The hammer of thor, p.11
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       The Hammer of Thor, p.11

         Part #2 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
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  portal like they were being sucked out of a moving jet plane. The sarcophagus imploded behind them.

  Sam stirred. She sat up abruptly, as though her alarm had gone off. Her hijab slipped over her right eye like a pirate’s patch. “What—what’s going on?”

  I felt too numb to explain. I was kneeling next to Blitzen, doing what I could to keep him stable. My hands glowed with enough Frey-power to cause a nuclear meltdown, but it wasn’t helping. My friend was slipping away.

  Hearth’s eyes brimmed with tears. He sat next to Blitz, his polka-dot scarf trailing in blood. Every once in a while he smacked a V sign against his own forehead: Stupid. Stupid.

  Sam’s shadow fell across us. “No! No, no, no. What happened?”

  Hearthstone flew into another sign language tirade: Told you! Too dangerous! Your fault we—

  “Buddy…” Blitzen pulled weakly at Hearthstone’s hands. “Not Sam’s…fault. Not yours. Was…my idea.”

  Hearthstone shook his head. Stupid Valkyrie. Stupid me, also. Must be a way to heal you.

  He looked to me, desperate for a miracle.

  I hated being a healer. Frey’s Fripperies, I wished I were a warrior. Or a shape-shifter like Alex Fierro, or a rune caster like Hearthstone, or even a berserker like Halfborn, charging into battle in my underwear. Having my friends’ lives depend on my abilities, watching the light go out of Blitzen’s eyes and knowing there was nothing I could do about it…that was unbearable.

  “Loki wouldn’t leave us another choice,” I said. “We have to find the Skofnung Stone.”

  Hearthstone grunted in frustration. I would do it. For Blitz. But no time. Would take a day at least. He will die.

  Blitzen tried to say something. No words came out. His head lolled sideways.

  “No!” Sam sobbed. “No, he can’t die. Where’s this stone? I’ll go get it myself!”

  I scanned the tomb, frantic for ideas. My eyes fixed on the only source of light—Samirah’s spear, lying in dust.

  Light. Sunlight.

  There was one last miracle I could try—a lame, bottom-shelf miracle, but it was all I had.

  “We need more time,” I said, “so we’ll make more time.” I wasn’t sure Blitzen was still lucid, but I squeezed his shoulder. “We’ll bring you back, buddy. I promise.”

  I stood. I raised my face toward the domed ceiling and imagined the sun overhead. I called on my father—the god of warmth and fertility, the god of living things that broke through the earth to reach the light.

  The tomb rumbled. Dust rained down. Directly above me, the domed ceiling cracked like an eggshell and a jagged canyon of sunlight spilled through the darkness, illuminating Blitzen’s face.

  As I watched, one of my best friends in the Nine Worlds turned to solid rock.

  Should I Be Nervous that the Pilot Is Praying?

  THE PROVINCETOWN airport was the most depressing place I’d ever been. To be fair, that might have been because I was in the company of a petrified dwarf, a heartbroken elf, a furious Valkyrie, and a sword that would not shut up.

  Sam had called an Uber car to get us from the Pilgrim Monument. I wondered if she used Uber as a backup for transporting souls to Valhalla. All the way to the airport, crammed in the backseat of a Ford Focus station wagon, I couldn’t stop humming “Flight of the Valkyries.”

  Next to me, Jack hogged the seat belt and pestered me with questions. “Can we unsheathe Skofnung again just for a minute? I want to say hi.”

  “Jack, no. She can’t be drawn in sunlight or in the presence of women. And if we did unsheathe her, she’d have to kill somebody.”

  “Yeah, but except for that, wouldn’t it be awesome?” He sighed, his runes lighting up his blade. “She’s so fine.”

  “Please go into pendant mode.”

  “Do you think she liked me? I didn’t say anything stupid, did I? Be honest.”

  I bit back a few scathing remarks. It wasn’t Jack’s fault we were in this predicament. Still, I was relieved when I finally convinced him to turn into a pendant. I told him he needed his beauty rest in case we unsheathed Skofnung later.

  When we got to the airport, I helped Hearthstone wrestle our granite dwarf out of the station wagon while Sam went into the terminal.

  The airport itself wasn’t much to look at—just a one-room shack for arrivals and departures, a couple of benches out front, and beyond the security fence, two runways for small planes.

  Sam hadn’t explained why we were here. I guessed she was using her pilot-y connections to get us a charter flight back to Boston. Obviously she couldn’t fly all four of us under her own power, and Hearthstone was in no shape to cast any more runes.

  Hearth had spent his last bit of magical energy to summon Bubble Wrap and strapping tape, using a rune that looked like a regular X. Maybe it was the ancient Viking symbol for shipping materials. Maybe it was the rune for Alfheim Express. Hearthstone was so angry and miserable I didn’t dare ask him. I just stood outside the terminal, waiting for Sam to come back, while Hearth carefully wrapped up his best friend.

  We’d come to a sort of truce while waiting for the Uber car. Hearth, Sam, and I all felt like stripped high-voltage wires, supercharged with guilt and resentment, ready to kill anyone who touched us. But we knew that wasn’t going to help Blitzen. We hadn’t discussed it, but we’d formed a silent agreement not to yell and scream and hit each other until later. Right now, we had a dwarf to heal.

  Finally, Sam emerged from the terminal. She must have stopped by the restroom, because her hands and face were still damp.

  “The Cessna is on its way,” she said.

  “Your instructor’s plane?”

  She nodded. “I had to beg and plead. But Barry’s really nice. He understands it’s an emergency.”

  “Does he know about…?” I gestured around, weakly implying the Nine Worlds, petrified dwarves, undead warriors, evil gods, and all the other messed-up things about our lives.

  “No,” Sam said. “And I’d like to keep it that way. I can’t fly airplanes if my instructor thinks I’m delusional.”

  She glanced over at Hearthstone’s Bubble-Wrapping project. “No change in Blitzen? He hasn’t started…crumbling yet?”

  A slug wriggled down my throat. “Crumbling? Please tell me that’s not going to happen.”

  “I hope not. But sometimes…” Sam closed her eyes and took a second to compose herself. “Sometimes after a few days…”

  As if I needed a reason to feel guiltier. “When we find the Skofnung Stone…there is a way to un-petrify Blitz, right?”

  That seemed like I question I should have asked before turning my friend into a chunk of granite, but, hey, I’d been under a lot of pressure.

  “I—I hope so,” Sam said.

  That made me feel a whole lot better.

  Hearthstone looked over at us. He signed to Sam in small angry gestures: Plane? You will drop Magnus, me. You don’t come.

  Sam looked stung, but she held her hand up next to her face, index finger pointing skyward. Understand.

  Hearthstone went back to packaging our dwarf.

  “Give him time,” I told Sam. “It isn’t your fault.”

  Sam studied the pavement. “I wish I believed that.”

  I wanted to ask about Loki’s control over her, to tell her how bad I felt for her, to promise we would find a way to fight her father. But I guessed it was too soon to bring up all that. Her shame was still too raw.

  “What did Hearthstone mean about dropping us?” I asked.

  “I’ll explain when we’re in the air.” Sam pulled out her phone and checked the time. “It’s zuhr. We’ve got about twenty minutes before the plane lands. Magnus, can I borrow you?”

  I didn’t know what zuhr meant, but I followed her to a little grassy area in the middle of the circular driveway.

  Samirah rummaged through her backpack. She pulled out a folded blue piece of cloth like an oversize scarf and spread it on the grass. My first thought: We
re having a picnic?

  Then I realized she was aligning the cloth so it pointed southeast. “That’s a prayer rug?”

  “Yeah,” she said. “It’s time for noon prayers. Would you stand watch for me?”

  “I…wait. What?” I felt like she was handing me a newborn baby and asking me to take care of it. In all the weeks I’d known Sam, I’d never seen her pray. I figured she just didn’t do it very often. That’s what I would’ve done in her place—as little religious stuff as possible. “How can you pray at a time like this?”

  She laughed without humor. “The real question is, how can I not pray at a time like this? It won’t take long. Just stand guard in case…I don’t know, trolls attack or something.”

  “Why haven’t I ever seen you do this before?”

  Sam shrugged. “I pray every day. Five times, as required. Usually I just slip away to somewhere quiet, though if I’m traveling or in a dangerous situation, sometimes I postpone prayers until I’m sure it’s safe. That’s permissible.”

  “Like when we were in Jotunheim?”

  She nodded. “That’s a good for instance. Since we’re not in danger at the moment, and since you’re here, and since it’s time…do you mind?”

  “Uh…no. I mean, yeah, sure. Go for it.”

  I’d been in some pretty surreal situations. I’d bellied up to a dwarven bar. I’d run from a giant squirrel through the tree of the universe. I’d rappelled down a curtain into a giant’s dining room. But guarding Samirah al-Abbas while she prayed in an airport parking lot…that was a new one.

  Sam took off her shoes. She stood very still at the foot of her rug, her hands clasped at her stomach, her eyes half-closed. She whispered something under her breath. She momentarily brought her hands to her ears—the same gesture we’d use in ASL for listen carefully. Then she began her prayers, a soft, singsong chanting of Arabic that sounded like she was reciting a familiar poem or a love song. Sam bowed, straightened, and knelt with her feet tucked under her and pressed her forehead against the cloth.

  I’m not saying I stared at her. It felt wrong to gawk. But I kept watch from what I hoped was a respectful distance.

  I have to admit I was kind of fascinated. Also maybe a little envious. Even after all that had just happened to her, after being controlled and knocked unconscious by her evil father, Sam seemed momentarily at peace. She was generating her own little bubble of tranquility.

  I never prayed, because I didn’t believe in one all-powerful God. But I wished I had Sam’s level of faith in something.

  The prayer didn’t take long. Sam folded her rug and stood. “Thanks, Magnus.”

  I shrugged, still feeling like an intruder. “Any better now?”

  She smirked. “It’s not magic.”

  “Yeah, but…we see magic all the time. Isn’t it hard, like, believing there’s something more powerful out there than all these Norse beings we deal with? Especially if—no offense—the Big Dude doesn’t step in to help out?”

  Sam tucked her prayer mat into her bag. “Not stepping in, not interfering, not forcing…to me, that seems more merciful and more divine, don’t you think?”

  I nodded. “Good point.”

  I hadn’t seen Sam crying, but the corners of her eyes were tinged with pink. I wondered if she cried the same way she prayed—privately, stepping away to some quiet place so we didn’t notice.

  She glanced at the sky. “Besides, who says Allah doesn’t help?” She pointed to the gleaming white shape of an airplane making its approach. “Let’s go meet Barry.”

  Surprise! Not only did we get an airplane and a pilot, we also got Sam’s boyfriend.

  Sam was jogging across the tarmac when the plane’s door opened. The first person down the steps was Amir Fadlan, a brown leather jacket over his white Fadlan’s Falafel T-shirt, his hair slicked back, and gold-rimmed sunglasses over his eyes so he looked like one of those aviator dudes in a Breitling watch ad.

  Sam slowed when she saw him, but it was too late for her to hide. She glanced back at me with a panicked expression, then went to meet her betrothed.

  I missed the first part of their conversation. I was too busy helping Hearthstone lug a stone dwarf to the plane. Sam and Amir stood at the bottom step, trading exasperated hand gestures and pained expressions.

  When I finally reached them, Amir was pacing back and forth like he was practicing a speech. “I shouldn’t even be here. I thought you were in danger. I thought it was life and death. I—” He froze in his tracks. “Magnus?”

  He stared at me as if I’d just fallen out of the sky, which wasn’t fair, since I hadn’t fallen out of the sky in hours.

  “Hey, man,” I said. “There is totally a good reason for all this. Like, a really good reason. Like, Samirah didn’t do…anything that you might be thinking that she did that was wrong. Because she didn’t do that.”

  Sam glared at me: Not helping.

  Amir’s gaze drifted to Hearthstone. “I recognize you, too. From a couple of months ago, at the food court. Sam’s so-called math study group…” He shook his head in disbelief. “So you’re the elf Sam was talking about? And Magnus…you’re…you’re dead. Sam said she took your soul to Valhalla. And the dwarf”—he stared at our Bubble-Wrapped carry-on Blitzen—“is a statue?”

  “Temporarily,” I said. “That wasn’t Sam’s fault, either.”

  Amir let out one of those crazy laughs you never want to hear—the kind that indicates the brain has developed a few cracks that will not come out with buffing. “I don’t even know where to start. Sam, are you okay? Are…are you in trouble?”

  Samirah’s cheeks turned the color of cranberry sauce. “It’s…complicated. I’m so sorry, Amir. I didn’t expect—”

  “That he would be here?” said a new voice. “Darling, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

  Standing in the plane’s doorway was a thin, dark-skinned man so well dressed that Blitzen would have wept with joy: maroon skinny jeans, pastel green shirt, double-breasted vest, and pointy leather boots. The laminated pilot’s ID hanging around his neck read BARRY AL-JABBAR.

  “My dears,” said Barry, “if we’re going to keep to our flight plan, you should come aboard. We just need to refuel and we’ll be on our way. And as for you, Samirah…” He raised an eyebrow. He had the warmest gold eyes I’d ever seen. “Forgive me for telling Amir, but when you called, I was worried sick. Amir is a dear friend. And whatever drama is going on between you two, I expect you to fix it! As soon as he heard you were in trouble, he insisted on coming along. So…” Barry cupped his hand to his mouth and stage-whispered, “We’ll just say I’m your chaperone, shall we? Now, all aboard!”

  Barry whirled and disappeared back inside the plane. Hearthstone followed, lugging Blitzen up the steps behind him.

  Amir wrung his hands. “Sam, I’m trying to understand. Really.”

  She looked down at her belt, maybe just realizing she was still wearing her battle-ax. “I—I know.”

  “I’ll do anything for you,” Amir said. “Just…don’t stop talking to me, okay? Tell me. No matter how crazy it is, tell me.”

  She nodded. “You’d better get on board. I need to do my walk-around inspection.”

  Amir glanced at me once more—as if he was trying to figure out where my death wounds were—then he climbed the steps.

  I turned to Sam. “He flew out here for you. Your safety is all he cares about.”

  “I know.”

  “That’s good, Sam.”

  “I don’t deserve it. I wasn’t honest with him. I just…I didn’t want to infect the one normal part of my life.”

  “The abnormal part of your life is standing right here.”

  Her shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry. I know you’re trying to help. I wouldn’t change having you in my life, Magnus.”

  “Well, that’s good,” I said. “Because there’s a whole lot more crazy coming up.”

  Sam nodded. “Speaking of which, you’d better find a seat
and buckle in.”

  “Why? Is Barry a bad pilot?”

  “Oh, Barry’s an excellent pilot, but he’s not flying you. I am—straight to Alfheim.”

  In Case of Demonic Possession, Please Follow Illuminated Signs to the Nearest Exit

  BARRY STOOD in the aisle to address us, his elbows on the seatbacks on either side. His cologne made the plane smell like the Boston Flower Exchange. “So, my dears, have you ever flown in a Citation XLS before?”

  “Uh, no,” I said. “I think I would remember.”

  The cabin wasn’t big, but it was all white leather with gold trim, like a BMW with wings. Four passenger seats faced each other to form a sort of conference area. Hearthstone and I sat looking forward. Amir sat across from me, and petrified Blitzen was strapped in opposite Hearth.

  Sam was up in the pilot’s seat, checking dials and flipping switches. I’d thought all planes had doors separating the cockpit from the passenger area, but not the Citation. From where I sat, I could see straight out the front windshield. I was tempted to ask Amir to trade places with me. A view of the restroom would have been less nerve-racking.

  “Well,” said Barry, “as your copilot on this flight, it’s my job to give you a quick safety briefing. The main exit is here.” He rapped his knuckles on the cabin door through which we’d entered. “In case of emergency, if Sam and I aren’t able to open it for you, you—SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ME, MAGNUS CHASE.”

  Barry’s voice deepened and tripled in volume. Amir, who was sitting right under his elbow, nearly leaped into my lap.

  In the cockpit, Sam turned around slowly. “Barry?”

  “I WARNED YOU.” Barry’s new voice crackled with distortion, and fluctuated up and down in pitch. “YET YOU FELL INTO LOKI’S TRAP.”

  “Wh-what’s wrong with him?” Amir asked. “That’s not Barry.”

  “No,” I agreed, my throat as dry as a zombie berserker’s. “That’s my favorite assassin.”

  Hearthstone looked even more confused than Amir. He couldn’t hear the change in Barry’s voice, obviously, but he could tell that the safety briefing had gone off the rails.

  “NOW THERE IS NO CHOICE,” said Barry-not-Barry. “ONCE YOU HEAL YOUR FRIEND, FIND ME IN JOTUNHEIM. I WILL GIVE YOU THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO DEFEAT LOKI’S PLAN.”

  I studied the copilot’s face. His gold eyes looked unfocused, but otherwise I couldn’t see anything different about him.

  “You’re the goat-killer,” I said. “The guy who was watching me from the tree branch at the feast.”

  Amir couldn’t stop blinking. “Goat-killer? Tree branch?”

  “SEEK OUT HEIMDALL,” said the distorted voice. “HE WILL POINT YOU IN MY DIRECTION. BRING THE OTHER, ALEX FIERRO. SHE IS NOW YOUR ONLY HOPE FOR SUCCESS.—And that covers everything. Any questions?”

  Barry’s voice had returned to normal. He smiled contentedly, like he could think of no better way to spend his day than flying back and forth from Cape Cod, helping his friends, and channeling the voices of otherworldly ninjas.

  Amir, Hearth, and I shook our heads vehemently.

  “No questions,” I said. “Not a single one.”

  I locked eyes with Sam. She gave me a shrug and a head shake, like, Yes, I heard. My copilot was briefly possessed. What do you want me to do about it?

  “Okay, then.” Barry patted Blitzen’s granite noggin. “Headsets are in the compartments next to you if you want to talk to us in the cockpit. It’s a very short flight to Norwood Memorial. Sit back and enjoy!”

  Enjoy was not the word I would’ve used.

  Small confession: not only had I never flown in a Citation XLS, I had never flown in an airplane. My first time probably should not have been in an
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