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The Hammer of Thor, Page 2

Rick Riordan

  Of course a wolf. Everybody in the Nine Worlds loves wolves. They have wolf shields, wolf helmets, wolf screen savers, wolf pajamas, and wolf-themed birthday parties.

  Me, not so much loving the wolves.

  “Take a hint, Magnus Chase.” The assassin’s voice warbled, modulating from soprano to baritone as if going through a special effects machine. “Stay away from Provincetown.”

  The fingers of my left hand tightened on the hilt of my sword. “Jack, do your thing.”

  “You sure about that?” Jack asked.

  The assassin hissed. For some reason, people are often shocked when they find out my sword can talk.

  “I mean,” Jack continued, “I know this guy killed Otis, but everybody kills Otis. Getting killed is part of Otis’s job description.”

  “Just chop off his head or something!” I yelled.

  The assassin, not being an idiot, turned and fled.

  “Get him!” I told Jack.

  “Why do I have to do all the hard work?” Jack complained.

  “Because I’m dangling here and you can’t be killed!”

  “Just because you’re right doesn’t make this cool.”

  I flung him overhead. Jack spiraled out of view, flying after the goat-killer while singing his own version of “Shake It Off.” (I have never been able to convince him that the line isn’t cheese graters gonna grate, grate, grate, grate, grate.)

  Even with my left hand free, it took me a few seconds to haul myself up to the roof. Somewhere to the north, the clanging of blades echoed off brick buildings. I raced in that direction, leaping over the church’s turrets, launching myself across Berkeley Street. I bounced from rooftop to rooftop until I heard Jack yell in the distance, “OW!”

  Most people might not run into battle to check on the welfare of their swords, but that’s what I did. At the corner of Boylston, I scrambled up the side of a parking garage, got to the roof level, and found Jack fighting for his…well, maybe not his life, but at least his dignity.

  Jack often bragged that he was the sharpest blade in the Nine Worlds. He could cut through anything and fight a dozen enemies at once. I tended to believe him, since I’d personally seen him take out giants the size of skyscrapers. Yet the goat-killer was having no trouble forcing him back across the roof. The assassin might have been small, but he was strong and quick. His dark iron sword sparked against Jack. Every time the two blades connected, Jack yelped, “Ow! Ow!”

  I didn’t know if Jack was in real danger, but I had to help. Since I didn’t have another weapon and I didn’t feel like fighting empty-handed, I ran to the nearest lamppost and ripped it out of the cement.

  That sounds like I was showing off. Honestly, I wasn’t. The pole was just the handiest weapon-like object I could find—except for a parked Lexus, and I wasn’t quite strong enough to wield a luxury automobile.

  I charged the goat-killer with my twenty-foot-long jousting light fixture. That got his attention. As he turned toward me, Jack lashed out, opening a deep cut in the assassin’s thigh. The goat-killer grunted and stumbled.

  That was my chance. I could have taken him down. Instead, when I was ten feet away, a distant howl cut through the air and froze me in my tracks.

  Jeez, Magnus, you’re thinking, it was only a distant howl. What’s the big deal?

  I may have mentioned I don’t like wolves. When I was fourteen, two of them with glowing blue eyes killed my mother. My recent encounter with Fenris hadn’t done anything to increase my appreciation for the species.

  This particular howl was definitely that of a wolf. It came from somewhere across the Boston Common, reverberating off the high-rises, turning my blood to Freon. It was exactly the same sound I’d heard the night of my mother’s death—hungry and triumphant, the baying of a monster that had found its prey.

  The lamppost slipped from my grip, clanging against the asphalt.

  Jack floated to my side. “Uh, señor…are we still fighting this guy or what?”

  The assassin staggered backward. The black fur of his leggings glistened with blood. “And so it begins.” His voice sounded even more garbled. “Beware, Magnus. If you go to Provincetown, you will play into your enemy’s hands.”

  I stared at that snarling face mask. I felt like I was fourteen again, alone in the alley behind my apartment the night my mother died. I remembered gazing up at the fire escape from which I had just dropped, hearing the wolves howl from our living room. Then flames exploded from the windows.

  “Who—who are you?” I managed.

  The assassin let out a guttural laugh. “Wrong question. The right question: Are you prepared to lose your friends? If not, you should leave Thor’s hammer lost.”

  He backed to the edge of the roof and toppled over.

  I ran to the ledge just as a flock of pigeons surged upward, rising in a blue-gray cloud, swirling away over the Back Bay’s forest of chimneys. Down below: no movement, no body, no sign of the assassin.

  Jack hovered next to me. “I’ve could’ve taken him. You just caught me unprepared. I didn’t have time to do my stretches.”

  “Swords don’t stretch,” I said.

  “Oh, excuse me, Mr. Expert on Proper Warm-up Techniques!”

  A tuft of pigeon down helicoptered to the ledge and stuck in a smear of the assassin’s blood. I picked up the tiny feather and watched red liquid soak into it.

  “So what now?” Jack asked. “And what was that wolf howl?”

  Ice water trickled down my eustachian tubes, leaving a cold, bitter taste in my mouth. “I don’t know,” I said. “Whatever it was, it’s stopped now.”

  “Should we go check it out?”

  “No! I mean…by the time we figured out where the sound came from, we’d be too late to do anything about it. Besides…”

  I studied the bloody pigeon feather. I wondered how the goat-killer had disappeared so effectively, and what he knew about Thor’s missing hammer. His distorted voice reverberated in my mind: Are you prepared to lose your friends?

  Something about the assassin had seemed very wrong…yet very familiar.

  “We have to get back to Sam.” I grabbed Jack’s hilt and exhaustion washed over me.

  The downside of having a sword who fights on his own: whatever Jack did, I paid the price as soon as he returned to my hand. I felt bruises spreading across my arms—one for each time Jack had been struck by the other sword. My legs trembled like they’d been doing lunges all morning. A lump of emotion formed in my throat—Jack’s shame for letting the goat-killer fight him to a standstill.

  “Hey, man,” I told him, “at least you cut him. That’s more than I did.”

  “Yeah, well…” Jack sounded embarrassed. I knew he didn’t like sharing the bad stuff with me. “Maybe you should rest for a minute, señor. You’re in no shape—”

  “I’m all right,” I said. “Thanks, Jack. You did good.”

  I willed him to return to pendant form, then reattached the runestone to my neck chain.

  Jack was right about one thing: I needed rest. I felt like crawling inside that nice Lexus and taking a nap, but if the goat-assassin decided to double back to the Thinking Cup, if he caught Sam unaware…

  I took off across the rooftops, hoping I wasn’t too late.

  My Friends Protect Me by Telling Me Absolutely Nothing. Thanks, Friends

  BACK AT the café, Sam was standing over Otis’s body.

  Customers walked in and out of the Thinking Cup, making a wide arc around the dead goat. They didn’t seem alarmed. Maybe they saw Otis as a passed-out homeless guy. Some of my best friends were passed-out homeless guys. I knew how well they could repel a crowd.

  Sam frowned at me. Under her left eye was a new orange bruise. “Why is our informant dead?”

  “Long story,” I said. “Who hit you?”

  “Also a long story.”


  She waved aside my concern. “I’m fine. Just please tell me you didn’t kill Otis becaus
e he ate my scone.”

  “No. Now if he’d eaten my scone—”

  “Ha, ha. What happened?”

  I was still worried about Sam’s eye, but I did my best to explain about the goat-killer. Meanwhile, Otis’s form began to dissolve, melting into curls of white vapor like dry ice. Soon there was nothing left but the trench coat, the glasses, the porkpie hat, and the ax that had killed him.

  Sam picked up the assassin’s weapon. The blade was no larger than a smartphone, but the edge looked sharp. The dark metal was etched with soot-black runes.

  “Giant-forged iron,” Sam said. “Enchanted. Perfectly weighted. This is a valuable weapon to leave behind.”

  “That’s nice. I’d hate for Otis to be killed with a shoddy weapon.”

  Sam ignored me. She’d gotten pretty good at that. “You say the killer wore a wolf helm?”

  “Which narrows it down to half the baddies in the Nine Worlds.” I gestured at Otis’s empty coat. “Where did his body go?”

  “Otis? He’ll be fine. Magic creatures form from the mist of Ginnungagap. When they die, their bodies eventually dissolve back into that mist. Otis should re-form somewhere close to his master, hopefully in time for Thor to kill him again for dinner.”

  That struck me as a strange thing to hope for, but not any stranger than the morning I’d just had. Before my knees could buckle, I sat. I sipped my now-cold coffee.

  “The goat-killer knew the hammer is missing,” I said. “He told me if we went to Provincetown we’d be playing into our enemy’s hands. You don’t think he meant—”

  “Loki?” Sam sat across from me. She tossed the ax on the table. “I’m sure he’s involved in this somehow. He always is.”

  I couldn’t blame her for sounding bitter. Sam didn’t like talking about the god of deceit and trickery. Aside from the fact he was evil, he was also her dad.

  “You heard from him recently?” I asked.

  “Just a few dreams.” Sam rotated her coffee cup this way and that like the dial of a safe. “Whispers, warnings. He’s been mostly interested in…Never mind. Nothing.”

  “That doesn’t sound like nothing.”

  Sam’s gaze was intense and full of heat, like logs in a fireplace just before they ignite. “My dad is trying to wreck my personal life,” she said. “That’s nothing new. He wants to keep me distracted. My grandparents, Amir…” Her voice caught. “It’s nothing I can’t handle. It doesn’t have anything to do with our hammer problem.”

  “You sure?”

  Her expression told me to back off. In times past, if I pressed her too far, she would slam me against a wall and put her arm across my throat. The fact that she hadn’t yet choked me unconscious was a sign of our deepening friendship.

  “Anyway,” Sam said, “Loki couldn’t be your goat-killer. He couldn’t wield an ax like that.”

  “Why not? I mean, I know he’s technically chained up in Asgardian supermax for murder or whatever, but he doesn’t seem to have any problem showing up in my face whenever he feels like it.”

  “My father can project his image or appear in a dream,” Sam said. “With extreme concentration, for a limited time, he can even send out enough of his power to take on a physical form.”

  “Like when he dated your mom.”

  Sam again demonstrated her affection for me by not clubbing my brains out. We were having a friendship fest here at the Thinking Cup.

  “Yes,” she said. “He can get around his imprisonment in those ways, but he can’t manifest solidly enough to wield magic weapons. The gods made sure of that when they put a spell on his bindings. If he could pick up an enchanted blade, he could eventually free himself.”

  I supposed that made sense in a nonsensical Norse-myth kind of way. I pictured Loki lying spread-eagled in some cave, his hands and feet tied with bonds made from—ugh, I could hardly think about it—the intestines of his own murdered sons. The gods had arranged that. They’d also supposedly set a snake over Loki’s head to drip venom in his face for all eternity. Asgardian justice wasn’t big on mercy.

  “The goat-killer could still be working for Loki,” I said. “He could be a giant. He could be—”

  “He could be anyone,” Sam said. “The way you describe him—how he fought and moved—he sounds like an einherji. Perhaps even a Valkyrie.”

  My stomach dropped. I imagined it rolling across the pavement and coming to rest next to Otis’s porkpie hat. “Somebody from Valhalla. Why would anyone—?”

  “I don’t know,” Sam said. “Whoever it is, he or she doesn’t want us following this lead on Thor’s hammer. But I don’t see that we have any choice. We need to act quickly.”

  “Why the rush?” I asked. “The hammer’s been missing for months. The giants haven’t attacked yet.”

  Something in Sam’s eyes reminded me of Ran the sea goddess’s nets, the way they swirled in the waves, stirring up drowned spirits. It wasn’t a happy memory.

  “Magnus,” she said, “events are accelerating. My last few missions into Jotunheim…the giants are restless. They’ve summoned huge glamours to hide whatever it is they’re up to, but I’m pretty sure whole armies are on the move. They’re preparing to invade.”


  The breeze made her hijab flutter around her face. “Here, Magnus. And if they come to destroy Midgard…”

  Despite the warm sunlight, a chill settled over me. Sam had explained how Boston sat at the nexus of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. It was the easiest place to pass between the Nine Worlds. I imagined the shadows of giants falling over Newbury Street, the ground shaking under iron-shod boots the size of panzer tanks.

  “The only thing holding them back,” Sam said, “is their fear of Thor. That’s been true for centuries. They won’t launch a full-scale invasion unless they’re absolutely sure he is vulnerable. But they’re getting bolder. They’re starting to suspect the time might be right—”

  “Thor’s only one god,” I said. “What about Odin? Or Tyr? Or my dad, Frey? Can’t they fight giants?”

  As soon as I said it, the idea sounded ridiculous. Odin was unpredictable. When he showed up, he was more interested in giving motivational PowerPoint presentations than fighting. I’d never even met Tyr, the god of bravery and personal combat. As for Frey…my dad was the god of summer and fertility. If you wanted flowers to bloom, crops to grow, or a paper cut to heal, he was your guy. Scaring away the hordes of Jotunheim? Maybe not.

  “We have to stop the invasion before it happens,” Sam said. “Which means finding the hammer Mjolnir. You’re sure Otis said Provincetown?”

  “Yeah. A wight’s barrow. That’s bad?”

  “On a scale of one to ten, it’s up there in the high twenties. We’ll need Hearthstone and Blitzen.”

  Despite the circumstances, the possibility of seeing my old buddies lifted my spirits.

  “You know where they are?”

  Sam hesitated. “I know how to get in contact. They’ve been hiding in one of Mimir’s safe houses.”

  I tried to process that. Mimir, the disembodied god’s head who traded drinks from the well of knowledge for years of servitude, who had ordered Blitz and Hearth to keep an eye on me while I was homeless because I was “important to the fate of the worlds,” who ran an inter-world pachinko racket and other shady enterprises—Mimir had a collection of safe houses. I wondered what he was charging my friends for rent.

  “Why are Blitz and Hearth in hiding?”

  “I should let them explain,” Sam said. “They didn’t want to worry you.”

  That was so not funny, I laughed. “They disappeared without a word because they didn’t want to worry me?”

  “Look, Magnus, you needed time to train—to settle into Valhalla and get used to your einherji powers. Hearthstone and Blitzen just got a bad omen in the runes. They’ve been taking precautions, staying out of sight. For this quest, though—”

  “A bad omen. Sam, the assassin said I should be prepared to lose my fri

  “I know.” She picked up her coffee. Her fingers trembled. “We’ll be careful, Magnus. But for a wight’s tomb…rune magic and underground skills could make all the difference. We’ll need Hearth and Blitz. I’ll contact them this afternoon. Then, I promise, I’ll fill you in on everything.”

  “There’s more?” Suddenly I felt like I’d been sitting at the Thanksgiving kiddie table for the past six weeks. I’d missed out on all the important conversations among the adults. I didn’t like the kiddie table.

  “Sam, you don’t need to protect me,” I said. “I’m already dead. I’m a freaking warrior of Odin who lives in Valhalla. Let me help.”

  “You will,” she promised. “But you needed training time, Magnus. When we went after the Sword of Summer, we got lucky. For what comes next…you’ll need all your skill.”

  The current of fear in her voice made me shiver.

  I hadn’t considered us lucky when we retrieved the Sword of Summer. We’d come close to dying multiple times. Three of our comrades had sacrificed their lives. We’d barely managed to stop Fenris Wolf and a host of fire giants from ravaging the Nine Worlds. If that was lucky, I did not want to see unlucky.

  Sam reached across the table. She took my cranberry orange scone and nibbled off the edge. The icing was the same color as her bruised eye. “I should get back to school. I can’t miss another AP physics class. This afternoon I have some fires to put out at home.”

  I remembered what she’d said about Loki trying to mess up her personal life, and that little hitch of doubt when she’d said Amir’s name. “Anything I can help with? Maybe I can stop by Fadlan’s Falafel and talk to Amir?”

  “No!” Her cheeks flushed. “No, thank you. But definitely not. No.”

  “So that’s a no then.”

  “Magnus, I know you mean well. There’s a lot on my plate, but I can handle it. I’ll see you tonight at the feast for the…” Her expression soured. “You know, the newcomer.”

  She meant the soul she had gone to reap. As the responsible Valkyrie, Sam would have to be there at the nightly feast to introduce the newest einherji.

  I studied the bruise under her eye, and something dawned on me.

  “This soul you picked up,” I said, “this new einherji punched you?”

  Sam scowled. “It’s complicated.”

  I’d met some violent einherjar, but never one who would dare punch a Valkyrie. That was suicidal behavior, even for someone who was already dead. “What kind of idiot…Wait. Did this have anything to do with that wolf howl I heard from across the Common?”

  Sam’s dark brown eyes smoldered, right on the edge of combustion.

  “You’ll hear about it tonight.” She rose and picked up the assassin’s ax. “Now go back to Valhalla. Tonight you’ll have the pleasure of meeting…” She paused, considering her words. “My brother.”

  A Cheetah Runs Me Over

  WHEN CHOOSING an afterlife, it’s important to consider location.

  Suburban afterlives, as in Folkvanger and Niflheim, may offer lower costs-of-not-living, but Valhalla’s Midgard entrance is right in the heart of the city, on Beacon Street across from the Boston Common. You’ll be within easy walking distance of the best shops and restaurants, and less than a minute from the Park Street T station!

  Yes, Valhalla. For all your Viking paradise needs.

  (Okay, sorry. I told the hotel management I’d put in a plug. But it was pretty easy getting back home.)

  After buying a bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans at the coffee shop, I made my way through the Public Garden, passing my old camping spot under the footbridge. A couple of grizzled dudes sat in a nest of sleeping bags, sharing garbage-bin leftovers with a little rat terrier.

  “Hey, guys.” I handed them Otis’s trench coat and hat, along with all the mortal money I had on me—about twenty-four bucks. “Have a good day.”

  The guys were too startled to respond. I kept walking, feeling like I had an ax sticking out of my sternum.