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... And it didn't help the story wanted to write itself out of order and everything else that was happening/not happening.
Selkies' Skins 2
Section 1: DescentInstallment 17Chapter 8 part 1
Cave of Communion
Section 1: Descent
Cave of Communion
“Right. Well. Off I go then, whether that nameless evil Temple Sister comes back to dry me and grind my bones or not. Or... Whatever else she might come up with. Off I go then. Weapons or not.” Kirsty tried to sound more chipper than she actually felt. She was certain that the part of her that was Seaswimmer would have much preferred avoiding bad blood with the Templeborn. Then there was a part of her that for some reason, likely the unwarranted curse that had been hurled and deflected, desperately wanted to put the black selkie in a nice little room with Morvan, some candles, and a romantic dinner simply to see which of the pair would be more offended. It was a terrible thought that only a small amount of herself chided herself for. The rest of herself just accepted it and prayed to Mara that her other Daughters were more reasonable, and that as she aged she would get a grip on some of her darker and odder tendencies.
“Perhaps, if I’m not careful, I’ll end up like that?” She thought to herself. Kirsty didn’t look back. She simply swam off and hoped to leave the Finman behind herself. He did not follow, for now at any rate. She mulled over the spear and shield as she swam and how they disappeared. “Was it something that I did to make them vanish? How was it really that he called them up?” Eventually she shook her head at herself.
It took some time, which had been lengthened by checking behind herself for followers, but she eventually found herself in a gorge. Frowning, Kirsty followed the insistent pulls further in. The water here was warmer, somehow, than she expected. Within the gorge, in the side, Kirsty found a cave entrance. Bioluminsecent plant life clung to the stone walls and gave their multihued glow to the sea-night, enough to easily navigate the turns by. It was into this that she felt herself being led, and she began to doubt.
“I don’t remember Father Ronan’s book saying anything about this... Granted, he admitted he didn’t know the deeps...” she thought to herself as she cautiously slid inside and followed the calls of her blood. Somehow she didn’t think that this was the direction the black selkie had come from, nor did she think it was the direction she had originally been going.
Kirsty still hadn’t forgotten the irritating Finman she’d left behind herself, now perhaps some hours ago, when the passage opened. A silvery selkie sat on a rock at an improvised table pouring over some form of book, absentmindedly rolling and picking up dice as if waiting for someone, or perhaps more like someones judging by the number of other rocks that were drawn around the table below the gently pulsing selkie-fire. His other hand rhythmically planted something crunchy into his mouth from the plate beside him. His equally silver hair floated behind him, restrained near the head with a seaweed tail-band. Further into the room three passages waited, each sealed with shimmering glyphs that tickled something far in the back of her mind.
“Um. Excuse me, sir. I’m looking for one of the Temples of Mara, I think. I’m sorry if my inner guide is off and this isn’t a public space.”
The selkie quizzically looked up at her briefly, then down to his book again. “Well, it’s not public or private. My friends and I just meet here for our games, keeps me awake. It’s a good location for us, and where I’m currently stationed anyway. You’re off still by a fair swim if you’re looking for Lady Mara.”
Kirsty watched him. He seemed like all he was doing was waiting for someone to come play, but the set of his jaw the longer she stayed changed and he looked up, eyes hard. “Despite what Raechel might have told you, girl, I don’t like strange young females staring at me, and you’re young for my taste.” The male grumbled. “If you’re here because someone invited you to our game without telling me, then sit. If you’re here because you’re seeking the maze it’s that way.” He gestured to the three passages. “Otherwise quit being creepy.”
“I’m sorry? I’m just confused. I also don’t know anyone by the name of Raechel.” Kirsty blinked. “Wait, you thought I-? No. No, no. I have somebody. I don’t need to look. I’m supposed to find my way to the temple and do whatever it is Mara wants me to for earning my Skin and finishing the Initiations.” Kirsty flushed, embarrassment and agitation warring with her face and letting itself out with the flick of her tail.
The male put his dice down and sighed. “All of the Temples and their Keepers regularly share news of all kinds, including gossip, and I know well I’m no longer the most well-liked Guardian within the Temples. I don’t know about getting a Skin, you’re obviously down here well enough, aren’t you? Not much use in going topside unless you’re thinking of joining up with that Order that’s supposed to be protecting the waters. Whatever good they do in one area gets undone in another so that isn’t a great deal of use either. Initiations though, that I know a little about and more than I wish I did. You would have some choice about it too if you’re so unprepared as to not find your way there without ending up here.”
“Choice? I wasn’t born with a skin, and since I’m the only surviving female of my generation at Seal Point, Mara and The Lady leave me no choice.” Kirsty slipped onto one of the stones at the table when the male winced. “What’s this about choice? You look like somebody died just now.”
He sighed. “Sometimes feels so. I guess that makes you one of the land Marainion. I’m sorry to hear that and sorrier that you’re to be bound to two such fickle goddesses. I lost my mate-to-be to Mara.” He picked up a deck of cards and shuffled. “It wasn’t all at once. It happens to all priestesses at some point or other. Raechel gave in young. You’ll lose yourself more than you already are if you aren’t careful, even if you do have a good bull like you said.”
“Um... I think I’ve heard Da’ ask Mum if she’s losin’ too much of herself a time or two before. I thought that was because of work, not this. I’m Kirsty, or I guess Seaswimmer... What are you called? I feel funny talking this long without a name.” Kirsty leaned forward and put her elbows on the table, trying to match the ease he was sitting with.
He quirked a lip at her. “You’re definitely a landlubber, sitting like that. I’m Bethrise, technically still the guard of a particular Mara priestess, but she made it rather clear she wanted nothing to do with me. You’re in as deep of trouble as if you were a cursed pirate dubloon in a shark’s belly if you don’t know which of those names is you.” Bethrise calmly dealt a hand each while waiting.
“Well, they’re both me. One name for Above, one for Below.” She eyed him, then looked at the dealt hand, and the shells now joining the cards. “So. Guard. I guess that makes you kind of like Byron was for Marsali. You don’t look like a guard.”
“The Stolen Priestess. If the stories are true she gave that kelpie as much trouble as I was getting and do get. At least I had the safety of keeping mine, somewhat, instead of having to find her a mate.” Bethrise smiled ruefully, his blue eyes fading to silver. “And I don’t wear my armor all the time, although soon I’ll probably have to with the Things coming so close to the Temples now and the deamhan waking, as if the rogue children of the Cailleach weren’t enough down here.”
“Things aren’t so pretty topside either. We have them boarding the trains to school, infiltrating school grounds...” Kirsty sighed and picked up the cards. “Imp, a friend of mine, was saying something about a thing called the Black Gate being somewhere on the grounds of Castle Carrick.”
“Never heard of that gate, but I don’t like the sound of it. Caer Carrick, the school? Is it true that one of the founders of the place was married to one of us? We have a tale in the Temple that she was a priestess from one of the shallow water temples and her skin was stolen.”
Kirsty shrugged. “I don’t know. There’s legends that say Leomaris might have been married to some sort of merperson, but no details. Spiralis supposedly built his dorms and quarters where he could watch for proof. The silches enjoy teasing the students at the windows.”
“Silches.” Bethrise sighed. “Met a few of those. Mischievous. Much prefer dealing with the sea-bred.”
They played at Waves silently for a bit. Kirsty hoped for some sort of information she could use. “So, if this place isn’t on the way to the Temple then why did I wind up here? Or is this just because that repair job I had to do in the water after the blast messed me up?”
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.