9 from the Nine Worlds (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard)Rick Riordan
Copyright © 2018 by Rick Riordan
Illustrations by James Firnhaber, Jim Madsen, and Yori Elita Narpati
Designed by Beth Meyers
Rune and symbol art by Michelle Gengaro-Kokmen
Cover art by James Firnhaber
Cover design by Joann Hill
Copyright © 2018 by Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved. Published by Disney•Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney•Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
A special thank-you to Stephanie True Peters for her help with this book
One: ASGARD: Home of the Aesir
Just Another Decapitated Head by Odin
Two: MIDGARD: Home of Humans
This is Why I Hate Clothes Shopping by Amir Fadlan
Three: NIDAVELLIR: Home of the Dwarves
This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let It Shine by Blitzen
Four: ALFHEIM: Home of the Light Elves
Speaking of Trolls . . . by Hearthstone
Five: JOTUNHEIM: Home of the Giants
My Eighth-Grade Physics Actually Comes in Handy by Samirah al-Abbas
Six: HELHEIM: Home of Hel and the Dishonorable Dead
Nice Doggy by Thomas “T. J.“ Jefferson, Jr.
Seven: NIFLHEIM: World of Ice, Fog, and Mist
So’s Your Face! By Mallory Keen
Eight: VANAHEIM: Home of the Vanir
Well, That Was a Surprise by Halfborn Gunderson
Nine: MUSPELLHEIM: Home of the Fire Giants and Demons
I Play with Fire by Alex Fierro
Sneak Peek at The Trials of Apollo, Book One: The Hidden Oracle
About the Author
MY EINHERJAR have a saying: Some days you are the ax, some days you are the decapitated head. I like it so much, I’m having T-shirts made for the Hotel Valhalla gift shop.
As the All-Father, god of wisdom, king of the Aesir, and ruler of all Asgard, I am usually the ax. Strong. Powerful. In control.
Usually. But one day not long ago . . . well, let’s just say things went awry.
It started when Hunding, bellhop of Valhalla, informed me of a disturbance in the Feast Hall of the Slain.
“Disturbance?” I asked as I opened the hall door.
“A food fight, Lord Odin.”
I peeled a slab of uncooked Saehrimnir from my cheek. “So I see.”
It wasn’t just any food fight. It was a Valkyrie food fight. Above me, a dozen or more airborne choosers of the slain swooped and dive-bombed while pelting one another with feast beast meat, potatoes, bread, and other edibles.
My voice sent a shock wave through the hall. All fighting stopped.
“Drop your weapons.”
Saehrimnir steaks and other foods hit the floor.
“Now clean up this mess and think about what you’ve done.”
As the Valkyries moved to find mops, I beckoned to Hunding, who was cowering in a corner. “Walk with me.”
We wove our way through Hotel Valhalla, the eternal home of my einherjar—mortals who had died heroically. My noble Valkyries are responsible for whisking the deceased here, where the brave warriors train to fight on the gods’ side against the giants at Ragnarok, the Day of Doom. (If you wish to know more about this afterlife program, refer to my informational pamphlet Dying to Fight.)
I paused at the bottom of a stone staircase. “Since the death of Gunilla, captain of the Valkyries, some of my handmaidens have become . . . feisty.” I touched my face where the raw meat had struck. “I had hoped the Valkyries would choose a new captain themselves. Since they have not, I must intervene.”
Hunding looked relieved. “Do you have Gunilla’s replacement in mind, Lord Odin?”
Sadly, I did not. My first choice, Samirah al-Abbas, had opted to become my Valkyrie in charge of special assignments instead. I had no second choice—yet.
“Tell the thanes to bring candidates to the Thing Room in one hour. I’ll be scanning the Nine Worlds from Hlidskjalf if you need me. And, Hunding?”
“Yes, Lord Odin?”
“Don’t need me.”
I mounted the stairs to my pavilion and sank onto Hlidskjalf, the magic throne from which I can peer into the Nine Worlds. The seat cradled my posterior with its ermine-lined softness. I took a few deep breaths to focus my concentration, then turned to the worlds beyond.
I usually begin with a cursory look-see of my own realm, Asgard, then circle through the remaining eight: Midgard, realm of the humans; the elf kingdom of Alfheim; Vanaheim, the Vanir gods’ domain; Jotunheim, land of the giants; Niflheim, the world of ice, fog, and mist; Helheim, realm of the dishonorable dead; Nidavellir, the gloomy world of the dwarves; and Muspellheim, home of the fire giants.
This time, I didn’t make it past Asgard. Because goats.
Specifically, Thor’s goats, Marvin and Otis. They were on the Bifrost, the radioactive Rainbow Bridge that connects Asgard to Midgard, wearing footy pajamas. But there was no sign of Thor, which was odd. He usually kept Marvin and Otis close. He killed and ate them every day, and they came back to life the next morning.
More disturbing was Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost. He was hopping around on all fours like a deranged lunatic. “So here’s what I want you guys to do,” he said to Otis and Marvin between hops. “Cavort. Frolic. Frisk about. Okay?”
I parted the clouds. “Heimdall! What the Helheim is going on down there?”
“Oh, hey, Odin!” Heimdall’s helium-squeaky voice set my teeth on edge. He waved his phablet at me. “I’m making a cute baby goat video as my Snapchat story. Cute baby goat videos are huge in Midgard. Huge!” He spread his hands out wide to demonstrate.
“I’m not a baby!” Marvin snapped.
“I’m cute?” Otis wondered.
“Put that phablet away and return to your duties at once!”
According to prophecy, giants will one day storm across the Bifrost, a signal that Ragnarok is upon us. Heimdall’s job is to sound the alarm on his horn, Gjallar—a job he would not be able to perform if he were making Snapchat stories.
“Can I finish my cute baby goat video first?” Heimdall pleaded.
“Aw.” He turned to Otis and Marvin. “I guess that’s a wrap, guys.”
“Finally,” Marvin said. “I’m going for a graze.” He hopped off the bridge and plummeted to almost certain death and next-day resurrection. Otis sighed something about the grass being greener on the other side, then jumped after him.
“Heimdall,” I said tightly, “need I remind you what could happen if even one jotun snuck into Asgard?”
Heimdall hung his head. “Apologetic face emoji.”
I sighed. “Yes, all right. I—”
A movement in Hotel Valhalla’s garden caught my eye. I looked closer. And immediately wished I hadn’t.
Legs spraddled and wearing nothing but a pair of leather short-shorts, Thor was bending, twisting, and squat-farting. Strapped to his ankle was a device shaped l
ike a valknut, a design of three interlocking triangles.
“What in the name of me is my son doing?” I asked in bewilderment.
“Who, Thor?” Heimdall looked over his shoulder. “He’s warming up for a jog through the Nine Worlds.”
“A jog. Through the Nine Worlds,” I repeated.
“Yep. If he logs ten million steps on his FitnessKnut—that thing around his ankle—he earns a cameo appearance on a Midgard television show. That’s why I had his goats. He said they’d slow him down.”
“Not really. Those goats aren’t exactly speedy. Unless they’re plummeting, that is.”
“Not what I meant. . . . Never mind.” I cupped my hands around my mouth. “Thor! Thor!”
Heimdall tapped his ears. “He’s listening to rock.”
“Rock ’n’ roll?”
“No, just rock. Boulders, gravel, stones.” Heimdall paused. “Or did he say the Stones?”
Thankfully, a messenger raven swooped into the pavilion just then to summon me to the thane meeting.
“At last,” I muttered as I headed to the Thing Room. “A moment of sanity.”
I opened the conference room door to find my trusted advisors twirling in their plush leather chairs.
“Whoever spins the longest without getting sick wins!” one of the Eriks yelled.
“Thanes!” I roared. “Come to order!”
My advisors quickly pulled their chairs to the table (except for Snorri Sturluson, who staggered to the nearest trash bin and threw up). I took my seat at the head and nodded at Hunding. “Bring forth the candidates.”
The first nominee was Freydis, daughter of Erik the Red. Freydis had been a fine Valkyrie back in the day. But judging from her hunched back, vacant smile, and milky eyes, the years had not been kind to her.
“Erik,” I observed, “your daughter is literally ancient.”
Erik pointed at me with double finger spears. “Ancient equals experience, am I right?”
“Not in this case.” I thanked Freydis for her past service and sent her hobbling on her way.
Next was Kara, a well-meaning but clumsy oaf who giggled incessantly. She’d only become a Valkyrie because of her centuries-old relationship with Helgi, manager of Hotel Valhalla. A nice girl? Yes. Worthy of leading my female warriors?
“Ah, no,” I replied to Helgi’s hopeful look.
Boudica, the fearsome queen of the Celts and a Valkyrie since the year 61, was Davy Crockett’s choice. She barged in brandishing her sword, swept the room with an impatient glance, then flung her head back and shrieked with rage.
“I was told there would be snacks!” She beheaded the nearest floor lamp and stormed out.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “At least the next candidate can’t be any worse.”
The next candidate was worse.
A decrepit crone with stringy gray hair and filthy, ragged robes shambled into the room. Her body odor hit me the same time recognition did. I shot out of my seat and summoned Gungnir, my magic spear. “You!”
The hag gave a phlegm-thick cackle. “Ooh, remember me, do you, ol’ One-Eye?”
“I banished you from the Valkyries centuries ago!” I glared at my thanes. “Who dares drag this witch before me?”
“Oh, don’t yell at them,” she chided. “When I heard you were choosing a new Valkyrie captain, I couldn’t resist showing up.” She coughed up something nasty into her palm and wiped it on her robes.
“Begging your pardon, Lord Odin,” Hunding whispered, “but who is she?”
“Hladgunnr,” I growled. “Daughter of Hel, granddaughter of Loki. She plagued Valhalla with her tricks.”
Hladgunnr whooped. “Remember that time I left a trail of nuts to lead Ratatosk to Laeradr?”
“That was you?” Snorri cried. “The squirrel’s insults soured Heidrun’s milk mead!” He buried his face in his hands. “Dinner was ruined!”
“What can I say?” She winked at me. “Pranks are my thing.” The air around her rippled, and she began to shrink.
Alarm bells rang in my head. “Hladgunnr inherited Loki’s deceitful ways, not his power to shape-shift.”
Screeching with laughter, the imposter transformed into a bald eagle.
“Utgard-Loki.” A current of fear spread through the thanes when I spoke the name of the king of the mountain giants. I thrust the business end of Gungnir at the bird. “How did you gain entrance to this world?”
The eagle leered. “An unexpected opportunity presented itself. I took it.”
I grimaced. “Heimdall and his baby goat video.”
“I’m not a baby!” Marvin yelled from somewhere outside the hotel.
“And Hladgunnr?” I demanded.
“She came to me when you banished her. Horrible BO, but a great source of intel, right up to the end. Her end, that is.” Utgard-Loki drew a wing tip across his throat. “Impersonating her was a cinch. Embarrassing you in front of your thanes? That was an added bonus.”
I’d heard enough. I reared back and threw my spear. It never misses, yet Gungnir sailed past the eagle. How . . . ?
Utgard-Loki crowed with laughter. “The mighty Odin, foiled by a bit of distortion magic? This is a good day!”
I blinked and saw the eagle was no longer on the table—perhaps it never had been—but by an open window. He saluted me with a wing, then soared off toward the distant mountains of Jotunheim.
I sank into my chair. “Clear the room.”
The thanes beat a hasty retreat. In the silence that followed, one thought rolled through my mind: Some days you are the ax, some days you are the decapitated head.
I’d never felt more decapitated in my life. I didn’t like it. So, I chose to become the ax.
“Hunding, stop skulking in the hallway and get in here.”
The bellhop poked his head around the doorway. “I wasn’t skulking,” he said defensively. “I was lingering.”
“Come in. I need you to do three things. One: Find a way to track Thor’s FitnessKnut. Report his whereabouts at all times.”
“Won’t he just circle the worlds in order?”
I made a face. “Thor’s sense of direction is terrible. His path will likely be erratic. Moving on. Two: Have squads of einherjar launch surprise attacks on the Bifrost. I want to know that Heimdall is on guard.”
“Very good, sir. And the third thing?”
“Inform the thanes that as of tomorrow, I will be unavailable for a while.” I transformed my appearance from a rugged one-eyed god of wisdom to a beautiful two-eyed woman clad in chain mail. “I will be living with my Valkyries to decide for myself which of them deserves to be captain.”
Hunding raised a hairy eyebrow. “An idea from Utgard-Loki, Lord Odin?”
“Wisdom can be gleaned from any source if one only looks hard enough.” I paused, thinking. “Let’s put that on a T-shirt. And, Hunding?”
I transformed back into my true form. “Download cute baby goat videos to my phablet. I must learn what all the fuss is about.”
“AMIR, YOU look hideous.” My fiancée, Samirah al-Abbas, stared at my outfit in horrified disbelief.
“Really?” I looked down at myself. “But it’s a tux!”
“A baby-blue tux!”
“With a matching ruffled shirt and floppy bow tie,” I said defensively. “My uncle loaned it to me. I think it’ll impress your grandparents, don’t you?”
“It’s Jid and Bibi’s fiftieth wedding anniversary!” Sam sputtered. “You can’t wear—”
“Samirah.” My father emerged from the kitchen. “He is pulling your leg.”
Sam’s reddish-brown eyes blazed dangerously, and I suddenly realized that playing a practical joke on a Valkyrie might not be the best idea I ever had.
“I’m heading over to Blitzen’s shop right now,” I hastily reassured her. “I’ll pick out something appropriate, I promise.”
“I’ll go with you, just
to be sure,” Sam said.
My father cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” I said. “Blitz will be there to chaperone us.”
“Good to know,” my father replied. “But I was actually going to suggest you change before you leave.”
“Oh. Right. Give me five minutes.”
I ran up to my room and began undressing. Then I froze. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shadow move across my window. Someone was on the fire escape. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Heart pounding, I tiptoed over and inched open the curtain.
A pigeon swooped past my face. I leaped back, tripped, and landed on my butt.
“Stupid bird,” I muttered. I quickly swapped the tux for faded jeans and a white T-shirt, then hurried back downstairs.
Sam was on her cell phone. Odin, she mouthed at me. She listened for a moment, then hung up and gave me an apologetic look. “I have to go. A last-minute einherji extraction. It shouldn’t take too long. I’ll meet you at Blitzen’s. Don’t buy anything until I get there!”
I walked her to the door. Sam looked left and right, then leaped into the air and flew off.
“I will never get used to that,” I murmured.
Unlike most mortals, I can see through the glamour, the magical force that disguises reality. I can thank—or curse—Magnus Chase for making that possible. He thought it best that I know about my fiancée’s Valkyrie life. I wondered what my father would have made of Sam’s sudden disappearance. A superfast Uber pickup, maybe?
Having my mind open this way wasn’t always fun. For example, on my way to Blitzen’s Best, I passed Thor. I saw him for what he really was: a sweaty muscle-bound redheaded deity in leather shorts that left little to the imagination. Though the way other pedestrians hurriedly moved aside, it’s possible they caught a glimpse of the real Thor, too.
Blitzen’s Best, the upscale clothing store owned and operated by Sam’s dwarf friend, helped erase the image of Thor from my brain. I’m not much of a clotheshorse—just say no to the hipster man-bun look was my motto—but Blitz’s colorful designs spoke to me. They didn’t seem to call to anyone else, though. I was alone in the store.
“Hey, Blitz, you here?”