The Snake and the Mirror

Chapter 36

 

Noemi blinked as she looked over the railing of the ship. The air felt warmer than it had for weeks, the sun basking against the blue water, its reflections and rays shimmering out to reach the Dutchman’s sides. In the distance, she could see trees and sandy beaches, where the white waves lapped against them gently.

The navigational charts confirmed their position with the help of a sextant and some quick calculations, though it only told Noemi they were in the right general latitude for the Caribbean. Still, the Dutchman could drop them anywhere in the world, it would only make sense for her to drop them where they were going.

“I think that’s it. We made it! Can you bring us ashore, Jonah?”

The cabin boy shook his head. “’Fraid not, Noemi. The Dutchman can’t touch shore. We can get you close enough that you can get there on your own but it’s not my call.”

“Right…I guess ghost ships have all their own strange rules. Well, anything you can do for us is appreciated! Ophidia, you don’t mind swimming, right?” Noemi said with a grin. It was a silly question, and she knew it. After all, the spirit could just travel invisible above the water; she did not need to physically exert herself to reach the shore.

“I suppose,” Ophidia said, without much enthusiasm. She had been a bit distant ever since the meeting with Jormungandr. Noemi couldn’t help but frown. She really did want to help Ophidia get stronger but…She couldn’t just give up. Not now, not when she had come so far.

“Don’t worry, Ophidia,” Noemi said, forcing a smile to cover her own feelings. “We’ll both get stronger here, and from there, kick Tess’s butt!”

“We would have a far greater chance of that had we accepted the World Serpent’s offer, Noemi. But it is done. We shall go ashore.”

“Mmm…” Noemi fell silent. She couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t come across as patronizing and if there was one thing she did not wish to do, it was patronize her spirit, her own patron, the goddess to whom she owed so much…Her smile wilted as she looked away, unable to face Ophidia. She had made a promise to Ophidia, it was true, but she had made a promise to others as well.

The ship lurched to a stop in the water, the sails still blowing but the hull not traveling any further.

“Looks like we’ve hit our stop, Red!” Ronny shouted down from the lookout, before swinging down to the deck below. “Think ya can swim the rest of the way?”

“I was always a good swimmer, Ronny, and I’ve got stronger legs now. I’ll be fine,” Noemi said, hugging the elf farewell. “Guess this is goodbye. As much as I like you both, I don’t mean any offense when I say…I don’t hope to see this ship for a long time!”

Jonah grinned as he shook her hand, before finding himself pulled into a hug as well. “The feeling is mutual, Noemi. Though given the rate of piracy in the seas these days, well…Just keep safe.”

“Hey!” Ronny said, folding her arms across her chest as she glared at Jonah. “There’s nothing wrong with being a pirate!”

“Please,” Jonah said. “Even the devil himself would call pirates scum.”

“Better a pirate than having to serve the devil, like you do, Cabin Boy!”

“Says the elf serving aboard the Dutchman.”

“Yeah, by choice.”

“Alright, alright,” Noemi said, cutting them off before they could get into the debate for what felt like the thousandth time. “I don’t think you have to worry about me, Jonah. I don’t have any intention of becoming a pirate any time soon, and I’m looking forward to having dry land under my feet again.”

“You’ll miss your sea legs eventually, Red. Happens to us all,” Ronny said with a smile. “Now get going, I’m not through with making Cabin Boy take back his words!”

Jonah shook his head, pushing the shorter elf woman to the side gently, his hand pressing against her forehead as he stepped forward.

“Hey!”

“Farewell then, Noemi,” he said, “You too, Ophidia. It was a pleasure having you both aboard.”

Noemi flashed him a smile as she placed one foot on the railing, before taking a deep breath and diving into the sea below. The water felt cool and refreshing on her skin, already recovering from the stale air that hung around the Dutchman at all times. While she had gotten used to it, she had never truly forgotten it was a ship for the dead.

As she started to swim towards the island, she could feel the power of Ophidia flowing through her arms, legs, her entire body really, making the travel over the waves far quicker and easier than it would have been had she not been so blessed. Before too long, she could feel the wet sand beneath her feet, her toes sinking into the soft sand as she stumbled her way upon the beach.

The rainforest seemed to begin almost where the beach ended, sand turning into grass almost before her eyes. She wasn’t sure if that was the work of spirits or natural, but compared to the sandy well-lit beach, the jungle looked dark and uninviting. She remembered the last time she had been running through a rainforest. Noemi was sure that Gisela would have remembered as well.

“Most likely she would have come in on a ship, right? A normal ship. One that could dock at a port. Let’s walk along the beach and see what we can find.”

“Mm, Noemi, I do not wish to…distress you…but the odds of your friend having come to this very island by chance are…low,” Ophidia said, softly, her hands gently resting on Noemi’s shoulders.

“Yeah…but…still! There’s maybe a town or village somewhere, right? It’s not like Jormungandr would send us to a place where we were going to be stranded! …Would she?”

“I cannot say I fully knows the mind of the World Serpent, Noemi. Still,” Ophidia said, her eyes glowing. “The whispers of the snakes on this island say there is a settlement of humans. Apparently, it is a good source for mice.”

“Great! Let’s head that way!”

They walked along the beach, as the sun started its lazy descent towards the horizon, turning the blue water dark with reds and purples. Before night had come upon them completely, however, Ophidia’s ears perked up.

“Ahead of us is the village, Noemi. It seems to…be a fishing village, by the smell.”

“Mm, makes sense if it’s this close to the coast! Though it makes me wonder if there is something wrong with the rainforest.”

“I do not know. The snakes seem to think the rainforest is quite perfect the way it is, but what is safe for a snake may not be safe for you.”

“Right…”

The village was just that, a small collection of houses made from the reeds and woods, built on stilts to avoid the seasonal flooding. Noemi approached the settlement cautiously, keeping guard for any sign of the Jaguar about. It would be just perfect for her to have finally reached her destination, only to have to start running again immediately.

No. We’re done with running, remember?

Noemi clenched her fist as she nodded to herself. That’s right. They were going to find Gisela! …And work on Ophidia’s cult. That was important and she couldn’t forget about doing that. If Gisela wasn’t here, then…Well, Noemi figured she would just have to give up hope. She would have no lead and searching the entire Caribbean seemed an almost futile quest.

Her bare feet crunched against the shells and dried seaweed upon the beach as she made her way to the more grassy and rocky village. The islanders looked at her with curiosity as she stumbled forward, her legs still forgetting the ground beneath them was solid at times.

“Ah…hello?” Noemi said, she didn’t know what language they spoke here, but she figured between the three she knew, she had a good chance of at least being somewhat understood. “I’m looking for an inn…”

“Follow the path,” one of them said, pointing down the dirt path that led to the center of the village. “Travelers often stay at Nicolas’ home. It’s the largest in the village.”

“Thanks!” Noemi said, with a smile, as she continued her trek through the village. The people all watched her, their eyes following her as she stumbled forward.

“Err…Ophidia, do I look different or something?”

“Indeed. I have taken the liberty of manifesting partly through your form. You look human but it is clear you are a chosen champion.”

“O-oh, what if they are in service to Tess?!”

“They are not. If they were, I would have sensed the scent of the Jaguar. But it will serve you well to be known as a champion to establish a cult among the people.”

“Mrrr…I will, but I want to at least rest first. I don’t know the last time I had a proper bed. Between the jungles and the ships, I’ve been sleeping on cots at best!”

Noemi was speaking quietly, under her breath, as she pushed open the door to what she presumed was Nicolas’ inn. It was certainly the largest house and had a door with a sign saying “Welcome”. There was nobody there.

Noemi looked around for a bell or something, but before she could find it, she heard footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Ah…more visitors? It is rare for Nicolas to get so many in such short time!”

“Err, do you not get a lot of traffic to this island?” Noemi asked.

“Not much, no, but a boat arrived a few days before. Most times, they simply come to trade and sail off again. We have little to raid…I often host the officers aboard their ships, as a sign of hospitality!” He puffed up with pride as he spoke. “…But then another ship arrived not long after, and one of their people stayed behind. A black haired girl…”

Noemi’s ears picked up immediately. It couldn’t possibly be…

“Where was this girl from?”

“Ah, she said she was from Brazil. Said she was running away from the trouble that had come to them,” he shook his head. “That’s what happens when you have too many people living in one place. I remember reading about it, before the jungle pushed back against us. Swallowed whole cities…I can only imagine what it did on the mainland!”

“This girl…Where did she go!?”

“Mm? Ah…into the jungle. I warned her of the dangers but…she insisted. Anyway, I still have a room available! You’d be sharing with some of the first ship’s crew of…Ah! Miss?”

Noemi didn’t even wait before she had turned and ran out the door, towards the dark jungle.

I had thought you wanted a bed, Noemi.

“I did but…You heard what he said!”

Noemi…the jungle is full of many powerful spirits. They lurk in the shadows and the danger is great. This is…Foolish.

“I don’t care! …I’m not running away this time, Ophidia. I’m running towards something. I don’t care how good she’s gotten, I’ll be able to find her trail. I’m not leaving my sidekick behind again.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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