Noemi stared out across the still ocean, leaning against the railing of the ship. It had been only a few days since the World Serpent had departed once more, though this time with Ophidia behind her. When Noemi had asked to come along, Jormungandr had…Well, Noemi wasn’t sure if it could be called a laugh, but certainly scoffed at the mere thought. Apparently, where they were going, it was not for mortals to follow.
Ophidia had sworn to Noemi that she would return, and Noemi could still feel the divine spark inside of her, the connection to her patron, though it had cooled a bit with the Goddess so far away and distracted.
The sharp voice broke Noemi out of her thoughts. She looked over her shoulder to see Ronny standing there, the elf holding a mop in her hand.
“It’s your turn to swab the deck, matey, arrr!” Ronny thrust the mop into Noemi’s hands, affecting her best pirate voice. Considering the elf claimed to be a great pirate captain, Noemi thought it could use some work. It was not nearly gruff enough to match the scowl the elf wore.
“I still don’t get why we have to. Every morning there is just a new layer of ghost dust. This ship is uncleanable.”
“Captain’s orders,” the elf shrugged. “Besides, not like there’s much to do on the Dutchman outside our chores, yeah?”
“I guess,” Noemi said with a sigh, taking the mop from the elf. “Though you mean Jonah’s orders.”
“Pfft, Cabin Boy isn’t the captain! We just can’t see the real captain so…that’s why we gotta do what Cabin Boy says, lest the ghosts come to eat us,” Ronny wiggled her fingers, drawing out the words as spooky sounds came from all around her, flashes of light and wisps of color danced behind.
“I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen. Jonah’s probably just messing with you, ‘cause you’re a pirate. Or you’re messing with me, because you’re an elf.”
“Hey! I resent that!” Ronny said, putting a hand to her breast as she mocked offense. “I would never!”
“I don’t think there is a folklore with elves where they don’t mess with humans and play tricks on them,” Noemi said. She dipped the mophead into the bucket and started to wash down the deck. “Though, speaking of folklore, what do elves know about Ragnarok?”
“Do I look like I’m from Alfheim, Red?” Ronny said, her hands on her hips as she flipped her long hair back. Noemi wondered if theatrics were what the elf ate and drank, if she survived off exaggerated gestures. “I’m one of the Tylwth Teg. We barely have any connection with those Norse light elves. And don’t get me started on the dark elves!”
“I wouldn’t expect a human to understand the complicated webs of diplomacy of the Faerie Lands,” Ronny waved it off. It seemed the game of pirate had become less interesting than the role of a snobbish princess. Or maybe Ronny just was a snobbish princess. Noemi could never tell.
“Well, you must know something, right?”
“I know as much as you do, I expect,” Ronny said with a shrug. “It is the end of times, with a giant battle and everyone dies.”
“Really? That’s how you describe it?” Jonah asked, stepping up behind her. The elf jumped in surprise, before turning her scowl upon him.
“Cabin Boy, I told you not to sneak up on me! It’s not fair that your ghostiness gives you silent footsteps.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, Pirate Girl,” Jonah said, rolling his eyes. “I never really believed in any of this but…I guess it’s easier to believe old stories when you are a ghost aboard a mythical ship. Used to read a lot when I was alive, and I always liked the old Viking stories.”
“You know what’s supposed to happen, Jonah?”
“Mm, as much as anyone really ‘knew’ what was happening before the Days of Revelations. Probably not as much as scholars, but I read the Eddas on my travels.”
“So what happens during Ragnarok?”
“Err, well, it’s a long series of events,” Jonah said. “But I’ll try to summarize what I can. After a really long winter, with battles taking place across the world, all civilization sort of…collapses. Families are torn apart, kings overthrown, the usual end of world stuff.”
“Yeah, that definitely happened where I was from,” Noemi said. There had been complete chaos at the time, even before Aztlan came and made it worse.
“Then the sun and the moon are swallowed by wolves, everything goes dark while earthquakes shake and volcanoes erupt, and the Jormungandr and Fenrir are both free to try to destroy the world, Jormungandr by water, while Fenrir tries to swallow it whole.”
“Then the battle, right?” Ronny says, her eyes wide and excited, even at the sailor’s somewhat short style of storytelling. The elf can’t help but be enthralled, even as Jonah flushes and clears his throat. It was Noemi’s turn to roll her eyes.
“Y-yes, then the battle between the gods and the monsters. They slay each other, and eventually the world is set ablaze by the fire giant Surtr, before being submerged in water, ready for a new age.”
“The World Serpent mentioned a ship of Naglfar? What is that?”
“I think that’s Loki’s ship, if I remember correctly…I think it’s supposed to be one of the things that happens at the same time Fenrir is freed, but I don’t remember what it does besides, uhh, be made out of nails.”
“That must be what Jormungandr was talking about, but I still don’t understand it. If it is part of the end of the world, why is it trying to stop it?”
“Well, the wyrm said it was too early, right?” Ronny suggested with a smile. “Maybe it just wants to go back to bed for a bit?”
“She called it a ‘fake Ragnarok’, yeah,” Noemi said. “But it sounds like a fake Ragnarok is as bad as a real one.”
“I don’t imagine it would affect the Dutchman much,” Jonah shrugged. “But the end of the world isn’t a good thing for anyone, even ghosts.”
“Won’t affect the Dutchman?” Ronny asked, raising her eyebrow incredulously. “What makes you think it hasn’t already?”
“We’re still sailing under Davy Jones’ direction, collecting the dead souls and sending those to the bottom of the sea. That’s no different.”
Ronny stared at Jonah, wide eyed, before her hands went back to her breasts, over her heart as she fell to the floor, laughing. She rolled around on her back, in a fit of cackles, her feet banging against the floorboards. Noemi found the laughter infectious, feeling giggles building in her throat, though she didn’t know just what had sent the elf into a laughing fit. Neither did Jonah, it seemed.
“What’s so funny?” He asked, annoyed.
“You humans sure are blind sometimes. How many ghost ships did you used to have to fight, mm? What, one every other year? Every five?”
“Communications between ships was always getting better,” Jonah said. For Noemi, the pieces started to fall into place. She looked at the ghost and could see it was dawning on his mind as well, as he looked away, mumbling his words.
“And how many have we fought in the last month?”
“That’s only if you count multi-ship battles as one,” Noemi said. “I think it’s been ten all together…”
“You’re saying that the ships reappearing comes from this false Ragnarok?”
Ronny sat up, still giggling as she took deep breaths. As she looked at the two humans standing over her, her cheeks started to bulge again as she tried to hold in her amusement. Noemi rolled her eyes, stomping her foot imperiously to get the elf to focus.
“Sorry, but…They’re Viking ghosts, more often than not. They’ve been mostly in the northern waters. Of course it’s related!”
“She has a point, Jonah,” Noemi said, running a hand through her hair. It had been easy to ignore the connections between the individual ghost ships that they had encountered. They all had flown different colors, all had seemed to be unique occurrences. Looking at the big picture, it became a lot clearer that it was an anomaly. Noemi blamed it on the way the Dutchman traveled. Appearing in random places without any clear bearing on how they got there made travel mapping a pain.
“If that’s the case then—” Jonah started.
“Then you’re already drawn into this false Ragnarok thing, same as Red,” Ronny said, sitting up with a wild smile. “Looks like you got conscripted to this wyrm army thing too, Cabin Boy.”
“I don’t answer to Jormungandr, err, I mean, the ship doesn’t,” Jonah said. “Only if the Captain says…”
“I think what she means, Jonah, is that your boss already decided. Look,” Noemi pointed across the railing, to where the morning fog was still rolling over the cold ocean waters. Jonah moved beside her, squinting his eyes, before his already ghostly face went even paler. Ronny hopped to her feet, a hand over her saber as she joined them on Noemi’s side.
Black sails fluttered in the cool early wind. Longboats, prows curved like dragons, their hulls covered in barnacles and slime from the ocean’s depth, rocked towards them. The sound of drums beat in the distance in time to the splashes of oars on the water. Noemi watched as the shadows in the fog took shape, their silhouettes starkly outlined by the mist.
Their flags caught the wind, bearing a symbol that Noemi didn’t recognize. Five sails, all with the same straight line running down it like a tree, with two branches hanging off its left side. Ronny muttered the name of it, just loudly enough for Noemi to catch it.
“But…That’s backwards…” Jonah said, his brow furrowing. “The branches for Ansuz are on the right side.”
“Yeah, when they’re for the Traveler!” Ronny shouted. Noemi turned, giving the elf a curious look.
“I thought you didn’t know much about the Norse?”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to read the letters they sent! Ansuz facing right is usually used for messengers of Odin. When it’s reversed it’s…”
“Loki?” Noemi guessed.
“The Trickster. Yes.”
The three fell silent for a moment. They could hear the chanting from the other ships as they drew near. Above the shouts and jeers, one cry was distinct, making Noemi’s blood run cold and her heart race.
“For the Naglfar!”
“If that’s the case,” Noemi said, pulling her gun from its holster. “We better get to the guns. I’m not interested in losing my nails today.”
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa