In Our Image – Volume 4 Chapter 7

I knew it was a bad idea the second I hit the water. While it’s one thing to look at the ocean, waves rising from underneath the blanket of water and rolling slowly towards shore, it’s an entirely different experience to actually be in it. Actually being in the water, all of your expectations are shattered–what might look like a small wave on the surface can instantly turn into a swell beneath, pushing you around like a leaf on a stream.

Add that to the fact that I’m not the strongest swimmer to begin with, and you can probably guess that I was having a pretty bad time.

Even so, I kept going, digging my hands into the water and propelling myself forward. It was hard to see–when swirls of salty ocean water weren’t being thrust into my eyes by the waves, heavy droplets of warm rain handled the job nicely. Although every once in awhile I got a clear view of what was in front of me (mostly water), I was pretty much just hoping that I was headed towards Cat, rather than out into the empty sea.

The swim lasted for quite a while, and I quickly turned my attention from where I was going to how I was going to get there. While most of my energy was devoted to pushing myself forward in the turbulent water, what little I had left was spent in raising my head above the waves, choking out gulps of salt water and taking quick inhalations of breath.

It wasn’t very fun, and nearly every moment was a reminder of how dangerous this entire situation was, but still I pressed on. Besides, what choice did I really have? Cat was out on the water somewhere, along with a weird sea-monster that was probably set on attacking us from the start.

And she had the boat.

So I kept swimming, and eventually my water-logged eyes caught sight of a boat somewhere in front of me, a pair of arms stretching their way in my direction. As quickly as I could, I raised my own, grasping with slippery fingers at the hands in front of me, and found myself being pulled up by a surprisingly strong grip and seated on a hard surface.

Finally out of the water, I spent some time choking out mouthfuls of salt water, attempting to catch my breath while simultaneously keeping the buckets of water dripping down my face from entering my lungs and starting the whole process over.

I was soaked–my shorts clung to my body while my bangs hung in my face, coming to rest directly over my eyes where they deposited their vast stores of water. Shivering slightly, I brought my wrist up and tried to rub the water out, but that proved ineffective, as it was about as wet as every other part of me. In the end, I was forced to simply blink until the rain washed out the remaining salt.

Then, finally, I looked forward.

Cat was the first thing I saw, her knotted hair pressed down by the rain in clumps over her forehead and ears. She was smiling, trails of water making their way to her chin and falling to the boat.

“I can’t believe you swam all the way out here,” she said excitedly. “What are you doing?”

“Good question,” I said. It was tough to keep the annoyance out of my voice, but in the end I decided I’d earned it, and let it go. “Following you. For some reason, I decided it was better for both of us to get killed, rather than just one.”

Her face dropped a little, but she didn’t seem all that bothered by my response. Glancing down at the waves, she fiddled around with the plastic oar handle in her lap, running it in a circle around the metal ring that kept it attached to the boat.

“We’re not going to get killed,” she said, resuming her rowing towards the creature. I wondered briefly why she hadn’t at least picked up a motor boat, but decided it was too late to worry about details. “We’ve beaten everything else so far.”

“Sure, but a few zombies and a ghost don’t really equal a giant sea-monster,” I said. “Even if we can summon one of the swords, how are we going to use them against that thing?”

“You don’t know that it’s giant.” She continued rowing, glancing backwards at the head of the creature. It was drifting closer to us–it couldn’t be more than a soccer field’s length away. “And besides, it’s a little late for you to argue how stupid this is. We’re already here, so how about you take a turn rowing?”

Our seats were hardly a foot away from each other and, shifting her knees to the side, all Cat had to do was thrust the handles forward a few inches to get them to my hands. A little miffed, mostly at the fact that her words were completely valid, I gripped them tightly with slightly shaking hands, and began to push forward in the water.

Cat and I exchanged few words–there didn’t seem to be much to say–as we approached the dark spot, now the size of a small sedan. We drifted forward as quickly as I could manage, and within a few moments we neared the creature.

That’s about when the fear kicked in.

Of course, I should note that this isn’t the first time I had felt any fear since Cat had run towards the boat–actually, that was probably about the only thing I had felt–but this was the first time it had actually felt real. By now, we were close enough to see the glistening skin of the creature as its head rose from and sunk into the water. At one point, I could have even sworn I caught a glimpse of jagged teeth.

Waves crashed against the side of the boat, spilling into the bottom and nearly covering my feet, and I finally quit rowing, as we were now close enough to see into the muddy-colored eyes of the beast. It continued toward us at the same steady speed as earlier, and before I realized it I was cracking my knuckles, biting into my shivering lips hard enough to draw blood.

The rain fell fast, disturbing the water so that I couldn’t see anything beneath the surface, which I believed was probably a good thing. Just the sight of the monstrous head was enough to to send my hands shaking, and I could only imagine what kind of reaction I would have to seeing the entirety of the creature. I glanced at Cat who, although holding a grim expression on her face, didn’t seem to be feeling any real fear–or, at the very least, she didn’t show it.

For a moment, I glanced back at the beach. The distance, combined with the swell of rain coming down and waves crashing at the side of the boat, made it difficult to make out aside from a large swath of white and gray. I couldn’t see Miller or Ayame, which I hoped meant they had gotten somewhere safe.

By the time my eyes made it back to the creature, it was nearly on us. To my right, Cat held out her right arm, and glanced sideways at me.

“Get your sword ready!” she shouted, before looking straight ahead, her mouth set in a straight line. Then, she spread her fingers out, and I watched in amazement as a sword–the same one she had used the last time–appeared out of nowhere, settling into her hand. Gripping the hilt tightly with both hands, Cat held the dark, ridged blade in front of her, ready to strike.

My heart began to beat faster. While I was surprised at the ease which with she had summoned the sword, it didn’t do much to quell the sense of dread building up inside of me–if anything, the presence of an actual weapon only made it worse.

And besides, I still had no idea how we were supposed to fight a sea monster with a sword.

But, Cat had her sword, and the creature was going to be on us at any second. I had to do something. In the time since we had summoned the swords for the first time, we had only been able to do it in absolutely dire circumstances. All things considered, this situation seemed pretty dire, and I decided I would have to try to summon my sword as well.

I closed my eyes, in part to concentrate, but also to keep the raindrops from flooding my vision. I took a deep breath, and tried to think of the sword–its white blade, its weight as I closed my fingers around the hilt, the soft light the seemed to follow it as it moved. Knowing that I had no more than a few seconds to finish the task, I poured all of my energy into forming the image, trying to will it into existence.

By this point, I could practically see the sword, could almost feel it in my hand. But, just as quickly as I had imagined the sword, it disappeared. Then, suddenly, the image in my mind shifted, moving up from the sword and facing in front of me–directly at the creature.

My eyes were still closed, and yet for some reason I watched, awestruck, as the creature finally rose above the water, a serpentine monster towering over Cat and me, opening its mouth and releasing a shrill howl. Around us, the sea boiled, and we could do nothing but stare in horror as it slammed downwards, crashing into the top of our boat with all of its girth, sending us tumbling into the water.

I opened my eyes. My chest burned, my heart near bursting as it pounded against my ribcage, and I found it difficult to take a breath. I glanced at my hands to find them empty, before hastily looking in front of me. Cat stood, as before, ready to strike, the creature mere meters in front of her. It came towards us, slowly, and began to shift….

There was no time to think. I moved as quickly as I could, feet sloshing through the accumulating water at the bottom of the boat. I grasped Cat’s shoulder, shouting as loudly as I could.

“We have to jump!”

She looked confused, and opened her mouth as if to reply, but I knew that there was no time. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the dark outline of the creature rising from the swirling water. We had to get out of the boat.

The sound of crashing water roared in my ears, the rain continued to fall, and above it all rang the shriek of the creature, towering above us like a skyscraper. The creature came down and, holding onto Cat’s arm with as much strength as I could muster, I pulled us both over the side of the boat, and into the water below.

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