The hammer of thor, p.12
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       The Hammer of Thor, p.12

         Part #2 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
slower 1  faster

  eight-seat Cessna flown by a girl my age who’d only been taking lessons for a few months.

  That wasn’t Sam’s fault. I had nothing to compare it to, but the takeoff seemed smooth. At least we got airborne without any fatalities. Still, my fingernails left permanent gouges in the armrests. Every bump of turbulence jolted me so badly I felt nostalgic for our old friend Stanley, the canyon-diving eight-legged flying horse. (Well, almost.)

  Amir declined to use a headset, maybe because his brain was already overloaded with crazy Norse information. He sat with his arms crossed, staring morosely out the window as if wondering whether we would ever land in the real world again.

  Sam’s voice crackled in my headphones. “We’ve reached cruising altitude. Thirty-two minutes left in flight.”

  “Everything good up there?” I asked.

  “Yeah…” The connection beeped. “There. No one else is on this channel. Our friend seems okay now. Anyway, there’s no need to worry. I’ve got the controls.”

  “Who, me? Worry?”

  From what I could see, Barry seemed pretty chill at the moment. He was kicking back in the copilot’s seat staring at his iPad. I wanted to believe he was keeping an eye on important aviation readings, but I was pretty sure he was playing Candy Crush.

  “Any thoughts?” I asked Sam. “I mean about Goat-Killer’s advice?”

  Static. Then: “He said we should seek him out in Jotunheim. So he’s a giant. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s bad. My father”—she hesitated, probably trying to get the word’s sour taste out of her mouth—“he has lots of enemies. Whoever Goat-Killer is, he’s got some powerful magic. He was right about Provincetown. We should listen to him. I should’ve listened sooner.”

  “Don’t do that,” I said. “Don’t beat yourself up.”

  Amir tried to focus on me. “Sorry, what?”

  “Not you, man.” I tapped the headset mic. “Talking to Sam.”

  Amir mouthed a silent Ah. He returned to practicing his forlorn stare out the window.

  “Amir isn’t on this channel?” Sam asked.


  “After I drop you guys, I’m going to take the Skofnung Sword to Valhalla for safekeeping. I can’t take Amir into the hotel, but…I’m going to try to show him what I can. Show him my life.”

  “Good call. He’s strong, Sam. He can handle it.”

  A three-second count of white noise. “I hope you’re right. I’ll also update the gang on floor nineteen.”

  “What about Alex Fierro?”

  Sam glanced back at me. It was weird seeing her a few feet away but hearing her voice right in my ears. “Bringing her along is a bad idea, Magnus. You saw what Loki could do to me. Imagine what he…”

  I could imagine. But I also sensed that Goat-Killer had a point. We would need Alex Fierro. Her arrival in Valhalla wasn’t a coincidence. The Norns, or some other weird prophecy gods, had interwoven her fate with ours.

  “I don’t think we should underestimate her,” I said, remembering her fighting those wolves, and riding a bucking lindworm. “Also, I trust her. I mean, as much as you can trust somebody who has cut your head off. Do you have any idea how to find the god Heimdall?”

  The static sounded heavier, angrier. “Unfortunately, yes,” Sam said. “Get ready. We’re almost in position.”

  “For landing in Norwood? I thought you said we were going to Alfheim.”

  “You are. I’m not. The flight path to Norwood puts us just over the optimal drop zone.”

  “Drop zone?” I really hoped I had misheard her.

  “Look, I have to concentrate on flying this plane. Ask Hearthstone.” My headphones went silent.

  Hearthstone was having a staring contest with Blitzen. The dwarf’s granite face poked out from his Bubble-Wrap cocoon, his expression frozen in dying agony. Hearthstone didn’t look much happier. The misery swirling around him was almost as easy to see as his bloodstained polka-dotted scarf.

  Alfheim, I signed. How do we get there?

  Jump, Hearth told me.

  My stomach dropped out from under me. “Jump? Jump out of the plane?”

  Hearth stared past me, the way he does when he’s considering how to explain something complicated in sign language…usually something I won’t like.

  Alfheim kingdom of air, light, he signed. Can only be entered…He pantomimed free-falling.

  “This is a jet plane,” I said. “We can’t jump—we’ll die!”

  Not die, Hearth promised. Also, not jump exactly. Just…He made a poof gesture, which did not reassure me. We cannot die until we save Blitzen.

  For a guy who rarely made a sound, Hearthstone could speak in defiant shouts when he wanted to. He’d just given me my marching orders: poof out of this plane; fall to Alfheim; save Blitzen. Only after that would it be okay for me to die.

  Amir shifted in his seat. “Magnus? You look nervous.”

  “Yeah.” I was tempted to make up some simple explanation, something that wouldn’t add any more cracks to Amir’s generous mortal brain. But we were beyond that now. Amir was fully in Sam’s life, for better or worse, normal or abnormal. He’d always been kind to me. He’d fed me when I was homeless, treated me like a person when most people pretended I was invisible. He’d come to our rescue today without knowing any details, just because Sam was in trouble. I couldn’t lie to him.

  “Apparently, Hearth and I are going to go poof.” I told him my marching orders.

  Amir looked so lost I wanted to give the guy a hug.

  “Until last week,” he said, “my biggest worry was where to expand our falafel franchise, Jamaica Plain or Chestnut Hill. Now I’m not even sure what world we’re flying through.”

  I checked to make sure my headset mic was switched off. “Amir, Sam is the same as she’s always been. She’s brave. She’s strong.”

  “I know that.”

  “She’s also head-over-heels crazy about you,” I said. “She didn’t ask for any of this weirdness in her life. Her biggest concern is that it doesn’t mess up her future with you. Believe that.”

  He hung his head like a puppy in a kennel. “I…I’m trying, Magnus. It’s just so strange.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “Here’s a heads-up: It’s going to get stranger.” I switched on my microphone. “Sam?”

  “I could hear that entire conversation,” she announced.

  “Ah.” Apparently I hadn’t figured out the headset controls after all. “Um—”

  “I’ll kill you later,” she said. “Right now, your exit is coming up.”

  “Wait. Won’t Barry notice if we just disappear?”

  “He’s mortal. His brain will recalibrate. After all, people don’t just vanish off jet planes in mid-flight. By the time we land in Norwood, he probably won’t even remember you were here.”

  I wanted to think I was a little more memorable than that, but I was too nervous to worry about it.

  Next to me, Hearthstone unlatched his seat belt. He pulled off his scarf and tied it around Blitzen, fashioning a sort of makeshift harness.

  “Good luck,” Sam told me. “I’ll see you back in Midgard, assuming…you know.”

  Assuming we live, I thought. Assuming we can heal Blitzen. Assuming our luck is better than it has been the past two days…or ever.

  Between one heartbeat and the next, the Cessna disappeared. I found myself floating in the sky, my headphones plugged into nothing at all.

  Then I fell.

  Loiterers Will Be Shot, Then Arrested and Shot Again

  BLITZEN ONCE told me that dwarves never left home without a parachute.

  Now I understood the wisdom in that. Hearthstone and I plummeted through the frigid air, me waving my arms and screaming, Hearth in a perfect swan dive with granite Blitzen tied to his back. Hearth glanced over at me reassuringly, as if to say, Don’t worry. The dwarf is Bubble-Wrapped.

  My only response was more incoherent screaming, because I didn’t know the ASL for HOLY FREAKING AGGG

  We punched through a cloud and everything changed. Our fall slowed. The air turned warm and sweet. The sunlight intensified, blinding me.

  We hit the ground. Well, sort of. My feet touched down on freshly mown grass and I bounced right off, feeling like I weighed about twenty pounds. I astronaut-skipped across the lawn until I found my balance.

  I squinted through the searing sunlight, trying to get my bearings—acres of landscaping, tall trees, a big house in the distance. Everything seemed haloed in fire. No matter which direction I turned, I felt as though a spotlight was shining straight in my face.

  Hearthstone grabbed my arm. He pressed something into my hands: a pair of dark sunglasses. I put them on and the stabbing pain in my eyes subsided.

  “Thanks,” I muttered. “Is it this bright all the time?”

  Hearthstone frowned. I must have been slurring my words. He was having trouble reading my lips. I repeated the question in sign language.

  Always bright, Hearth agreed. You get used to it.

  He scanned our surroundings as if looking for threats.

  We’d landed on the front lawn of a big estate. Low stone walls hedged the property—a golf course–size expanse of well-kept flower beds and thin willowy trees that looked as if they’d been pulled upward by gravity as they grew. The house was a Tudor-style mansion with leaded glass windows and conical turrets.

  Who lives here? I signed to Hearth. President of Alfheim?

  Just a family. The Makepieces. He spelled out their name.

  They must be important, I signed.

  Hearth shrugged. Regular. Middle-class.

  I laughed, then realized he wasn’t joking. If this was a middle-class family in Alfheim, I didn’t want to split a lunch tab with the one-percenters.

  We should go, Hearth signed. Makepieces don’t like me. He readjusted his scarf harness for Blitzen, who probably weighed no more than a regular backpack in Alfheim.

  Together we headed for the road.

  I have to admit, the lighter gravity made me feel…well, lighter. I bounded along, covering five feet with every step. I had to restrain myself from leaping farther. With my einherji strength, if I wasn’t careful, I might have found myself jumping over the rooftops of middle-class mansions.

  As far as I could tell, Alfheim was just row after row of estates like the Makepieces’, each property at least several acres, each lawn dotted with flower beds and topiaries. In the cobblestone driveways, black luxury SUVs gleamed. The air smelled like baked hibiscus and crisp dollar bills.

  Sam had said our flight path to Norwood would put us over the best drop zone. Now that made sense. In the same way Nidavellir resembled Southie, Alfheim reminded me of the posh suburbs west of Boston—Wellesley, maybe, with its huge houses and pastoral landscapes, its winding roads, picturesque creeks, and sleepy aura of absolute safety…assuming you belonged there.

  On the downside, the sunlight was so harsh it accentuated every imperfection. Even one stray leaf or wilted flower in a garden stood out as a glaring problem. My own clothes looked dirtier. I could see every pore on the back of my hands and the veins under my skin.

  I also understood what Hearthstone meant about Alfheim being made of air and light. The whole place seemed unreal, like it was whisked together from cotton candy fibers and might dissolve with a splash of water. Walking across the spongy ground, I felt uneasy and impatient. The super-dark sunglasses only did so much to alleviate my headache.

  After a few blocks, I signed to Hearthstone: Where are we going?

  He pursed his lips. Home.

  I caught his arm and made him stop.

  Your home? I signed. Where you grew up?

  Hearth stared at the nearest quaint garden wall. Unlike me, he wore no sunglasses. In the brilliant daylight, his eyes glittered like crystal formations.

  Skofnung Stone is at home, he signed. With…Father.

  The sign for father was an open hand, palm facing out, thumb across the forehead. It reminded me of L for loser. Given what I knew about Hearth’s childhood, that seemed appropriate.

  Once, in Jotunheim, I’d done some healing magic on Hearth. I’d gotten a glimpse of the pain he carried around inside. He’d been mistreated and shamed while growing up, mostly because of his deafness. Then his brother had died—I didn’t know the details—and his parents had blamed Hearth. He couldn’t possibly want to go back to a home like that.

  I remembered how strongly Blitzen had protested the idea, even when he knew he was going to die. Don’t make Hearth go. Not worth it, kid.

  Yet here we were.

  Why? I signed. Why would your father (loser) have the Skofnung Stone?

  Instead of answering, Hearthstone nodded in the direction we’d come. Everything was so bright in Elf World, I hadn’t noticed the flashing lights until the sleek black town car pulled up directly behind us. Along the sedan’s front grill, red and blue sequencers pulsed. Behind the windshield, two elves in business suits scowled at us.

  The Alfheim Police Department had come to say hello.

  “Can we help you?” asked the first cop.

  Right then, I knew we were in trouble. In my experience, no cop ever said can we help you if he had any actual desire to help. Another giveaway: cop number one’s hand was resting on the butt of his sidearm.

  Cop number two edged around the passenger side, also looking ready to break out some helpful deadly force.

  Both elves were dressed like plainclothes detectives—in dark suits and silk ties, with ID badges clipped to their belts. Their short-cropped hair was as blond as Hearthstone’s. They had the same sort of pale eyes and eerily calm expressions.

  Otherwise they looked nothing like my friend. The cops seemed taller, spindlier, more alien. They exuded a cold air of disdain as though they had personal AC units installed under their shirt collars.

  The other thing I found strange: they spoke. I’d spent so much time around Hearthstone, who communicated in eloquent silence, that hearing an elf speak was really jarring. It just seemed wrong.

  Both cops focused on Hearthstone. They looked right through me as if I didn’t exist.

  “I asked you a question, pal,” the first cop said. “Is there a problem here?”

  Hearthstone shook his head. He edged back, but I caught his arm. Retreating would only make things worse.

  “We’re good,” I said. “Thanks, officers.”

  The detectives stared at me like I was from another world, which, to be fair, I was.

  The ID tag on cop number one’s belt read SUNSPOT. He didn’t look much like a sunspot. Then again, I guessed I didn’t look much like a chase.

  Cop number two’s ID read WILDFLOWER. With a handle like that, I wanted him to be wearing a Hawaiian shirt or at least a floral-pattern tie, but his outfit was just as boring as his partner’s.

  Sunspot wrinkled his nose as if I smelled like a wight’s barrow. “Where’d you learn Elfish, thick? That accent is horrible.”

  “Thick?” I asked.

  Wildflower smirked at his partner. “What do you bet Elfish isn’t his first language? Illegal husvaettr would be my guess.”

  I wanted to point out that I was a human speaking English, and it was my first language. Also my only language. Elfish and English just happened to be the same, like Hearth’s Alf Sign Language was the same as American Sign Language.

  I doubted the cops would listen or care. The way they spoke was a little strange to my ears: a sort of old-fashioned, aristocratic American accent I’d heard on newsreels and movies from the 1930s.

  “Look, guys,” I said, “we’re just taking a walk.”

  “In a nice neighborhood,” said Sunspot, “where I’m guessing you don’t live. The Makepieces down the road—they called in a report. Somebody trespassing, loitering. We take that sort of thing seriously, thick.”

  I had to tamp down my anger. As a homeless person, I’d been a frequent target for rough treatment by law enforcement. My darker-skinned friends got it
even worse. So, during the two years I lived on the street, I’d learned a whole new level of caution when dealing with “friendly” neighborhood police officers.

  And yet…I didn’t like being called a thick. Whatever that was.

  “Officers,” I said, “we’ve been walking for maybe five minutes. We’re heading to my friend’s house. How is that loitering?”

  Hearthstone signed to me: Careful.

  Sunspot frowned. “What was that? Some kind of gang sign? Speak Elfish.”

  “He’s deaf,” I said.

  “Deaf?” Wildflower’s face scrunched up in disgust. “What kind of elf—?”

  “Whoa, partner.” Sunspot swallowed. He tugged at his collar like his personal AC had stopped working. “Is that…? That’s gotta be…you know, Mr. Alderman’s kid.”

  Wildflower’s expression shifted from contempt to fear. It would’ve been kind of satisfying to watch, except that a fearful cop was way more dangerous than a disgusted one.

  “Mr. Hearthstone?” Wildflower asked. “Is that you?”

  Hearthstone nodded glumly.

  Sunspot cursed. “All right. Both of you, in the car.”

  “Whoa, why?” I demanded. “If you’re arresting us, I want to know the charges—”

  “We’re not arresting you, thick,” Sunspot growled. “We’re taking you to see Mr. Alderman.”

  “After that,” Wildflower added, “you won’t be our problem anymore.”

  His tone made it sound like we’d be no one’s problem, since we’d be buried under a lovely well-tended flower bed somewhere. The last thing I wanted to do was get in the car, but the cops tapped their fingers on their elfish firearms, showing us just how helpful they were prepared to be.

  I climbed into the back of the cruiser.

  Pretty Sure Hearthstone’s Dad Is a Cow-Abducting Alien

  IT WAS the nicest cop car I’d ever been in, and I’d been in quite a few. The black leather interior smelled of vanilla. The Plexiglas divider was squeaky clean. The bench seat had a massage feature so I could relax after a hard day of loitering. Obviously, they served only the finest criminals here in Alfheim.

  After a mile of comfortable cruising, we pulled off the main road and stopped at a pair of iron gates monogrammed with a fancy A. On either side, ten-foot-tall stone walls were topped with decorative spikes to keep out the upper-middle-class riffraff who lived down the street. From the tops of the gateposts, security cameras swiveled to study us.

  The gates opened. As we drove through into Hearthstone’s family estate, my jaw nearly dropped off. I thought my family mansion was embarrassing.

  The front yard was bigger than the Boston Common. Swans glided across a lake edged with willow trees. We drove over two different bridges crossing a winding creek, past four different gardens, then through a second set of gates before coming to the main house, which looked like a postmodern version of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland—white-and-gray slab walls jutting out at strange angles, slender towers like organ pipes, huge plate glass windows, and a burnished steel front door so large it probably had to be opened by chain-pulling trolls.

  Hearthstone fidgeted with his bag of runes, occasionally glancing back toward the car’s trunk, where the cops had stowed Blitzen.

  The officers said nothing until we parked at the front door.

  “Out,” Wildflower said.

  As soon as Hearthstone was free, he walked to the back of the cruiser and rapped on the trunk.

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