Chapter 24: Visit from a God
“Hiccup,” Thia said casually as they all sat on the deck of the ship watching the clouds pass.
The goblin turned to her. His squirrel sat in his lap, where he scratched it behind its ear. “Yes. Elf lady?”
“Where do you want to live? We promised you sanctuary. A nice home in the forest, or, wherever you’d like.”
Hiccup nodded vaguely. “Hm, yes. A place to live…” He didn’t seem overly interested in the prospect. In fact, he seemed very focused on something else.
“We could find a place with lots of squirrels,” Opal nodded hopefully. “I could talk to them and see if they’d help you get settled.”
“Yes, I suppose…”
Roon was just starting to stand, to walk below the ship and return to his reading. Just then, the air seemed to disappear for a moment from his lungs. Everything had gone completely still and silent. He spun around to stare at his friends, and at the men working on deck. They had all frozen. All, except for Hiccup.
“Wha—?” Roon began to speak, but Hiccup’s face had gone serious, and he raised a hand to stop him.
“Roon,” the goblin said in a voice very unlike his normal tremor.
It dawned on him, then. “You’re not a goblin…” for the first time, he noticed the faintest shimmer. He would have never seen it, if Hiccup had not allowed it. Then, he transformed. He grew in height and a stream of black robes billowed out around him. His staff shrunk down. His skin was deep brown and unlined, and his eyes were dark and thoughtful. He smirked, and there was a glimmer of mischievousness in the expression. “Baravar Cloakshadow,” Roon breathed, for he had never seen the face of his god before. Only depictions.
“That, I am,” the figure bowed and drew down his hood to show a mess of curly dark hair. In his other hand, he held a white horn carved of bone and tipped with polished wood, engraved with the symbol of a dagger and cloak. He touched it to his lips and no sound came out, but then the squirrel shimmered, and grew into the form of a massive brass dragon. The ship and all of its crew were still frozen, and the weight of the dragon seemed to do nothing to the buoyancy of the airship. “I have watched over you for some time, Roon. Your tricks are good,” he said proudly, “and your kindness is greater.”
Roon felt a rush of shame. “I feel I have put much into my tricks, and not nearly enough into being a proper cleric.”
“You are young,” Baravar said, smiling slightly, “and you are ignorant of the things you choose to push aside. You will not be ignorant of them for long.”
Roon’s mouth felt dry. He couldn’t bring himself to ask the question. Is it him? Is it Arden? As soon as he thought it, he knew it must be true. But, how did you reach a dead person? And how did a dead person come to be inside his head? Perhaps he was well and truly losing his mind. Instead, he asked another question. If Baravar had seen the struggle inside his head, he made no indication towards it. “What would you ask of me?”
The trickster god reached into his robes and pulled out a long, sharp dagger, handing it hilt-first to Roon. He crouched so they were of a height, holding out the dagger. “This is called Nightmare. It was my dagger, but no longer. I pass it on to you, to use in your efforts.”
“For me? To keep?” Roon didn’t dare reach for it yet.
“It will be yours, for a time. When you pass, it will return to me of course.”
Roon swallowed, staring at the sharp steel cupped in the god’s smooth hand.
“Take it, Roondock Garrick. You will know when to use it.”
Roon grasped the hilt, and the dagger shrank to his size. He carefully wrapped it and placed it in his bag, making a mental note to find a hilt for his belt. “This is a great gift,” Roon said, but when he looked up to face the god, Baravar was atop his brass dragon.
“They will not notice this,” the god said loudly, gesturing to his friends, “but you are free to tell them, if you wish.”
Then, the brass dragon snorted at him and dropped from the deck of the airship to soar into the clouds. Baravar raised his robed arms and the two figures disappeared.
“What the fu—?” Thia started, getting to her feet.
Kilian also stood and stared around. Opal was gaping at the empty space where, to them, Hiccup had been standing moments before.
“Where did he go?” Evelyn asked curiously.
“He disappeared,” Roon said, gesturing vaguely at the air around them. “I’m sure he’s gone to the forest already.”
They ran to the edge and peered over it, but the clouds were thick, and they could see only slight patches of green from the wild forests below. “Odd, that one,” Kilian muttered.
“I liked him,” Opal said.
“I always thought there was something weird about him,” Thia agreed, and they all left it at that.
Roon spent the rest of the day locked away in the captain’s quarters, examining the dagger. He found the edge was tipped with poison, and some darker magic he couldn’t identify. He stitched together pieces of spare leather and fashioned a rough hilt for his belt. Then, he went back to their shared quarters and read until nightfall. His sleep that evening was more peaceful than it had been in years, and he drifted off to the picture of Arden’s face.
“We don’t know where it will take us,” Thia cautioned as they all stood in a circle on the deck of the ship.
Opal held the conch in her hands.
“If we’re dropped beneath the ocean, we have water breathing potions,” Roon reminded her. “Opal can transform into a water breathing creature, and I can do something similar. We’ll be alright, so long as we don’t land at the feet of two dozen fire giants,” he added jokingly.
Kilian looked severe. “Let’s hope not.”
“Marteen,” Thia turned back to the captain, “wait for us three days, then continue on your journey. If we haven’t returned, we are likely dead or captured. In the case of our capture, we will try to get a message to you. In the case of our death, well…”
“I will await your return,” the dark-skinned captain nodded assuredly.
“Right,” Thia took a long breath, then turned back to Opal. “Ready?”
The genasi nodded, bringing the conch to her lips and letting out a low, long note.
A large, thick bubble formed around their group in a dome, expanding and obscuring their vision. In the next moment, it popped, and they were transported into the strangest sight Roon had ever seen.