The hammer of thor, p.9
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       The Hammer of Thor, p.9

         Part #2 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
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  “A thousand years in that stupid box, and now I’m free! HAHAHAHAHA!”

  Behind him, the inner walls of his coffin were scored with hundreds of marks where he’d been keeping track of years. There was no sign of Thor’s hammer, though, which meant the zombie had been locked in there without a decent way to stream Netflix.

  Jack quivered with excitement. “Will you look at that sword? She’s so hot!”

  I did not know 1) how he could tell the sword was female, or 2) how he could tell she was hot. I was not sure I wanted answers to those questions.

  Sam, Blitz, and Hearth edged away from the zombie. Jack’s point floated toward the lady sword, but I forced him to the floor and leaned on him. I didn’t want him to offend Mr. Zombie or his blade by being too forward.

  “Uh, hi,” I told the zombie. “I’m Magnus.”

  “You have a lovely golden glow!”

  “Thanks. So how is it that you’re speaking English?”

  “Am I?” The king tilted his ghoulish head. Wisps of white clung to his chin—maybe cobwebs or the remnants of a beard. His eyes were green and bright and entirely human. “Perhaps it’s magic. Perhaps we are communicating on a spiritual level. Whatever the case, thank you for releasing me. I am Gellir, prince of the Danes!”

  Blitzen peeked out from behind me. “Gellir? Is Blood River your nickname?”

  Gellir’s laugh sounded like a maraca filled with wet sand. “No, my dwarven friend. Blood River is a kenning I earned from my blade, the Skofnung Sword.”

  Clunk, clunk.

  Hearth had backed into the coffin lid and fallen over it. He stayed in crab-walk position, his eyes wide with shock.

  “Ah!” Gellir said. “I see your elf has heard of my sword.”

  Jack lurched under my elbow. “Uh, señor? I’ve heard of her, too. She’s like…wow. She’s famous.”

  “Wait,” Sam said. “Prince Gellir, is there possibly a—a hammer around here somewhere? We heard you might have a hammer.”

  The zombie frowned, which caused fault lines to open on his leathery face. “A hammer? No. Why would I want a hammer when I am the Lord of the Sword?”

  Sam’s eyes dimmed, or maybe that was just my glow starting to fade.

  “You’re sure?” I asked. “I mean, the Lord of the Sword is great. But you could also be, I don’t know, the Slammer of the Hammer.”

  Gellir kept his gaze on Sam. His frowned deepened. “One moment. Are you a woman?”

  “Uh…yes, Prince Gellir. My name is Samirah al-Abbas.”

  “We call her the Max with the Ax,” I offered.

  “I will hurt you,” Sam hissed at me.

  “A woman.” Gellir tugged at his chin, pulling off some of his cobweb whiskers. “That’s a shame. I can’t unsheathe my sword in the presence of a woman.”

  “Oh, what a bummer,” Jack said. “I want to meet Skoffy!”

  Hearthstone struggled to his feet. He signed: We should leave. Now. Not let zombie draw sword.

  “What is your elf doing?” Gellir asked. “Why does he make those strange gestures?”

  “It’s sign language,” I said. “He, uh, doesn’t want you to draw your sword. He says we should leave.”

  “But I can’t allow that! I must show my gratitude! Also, I need to kill you!”

  My glow was definitely fading now. When Jack spoke, his runes lit the tomb in ominous red flashes. “Hey, zombie guy? Gratitude is usually more like sending a nice card, and less like I need to kill you.”

  “Oh, I’m very grateful!” Gellir protested. “But I’m also a draugr, the chief wight of this barrow. You are trespassing. So, after I finish thanking you properly, I’ll have to consume your flesh and devour your souls. But, alas, the Skofnung Sword has very clear restrictions. It cannot be drawn in daylight or in the presence of a woman.”

  “Those are stupid rules,” Sam said. “I mean, those are very sensible rules. So, you can’t kill us?”

  “No,” Gellir allowed. “But don’t worry. I can still have you killed!”

  He rapped the sheath of his sword three times against the floor. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the twelve mummified warriors stepped out from their niches along the walls.

  The draugr had zero respect for zombie clichés. They did not shamble. They didn’t moan incoherently or act dazed like proper zombies should. They drew their weapons in perfect unison and stood ready for Gellir’s order to kill.

  “This is bad,” said Jack, master of the obvious. “I’m not sure I can take out this many before they kill you guys. And I don’t want to look incompetent in front of that hot lady sword!”

  “Priorities, Jack,” I said.

  “Exactly! I hope you’ve got a plan that makes me look good!”

  Sam gave us a new light source. In her free hand, a glowing spear appeared—the field weapon of a Valkyrie. Its harsh white light made the zombies’ faces start to steam.

  Hearthstone hefted his pouch of runestones. Blitzen whipped off his bow tie—which, like his entire line of spring fashion, was lined with ultra-flexible chain mail. He wrapped the tie around his fist, ready to smash some zombie faces.

  I didn’t like our odds: four against thirteen. Or five, if you included Jack as a separate person. I didn’t, because that meant I would have to pull my own weight.

  I wondered if I could invoke the Peace of Frey. Thanks to my dad, a pacifist-type god who didn’t allow fighting in his sacred places, I could sometimes disarm everyone in a wide circle around me, blasting their weapons right out of their hands. That was kind of my finishing trick, though. I would look really dumb if I tried it now in this enclosed space and the zombies just picked up their swords again and killed us.

  Before I could decide what would be most impressive to a hot lady sword, one of the zombies raised his hand. “Do we have a quorum?”

  Prince Gellir slumped as though one of his vertebrae had disintegrated.

  “Arvid,” he said, “we’ve been locked in this chamber for centuries. Of course we have a quorum! We’re all present because we can’t leave!”

  “Then I move that we call this meeting to order,” said another dead man.

  “Oh, for the love of Thor!” Gellir complained. “We’re here to massacre these mortals, feed on their flesh, and take their souls. That’s obvious. Then we’ll have enough strength to break free of our tomb and wreak havoc upon Cape Cod. Do we really need—?”

  “I second,” called another zombie.

  Gellir smacked his own skeletal forehead. “Fine! All in favor?”

  The twelve other dead guys raised their hands.

  “Then this massacre, er, meeting is called to order.” Gellir turned to me, his eyes gleaming with irritation. “My apologies, but we vote on everything in this group. It’s the tradition of the Thing.”

  “What thing?”

  “You know, the Thing,” Gellir said. “From the word thingvellir, meaning field of the assembly. The Norse voting council.”

  “Ah.” Sam wavered between her ax hand and her spear hand, as if unsure which to use…or whether that decision would require a new motion. “I’ve heard of the Thing. It was a site where ancient Norse met to settle legal disputes and make political decisions. The meetings inspired the idea of Parliament.”

  “Yes, yes,” Gellir said. “Now, the English Parliament—that wasn’t my fault personally. But when the Pilgrims came along—” He pointed his chin toward the ceiling. “Well, by that time, our tomb had been here for centuries. The Pilgrims landed, camped out over us for a few weeks. They must have subconsciously felt our presence. I’m afraid we inspired the Mayflower Compact, started all that business about rights and democracy in America, blah, blah, blah.”

  “May I take the minutes?” asked a zombie.

  Gellir sighed. “Dagfinn, honestly…Fine, you’re secretary.”

  “I love being secretary.” Dagfinn stuck his sword back in its sheath. He pulled a notepad and a pen from his belt, though what a Viking corpse was doing w
ith school supplies I couldn’t tell you.

  “So…wait,” Sam said. “If you’ve been stuck in that box, how do you know what was going on outside the tomb?”

  Gellir rolled his lovely green eyes. “Telepathic powers. Duh. Anyway, ever since we inspired the Pilgrims, my twelve bodyguards have been insufferably proud of themselves. We have to do everything by parliamentary rules…or Thing-a-mentary rules. Not to worry, though. We’ll kill you soon enough. Now, I make a motion—”

  “First,” another zombie interrupted, “is there any old business?”

  Gellir made a fist so tight I thought his hand would crumble. “Knut, we are draugr from the sixth century. For us, everything is old business!”

  “I move that we read the minutes from the last meeting,” said Arvid. “Do I hear a second?”

  Hearthstone raised two fingers. I didn’t blame him. The more time they spent reading the minutes of past massacres, the less time they’d have for killing us in a future one.

  Dagfinn flipped back in his notebook. The pages turned to dust in his fingers. “Ah, actually, I don’t have those minutes.”

  “Well, then!” Gellir said. “Moving right along—”

  “Wait!” Blitzen cried. “We need an oral accounting! I want to hear about your pasts—who you are, why you were all buried together, and the names and histories of all your weapons. I’m a dwarf. The heritage of things is important to me, especially if those things are going to kill me. I motion that you tell us everything.”

  “I second the motion,” Samirah said. “All in favor?”

  Every zombie raised his hand, including Gellir—I guess out of habit—who then looked quite annoyed with himself. Jack shot into the air to make the vote unanimous.

  Gellir shrugged, causing his armor and bones to creak. “You’re making this massacre very difficult, but all right, I will recount our story. Gentlemen, at ease.”

  The other zombies sheathed their swords. Some sat on the floor. Others leaned against the wall and crossed their arms. Arvid and Knut retrieved bags of yarn and knitting needles from their niches and began to work on mittens.

  “So I am Gellir,” began the prince, “son of Thorkel, a prince among the Danes. And this”—he patted his sword—“is Skofnung, the most famous blade ever wielded by a Viking!”

  “Present company excepted,” Jack murmured. “But, oh, man, Skofnung is a hot name.”

  I didn’t agree with him. I also didn’t like the look of terror on Hearthstone’s face. “Hearth, you know this sword?”

  The elf signed cautiously, as if the air might burn his fingers. First belonged to King H-R-O-L-F. Was forged with souls of his twelve followers, all berserkers.

  “What is he saying?” Gellir demanded. “Those hand gestures are very annoying.”

  I started to translate, but Blitzen interrupted, shrieking so loudly that Arvid and Knut dropped their knitting needles.

  “That sword?” Blitz stared at Hearthstone. “The one with…the stone…your house?”

  This made no sense to me, but Hearth nodded.

  Now you see? he signed. We should not have come.

  Sam turned, her spear’s light making dust sizzle on the floor. “What do mean? What stone? And what does it have to do with Thor’s hammer?

  “Excuse me,” Gellir said. “I believe I was speaking. If you came here looking for Thor’s hammer, I’m afraid someone gave you very bad information.”

  “We have to live through this,” I told my friends. “There’s a goat I need to kill.”

  “Ahem,” Gellir continued. “As I was saying, the Skofnung Sword was created by a king named Hrolf. His twelve berserkers sacrificed their lives so their souls could instill the blade with power.” Gellir scowled at his own men, two of whom were now playing cards in the corner. “Those were the days when a prince could find good bodyguards. At any rate, a man named Eid stole the sword from Hrolf’s grave. Eid lent it to my father, Thorkel, who sort of…forgot to return it. My dad died in a shipwreck, but the sword washed ashore in Iceland. I found it and used it in many glorious massacres. And now…here we are! When I died in battle, the sword was buried with me, along with my twelve berserkers, for protection.”

  Dagfinn flipped a page in his notebook and jotted. “For…protection. Can I add that we expected to go to Valhalla? That we were cursed to stay in this tomb forever because your sword was stolen property? And that we hate our afterlives?”

  “NO!” Gellir snapped. “How many times do you want me to apologize?”

  Arvid looked up from his half-finished mittens. “I move that Gellir apologize a million more times. Do I hear a second?”

  “Stop that!” Gellir said. “Look, we have guests. Let’s not air our dirty under-tunics, eh? Besides, once we kill these mortals and devour their souls, we’ll have enough power to break out of this tomb! I can’t wait to check out Provincetown.”

  I imagined thirteen zombie Vikings marching down Commercial Street, barging into the Wired Puppy Coffee Shop and demanding espresso drinks at sword point.

  “But enough old business!” Gellir said. “Can I please introduce a motion to kill these intruders?”

  “I second.” Dagfinn shook his ballpoint pen. “I’m out of ink anyway.”

  “No!” Blitzen said. “We need more discussion. I don’t know the names of these other weapons. And those knitting needles! Tell me about them!”

  “You’re out of order,” Gellir said.

  “I move that we be shown the nearest exit,” I said.

  Gellir stomped his foot. “You’re also out of order! I call for a vote!”

  Dagfinn looked at me apologetically. “It’s a Thing thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

  I should have attacked immediately, while they were off guard, but that seemed undemocratic.

  “All in favor?” Gellir called.

  “Aye!” the dead Vikings cried in unison. They got to their feet, put away their cards and various knitting projects, and drew their swords once again.

  Hearthstone Unleashes His Inner Bovine

  JACK DECIDED this was an excellent time to give me a training session.

  Despite being fully capable of fighting on his own, he had this strong belief that I should learn to wield him with my own power. Something about me being worthy and competent or whatever. The thing is, I sucked at swordplay. Also, Jack always decided to train me in the worst possible situations.

  “No time like the present!” he yelled, turning heavy and unhelpful in my grip.

  “Come on, man!” I ducked the first blade that swung toward my head. “Let’s practice later, on mannequins or something!”

  “Dodge left!” Jack yelled. “Your other left! Make me proud, señor. The Skofnung blade is watching!”

  I was almost tempted to die just to embarrass Jack in front of the lady sword. But since I was outside Valhalla and my death would be permanent, I decided that particular plan might be shortsighted.

  The zombies crowded in.

  The cramped quarters were our only advantage. Each draugr was armed with a broadsword, which requires about five feet of free space for effective swinging. Twelve dead berserkers with broadswords, surrounding a tight-knit group of defenders in a small chamber? I don’t care how good you are at forming a quorum, you’re just not going to be able to massacre those defenders very easily without hacking apart your comrades as well.

  Our melee turned into an awkward shuffle with a lot of shoving, cursing, and bad zombie breath. Samirah thrust her spear under Arvid’s jaw. The weapon’s light burned away his head like a flame going through toilet paper.

  Another zombie jabbed at Blitzen’s chest, but Blitz’s chain-mail-lined vest bent the blade. Blitz slammed his bow tie–wrapped fist into the zombie’s gut and—much to everyone’s disgust—got his hand stuck in the zombie’s abdominal cavity.

  “Gross!” Blitzen proceeded to lurch backward, yanking the zombie along, swinging him like a clumsy dance partner and knocking other draugr out of t
he way.

  Hearthstone took the award for Most Improved in Melee Combat. He slammed down a runestone:

  He was immediately encased in golden light. He grew taller. His muscles swelled as though someone were inflating his clothes. His eyes turned bloodshot. His hair splayed with static. He grabbed the nearest zombie and tossed him across the room. Then he picked up another one and literally broke him in half over his knee.

  As you can guess, the other zombies backed away from the crazy overinflated elf.

  “What rune is that?” I accidentally swung Jack through the top of Gellir’s sarcophagus, giving it a sunroof.

  Blitz yanked his hand free from his dance partner, who collapsed into pieces. “Uruz,” Blitz said. “The rune of the ox.”

  I silently added an uruz rune to my Christmas wish list.

  Meanwhile, Samirah cut through her enemies, twirling her spear in one hand like a shiny baton of death. Any zombie who managed to avoid going up in flames, she chopped down with her ax.

  Jack continued shouting unhelpful advice. “Parry, Magnus! Duck! Defense Pattern Omega!”

  I was pretty sure that wasn’t even a thing. The few times I managed to hit a zombie, Jack cut him to pieces, but I doubted the moves were impressive enough to win Jack a date with the lady sword.

  When it became clear that Gellir was running out of bodyguards, he leaped into battle himself, whacking me with his sheathed sword and yelling, “Bad mortal! Bad mortal!”

  I tried to fight back, but Jack resisted. Probably he thought it would be unchivalrous to fight a lady, especially one who was stuck in her sheath. Jack was old-fashioned that way.

  Finally, Gellir was the only draugr left. His bodyguards lay strewn across the floor in a ghastly collection of arms, legs, weapons, and knitting supplies.

  Gellir backed toward his sarcophagus, cradling the Skofnung Sword against his chest.

  “Hold on. Point of order. I move that we table all further combat until—”

  Hearthstone objected to Gellir’s motion by rushing the prince and ripping his head off. Gellir’s body toppled forward, and our ’roid-raging elf stomped him flat, kicking and scattering the desiccated remains until there was nothing left but the Skofnung Sword.

  Hearthstone started to kick that, too.

  “Stop him!” Jack yelled.

  I grabbed Hearth’s arm, which was definitely the bravest thing I’d done that day. He rounded on me, his eyes blazing with fury.

  He’s dead, I signed. You can stop now.

  Chances were high that I was going to get decapitated again.

  Then Hearthstone blinked. His bloodshot eyes cleared. His muscles deflated. His hair settled against his scalp. He crumpled, but Blitzen and I were both there to catch him. We’d gotten used to Hearthstone’s post-magic pass-outs.

  Sam stuck her spear into Dagfinn’s corpse and left it standing up like a giant glow stick. She paced the tomb, cursing under her breath. “I’m sorry, guys. All that risk, all that effort, and no Mjolnir.”

  “Hey, it’s cool,” Jack said. “We rescued the Skofnung Sword from her evil master! She’s going to be so grateful. We have to take her with us!”

  Blitzen waved his orange handkerchief in Hearth’s face, trying to revive him. “Taking that sword would be a very bad idea.”

  “Why?” I asked. “And why did Hearth look so freaked-out when he heard its name? You said something about a stone?”

  Blitz cradled Hearth’s head in his lap like he was trying to protect the elf from our conversation. “Kid, whoever sent us here…it was a trap, all right. But the draugr were the least dangerous things in this chamber. Somebody wanted us to free that sword.”

  A familiar voice said, “You’re absolutely right.”

  My heart jackknifed. Standing in front of Gellir’s sarcophagus were the two men I least wanted to see in the Nine Worlds: Uncle Randolph and Loki. Behind them, the back panel of the sawed-off coffin had become a shimmering doorway. On the other side lay Randolph’s study.

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