mostly shut down, the streets empty.
“Just scouting,” Sam told me.
“Making sure an army of giants isn’t hiding behind the Mooncusser Tattoo Shop?”
“Or sea trolls, or wights, or my father, or—”
“Yeah, I get the idea.”
Finally, she banked us left, heading for a gray stone tower that loomed on a hill at the edge of town. The granite structure rose about two hundred and fifty feet and had a turreted top that resembled a fairy-tale castle. I had a vague memory of seeing the tower during my visit here as a kid, but my mom had been more interested in hiking the dunes and walking the beaches.
“What is that place?” I asked Sam.
“Our destination.” A faint smile tugged at her mouth. “The first time I saw it, I thought it was the minaret for a mosque. It looks sort of like one.”
“But it’s not?”
She laughed. “No. It’s a memorial for the Pilgrims. They landed here before they moved to Plymouth. Of course, Muslims have been in America for a long time, too. One of my friends at mosque? She has an ancestor, Yusuf ben Ali, who served with George Washington during the American Revolution.” She stopped herself. “Sorry, you didn’t want a history lesson. Anyway, we’re not here for the tower. We’re here for what’s underneath.”
I was afraid she wasn’t talking about the gift shop.
We flew around the monument, scanning the clearing at its base. Just outside the tower’s entrance, sitting on the stone retaining wall and swinging their feet like they were bored, were my two favorite people from alien worlds.
“Blitz!” I yelled. “Hearth!”
Hearth was deaf, so yelling his name didn’t do much good, but Blitzen nudged him and pointed us out. They both jumped off the ledge and waved enthusiastically as our horse came in for a landing.
“Kid!” Blitzen jogged toward me.
He could have been mistaken for the ghost of a tropical explorer. From the rim of his pith helmet, a screen of white gauze covered him down to his shoulders. The gauze, I knew, was custom-designed to block sunlight, which turns dwarves to stone. He’d also put on leather gloves to protect his hands. Otherwise he was wearing the same outfit I’d seen in my dream: a walnut three-piece suit with a black bow tie, snappy pointed leather shoes, and a bright orange handkerchief for flair. Just the thing for a day excursion into a tomb of the undead.
He tackled me with a hug, almost losing his pith helmet. His cologne smelled like rose petals. “Hammers and anvils, I’m glad to see you!”
Hearthstone ran up next, smiling faintly and waving both palms in the ASL gesture for Yay! For Hearth, this was the equivalent of ecstatic fanboy screaming.
He wore his usual black leather jacket and jeans, with his Twister-dot scarf wrapped around his neck. His face was as pale as ever, with the perpetually sad eyes and the spiky platinum hair, but he had fleshed out a bit in the past few weeks. He looked healthier, at least by human standards. Maybe they’d been ordering a lot of pizza while they hid out in Mimir’s safe house.
“You guys.” I pulled Hearth into a hug. “You look exactly like when I saw you in the bathroom!”
In retrospect, that was probably not the line to lead with.
I backed up and explained what had been going on—the weird dreams, the weirder reality, Loki in my head, my head in a pickle jar, Mimir’s head in the bathtub, et cetera.
“Yeah,” Blitzen said. “The Capo loves to show up in the bathtub. Almost scared me out of my chain mail pajamas one night.”
“That’s an image I did not need,” I said. “Also, we have to have a talk about communication. You guys just disappeared on me without a word.”
“Hey, kid, it was his idea.” He signed this for Hearth’s benefit—pinky touching the forehead, then pointing at Hearth with two fingers. Idea. His. H for Hearthstone’s name sign.
Hearthstone grunted in irritation. He signed back: To save you, dummy. Tell Magnus. He made an M for my name sign—a fist with three fingers wrapped over his thumb.
Blitzen sighed. “The elf is overreacting, as usual. He got me all terrified and hustled me out of town. But I’ve calmed down now. It was just a little death prophecy!”
Sam untangled her backpack from the horse’s saddlebags. She patted the horse’s muzzle and pointed toward the sky, and our white stallion buddy took off for the clouds.
“Blitzen…” She turned. “You understand there’s no such thing as a little death prophecy, right?”
“I’m fine!” Blitzen gave us a confident smile. Through the gauze netting, he looked like a slightly happier ghost. “A few weeks ago, Hearthstone got back from his one-on-one rune magic class with Odin. He was all excited to read my future. So he cast the runes and…well, they didn’t come out so good.”
Not so good? Hearthstone stomped his foot. Blitzen. Bloodshed. Cannot be stopped. Before O-S-T-A-R-A.
“Right,” Blitzen said. “That’s what he read in the runes. But—”
“What’s Ostara?” I asked.
“The first day of spring,” Sam said. “Which is in, ah, four days.”
“The same day as your supposed wedding.”
“Believe me,” she said sourly, “it wasn’t my idea.”
“So Blitzen is supposed to die before that?” My stomach started climbing up my throat. “Bloodshed that cannot be stopped?”
Hearthstone nodded emphatically. He shouldn’t be here.
“I agree,” I said. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Guys!” Blitzen tried for a hearty chuckle. “Look, Hearthstone is new at reading the future. Maybe he misinterpreted! Bloodshed might actually be…toolshed. A toolshed that cannot be stopped. That would be a good omen!”
Hearthstone held out his hands as if to strangle the dwarf, which needed no translation.
“Besides,” Blitz said, “if there’s a tomb here, it’ll be underground. You need a dwarf!”
Hearth launched into a flurry of angry signs, but Samirah stepped in.
“Blitz is right,” she said, signing the message with a hot-potato fist bump, both index fingers extended. She’d gotten good at ASL since meeting Hearthstone—just, you know, in her spare time between gathering souls, making honor roll, and flying jet planes.
“This is too important,” she said. “I wouldn’t ask you otherwise. We have to find Thor’s hammer before the first of spring, or entire worlds will be destroyed. Or…I’ll have to marry a giant.”
Another way, Hearth signed. Must be one. Don’t even know hammer is here.
“Buddy.” Blitz took the elf’s hands, which was kind of sweet but also kind of rude, because it was the ASL equivalent of putting a gag on someone’s mouth. “I know you’re worried, but it’ll be fine.”
Blitz turned toward me. “Besides, as much as I love this elf, I’m going crazy in that safe house. I’d rather die out here, being useful to my friends, than keep on watching TV and eating delivery pizza and waiting for Mimir’s head to pop up in the bathtub. Also, Hearthstone snores like you wouldn’t believe.”
Hearth yanked his hands back. You’re not signing, but I can read lips, remember?
“Hearth,” Sam said. “Please.”
Sam and Hearth had a staring contest so intense I could feel ice crystals forming in the air. I’d never seen those two so much at odds before, and I did not want to be in the middle. I was tempted to summon Jack and have him sing a Beyoncé song just to give them a common enemy.
At last Hearthstone signed: If anything happens to him…
I take responsibility, Sam mouthed.
“I can read lips, too,” Blitzen said. “And I can take responsibility for myself.” He rubbed his hands together eagerly. “Now, let’s find the entrance to this barrow, eh? It’s been months since I unearthed a malicious undead power!”
Cry Me a Blood River. Wait. Actually, Don’t
JUST LIKE the good old days: marching together into the unknown, searching for missing magical weapons, and risking painful
death. I’d missed my buddies!
We walked halfway around the base of the tower before Blitzen said “Aha.”
He knelt and ran his gloved fingertips along a crack in the paving stones. To me, it didn’t look any different from the thousands of other cracks in the stone, but Blitzen seemed to like this one.
He grinned up at me. “Now you see, kid? You never would’ve found this without a dwarf. You would’ve walked around forever, looking for the entrance to the tomb, and—”
“That crack is the entrance?”