The ocean, Ezili discovers, is a metaphor for the world. On the surface and in the shallows-- gorgeous, brilliant, and glistening. The type of sea to inspire artists to set up easels in the white sand. Dive beneath the lapping shores, however, and you find an ugly, dangerous reality.
Beneath the evening sun tinting the sands red, Ezili finishes her breathing exercises and pulls her woven bamboo fins over her feet. She wades into the shallows of the ocean, making sure she doesn’t ripple or splash the water. When a wave rolls in, she slips under it and onward further into the salty depths. Rocks loom out of the darkness, but she twists and rolls away from them with a grace that should be impossible. She only has a few minutes, so she dives underwater and pulls out her weapons, her feet kicking behind her. The weapons are two short, broad knives with padded leather grips. They’re the perfect length; any shorter and Ezili would be overwhelmed by her enemy before she did any real damage; any longer and they would drag in the water, leaving her slow and vulnerable.
Ezili thinks again how difficult her job is, but she quickly pushes the thought from her mind. She wouldn’t complain, no matter how tight her lungs felt or her cuts stung.
She can see the seaweed jungle ahead, a tangled mess of knots and slimy fibers. She remembers to keep her body loose, relaxed, so as not to use unnecessary oxygen. Then she plunges into the true nature of the world--the dark and disturbing realm underneath the placid surface.
Ezili has never liked this part of the job. Wandering through the monsters’ lair and seeing the gruesome aftereffects of their meals. The seaweed is entwined with strands of bloody hair. White pearls float through the murky, red-tinged water, and Ezili knows not to look closer, as they were not rocks or pearls, but rather teeth. Bits of teeth, bone, hair, and sometimes even entire heads can be found in a lair. (Ezili has discovered that Kelpies are picky eaters: neither the entrails nor most of the head or hair are eaten.)
She pushes aside a lock of seaweed with her blade as she swims further, and recoils as a bloody mass of skin, bone, and hair drift past. Calm, she reminds herself. Great. Now she needs more air, so she tucks her blades into her waistband and paddles to the surface.
This is why she can’t afford to get scared. The world is cruel and dangerous, and she has to keep on her toes or be swept away by the current. She let her emotions get away from her and now she has to take a minute to prepare herself for the next dive.
The ocean is dark and murky, the entire seaweed forest a gradient of red and green. She can’t see ten feet into the water, and it makes her uneasy. Ezili uses the fear to calm herself, taking slow, deep breaths to regulate her body to low oxygen levels once again.
In, out. In, out.
A flash of movement, hidden by the thick tangles of seaweed.
A broad, black mane swirling like tentacles in the water.
...towards the figure treading water as subtly as possible.
“Help!” A man with hair knotted with seaweeds emerges splashing from the water, his sparkling dark eyes marred by fear. “It’s right behind me!”
Ezili reaches for her knives instinctively and doesn't hesitate, even after seeing the person she was aiming her knives at.
“Damn Kelpies!” Ezili surges forward through the water and strikes with each word. Nearly every time she goes Kelpie hunting, a scared mortal will appear from the Kelpie’s lair asking for help.
And every time, without fail, they turn into a sleek black horse with bloody teeth and backward hooves when struck. Today was no exception.
The injured Kelpie dives into the water, slipping away in the seaweed.
“Just follow the blood trail,” Ezili murmurs, before inhaling sharply and following the Kelpie’s cloud-like trail of red through the seaweed.
A Kelpie’s lair is always like a maze: treacherous and confusing, with potential ambushes around every corner. Much like the world. Ezili grips her knives tightly and kicks faster with her flippers. There! A shadowy shape ahead, twisting and furling over itself. No, that’s a stalk of seaweed. Movement, to her left! Just a brightly colored fish. A strand of hair —the Kelpie’s mane! No, the floating hair of an unfortunate soul’s head.
Something slams into the back of Ezili’s head, and she spins through the water. The Kelpie glides through the water with ease even Ezili envies. It’s gone before she can turn around. She knows this strategy. Hit, run, hide, and repeat. Using the shadows and landscape to your advantage while you circle your enemy. She also knows the proper defense. Feet on the ocean floor, ready to push off at a moment’s notice. Knives ready in hands, arms outstretched. Constantly turning your head.
A quick blur of black, but Ezili is quicker. Slicing her right knife upward, it plunges into the chin of the Kelpie.
With a squelching sound heard over the thundering of the waves above, the horse-like beast keels over, dead.
With a look of regretful satisfaction toward the monster, Ezili sheaths her remaining weapon and grabs the horse by one of its backward hooves. Kicking fiercely and tugging the horse behind her, she returns to the surface for a breath of air.
Bobbing about in the waves, the sun now sunk below the horizon, she swims for shore. “A good day’s work,” she remarks. Sliding out her knife from the Kelpie’s chin, she uses it to remove, with surgical precision, the monster’s head.
“My lady Firth, Goddess of Light and Clear Seas, I offer you this Kelpie head as a sacrifice. I have killed it in your name.” Ezili bows to the sky and holds the Kelpie’s head to the sky.
A soft glow dances behind her eyelids, and the image of a goddess in flowing aqua silks and sparkling jewelry appears. Her blonde hair is so light, it’s almost white.
“You have done well, my champion.” Firth says, spreading her hands graciously. The Kelpie head disappears from Ezili’s calloused palms. “Your work will be well rewarded one day.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
The glow and the image of Firth disappear and the respectful, pleasant expression slides off Ezili’s face in an instant. She has never liked Firth, despite being given the title of her champion. She has always regarded the goddess as naive and foolish. The goddess of light and clear seas. No, she holds no respect for Firth.
Kelpies, on the other hand...well, Ezili laughs as she drags the Kelpie’s body up the shore. She and the Kelpie have a lot more in common than perhaps they should.
You see, the world may seem a placid, pleasant place. It may put up a facade like the ocean or Ezili does. But it’s a dark, dangerous reality. And sometimes you have to become a monster to survive. Just like the Kelpies.