The Ship of the Dead

Page 56

ALONG THE abandoned shore, which was built up with the universe’s longest boardwalk, stretched thousands of empty kiosks and miles of stanchions for queuing, with signs pointing this way and that:





Our dock featured a large red sign with a stylized bird and a big number five. Underneath, in English and in runes, the sign read: REMEMBER, YOU PARKED AT RAVEN FIVE! HAVE A NICE RAGNAROK! I supposed our parking situation could have been worse. We could’ve docked at Bunny Rabbit Twelve or Ferret One.

I recognized many of the gods in our greeting party. Frigg stood in her cloud-white dress and glowing war helm, her bag of knitting supplies under one arm. She smiled kindly at Mallory. “My daughter, I knew you would succeed!”

I wasn’t sure if she meant that in an I-could-tell-your-future way or an I-had-faith-in-you way, but I thought it was nice of her to say regardless.

Heimdall, the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, grinned at me, his stark white eyes like frozen milk. “I saw you coming from five miles away, Magnus! That yellow boat. WOW.”

Thor looked like he’d just woken up. His red hair was flat on one side, his face creased with pillow marks. His hammer, Mjolnir, hung at his belt, attached to his breeches with a bike chain. He scratched his hairy abs under his Metallica T-shirt and farted amiably. “I hear you insulted Loki into a little two-inch-tall man? Good work!”

His wife, Sif, with the flowing golden hair, rushed to embrace Alex Fierro. “My dear, you look lovely. Is that a new sweater vest?”

A big man I’d never seen before, with dark skin, a glistening bald scalp, and black leather armor, offered his left hand to Thomas Jefferson Jr. The god’s right hand was missing, the wrist covered in a gold cap. “My son. You’ve done well.”

T.J.’s mouth fell open. “Dad?”

“Take my hand.”


“I challenge you to take my hand,” the god Tyr amended.

“I accept!” T.J. said, and let himself be hauled onto the dock.

Odin was wearing a three-piece suit in charcoal gray chain mail that I guessed was custom-made by Blitzen himself. The All-Father’s beard was neatly trimmed. His eye patch gleamed like stainless steel. His ravens, Thought and Memory, perched on his shoulders, their black feathers complementing his jacket beautifully.

“Hearthstone,” he said. “Well done with the rune magic, lad. Those visualization tricks I taught you must have really paid off!”

Hearth smiled weakly.

From the back of the crowd, two other gods pushed forward. I’d never seen them together before, but now it was obvious how alike the twin brother and sister were. Freya, goddess of love and wealth, shone in her golden gown, the scent of roses wafting around her. “Oh, Blitzen, my beautiful boy!”

She cried red-gold tears, shedding about forty thousand dollars’ worth all over the dock as she embraced her son.

Next to her stood my dad, Frey, god of summer. In his battered jeans, flannel shirt, and boots, his blond hair and beard wild and unkempt, he looked like he’d just come back from a three-day hike.

“Magnus,” he said, as if we’d just seen each other five minutes ago.

“Hey, Dad.”

He reached over hesitantly and patted my arm. “Good job. Really.”

In runestone form, Jack buzzed and tugged until I let him off my neck chain. He expanded into sword form, glowing purple with irritation. “Hi, Jack,” he said, mimicking Frey’s deep voice. “How you doing, Jack, old buddy?”

Frey winced. “Hello, Sumarbrander. I didn’t mean to ignore you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Well, Magnus here is going to get Bragi to write an epic poem about me!”

Frey raised an eyebrow. “You are?”


“That’s right!” Jack huffed. “Frey never got Bragi to write an epic poem about me! The only thing he ever gave me was a stupid Hallmark Sword’s Day card.”

Added to my mental notes: there was such a thing as Sword’s Day. I silently cursed the greeting-card industry.

My father smiled, a little sadly. “You’re right, Jack. A good sword deserves a good friend.” Frey squeezed my shoulder. “And it looks like you’ve found one.”

I appreciated the heartwarming sentiment. On the other hand, I was afraid my dad had just turned my rash promise about finding Bragi into a divinely ordained decree.

“Friends!” Odin called. “Let us retire to our feasting tent on the field of Vigridr! I have reserved tent Lindworm Seven! That’s Lindworm Seven. If you get lost, follow the mauve arrows. Once there”—his expression turned brooding—“we will discuss the fate of all living things.”

I’m telling you, you can’t even get a meal with these gods without discussing the fate of all living things.

The feast tent was set up in the middle of the field of Vigridr, which was a long way from the docks, since (according to Samirah) Vigridr stretched three hundred miles in every direction. Fortunately, Odin had arranged for a small fleet of golf carts.

The landscape was mostly grasslands of red and gold, with the occasional river, hill, and stand of trees, just for variety. The pavilion itself was made of cured leather, the sides open, the main hearth blazing, and the tables laden with food. It made me think of pictures I’d seen from old travel magazines, of people having luxury safari banquets on the African savannah. My mom used to love travel magazines.

The gods sat at the thanes’ table, as one might expect. Valkyries hurried around serving everyone, though they got distracted when they saw Samirah and came over to give her hugs and gossip.

Once everyone was settled and the mead was poured, Odin pronounced in a grave voice: “Bring forth the walnut!”

Mallory rose. With a quick glance at Frigg, who nodded encouragement, Mallory walked to a freestanding stone pedestal in front of the hearth. She set down the walnut then returned to her seat.

The gods all leaned forward. Thor glowered. Tyr laced his left-hand fingers with the nonexistent digits on his right hand. Frey stroked his blond beard.


Freya pouted. “I don’t like walnuts, even if they are a great source of omega-three fatty acids.”

“This walnut has no nutritional value, sister,” Frey said. “It holds Loki.”

“Yes, I know.” She frowned. “I was just saying, in general…”

“Is Loki quite secure?” Tyr asked. “He won’t pop out and challenge me to personal combat?”

The god sounded wistful, as if he’d been dreaming about that possibility.

“The walnut will hold him,” Frigg said. “At least until we return him to his chains.”

“Bah!” Thor raised his hammer. “I say I should just smash him right now! Save us all a lot of trouble.”

“Honey,” said Sif, “we’ve talked about this.”

“Indeed,” said Odin, his ravens squawking on the high back of his throne. “My noble son Thor, we’ve been over this approximately eight thousand six hundred and thirty times. I’m not sure you’re using strategies for active listening. We cannot change our foretold destinies.”

Thor huffed. “Well, what’s the use of being a god, then? I’ve got a perfectly good hammer and this nut is just begging to be cracked! Why not CRACK it?”

That sounded like a pretty reasonable plan to me, but I didn’t say so. I was not in the habit of disagreeing with Odin the All-Father, who controlled my afterlife and my minibar privileges at the Hotel Valhalla.

“Maybe…” I said, self-conscious as all eyes turned toward me. “I dunno….We could come up with a more secure place to keep him, at least? Like—I’m just thinking aloud here—a maximum-security prison with actual guards? And chains that aren’t made from the intestines of his sons? Or, you know, we could just avoid the intestine thing altogether….”

Odin chuckled, like I was a puppy that had learned a new trick. “Magnus Chase, you and your friends have acted bravely and nobly. Now you must leave matters to the gods. We cannot change Loki’s punishment in any meaningful way. We can only restore it to what it was, so that the great sequence of events leading to Ragnarok will be held in check. At least for now.”

“Hmph.” Thor quaffed his mead. “We keep delaying Ragnarok. Why not just get it over with? I could use a good fight!”

“Well, my son,” said Frigg, “we are delaying Ragnarok because it will destroy the cosmos as we know it, and because most of us will die. You included.”

“Besides,” Heimdall added, “we just now got the ability to take quality selfies on our cell phones. Can you imagine how much better the tech will be in a few more centuries? I can’t wait to VR-stream the apocalypse to my millions of followers on the cyber-cloud!”

With a pensive expression, Tyr pointed to a nearby copse of golden trees. “I will die right over there…killed by Garm, the guard dog of Hel, but not before I smite his head in. I can’t wait for that day. I dream of Garm’s fangs ripping into my stomach.”

Thor nodded sympathetically, like Yes, good times!

I scanned the horizon. I, too, was destined to die here at Ragnarok, assuming I didn’t get killed in some dangerous quest before then. I didn’t know the exact location, but we might be having lunch in the very spot where I would be impaled, or Halfborn would fall with a sword in his gut, or Alex…I couldn’t think about it. Suddenly I wanted to be anywhere but here.

Samirah coughed for attention. “Lord Odin,” she said, “what are your plans for Loki, then, since his original bonds were cut?”

Odin smiled. “Not to worry, my brave Valkyrie. Loki will be returned to the cave of punishment. We will put new enchantments upon the place to hide its

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