I looked around desperately for exits. There was one other door, on the wall directly across from the dining room, but it was too small to crawl under and too big to force open, not to mention barred with a tree-trunk beam across iron brackets.
For the first time since becoming an einherji, I was annoyed that my super-quick healing wasn’t super quick enough. If we were going to die, I at least wanted to be standing on my own two feet.
I glanced at the ceiling. Above the last column Geirrod had hit, cracks spread across the roof. The column bowed, ready to snap. I remembered the first time my mom had made me set up our camping tent by myself. The poles had been a nightmare. Getting them to hold the roof required just the right balance of tension. But making them collapse … that was easy.
‘I’ve got an idea,’ I said. ‘Blitzen, you’re going to have to carry me a while longer, unless Sam –’
‘Um, no,’ said Sam.
‘I’m fine,’ Blitzen whimpered. ‘I’m just great. I can almost see again.’
‘Okay, everybody,’ I said. ‘We’re going to run towards the giant.’
I didn’t need sign language to read Hearth’s expression: Are you crazy? The swan gave me the same look.
‘Just follow my lead,’ I said. ‘It’ll be fun.’
‘Please,’ Sam begged, ‘don’t let those words be carved on my tombstone.’
I yelled at the giant, ‘Hey, Geirrod, you throw like a Folkvanger person!’
‘What? BAH!’ Geirrod turned to scoop up another coal.
‘Straight at him,’ I told my friends. ‘Go!’
As the giant prepared to throw, I told Blitzen, ‘Right, go right!’
We all ducked behind the nearest pillar. Geirrod’s coal bored straight through it, spewing cinders and sending more cracks up the ceiling.
‘Now left,’ I told my friends. ‘Towards him and up another row.’
‘What are you –’ Sam’s eyes widened with understanding. ‘Oh, gods, you really are crazy.’
‘Got a better idea?’
We ran across Geirrod’s line of sight.
‘Your daughters aren’t drunk!’ I shouted. ‘They’re dead!’
Another coal cannonball hurtled towards us, hitting the nearest column with such force it collapsed into a pile of colossal stone Polo mints.
The ceiling groaned. The cracks spread. We ran into the central aisle and I yelled, ‘MISSED AGAIN!’
Geirrod howled in fury. He tossed aside his drinking horn so he could scoop coals with both hands. Fortunately for us, his anger and his double-handed throwing made his aim terrible. We jogged around him, weaving from column to column as he splattered coal everywhere, tipping over braziers, breaking pillars.
I insulted Geirrod’s suit, his haircut, his patent-leather shoes. Finally the giant tossed an entire brazier at us, taking out the last support pillar on his side of the room.
‘Retreat!’ I told Blitzen. ‘Go! NOW!’
Poor Blitzen huffed and wheezed. We ran for the far wall as Geirrod shouted, ‘Cowards! I will kill you!’
He easily could have run after us and caught us, but the giant’s drunken mind was still thinking in terms of projectile weapons. He searched around him for more coals as the ceiling above him crumbled.
Too late, he realized what was happening. He looked up and screamed as half the room collapsed on top of him, burying Geirrod under a thousand tons of rock.
The next thing I knew, I was on the floor in a white-out of dust and debris, trying my best to cough up my lungs.
Slowly the air cleared. A few feet away, Sam sat cross-legged, also hacking and gasping, looking like she’d been rolled in flour.
‘Blitzen?’ I called. ‘Hearth?’
I was so worried about them I forgot about my broken leg. I tried to stand and was surprised to find that I could. The leg still throbbed with agony, but it held my weight.
Blitzen came stumbling out of a dust cloud. ‘Present,’ he squeaked. His suit was ruined. His hair and beard had gone prematurely grey with plaster.
I tackled him in a hug. ‘You,’ I said, ‘are the strongest, most amazing dwarf ever.’
‘Okay, kid, okay.’ He patted my arm. ‘Where’s Hearthstone? Hearth!’
In moments like that, we forgot that yelling Hearthstone’s name wasn’t really helpful.
‘Here he is,’ Sam called, brushing some rubble off the fallen elf. ‘I think he’s okay.’
‘Thank Odin!’ Blitz started forward but almost fell.
‘Whoa, there.’ I propped him against one of the remaining columns. ‘Just rest for a sec. I’ll be right back.’
I jogged over to Sam and helped her extract Hearthstone from the wreckage.
His hair was smouldering, but otherwise he looked all right. We pulled him to his feet. Immediately he started scolding me in sign language: Stupid? Trying to kill us?
It took me a second to realize he wasn’t holding the swan.
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘Where’s Gunilla?’
Behind me, Blitzen yelped. I turned and discovered a hostage situation in progress.
‘I’m right here,’ Gunilla snarled. She was back in human form, standing behind Blitzen, the point of her blazing spear pressed to his throat. ‘And the four of you are coming back to Valhalla as my prisoners.’
Sam Hits the EJECT Button
Gunilla jabbed her spear tip against Blitz’s jugular.
‘No closer,’ she warned. ‘Rogues and liars, all of you. You’ve endangered Midgard and Asgard, roused the giants, caused chaos across the realms –’
‘We also rescued you from a birdcage,’ I added.
‘After luring me here in the first place!’
‘Nobody lured you,’ I said. ‘Nobody asked you to hunt us.’
‘Gunilla.’ Samirah placed her axe on the floor. ‘Let the dwarf go, please.’
‘Urgh,’ Blitzen agreed.
The Valkyrie captain glanced at Hearthstone. ‘You, elf – don’t even think about it. Put that bag of runestones on the floor or I will burn you to ashes.’
I hadn’t realized Hearthstone was about to make a move. He complied with Gunilla’s order, though his eyes blazed. He looked like he wanted to do something much worse to Gunilla than put her in a magic hamster wheel.
Sam raised her palms. ‘We’re not going to fight you. Please, release the dwarf. We all know what a Valkyrie spear can do.’
I didn’t, actually, but I tried to look as meek and harmless as possible. As exhausted as I felt, it wasn’t hard.
Gunilla eyed me. ‘Where is your sword, Magnus?’
I gestured to the ruined end of the hall. ‘Last I checked, he was taking a bath in a goblet.’
Gunilla considered that. It was the sort of statement that only made sense in the loony world of the Vikings. ‘Very well.’ She shoved Blitzen towards me.
She swept her spear forward, keeping us all within striking distance. The weapon’s light was so intense I felt like it was baking my skin.
‘We will return to Asgard as soon as my full strength returns,’ said Gunilla. ‘In the meantime, explain why you were asking the giants about Thor’s weapon.’
‘Oh …’ I remembered Thor being pretty specific about not telling anyone of his missing hammer. ‘Well –’
‘A trick,’ Sam interrupted. ‘To confuse the giants.’
Gunilla narrowed her eyes. ‘A dangerous trick. If the giants believed Thor had lost his hammer … the consequences would be unthinkable.’
‘Speaking of unthinkable,’ I said, ‘Surt is going to release Fenris Wolf tomorrow night.’
‘Tonight,’ Sam corrected.
My stomach dropped. ‘Isn’t it Tuesday? Freya said the full moon was Wednesday –’
‘Which technically starts at sundown on Tuesday,’ Sam said. ‘The full moon rises tonight.’
‘Well, that’s just wonderful,’ I said. ‘Why did
n’t you say so?’
‘I thought you understood.’
‘Silence, both of you!’ Gunilla ordered. ‘Magnus Chase, you’ve fallen for the lies of this daughter of Loki.’
‘You mean the full moon isn’t tonight?’
‘No, it’s tonight. I meant –’ Gunilla scowled. ‘Stop confusing me!’
Blitzen whimpered as she throttled him with her light spear. Hearthstone edged next to me, his fists clenched.
I raised my hands. ‘Gunilla, all I’m saying is, if you don’t let us go so we can stop Surt –’
‘I warned you,’ Gunilla said. ‘Listening to Samirah will only hasten Ragnarok. Feel fortunate I found you rather than the other Valkyries who are hunting you, or your former einherjar hallmates. They are anxious to prove their loyalty to Valhalla by killing you. I, at least, will make sure you get a proper trial before the thanes cast your soul into Ginnungagap!’
Samirah and I exchanged glances. We didn’t have time to be captured and sent back to Asgard. I definitely didn’t have time to get my soul cast into a place I couldn’t even pronounce.
Hearthstone saved us. His face became transfixed with horror. He pointed behind Gunilla as if Geirrod was rising from the rubble. It was the oldest trick in the Nine Worlds, and it worked.
Gunilla glanced behind her. Sam lunged with blinding speed. Instead of trying to tackle the Valkyrie captain, she simply touched the golden bracer on Gunilla’s arm.
The air hummed as if someone had turned on an industrial vacuum cleaner.
Gunilla shrieked. She stared at Sam in dismay. ‘What have you –’
The Valkyrie imploded. She collapsed into a pinpoint of light and was gone.
‘Sam?’ I couldn’t believe what had happened. ‘You – you killed her?’
‘Of course not!’ Sam swatted my arm. (Thankfully, I did not implode.) ‘I just recalled her to Valhalla.’
‘The armband?’ asked Blitzen.
Sam smiled modestly. ‘I didn’t know if it would work. I guess my fingerprints haven’t been de-registered from the Valkyrie database yet.’
Hearthstone rolled his hand. Explain.
‘Valkyrie armbands have an emergency evacuation feature,’ Sam said. ‘If a Valkyrie is wounded in battle and needs immediate attention, another Valkyrie can send her back to the Halls of Healing simply by touching her armband. She’ll be instantly extracted, but it’s powerful magic. One use and the armband melts.’
I blinked. ‘So Gunilla got yanked to Valhalla.’
‘Yep. But I haven’t bought us much time. She’ll be back as soon as she gathers her strength. I imagine she’ll bring reinforcements, too.’
‘Thor’s hammer,’ I said. ‘The storage room.’
We ran for the small iron door. I’d like to say I had carefully planned the ceiling’s collapse to make sure the door didn’t get buried in wreckage. In truth, I just got lucky.
Sam’s axe cut through the lock in one swipe. Hearthstone yanked open the door. Inside was a closet, empty except for an iron pole the size of a broom handle leaning against the corner.
‘Well,’ I said. ‘That’s kind of anticlimactic.’
Blitzen studied the iron pole. ‘I dunno, kid. See this runework? It isn’t Mjolnir, but this staff was forged with powerful magic.’
Sam’s face fell. ‘Oh … Thor’s weapon. Just not the right weapon.’
‘Mmm.’ Blitzen nodded sagely.
‘Mmm,’ I agreed. ‘Would one of you tell me what you’re talking about?’
‘Kid, this is Thor’s backup weapon,’ Blitz explained. ‘The staff was a gift from a friend of his – the giantess Grid.’
‘Three questions,’ I said. ‘First: Thor has a giantess friend?’
‘Yes,’ Blitz said. ‘Not all giants are bad.’
‘Second: do all giantess names begin with G?’
‘Last question: Thor is a martial artist? Does he have, like, backup nunchuks, too?’
‘Hey, kid, don’t dis the staff. It may not be dwarven work like the hammer, but giant-forged iron is still powerful stuff. I hope we’re able to pick it up and carry it back to Thor. I’m sure it’s heavy and protected by enchantments.’
‘You needn’t worry about that!’ bellowed a voice above.
From one of the high windows, the god of thunder soared into the room on a chariot pulled by Otis and Marvin. My sword Jack floated along next to them.
Thor landed in front of us in all his grungy glory. ‘Good work, mortals!’ He grinned. ‘You found the staff. That’s better than nothing!’
‘And, dude,’ said Jack, ‘I take one quick bath. I turn around and not only have you left the room but you’ve collapsed the exit. What’s a sword supposed to think?’
I bit back a comment. ‘Yeah. Sorry, Jack.’
Thor reached out towards the supply closet. The iron rod flew into his hand. Thor executed a few thrusts, swipes and baton twirls. ‘Yes, this will do nicely until I find that – ah, other weapon which is not officially missing. Thanks!’
I tried to resist the urge to smack him. ‘You have a flying chariot?’
‘Of course!’ He laughed. ‘Thor without his flying chariot would be like a dwarf without an emergency parachute!’
‘Thank you,’ Blitz said.
‘You could have flown us straight here,’ I noted. ‘You could have saved us a day and a half and several close calls with death. But you let us climb that cliff, navigate a chasm –’
‘I would never deprive you of the chance to prove your heroism!’ the thunder god said.
Hearthstone signed, I hate this god.
‘Exactly, Mr Elf!’ Thor said. ‘I gave you the opportunity to prove your mettle. You’re quite welcome!’
Otis bleated and clopped his hooves. ‘Besides, the boss couldn’t show up here without his hammer, especially since his daughter was stuck in that birdcage.’
Sam flinched. ‘You knew about that?’
Thor scowled at his goat. ‘Otis, we need to have another talk about you keeping your snout shut.’
‘Sorry.’ Otis hung his horns. ‘Go ahead and kill me. It’s fine.’
Marvin nipped him. ‘Will you shut up? Every time you get killed, I get killed!’
Thor rolled his eyes at the ceiling. ‘ “What kind of animals would you like pulling your chariot, Thor?” my dad asked me. “Goats,” I said. “Flying re-consumable goats would be great.” I could’ve chosen dragons or lions, but noooo.’ He faced Sam. ‘To answer your question, yes, I sensed Gunilla was here. I can usually tell when one of my children is nearby. I figured, if you could save her, that would be a nice bonus. But I also didn’t want her learning about my missing hammer. That information is a bit sensitive. You should feel honoured I told you about it, daughter of Loki.’
Sam inched away. ‘You know about that? Listen, Lord Thor –’
‘Girl, stop calling me lord. I’m a god of the common people, not a lord! And don’t worry – I won’t kill you. Not all of Loki’s brood is evil. Even Loki himself …’ He heaved a sigh. ‘I kind of miss the guy.’
Sam looked at him sideways. ‘You do?’
‘Oh, sure.’ Thor scratched his red beard. ‘Most of the time I wanted to kill him, like when he cut off all my wife’s hair, or convinced me to wear a bridal gown.’
‘Do what now?’ I asked.
‘But Loki made life interesting,’ Thor continued. ‘People got the idea we were brothers, which isn’t true. He was Odin’s blood brother. Still, I understand how the rumour got started. I hate to admit it, but Loki and I made a good team.’
‘Like Marvin and me,’ Otis suggested. ‘My therapist says –’
‘Shut up, you dolt!’ said Marvin.
Thor twirled his iron staff. ‘At any rate, thanks for this. It will help until I can find that other item. And please DO NOT mention my loss to anyone. Not even my children. Especially not them. Otherwise I’d have to kill you, and I might eve
n feel bad about that.’
‘But what will you do without Mjolnir?’ Sam asked. ‘How will you –’
‘Watch television?’ Thor shrugged. ‘I know … the screen size and resolution on the end of this staff are pitiful, but I will have to make do. As for you, the island of Lyngvi rises from the waves tonight. You must hurry! Goodbye, mortals, and –’
‘Hold up,’ I said. ‘We need the location of the island.’
Thor frowned. ‘Oh, right. I was supposed to give that to you. Well, all you have to do is seek out the dwarf brothers at the Long Wharf in Boston. They will take you to the island. Their boat usually leaves at sunset.’
‘Ah, dwarves.’ Blitz nodded approvingly. ‘We can trust them, then?’
‘Oh, no,’ Thor said. ‘They’ll try to kill you at the first opportunity, but they do know the way to the island.’
‘Lord Th– I mean, Thor,’ said Sam, ‘Won’t you come with us? This is an important battle – the fire lord Surt, Fenris Wolf. Surely that’s worthy of your attention.’
Thor’s right eye twitched. ‘That’s a fine offer. Really. I’d love to, but I have another pressing appointment –’
‘Game of Thrones,’ Marvin explained.
‘Shut up!’ Thor raised his staff over our heads. ‘Use your time well, heroes. Prepare for battle, and be at the Long Wharf by sundown!’
The room started to spin. Jack the sword flew into my hand, flooding me with exhaustion.
I braced myself against the nearest column. ‘Thor, where are you sending us?’
The thunder god chuckled. ‘Wherever you each need to go.’
Jotunheim collapsed around me like a tent falling on my head.
What the Hel?
I stood alone in a snowstorm on Bunker Hill.
My exhaustion was gone. Jack had returned to pendant form around my neck. None of that made sense, but I didn’t seem to be dreaming.
I felt like I was really in Charlestown, just across the river from Boston, standing right where my fourth-grade school bus had dropped us off for a class trip. Gauzy curtains of snow swept across the brownstones. The park itself wasn’t much more than a white field dotted with bare trees. In the centre, a grey obelisk rose into the winter sky. After my time in Geirrod’s fortress, the