The Hammer of Thor

Page 58

If so, it wasn’t enough. We trudged onward and downward, though the chariot’s axle now ground against the walls. Behind us, the giants walked single file. Next to me, Sam murmured softly—a chant in Arabic that I remembered from her prayers.

A foul smell wafted up from the depths—like sour milk, rotten eggs, and burned meat. I was afraid it was not Thor.

“I can sense him,” Alex whispered, the first thing she’d said in almost an hour. “Oh, no, no, no…”

The tunnel widened suddenly, as if Thrym had finally burst through the earth’s defenses. Our procession filed into the chamber of Loki.

I’d seen the place in my dream, but that didn’t prepare me for the real thing. The cavern was about the size of a tennis court, with a high domed ceiling of cracked stone and broken stalactites, the remnants of which littered the floor. There were no other exits that I could see. The air was stale and sickly sweet with the stink of rot and burned flesh. Around the room, massive stalagmites rose from the floor. In other places, craters of viscous liquid bubbled and steamed, filling the cave with noxious gas. The temperature was about a hundred degrees, and all the earth giants tromping in didn’t help with the heat or the smell.

In the center of the room, just as I’d seen in my dream, Loki lay prone on the floor, his ankles bound together and tied to one stalagmite, his arms spread wide and chained to two others.

Unlike the manifestations I’d seen of him before, the real Loki was neither handsome nor dashing. He wore nothing but a ragged loincloth. His body was emaciated, filthy, and covered with scars. His long stringy hair might once have been reddish brown, but it was now burned and bleached from centuries of being in this toxic cave. And his face—what was left of it—was a half-melted mask of scar tissue.

Coiled around the stalactite at Loki’s head, a massive serpent stared down at the prisoner, its fangs dripping yellow venom.

At Loki’s side knelt a woman in a white hooded robe. She was holding a metal bowl over Loki’s face to catch the poison. The snake was a real producer, though. The venom dripped from its mouth like a partially turned-on showerhead. The woman’s bowl was much too small.

As we watched, venom filled it to the brim and the woman turned to empty it, tossing the contents into one of the boiling pools behind her. She moved quickly, but poison still splattered Loki’s face. He writhed and screamed. The cavern shook. I thought the ceiling would collapse on top of us, but somehow it held. Maybe the gods had fashioned this chamber to endure the shaking, just as they’d fashioned Loki’s bonds never to break, the snake never to run dry, and the woman’s cup never to be big enough.

I wasn’t religious, but the whole scene reminded me of a crucifix in a Catholic church—a man in excruciating pain, his arms outstretched. Of course, Loki was nobody’s idea of a savior. He wasn’t good. He wasn’t sacrificing himself for something noble. He was an evil immortal paying for his crimes. Still, seeing him here in person—broken, filthy, and in agony—I couldn’t help feeling pity. No one deserved this kind of punishment, not even a murderer and a liar.

The woman in white lifted her cup again to shield his face. Loki shook the poison from his eyes. He took a ragged breath and glanced in our direction.

“Welcome, Magnus Chase!” He gave me a hideous grin. “I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t get up.”

“Gods,” I muttered.

“Oh, no; no gods here!” Loki said. “They never visit. They sealed us in and left us. It’s just me and my lovely wife, Sigyn. Say hello, Sigyn.”

The woman in white looked up. Under her hood, her face was so emaciated she might have been a draugr. Her eyes were solid red, her expression blank. Bloodred tears streamed down her leathery face.

“Oh, that’s right.” Loki’s voice was even more acidic than the air. “Sigyn hasn’t spoken in a thousand years—ever since the Aesir, in their infinite wisdom, butchered our sons and abandoned us here to suffer for eternity. But where are my manners? This is a happy occasion! How are you, Thrym, son of Thrym, son of Thrym, son of Thrym?”

The king didn’t look so well. He kept swallowing, like his nachos weren’t staying down. “H-hello, Loki. It’s—it’s actually just three Thryms. And I am ready to seal our alliance with a marriage.”

“Yes, of course! Magnus, you’ve brought the Skofnung Sword.”

It was a statement, not a question. He spoke with such authority, I had to resist the urge to unsling the blade and show it to him.

“We have it,” I said. “First things first. We want to see the hammer.”

Loki laughed—a wet, gurgling sound. “First, let’s make sure the bride is actually the bride. Come here, my dear Samirah. Let me see your face.”

Both girls lurched toward him like they were being pulled with ropes.

My pulse throbbed against the collar of my tux shirt. I should have considered that Loki would check under the girls’ veils. He was, after all, the god of deception. Despite Alex’s assurances that she could resist Loki’s orders, she staggered forward just like Samirah.

I wondered how fast I could get out my sword, how many giants I could kill. I wondered if Otis and Marvin would be any good in a fight. Probably too much to hope for that they were trained in goat fu.

“There we are,” Loki said. “Now let’s have the bride lift her veil, eh? Just to make sure everyone is playing fairly.”

Alex’s hands jerked upward like they were on marionette strings. She began to lift her veil. The cave was silent except for the bubbling of hot springs and the constant drip of poison into Sigyn’s cup.

Alex pushed her veil back over her head, revealing…Samirah’s face.

For a second, I panicked. Had the girls somehow switched places? Then I realized—I don’t know how, maybe something in her eyes—that Alex was still Alex. She’d shape-shifted to look like Sam, but whether or not that would fool Loki…

I curled my fingers around my pendant. The silence was long enough for me to begin mentally composing my will.

“Well…” Loki said at last. “I must admit I’m surprised. You actually followed orders. Good girl! I suppose that means your maid of honor is—”

Sigyn’s cup slipped, sloshing poison into Loki’s f

ace. The god screamed and writhed in his bonds. The girls quickly retreated.

Sigyn righted her bowl. She tried to wipe the venom from Loki’s eyes with her sleeve, but that only made him scream more. Her hem came away smoking and full of holes.

“Stupid woman!” Loki wailed.

For a moment, Sigyn seemed to meet my gaze, though it was hard to be sure with those solid-red eyes. Her expression didn’t change. The tears kept flowing. But I wondered if she had spilled that poison on purpose. I didn’t know why she would. As far as I knew, she’d been kneeling at her husband’s side faithfully for centuries. Still…it seemed an oddly timed mistake.

Thrynga cleared her throat—a beautiful sound, like a chain saw cutting through mud. “You asked about the maid of honor, Lord Loki. She says her name is Prudence.”

Loki cackled, still trying to blink the poison from his eyes. “I’m sure she did. Her real name is Alex Fierro, and I told her not to come today, but no matter! Let us proceed. Thrynga, have you brought the special guest I requested?”

The giantess curled her ink-stained lips. She brought out the chestnut she’d been tossing around earlier.

“Your special guest is a nut?” I asked.

Loki laughed hoarsely. “You could say that. Go on, Thrynga.”

Thrynga stuck her thumbnail into the shell and cracked the nut open. She tossed it to the floor, and something small and dark rolled out—not the meat of a chestnut, but a tiny human form. It grew in size until a stout old man stood before me—his rumpled black tuxedo dusted with plant chaff, his cheek marked with a ghastly burn scar in the shape of a hand.

Whatever optimism I’d been holding on to shed faster than Sif’s golden hair.

“Uncle Randolph.”

“Hello, Magnus,” he said, his face contorted with misery. “Please, my boy…give me the Skofnung blade.”

Hello, Paranoia, My Old Friend


You always have to face that one uncle you don’t want to see—you know, the one who pops out of a nutshell and demands a sword.

Part of me was tempted to smack Randolph upside the head with the Skofnung Stone. Part of me wanted to shove him back into his chestnut, tuck him safely into my pocket, and get him away from Loki. None of me was tempted to give him the sword that could cut Loki free.

“I can’t do that, Randolph,” I said.

My uncle winced. His right hand was still bandaged from where I’d cut off two of his fingers. He pressed it against his chest and reached out with his left, his eyes desperate and heavy. A coppery taste spread over my tongue. I realized my rich uncle now looked more like a beggar than I ever had during my two years on the streets.

“Please,” he said. “I was supposed to bring it today, until you took it. I—I need it.”

That was his job, I realized. Along with finding the location of this cave, he had been charged with freeing Loki, wielding the Skofnung Sword as only one of noble blood could do.

“Loki won’t give you what you want,” I told him. “Your family is gone.”

He blinked as if I’d thrown sand in his eyes. “Magnus, you don’t understand—”

“No sword,” I said. “Not until we see Thor’s hammer.”

The giant king scoffed. “The hammer is the morgen-gifu, silly human! It will not be given until after the wedding night!”

Next to me, Alex shuddered. The golden arcs of her necklace reminded me of the Rainbow Bridge, the way she had laid down so casual and relaxed on the Bifrost, making angels in the light. I couldn’t allow her to be forced into marrying a giant. I just wished I knew how to stop it.

“We need the hammer to bless the wedding,” I said. “That is the bride’s right. Let us see it and use it in the ceremony. Then you can take it back until…until tomorrow.”

Loki laughed. “I don’t think so, Magnus Chase. Nice try, though! Now Skofnung—”

“Hold on.” Thrynga fixed Loki with her I’m-about-to-hit-you-with-a-barstool glare. “The girl is within her rights. If she wants the blessing of the hammer, she should have it. Or does my brother wish to break our sacred tradition?”

Thrym flinched. His gaze flitted from his sister to his followers to Loki. “I…er…no. That is, yes. My bride, Samirah, may receive the blessing. At the proper time in the ceremony, I will bring forth Mjolnir. Shall we begin?”

Thrynga’s eyes glittered wickedly. I didn’t know what her game was, why she wanted to bring out the hammer early, but I wasn’t going to argue.

Thrym clapped his hands. I hadn’t noticed before, but a few giants in the back of the procession had brought some pieces of furniture with them from the bar. Just to the left of Loki’s binding place, they set down a plain wooden bench and covered the seat with furs. On either side of the bench, they placed a freestanding post like a totem pole, each one carved with fierce animal faces and

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