The Hammer of Thor

Page 54

“Sam, no.”

“Whatever he is planning, Magnus, you have to stop him. If we’re incapacitated, you may be the only one who can.” She shrugged off the Skofnung Sword and handed it to me. “Keep this. Don’t let it out of your sight.”

Even in the morning light of Asgard, in the warmth of Sif’s atrium, the sword’s leather sheath felt as cold as a freezer door. The Skofnung Stone was now strapped to the pommel. When I slung the sword across my back, the stone dug against my shoulder blade.

“Sam, it won’t come down to a choice. I’m not letting Loki kill my friends. I’m definitely not letting him near this sword. Unless he wants to eat the blade. I’m fine with that.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth twitched. “I’m glad you’ll be at my side for this, Magnus. I hope someday, when I have my actual wedding, you’ll be there, too.”

That was the nicest thing anybody had said to me in a while. Of course, given how messed up my last few days had been, maybe that wasn’t a surprise. “I will be there,” I promised. “And it won’t just be for the awesome catering from Fadlan’s Falafel.”

She swatted my shoulder, which I took as a compliment. Usually she avoided any sort of physical contact. I guess whacking a stupid friend occasionally was permissible.

For a while, we watched the sun rise over Asgard. We were a long way up, but as with the time I’d seen Asgard from Valhalla, I spotted no one stirring in the streets. I wondered about all the dark windows and silent courtyards, the untended gardens left to grow wild. Which gods had lived in those mansions? Where had they all gone? Maybe they’d gotten tired of the lax security and moved to a gated community where the guardian didn’t spend all his time taking celestial selfies.

I’m not sure how long we waited for Alex. Long enough for me to drink some coffee and eat a frowny face of broken doughnuts. Long enough for me to wonder why Alex was taking so long hiding Sif’s body.

Finally, the goddess and the bride-to-be emerged from the hall. All the moisture evaporated from my mouth. Electricity jumped from pore to pore across my scalp.

Alex’s white silk gown glowed with gold embroidery, from the tassels on her sleeves to the serpentine curls along the hem that swept her feet. A necklace of golden arcs curved at the base of her neck like an inverted rainbow. Pinned to her black-and-green ringlets was a white veil, pushed back to show her face: her two-toned eyes lined with delicate mascara, her lips colored a warm shade of red.

“Sister,” Sam said. “You look amazing.”

I was glad she said it. My tongue was curled up like a titanium sleeping bag.

Alex scowled at me. “Magnus, could you please stop staring at me as if I’m going to murder you?”

“I wasn’t—”

“Because if you don’t, I will murder you.”

“Right.” It was difficult to look elsewhere, but I tried.

Sif had a smug glint in her eyes. “Judging from the reaction of our male test subject, I think my work here is done. Except for one thing…” From around her own waist, the goddess pulled a long strand of gold so thin and delicate I could hardly see it. On each end was a golden handle in the shape of an S. A garrote, I realized, like Alex’s, except in gold. Sif fastened it around Alex’s waist, buckling the S’s together so they formed the Urnes snakes.

“There,” Sif said. “This weapon, fashioned from my own hair, has the same properties as your other garrote, except that it goes with your outfit, and it is not from Loki. May it serve you well, Alex Fierro.”

Alex looked like she’d been offered a trophy entitling the bearer to pretty much everything. “I—I don’t know how to thank you, Sif.”

The goddess inclined her head. “Perhaps we can both try harder not to judge based on first impressions, eh?”

“That…yeah. Agreed.”

“And if you get a chance,” Sif added, “strangling your father with a garrote made from my magical hair would seem quite appropriate.”

Alex curtseyed.

The goddess turned to Sam. “Now, my dear, let us see what we can do for the maid of honor.”

After Sif had escorted Samirah down the Hall of Magical Makeovers, I turned to Alex, trying my best not to gawk.

“I, um…” My tongue started to roll up again. “What did you say to Sif? She seems to like you now.”

“I can be very charming,” Alex said. “And don’t worry. It’ll be your turn soon.”

“To…be charming?”

“That would be impossible.” Alex wrinkled her nose in a very Sif-like way. “But at least you can get cleaned up. I need my chaperone to look much spiffier.”

I’m not sure I managed spiffy. More like iffy.

While Samirah was still getting dressed, Sif came back and guided me to the gentlemen’s fitting room. Why the goddess even had a gentlemen’s fitting room, I wasn’t sure, but I guessed Thor didn’t spend a lot of time there. It was completely devoid of gym shorts and Metallica T-shirts.

Sif outfitted me with a gold-and-white tuxedo, the inside lining made from chain mail à la Blitzen. Jack hovered nearby, humming with excitement. He especially liked the woven gold Sif-hair bow tie and the frilly shirt.

“Aw, yeah!” he exclaimed. “All you need now is the right runestone on this studly outfit!”

I’d never seen him so eager to turn into a silent pendant. The rune of Frey took its place just below my bow tie, nestled in the frills like a stone Easter egg. With the Skofnung Sword strapped to my back, I looked like I was ready to boogie down while stabbing my closest relatives. Sadly, th

at was probably accurate.

As soon as I got back to the atrium, Alex doubled over with laughter. There was something deeply humiliating about being laughed at by a girl in a wedding dress, especially a girl who was rocking that wedding dress.

“Oh my gods.” She snorted. “You look like you’re on your way to a Vegas wedding in 1987.”

“In your own words,” I said, “shut up.”

She walked over and straightened my tie. Her eyes danced with amusement. She smelled like woodsmoke. Why did she still smell like a campfire?

She backed away and snorted again. “Yep. All better. Now we just need Sam—Oh, wow.”

I followed her gaze.

Samirah had emerged from the hallway. She wore a green formal dress with black embroidery that was the mirror image of Alex’s—serpentine swirls from the sleeves all the way down to the hem. In place of her usual hijab, she wore a green silk hood with a bandit sort of veil across the bridge of her nose. Only her eyes were visible, and even those were deep in shadow.

“You look great,” I told her. “Also, I loved you in Assassin’s Creed.”

“Ha, ha,” Sam said. “I see you’re ready for the prom. Alex, have you tried your veil yet?”

With Sam’s help, Alex drew the curtain of white gauze over her face. There was something ghostly about her in that veil, like she might start floating away at any moment. You could see that she had a face, but her features were completely obscured. If I didn’t know better, I might have thought she was Sam. Only her hands gave her away. Alex’s skin tone was a few shades lighter than Sam’s. She fixed this by pulling on lace gloves. I really wished Blitzen were with us, because he would’ve loved all the fancy outfits.

“My heroes.” Sif stood next to one of her rowan trees. “It is time.”

The trunk of the tree split open, revealing a rift of purple light the exact color of a Taco Bell sign.

“Where’s the chariot?” Alex asked.

“Waiting for you on the other side,” Sif said. “Go forth, my friends, and kill many giants.”

Friends, I noted. Not hired help.

Maybe we’d really made an impression on the goddess. Or maybe she figured we were about to die, so a little kindness wouldn’t hurt.

Alex turned to me. “You first, Magnus. If there are any hostiles, your tux will blind them.”

Sam laughed.

Mostly to get the embarrassment over with, I walked through the rowan tree into a different world.

All Aboard the Cheesy Gordita Express

THE ONLY THING hostile in the Taco Bell parking lot was Marvin, who was giving his brother, Otis, a thorough scolding.

“Thanks a lot for getting us turned into Hot Pockets, you idiot!” Marvin shouted. “You know how badly you have to annoy Thor before he eats us in that form?”

“Oh, look.” Otis pointed his horns in our direction. “It’s our passengers.”

He said the word passengers like executioners. I guess for Otis those two words were often synonyms.

Both goats were harnessed to their chariot, which was parallel parked next to the restaurant’s drive-through lane. Their collars were decked with golden bells that jingled cheerfully when Otis and Marvin shook their heads. The chariot box itself was garlanded in yellow-and-white flowers that didn’t quite mask the lingering smell of sweaty thunder god.

“Hey, guys.” I told the goats, “You look festive.”

“Yeah,” Marvin grumbled. “I feel real festive. You know where we’re going

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