Chapter 4: Selkies and Kobolds

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            “You’re a selkie?” Fiona asked, leaning forward. When Meredith flushed and nodded, she grinned. “Mom used to read me a bunch of fairy tales and that was one of my favourites! Do you really have a seal skin? Can you really turn into a seal?”

            “Yes. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be a selkie,” Meredith replied. “On land I’m not much different than a human though. Except if I walk barefoot. Then I get water everywhere. That’s why I have special socks.”

            “Can I see your seal-Oh wait, that’s rude isn’t it?” Fiona said, frowning. “Oh and I suppose you wouldn’t want to show it to people so they don’t steal it.”

            Meredith’s smile was gentle. “It’s okay. That doesn’t really happen anymore. My skin’s on the bed anyway. I like to sleep with it.”

            Fiona craned her neck to look at her roommate’s bed. The covers were a mess, but amid them she could see the fuzzy brown blanket she’d seen the day before. Paying more attention to it now, she could see that it was a skin, looking kind of like those cowhide rugs she’d seen in Ikea the last time she and her mom had gone.

            “Is it weird being on land?”

            “No. We’ve always spent summers with Mom. Well, the boys don’t anymore, but I still do. We really didn’t need to come here since we know how to act human, but it’s family tradition and Dad is really proud that the boys graduated. Me too, I guess, once I’m done.”

            The way Meredith spoke about her family told Fiona that there were more than a few things she wasn’t saying. Rather than pry, she changed the subject. “So what’s the number one thing I should know about pretending to be a dryad.”

            “Do you know what a dryad is?”

            “I’ve heard of them once. Aren’t they like tree-spirits or something?”

            “Fairly similar. Dryads live in their trees and protect them. A lot of the time they protect the whole forest or area they live in. I know a lot immigrated here when they had the chance since it’s pretty crowded where we are. They’re still not super common. They’re not very powerful except when they’re near their trees, so no one will expect you to do much which is good.”

            Fiona frowned. “Why would people expect me to do stuff? I though the whole point of the school was to act human?”

            Meredith bit her lip for a moment. “It is, but, well a lot of people here don’t care. They don’t like humans and don’t plan on having much to do with them, so they use this school as a place to show off and stuff. Sometimes people get into contests and stuff. It’s mostly the more powerful Phasms that do it.”

            “Phasm?”

            “It’s what we’re called. Or what we call ourselves. We’re not humans, we’re Phasms.”

            “That’s good to know. Is there anything I should be careful of? Or anyone, if people are doing stupid stuff?” Fiona asked, making a mental note to use the word Phasm and not non-human like she’d been going to do.

            “Not really. Most everyone is okay. And the people who like to get into contests only like to do it against the people who want to and who are strong. Just…just try not to make anyone angry. That’s when most people make mistakes or lose control over their forms.”

            A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. They both exchanged a glance before Fiona called, “Come in.”

            The door opened and for a second Fiona thought she was seeing double. Then she blinked and realized she was just looking at two people who looked almost identical. With the same chin-length brown hair, dancing green eyes, and wide grins, they looked like pure mischief. Which for all Fiona knew, they were.

            “Meredith,” they chorused, voice harmonizing eerily. “We need to borrow your dictionary.”

            She frowned, but stood and went to her desk. “Shouldn’t you two be in class?” she asked, voice quiet but firm.

            “Shouldn’t you?” they asked.

            “We’ve been given permission to take the afternoon off.”

            The twins turned their attention to Fiona. “So it’s true,” the one with the higher voice said, a girl Fiona thought, as she looked at her twin.

            “It looks like it is,” the one Fiona though was a boy replied.

            Then they both looked at her at once. “You really are a transfer student and living.”

            Fiona nodded. “I just started this year.”

            “This’ll be fun,” the girl said, grinning.

            “Lots of fun,” the boy added.

            “Robin, Henry, you behave,” Meredith said, handing them her dictionary before her hands went to her hips. “Fiona’s one of us so you need to be nice to her.”

            Robin mock-saluted. “Aye, aye, dorm mates stick together.”

            Henry bowed in Fiona’s direction, eyes crinkled up. “A pleasure to meet you.”

            Before Fiona had a chance to say anything, the two were gone, the door shut behind them. She turned to look at Meredith, eyebrows raised.

            Her roommate sat down. “Sorry about them, they’re always like that. They’re the only other students in the dorm. They have the room down at the end of the hall. They insisted on that room, even though they could have had any room in the dorm. They…they take some getting used to.”

            Fiona chuckled. “You sound like their mom.”

            Meredith flushed. “I’m sorry. It’s a selkie thing. We have strong maternal instincts and those two just bring it out in me. Especially since they act so much younger than they are.”

            “Are they grade nines.”

            She shook her head. “Grade tens. They were the only two in the dorm last year. Asahi says they drove her nuts with their pranks, but they also kept the place immaculate, so she couldn’t get too mad at them.”

            When Fiona only looked confused, she added. “They’re kobolds. House spirits. They like doing housework, so they take care of the whole dorm. Not that there’s much to do with only five of us living here.”

            Suddenly she sat straight up. “Those two distracted me! They’re skipping class again.” Meredith shook her head. “I’ll have to talk to them.”

            Fiona smothered a giggle. Her roommate really did sound like their long-suffering mom. Whatever else Meredith was, whatever other craziness was waiting for Fiona, she was glad she at least had a friend to share it with.

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