The creature was terrifying and beautiful. It wore some kind of knitted seaweed mail and armor about its murky green skin. From the waist up it possessed the body of a young girl with flowing black hair. But her lips were blue and she had fins instead of legs and ears. Her eyes were black, as if the pupils had dilated so far to see into the dark depths of the deepest underwater cave.
She pulled me to her, not with her hands for she was not even close enough to touch me, but she made a gesture with her finger and the water was suddenly pushing me to her. It was as if my arms and legs were tied with some invisible string that tugged, pushed and pulled with the slightest movement of her fingertip. As the water pushed me ever closer to her, the kelpie opened her mouth wide and revealed her long teeth, all sharpened like needles.
She grabbed my hair and jerked my head up to elongate my neck. Just as I felt her teeth dip into my skin, I convulsed and opened my mouth in a silent plea for her to stop. But, though water began to pour into my lungs, I felt them continue to pump oxygen to my heart.
Gasping, I cried out. “Stop!”
The kelpie halted and pushed me away. As I floated some distance from her, I could see confusion sketch itself all over her features. She tilted her head, black hair rising and floating behind her like a storm cloud.
“It ssspeaks! It Breathesss!” The kelpie hissed. Again the feel of an invisible string latched itself around my hands, binding them before pulling my body close to the eerie creature. “It comesss with usss.” The kelpie turned and swam away, pulling me after it.
With fins as big as a small dolphin’s, the kelpie swam so fast that I began to feel dizzy and lightheaded. It continued straight for a short time, then began swimming downward. Down, down we went. At first there was nothing but dark, blue water. But as the creature pulled ever farther down we were suddenly met by the ocean floor.
It was covered in pale, white sand and completely bare. Running down its middle, in a jagged, toothy line, lay a deep crack that led to dark abyss below where no sunlight could ever reach. To my dismay, the kelpie made straight for the crevice and squeezed through, pulling me right after it.
It was a tight fit. I got stuck at my waist and though I wiggled, twisted and turned, it seemed as though I wouldn’t be able to get through. Then, I felt the kelpie’s slimy fingers grasp around my legs and expertly guiding me to the correct position before giving me a good hard tug. I fell straight through.
And was met with utter darkness.
The only thing I could see were the kelpie’s eyes. They were now glowing, like a torch, a glassy, pale yellow which caused the water where it shone to appear a murky green. The kelpie swam around me and lifted up my arms. For a moment I was startled. Then I realized that it was only inspecting my body for injuries. Satisfied that there were none, it continued to swim down.
Silently, we swam through the darkness for hours. At least, it seemed like hours to me. There was nothing to pass by. Dark, green water surrounded us and deeper was only blackness. Yet, the kelpie continued to plunge ever further into the sea.
I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I felt was a sharp pain on my head. I jerked up and saw many pairs of yellow eyes staring at me. My captor still had its hand raised from having just struck me. I looked around and realized that I was bound to a chair and appeared to be sitting in the middle of a rather grand colosseum.
A strong light hung from the mossy ceiling covered with dozens of paintings of mermaids. Some were perched on rocks, clasping the stones with white knuckles. Others where swimming in between the crashing waves of a stormy sea. Still others where gazing up at a shadowed moon in the calm of a pale lagoon. It took only moments, as I stared up at the strange canvas to realize that they all had one thing in common.
Their mouths were all open in silent screams and their faces possessed looks of utter terror.
The kelpie cuffed my head again.
“Ouch!” I yelled.
“Sssee. It ssspeakss,” my captor hissed.
“Thatsss impossible,” the kelpie to my left muttered, shaking his (her?) head.
“A foreigner!” A kelpie to my right exclaimed, “Yet, it has received and aqua creature’s kiss!”
All the other kelpies nodded their heads solemnly, their faces grim and their mouths pressed in firm lines. I had so many questions I wanted to ask, yet I feared that I would anger them. At any given moment, those creatures could turn on and devour me. Yet, perhaps my captor had hit my head too hard.
I no longer felt any fear.
Instead, I gazed at them as a mere spectator. I was drawn in by their eyes. Though they avoided mine at the moment, I could tell that those black orbs held haunted memories. They flickered back and forth nervously, pupils dilating and compressing as the light shifted in the water. I watched their eyes, completely mesmerized.
Then I realized that I had seen those eyes before. They mirrored my own.
I decided to speak. “Look,” I began, and the kelpies fell silent, spinning to face me angrily, “I don’t know what an anquo … agro kiss is, but I came to the water’s edge for a reason.” I paused, surprised that they hadn’t killed me yet. I pushed forward. “I need your help.”
One, the leader, choked. “Why ssshould WE help you?”
“You’ve forgotten something,” I replied calmly, “Something important. I’ll help you if you’ll help me.”
The leader looked scornfully down his slender nose at me, but before he could punish me for my audacity at such a proposal, my captor swam to my side.
“Anything?” she asked.
I nodded. “I’ll do my best, if in my power, to ease the pain that you now feel.”
The kelpie scoffed, sending air bubbles floating over my face. “You know nothing about our pain!”
“And you know nothing of mine.”
My captor turned to the leader, silently asking for permission. After some thought, the leader gave her a brief nod. She turned back to me.
“If we let you walk again on land, how do we know you’ll return?” she hissed fiercely.
“Because you have something I need,” I replied without flinching at her bared teeth.
“And whatsss that?”
“A kelpie’s fin of truth.”
My captor started back from me as if I had just punched her in the gut. The other two began whispering to each other in low voices. My captor joined them and they all turned their backs on me. After a moment or two of conversing together in hisses and snarls, they spun back around.
“We have desssided to … agree to your proposssition,” the leader said, swimming forward and releasing my bonds. “But alwaysss bear in mind that if you do not complete your word, we ssshall not ressst nor eat till we find you.” He whispered the last part close to my ear, then gave it a hungry lick before pulling away.
I shuddered. “Understood,” I replied shakily.
“Viera will tell you what needsss to be sssaid,” he continued, gesturing to my captor who nodded, before swimming out of the room. I immediately heaved a sigh of relief. I wasn’t the only one. Viera appeared just as relieved as me.
“Come,” she said, turning her back to me as invitation to follow. She led me out of the circular room with the dome painted ceiling into a dark corridor lit by torches of green light that somehow burned brightly in water.
Silently I followed the kelpie till she pulled me into a little dark closet. It was so small and tight that I could feel her breath on my cheek. She grabbed my arm and dug her black nails into its skin.
“What I’m about to tell you isss a great sssecret,” Viera hissed in my face, “Many of our own people know not of our plight.”
I frowned. “What is it?”
The kelpie didn’t reply right away. Instead, she checked the handle of the closet door, making sure that it was secure.
“Years ago,” she began in a soft, sad voice, “We used to be a happy people. Old legends tell of peace and harmony between our nation and that with the land-dwellers. Though many of us were sirens, we never used our voices except to aid travelers. Yet, all that disappeared when a terrible witch, possessing great power stole the one thing that kept us from corruption.”
Intrigued, I asked, “What did she steal?”
The kelpie glowered. “Our hearts.”
“I’m confused,” I pondered aloud, “You can’t feel anything?”
Viera shook her head. “No remorse, affliction nor guilt. Not even love.”
“Yet you desire to repossess them,” I prodded.
“Agar has read the legends and discovered that our nation was even more powerful than before,” the kelpie stated calmly.
“What about you?”
The kelpie was silent for a moment. Then she bit her lip and sighed. “I want my heart back ssso that I can feel again. I still posssesss a mind that can reassson. I know that I’m not whole without it beating once again inssside my chessst.”
I nodded to show I understood, even though it was so dark, I could only make out her eyes which had turned into a pale shade of grey.
She gripped my arm even tighter. My skin began to sting. “Will you help usss?”
The kelpie let go of my arm in relief.
I rubbed the raw part of my skin to bring back some feeling into it. “So, who’s the witch?”