The hammer of thor, p.5
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       The Hammer of Thor, p.5
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         Part #2 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

  Just my luck, Grimwolf was happy to turn his attention to me. When it comes to drawing aggro from ancient monsters, I’ve got the golden touch.

  Mallory stumbled back out of my way, chucking one of her knives at the dragon’s head. T.J. also retreated, yelling, “All yours, buddy!”

  As far as encouraging words you might hear before an excruciating death go, those sucked pretty bad.

  I raised my shield and sword like the nice instructors had demonstrated in Viking 101. The dragon’s mouth opened wide, revealing several extra rows of teeth—just in case the outer row of teeth didn’t kill me dead enough.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alex swaying at the top of the tree—a tense bundle of pink and green, ready to spring. I realized what she was planning: she wanted to jump onto the dragon’s neck. That was such a stupid plan it made me feel better about my own stupid way of dying.

  The dragon struck. I jabbed my sword upward, hoping to impale the monster’s upper palate.

  Instead, a sudden pain blinded me. My face felt like it had been doused with industrial cleaning fluid. My knees buckled, which probably saved my life. The dragon bit empty air where my head had been a millisecond before.

  Somewhere to my left, Mallory screamed, “Get up, you fool!”

  I tried to blink away the pain. It only got worse. My nostrils filled with the stench of burning flesh.

  Grimwolf recovered his balance, snarling with irritation.

  Inside my head, a familiar voice said, Come, now, my friend. Don’t struggle!

  My vision doubled. I could still see the forest, the dragon looming over me, a small pink-and-green figure leaping toward the monster from the top of a tree. But there was another layer to reality—a gauzy white scene trying to burn its way through my corneas. I knelt in Uncle Randolph’s study, in the Chase family mansion in Back Bay. Standing over me was someone much worse than a lindworm—Loki, the god of evil.

  He grinned down at me. There we are. How nice!

  At the same time, the dragon Grimwolf struck again, opening his maw to devour me whole.

  I Am Saved from Certain Death by Being Killed

  I’D NEVER EXISTED in two places at once before. I decided I didn’t like it.

  Through the pain, I was dimly aware of the fight in the forest—Grimwolf was about to bite me in half, when suddenly his head bucked upward; now Alex was straddling his neck, pulling her cord so tight around the dragon’s throat that he thrashed and stuck out his forked black tongue.

  T.J. and Mallory rushed in front of me, acting as a shield. They yelled at Grimwolf, waving their weapons and trying to herd him back.

  I wanted to help them. I wanted to get to my feet or at least roll out of the way. But I was paralyzed, on my knees, trapped between Valhalla and my Uncle Randolph’s study.

  I told you, Randolph! Loki’s voice dragged me further into the vision. See? Blood is thicker than water. We have a solid connection!

  The hazy white scene resolved into full color. I knelt on the oriental carpet in front of Randolph’s desk, sweating in a square of sunlight that was tinted green from the stained glass transom. The room smelled of lemon wood polish and burning meat. I was pretty sure the second odor was coming from my face.

  In front of me stood Loki—his tousled hair the color of fall foliage, his delicately sculpted face marred by acid burns across his nose and cheekbones and suture scars around his lips.

  He grinned and spread his arms in delight. What do you think of my outfit?

  He was wearing an emerald green tuxedo with a frilly maroon shirt, a paisley bow tie, and a matching cummerbund. (If anything about the ensemble could be said to be matching.) A price tag dangled from his left coat sleeve.

  I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t throw up, as much as I wanted to. I couldn’t even offer him a free consultation at Blitzen’s Best.

  No? Loki’s expression soured. I told you, Randolph. You should’ve bought me the canary yellow one, too!

  A strangled sound came from my throat. “Magnus,” said Uncle Randolph’s voice, “don’t listen—”

  Loki extended his hand, the ends of his fingers smoking. He didn’t touch me, but the pain across my face tripled, as though someone were branding me with an iron. I wanted to collapse, to beg Loki to stop, but I couldn’t move.

  I realized I was seeing everything through my uncle’s eyes. I was inhabiting his body, feeling what he was experiencing. Loki was using Randolph as some sort of agony-operated telephone to contact me.

  The pain eased, but Randolph’s extra weight enveloped me like a lead wet suit. My lungs rattled. My worn-out knees ached. I didn’t like being an old man.

  Now, now, Randolph, Loki chided, behave yourself. Magnus, I apologize about your uncle. Where was I? Oh, yes! Your invitation!

  Meanwhile, in Valhalla, I remained paralyzed on the battlefield while the dragon Grimwolf staggered around, knocking down entire swaths of forest. One of the lindworm’s feet caught Mallory Keen, stomping her flat. T.J. yelled and waved pieces of his now-broken rifle, trying to draw the monster’s attention. Somehow, Alex Fierro managed to stay on the dragon’s neck, tightening her cord as Grimwolf whipped back and forth.

  A wedding! Loki announced cheerfully. He held up a green invitation, then folded it and tucked it into Randolph’s shirt pocket. Five days from today! I apologize for the short notice, but I hope you can come, especially since it’s up to you to bring the bride and the bride-price. Otherwise, well—war, invasion, Ragnarok, et cetera. A wedding will be much more fun! Now, let’s see. How much has Samirah told you?

  My skull constricted until it felt like my brain would come out of my sinus cavity. A ragged scream escaped my lips, but I wasn’t sure if it was mine or Uncle Randolph’s.

  From the dragon’s neck, Alex yelled, “What’s wrong with Magnus?”

  T.J. ran to my side. “I don’t know! His head is smoking! That’s bad, right?”

  “Grab his sword!” Alex pulled her cord tighter, causing black blood to trickle down the dragon’s neck. “Get ready!”

  Oh, dear. Loki tapped me/Randolph on the nose. The pressure in my head subsided from blackout misery to moderate torture. Samirah hasn’t shared. The poor thing is embarrassed, I suppose. I understand! It’s difficult for me, too, giving away my favorite daughter. They grow up so quickly!

  I tried to speak. I wanted to say, Go away! You suck! Get out of my head and leave Samirah alone!

  It came out as “Gaaaaah.”

  No need to thank me, Loki said. Neither of us wants Ragnarok to start just yet, eh? And I’m the only one who can help you! It wasn’t an easy negotiation, but I can be very persuasive. The hammer in exchange for the bride. A one-time offer. I’ll tell you more when you secure the bride-price.

  “Now!” Alex yelled. She pulled her wire so hard the dragon arched his back, separating the segments of armored hide that protected his belly. T.J. charged forward and thrust my practice sword into a soft spot below Grimwolf’s heart. T.J. rolled aside as the monster came down with his full weight, impaling himself. Alex leaped from the lindworm’s neck, her garrote dangling from one hand, slick with blood.

  Was that Alex I heard? Loki curled his scarred lip. She’s not invited to the wedding. She’ll ruin everything. In fact—Loki’s eyes gleamed with mischief—give her a little present for me, will you?

  My lungs tightened, even worse than when I was an asthmatic kid. My body began to superheat; I was in so much pain my organs seemed to be dissolving into molecules, my skin glowing and steaming. Loki was turning my brain to fire, filling me with flashes of memories that weren’t mine—centuries of anger and the need for revenge.

  I tried to push him out of my head. I tried to breathe.

  Alex Fierro stood over me, frowning. Her face and Loki’s melded together.

  “Your friend is going to explode,” Alex said, as if this were a perfectly normal thing that happened to people.

  T.J. wiped his brow. “What exactly do you mean…exp
lode?”

  “I mean Loki is channeling power through him,” Alex said. “It’s too much. Magnus will blow up, destroying most of this courtyard.”

  I gritted my teeth. I managed one word: “Run.”

  “It won’t help,” Alex told me. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a solution.”

  She stepped forward and calmly wrapped her metal wire around my neck.

  I managed another word: “Wait.”

  “It’s the only way to get him out of your head.” Alex’s brown and amber eyes were impossible to read. She winked at me…or maybe that was Loki, his face glowing hazily just under Alex’s skin.

  See you soon, Magnus, said the god.

  Alex yanked both ends of her garrote and snuffed out my life.

  Never Take a Bubble Bath with a Decapitated God

  SOMEONE PLEASE explain to me why I have to dream when I’m dead.

  There I was, floating in the darkness of nonexistence, minding my own business, trying to get over the fact that I’d just been decapitated. Then I got dropped into these weird vivid nightmares. Really annoying.

  I found myself on a thirty-foot yacht in the middle of a storm. The deck heaved. Waves crashed over the bow. Sheets of gray rain slammed into the wheelhouse windows.

  In the captain’s chair sat Uncle Randolph, one hand clenching the wheel, the other strangling his radio handset. His yellow raincoat dripped puddles around his feet. His close-shaved head glistened with salt water. In front of him, the control board’s monitors showed nothing but static.

  “Mayday!” He yelled into the handset like it was a stubborn dog refusing to do a trick. “Mayday, curse you. Mayday!”

  On the bench behind him, a woman and two young girls huddled together. I’d never known them in life, but I recognized them from photographs in Uncle Randolph’s office. Perhaps because I had just been inside Randolph’s head, I was able to pull their names from his memories: his wife, Caroline; and his daughters, Aubrey and Emma.

  Caroline sat in the middle, her dark brown hair plastered against her face, her arms around her daughters’ shoulders. “It’ll be all right,” she told the girls. She glanced at Randolph with a silent accusation: Why have you done this to us?

  Aubrey, the youngest, had the Chase family’s wavy blond hair. Her head was bowed, her face set in deep concentration. She held a model of the yacht in her lap, trying to keep the toy level despite the fifteen-foot swells that rocked the wheelhouse, as if by doing so she could help her father.

  Emma was not as calm. She looked about ten, with dark hair like her mother’s and sad, weary eyes like her father’s. Somehow I knew that she’d been the most excited about this trip. She had insisted on coming along for Dad’s big adventure—his search for a missing Viking sword that would finally prove his theories. Dad would be a hero! Randolph had not been able to refuse her.

  Now, though, Emma trembled with fear. The faint scent of urine told me that her bladder was not holding up under the stress. With each pitch of the boat, Emma shrieked and clutched a pendant to her chest—a runestone Randolph had given her for her last birthday. I couldn’t see the symbol, but somehow I knew what it was:

  Othala: inheritance. Randolph saw Emma as his successor, the next great historian-archaeologist of the family.

  “I’ll bring us home.” Randolph’s voice cracked with despair.

  He had been so sure of his plans, and confident about the weather. They would make an easy trip from the harbor. He had done extremely thorough research. He knew the Sword of Summer must lie at the bottom of Massachusetts Bay. He imagined himself making one quick dive. The old gods of Asgard would bless his efforts. He would bring the sword to the surface and lift its blade into the sunlight for the first time in a thousand years. His family would be there to witness his triumph.

  Yet here they were, caught in a freak tempest, their yacht being thrown about like the toy in Aubrey’s lap.

  The boat rolled to starboard. Emma screamed.

  A wall of water engulfed me.

  I surfaced in a different dream. My disembodied head bobbed up and down in a full bathtub that smelled of strawberry soap and mildewed washcloths. To my right floated a cheerful rubber ducky with worn-away eyes. To my left floated the not-so-cheerful head of the god Mimir. Seaweed and dead minnows swirled in his beard. Bubble bath foam dribbled from his eyes, ears, and nose.

  “I’m telling ya”—his voice echoed in the tiled bathroom—“you guys gotta go. And not just because I’m your boss. Destiny demands it.”

  He wasn’t talking to me. Next to the tub, sitting on a lovely avocado porcelain commode, was my friend Hearthstone, his shoulders slumped, his expression despondent. He wore his usual black leather coat and pants, a starched white shirt, and a polka-dotted scarf that looked like it had been cut from a Twister game mat. His spiky blond hair was almost as pale as his face.

  Hearth gesticulated in sign language, so quickly and with such annoyance that I could only catch some of his words: Too dangerous….death…protect this idiot.

  He pointed to Blitzen, who leaned against the sink with his arms crossed. The dwarf was as dapper as always in a walnut colored three-piece suit that matched his skin tone, a bow tie as black as his beard, and a Frank Sinatra–style hat that somehow pulled the whole look together.

  “We have to go,” Blitz insisted. “The kid needs us.”

  I wanted to tell them how much I missed them, how much I wanted to see them, but also that they shouldn’t risk their lives for me. Unfortunately, when I opened my mouth, the only thing that came out was a goldfish frantically wriggling its way to freedom.

  My face pitched forward into the bubbles. When I surfaced again, the dream had changed.

  I was still a disembodied head, but now I was floating in a massive open jar filled with pickles and vinegar. It was difficult to see through the greenish liquid and the curved glass, but I seemed to be on a bar. Neon drink ads glowed on the walls. Huge, hazy shapes sat hunched on the stools. Laughter and conversation sent ripples through the pickle juice.

  I didn’t spend a lot of time in bars. I certainly didn’t spend a lot of time staring at one through a filthy pickle jar. But something about this place seemed familiar—the arrangement of the tables, the diamond-patterned beveled glass window on the opposite wall, even the rack of wineglasses suspended above me like pendant lamps.

  A new shape moved into my vision—someone even larger than the patrons and dressed all in white. “GET OUT!” Her voice was harsh and ragged, as if she spent her spare time gargling gasoline. “ALL OF YOU, OUT! I WOULD TALK TO MY BROTHER!”

  With a lot of grumbling, the crowd dispersed. The bar fell silent except for the sound of a TV somewhere across the room—a sports broadcast, a commentator saying, “Oh, would you look at that, Bill? His head came right off!”

  I took that comment personally.

  At the far end of the bar, someone else moved—a figure so dark and large I had thought it was just a shadow.

  “It’s my bar.” His voice was a deep baritone, huffy and wet. If a bull walrus could speak English, he would sound like that. “Why do you always kick out my friends?”

  “Friends?” the woman yelled. “They are your subjects, Thrym, not your friends! Start acting like a king!”

  “I am!” the man said. “I’m going to destroy Midgard!”

  “Huh. I’ll believe that when I see it. If you were a real king, you would’ve used that hammer immediately rather than hide it away and dither for months about what to do. You certainly wouldn’t trade it to that no-good—”

  “It’s an alliance, Thrynga!” the man bellowed. I doubted this guy Thrym was really a walrus, but I imagined him hopping from flipper to flipper, his whiskers bristling. “You don’t understand how important that is. I need allies in order to take on the human world. Once I have married Samirah al-Abbas—”

  BLOOP.

  I didn’t mean to, but as soon as I’d heard Samirah’s name, I screamed inside my pickle jar, causi
ng a huge bubble to break the surface of the greasy green liquid.

  “What was that?” Thrym demanded.

  The white shape of Thrynga loomed over me. “It came from the pickle jar.” She said this like it was the title of a horror film.

  “Well, kill it!” Thrym yelled.

  Thrynga picked up a barstool and whacked my jar with it, hurling me against the wall and leaving me on the floor in a puddle of pickles, juice, and broken glass.

  I woke up in my own bed, gasping for air. My hands flew to my neck.

  Thank Frey, my head was once again attached to my body. My nostrils still burned from the scent of pickles and strawberry bubble bath.

  I tried to parse what had just happened—which parts were real, and which were dreams. The dragon Grimwolf. Alex Fierro and her garrote. Loki burning his way inside my head, somehow using Uncle Randolph to get to me. His warning about a wedding in five days.

  All that had actually happened.

  Unfortunately, my dreams seemed just as concrete. I’d been with Randolph on his boat the day his family had perished. His memories were now tangled with mine. His anguish sat on my chest like a block of steel—his loss of Caroline, Aubrey, and Emma felt as painful to me as the death of my own mother. Worse, in a way, because Randolph had never gotten any kind of closure. He still suffered every hour of every day.

  The rest of the visions: Hearthstone and Blitzen coming to help me. I should have been elated, but I remembered Hearthstone’s frantic signs: Too dangerous. Death.

  And the scene from the pickle jar. What the Helheim was that? Those mystery siblings, Thrym and Thrynga—I was willing to bet fifty pieces of red gold and a falafel dinner that they were giants. The one named Thrym had Thor’s hammer and planned on trading it for—I swallowed back pickle-flavored bile—for Sam.

  It’s up to you to bring the bride and the bride-price, Loki had said. An alliance. A one-time offer.

  Loki must have been out of his mind. He wanted to “help us” get Thor’s hammer back by marrying off Samirah?

  Why hadn’t Sam said anything about this?

  The poor thing is embarrassed, Loki had said.

  I remembered the urgency in Sam’s voice when we’d talked at the café, the way her fingers had trembled on her coffee cup. No wonder she needed to find the hammer so badly. It wasn’t just to save the world from invasion, blah, blah, blah. We were always saving the world. Sam wanted to prevent this marriage deal.

  But why would she even think she’d have to honor such a stupid trade? Loki had no right to tell her what to do. She was betrothed to Amir. She loved the guy. I would raise an army of einherjar, magic elves, and well-dressed dwarves and burn down Jotunheim before I let them coerce my friend.

  Whatever the case, I needed to talk to her again, and soon.

  I struggled out of bed. My knees still felt worn and achy like Randolph’s, though I knew it was only in my head. I limped to my closet, wishing I had my uncle’s cane.

  I got dressed and retrieved my phone from the kitchenette.

  The screen read 7:02 P.M. I was late for Valhalla’s nightly feast.

  I’d never taken so long to resurrect after dying in battle. Usually I was one of the first ones reborn. I remembered Alex Fierro standing over me, calmly slicing off my head with her garrote.

  I checked my texts. Still nothing from Annabeth. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I kept hoping. I needed my cousin’s outside perspective right now, her smarts, her assurance that I could handle all the weirdness.

  My door blew open. Three ravens flew in, spiraled around my head, then landed in the lowest branch of the atrium tree. They glared at me the way only ravens can do, like I was not worthy of being their roadkill dinner.

  “I know I’m late,” I told them. “I just woke up.”

  CAW!

  CAW!

  CAW!

  Most likely translation:

  “GET!”

  “MOVING!”

  “STUPID!”

  Samirah would be at the feast. Maybe I could talk to her.

  I grabbed my neck chain and slipped it over my head. The runestone pendant
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