In Our Image

In Our Image – Volume 4 Chapter 8

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Author’s Note: Here we go, the finale to Volume 4! How did you guys enjoy this volume, and what do you think of the story so far? Let me know!

Volume 4 – Chapter 8

Saying that Asher randomly grabbing me by the arm and pulling me out of our boat surprised me would definitely be an understatement. One minute, I’m standing in front of Nestor, looking cool with my sword held up and ready to fight, and the next I’m dragged into the ocean.

And you think you know a guy.

The water wasn’t as cold as I expected it to be, feeling more like a swimming pool in the summer than anything. In the distance, a muted crash rang out, and a moment later I felt it, a shock wave spreading out, tiny bubbles tickling my skin. I wondered what was going on above the surface.

Luckily, I was able to get over the surprise of being thrown into the water pretty quickly, and rose with a few slow kicks through the water. The sword in my hand made it a little hard to tread water, but I was able to manage, holding it in front of me and letting my free arm handle the rest.

Asher surfaced a moment after me, his hair weighed down by the water, covering his eyes. Pushing the locks out of his face, he glanced around like a lost little lamb until he found me, and I raised my eyebrows.

“What was that about?”

He didn’t respond, instead pointing in front of us. Training my eyes in that direction, I took in the grim scene laid out in front of me.

Where our boat had been only a moment earlier was a mess of debris, foam-covered sheets of plastic with ragged edges bobbing in time with the waves. The sound of rain pattering on their surface joined in with the rush of the droplets hitting the water, and I had to raise my voice even more to be heard.

“Asher!” He turned to face me once again at the sound, head shifting slowly up and down as he focused on staying above the waves. “Where’s Nestor?”

It hadn’t hit me at first, but after looking at the remains of the boat for a second time I was met with the realization that Nestor hadn’t resurfaced with us. Asher looked towards the site of our borrowed vessel’s destruction as well, before glancing at the dark water around us.

“Underneath us,” he said, trying to match my volume. Without another word, he began paddling towards me with long strokes, most likely wishing to avoid the business of having to yell and scream to hold a conversation.

“I know that,” I said as he got closer, doing my best to drift towards him while still keeping hold of the sword. “What I mean is where underneath us do you think he is? We can’t exactly fight him if we don’t know wh–”

I wasn’t able to finish my sentence, as it was at that moment that I sensed him.

You know that feeling you get when you’re swimming in a lake or a pond, and you’re so worried about a fish sliding it’s cold, slimy scales across your leg that you start to feel like it’s happening even when you know it’s not? Magnify that by about four hundred times and you have a pretty accurate representation of what I was feeling at that moment.

Well, an almost accurate representation, at least, because unlike a lot of antsy beach-goers, I knew the fish was right beside me, beneath the waves.

And he was a big one.

“What’s wrong?” Asher asked quickly after I cut off. He didn’t seem to get the same feeling. “Do you see it?”

“No, but he’s somewhere near us. I can feel it.”

Asher didn’t respond at first, instead pulling himself even closer to me, until we were side by side in the churning water. His face soaked, he blinked water out of his eyes as he looked at me.

“We’re going to have to stay here. It should come to us, with how it attacked the boat. If you feel it coming try to stab it before it can do any real damage. I’ll try to get my sword before it comes.”

He said nearly all of it in one breath, trying to keep his thoughts short, but the message was clear–he was taking charge for the time being. I decided it would be best to listen to him.

“Okay. Do you think that swords will do anything?”

He shook his head, flinging rain droplets into the sea. “No idea, but it’s our best bet. Now let’s just hope this thing doesn’t have teeth.”

We fell silent again, and I continued to stare down at the water, wishing I was able to see into its depths. For the first time since taking the boat, I had time to think about what was actually going on.

I didn’t regret what I had done–I know it was the right decision–but that didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous about the outcome. Looking down at the churning water, not knowing when or how Nestor was going to attack, I found myself worrying about whether or not we could handle it, and my breathing picked up, just slightly.

Trying to calm myself, I once again glanced at Asher. Rain was still crashing down around us, and we still had to keep ourselves afloat while worrying about an attack from beneath, but despite all that he looked almost calm.

Of course, I knew Asher, and if I had to bet under that calm exterior he was completely freaking out, but the pure fact that he looked composed helped me to concentrate. Taking a deep breath, I gripped my sword more tightly, and scanned the water, hoping to catch sight of the serpent as it approached.

Minutes passed, and still nothing happened. After a time, the rhythm of the rain hitting the surface of the water faded into the background, and I could hear nothing but my own breath, ragged with the exertion of keeping myself above water. My focus, although I tried my best to keep it on scouting out Nestor, drifted, and I found myself wondering if we should head back to shore.

But I knew that wasn’t even a question, and pushed the thought away as quickly as it could form. We had to stop the monster here, away from the beach. We couldn’t even give it the option of reaching all of those people.

As it turns out, that was a good moment to strengthen my resolve, because about a second later Asher opened his eyes.

“Move,” he said, not wasting any time. As he grabbed my arm and began paddling backwards quickly, I noticed that his eyes were wide. ‘We have to move.”

“Why?” I asked, following his lead. I feared I already knew the answer.

“It’s coming up.”

I wanted to ask him how he could be so sure but, remembering how he had predicted the boat getting destroyed, I decided to listen now and ask questions later.

About three seconds later, I was glad I did. It came out of nowhere, erupting from the water, its upper half rising into the air like a cartoon snake out of a vase.

As soon as it surfaced, I began to drift, pushed back by the water disturbed as Nestor broke out from the depths. Although it was tempting to look at the giant head now at least ten feet above the surface, to lock eyes with the beady, clouded eyes on either side, I instead focused my attention on staying afloat.

The water up until this point had been lukewarm at best, but something about the monster surfacing must have changed that, raising the temperature of the water from a pool in summer to about what you would expect from a hot tub. I wondered what would happen if we stayed near him for much longer.

Miraculously, Asher hadn’t lost his grip on my arm, and we still floated together, maybe twenty feet away from Nestor. Once we had both collected ourselves from the sudden shock, I thought of speaking, but decided better of it. His lips were pale, his expression grim as he pointed a finger at the serpent.

“It’s gonna come down,” he said. It was hard to hear him above the storm. “What should we do?”

I thought for a moment, but came up with nothing–from what I could see, there wasn’t much we could do but distract it and try to get a lucky hit. I gave him my best attempt at a shrug.

He looked ready to respond, but Nestor didn’t give him the chance. His muddy brown scales gleamed, reflecting light from who knows where, and he began to descend, his monstrous head coming straight towards us as he went for the world record for most impressive bellyflop.

As quickly as I could, I held up my sword, but I knew immediately that it wouldn’t help–my grip was shaky, my wrist weak, and the fact that we were in water forced my to hold it at an odd angle. At best I would give him a little scrape, maybe shave off a scale or two. There was no way I could do enough to stop him.

I knew that. Of course I knew that. But what other choice did I have?

He hit the water a second later. It happened fast enough that I didn’t really feel the collision–one second I was above the water, trying to prepare for the impact of the hulking midsection of a serpentine monster, and the next I was under, all of my breath knocked from my lungs, swirling beneath the waves.

The sword was gone, thrown from my loose grip the second it made contact with the monster. I couldn’t tell which way was up, my lungs burned, I tried dragging my arms through the water in a vain attempt to right myself, but found that they wouldn’t cooperate.

Where is Asher?

To my surprise, I found that my eyes were open, as blurry patches of light and shadow began to fill my vision. In the distance, one of the larger spots of darkness began to move, sliding through the rough current, coiling and uncoiling as it drifted farther away from me. I hoped against hope that it wasn’t heading towards the beach, reaching towards it, forcing my arm to move.

It was no use. It slipped away from me, and I floated beneath the surface, the last bubbles of air escaping from my lips. As my eyes drifted closed, I stared forwards, tiny spots of light dancing in my vision, and I wondered if I was staring at the surface or the depths.

But, strangely, the hazy, patchwork collection of light and shadow wasn’t all that I saw in the water. There was something else. For a moment, right as my eyes closed, I could have sworn I saw someone.

*   *   *

When I came to it was dark, and for a terrifying second I thought I was still in the water. Not thinking, I tried desperately to rise upwards, thrusting my arms outwards and spreading my fingers. To my surprise, however, I was met with the feeling of damp sand beneath my fingers, lodging itself under my nails and coating my hands.

With a struggle, I forced my eyes open, and found that I was lying facedown on the beach. Pushing myself up with shaky hands, I spit sand out of my mouth and glanced around.

Though it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to my environment (they still felt full of water), I noticed Asher almost immediately. He was about twenty feet away from me, and I crawled over to him as quickly as I could, grabbing hold of his shoulder and shaking vigorously.

“Asher, wake up!” I yelled, fingernails digging into his skin. His hair was disheveled, bangs covering his eyes, but after a few moments I noticed that they began to open. I shook harder. “Asher!”

Rather than respond, he simply groaned, rolling onto his side and bringing a hand to his forehead. After a brief coughing fit, he forced himself into a sitting position, and looked at me with half-closed eyes.

“Cat?” His voice was quiet and hoarse, like he was just recovering from a month-long cold. “What happened? Did we stop it?”

“I don’t know, I just woke up.”

He nodded, and began to look around, shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun shining through a sudden break in the dark clouds. It wasn’t raining anymore, and I tried to figure out how much time had passed by the position of the sun, but quickly gave up, instead taking a look around.

We had washed up somewhere further down the beach, and I couldn’t see any people around who were actually on the beach, although I did catch a few stepping out from some of the buildings scattered near the shore, probably appreciating the change in weather. In the distance, I caught the bright reds, blues and yellows of beach umbrellas, and pointed them out to Asher.

“I think that’s where we were,” I said, standing up. My legs were still a little wobbly, but I felt they were strong enough to move. “Let’s head over there and look for Miller and Ayame.”

Asher didn’t respond, but stood up and began to walk forward, which gave me a good idea of how he felt on the matter. Taking a quick breath, I stretched my arms and bent my legs to loosen my joints and rushed to catch up.

It wasn’t long before we saw them–Asher and I couldn’t have been walking for more than three minutes when I caught their silhouettes rushing towards us, moving as quickly as they could without tripping on the hills and valleys carved into the sand. I began to smile as soon as I realized who they were, and found that I was still smiling when they reached us.

Ayame got there first and, rather than slow down from her dash, she kept it going, holding her arms out and crashing into Asher with a hug. I thought she might stop it there and come for me second but, full of surprises as ever, she was actually able to stretch her arm out and pull me in too. Although Asher and I nearly fell backwards from the impact, I planted my feet in the sand and kept us anchored there, caught in Ayame’s embrace.

‘You’re both idiots,” she said. Her voice was shaky. ‘You’re so stupid.”

I couldn’t think of any way to respond, and honestly, I don’t think I needed to.

Miller came up a few seconds later, walking briskly towards our little jumble. While Ayame had surprised me with her double-hug, I was downright astounded when Miller actually joined in, silently wrapping his arms around us.

We stayed like that for a few moments, until we finally pulled apart, Miller and Ayame standing there, facing Asher and I. As soon as the sentimental reunion was over, Asher jumped right in.

“What happened to the sea monster?” he asked, looking out to the ocean. “It doesn’t look like it came to the beach, but Cat and I weren’t able to stop it out there. Where did it go?”

“That’s the thing,” Miller responded immediately. He had probably expected the question. “We were watching you the whole time, as best as we could, and we saw it start coming towards the beach. But that was it–it only started, and then turned around and headed out into the ocean again, the same way it came.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, trying to wrap my mind around his words. ‘You’re saying it just disappeared? Like, it just up and left?”

“We don’t understand it, either,” Ayame said, still standing close to the two of us, like she might grab onto us again just to make sure we were still there. “It was definitely planning on coming to shore, but it looked like something changed it’s mind. The storm stopped as soon as it left, too, so I think it’s safe to say it’s gone.”

None of us said anything at first–and really, who could blame us? After you risk your life stupidly engaging a sea monster on its own turf, it’s a bit anticlimactic to hear that it just left. We had even called the police, for crying out loud!

All in all I was a little peeved at Nestor, and tried to figure out why he had put us through all of that and how we were going to deal with all of the aftereffects, before Asher let out a relieved sigh, interrupting my thoughts.

“Well, it’s settled,” he said, smiling tiredly. “I’m never going to complain about a deus ex machina again. Never.”

Ayame laughed first, and although I didn’t 100% get the joke–I think “deus ex machina” has something to do with movies, right?–it was hard not to laugh along with her. In no time at all, we were all joining in, laughing not really at Asher’s joke but in pure relief from the whole situation being over with.

Sure, maybe Nestor had disappeared without a trace, and maybe we’d have to explain to the police why an entire section of the beach had suddenly passed out simultaneously, but at least we were all alive, and all together. Despite it all, everything was okay.

And so we stood there, giggling among ourselves, none of us noticing the figure strolling by, whistling an old show tune while staring up at the sky, shielding their eyes from the sun.

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