“Lin, where are you going?” Ismus shouted while pursuing her running friend. Linnasoeta threw off her shirt and much too tiny skirt in the Creek Forests. She stripped off her socks and ripped her hair out of the bun, running free with just her undergarments. Without bothering to fold up her clothes, she abandoned them on a sharp rock, ran full speed, twirled, and landed face first into the Creek. Ismus scanned the water. It was abnormally clear and glimmered in the reflection of the Sun.
She wasn’t there.
“Lin?” She whispered. “LIN?!” Ismus leaned in before losing her footing.
Before she knew it, her body had flipped and submerged into warm water.
Linnasoeta chortled wildly, choking as she laughed. “I can’t believe you,” (choke and spit up) “fell for,” (choke some more) “that!”
Ismus blinked. “Gods, why, Lin?” They exchanged small smiles and wordlessly agreed they were back on good terms.
“Look,” Linnasoeta pointed out way in the sky, “those are the Rapids of Rathian, and they cascade into the Creek, see? And its sweet water… you know? Clean water, I mean… So you can drink it, too.”
Ismus stared at the sky as she peeled off her pelt. Three rapids were tumbling down a platform of stone buildup, high into the sky, one from the left, another from the right, and another in the center. They all cascaded into the head of the Creek, as Linnasoeta had said, and some excess dripped into a small waterway that led to the forest. On the leeward side of the rapids, the flowers and lawn stayed dry and slightly shaded, an ideal spot to sleep.
“The Creek of Hazalen was made right in the center of the entire Creek Land, and because of its position, it gets the most Sunlight. See how it sparkles in the Sun? And if you look close, you can see these meaty, juicy trout and their cute little babies swimming along.” Linnasoeta spoke like a tour guide.
“And those closed parts of the Creek, you know, that small body of water that’s broken up by that strip of land? Well, that’s a hot spring. It’s heated underneath so you can get nice and warm. Over there in the far corner, where hot gas spews up, is a geyser. Don’t get too close to ‘dem!
“Also, we’re in Hazalen’s Mouth, just something you might want to know, and that’s pretty much it!” Linnasoeta straightened, turning her attention toward Ismus like an overexcited dog.
“Thank you, Miss Linnasoeta. Indeed, the Creek sparkles and glitters like pearls in the radiant Sunlight, but please, Miss, you still haven’t answered my question I asked earlier: How do you maintain all of those fruits when they have different growing seasons and have them all ripe at the same time while its winter?!”
Linnasoeta tapped her chin and grinned. “Magic.”
Ismus cocked her hip to the side, as well as she could in the water, and swam over to the waterfalls. Linnasoeta, like a fish, swam beside her.
“But really though, my mother told me a long time ago that a Goddess named Silvergrass had created this place. She made it as a protector over the people that once lived here thousands of years ago,” Lin said as she caught up to her. “She’s the Goddess of the greenery and all animals. That’s why the crops grow without tending to them.”
“A Goddess named Silvergrass?”
Lin nodded, tossing her chestnut hair around her shoulder. “Yeah, and then there’s one named Waterleaf, Goddess of all rushing water, Redtarnish, Goddess of growth, Embarion, Offspring of the Heavens, God of the Sun. And then there’s Embore and Winterbreath. Embore is the Goddess of the Moon, and Winterbreath controls snow and hail and freezing rain. Cool, huh?”
“Very,” Ismus agreed. “How did your mom know about all these?”
Lost in a memory not perceptible by Ismus, Lin grew quiet and mumbled, “I never asked,” and steered her gaze toward the falling shadow above them. Ismus left it alone.
The crash of the waterfalls filled their ears (only the left ear for Ismus) now, and the water was much cooler and deeper. Seaweed and smooth rocks coated the deep-down bottom of the Creek floor. And the navy-blue water didn’t sparkle, since the rapids blocked the Sun. Ismus rang the water out of her clothes, folded up her outfit, unlike Linnasoeta, and laid it down before she submerged under the small, centered rapid.
“Ismus, stop! You might drown!” Linnasoeta screamed, swimming after her. Her pale friend was deaf to her cries.
Ismus smiled, looking unhurt in the deep waters of the creek. She removed the hair tie from her long ponytail. Instantly, her long hair tumbled down into the darkness of the waters, a shimmery inferno of fire. Her long, pale legs drifted in the air and she laughed into the water.
Linnasoeta froze to stare at her. Ismus was so weak and troubled, and yet so strangely strong and illuminating all the same. She was a mystery to all, even to Lin. A smile crept on her lips and she swam towards her.
Ismus swam under the crashing cascade, smiling in her own partially silent world. It was quite funny, and odd, that the water was just shooting out from the sides of her head, little slides going off in all directions.
“ISMUS!” Linnasoeta screeched, waving her arms.
Unable to hear Lin’s screaming, Ismus had to look at her flailing arms to detect a problem.
“What’s wrong?” Ismus yelled back.
Lin, exasperated, gestured to the waterfall and the fact that Ismus was not drowning from its weight.
“I got a metal head, remember?” Ismus screamed over the loud falls. “I guess I never told you about it when I saw you by the Border a few months ago! Brutus had pushed me down to the cement and then –” Ismus stopped, her voice hurting, and dogpaddled over to Linnasoeta. She tugged on her arm and pulled Linnasoeta away from the high water. “Come over here. I’m freezing, and I can’t keep screaming.” The water level started to shrink immediately once they left the bottomless part and approached the shallow hot spring. The rapids quieted.
Both girls sighed in the hot water and relaxed. The Sun was slowly sinking from the darkening sky, but the pair still had some catching up to do.
“So anyway,” Ismus continued, “my brother, Brutus, thought it would be funny to see what it was like to put a sharp rock across the dent in my forehead, which was already metal thanks to him pushing me down to the cement floor, and he thought my scalp was a good place to slit the sharp part of the rock. So, he cut it, two inches deep, as Dr. Rol had said, and then I got a metal head.” To prove it, Ismus took her fist and banged it hard on her scalp area. It made a robotic sound like, Chink, Chink.
Linnasoeta gasped in awe. “But your head looks so normal… How is that?”
Ismus frowned. “What?” She pointed to her right ear. Lin nodded in knowing and asked the question on the left side of her. Ismus tapped her chin and answered with a sarcastic, “Magic.”
Linnasoeta rolled her eyes and sighed. She gazed out beyond. Silence.
Ismus tucked her fiery hair behind her ears before the wind pushed it back into her face. “What’s the matter? You seem down all of a sudden.”
“Oh yes, I remember you telling me about him.”
“He always seems to turn my father against me and…”
Linnasoeta was quiet for a minute, frozen. Ismus could see her face harden with distress. “Don’t beat yourself up about your mother. At least she doesn’t have to suffer… anymore,” Ismus tried. Lin did not respond.
“Rather be Nyoka than her,” Ismus tried joking, “Like getting rid of him instead… at least you have a family, Lin! No matter if Nyoka is your slithering pet snake.”
Lin closed her eyes and leaned against the land near the Creek. “Do you remember the first time we met?” She asked again weakly, her mouth dry from the heat. “I can. We were both five, having no business to be on the outskirts of our countries. I saw you there, with your long red hair flowing in the wind. You waved, and I waved back.” Lin’s voice was tired and quiet, remembering something that Ismus didn’t even know existed. It boggled her mind and made her feel restless to not know what her best friend was talking about.
“Yes,” Ismus lied. “I remember it too. You were wearing a sparkling dress with your hair in curls. You looked very beautiful.”
“Stop it,” Lin barked. Her eyes snapped open, and she shot an angry finger. “You know that’s not how it went. Why can’t you remember?”
Ismus shrugged and decided to swim around in the water a bit. An angry trout treaded beside her.
“I don’t know. I can only remember when you actually came to Serabi. My memories are too clouded, just gone…”
“But I remember you saying something like: ‘Oh, you look familiar. Wait! Are you that Lin girl?’ when I walked behind that terrible, ugly, nasty, rocky, smelly, putrid castle—”
“—Alright, alright! I get your point and I couldn’t agree more! And yes, I did say that, but I don’t remember our first encounter.”
“… Well, if you remember when I came back behind the castle when we were seven, how do you not recall us talking two years before then?”
“Dunno. I think you’re a little—” Ismus took her index finger and started making a little circle right by her ear, “KOO-KOO.”
Taking that as an excuse to attack, Linnasoeta splashed the hot water straight into her friend’s eyes.
Ismus breathed in, happy to play along. “How dare you treat a princess this way?” She spoke melodramatically. “I will kill you, you damned peasant!” Ismus dunked herself under the water. Linnasoeta followed after her. They wrestled beneath the water and tried to hold their ground. Bubbles flew to the surface as they laughed.
Grabbing her by the ankles, Ismus emerged from the water and flipped Linnasoeta around. “Who’s laughing now?” Ismus said between Linnasoeta’s screams.
The girls went back and forth, battling with water for several, quickly-passing hours, until the Sun vanished like smoke into the starry night sky. The two girls finally felt safe and wanted.
Yet, as the warmth of the hot spring decreased, the Creek felt hollow and cold, like the insides of a haunted grave. The trees cracked and moaned like zombies. A pack of wolves howled viciously and sounded much too close.
Just as Ismus was about to hurl another spray of water in Linnasoeta’s face, she stopped her. They were alone in a pool of deep darkness. And it was silent. Ismus thought Lin could hear the beat of her heart. They both swam, trying not to move the water around, listening to the sounds.
“Damn it, my dad is gonna be pissed,” Linnasoeta swore into a whisper. She swam over to the far side of the Creek and hoisted herself up to land. She disappeared into the dark to find her clothes. Ismus did the same, and swam over to the deep end with the rapids. Linnasoeta came back running, fully dressed in under a minute (she hated the dark). Ismus pulled her friend into a tight hug, squeezing so hard that Ismus feared for a second that she might pop her. She kissed the top of Lin’s head.
“I love you, Linnasoeta, and I’ll be back soon.” Ismus promised, as she broke away and swung on her satchel. “Meet me here in a week, on Saturday, alright?” Ismus placed a hand on Lin’s cheek, placing her thumb underneath her chin.
“Alright,” Linnasoeta sighed, grabbing the pale hand that rested on her face. “Saturday, then.”
Without another word, Linnasoeta smiled toothily, before vanishing again into the invisible realm of darkness, this time not coming back.
She would not see Lin again for a long time.
Ismus slowly turned away from the opening to face a pitch blackness that consumed all objects of any color.
How long did Lin say the journey through the forest was?