Chapter 25

When Aveny finally relented and approached Brand, still in her aquatic form, he grew quiet and somber. No words were needed. He simply spread out the blanket and waited patiently for her to make her way inside. Then he scooped her up in his solid arms and carried her home.

Miriam’s response was somehow worse. “Oh dear,” she said as they entered the house. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.” Then she abruptly left the room.

“We’ll try again tomorrow,” Brand said, as he laid Aveny down and switched off the light. But Aveny saw him rub his face in his hands, the motion illuminated by the soft glow of the hall light, before he stepped outside and shut the door.

She was overcome with fear – fear of a reality she’d never even conceived of before.

What if she never transitioned back? What if choosing between risk and safety, instability and inhumanity, had resulted in a completely different kind of reality altogether. Would she never speak again? Would she never hold her children again? What would they do? Brand couldn’t live his life with a fish. And, Aveny now realized, she couldn’t stay like this and remain at home. Laying in her sad pile of blankets, she tried not to suffocate under her own sorrow.

It took a long time for Aveny to fall asleep that night. She could hear Brand and Miriam talking solemnly down the hall in hushed whispers. Surely, they were frantic too. But she knew they had even fewer answers than she did.

And when she finally succumbed to sleep, there was no rest to be had.

“I want my skin back,” Rionach demanded, staring at her intently. “It wasn’t yours to keep.”

Aveny stared back at her, shocked. Why is it separate?! I thought I was supposed to reunite with it?!

“The goal was not to unite you with my skin,” Rionach intoned, her brow furrowing in frustration. “The goal was to heal the rift and restore our lineage’s true identity. That is complete. Now the time has come to return to me what is rightfully mine.”

Help me switch back, Aveny pressed. Help me transform back into a human – then we can talk about your skin.

“Can’t you?” A hint of annoyance danced across Rionach’s bold features.

No. I can’t. I’ve tried in the water and on land. Nothing. I’m stuck. You have to help me.

“I did,” Rionach intoned. “I saved your daughter. And you returned the favor – almost. Now return my skin.”

Being permanently stuck as a seal wasn’t part of the deal, Aveny pleaded. You said you wanted to reunite the skin, heal our lineage and restore our birthright. I don’t know what happened down there but the skin is still very much separate and now I’m not even human anymore. How is that possible?! What am I supposed to do now?!

Rionach gazed off into the distance before returning her focus to Aveny. “The union is complete,” she said intently. “Our lineage is healed.”

No, Aveny pressed. It’s not. The skin is not united. I’m not healed – I’m a seal. How do we fix it?

“I do not know,” Rionach replied.

You don’t know? Aveny panicked. What do you mean, you don’t know?!

“I don’t know if you will be able to transform or if this physical form is a condition of mending the chain.”

A condition of mending the chain? Aveny repeated lamely.

“There is often a cost,” Rionach replied. “As with all things. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps my daughter cut out the selkie side of our heritage, and to repay that debt, you have cut out your human side. It is fair. Those that come after will be made whole.”

Aveny stared at her, astonished. I thought you knew what you were doing. I trusted you, and you were just experimenting?!

Rionach flashed a warning glance and a chill cut through Aveny’s chest like an icy blade.

“The birthright of our lineage is restored,” Rionach stated. “The skin was only a tool to that end, and now it’s time to restore it to its rightful place. I intended to reclaim it the night of your reunification, but the man took it when he took you.”

Brand? Aveny asked, He was trying to keep me alive after you nearly killed me. And where were you anyway? Mary Catherine was there – she cared. Where were –

Rionach cut her off. “Her name is not Mary Catherine. It’s Múireann. Patrick stole her, erased her memory of me and her true identity, but he cannot erase the name she was given at birth. Her name is Múireann.”

Aveny was dumbfounded. That doesn’t matter right now! her mind shrieked. And no, our lineage isn’t restored. Not if I’m stuck as a seal!

“I did not intend that,” Rionach relented. “But, our lineage is not bound in this form – just as our lineage prior to Múireann was not bound in human form. It would seem that only you are bound – connecting the broken line back to her.

“Those who come after will be made whole. You can take solace in the fact that your descendants will live healthy, whole lives, thanks to your sacrifice.”

So that’s it?! Aveny cried. I’m just stuck this way?! There has to be something you can do. We could do the same thing your daughter did and cut it off.

Rionach’s gaze melted Aveny’s resolve. “No. The abomination would kill you. Moreover, the unspeakable act requires partial transformation to achieve and you are unable to transform.”

Rionach paused. “The next time you return to the sea, bring my skin with you.”

I’m not bringing anything until I can carry it there with my own two hands, Aveny yelled. If you want it back, you have to fix me first!

But Rionach had already gone. Silence was her only response.

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