Halfborn frowned. “How can you be sure?”
“I’ve spent my time well in Valhalla.” Mallory did a decent imitation of Halfborn’s gruff voice. “I have a PhD in fashion.”
“Oh, shut up, woman,” Halfborn muttered.
“And look at this.” T.J. held up a tuxedo jacket, also dark green, with pink lapels.
I’ll admit my brain was fuzzy. All I could think about was the symbol of Loki on the pottery, and where I’d seen the snake design before. The whirlwind of clothes in this room didn’t make sense to me—jeans, skirts, jackets, ties, and party gowns, most in shades of pink and green.
“How many people live here?” I asked. “Does he have a sister?”
Halfborn snorted. “T.J., should you explain, or should I?”
FLOOOOOOOM. The sound of a ram’s horn echoed down the corridor.
“Lunchtime,” T.J. announced. “We can talk then.”
My friends headed for the door. I remained crouched over the pile of pottery shards, staring at the initials A.F. and the entwined serpents.
“Magnus?” T.J. called. “You coming?”
My appetite was gone. So was any desire to take a nap. Adrenaline screamed through my system like a high note on an electric guitar.
“You guys go ahead.” My fingers curled around the broken pot with the symbol of Loki. “There’s something I need to check first.”
My Sword Has a Better Social Life Than I Do
IT’S A GOOD THING I didn’t go to lunch.
The buffet was usually fought to the death, and as distracted as I felt, I would’ve gotten impaled by a fondue fork before I filled my plate.
Most activities in Valhalla were done to the death: Scrabble, whitewater rafting, pancake eating, croquet. (Tip: Don’t ever play Viking croquet.)
I got to my room and took a few deep breaths. I half expected the place to be as trashed as A.F.’s room—like maybe the suites were so similar, mine would decide to mess itself up in solidarity. Instead, it was just the way I’d left it, only cleaner.
I’d never seen the housekeeping staff. Somehow, they always managed to tidy up when I was gone. They made the bed whether I’d slept in it or not. They scrubbed the bathroom even if I’d just done that myself. They pressed and folded my laundry, though I was careful never to leave my clothes lying around. Seriously, who irons and starches underwear?
I felt guilty enough having this huge suite to myself; the idea of housekeepers picking up after me only made it worse. My mom had raised me to take care of my own messes. Still, as much as I tried to do that here, the hotel staff swooped in daily and sanitized everything without mercy.
The other thing they did was leave me presents. That bothered me more than the starched underwear.
I made my way over to the fireplace. When I first checked in, there had been only one photo on the mantel—a shot of my mom and me when I was eight, standing at the summit of Mount Washington. Since then, more pictures had appeared—some that I remembered from childhood, some that I had never seen before. I didn’t know where the hotel staff found them. Maybe as the suite became more attuned to me, the photos just emerged from the cosmos. Maybe Valhalla kept a backup copy of every einherji’s life on the iCloud.
In one shot, my cousin Annabeth stood on a hill, the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco in the background. Her blond hair blew sideways. Her gray eyes gleamed as if somebody had just told her a joke.
Looking at her made me happy because she was family. It also made me anxious because it was a constant reminder of our last conversation.
According to Annabeth, our family, the Chases, had some sort of special appeal to the ancient gods. Maybe it was our winning personalities. Maybe it was our brand of shampoo. Annabeth’s mom, the Greek goddess Athena, had fallen in love with her dad, Frederick. My dad, Frey, had fallen in love with my mother, Natalie. If somebody came up to me tomorrow and told me—surprise!—the Aztec gods were alive and well in Houston and my second cousin was the granddaughter of Quetzalcoatl, I would totally believe them. Then I would run screaming off a cliff into Ginnungagap.
The way Annabeth figured it, all the old myths were true. They fed off human memory and belief?
??dozens of musty pantheons still muscling up against one another like they did in the old days. As long as their stories survived, the gods survived. And stories were almost impossible to kill.
Annabeth had promised we would talk about it further. So far, we hadn’t had the chance. Before she returned to Manhattan, she’d warned me that she rarely used a cell phone because they were dangerous for demigods (though I had never noticed any problems). I tried not to worry that she’d been totally silent since January. Still, I wondered what might be going on down there in Greek and Roman land.
My hand drifted across the mantel to the next photo.
This one was harder to look at. My mother and her two brothers, all in their twenties, sat together on the steps of the family brownstone. Mom looked just as I always remembered her—pixie haircut, infectious smile, freckles, tattered jeans, and flannel shirt. If you could’ve hooked up a generator to her joy of life, you could’ve powered the entire city of Boston.
Sitting next to her was my Uncle Frederick, Annabeth’s father. He wore a too-big cardigan over an oxford shirt, and beige slacks riding halfway up his calves. He held a model World War I biplane in one hand and grinned like a huge dork.
On the top step behind them, with his hands planted on his siblings’ shoulders, sat their big brother, Randolph. He looked about twenty-five, though he was one of those people who was born to be old. His close-cropped hair was so blond it passed for gray. His large round face and burly frame made him resemble a club bouncer more than an Ivy League grad student. Despite the smile, his eyes were piercing, his posture guarded. He looked as if any second he would charge the photographer, take the camera, and stomp on it.
My mom had told me over and over: Don’t go to Randolph. Don’t trust him. She’d shunned him for years, refused to take me to the family mansion in Back Bay.
When I’d turned sixteen, Randolph had found me anyway. He’d told me about my godly father. He’d guided me to the Sword of Summer and promptly gotten me killed.
That made me a little wary of seeing good old Uncle Randolph again, though Annabeth thought we should give him the benefit of a doubt.
He’s family, Magnus, she told me before she left for New York. We can’t give up on family.
Part of me supposed she was right. Part of me thought Randolph was a dangerous piece of work. I didn’t trust him farther than I could throw him, and even with einherji strength, I couldn’t throw him very far.
Gee, Magnus, you might be thinking, that’s really harsh of you. He’s your uncle. Just because your mom hated him, he ignored you most of your life, and then he got you killed, you don’t trust him?
Yeah, I know. I was being unreasonable.
The thing is, what bothered me most about Uncle Randolph wasn’t our past. It was the way the photo of the three siblings had changed since last week. At some point, I don’t get how, a new mark had appeared on Randolph’s cheek—a symbol as faint as a water stain. And now I knew what it meant.
I held up the pot I’d taken from A.F.’s room—the initials etched in clay, the stamp with the two entwined snakes. Definitely the same design.
Somebody had branded my uncle’s face with the mark of Loki.
I stared at the snake mark for a long time, trying to make sense of it.
I wished I could talk to Hearthstone, my expert on runes and symbols. Or Blitzen, who knew about magic items. I wished Sam were here, because if I was going crazy and seeing things, she would be the first to slap some sense into me.
Since I didn’t have any of them to talk to, I pulled out my pendant and summoned Jack.
“Hey, señor!” Jack somersaulted through the air, his runes glowing blue and red. Nothing like a little disco lighting when you want to have a serious conversation. “Glad you woke me up. I have a date this afternoon with a hot spear, and if I missed that…Oh, man, I would stab myself.”
“Jack,” I said, “I’d rather not hear about your dates with other magical weapons.”
“C’mon. You need to get out more! If you want to be my wingman, I could totally set you up. This spear has a friend—”
“Fine.” He sighed, which caused his blade to glow a lovely shade of indigo. No doubt the lady spears found that very attractive. “So what’s up? No more ninjas to fight, I hope?”
I showed him the serpent mark on the piece of pottery. “You know anything about this symbol?”
Jack floated closer. “Yeah, sure. That’s one of Loki’s marks. I don’t have a PhD in Germanic literature or anything, but I think it represents, you know, snakiness.”
I started to wonder if summoning Jack had been a good idea. “So our new neighbor across the hall makes pottery. And every pot has this on the bottom.”
“Huh. I would guess he’s a son of Loki.”
“I know that. But why would he brag about it? Sam doesn’t even like to mention her dad. This guy stamps Loki’s symbol on all his work.”
“No accounting for taste,” Jack said. “Once I met a throwing dagger with a green acrylic grip. Can you imagine?”