Loki’s scarred lips twisted into a grin. “Good job finding the bride-price, Magnus. The sword is perfect!”
Uncle Randolph Gets on My Naughty List BIG-TIME
SAM REACTED fastest. She grabbed her spear and lunged toward her father.
“No, dear.” Loki snapped his fingers.
Instantly, Sam’s legs buckled. She collapsed sideways on the floor and lay immobile, her eyes half-closed. Her glowing spear rolled across the stones.
“Sam!” I lurched toward her, but Uncle Randolph intercepted me.
His bulk eclipsed everything. He gripped my shoulders, his breath an overwhelming combination of cloves and rotten fish.
“Don’t, Magnus.” His voice fractured with panic. “Don’t make it worse.”
“Worse?” I pushed him away.
Anger hummed through my system. Jack felt light in my hand, ready to lash out. Seeing Samirah unconscious at her father’s feet (oh, gods, I hoped she was only unconscious), I wanted to blade-smack my uncle. I wanted to go full uruz on Loki’s face.
Give Randolph a chance, Annabeth’s voice whispered in the back of my mind. He’s family.
I hesitated…just enough to notice Uncle Randolph’s condition.
His gray suit was threadbare and smeared with ashes, as though he’d been crawling through a chimney. And his face…across his nose, left cheek, and eyebrow spread a horrible crater of red-and-brown scar tissue—a barely healed burn mark in the shape of a hand.
I felt like a dwarf had punched through my abdominal cavity. I remembered the mark of Loki that had appeared on Randolph’s cheek in the family photograph. I thought about my dream on the battlefield in Valhalla and recalled the searing agony on my own face when Loki had communicated with me, using Randolph as a conduit. Loki had branded my uncle.
I fixed my gaze on the god of trickery. He still wore the offensive green tuxedo he’d been modeling in my battlefield vision, with his paisley bow tie at a rakish angle. His eyes gleamed as if he was thinking, Go on. Kill your uncle. This could be amusing.
I decided not to give Loki the pleasure. “You tricked us into coming here,” I growled. “Why, if you could just step through a magic doorway in a coffin?”
“Oh, but we couldn’t!” Loki said. “Not until you opened the way. Once you did, well…you and Randolph are connected. Or didn’t you notice?” He tapped the side of his own face. “Blood is a powerful thing. I can always find you through him.”
“Unless I kill you,” I said. “Randolph, get out of the way.”
Loki chuckled. “You heard the boy, Randolph. Step aside.”
My uncle looked like he was trying to swallow a horse pill. “Please, Loki. Don’t—”
“Wow!” Loki raised his eyebrows. “It sounds like you’re trying to give me an order! But that can’t be right, can it? That would violate our agreement!”
The words our agreement made Randolph wince. He shuffled aside, his facial muscles twitching around the edges of his new scar.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Blitzen helping Hearthstone to his feet. I silently willed them to back away and stay safe. I didn’t want anyone else in Loki’s path.
Sam still wasn’t moving.
My heart hammered against my ribs. I took a step forward. “Loki, what did you do to her?”
The god glanced down at his daughter. “Who, Samirah? She’s fine. I just willed her to stop breathing.”
Loki waved away my concern. “Not permanently, Magnus. I just like to keep a firm hand with my children. So many parents are lackadaisical these days, don’t you think?”
“He controls them,” Randolph croaked.
Loki shot him an irritated look. “Remind me how well you did as a father, Randolph? Oh, that’s right. Your family is dead, and your only hope of seeing them again is me.”
Randolph curled inward, withering.
Loki turned back to me. His grin sent paisley patterns of ick crawling up my spine. “You see, Magnus, my children owe their powers to me. In exchange, they must bend to my will when I require it. It’s only fair. As I said, family blood is a strong connection. It’s a good thing you listened to me and left Alex in Valhalla. Otherwise we’d have two of my children unconscious!”
He rubbed his hands together. “Now, would you like to see more? Samirah’s always so reluctant to shape-shift. Maybe I should force her into the shape of a cat for you. Or a wallaby? She’d make a very cute wallaby.”
The paisley ick swirled into my stomach, threatening to erupt.
Finally I understood Samirah’s reluctance to shape-shift.
Every time I do it, she’d once told me, I feel more of my father’s nature trying to take hold of me.
No wonder Sam was afraid Loki could make her go through with the marriage to the giant. No wonder she worried about Alex Fierro, who shape-shifted without a second thought.
Did other gods have that kind of control over their children? Could Frey…? No, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about that.
“Leave her alone.”
Loki shrugged. “As you wish. I merely needed her out of commission. No doubt Gellir told you—the Skofnung Sword cannot be unsheathed in the presence of a woman. Fortunately, comatose women don’t count! Randolph, hurry up now. This is the part where you draw the sword.”
Uncle Randolph licked his lips. “Perhaps it would be better if—” His voice deteriorated into a guttural scream. He doubled over, smoke curling from the scar tissue on his cheek. My face burned in sympathy.
“Stop it!” I yelled.
My uncle gasped. He stood up, steam still rising from the side of his nose.
Loki laughed. “Randy, Randy, Randy. You look ridiculous. Now, we’ve been through this before. You want your family back from Helheim? I require full payment in advance. You bear my mark, you do what I say. It’s really not that hard.” He pointed to the Skofnung blade. “Fetch, boy. And Magnus, if you try to interfere, I can always make Sam’s coma permanent. I hope you won’t, though. It would be terribly inconvenient with the wedding coming up.”
I wanted to slice him down the middle like Hel. (I mean his daughter Hel, who had two different sides.) Then I wanted to glue him back together and slice him in half again. I couldn’t believe I’d ever thought Loki was charismatic and silver-tongued. He’d called my uncle “Randy.” That by itself required the death penalty.
But I didn’t know the extent of Loki’s control over Sam. Could he really make her permanently cataleptic with just a thought? I was also worried—sort of—about what might happen to Randolph. The idiot may have gotten himself into an evil bargain with Loki, but I understood why he’d done it. I remembered his wife, Catherine, on that sinking ship; Aubrey with her toy boat; Emma shrieking as she clutched her runestone inheritance—the symbol of all the dreams she would never grow up to realize.
To my left, Hearthstone and Blitzen edged forward. Hearthstone had recovered enough to walk on his own. Blitz held a broadsword he must have retrieved from a zombie. I put out my hand, urging them to stay back.
Randolph picked up the Skofnung Sword. He drew it slowly from its sheath—a double-edged blade of cold gray iron. Along its central ridge, runes glowed faintly in every shade of blue from permafrost to vein blood.
Jack quivered. “Oh…oh, wow.”
“Yes, indeed,” Loki said. “Now, if I could wield a blade, and I couldn’t have the fabled Sword of Summer, I would choose the Skofnung Sword.”
“Dude may be evil,” Jack whispered to me, “but he has good taste.”
“Unfortunately,” Loki continued, “in my present state, I’m not really all here.”
Blitzen grunted. “First thing he’s said I agree with. That sword should never be drawn.”
Loki rolled his eyes. “Blitzen, son of Freya, you’re such a drama dwarf when it comes to magic weapons! I can’t wield Skofnung, no, but the Chases are descended from the Norse kings of old! They’re perfect.”
ered Randolph telling me something about that—how the Chase family was descended from ancient Swedish royalty, blah, blah, blah. But I’m sorry. If it qualified us to wield evil swords, I was not going put that on my resumé.
Too dangerous. Hearthstone’s signing was listless and weak. His eyes brimmed with fear. Death. The prophecy.
“So the blade has a few quirks,” said Loki. “I like quirks! It can’t be used in the presence of women. It can’t be drawn in daylight. It can only be used by one of noble lineage.” Loki nudged Randolph’s arm. “Even this guy qualifies. Also, once the blade is drawn, it cannot be sheathed again until it has tasted blood.”
Jack buzzed with a metallic whimper. “That’s not fair. That is too attractive.”
“I know, right?” Loki said. “And the last little quirk of the sword…Hearthstone, my friend, would you like to tell them, or should I?”
Hearthstone swayed. He grabbed Blitzen’s shoulder. I wasn’t sure if it was for support or just to make sure the dwarf was still there.
Blitzen hefted his broadsword, which was almost as tall as he was. “Loki, you won’t do this to Hearth. I won’t let you.”
“My dear dwarf, I appreciate you finding the tomb’s entrance! And of course I needed Hearthstone to break the magic seal around that sarcophagus. You each played your part well, but I’m afraid I require just a bit more from you both. You want to see Samirah happily married, don’t you?”
“To a giant?” Blitzen snorted. “No.”