The hammer of thor, p.10
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       The Hammer of Thor, p.10

         Part #2 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
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  Loki’s scarred lips twisted into a grin. “Good job finding the bride-price, Magnus. The sword is perfect!”

  Uncle Randolph Gets on My Naughty List BIG-TIME

  SAM REACTED fastest. She grabbed her spear and lunged toward her father.

  “No, dear.” Loki snapped his fingers.

  Instantly, Sam’s legs buckled. She collapsed sideways on the floor and lay immobile, her eyes half-closed. Her glowing spear rolled across the stones.

  “Sam!” I lurched toward her, but Uncle Randolph intercepted me.

  His bulk eclipsed everything. He gripped my shoulders, his breath an overwhelming combination of cloves and rotten fish.

  “Don’t, Magnus.” His voice fractured with panic. “Don’t make it worse.”

  “Worse?” I pushed him away.

  Anger hummed through my system. Jack felt light in my hand, ready to lash out. Seeing Samirah unconscious at her father’s feet (oh, gods, I hoped she was only unconscious), I wanted to blade-smack my uncle. I wanted to go full uruz on Loki’s face.

  Give Randolph a chance, Annabeth’s voice whispered in the back of my mind. He’s family.

  I hesitated…just enough to notice Uncle Randolph’s condition.

  His gray suit was threadbare and smeared with ashes, as though he’d been crawling through a chimney. And his face…across his nose, left cheek, and eyebrow spread a horrible crater of red-and-brown scar tissue—a barely healed burn mark in the shape of a hand.

  I felt like a dwarf had punched through my abdominal cavity. I remembered the mark of Loki that had appeared on Randolph’s cheek in the family photograph. I thought about my dream on the battlefield in Valhalla and recalled the searing agony on my own face when Loki had communicated with me, using Randolph as a conduit. Loki had branded my uncle.

  I fixed my gaze on the god of trickery. He still wore the offensive green tuxedo he’d been modeling in my battlefield vision, with his paisley bow tie at a rakish angle. His eyes gleamed as if he was thinking, Go on. Kill your uncle. This could be amusing.

  I decided not to give Loki the pleasure. “You tricked us into coming here,” I growled. “Why, if you could just step through a magic doorway in a coffin?”

  “Oh, but we couldn’t!” Loki said. “Not until you opened the way. Once you did, well…you and Randolph are connected. Or didn’t you notice?” He tapped the side of his own face. “Blood is a powerful thing. I can always find you through him.”

  “Unless I kill you,” I said. “Randolph, get out of the way.”

  Loki chuckled. “You heard the boy, Randolph. Step aside.”

  My uncle looked like he was trying to swallow a horse pill. “Please, Loki. Don’t—”

  “Wow!” Loki raised his eyebrows. “It sounds like you’re trying to give me an order! But that can’t be right, can it? That would violate our agreement!”

  The words our agreement made Randolph wince. He shuffled aside, his facial muscles twitching around the edges of his new scar.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Blitzen helping Hearthstone to his feet. I silently willed them to back away and stay safe. I didn’t want anyone else in Loki’s path.

  Sam still wasn’t moving.

  My heart hammered against my ribs. I took a step forward. “Loki, what did you do to her?”

  The god glanced down at his daughter. “Who, Samirah? She’s fine. I just willed her to stop breathing.”

  “You what?”

  Loki waved away my concern. “Not permanently, Magnus. I just like to keep a firm hand with my children. So many parents are lackadaisical these days, don’t you think?”

  “He controls them,” Randolph croaked.

  Loki shot him an irritated look. “Remind me how well you did as a father, Randolph? Oh, that’s right. Your family is dead, and your only hope of seeing them again is me.”

  Randolph curled inward, withering.

  Loki turned back to me. His grin sent paisley patterns of ick crawling up my spine. “You see, Magnus, my children owe their powers to me. In exchange, they must bend to my will when I require it. It’s only fair. As I said, family blood is a strong connection. It’s a good thing you listened to me and left Alex in Valhalla. Otherwise we’d have two of my children unconscious!”

  He rubbed his hands together. “Now, would you like to see more? Samirah’s always so reluctant to shape-shift. Maybe I should force her into the shape of a cat for you. Or a wallaby? She’d make a very cute wallaby.”

  The paisley ick swirled into my stomach, threatening to erupt.

  Finally I understood Samirah’s reluctance to shape-shift.

  Every time I do it, she’d once told me, I feel more of my father’s nature trying to take hold of me.

  No wonder Sam was afraid Loki could make her go through with the marriage to the giant. No wonder she worried about Alex Fierro, who shape-shifted without a second thought.

  Did other gods have that kind of control over their children? Could Frey…? No, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about that.

  “Leave her alone.”

  Loki shrugged. “As you wish. I merely needed her out of commission. No doubt Gellir told you—the Skofnung Sword cannot be unsheathed in the presence of a woman. Fortunately, comatose women don’t count! Randolph, hurry up now. This is the part where you draw the sword.”

  Uncle Randolph licked his lips. “Perhaps it would be better if—” His voice deteriorated into a guttural scream. He doubled over, smoke curling from the scar tissue on his cheek. My face burned in sympathy.

  “Stop it!” I yelled.

  My uncle gasped. He stood up, steam still rising from the side of his nose.

  Loki laughed. “Randy, Randy, Randy. You look ridiculous. Now, we’ve been through this before. You want your family back from Helheim? I require full payment in advance. You bear my mark, you do what I say. It’s really not that hard.” He pointed to the Skofnung blade. “Fetch, boy. And Magnus, if you try to interfere, I can always make Sam’s coma permanent. I hope you won’t, though. It would be terribly inconvenient with the wedding coming up.”

  I wanted to slice him down the middle like Hel. (I mean his daughter Hel, who had two different sides.) Then I wanted to glue him back together and slice him in half again. I couldn’t believe I’d ever thought Loki was charismatic and silver-tongued. He’d called my uncle “Randy.” That by itself required the death penalty.

  But I didn’t know the extent of Loki’s control over Sam. Could he really make her permanently cataleptic with just a thought? I was also worried—sort of—about what might happen to Randolph. The idiot may have gotten himself into an evil bargain with Loki, but I understood why he’d done it. I remembered his wife, Catherine, on that sinking ship; Aubrey with her toy boat; Emma shrieking as she clutched her runestone inheritance—the symbol of all the dreams she would never grow up to realize.

  To my left, Hearthstone and Blitzen edged forward. Hearthstone had recovered enough to walk on his own. Blitz held a broadsword he must have retrieved from a zombie. I put out my hand, urging them to stay back.

  Randolph picked up the Skofnung Sword. He drew it slowly from its sheath—a double-edged blade of cold gray iron. Along its central ridge, runes glowed faintly in every shade of blue from permafrost to vein blood.

  Jack quivered. “Oh…oh, wow.”

  “Yes, indeed,” Loki said. “Now, if I could wield a blade, and I couldn’t have the fabled Sword of Summer, I would choose the Skofnung Sword.”

  “Dude may be evil,” Jack whispered to me, “but he has good taste.”

  “Unfortunately,” Loki continued, “in my present state, I’m not really all here.”

  Blitzen grunted. “First thing he’s said I agree with. That sword should never be drawn.”

  Loki rolled his eyes. “Blitzen, son of Freya, you’re such a drama dwarf when it comes to magic weapons! I can’t wield Skofnung, no, but the Chases are descended from the Norse kings of old! They’re perfect.”

  I rememb
ered Randolph telling me something about that—how the Chase family was descended from ancient Swedish royalty, blah, blah, blah. But I’m sorry. If it qualified us to wield evil swords, I was not going put that on my resumé.

  Too dangerous. Hearthstone’s signing was listless and weak. His eyes brimmed with fear. Death. The prophecy.

  “So the blade has a few quirks,” said Loki. “I like quirks! It can’t be used in the presence of women. It can’t be drawn in daylight. It can only be used by one of noble lineage.” Loki nudged Randolph’s arm. “Even this guy qualifies. Also, once the blade is drawn, it cannot be sheathed again until it has tasted blood.”

  Jack buzzed with a metallic whimper. “That’s not fair. That is too attractive.”

  “I know, right?” Loki said. “And the last little quirk of the sword…Hearthstone, my friend, would you like to tell them, or should I?”

  Hearthstone swayed. He grabbed Blitzen’s shoulder. I wasn’t sure if it was for support or just to make sure the dwarf was still there.

  Blitzen hefted his broadsword, which was almost as tall as he was. “Loki, you won’t do this to Hearth. I won’t let you.”

  “My dear dwarf, I appreciate you finding the tomb’s entrance! And of course I needed Hearthstone to break the magic seal around that sarcophagus. You each played your part well, but I’m afraid I require just a bit more from you both. You want to see Samirah happily married, don’t you?”

  “To a giant?” Blitzen snorted. “No.”

  “But it’s for a good cause! The return of what’s-his-name’s hammer! That means I need a proper bride-price, and Thrym has asked for the Skofnung Sword. It’s a very reasonable exchange. The thing is, the sword isn’t complete without the stone. The two are a set.”

  “What do you mean?” I asked. “What stone?”

  “The Skofnung Stone—the whetstone that was made to sharpen the blade!” With his thumbs and fingers, Loki made a circle about the size of a dessert plate. “About yea big, blue with gray flecks.” He winked at Hearthstone. “Sound familiar?”

  Hearthstone looked as if his scarf was choking him.

  “Hearth,” I said, “what’s he talking about?”

  My elf friend didn’t answer.

  Uncle Randolph stumbled, now using both hands to hold up the cursed sword. The iron blade turned darker, and wisps of ice vapor twisted from its edges.

  “It’s getting heavier,” Randolph gasped. “Colder.”

  “Then we should hurry.” Loki looked down at the unconscious form of Samirah. “Randolph, let’s feed this hungry sword, shall we?”

  “No way.” I raised my own blade. “Randolph, I don’t want to hurt you, but I will.”

  My uncle let out a broken sob. “Magnus, you don’t understand. You don’t know what he’s planning—”

  “Randolph,” Loki hissed, “if you want to see your family again, strike!”

  Randolph lunged, thrusting the cursed blade—and I completely misjudged his target.

  Stupid, Magnus. Unforgivably stupid.

  I was only thinking about Sam lying helpless at Loki’s feet. I needed to defend her. I wasn’t thinking about prophecies, or how everything Loki did, even a casual glance at his daughter, was a trick.

  I stepped to intercept my uncle’s strike, but he charged right past me. With a cry of horror, he buried the Skofnung Sword in Blitzen’s gut.

  I Need to Learn Many, Many More Cusswords in Sign Language

  I HOWLED with rage.

  I slashed upward, and the Skofnung Sword flew out of Randolph’s grip, along with—ew, you might want to skip this part—a couple of pink things that looked like fingers.

  Randolph stumbled back, cradling his fist against his chest. The Skofnung Sword clanged to the floor.

  “Oh.” Blitzen’s eyes widened. The sword had gone straight through his chain mail vest. Blood seeped between his fingers.

  He stumbled. Hearthstone caught him and dragged him away from Randolph and Loki.

  I wheeled around on Loki. I raised Jack’s blade again and sliced through the god’s smug face, but his form just shimmered like a projection.

  “He swings! He misses!” Loki shook his head. “Really, Magnus, we both know you can’t hurt me. I’m not fully here! Besides, fighting isn’t your strong suit. If you need to take out your anger on someone, go ahead and kill Randolph, but do it quickly. We have a lot to talk about, and your dwarf is bleeding out.”

  I couldn’t breathe. I felt like someone was pouring pure hate right down my throat. I wanted to cut down my own uncle. I wanted to pull this tomb apart stone by stone. Suddenly I understood Ratatosk, the squirrel who only spoke malice and wanted to destroy the very tree he lived in.

  It wasn’t easy, but I pushed down the anger. Saving Blitz was more important than getting revenge.

  “Jack,” I said, “watch these meinfretrs. If they try to hurt Sam or take the Skofnung Sword, go into Cuisinart mode.”

  “You got it.” Jack spoke in a deeper voice than usual, probably to impress the Skofnung Sword. “I’ll protect the hot lady blade with my life! Oh, and also Sam.”

  I ran to Blitzen’s side.

  “That’s it!” Loki cheered. “There’s the Magnus Chase I know and love! Always thinking of others. Always the healer!”

  I put my hands on Blitzen’s gut, then glanced up at Hearthstone. “You got any runes that might help?”

  Hearth shook his head. His own Ratatosk-level hatred smoldered in his eyes. I could see how desperately he wanted to do something, anything, but he’d already used two runes this morning. Any more would probably kill him.

  Blitzen coughed. His face turned the color of putty. “I—I’m good, guys. Just need…a minute.”

  “Hold on, Blitz.” Again, I summoned the power of Frey. My hands heated like the coils of an electric blanket, sending warmth into every cell of Blitzen’s body. I slowed his circulation. I eased his pain. But the wound itself refused to heal. I felt it fighting me, tearing open tissue and capillaries faster than I could mend them, gnawing at Blitzen with malicious hunger.

  I remembered Hearthstone’s prophecy: Blitzen. Bloodshed. Cannot be stopped.

  This was my fault. I should have seen it coming. I should’ve insisted that Blitz stay in Mimir’s safe house eating delivery pizza. I should have listened to that stupid Back Bay goat-assassin.

  “You’re going to be fine,” I said. “Stay with me.”

  Blitz’s eyes were starting to lose focus. “Got…sewing kit in my vest pocket…if that helps.”

  I wanted to scream. It’s a good thing Jack was no longer in my hands, because I would’ve pulled a full-on Kylo Ren temper tantrum.

  I rose and faced Loki and Randolph. My expression must have been pretty frightening. Randolph backed all the way into a zombie niche, leaving a trail of blood from his wounded hand. I probably could’ve healed that for him, but I wasn’t even tempted.

  “Loki, what do you want?” I demanded. “How do I help Blitzen?”

  The god spread his arms. “I am so glad you asked. Happily, those two questions have the same answer!”

  “The stone,” Blitz gasped. “He wants…the stone.”

  “Exactly!” Loki agreed. “You see, Magnus, wounds from the Skofnung Sword never heal. They just keep bleeding forever…or until death, whichever comes first. The only way to close that wound is with the Skofnung Stone. That’s why the two are such an important set.”

  Hearthstone launched into a bout of sign language cursing so impressive it would’ve made a beautiful piece of performance art. Even if you didn’t know ASL, his gestures conveyed his anger better than any amount of yelling.

  “Dear me,” Loki said. “I haven’t been called some of those names since my last flyting with the Aesir! I’m sorry you feel that way, my elfish friend, but you’re the only one who can get that stone. You know it’s the only solution. You’d better run along home!”

  “Home?” My mind moved at the speed of cold syrup. “You mean…Alfheim?

  Blitzen groaned. “Don’t make Hearth go. Not worth it, kid.”

  I glared at Uncle Randolph, who was making himself at home in his zombie niche. With his ratty suit and scarred face, his eyes glazed from pain and blood loss, Randolph was already halfway to being undead.

  “What is Loki after?” I asked him. “What does any of this have to do with Thor’s hammer?”

  He gave me the same desolate expression he’d worn in my dream, when he’d turned to his family on the storm-tossed yacht and said I’ll bring us home. “Magnus, I—I’m so—”

  “Sorry?” Loki supplied. “Yes, you’re very sorry, Randolph. We know. But really, Magnus, do you not see the connection? Maybe I need to be clearer. Sometimes I forget how slow you mortals can be. A—giant—has—the—hammer.”

  He illustrated each word with exaggerated sign language. “Giant—gives—hammer—back—for—Samirah. We—exchange—gifts—at—wedding. Hammer—for—S-K-O-F-N-U-N-G.”

  “Stop that!” I snarled.

  “You understand, then?” Loki shook his hands out. “Good, because my fingers were getting tired. Now, I can’t give half a bride-price, can I? Thrym will never accept that. I need the blade and the stone. Fortunately, your friend Hearthstone knows exactly where the stone can be found!”

  “That’s why you arranged all this? Why you…?” I gestured at Blitz, who lay in an expanding pool of red.

  “Call it incentive,” Loki said. “I wasn’t sure you’d get me the stone merely for the purpose of Samirah’s wedding, but you’ll do it to save your friend. And, I’ll remind you, this is all so I can help you get back what’s-his-name’s stupid hammer. It’s a win-win. Unless, you know, your dwarf dies. They are such small, pitiful creatures. Randolph, come along now!”

  My uncle shuffled toward Loki like a dog expecting a beating. I didn’t feel much love for my uncle at the moment, but I also hated the way Loki treated him. I remembered the connection I’d had to Randolph during my dreams…feeling the overwhelming grief that motivated him.

  “Randolph,” I said, “you don’t have to go with him.”

  He glanced at me, and I saw how wrong I was. When he stabbed Blitzen, something inside him had broken. He’d been drawn so far into this evil bargain now, given up so much to get back his dead wife and children, he couldn’t imagine any other way.

  Loki pointed to the Skofnung blade. “The sword, Randolph. Get the sword.”

  Jack’s runes pulsed an angry purple. “Try it, compadre, and you’ll lose more than a couple of fingers.”

  Randolph hesitated, as people tend to do when they are threatened by talking glowing swords.

  Loki’s smug confidence wavered. His eyes darkened. His scarred lips curled. I saw how badly he wanted that sword. He needed it for something much more important than a wedding gift.

  I put my foot over the Skofnung blade. “Jack’s right. This isn’t going anywhere.”

  The veins in Loki’s neck looked like they might explode. I was afraid he would kill Samirah and paint the walls with abstract swaths of dwarf, elf, and einherji.

  I stared him down anyway. I didn’t understand his plan, but I was starting to realize that he needed us alive…at least for now.

  In the space of a nanosecond, the god regained his composure.

  “Fine, Magnus,” he said breezily. “Bring the sword and the stone with you when you bring the bride. Four days. I’ll let you know where. And do get a proper tuxedo. Randolph, come along. Chop-chop!”

  My uncle winced.

  Loki laughed. “Oh, sorry.” He wriggled his pinky and ring finger. “Too soon?”

  He grabbed Randolph’s sleeve. The two men shot backward into the coffin
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