The Snake and the Mirror

Chapter 30

 

The Viking ships sailed over the water, their rows splashing in the sea as they closed the distance between them and the smaller vessel. Loud echoing voices carried through the fog, speaking in a language that Noemi couldn’t understand. She didn’t need to understand to know what they were saying, however. It was the same as any pirate across time. Orders were barked, cheers were shouted, and the oars rowed ever on.

Bouncing along the crest of the wave, the smaller ship tried to hide itself in the rise and fall of the ocean, dipping behind a wave as it started its rise, before pulling back up to catch the next one. The single figure aboard kept one hand on the tiller and another on the rope, trying to catch the wing as best he could.

Neither side seemed to spot the Dutchman until it was already upon them. Raising over the zenith of a wave, it crashed down with a splash upon the ocean’s surface. The water rippled out, rocking the other ships side by side. The small skiff bounced even higher as it struggled to stay afloat, while the Viking longboats tipped dangerously one way then the other.

Aboard the Dutchman, Noemi could see the ghostly figures moving more readily, taking their ethereal form as they scuttled to and fro on the deck. Guns were loaded, though with what, Noemi couldn’t see. She followed Jonah as he worked with surprising stiffness. All the ghosts did. It was if they heard some drum, some beat, to which Noemi was deaf. They moved in time and when the first guns fired their warning shots, the cannons roaring and shaking the ship, they continued as if nothing had happened at all.

The waves grew wilder as the Dutchman drew nearer to the longboats. Noemi couldn’t even see the skiff as the clouds blocked the light, until the lightning of the storm flashed. There it was, still struggling to keep control, caught in the maelstrom that the Dutchman had brought.

The ship shook as the cannons fired again. Invisible cannonballs shot forth at the longboats, who responded with the whizzing of unseen arrows and the shouts of a legion of dead souls. Noemi felt her head spinning, both from the ship and the sounds coming all around her. She felt herself jostled, knocked about, by the ghosts, not knowing where she should stand to stay out of their way! She closed her eyes. They weren’t doing her any good anyway, and it was less confusing without them.

“The bell, Noemi!” She heard Jonah shout.

“What?” She said, dazed. She couldn’t see him, see anything with her eyes closed. She certainly didn’t hear a bell.

“The rope! Grab the rope!”

Noemi scrunched up her eyes more, trying to keep them shut. This was worse than the jungle. At least the jungle was just dark! Here, her mind felt like it was playing tricks on her. She heard a soft hissing in her mind, before she could see again.

“Eh?! AAH!” Noemi screamed, her eyes flying open. What her mind saw and what her eyes saw clashed, painfully, as her hands reflexively moved to shield her once-more closed eyes. She hadn’t been wrong; her eyes had been shut tightly. Even now, though, she could see the ship about her, the ghosts more solid and…real…than they previously had been. “What…what’s going on!?”

I have lent you my eyes, Noemi. To see what you could not.

The soft voice of Ophidia tickled the back of her mind. Noemi looked around. She could see the cannonballs and arrows in the air. She could see the sailors on the Dutchman. More importantly, she could see the rope, hanging from the mast, attached to an old copper bell, corroded from the wet sea air.

“The bell…” She whispered to herself. Without thinking, she grabbed the rope and pulled on it, giving it a test tug.

The bell tolled high above the water, with a low rumbling clang. The ghosts aboard the ship seemed to move more slowly, watching the bell with rapt-fascination. The bell rang again. Across the water, the long boats started to rumble and shake. Cracks appeared in their hulls, water seeping aboard their decks. The Viking ghosts stood as enthralled as the other ghosts.

Even Noemi found herself staring up at the blue-tinged copper bell, her mouth dropping open. She could swear she heard a voice echoing out beneath the clanging.

The Locker awaits…

A shiver ran up her spine and Noemi let the rope slide from her hands as she squeaked. She gave her skin a pinch just to make sure she could still feel pain, still feel warmth. Her heart beat faster, even as she let out a sigh.

The shouting of the Vikings grew more desperate. Noemi looked over the edge of the railing. For all the cannon fire, the bell seemed to have done more to split the boats than anything else. They fell below the water, on their journey to the bottom of the ocean floor. Their masts cracked and splashed into the water as the ghosts were pulled beneath the waves.

“I…I don’t…” Noemi said, her body shaking as she took a step back from the rope. She had seen a lot over the last few months, more than most, but it hadn’t truly resonated with her just what it meant to be aboard the Dutchman until now. She could hear Jonah’s boots on the deckboards creaking towards her, throwing a blanket over her shoulder.

“Those ghosts should have been in Davy Jones’ locker,” he explained, as though it were something normal and expected. “Come on, we still need to deal with the skiff and her captain.”

Noemi picked herself up, moving in a bit of a haze after Jonah’s steps. She could feel Ophidia manifesting herself more inside Noemi’s body, a comforting sensation that helped reassure the champion that she was still one of the living. She was just traveling aboard the ship of the dead.

Jonah threw a ladder over the side of the ship and the skiff-rider climbed aboard. At first, Noemi thought him to be a young boy, no more than a teen. As the person pulled themselves up, however, Noemi quickly realized that the figure belonged to that of a woman. Her long admiral’s coat did much to hide the slight flare of her waist, the gentle curves along her side. The blouse showed only the barest indication of breasts, making Noemi wonder if she had them bound, like the stories of Polly Oliver.

What broke the illusion was the long sliver hair that draped over ‘Polly’s’ shoulders, hanging down her back. Noemi had never seen anyone with hair as long as this woman before. A rather large tricorn hat with a feather pluming from its brim kept her hair off her face. As Noemi’s gaze met ‘Polly’s’ eyes, she couldn’t help but stare. The woman had the strangest purple-blue eyes that seemed to shift color depending on the light.

“What are you looking at, Red?” The woman said, grabbing some of her long hair and wringing it out of water. As she pulled it to the side, Noemi could see sharp pointed ears pointing out from underneath it.

“Ah, nothing!” Noemi said quickly. “You’re not…You’re not a ghost?”

“A ghost? Hah! Death wouldn’t know what to do with me! I’m the Dread Pirate Rhonwen, Scourge of the North Sea, Mistress of the English Channel!” Rhonwen said, her voice sounding strange to Noemi’s ears. It wasn’t quite what she would expect from an Irish accent…

“S-sorry, but…What are you?”

“First time meeting an elf, kid?” Rhonwen said with a smile on her face. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s been a while since I could stretch my legs like this! Thought I’d be stuck in Annwn forever!”

“…You know,” Noemi said, after the elf’s words sunk in. “I’ve met spirits, I’m on a boat of the dead…I don’t know why this surprises me but…I guess demihumans don’t make any less sense.”

“Hmph! Demihuman?! Do I look like a stupid human to you?!”

“Well…” Noemi said, holding up her hands. “If it weren’t for the ears…and the eyes…”

“Maybe you look like an elf, Red! But with rounder ears. Now where’s the captain of this ship? Bring ‘im out! I will have words with him!”

“I’m afraid the captain isn’t able to meet with the living, Rhonwen,” Jonah said, coming up from the side. “My name’s Jonah, I can pass on any message?”

Rhonwen frowned, before inflating her chest and giving a rather pointed grin to Jonah. “You, cabin boy! You will be my first mate from here on out! I claim this ship as my own!”

Noemi and Jonah just stared at the elf, eyebrows raised. Noemi stifled a giggle, as she just had to ask. “Wh-what?”

“You heard me, I’m seizing this ship!” Rhonwen said, drawing her sword and grabbing the ropes to strike a dramatic pose. “From here on out this vessel serves me, as…Hey, cabin boy, what vessel is this, anyway?”

“The Flying Dutchman,” Jonah said in a complete deadpan, his arms folded across his chest.

At once, Rhonwen’s energy deflated, her sword hand falling to her side as she looked across the ship. “Aw, damn. That’s…That’s a hard ship to capture…”

“You are welcome to stay aboard, Ronny, but you’ll have to put in your fair share. You might not be a ghost, but everyone helps out,” Jonah said.

“Ronny…Rrrr, fine! I’m not going to let you think you win, cabin boy.”

Jonah just sighed and turned to walk away, getting back to his duties aboard the ship. Noemi couldn’t hold back her chuckling anymore. Rhonwen, Ronny, turned her attention to Noemi, looking at her with a curious glance.

“Hmm…you’re not like the rest of these dead humans. Your spirit burns brighter, with a different color.”

“Ah, well, no. I’m not dead, I’m just traveling on the Dutchman for now.”

“That’s not it. Well, not all of it. You’re carrying a spirit with you! Ooh, impressive,” Ronny said, stepping a little too close for Noemi’s comfort.

Noemi took a step back. “I’m Ophidia’s champion, if that’s what you mean.”

“It probably is, Red, at least that sounds close to what I’m seeing,” Ronny said, looking Noemi up and down. After a while, her smile turned to a frown. “Ah, but it’s really faint. It looks like it could be so much more.”

“What do you mean more?”

“Come on, Red, you have to be able to feel it yourself, right? That spirit looks like she can be very powerful, but all she has to draw from is you. It’s like a lake filled with water. She has all this power that is being dammed up. You, by your lonesome, allow a trickle to filter through into this world.”

“I-I mean I’m trying to get her more worshippers!” Noemi countered.

“Hah! More worshippers traveling on the Dutchman? What are you doing on this ship anyway?”

“Err…I was looking for someone…”

“Someone dead?”

“No!” Noemi shouted. “I mean, I don’t know. Maybe. But…no, she’s alive. I know it. I just got sidetracked trying to get out of Brazil…”

“So where is this girl?”

“I don’t know…”

“You don’t know?” Ronny said, raising her eyebrow. “So she could be anywhere in the world? Anywhere at all?”

“Yeah, I guess?” Noemi said, her stomach dropping the more she talked.

“Red, I know you probably care about this girl, but…you could spend your whole life looking and never find her. While right now you have a spirit relying on you to take care of her and help her grow. If you want my advice—“

“I don’t,” Noemi interjected, knowing what the pirate elf was going to say.

“If you want my advice,” Ronny continued, undaunted. “You give it up and settle down, work on keeping your spirit powerful.”

Noemi scowled at Ronny, but the elf didn’t seem intimidated at all. She shrugged her shoulders, pushing the brim of her hat back.

“If you neglect your spirit…Ophidia you said? If you neglect her, her power will only dim even more. I’m just trying to help you out.”

Was that true? It made sense, that if more worship could bring a spirit more strength, no worship could diminish them…it was what Ophidia had told her all along. Maybe…maybe she should give up and let Gisela go. Her cute sidekick…

She saw Gisela’s face in her mind, peering out through her scratched glasses, looking to Noemi for advice, to lead. No, she couldn’t just abandon trying to find her now.

“Thanks, Ronny. And I’ll make sure I don’t neglect Ophidia, but…Hey, Jonah! Cabin boy!”

“Not you too…” Jonah sighed as he walked back over. “What’s up?”

“Can you see if the captain can head to the Caribbean? I’m looking to get off there.”

“You’re going to leave me here, with a pirate? I beg you, please stay,” Jonah said. “Don’t leave me alone with her.”

“HEY!”

Noemi chuckled a little, her spirits rising again. “Nope, I have to get back to finding my sidekick and getting a cult for Ophidia going. The Caribbean is where I’m going to start.”

“Well, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll miss having someone sensible around to talk to but…Good luck.”

 

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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