In Our Image – Volume 2 Chapter 8

Author’s Note: Volume 2 is officially done! Hope you enjoyed, and we’ll move onto Volume 3 shortly.

Volume 2 – Chapter 8

We held our weapons high as they burned through worlds, forming from nothing, changing to suit our hands. The weight of my bat altered, becoming heavier and, strangely, familiar. My fingers closed around the hilt as if I had done it a thousand times before.

I looked down just as the light reflected off of the dark blade, nearly blinding me, causing me to look away immediately.

But I had seen it. And, more importantly, I felt it.

By the time we reached the soldiers, we no longer held a bat and a broom. Somehow, beyond all reason, we held swords.

Under normal circumstances, something like that would at least give me pause, but taking into account all that had happened to me and my friends in the past few weeks, and the situation at hand, I hardly gave it a second thought.

Instead, I swung.

The blade–did it have spikes?–travelled upwards at an incredible speed, slicing through the air and, more importantly, the pile of bones and rotting flesh that stood in front of me, waving his ancient sword around as he tried to gain a leg up in the fight.

Unfortunately for him, his equipment was outdated.

The zombie attempted at a block, but the new sword I had acquired made quick work of it, forcing its way straight through the rusted metal and making its way towards the soldier himself. As soon as my sword made contact with the gray flesh of the undead warrior, he–and I’m not making this up–crumpled into a pile of light gray dust, a thin coating of what used to be my adversary landing on the white tops of my sneakers.

Huh, that was easy, I thought, looking back and forth between the newly-made dust motes and the impossible black sword I held in my hands. Even the other soldiers seemed surprised, as none of them moved forward to attack for a moment, probably not wanting to take on the dangerous girl waving a spiky sword around.

Well, not that I can blame them.

With a new burst of confidence, I took a quick glance at Asher, and found him standing over his own pile of dust with wide eyes only one shade darker than the subject of their gaze. His left hand held loosely onto his newly formed sword, a straight white blade that I found hard to look at. While the dark sword in my hand reflected light with amazing intensity, Asher’s seemed to create light, sending small pulses of pale gold illumination throughout the dark room.

His mouth was open wide, as if he didn’t understand or believe a single thing that was happening–a feeling I understood completely.

I would have smiled at him, if it weren’t for the zombie about to chop his head off.

Without thinking, I ran forward, stretching out my right hand and hoping the tip of the sword would reach the dark soldier in time to stop him from hurting Asher. Closing the gap in an instant, I slammed my sword downwards, meeting the hard cement of the basement floor with a loud clink.

Realizing my eyes had been closed–probably a dangerous habit to get into when you’re fighting with swords–I flipped them open, only to find that, while I had easily taken care of the soldier’s sword itself, he was still undead and well, standing about five inches above me and looking down.

Meeting its sulfuric gaze, I threw my sword into the air just as it opened its toothless mouth, letting out a soft grunt as the honed metal travelled up his midsection, leaving nothing but a trail of dust behind.

To my right, Asher fell down with a thud, having jumped back in response to my wild swing to save his life. The room quieted down again, but the thudding continued, and I realized that Miller and Ayame were still hard at work behind us, trying as hard as they could to assure our escape route as they took turns pounding away at the brass doorknob in front of them.

Seeing them, my chest filled with a rush of heat, a renewed vigor to help us get out of the situation as well. I glanced first at Asher, who had risen to his feet carefully and was now holding his sword, point down, and then turned to face the remaining enemies. Out of the original six, three remained, two of whom held bows and one who carried a sword and a shield.

“Asher, I’ve got the bows. You deal with the one on the right,” I said, trying to put as much authority into my voice as I could muster. To seal the deal, I ran forward without waiting for a response, leaving him without many other options other than to follow.

The three tall, rotting figures were only about six feet in front of us, making their way slowly, almost cautiously, forward, their thin, yellow feet scraping on the hard floor. It hardly took me any time to reach them, even while lugging around the large sword, and before I knew it I was standing in front of my self-assigned enemies.

The bows, I realized, had been much more formidable outside, and especially in the open. While a good shot would still do any of us in, I could already tell that the skeleton-men were having trouble maneuvering the long, curved weapons in the low-ceilinged basement, a fact that wasn’t helped by the close range.

One of them already had an arrow on the string, while the other had a bony hand in the quiver, and I knew that I had to act now, or never. Wrapping all ten of my fingers around the well-worn leather of the hilt, I swung the sword in a wide arc, putting as much force as I could muster into the act. The first soldier went down quickly, dissolving into a cloud of dust and disappearing among the knic-knacs stored in the basement, but the second was able to take a step back, clearing the range of my swipe while placing his final arrow on its ancient string.

I couldn’t tell where he was aiming, and I figured I didn’t want to know. Rather, I was determined to stop the arrow and its master before I could find out its target and, although it was too late to stop my swing, I pushed forward with all of my might, transitioning hastily from a broad sweep into a focused lunge.

The switch was sluggish, even I could tell that, but apparently a couple hundred years underground isn’t the best for your reaction time, as the zombie hesitated, just for a moment, which was all I needed. Digging my feet into the ground, I pushed forward, sinking the point of my blade into the soldier’s midsection and sending him off to dust-bunny heaven with his friends.

Home run, I thought with a smile, before spinning to see if Asher had dealt with his fight.

The first thing I noticed was how far away the pair was–in the short amount of time it had taken me to deal with my two adversaries, Asher and the shield-toting zombie had somehow drifted nearly to the other side of the room, shuffling around boxes, trinkets and sundries the entire time.

Part of the reason for the drawn-out nature of the fight, I realized, was Asher himself. While I had practically flown into action with all of my zombie opponents, he seemed to be taking his time, standing in a low stance and holding his sword out defensively in front of him with his left hand while feeling behind him for obstacles with the other. His opponent–obviously a defensive-type enemy, given the shield and noteable endurance it displayed, maybe even a purely defensive class beast–didn’t seem quick on the draw, either, and I knew that if I didn’t step in, there was a good chance we’d be there all day.

Disregarding the amount of noise I made in doing so, I rushed full-sprint towards the pair, sword held above my head, ready to end this fight once and for all. Asher, facing towards me, noticed first and, though his eyes grew wide and he shook his head in what could have been a warning, he didn’t say anything. Within seconds, I had reached the monster and, without hesitation, I slammed my sword straight down on its head.

I’m not sure how the zombie knew I was coming (those gnarled ears couldn’t be functional), let alone how it moved quickly enough to block me. Even so, it happened and, before I knew it, the sharp spikes of my blade were making contact with the rough wooden surface of his shield, sending a rush of vibrations up my arms, bouncing through to my very bones.

Then, as quickly and nonchalantly as if it was swatting a fly, the soldier flicked his forearm, twisting both his shield and my sword and wresting it from my grasp, sending it clattering across the floor and into a dark, currently inaccessible corner of the basement.

“Oh, sh–” I began, but the menacing gaze the zombie shot at me shut me up pretty quickly. Without a hint of hesitation, the warrior raised his sword, ready to return my blow, as I prepared to jump away.

Then, behind me, I heard a crash, followed by Ayame’s voice.

“I got it!” she shouted. “Come on!”

I didn’t wait for the zombie to try and attack before jumping back, turning and running towards the now-open door that Ayame and Miller were half poking out of. Glancing back, I saw Asher rushing up behind me, his sword pumping in the air, the final soldier close behind. We headed through the door, pounding up the set of dark green stairs and into what seemed to me like an entrance lobby.

To our right, through a large set of wooden doors and past a few stained-glass windows, was the main area of the church, pews lined up in neat rows, facing the back of the building, and to our left was another set of doors, which I could only assume went outside. Needless to say, we went to the left.

As soon as we made it outside, the bright light of the sun bombarding my eyes and swarming my vision with dark spots, I turned to Asher.

“Let me use your sword,” I said, holding my hand out. “I think I can take this guy.”

He glanced at the glowing blade in his hand, its light somewhat dimmed in the daylight. He looked a little uneasy. “You sure?”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “He got me back there, but I won’t let it happen again.”

Asher simply shrugged, looking almost relieved to pass the duty of fighting zombies onto someone else, and held the sword out to me. I took it gratefully, wrapping the fingers of my right hand around the golden hilt.

The first thing I noticed was that the sword felt so much smaller than the one I’d handled back in the basement. Compared to that dark blade, a heavy, dangerous-looking piece of metal that almost felt more like a sledgehammer than a sword, the simple-looking weapon Asher possessed reminded me of a scalpel, more than anything.

The second thing I noticed was that the handle was hot, hotter than anything I could remember ever touching before. The heat, beginning nearly the moment I wrapped my hand around the hilt, quickly travelled up my arm, ripping past my shoulder and concentrating itself in the center of my chest. It felt like a fire had set itself within me and, before I knew it, I had dropped the sword, letting it hit the green grass with a soft thud.

“What was that?” Asher asked, picking up the sword and half-heartedly holding it out to me. My hand still buzzed, like it had had a run-in with a miniature electric chair, and I tried to shake it off.

“I’m not sure,” I said, wincing as I continued to wobble my burning hand, hoping the pain would dissipate. “But I don’t think I’m going to be able to use that sword. This is gonna be up to you, Asher.”

He looked surprised–I’d say he was downright incredulous–although I noticed his grip on the sword tightened, ever so slightly.

“Why is that?” he asked, but I didn’t give him an answer, as the front doors to the church opened up once again, revealing the undead soldier, his sword raised, shield (now with two small holes in the face, I noticed) hanging at his side.

“You can do it,” I assured him, pushing him forward while simultaneously motioning Miller and Ayame back. “They’re entry-level enemies, at most. Nothing to worry about. Besides, you already beat one, didn’t you?”

“Don’t think accidents count,” he mumbled, raising his sword nonetheless. The warrior approached steadily, coming within a few feet, and I patted him quickly on the back.

“Just take a breath,” I said. He obliged, and I wondered briefly how long it had been since he had last done so. Although I trusted that Asher could beat the skeleton, I doubted he believed he could, and I worried that fact would affect the outcome of the fight. Then, I had a brilliant idea. “Okay, I’m gonna help you out.”

“How?” he asked, looking at me with an ounce of the classic Asher skepticism I’d come to know so well. Luckily for me, there was no time to explain.

“Just trust me,” I said, and waited. The zombie-soldier, now only two arms-lengths away, continued forward, and I made my move.

It took just three steps to get to him and, as soon as I did, I took one more to the side, lining myself up right next to the monster. For a moment, he looked at me, vacant yellow eyes blazing, his sword-hand twitching, ready to strike.

Then, I put my plan into action.

Pulling my leg back and building up power, I shot my foot forward, the sole of my shoe making direct contact with the knobbly left knee of the ancient fighter. He made no sound, but the loud crack that came from his leg was enough for me, and as soon as he began shifting to the side, throwing his arms out to try and keep his balance, I jumped back, motioning at Asher to move.

“Now, Asher!” I said, and he sprung into action, stepping in towards the soldier and slicing his thin sword downwards across its chest. For a second, it looked like nothing had happened, and then, just like that, it broke down into a small pile of dust, the last remnants of the undead army shifting in the breeze.

Everything went quiet and, then, Asher dropped his sword, which immediately disappeared in a small explosion of light, before dropping himself, hitting the ground softly and rolling onto his back, his eyes aimed towards the milky-blue sky.

Laughing, I joined him.

“That was great!” I said, jabbing him in the side with my elbow, the grass tickling my arm. “Perfect form, if you ask me.”  

“Yeah, I’m sure,” he muttered, his voice even quieter than usual. I wondered if the fight was getting to him–that stuff’s probably not really up his alley, and having to suddenly face off against and re-kill multiple undead soldiers had to have been a pretty big shock.

Just as I planned to ask him, however, Ayame and Miller made it to us, kneeling down quickly and leaning over to face us, partially blocking out the sky.

“Are you okay?” Ayame asked, her gaze flicking between me and Asher.

“We’re fine,” I said happily, looking at Asher, who nodded in agreement.

“Fine?” Miller asked. He pulled his head back out of my vision, and it sounded to me like he was laying down as well. “That’s good, I guess, but I’m not sure if I believe you. That was pretty messed up.”

Ayame nodded and, realizing she was the only one not laying down, followed our lead, returning my view to the expanding sky.

“What do you think those things were?” she asked, halting for a moment on ‘things.’

“No idea,” Asher said, after a moment of silence. “Some kind of zombie fighter, I guess. It doesn’t really make sense to me, but I can’t think of what else they’d be.”

“It kind of makes sense, then,” Miller said, “at least in the way that nothing has made sense in the past month or so. At least it’s keeping with the trend.”

That got a small chuckle, which quickly descended back into silence. I wanted to say something, to get everybody back in a good mood but, for once, nothing came to mind.

Eventually, Asher broke the silence.

“One more thing,” he said. “What were those swords?”

No one seemed to have an answer and, after another moment, he continued.

“I have no idea exactly how it happened, “ he said, his voice low, “but those things just appeared, right when Cat and I needed them. Even wrong all of the weird stuff that’s been going on, I find that odd.”

Again, silence. It stretched on for some time, each of us mulling the question over, trying to come to an impossible answer by sheer force of will, before I decided that I’d had enough.

“You’re right,” I said. “That doesn’t make sense. But you know what else doesn’t? The way we’re all just lying here, staring at the sky and trying to figure out the impossible, while school is still going on.”

That got the desired effect, and Asher and Ayame jumped up almost immediately, brushing grass off of their clothes and looking towards the school grounds.

“Oh, no,” Ayame said. “Do you think anyone noticed?”

“I’m not sure,” Asher replied, a bit of color finding its way back into his voice. “We’d better get back, though, before someone does. Come on, guys.”

Without looking back, the two of them rushed back, heading towards the line of trees we had fled from just a little earlier. Slowly, Miller and I did the same, standing up and following behind them at a more reasonable pace.

“You know,” Miller said, after a while, “those swords….that couldn’t have been a one time thing, right?”

I looked back, and his eyes caught mine, an intense but otherwise indiscernible thought floating just behind his irises.

“I don’t think so,” I said with a shrug. “But who knows? I’m sure Asher and I will talk about it, sooner or later. Maybe we can figure it out, but right now, we’ve got to get back to school, before they send out a search party.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Miller said, and left it at that.

We headed through the woods and, although I brushed it off with Miller, the swords burned in my mind, swirling in my thoughts and grabbing for my attention. I wasn’t sure what it was, but there was just something about them, the way they appeared, the way they felt, that I knew I had encountered before, somewhere, somehow. What Miller had said was probably true–there had to be a way for me and Asher to get those swords again, but what would happen when we did?

Truthfully, I had no idea, but the question persisted, and I knew it would linger in my mind for a long time.

Eventually, however, we caught up to Asher and Ayame, and I pushed it away, my thoughts switching back to school, to fitness day, to having fun with my friends.

Making our way back to the track, we picked up our interrupted jog and, while me and my friends travelled around the school grounds, slipping slowly back into normal conversation and letting the fight fall behind us, I tried to ignore the tingling in my hand.

*   *   *

The dark sky hung overhead like a blanket covering the earth, both the moon and the stars covered by a layer of thick, suffocating clouds intent on snuffing out all the light of the surrounding, expanding universe. In the night, under a small tree, Barachiel sat, letting the light gray dust trickle between his fingertips and gather in the palm of his opposite hand, before lifting the receiving hand and reversing the process.

It took time but, eventually, the crane appeared, ducking into the shadow of the tall shed with a flap of its large wings and emerging as a familiar demon, just as he knew he would.

“So,” Naberius said, waltzing up to Barachiel with his hands in his pockets and a small grin on his face. “How’d it go?”

“It went well,” Barachiel responded, forcibly letting go of his previous inhibitions concerning fraternizing with the enemy. In the course of the past week, he had begun to accept such interactions as a necessity in his plans. “Exceptionally well, rather. The warriors were awakened and, as I expected, defeated. There is no longer any doubt in my mind–they are the ones.”

“What makes you so sure?” the demon asked, scratching his cheek and pretending that he didn’t already know the answer.

“I’m sure you felt it,” Barachiel said, looking at the demon for the first time. “Just for a moment, I felt a spark. They must have tapped into a portion of their capabilities.”

“You’re sure I felt it?” Naberius repeated, glancing up at the sky with dark eyes. ‘You must remember, Barachiel, that’s assuming I was listening in the first place.”

“Were you not?”

Silence, and then, quietly than he had spoken in quite some time, Naberius let his voice travel into the night. “What do we do now?”

His use of “we” did not escape the angel but, with no small amount of grace, he declined to comment. He stood, and took a single step towards the demon.

“They will not come back alone for some time, if at all,” he stated. “They will need assistance.”

“I want to ask you, one more time,” Naberius said, as if he was waiting for the perfect opportunity, “are you sure about all of this?”

Barachiel narrowed his eyes. “Of course I am sure. Besides, I never once asked for your help in the matter, and whether or not you believe this to be a good idea means nothing to me.”

“You didn’t ask, no, but you’ll need it,” Naberius said, ignoring the jab. “Though it is nowhere near agreeable, I’ll aid you in achieving your result. I can only guess what you want him here for but, as for me, well…let’s just say I need her back.”        

For the remainder of their encounter, they exchanged no more words, each lost in separate worlds, both past and future, an angel and a demon standing together under a dark sky, preparing to embark towards a new world.

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