The challenge is here (it's to write a 1000-word story about the picture you can see -- do click). The title is from the socks I'm knitting -- pattern is Naiad, colourway is Slayer.
I was leaving the theatre by the back door after the show when a man loomed out of the shadows. It was late, it was dark, and no one else was around. Any normal person would have been startled.
But this man didn't expect any of that. "There's a breach in the sewer that used to be Taddle Creek." He was huge and yet hunched, with a voice like walking on gravel.
"Where?" I said, grabbing the door so it wouldn't lock shut behind me. My weapons were still inside.
"Annex," said the man. He smelled like road salt, even though it was July. "Bathurst, near Dupont."
"Right," I said. Those streams want to be free. "I'll find it." I don't know who these people are, or how they know where to find me. My theory is they're bridge trolls. But trolls are magical creatures, and those don't exist. But then, so are naiads, the bane of my existence.
The man looked relieved that he didn't have to escort me. He smelled homeless. Someone small like myself, I make them look bigger and even more fierce. If he was a troll, which is only a theory, he would need to get back to his bridge before the first rays of sunlight hit the downtown glass highrises, scattered everywhere, and turned him into stone.
I took off, through back alleys. I ran through an industrial parking lot, and rail lines, I jumped fences and climbed earthworks. It's less conspicuous than the road, believe it or not.
A ring of orange traffic cones guarded the spot where a storm sewer had worn through. You could fit four or five kids in the hole.
A naiad was out. "Daylighted!" she shouted to the moon like a wolf. The trapeze dress she wore clung to her butt suggestively. To a casual eye she could have been a drunk coed.
In the early days, before they cut down all the trees and fed them into sawmills, Toronto's naiads smelled fresh, like lily pads and watercress. Then people built factories beside the streams. The naiads smelled like sludge, unburned fuel, and industrial effluents. By then most of the naiads had moved upstream. Then people used the streams as sewers, so the naiads stank like shit. People covered the streams over, drove them underground, or turned them into real sewers. A few naiads got trapped inside. Their magic wouldn't let them pass manmade gates: bridges, culverts, storm grates, and manhole covers.
"Daylighted," the naiad said, and giggled, the sound of a burbling brook. She was slightly green under the streetlamps.
The crowd she had attracted were young males. It wasn't clear what they wanted; for now they were content to watch.
I moved out of the shadows a good thirty feet away so the boys could see my gear and my sword and if all was good take the hint and run away.
"You can't be here," I said. Behind the naiad was a parkette with a slight groove in the ground where her stream had been first forced to run straight, and then covered over. If she went over there, the whole thing might rip open. While ultimately that might not be a bad thing, Toronto wasn't ready for it.
The boys, who were harmless really, thought I was talking to them, like they always do. They held their ground. "We're not up to anything."
"My fight's not with you," I said.
"She's totally consenting."
"I don't want anyone getting hurt." I brandished the sword at them.
"What's it to you, anyway?"
As I moved closer, I nicked one on the elbow, ripped another's jeans.
"Easy," said the one with the bleeding elbow as if my attack had been an accident.
I raised my eyebrows.
"Let's get out of here, guys," he said, and backed away.
"What's your problem?" said another one, to me.
"She's serious." the one with the jeans was backing away too.
Then there were only two boys between me and the naiad. "She don't smell so good, anyway."
"Forget this shit," said one.
"Yeah, don't want to get no disease."
And then they were gone. Which is just as well; I didn't need witnesses.
There's no special bond between slayers and naiads. We can't sense each other. But somehow the people closest to the city -- the homeless, the children, the old people who sit in parks and feed the birds, found me. I see the problem. The whole city can't become an open sewer. Toronto doesn't need another cholera outbreak, not with our population. And naiads want to run over the tops of sewers flaying them open with their bare, un-pedicured feet.
I took kamai, right foot forward, hands on the hilt of my sword.
The laughter had stopped. She was all serious now. While she didn't have a blade, she looked ready to fight.
"You won't just go back in, will you?" I said. "I'll keep you company until they seal things back up."
"No," said the naiad. Her dishwater brown dreadlocks hung past her waist.
"You know what I have to do," I said.
"I'm guessing," the naiad said.
"It doesn't have to be this way," I said.
"Rivers need to be free," the naiad said.
"It will happen," I said. "Give us time."
We watched each other's eyes, seeing the whole fighter. I shifted my weight, looking for a chance to attack, pretending to leave an opening so she would move in. It's a trap.
There was a "shshick" behind me. The naiad's eyes glanced at the greenest lawn on the block as the sprinkler system came on. I ran her through. Naiads, not trained in zanchin.
I threw up as I pushed her deflating magical body back into the hole. That would serve as a warning to any other naiads who might try to escape this way. I settled in for a long night, waiting for a public works crew to show up.