The hammer of thor, p.7
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       The Hammer of Thor, p.7
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         Part #2 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

  The video went dark. It did not show Alex arguing with Sam, punching her in the eye, or causing chaos when she finally reached Valhalla. Maybe Sam’s camera ran out of batteries. Or maybe Sam intentionally ended the video there to make Alex look like more of a hero.

  The feast hall was quiet except for the crackle of tiki torches. Then the einherjar burst into applause.

  The thanes rose to their feet. Jim Bowie wiped a tear from his eye. Ernie Pyle blew his nose. Even Helgi, who had looked so angry a few minutes ago, openly wept as he clapped for Alex Fierro.

  Samirah looked around, clearly stunned by the reaction.

  Alex might as well have been a statue. Her eyes stayed fixed on the dark place where the video screen had been, as if she could make her death rewind by sheer force of will.

  Once the ovation quieted, Helgi raised his goblet. “Alex Fierro, you fought against great odds, with no thought for your own safety, to save a weaker man. You offered this man a weapon, a chance to redeem himself in battle and achieve Valhalla! Such bravery and honor in a child of Loki is…is truly exceptional.”

  Sam looked like she had some choice words to share with Helgi, but she was interrupted by another round of applause.

  “It’s true,” Helgi continued, “that we have learned not to judge Loki’s children too harshly. Recently, Samirah al-Abbas was accused of un-Valkyrie-like behavior, and we forgave her. Here again is proof of our wisdom!”

  More applause. The thanes nodded and patted each other on the back as if to say, Yes, wow! We really are wise and open-minded! We deserve cookies!

  “Not only that,” Helgi added, “but such heroism from an argr!” He grinned at the other thanes to share his amazement. “I don’t even know what to say. Truly, Alex Fierro, you have risen above what we would expect from one of your kind. To Alex Fierro!” he toasted. “To bloody death!”

  “BLOODY DEATH!” the crowd roared.

  No one else seemed to notice how tightly Alex was clenching her fists, or the way she glared at the thanes’ table. My guess was that she hadn’t appreciated some of his word choices.

  Helgi didn’t bother calling a vala, or seer, to read Alex’s destiny in the runes like he did when I first arrived in Valhalla. He must have figured the thanes already knew that Fierro would do great things when we all charged to our deaths at Ragnarok.

  The einherjar kicked into full party mode. They laughed and wrestled and called for more mead. Valkyries buzzed around in their grass skirts and leis, filling pitchers as fast as they could. Musicians struck up some Norse dance tunes that sounded like acoustic death metal performed by feral cats.

  For me, two things dampened the party mood.

  First, Mallory Keen turned toward me. “You still think Alex is a legitimate einherji? If Loki wanted to place an agent in Valhalla, he couldn’t have arranged a better introduction….”

  The thought made me feel like I was back on Randolph’s boat, being tossed around in fifteen-foot swells. I wanted to give Alex the benefit of the doubt. Sam had told me it was impossible to cheat your way into Valhalla. Then again, since becoming an einherji, I ate impossible for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  The second thing that happened: I caught a flash of movement somewhere above me. I glanced at the ceiling, expecting to see a high-flying Valkyrie or maybe one of the animals that lived in the Tree of Laeradr. Instead, a hundred feet up, almost lost in the gloom, a figure in black reclined in the crook of a branch, slow clapping as he watched our celebration. On his head was a steel helmet with the face mask of a wolf.

  Before I could even say, Hey, look, there’s a goat-killer in the tree, I blinked and he was gone. From the spot where he’d been sitting, a single leaf fluttered down and landed in my mead cup.

  Samirah and Magnus Sitting in a Tree, T-A-L-K-I-N-G

  AS THE CROWDS streamed out of the hall, I spotted Samirah flying away.

  “Hey!” I shouted, but there was no way she could’ve heard me over the rowdy einherjar.

  I pulled off my pendant and summoned Jack. “Fly after Sam, will you? Tell her I need to talk to her.”

  “I can do better than that,” Jack said. “Hang on.”

  “Whoa. You can carry me?”

  “For a short hop, yeah.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me that sooner?”

  “I totally mentioned it! Plus, it’s in the owner’s manual.”

  “Jack, you don’t have an owner’s manual.”

  “Just hang on. Of course, once you put me back in pendant form, you’ll feel—”

  “Like I’ve been carrying myself through the air,” I guessed. “And I’ll pass out or whatever. Fine. Let’s go.”

  There was nothing graceful about flying Jack Air. I did not look like a superhero or a Valkyrie. I looked like a guy dangling from the hilt of a sword as it shot skyward—my butt clenched, my legs swinging wildly. I lost a shoe somewhere over the twentieth tier. I nearly fell to my death a couple of times. Otherwise, yeah, great experience.

  When we got within a few feet of Sam, I yelled, “On your left!”

  She turned, hovering in midair. “Magnus, what are you—? Oh, hey, Jack.”

  “’Sup, Lion Lady? Can we put down somewhere? This guy is heavy.”

  We landed on the nearest branch. I told Sam about the goat-assassin lurking in Laeradr, and she zipped off to alert the Valkyries. About five minutes later she came back, just in time to cut short Jack’s rendition of “Hands to Myself.”

  “That is disturbing,” Sam said.

  “I know,” I said. “Jack cannot sing Selena Gomez.”

  “No, I mean the assassin,” Sam said. “He’s disappeared. We’ve got the entire hotel staff on alert, but”—she shrugged—“he’s nowhere.”

  “Can I finish my song now?” Jack asked.

  “No!” Sam and I said.

  I almost told Jack to go back to pendant form. Then I remembered that if he did, I would probably pass out for twelve hours.

  Sam settled on the branch next to me.

  Far below, the last of the dinner crowd was exiting the hall. My friends from floor nineteen, T.J., Mallory, and Halfborn, surrounded Alex Fierro and guided her along. From here it was hard to tell if this was a congratulatory “buddy” kind of escort or a forced march to make sure she didn’t kill anyone.

  Sam followed my gaze. “You’ve got doubts about her, I know. But she deserves to be here, Magnus. The way she died…I’m as sure about her heroism as I was about yours.”

  Since I’d never been confident about my own heroism, Sam’s comment didn’t ease my mind.

  “How’s your eye?”

  She touched the bruise. “It’s nothing. Alex just freaked out. It took me a while to understand, but when you take someone’s hand and lead them to Valhalla, you get a glimpse into their soul.”

  “Did that happen when you took me?”

  “With you, there wasn’t much to see. It’s very dark in there.”

  “Good one!” Jack said.

  “Is there a rune that would make both of you shut up?” I asked.

  “Anyway,” Sam continued, “Alex was angry and scared. After I dropped her off, I started to realize why. She’s gender fluid. She thought that if she became an einherji, she’d be stuck in one gender forever. She really hated that idea.”

  “Ah,” I said, which was short for I get it, but I don’t really get it.

  I’d been stuck in one gender my whole life. It never bothered me. Now I wondered how that would feel for Alex. The only analogy I could come up with wasn’t a very good one. My second grade teacher, Miss Mengler (aka Miss Mangler), had forced me to write with my right hand even though I was left-handed. She’d actually taped my left hand to the desk. My mom had exploded when she found out, but I still remembered the panicky feeling of being restrained, forced to write in such an unnatural way because Miss Mengler had insisted, This is the normal way, Magnus. Stop complaining. You’ll get used to it.

  Sam let out a sigh. “I admit I
don’t have much experience with—”

  Jack leaped to attention in my hand. “Argrs? Oh, they’re great! One time me and Frey—”

  “Jack…” I said.

  His runes changed to a subdued magenta. “Fine, I’ll just sit here like an inanimate object.”

  That actually got a laugh out of Sam. She had uncovered her hair, as she often did in Valhalla. She’d told me that she considered the hotel her second home, and the einherjar and Valkyries part of her family, so she didn’t feel the need to wear the hijab here. Her dark locks spilled around her shoulders, and her green silk scarf hung around her neck, shimmering as it tried to activate its magical camouflage. This was a little unsettling, since every once in a while Sam’s shoulders and neck seemed to disappear.

  “Does Alex Fierro bother you?” I asked. “I mean…her being transgender? Like, with you being religious and all?”

  Sam arched an eyebrow. “Being ‘religious and all,’ a lot of things bother me about this place.” She gestured around us. “I had to do some soul-searching when I first realized my dad was…you know, Loki. I still don’t accept the idea that the Norse gods are gods. They’re just powerful beings. Some of them are my annoying relatives. But they are no more than creations of Allah, the only god, just like you and I are.”

  “You remember I’m an atheist, right?”

  She snorted. “Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? An atheist and a Muslim walk into a pagan afterlife. Anyway, Alex being transgender is the least of my problems. I’m more worried about her…connection to our father.”

  Sam traced the life line on her palm. “Alex changes shape so often. She doesn’t realize how dangerous it is to rely on Loki’s power. You can’t give him any more of a hold than he already has.”

  I frowned. Samirah had told me something like this before—how she didn’t like to shape-shift because she didn’t want to become like her dad—but I didn’t understand it. Personally, if I could shape-shift, I’d be turning into a polar bear, like, every two minutes and scaring the Saehrimnir out of people.

  “What kind of hold are we talking about?”

  She wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Forget it. You didn’t fly after me to talk about Alex Fierro, did you?”

  “True.” I described what had happened on the battlefield—the dragon, and the way Loki had invaded my head wearing an offensive tuxedo and invited me to a wedding. Then I told her about my dreams and how apparently this marriage just happened to be Sam’s, to some bar-owning, walrus-voiced giant named Thrym who served the worst-smelling pickles in Jotunheim.

  Some of this Jack hadn’t heard yet, either. Despite his promise to remain inanimate, he gasped and cried “You’re kidding me!” at all the appropriate spots and some of the inappropriate ones.

  When I was done, Sam stayed quiet. A waft of cold passed between us like a Freon leak from an AC.

  Down below, the cleaning crew had moved in. Ravens picked up the plates and cups. Bands of wolves ate the leftover food and licked the floor clean. We were all about hygiene here in Valhalla.

  “I wanted to tell you,” Sam said at last. “It all happened so quickly. It just…came crashing down on me.”

  She wiped a tear from her cheek. I’d never seen Sam cry. I wanted to console her—give her a hug, pat her hand or something, but Sam didn’t do physical contact, even if I was part of her extended Valhalla family.

  “That’s how Loki is messing with your personal life,” I guessed. “He came to see your grandparents? Amir?”

  “He gave them invitations.” Sam dug one from her pocket and handed it across: gold cursive on green card stock, just like the one Loki had tucked into Uncle Randolph’s pocket.

  The incomparable Loki and some other people invite you to celebrate with them the marriage of

  Samirah Al-Abbas Bint Loki

  and

  Thrym, Son of Thrym, Son of Thrym

  WHEN:

  Five Days Hence

  WHERE:

  We’ll Get Back to You

  WHY:

  Because It’s Better than Doomsday

  Gifts Are Welcome

  Dancing and Wild Pagan Sacrifices to Follow

  I looked up. “Wild pagan sacrifices?”

  “You can imagine how that went over with my grandparents.”

  I studied the invitation again. The when section shimmered, the five slowly fading, turning into a four. The where section also had a holographic sheen, as if it might eventually change to a specific address. “Couldn’t you tell your grandparents this was a prank?”

  “Not when my father delivered it personally.”

  “Oh.”

  I pictured Loki sitting at the al-Abbases’ dining table, sipping tea from one of their lovely gold cups. I imagined Jid’s Santa Claus face getting redder and redder, Bibi doing her best to keep her regal poise while angry steam spewed from the edges of her hijab.

  “Loki told them everything,” Sam said. “How he met my mom, how I became a Valkyrie, everything. He told them they had no right to arrange a marriage for me because he was my dad and he had already arranged one.”

  Jack quivered in my hand. “On the bright side,” he said, “that’s a very nice invitation.”

  “Jack…” I said.

  “Right. Inanimate.”

  “Please tell me your grandparents were not okay with that,” I said. “They don’t expect you to marry a giant.”

  “They don’t know what to think.” Sam took back the invitation. She stared at it as if hoping it would burst into flames. “They’d had their suspicions about my mother’s relationship. Like I told you, my family has been interacting with the Norse gods for generations. The gods have this…this attraction to my clan.”

  “Welcome to the club,” I muttered.

  “But Jid and Bibi had no idea of the extent of it until Loki showed up and sent them reeling. What hurt them most was that I’d kept my life as a Valkyrie from them.” Another tear traced the base of her nose. “And Amir…”

  “The video we saw on Valkyrie Vision,” I guessed. “He and his father came over this morning, and you tried to explain.”

  She nodded, picking at the corner of the invitation. “Mr. Fadlan doesn’t understand what’s going on, just that there’s a disagreement of some kind. But Amir…we talked again this afternoon, and I—I told him the truth. All of it. And I promised that I would never agree to this crazy marriage with Thrym. But I don’t know if Amir can even hear me at this point. He must think I’m out of my mind….”

  “We’ll figure it out,” I promised. “There’s no way you are going to be forced to marry a giant.”

  “You don’t know Loki like I do, Magnus. He can burn down my whole life. He’s already started. He has ways of…” She faltered. “The point is, he’s decided that he is the only one who can negotiate for Thor’s hammer. I can’t imagine what he wants out of the deal, but it can’t be good. The only way to stop him is to find the hammer first.”

  “Then we’ll do that,” I said. “We know this guy Thrym has it. Let’s go get it. Or even better, just tell Thor and make him do it.”

  Across my knees, Jack hummed and glowed. “It won’t be that easy, señor. Even if you could find Thrym’s fortress, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to keep Thor’s hammer there. He’s an earth giant. He could have buried it literally anywhere under the earth.”

  “The wight’s barrow,” Sam said.

  “In Provincetown,” I said. “You still think that’s our best bet? Even with this goat-killer stalking us, telling us it’s a trap?”

  Sam stared right through me. She seemed to be watching the horizon, imagining a mushroom cloud rising from the nuke Loki had dropped on her future. “I have to try, Magnus. The wight’s tomb. First thing in the morning.”

  I hated this idea. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a better one.

  “Fine. You contacted Hearth and Blitz?”

  “They’re meeting us on Cape Cod.” She rose and crumpled up the we
dding invitation. Before I could object that we might need it, she tossed it to the ravens and wolves. “Meet you after breakfast. And bring a coat. It’ll be a chilly morning to fly.”

  Relax, It’s Just a Little Death Prophecy

  SURE ENOUGH, once Jack became a pendant again, I passed out for twelve hours.

  In the morning, I woke with sore arms and legs, feeling like I’d spent the whole night flapping through the air with an einherji hanging from my ankle.

  Alex Fierro was conspicuously absent from breakfast, though T.J. assured me he’d slipped a note under her door explaining where the lounge was for floor nineteen.

  “She’s probably still asleep,” T.J. said. “She had a big first day.”

  “Unless she’s that mosquito right there.” Halfborn pointed to an insect crawling across the saltshaker. “That you, Fierro?”

  The mosquito said nothing.

  My friends promised to stay on high alert, ready to do whatever was needed to help stop Loki from holding his shotgun wedding in five (now four) days.

  “We’ll also keep an eye on Fierro,” Mallory promised, scowling at the mosquito.

  I just had time to scarf down a bagel before Sam arrived and led me to the stables above the floor 422 exercise room.

  Whenever Sam said, “We’re going to fly,” I couldn’t be sure what she meant.

  Valkyries were perfectly capable of flying on their own. They were strong enough to carry at least one other person, so maybe she intended to put me in a large tote bag and schlep me to Cape Cod.

  Or she might have meant fly as in we’re going to tumble off a cliff and plummet to our deaths. We seemed to spend a lot of time doing that.

  Today, she meant riding a flying horse. I wasn’t clear on why Valkyries had flying horses. Probably just because they looked cool. Besides, nobody wanted to ride into battle on a lindworm, flapping and bouncing around like a turkey-snake cowboy.

  Sam saddled a white stallion. She climbed on his back and pulled me up behind her, then we galloped out the gates of the stable, straight into the skies above Boston.

  She was right about the cold. That didn’t bother me, but the winds were strong, and Sam’s hijab kept fluttering into my mouth. Since hijabs represented modesty and piety, I doubted Sam wanted hers to look like I’d been chewing on it.

  “How much farther?” I asked.

  She glanced back. The bruise under her eye had faded, but she still seemed distracted and exhausted. I wondered if she’d slept at all.

  “Not long now,” she said. “Hang on.”

  I’d flown with Sam enough times to take that warning seriously. I clenched my knees against the horse’s rib cage and wrapped my hands around Sam’s waist. As we plunged straight through the clouds, I may have screamed “Meinfretr!”

  My butt went weightless in the saddle. FYI, I do not like having a weightless butt. I wondered if Sam flew her airplane like this, and if so, how many flight instructors she had sent into cardiac arrest.

  We broke through the clouds. In front of us, Cape Cod stretched to the horizon—a parenthesis of green and gold in a blue sea. Directly below, the northern tip of the peninsula made a gentle curlicue around Provincetown harbor. A few sailboats dotted the bay, but it was too early in the spring for many visitors.

  Sam leveled us off at about five hundred feet and flew us along the coast, racing over dunes and marshes, then following the arc of Commercial Street with its gray shingled cottages and neon-painted gingerbread houses. The shops were
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