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. 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 has finished "Book of Seals: Pearls of Sea and Stone" which accompanies and precedes Selkies' Skins: Castle and Well which will be available in full audiobook format soon, when I can get to uploading it finally. (click to hear what he sounds like in past recordings of other projects)
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Selkies' Skins 2
Section 2: Temple's Light
Stitches and Tears
Heart pounding, Justin stayed pressed into the rocks and hoped his camouflage would hold. He racked his brain for one of the pilfered runes that might strengthen his concealment but could think of nothing. Instead he stilled his breath and cleared his thoughts, encouraging the plant life interspersed with the rocks to be thick and the eye of an observer to turn. He willed the heat of his passing to disperse, his self to not exist.
Bethrise purposefully finned his way through the water, spear ready and tendrils of what moonlight hair not held in his ponytail searching the currents. Iced eyes stayed sharp for any sign of his quarry and his senses open wide. His own training did not boost his abilities in the same way that Raechel’s or other clergy from the Temples were, no augmentations to his psychic abilities. He did have more skill in interpreting the water in more mundane ways, however. All he knew now was that what he sought was close, and that it was cloaked. The water was cold to him, far colder than normal for the time of year, far less responsive.
Bethrise paused. Something about the floor pulled his attention and he lowered his face to inspect the scuff in the silt. He wasn’t far from a pile of rocks that hollowed a bit, fallen from above sometime long ago from what had once been a cliff face. The space harbored some rather sharp looking bladed plants in such prolific amounts that no sane merbeing would willingly try to squirm in to hide. Not if they valued keeping their blood out of the water to lessen the chances of hungry sharks, or keeping toxins out of their bloodstreams.
The scuff did not seem to lead to the hollow, and it was obscured enough by some force that he could not be fully sure which direction the movement had been in, even with all of his training. Bethrise continued on past, in the direction that it seemed to indicate.
His pursuer passed by but Justin stayed in case the silver selkie turned back. The guard’s aim was not something he wanted to test again. For all he knew word had been passed to others.
It was a long time before his own guard started to relax.
Longer before he moved the tiniest bit.
Longer yet before he poked his head out to check on if the sea truly was grumpy silver selkie free.
He shook his head, pulled a breath and tried to center, then spoke a prayer in his mind. “Amehana, if you’re at your mirror or listening, I could really use some help.”
There was a delay of several heartbeats. An answer came, wispy and far away. “You’re lucky I’m in meditation and can answer readily. You’ve not had another binding burned in have you? I am,” there was another delay, as if she drew breath and energy or perhaps found the words awkward, “having to feed. I am afraid one of the grandchildren had some problems that I sapped much of my stores on solving. Akaisu went beyond my reach anyway with that blasted mirror he stole.”
“Mirror?” He made his way back toward the last weak point he had been trying to work through in order to get at his quarry where he felt her within the maze. “No. But the girl I’m after. I need to get at her.”
Justin heard a very indelicate snort in his mind, felt the ruffling of dragon breath through whatever recess the prayers went through. “That’s one I’ve heard before. What did you do?”
He flailed internally but sought to keep his body under tight control. Justin’s mental voice could not belie the squeak, however. “That’s not what I meant. Yuck.” He had another thought, but it was not well formed and down deep.
“I heard that. Sadly my companion might agree with you on it sometimes.”
“Should I be worried about what aspect of you hears me when I call?” Justin shook his head, still watching for any return of his adversary. “Do you know an opening rune or such that might help me get in?”
“All aspects of me would be apt to poke those still in mental adolescence. It helps you grow. My own mentors did the same and continue to do so when I approach them.” He felt her attention turn, focus, press questing claws to grasp the question with an effort. “Runes? I thought we covered that runes are not something I have studied much of, as old as I am. I could give you some kanji to experiment with, but the energy isn’t the same.”
He refrained from any comment on age. Who knew how old she might be, and he’d seen what she could do when irritated on Dreamwalks.
“That was still a comment, too. You really need to work on your mental stillness.”
Justin stifled a sigh and chalked this up to either a dragon thing or a kami thing. Perhaps a woman thing. This is what he got for asking for anyone to help him learn what he wasn’t supposed to. At least he could accept it. She didn’t seem as insane as some other deities, yet.
Amehana continued speaking with her voice fading like mist. Hunger licked behind the words and intense exhaustion pulled at bits of him while lightning flickered in his mind’s eye. “Focus your intention. You’ve got magic of your own. It might be dampened from what it should be, but not as bad as it used to be when Dreamweaver first found you. Use it. Don’t bother on the how. I have to go now. I’ll start pulling on you too if I don’t. Too many. Too much. Another crack.”
Then she was gone from his mind.
His skin itched. Her mental touch always seemed to do that to him, more and more the times that he could communicate with her. He rubbed at a rune on his arm that throbbed and burned dully, then picked it like a scab.
“For all I know, it is a scab.” He thought, then wondered where the thought came from. He tried to focus on his intention; get to the girl. He could feel her through the stone of the undersea mound, within formerly jagged and now rounded peaks. The reasons why he needed to get to her blurred more and more as time passed. There was the task he had been set when he’d left what passed for his home. He was supposed to team with that Taint-touched priestess to get her although he wasn’t clear on what would happen then. He was supposed to bring her back.
There was something else beyond his grasp though. Right beyond the fingers of his mind where the lullaby sung from some foggy time before. Before what was as foggy as the source of the song and the reason beyond his task to get to her.
Justin found a thread of magic with his senses and pulled in frustration. There was an answering pull which snapped his eyes open. Gifu and Lagu formed in his mind and tumbled, spun, danced. Sliding against and bumping with each other he saw them form other runes but not settle together long enough for a bind rune like the ones he bore. He pulled again, harder, focusing on his need in, to be past the stone.
They superimposed and created a key. Something clicked and he was burning. The world folded. Notes floated around and he snatched at them, danced over them, hummed them and followed the music. Threads of things wafted by, flashes of other places. Great fingers worked a giant loom and ancient voices sang melodies as fates spun and wove and the clacking of wooden machinery minded the percussion. Justin stuck to the path as well as he could, trying to stay with the music and make his way to Seaswimmer and the Key.
Then the world was back to normal. In his hand Gifu and Lagu separated and split, forming into twins of themselves and somehow seeming not to become diminished in any way. One set slipped into his own being, settling into his palms and fading to leave only faint markings. The other resumed circling the unconscious body before him. Justin knelt on the floor, dipping his fingers in the blood trickling from her nose. Feral magic crackled in response to the prodding.
He sniffed the residue on his fingers, then licked it. The blood should have — and did — taste sweet. Yet his body rejected the sustenance even with how hungry he himself was. Her breath was unnaturally slow and even, and checking her pulse yielded more of the same. He leaned over Kirsty, opened his mouth just a few inches above her face and sucked at where the soul-stuff should be and found less than half of what he expected to be there.
His stomach growled and knotted in complaint, however somehow he was not disappointed at being prevented from a nibble. On the other hand this was bad for more than one reason.
Justin felt guilt. He hefted her over his back anyway, eyes and ears open for any dangers. For now only two paths presented themselves, and neither direction seemed to offer any help. Going back the way he had come was no option. There was no anchor, and if he had been able to use his village as an anchor he would not have the strength to try that again. He wasn’t even sure he knew how he had done what he had.
“You won’t want that direction. Some of the priests are coming down that path for her and guards are closer than they are.” The voice came from just behind his ear, neither masculine nor feminine. Warmth and cold wrapped together in the words, the sound within the stillness startling Justin. “You’ll lose your prize a little quickly.”
Justin spun and brought his tail forward, braced to sweep and rake with the claws in it while he clutched the little selkie. Blood began oozing from phantom cuts, not just her nose.
“Settle your fins, boy. Surely you should know how I feel with how often you play for me.” A white silhouette pulled together and then gained a slight amount of color, a dim light fighting to stretch.
“Who are you?”
“A friend, which you have precious few of down here, at least a friend so long as you cause only what harm you need and nothing more.” The form finalized, and a white-haired warrior smirked at him, hands spread and empty, sword sheathed at his side.
Justin continued watching. Something about the man that he could not pinpoint screamed that this being did not really need any weapons. The fact that he stood on two feet and apparently breathed easily while his hair swirled did nothing to soothe him either.
“Oh come now, you glower at me as if you were her guardian. Go that way, there are some plants you might be able to cajole into helping her.” Ven’thrith pointed amiably in the opposite direction. “Take the right fork when you get to it.” The deity waited with a slight smirk on his face.
After a brief consideration Justin began his way along the route indicated, watching the deity from the corner of his eye. “Thank you…”
The pair moved in silence, Ven’thrith indicating turns and gathering samples from plants they passed until a room opened to the left. The deity ducked inside and Justin followed, by this time somewhat accustomed to his guide. Ven’thrith indicated a bed of furs, various fabrics, and rounded pillows in the corner as he slid the door shut. Rugs laid over the floor and hangings gave some color to the walls. Looking up revealed a moving replica of the path of the stars and moon. While Justin was occupied, Ven’thrith calmly settled nearby and began the task of processing, mist enshrouding his hands to mask the steps.
Justin laid Kirsty out on the bed, more scrapes and bruises somehow having been gained despite how carefully he had carried her. “What’s wrong with her?”
Ven’thrith looked up at the finman from his occupation of processing the plants into paste. “A fight is all that I can assume. What I saw was the child making her way through the maze and then Kirsten collapsed for no visible reason. The nosebleed could have had something to do with it, they seem to go together. However this time she had been motionless for quite some time before it started to bleed.” He shrugged. “This is the most interesting trial I have watched in a very long time, and has the most thumbs in the pie. Obviously this makes for a poor reflecting pool for her to see her own face in, much less for us to guess what will happen.”
Justin narrowed his eyes then rearranged her more comfortably. The deity continued watching and handed over the finished paste. “Here lad, see if you can get her to take some of this. It’ll have to come from you, after all. Oh, wait, one more thing.” Something pricked the hand the shell was almost in and the deity lowered the shell to catch the drop, which quickly sucked in the mist and turned the whole to a very unappetizing brown. “Ok, now it’s ready.”
He found the shell lightly placed in his hand. “If it has my blood in it, won’t that also pass my Taint?”
The moonlit eyes watched him carefully. “That’s the question, is it? I thought your job was to catch her, Taint her, and take her to your village for your Jarl and Seidhermenn to deal with. Was that not what was in your heart when you set out?”
The finman’s grip tightened around the shell. “Who are you?”
“You should know me, lad. I stand by you often enough when you play that lullaby on your flute and ponder how to steal back your soul fully.” Ven’thrith smirked and leaned back on his hands, sprawling carelessly as his eyes seemed to glow even more.
“That’s what I thought at first.” He nodded in reply. “I’m not so sure now.”
“Not wanting to disappoint our little Japanese friend that called on me for you? Or yourself?”
Justin looked over the pallor of the girl. Her chest rose and fell and burgandy hair stirred in the water, and then lay straight in the air. The maze could not seem to decide for itself whether it contained sea, or gas. It was a strange mixture of both that flowed with the ebb and flow of the moon’s dance and planet’s spin, and the breath of gods that he knew he would never fully know nor understand. Something about her face fascinated him and he got a proper look at his long adversary.
This was the girl he’d faced down at the Circle, and other times along the shores of her home trying to beguile her out? This was the girl at the membrane of the cave whose full power he had robbed her of by breaking the caul?
“Both.” He wasn’t sure of the answer at first, but some deep part must have been enough to speak for his conscious mind since it left his lips unbidden.
“Good. That’s good, ‘Tin… Justin.” Ven’thrith continued watching, holding very still and seeing in places that felt like had never seen light since Justin was very small and Americ had taken him under his fin once kidnapped.
“You know who I really am, don’t you?”
Ven’thrith nodded solemnly. “I do. Make me a a suitable offering and I’ll grant you a boon.”
“What would that be? If you are who I think you are, there is always a risk even when the boon goes well.”
The moon deity examined his nails. “I need a post for some weavers that I know of to secure a rip in their tapestry. You won’t feel a thing, so I believe. It will fix several problems at once, but that weaving process will take some time, as you perceive it. It won’t for me, just a sneeze, but time is different for my kind.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No, not really.” Ven’thrith smiled, a touch of mania brightening his eyes further. “It will be better though if you are willing. Things always work much better when our play pieces are willing.”
Justin sighed. “Alright. Then use me for your post, mending, whatever it is you’re needing done. I just need to know what to do.”
“Good lad. First of the several things that goes with your new quest is to ‘help your sister,’ of course. First step there is getting some of this into her.” He gestured to her lips and Justin slipped the paste where indicated.
Ven’thrith pointed other places out. The ears, the nostrils, closed eyes each received a small daub and the moon drew a rune which Justin found himself copying. The lad hesitated when sealing the breast and loins, but the deity took pity and indicated appropriate places above the body to draw the seals once tiny globs had been scooped and dropped to their marks from the shell, ensuring no contact took place anywhere in the sacred core. Palms, knees, and the soles of the feet were as simple as the seven openings of the head had been. Together the finman and deity watched the magic release and soak into the slumbering girl. The runes danced and sparked, slipping through green, purple, and blue.
Justin bit his lip when he saw the familiar color of the Taint, watched it send vines into the damaged aural shield and roots to her core as other energies spread to where they were needed. He watched as the energy spread along her blood and nerve networks, which he did not know by name but thought of as roots and passages.
“Good… I don’t like it but Astereth will have felt that and will think you’ve achieved what your village sent you to do. It will make him cocky and he’ll make more miscalculations. Hides your defection as well.” The moon smiled dryly. “That paste should help with healing what has been giving her the nosebleeds and the spiritual wound that’s been used to tear her. I think then that we should be able to bring that missing piece back to the correct timeline. The next step we will worry about a bit later.”
A hissing burning sound came from the body that still slumbered, followed by a pop. A backlash of burned and burning energy washed out. Kirsty’s eyelids fluttered, opened sightlessly for a moment. Her mouth opened and released a pulsing green snake of smoke and flame that coiled away with burning red eyes and dripping fangs. Justin grabbed his arm, tore at his bindrunes, and then the snake dissipated with a crystal spray, one of which lodged into Justin and promptly proceeded to burrow and disappear beneath his skin.
“Hmmm, so that’s the worm on the inside. Interesting. Expected. I’m slightly let down. What about you, boy?” He looked to Justin, who looked at him through clouds of confusion.
Ven’thrith waved his hand, “Nevermind. I suppose you wouldn’t know. Ah, and there are the seams.” He smiled this time, gesturing with his nose toward Kirsty. Her eyes once again were closed and she still wore an expression of grim determination and intent to live. Now there were fading marks where the half of her soul she did possess was sewn back to herself, and spectral hands busily at work with needle and thread. The halfpelt now was so thin that she could easily pass for human in any swimsuit.
“Will she be ok? Whose hands are those?” Justin reached forward, forgetting the flare pain that still caused his teeth to be ungritting themselves with slow disbelief that it had been over so swiftly.
Ven’thrith stopped his hand, squeezing it fiercely and yanking back although keeping a serene look in place. “She will be fine, you’ve done what needs doing for now. As to whose hands those are, do you know the tale of Vassalisa?”
Justin nodded slowly. “Americ likes to tell that one often.”
“Then you know the answer I have to give.”
Justin nodded even slower. “Some things it’s better not to know.”
“Even so.” Replied the moon deity. “I will say the answer is one of the things that drove me mad.” He grinned and patted Justin on the head. “We should get up, we have company coming. Thus the next phase begins!”
The door burst open, two squidling-octopid guards squeezed through together in a mass of reddish greens and purples, each bearing a sword and shield while black beaks clacked at everything the red whorls of their eyes fell upon. Wordlessly, without so much as a stereotypical halt, they pressed and stretched writhing tentacles toward the intruder. Ven’thrith calmly adjusted his position and slipped better between the finman — already in his battle stance in front of his still comatose sister — and the guardians of the deeps.
“My lord?” One, the superior clacked, darting his eyes to the shining shifting face but refusing to meet the galactic eternities in Ven’thrith’s eyes. “We were sent to deal with that abomination. Is it that you wish to deal with him yourself for desecrating our Lady’s Labyrinth?”
“In my fashion. Technically he is not desecrating, but late a few years.” Ven’thrith gave a thin, high giggle that ran claws over stone and raked the bones of those possessed of them, the beaks of those not. He shifted his form, slimming and his face narrowing, the garb of a warrior flowing into robing that priests had long ago based their own ritual garb on. “You may escort us and announce us, although I believe our High Priestess is already aware of my presence. I will also require some food for my new Avowed.” He turned and pinned Justin with his eyes, and Justin returned his gaze unaware of why the guards would not meet that of their lord. “Justin. You will carry her.”
The younger of the guards opened his beak, brow furrowed, and then clacked it shut again at the shaking head and hooked tentacle of his superior. Instead he nodded, turned, allowed his superior to exit first and lead the way. Ven’thrith followed and walked beside the guard with a small smile darting about his face like a silvered guppy. He knew the way but the guards had all become accustomed to the strange insistence that the visiting deity had of not walking before them, in the manner that their resident deity preferred to swish when she deigned to take a visible form. The finman followed, carrying the unconscious half-selkie cradled to his chest like a clutch of eggs.
The awkward tenderness and protectiveness, the way the horrid creature seemed to try to shield the future priestess from himself, the guard sent to retrieve her from the testing interruption, was unexpected by the eight limbed one. He couldn’t help blinking and clacking quietly as he brought up the rear to prevent either escape or attack from behind by Mara’s pets. His skin swirled through muddy colors, though he and his superior still stayed as alert to the refuse in their midst as the dangers around them.
“Raechel.” Kirsty’s angry hiss paused them momentarily, all eyes swiveling to her gritted teeth, the sweat on her brow and her taste in the viscus mixture around them.
Ven’thrith’s eyes narrowed as the guard’s widened and flicked to each other and then around as if the pair expected her to descend in cloud and lightning, the spear she was entrusted with crackling and calling for their blood.
“Bethrise needs to rein her in it seems. Someone should fetch him later when we get everything else taken care of.” Ven’thrith’s voice tightened in his throat.
“My lord.” The guards echoed each other, vague gestures with unoccupied tentacles speaking that they would see to it.
Justin tried not to squeeze the slight frame in his arms, and instead merely placed one finned foot in front of the other as their progression began again.
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