The battle against the ghostly Vikings had been short, far shorter than Noemi had expected.
With their sail raised, their cries of the Naglfar carried across the sea, the Vikings had looked ready to commandeer the Dutchman for their black fleet. Noemi was not sure how one ghost ship could truly conquer another, yet Jonah seemed to take it seriously enough, sharing the captain’s orders to the two corporeal crewmates.
Cannon balls and fiery arrows lit up the foggy sea, the flames reflected on the tranquil water below. Loki’s men sailed beside the Dutchman, throwing down planks as they charged across to board the man-o-war. Clad in furs, wielding rusted blades that glowed with a spectral aura around them, the Norse dead were merciless in their assault, shouting in their ancient tongue at Noemi and Ronny.
A machete in one hand, her pistol in another, Noemi had stood on the deck, fighting the Vikings as they came, but it wasn’t long before the three of them were surrounded.
“Looks like this might be the end,” Jonah said with an almost calm fatalism.
“Easy for you to say!” Noemi shouted, parrying a longsword with her machete, before firing an enchanted bullet into the chest of a ghost. “You’re already dead!”
“What even happens if they take the ship, cabin boy?” Ronny asked, ducking beneath a high swinging strike.
“We will probably be compelled to serve Loki as we now serve Davy Jones,” Jonah said.
“I survived too much against Tess to let a god like Loki be my end!” Noemi said, trying to appear bold. Even so, the situation looked bad. While the ghosts of the Dutchman were fighting unseen, there were so many Vikings, more than could fit on a normal longboat.
The waves began to rise higher and higher as the din of the battle echoed through the ocean. The white foam crashed down, spraying all over the deck. Noemi hardly heard the rumbling until she noticed a shadow moving beneath the water.
From beneath the waves, Jormungandr raised its head above the water, its teeth long, sharp, and dripping with venom as it roared. It rolled and tightened its coils beneath the Viking ships, reducing them to splinters floating on the merciless ocean, the souls of their crews weighed down to sink to the Locker below.
Those Northmen ghosts aboard the Dutchman could only watch in awe and terror as the storm clouds rolled back to reveal the Feathered Serpent descending upon them, her form far more monstrous than when Noemi had seen her last. It felt like years to human since she had laid eyes upon her patron. Ophidia let out a screeching call as she crashed upon the deck of the Dutchman, her presence condemning the unwanted ghosts to the sea and Jormungandr’s waiting, ravenous maw.
Noemi blinked twice as she lowered her weapon. Ophidia stood before her, though the term ‘hovered’ seemed more appropriate. Her long white hair appeared more as a cowl of feathers; scales ran along her limbs and a pair of wide downy wings were displayed proudly. Ophidia stared down at Noemi through red, slitted eyes.
“It seems you had fun while I was away, Noemi.”
“I don’t know if I’d call it ‘fun’! But your timing was pretty good,” Noemi said, stepping forward. Her nerves started to calm. After all, it was still Ophidia who stood before her. “You look…ah, different?”
“Mm, yes. One moment,” The goddess spoke, as her feathers began to fall from her hair and wings. They were caught in the wind swirling around Ophidia, as they quickly took the form of her cloak once more, her skin becoming smooth as satin as her scales disappeared. Soon, she looked exactly the same as she had before she departed with the World Serpent. “Does that make you feel more at ease?”
“Yeah, that’s much less intimidating,” Noemi said with a smile. “Thanks.”
The entire ship rocked violently as the voice of the World Serpent blew across the ocean like a storm. Noemi put her hands over her ears as she turned to stare up at Jormungandr, the sea snake looking down at the Dutchman with gem-like eyes.
“Y-yes? No need to be quite so loud. I can hear you better when you’re smaller, you know!”
The World Serpent blinked, letting out a low hiss. The waters began to churn beneath the ship. Ronny grabbed onto a rope to avoid being knocked about.
“What are you doing, Red?” She whispered under her breath, looking nervously up at Jormungandr. “Don’t piss her off when she’s that big!”
“That’s my point. If you want to talk, Jormungandr, then give us the respect of not having to cover our ears just to hear you speak!”
Jormungandr snorted, though it didn’t lash out at the Dutchman. Slowly, the great wyrm began to shrink, down to the size of the ship itself. Though still far larger than any of the people aboard the man-o-war, the ship rocked more peacefully beside it. The serpent’s tail flicked, spraying water back and forth, splashing the elf and Noemi with the salty fishy taste of the sea.
Noemi thought it petty, but decided it best to keep that thought to herself.
“Now…what is it you wish to say, Jormungandr?”
Who are they who sail against the Dutchman?
“Not sure honestly. Well, I can tell they’re Vikings, but I don’t know their names. They came out of the mist, screaming for the Naglfar.”
“I already tried to tell ‘em how this was a sign of Ragnarok, Jor!” Ronny shouted up, her hands cupped around her lips to amplify. “Looks like I was right!”
It is not yet time!
The World Serpent rumbled in fury as the earth began to shake again, the water turning as the storm clouds gathered around the great wyrm’s head. Venom splashed like giant drops, causing the sea to boil where they fell, before washing away. The snake’s jeweled eyes burned with a rage. It flicked its tongue out, hissing furiously.
The Naglfar should not yet be built. It is ahead of the schedule. It is not time for this world to come to an end.
“Yeah, but you know who is probably to blame for that, right, Jormungandr?” Ronny said with an amused grin, her fear having fallen away quickly. “The one who spits at fate, and I’m not talking about Odin.”
It can only be my father’s hand behind this.
“Bingo. I mean, it’s Loki’s ship after all!”
“I don’t know what game your father is playing, great serpent,” Jonah said, stepping forward, looking up at the snake with the same exasperated frustration that he often spared Ronny. “But the Dutchman won’t serve him.”
No. That cannot pass. The Naglfar must be destroyed before it sails proper.
“You know where it is?” Noemi asked.
I do not. My father has hidden it from my sight, constructing it in a secret dock or else I would sense it. If the souls from Helheim are sailing into Midgard, then it must be close to completion.
“So…what, we follow the ghosts? I don’t think they are going to tell us where they’re sailing,” Noemi said.
“No, but I believe it may be possible for us to follow the same channels as them. This ship is one of the wayward dead, even if it’s not in service to the same forces.”
“We don’t really have a pilot who can track spirits or ghosts. It’s not like just because I’m a ghost, I know the way, and the ship won’t sail off its course unless I manually do it,” Jonah said.
“Mm, is this what you want to do, Ophidia?” Noemi asked.
“It is important, not only for my debt to Jormungandr, but to all. After all, this is a threat greater than even Aztlan.”
Noemi nodded, as she turned to Jonah. “So are you willing to let the ship be commandeered for this?”
Jonah’s lips pursed as he thought for a moment, before sighing. “Putting aside the problem I just mentioned, yes. I can’t imagine Davy Jones wants the world to end.”
Sail the Dutchman to the North. Find the Naglfar. It will be at the center of this spectral fleet.
“What will you be doing, Scaly One?” Ronny asked.
I will be preparing for the inevitable engagement. Gathering the forces of the great wyrms and serpents. We will be there to stop my father’s madness.
“Am I to go with you? Or stay aboard the Dutchman.”
You shall stay, Feathered One. You will hear my voice as I prepare.
“What can I do, Jor?” Noemi asked, looking at her cutlass and pistol. She wasn’t an elf like Ronny, able to slip in and out of a story to play whatever role was most apt. Nor was she a ghost like Jonah, a face to an entire crew of souls manning one of the most powerful ship of the damned in the world. Even with her divine powers, she was still Noemi. She was one person, and never had she really felt more out of her league than here.
Jormungandr lowered her head, her eyes piercing through the mortal. Noemi didn’t shy away or turn her head, but staring into Jormungandr’s gaze always reminded Noemi of how small she was.
I have no task for you, champion. There is little one mortal can do in the plans of Fate, yet at times…I have found them deserving of my notice.
Noemi frowned at that, looking away as her cheeks flushed red. She knew Jormungandr was simply stating the truth, yet the serpent’s words were…blunt. It seemed even the world serpent took notice now, as it slowly rose its head back, speaking in a warmer tone.
Yet you work to stop Ragnarok, and in that task, even a single hand is invaluable. Take pride in that.
“R-right, well…I do want to help. Because like everyone’s saying, this affects us all. Not just the Dutchman, Ophidia’s cult, or the people oppressed by Aztlan, but all of us.”
Noemi turned to Jonah, a smile on her face as she holstered her gun. Even if she felt small, it was all about putting on a show. Sometimes, that’s all others needed.
“You need a pilot? Well, I can take you to a place where I think we can find someone able to track down the trail of spirits. It will just be a quick pit stop to get an extra set of hands.”
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa