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. An 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. He is currently working on "Book of Seals: Pearls of Sea and Stone" which accompanies and precedes' Skins: Castle and Well. (click to hear what he sounds like in past recordings of other projects)
So... this chapter went much differently than I originally expected it to. Sorry Vadkun, that is part of what took so long. You know how Justin are Kirsty are though...
Selkies' Skins 2
Section 1: DescentInstallment 15Chapter 7 part 2
Section 1: Descent
Raechel moved when she saw her curse deflected. How could the Finman dare interfere in her affairs as he did? She fought against the strains of magic in the music trying to pacify her. What purpose would he want the initiate for? Did he want her power for himself? Is that why Seaswimmer so suddenly pulled rune weapons from the music? How was it even possible?
“Music.” Yes, the strength would also be a weakness. Now if she could get at the lad’s pipe she would have his power. She would not break it though. No, she would play the pipe instead and have others under her thrall. She knew how they hunted the shores. If the pipe was anything like her skin then not only would she be able to claim its magic but she would also gain a minion.
Her course changed and carried her for the finman now. Starting first for Kirsty surely would have set both off guard for such a move.
Justin tried to move out of the way as the dark priestess began to move his way, the notes of the song breaking off. One hand moved to stow his pipe in his pouch, the other raised to defend himself. His spear moved itself from the crook of his elbow where it had rested while he played into his hand, reacting to his need. The wood sparked, there was a dark gleam on his spear's tip.
Kirsty frowned, trying to make sense of the situation. What looked to be a Mara priestess had just tried to curse her, presumably to death by how hot the shield was. It growled still at her arm. It would have made more sense if the attack had been against the finman like seemed to be happening now. So why was it hurled instead at her? She hadn't startled the elder priestess, as far as she could tell, she'd been here first. The dark on had come on her and possibly saved her life.
Why had the abomination given her exactly what she needed to defend herself? Was this one of the tests? Perhaps a test of character?
“Worst. Test. Ever.” She thought.
Kirsty let the other selkie and the finman collide and stood ready to deal with whatever the outcome was going to be. She watched as they tangled and wrestled and the magics that they wielded discharged. Alternating waves of rage and guilt washed through her as her muscles tensed, and then loosened, only to tense again. The vials of the Ladies’ Waters roiled inside her sporran and the wand tucked away crackled and screeled in protest to the vortex forming as the energies tangled in the water that had only been partially healed due to the interruption of her process.
Somehow in all this Justin managed to put his soulpipe back in his pouch securely. Who knew what force guided it, but the force was strong. Spear deflected spear and got forced away and his world was a whirl of muscle and determination centered on the darkly clouded eyes locked on his own. Her will pressed into him just as much as his instinctual struggles. The runes etched into his arms and body by the Jarl’s poisons burned, and within those eyes he saw clouds of the Will of Astereth, and this too reached for him.
The clouds connected with something in his mind and he heard the whispers of the Dark One pulling at all the hard work that he and Amehana had done on his soul. The song tempted him... Wait, songs was more accurate as the Tainted Priestess was using her voice magic in addition to what Astereth’s Influence was doing. It would be so easy to give in, and the song Astereth wove promised him either release or a wife. The Tainted Priestess, what he’d seen of her, had been attractive. Did Astereth mean the temporary vessel he was touching?
No. It was never so easy. He also remembered the old dragoness showing him in a past dream part of some of her travails, showing him that his predicament would not carry forever if he had faith and held onto himself. He could nearly hear the hissed words before the mirror she’d showed him in. Justin even had the strange sense that his dream mentor was watching from whatever place her home really was in. Justin couldn’t let her down, even if she sometimes had more faith in him than he had in himself, possibly because of that.
Such thoughts passed quickly as a spark, igniting his will once more. He dared to fight back, to press back. He felt somehow, he wasn’t certain how, for a weakness in the magical force bearing down on him, just as he twisted to try to let past the physical. A shape flashed in his mind. Before he could even fully see what rune he had managed to invoke it was gone, but there was an exploding force between she and he, and the water tasted of a summer storm’s acrid electric burn.
A shriek of rage and Raechel was gone, swift as tailfin would drive her. Justin was on his back, and he could taste blood on the water. When had the Spear of Mara, such that blade had to have been with a burn as bad as that of poison-treated Finsper spears, managed to taste his flesh? Justin’s eyes, once he had collected wits enough, turned toward where he remembered his quarry to have been.
Kirsty, Seaswimmer, still held the spear of Laguz and shield of Gifu. Storm-sea eyes regarded him as warily as he did her, turning again in the direction Raechel had gone, and then back to him. Slowly, the half-breed abomination approached him. The spear he had unwittingly given her lowered to his heart, and her face was as impassive as the Cailleach. Indeed, his senses prickled at the feeling of many unseen eyes watching.
“I have failed then.” The thought flitted swiftly, unvoiced, through his mind.
Kirsty merely gazed into the finman’s eyes as the cold settled over her. She too felt the eyes, and she pressed firmer. The words of the song-spell that came were not fully her own. “Talk, finman. Tell me no lies.
If you do, I’ll give you to the skies
Strung on the nearest tree I can get
To dry, become fodder, lest ye forget.”
Justin pressed his lips together. “What do you want to know, Flotsam?”
Kirsty didn’t flinch at the insult. “What did you come for? Not that I am not grateful for a weapon and a shield. It came in handy, even though I don’t know why what is supposed to be a sister hurls a curse at me.”
“To catch you, same thing as the last we met.” There was an insistent pulling, and he could feel his flute squirm as the spell the seawench had cast on him brought the answer out. “Astereth and the Jarl want you. Something about you.”
“Like I’m something special.” Kirsty snorted at him. “What do you know about the other one?”
“Not much other than she’s one scary feeling völvr, and that she’s rather obviously Tainted. I’ve never known a priestess to attack an initiate, I’m pretty certain they don’t do things at that level of dedication. Any clue why I’m the one apparently saving you?” Justin retorted, his nose wrinkling and teeth baring.
“I’m the one asking the questions, in case you’ve not noticed the pointy stick you so helpfully gave me.” Kirsty growled. She wanted to press it harder, but couldn’t quite bring herself to for some reason. So she twisted instead and grinned a little at the brief flickers in the finman’s eyes. “Your guess is as good as mine though, Piper.”
“Name’s ‘Tin, not Piper. Piper is a girl’s name.” Justin glared into her eyes. “I am certainly not female.” He involuntarily flexed and puffed, then deflated a bit when the puffing resulted in more pressure from the spear.
“Charming. I put up with enough of that nonsense at school.” Kirsty wrinkled her nose, being reminded by that simple move about how she liked that David didn’t act that way. “Nice to know it extends under the sea too.”
Justin glared up at Kirsty. “I could say that right now you’re making the meanest of our women look pretty welcoming right now. Oh, but I just did. Skinless selkies are so well known for their aggression that rivals our own.” The urge to say increasingly stupid things boiled in his brain, confusing him even more. She was prey, but hadn’t he been concerned for her just a moment ago? Maybe he could at least use the stupid things to distract her enough that he could get the spear away from her and salvage the operation.
Kirsty’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “Oh, you almost got me. Nice try. Morvan uses this tactic on me whenever he can. So why does your Jarl want me, and Astereth?” The face that looked down on him now showed Mara’s heritage, but also that of another deity now. “Tell me all you know... then... try piping it for me.” Kirsty blinked at her own requested, dazed and confused as she removed the speartip from the finman’s chest.
Justin blinked both sets of eyelids and carefully sat up when the point’s pressure was removed, touching his chest where Lagu had cut him. He rubbed that blood between his fingers and then applied it to the wound he’d gotten from Mara’s spear. He stared when the initiate sat beside him.
“What? I’m not cruel. I admittedly hate all finmen and wish you all dead and all your Finsperian child eating ways along with you for all that your kind has done for generations, but you’re under a geas. I think I am too right now, actually. So we talk.” Kirsty made sure that Gifu was between them to further impair his ability to try getting the spear.
Justin sighed. “Right then. I don’t really know much. I have to steal what knowledge I can get because the Jarls are all so convinced that if everyone had magic they wouldn’t be able to control us. That’s fairly well known stuff.” He watched Kirsty nodding, taking that as a sign that even she knew it despite her lowly land-dwelling position. He pulled his pipe out of his pouch thoughtfully, looking down at its luster while turning it in his fingers. “I’m pretty certain our Jarl has some sort of deal with Astereth, thus why he wants you so much. I’m supposed to either break you, or bring you back. Definitely adamant about spoiling you for Mara.”
“Some part of you doesn’t want to?” Kirsty watched his body language as carefully as she tasted the waters around them, annoyed that she couldn’t catch his eye.
“Well, it seems rather strange to me. One family? Hunt them to extinction if possible? What’s the use in that? Sure we hunt others too, we have to eat. But this rivalry between deities?” Justin looked at her finally. It burbled before he could stop it, pulled by some unseen questioning force. “Not all of us follow the Dark One. One of our Seidhermen prefers Mara.”
Kirsty could feel as her myriad thoughtlines all crashed painfully into a stone wall, even though she wasn’t sure exactly where that figurative all would be. It took a moment to pick up the pieces. “That seems odd considering the targeting on any that have been associated with her and/or her sister. I remember reading that it was because of Astereth that the Well deity back home lost her name and Self.”
“Could have been any reason that happened. Astereth wants to return. That much I know, and it likely requires certain things and, I’m willing to bet, blood.” Justin’s fingers played over the flute, then his eyes narrowed. “Could be either yours or mine now, though I’m not sure where this thought is coming from. When we last met I supposedly took a part of what you were to become. That was your Lady of the Waters you’d been to see. That links me then to you and to your deities you serve.” He raised the flute to his lips and picked a halting tune while trying to sharpen the image he had seen.
Kirsty snarled at the idea of being linked. “That could be reason enough that one of the others would come out and attack me. She may be Tainted, but in the eyes of some because I’m not full selkie by birth I’m already unclean. Toss in magical meddling from an enemy and that means that if you took something you left something with me and makes me even more mixed.” She balled her fist and attempted to aim a strong punch at his head over the shield, fueled by the flare of anger and sorrow, certain that even though she never really wanted it, what she had been meant to be would never be truly available to her.
Justin felt the movement, saw the movement, and ducked. Her blow grazed the back of his head but as it was likely would not have been enough to knock him out. Certainly, though, it was enough to hurt. The shield and spear vanished with an audible pop leaving both to stare at each other, anger still in Kirsty’s eyes while Justin found himself filled with a strange melancholic calm. It must have radiated from his eyes somehow, because the selkie-to-be lowered her fist slowly.
“Why do I see my goddess in your eyes, finman? I can’t kill you in the future, seeing the Lady’s eyes in your face.”
“Why do I see my eyes in your face, little firefang?” He sighed. “And I don’t know. I don’t think I can kill you either, if I had to. We’re in a strange mess.” As the tension flowed from her, the pipe found his lips again and he found himself playing a soothing melody. Then it was gone. “I do know that your anger seems to have just disarmed you of weapons I didn’t even know I could make, and that the Tainted one will be back. She wants you to fail. I’m sure of it.”
“What? Now you’re suddenly volunteering to help me in my quest? I don’t think it’s allowed.”
“Astereth meddling in an affair set up by your deities probably isn’t allowed either. As for helping you... I don’t know. I might not be able to kill you, but I certainly would like to smack you around some right now. What else did you do to me when you laid this geas, wench?”
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