehow. The thought of Ven'thrith leaked into his song though and Mara's grip tightened as her breath hitched.

“It's another two weeks until he visits, and he is as wild as Herne in his own way, who visits less.” Mara pressed her lips together and let go, walking over to the stone box raised on the coral altar. “I can't hope for either, or any.”

The seaweed curtains blew lightly in the current as she stroked the box and sang softly over it to the soul skins folded and kept carefully inside. Mara lifted the lid and reached in to stroke each of the unborn and waiting to be reborn sealskins.

Kirsty drifted on the current, saving her strength and letting the frigid waters carry her faster than she could swim. How far she had gone and whether her mental map of the seas was accurate anymore – or the correct one – she was no longer sure. The fire ran in her blood, her bones, her breath. Here it was dark, and she saw not with her eyes, but her mental senses, twitching whiskers, and the tentacles of her hair.

There was too much dark. She always found things at the edges of her senses. These same hulks were always gone by the time she came in range, so she had let the witchfire die on her fingers, but kept hold to the water. It, at least, spoke. It was an ancient language beyond her ken, but it always spoke.

A million years crawled by and ach moment intensified twin yearnings. Her skin ached for a proper cover and edges of her soul reached, turning arms toward Mara – she had a lock on the deity's energy. Meanwhile a steady fire glowed in her heart, lighting her interior, coiling in vast spaces she wasn't aware she had, and her hand often slipped into her sporran to finger the plastic encased poppets from Ally.

Her thoughts painted a picture of herself on a beach, older nd in a white dress covered with shells and pearls that tinkled and sang with each breath, shrouded in a starfish and shell weighted wedding net. David stood waiting with others, one a young man she didn't recognize but felt that she should. David's garb was in th same style as hers, but forest colors, moon colors, and to her eye both the noble knight and canny hunter.

There was a priestess, but she was shrouded in black. Though Mara stood near to David, red ribbon in hand and seemingly unseen, she stayed far from the priestess.

Why would she avoid her vessel?” Kirsty thought to herself. “Shouldn't she be nearer her?”

Kirsty's thoughts abruptly sheared off and the vision dissipated. Movement in the water tingled and tickled, her whiskers twitching. Reaching out with her mind, a dark swirl arrowed toward her. She cursed at herself for not staying in the present and letting wishful thinking distract her. True foreseeing or not, it wouldn't happen if she wound up in the belly of something. The water continued its whispering.

It came at her crosswise, entering the current upstream and to the right, barreling toward her. Whatever it was felt large, and when she turned she brought back the glow. The fire within, which was not her own, uncoiled and raised its head to watch. The power that was her own unfurled fully with the snapping of sails dropping and instantly snapping full of wind. She wasn't a schooner, but for a brief moment she felt like one as she met her adversary.

Long and lean, it could have been a sea serpent. Large lidless eyes held a permanent malevolent stare and fixed on her. Her own eyes locked with his – it was definitely male. Long tooth-ridden jaws gaped wide as it prepared to snap her tiny frail form up.

“Not today.” Eched through her as she flared.

Water boiled forth from her hands and she drew it from the geothermal vents through the strange doorway she had used within herself before. The force of the current carrying the black swallower overcame her attack.

Kirsty propelled herself to the side when she saw her attack not phasing her attacker. Time stretched in ridiculous ways as she twisted, her body buzzing and mind grappling for a solution. Teeth clashed just at the end of her tail, taking flesh...the ends of her toes she was sure..with them. The black swallower's flashing scales slid past, carrying the nightmare eye with them.

It twisted in the current and stroked for her, using the momentum to power the turn. She thickened the water, called up her shield. An idea sparked in her mind and she tried to create lightning to lace the field as Nightfish's elder brother had called lightning against her during his long ago attack... The lightning fought her, wanted to travel all the way through the water, uncaring for the reason of its birth. Unknown to her, Kirsty's eyes glowed and the source played in her hands. She prevailed though, the lightning itself arched and sparked in the shield and then spread along the fish when it contacted.

The drain on Kirsty increased as the lightning continued coursing through, then eased as it managed to withdraw.

The swallower's eyes were no longer clear, but still held their hungered malignancy. Large white star shaped cataracts now covered the sightless eyes, and where the stars were not lurked a milky blue. It shook itself, languid, and snapped tiredly but with all the annoyance of a platoon after an overlong march in a downpour.

Kirsty dismantled the lightning cautiously, keeping it under control was too much effort as it twisted and turned. She flexed her fingers, still not drawing her wand. It was a witness for this, not an allowed tool. Her fingers burned underneath her claws, a dull fire aching for flesh to spread into.

The sightless fish cast about for her, trying to find her by basis of her heat. He struck again and Kirsty lunged forward. She didn't have a spear yet, so she did the first thing instinct called up. She aimed for one of the great eyes with her claws, swinging, intending to drive past the eye and into the brain. The eye ruptured beneath her drive, and she tried not to think of how much it felt like she was within a giant pulsing grape. The burning spread down her nail beds, then eased as if pulled out. Below her the great fish snapped and flailed, and if it had vocal cords would have creeled like a sea serpent. Kirsty pulled her hand back and tried again, hoping to get past the eye to the brain...if she could short circuit it... The witchfire, selkiefire, whichever it was, sprang to life. Heat licked her fingers, though it was normally cool and soft. It was not enough though, she knew it as she pulled her hand back yet again.

What can I do... I'm a wee small to kill this outright without using my wand... If only I had a spear...” She clung and looked down the length, unwilling to let go and change it swallowing her after all.

Swallow...maybe...Ouroboros?” Kirsty let go and let the giant fish slide past her, grasping at the tail. The fin bit into her, cutting with the serrated edges into the relatively still soft palm and the salt stinging. “Here I am you great ugly thing! Tasty little selkie off your stern!” She bit its tail for a further taunt, her teeth ripping through the hardened parchment of it.

The great fish turned on itself as she'd hoped, and she waited for just the right moment to release. The current carried her, but she kicked to go faster with it. The arrowed head slid past and the jaws gaped, taking the tail into that darkness. Kirsty grimaced as she watched it begin to swallow itself, believing it had its prey, too hungry and confused and in pain not to notice what it was really eating.

I can't let it die quite like that...” She thought, bringing herself back around to face it better and trying to find some way in her current power to kill it cleanly.

Kirsty dug through her sporran frantically for some sort of tool, at least finding the stone knife. The silver one had come to hand first, waiting on the top eagerly as if thirsty. However she wanted to keep her potionry knife strictly for potions use. A quiet part of herself spoke of remembering to take samples of parts likely to be useful for potions. After several times of the silver knife slipping itself into her hand she finally got her fingers around the hilt of the stone blade.

A slice, well placed now that she was not being attacked, and the light left its eyes swifter. Kirsty felt ill at having killed it now that it couldn't hurt her, but to have left it like that..she shuddered at the thought of the mental and spiritual stain. As is drifted through the current she used the silver knife to take samples, stowing these in vials and bags, then searching for anything that seemed like it would be an edible flesh for her. This proved a fruitless search and her stomach only growled in frustration before she gave a call to any nearby sharks. Mara's children, at the least, would see it did not go to waste.

 

Thank you for reading along with the webnovel version of this book. This has gone up on the Web Fiction Guide, so reviews of the current story developing are welcome, as are votes.

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As always, if you see any typos, please let me know so I can fix those, they don't always save when applied. Thank you for being part of the story behind the story. >.>


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