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The Water’s Test Of The Warrior

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The lake had moods. Nice and early in the morning, it was still and quiet, and so was Rye.

 

If she sat really still, stomach down on a hot concrete dock reaching out of the beach in the lake, maybe Rye can snatch the large fish she sees lurking about the water below her with her bare hands. Sure, she could be swimming, but swimming meant fish would flee. Rye had to catch a fish.

 

So she waited, poised to strike, right hand extended and hovering just above the water. She didn’t know what kind of fish it is that slowly slides through the water, but it’s big. It has these beady little eyes and it sometimes dipped into the darkness, but it would show up again. Smaller fish darted by, but Rye has her eyes on the prize.

 

The fish lurked ever closer to the surface, so close Rye can see it beneath the still water. Her fingers wriggle, her whole body anticipating the strike –

 

“Hey, Rye!” A voice suddenly breaks her carefully composed focus and Rye’s hand uselessly smacked the water. The fish disappeared into the depths once more, and Rye scowled at it as it retreats. Boo. She’d make it pay. Better yet, make the speaker pay, who was –

 

“Ben,” Rye whined, pushing herself up and sitting back on her knees. The concrete felt a lot worse on her bare legs and knees than it did through her swimsuit on her stomach. “I almost caught a fish!” Ben blinked, and stared blankly.

 

“You were fishing?”

 

“I was going to catch a fish. Big difference.” Rye corrected. “My reflexes simply weren’t fast enough. And YOU! You interrupted me!” She pointed accusingly at her best friend, and Ben innocently placed a hand over his chest in response.

 

“Me?” He tilted his head, ever so sweetly, and batted his eyelashes. Somehow his face was naturally built to look as innocent and sweet that even contrived acts like this one felt normal.

 

“Ugh! Don’t talk. I heard fish can feel our emotions, and I’m mad. The fish aren’t gonna come.” Rye lowered herself down, stomach to the concrete again, and she stared into the water. A smaller fish would have to suffice, but she had never been able to catch a small fish. They slipped out of her fingers when she tried. New strategy, she decided – let her much more nimble left hand sink into the water and hold as still as possible, waiting for a fish.

 

“Okay.” Ben sat next to her, keeping his feet out of the water. So Rye waited, again, for god knows how long until again –

 

“RYE!” This time it’s Dad. “No fishing!” Dad is standing on the shore, he’s finally noticed Rye has slipped away from actual swimming.

 

“I’m not fishing!” Rye shouted back.

 

“Yeah, she’s trying to catch a fish! Big difference!” Ben added, very helpfully.

 

“No catching fish, either,” Dad sighed. He had long since stopped trying to fight Rye about semantics, knowing his daughter had a way of making things make perfect sense for herself but no other. Of course, Rye was catching a fish. She was not fishing. There were no fishing rods or bait here. This was a test of her mettle as a warrior, never mind there were no battles for her to wage. One of these days, she swore – they’d all be sorry.

 

“Dad, I have to train!” Rye stood up, pulling her hand from the water.

 

“No you do not.” He wasn’t having this at all today. Normally Dad played along, but not out here. “It’s also time to go, so get over here.” Groaning, Rye threw her hands down and stomped one foot before she shuffled back onto land and into the sand. Ben followed faithfully as ever, exempt from the trouble.

 

“We’re meeting back up with your mother so we can go to the national park later.” Dad spoke to Ben, and Ben nodded.

 

“Cool! Let’s go get changed, Rye.” And he’s dragging her off, Rye is too disappointed she could not catch her fish.

 

Today was their second day way up in the lovely land of Door County, Wisconsin. It was a heavily forested peninsula, and what wasn’t forest was quaint towns built to squeeze money out of all the tourists. Ben’s family had a nice home up here for the summer, and there they were staying for a week. Rye had no interest in much of the historical stuff or the shopping or the boating, but she did like the forests. Forests were simply magical. When Rye was surrounded by nothing but trees and bushes and plants as far as the eye could see, she had this wonderful feeling deep within her that something very interesting might happen. Maybe she’d see a mystical creature. Maybe she’d have a mexican stand off with a deer again, that was fun – or perhaps she could uncover secrets long lost among the leaves.

 

National park sounded okay, but she knew Dad didn’t like it when Rye wandered off the path and away from people. Naturally, she took Ben with her.

 

Rye and Ben get dried off, but there’s a mutual, silent agreement – they’re both still wearing their swimsuits. Ben has green swim trunks, he always liked green and it went along nice with his bright white hair and those weird red eyes. Rye departed from her normal red or black clothing, opting for the very un-warrior-like hot pink one piece swimsuit. It was not the color, it was the silvery words plastered across the chest – “GET SALTY.” Now Rye was 100% certain that it was referring to the ocean, which she did not swim in, but she liked to think it was the other meaning for salty. Get Angry, she thought. Much better than swimming in the ocean. She had one go with the ocean and that was all she needed.

 

“Let’s go! It’s the place with the cliffs, those will be cool! Maybe Mom will let us climb them.” Ben suggested, and they’re trotting back to the car.

 

“Your mom might, but my dad won’t.” Rye gets to the car, and Dad is already there, putting everything in the trunk. Rye doesn’t even look at him, climbing right past Dad and tumbling over the back seat, getting herself situated. Ben uses the door, since he’s boring.

 

Rye tuned out the rest. Not until Dad is telling her to get out of the car again, they’re at the parking lot for the park – or not really. Rye knew it’s easier to park at the not quite national park than it is to pay out the wazoo at the real entrance. There’s a hint of the lake beyond the trees, but it’s a drop. There’s the cliffs of white stone, and in the noon sun, she can hear people chattering down below and the splashing as they leap from the top to dive into the sparkling clear water below.

 

It’s hot. The water lapping against the rocks and the rythymic splashing of people diving in is quite the tease.

 

“Dad, I’m gonna go look,” Rye said, pulling her sandals on and running off without waiting for her Dad’s approval. He can see her still from where he is, getting his things with Ben’s mom. Ben is at her side without a word.

 

To her right, Rye can see the not official path worn into the dirt and over the tree roots and rocks. But she stops, a foot away from the edge of the cliff. It’s not a particularly high one, perhaps ten, fifteen feet – but she’s stopped all the same, her head spinning from the height. She backed up, turning to Ben.

 

“Let’s go.” She urged him on, ushering him towards the dirt path. Forget Dad. She had to see the wonders of the lake and the forest without him, he didn’t understand her needs.

 

“Okay!” Ben agreed, cheerful as ever. So Rye lead the charge, the two hopping over the tree roots and it hurts her knees to be going this fast over bad terrain but Rye has to see. Splash, splash, splash – she can still hear people swimming and laughing and having a good time. Sweat has begin to trickle down her spine, the back of her neck too warm and her skin sticky despite still being damp from the last swim. It’s so far down, though. So close yet so far.

 

“So like, this place is giving me a serious ‘lost hideout’ vibe,” Ben hopped over a hole, Rye glancing over her shoulder at him. She forgot her sunglasses at home, and even with the dappled shade of the trees she has to squint at him.

 

“Yeah? I think so too,” Rye mused, looking forward again – the way the trees curved inward over the makeshift path into a tunnel spoke to something mysterious. Ben had a good instinct for the unknown. “Maybe it’s down there. A pirate’s treasure trove.”

 

“Yeah!” Ben said, beaming. “We should go down there!” He’s right. They should. Rye is feeling oh so hot, even though she’s normally great in the heat, this is too much. The cloudless sky, the harsh sun, and the water that is just within reach and yet she cannot go down.

 

“We’d have to find a safe way down.” Rye stopped in her tracks. They’ve been traveling for five minutes at a good pace, leaving their parents behind, and the natural formations of the rocks and the cliffs nicely splay out so there’s a bit of a gradual drop off from rock into the lake in some spots.

 

The cliffs, however, were not meant for climbing. Rye happens to be an expert climber anyway. Peeling her sandals off, she scoped out an area where the stone jutted out just right, looking safe enough for some footholds. Ben has the same idea, and hurried ahead.

 

“Looks like this is the spot!” He paused. “I don’t see any caves from here.”

 

“Once we’re down we can walk the shallows and swim the rest!” Rye hoped they didn’t have to swim the rest, because the water was deep enough to dive where the rock didn’t hold out. Deep water meant Rye was left to her wits and her strength without a floatie to help. She should have stolen a pool noodle from home.

 

They make their way down, slowly but surely, and Rye sets her feet on the flat white stone. It clearly wasn’t meant for human consumption. It’s uneven, there’s wholes and bumps everywhere and it’s so slippery that every step is a chore. Ben almost fell three times until he’s made it waist deep in the water, and Rye is far more careful. She doesn’t want sliced up feet. It would be bad for the rest of the week.

 

“Oooh! It’s so cold!” Ben hissed, hugging his arms to his chest, and he takes another step – there goes his footing, even with the water supporting him, and Ben is now entirely underwater. Rye hopped off the abrupt step from two inches to three feet, sighing in relief when her feet simply hit more of the unsteady stone.

 

“Yeah, that’s the point. It was torture just to hear it,” Rye admitted, looking out over the vast expanse of the lake. There is no land out there, only sparkling blue as far as the eye could see.

 

“You’re right. It was pretty hot up there, too.” Ben agreed, going over to her side. He saw her pensive look, following her gaze outwards. “… You think this is also a pretty neat find?”

 

Rye doesn’t answer, not right away, because she’s not interested in hearing her own voice just yet. She hears the water. The water lapping against the cliffs, the still distant sounds of the divers, and the breaking of waves over the open lake. She swayed with every passing surge, it’s choppy out now. The lake is a bit restless since they last met. It’s very cold, as it always is, but the water is so smooth and clear it’s like all the nasty things from land are getting washed away entirely.

 

“Yeah,” Rye finally spoke. “I think this area’s a good enough find. We’ll hunt for the secret in the park when Dad finds us.” Ben laughed at this, and stepped forward, staggering as the water pushed him and the stone didn’t support him.

 

“True! Let’s cool off really hard, okay?” Ben gave her a toothy grin, and leaps forward, submerging of his own will this time. His white curls flatten and he’s pawing at his face once he’s free, and Rye followed suit.

 

“Or,” Ben said, pausing poignantly. “You can catch a fish. There has to be one around here somewhere!”

 

“Oh hell yeah I am gonna catch that fish.” Rye snorted, and peered at the water, the images below wrinkled by the waves, but there had to be a fish to catch. Or at least kick. Anything to complete her warrior training.

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