amplifying the water’s roar and making me feel like we were standing inside an old-fashioned root-beer keg. Supplies and baggage lined the dock, just waiting for a ship to be put on.
At the far end of the room, Thomas Jefferson Jr. stood deep in conversation with the hotel manager, Helgi, and his assistant, Hunding, all three of them looking over some paperwork on a clipboard. Since I had an aversion to paperwork and also to Helgi, I walked over to Mallory, who was now stuffing iron grappling hooks into a burlap sack.
She was dressed in black furs and black denim, her red hair pulled back in a severe bun. In the torchlight, her freckles glowed orange. As usual, she wore her trusty pair of knives at her sides.
“Everything good?” I asked, because clearly it wasn’t.
She scowled. “Don’t you start, too, Mister—” She called me a Gaelic term I didn’t recognize, but I was fairly sure it didn’t mean dearest friend. “We’ve been waiting on you and the boat.”
“Where are Blitzen and Hearthstone?”
It had been several weeks since I’d seen my dwarf and elf buddies, and I’d been looking forward to them sailing with us. (One of the few things I was looking forward to.)
Mallory grunted impatiently. “We’re picking them up on the way.”
That could have meant we were stopping by a different part of Boston, or stopping by a different world, but Mallory didn’t look like she was in the mood to elaborate. She scanned the space behind me and scowled. “What about Alex and Samirah?”
“Alex said they’d meet us later.”
“Well, then.” Mallory made a shooing gesture. “Go sign us out.”
“Sign us out?”
“Yeah…” She drawled the word to indicate just how slow she thought I was. “With Helgi. The manager. Off you go!”
Since she was still holding a fistful of grappling hooks, I did what she told me.
T.J. had his foot planted on a supply box, his rifle across his back. The brass buttons gleamed on his Union Army coat. He tipped his infantry cap at me in greeting. “Just in time, my friend!”
Helgi and Hunding exchanged nervous looks, the way they did whenever Odin announced one of his motivational staff retreats.
“Magnus Chase,” Helgi said, tugging at his roadkill beard. He was dressed in his usual dark green pinstripe suit, which he probably thought made him look like a service-industry professional, but only made him look like a Viking in a pinstripe suit. “We were beginning to worry. The high tide will be here any minute.”
I looked at the water raging down the canal. I knew that several subterranean rivers wove their way through Valhalla, but I didn’t understand how they could be subject to tides. I also didn’t see how the water level here could get any higher without flooding the entire room. Then again, I was having a conversation with two dead Vikings and a Civil War soldier, so I decided to give logic a rest.
“Sorry,” I said. “I was…”
I waved vaguely, trying to indicate reading mysterious journals, killing wolves, breaking my leg in Boston Harbor.
T.J. practically vibrated with excitement. “You got the boat? I can’t wait to see it!”
“Uh, yeah.” I started rummaging in my knapsack, but the handkerchief seemed to have fallen to the bottom.
Hunding wrung his hands. His bellhop uniform was buttoned wrong, like he’d rushed to get dressed this morning. “You didn’t lose it, did you? Oh, I warned you about leaving unattended magic items in your room! I told the cleaning ravens not to touch it. ‘It’s a warship!’ I said. ‘Not a napkin!’ But they kept wanting to launder it with the linens. If it’s missing—”
“Then you’ll be held responsible,” Helgi snarled at the bellhop. “Floor nineteen is your service area.”
Hunding winced. He and Helgi had a feud that went back several centuries. The manager welcomed any excuse to make Hunding work extra shifts shoveling garbage into the incinerators or hosing out the lindworm warrens.
“Relax.” I pulled out the piece of cloth. “See? Here it is. And, Hunding, this is for you.” I handed him one of my chocolate bars. “Thanks for keeping an eye on my room while I’m gone.”
The bellhop’s eyes turned misty. “Kid, you’re the best. You can leave unattended magic items in your room anytime!”
“Hmph.” Helgi scowled. “Well, then, Magnus Chase, I’ll need you to sign out.” He thrust the clipboard at me. “Read carefully and initial at the bottom of each page.”
I flipped through a dozen pages of dense contract language. I skimmed over phrases like In the event of death by squirrel attack and The proprietor shall not be held liable for off-site dismemberment. No wonder my friends preferred to leave the hotel without permission. The release forms were brutal.
T.J. cleared his throat. “So, Magnus, maybe while you’re doing that, I could set up the boat? Can I? I’m ready to get this regiment underway!”
I could tell. He was loaded down with enough ammunition pouches, haversacks, and canteens for a thirty-day march. His eyes gleamed as brightly as his bayonet. Since T.J. was usually the voice of reason on floor nineteen, I was glad to have him along, even if he did get a little too excited about full frontal charges on enemy positions.
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure, man.”
“YAY!” He plucked the handkerchief out of my hand and hustled toward the dock.
I signed the release forms, trying not to get hung up on the clauses about arbitration in case we got incinerated in the fires of Muspellheim or got pulverized by frost giants. I handed the clipboard back to Helgi.
The manager frowned. “You sure you read everything?”
“Uh…yeah. I’m a fast reader.”
Helgi gripped my shoulder. “Then good luck, Magnus Chase, son of Frey. And remember, you must stop Loki’s ship Naglfar from sailing at Midsummer—”
“—or Ragnarok begins.”
“Which means our renovations to the banquet hall won’t ever be complete, and we’ll never get high-speed Internet restored on floor two hundred forty-two.”
I nodded grimly. I did not need the extra pressure of being responsible for an entire floor’s Internet connection. “We’ll succeed. Don’t worry.”
Helgi tugged at his beard. “But if you do start Ragnarok, could you please get back here as soon as possible, or send us a text?”
“Okay. Um, a text?”
As far as I knew, the hotel staff just used ravens. They didn’t know how to use mobile devices. None of them even had numbers. But that didn’t stop them from talking a good game.
“We’ll need to get everyone started on their checkout surveys before we march off to Doomsday,” Helgi explained. “To expedite their deaths. If you can’t make it back, you can also fill out your survey online. And if you wouldn’t mind marking excellent wherever it mentions the manager, I’d appreciate it. Odin does read those.”
“But if we’re all going to die anyway—”
“Good man.” He patted my shoulder. “Well, have a safe—er, successful journey!”
He tucked the clipboard under his arm and strolled off, probably going to inspect those renovations to the banquet hall.
Hunding sighed. “That man has no sense. Thanks for the chocolate, though, my boy. I just wish there was something more I could do for you.”
My scalp tingled with inspiration. During my time at the hotel, Hunding had become my best source of information. He knew where all the bodies were buried (literally). He knew all the secret room service menu items, and how you could get from the lobby to the observation deck above the Grove of Glasir without having to pass through the gauntlet of gift shops. He was a walking Vikingpedia.
I pulled out Randolph’s journal and showed him the last page. “Any idea what this word means?” I pointed to mjöð.
Hunding laughed. “It says mead, of course!”
“Huh. So it has nothing to do with cows.”
/> “Never mind. What about this name here—Bolverk?”
Hunding flinched so violently he dropped his chocolate bar. “Bolverk? NO. No, no, no. What is this book, anyway? Why would you possibly—?”
“Argh!” Halfborn yelled from dockside. “Magnus, we need you over here, now!”
The river was starting to surge, frothing and lapping over the edge of the canal. T.J. shook the handkerchief desperately, yelling, “How does it work? How does it work?”
It hadn’t occurred to me that the foldable ship, being a gift from my dad, might only work for me. I ran over to help.
Mallory and Halfborn were scrambling to gather their supplies.
“We’ve got a minute at most before the high tide comes flooding through here!” yelled Halfborn. “Ship, Magnus! Now!”
I took the handkerchief and tried to steady my shaking hands. I’d practiced this ship-unfolding trick a couple of times on calmer water, once by myself and once with Alex, but I could still hardly believe it would work. I definitely wasn’t looking forward to the results.
I flicked the handkerchief toward the water. As soon as the cloth hit the surface, the corners unfolded and unfolded and kept unfolding. It was like watching the building of a Lego model in a sped-up stop-motion video. In the space of two breaths, a Viking longship lay at anchor in the canal, the turbulent water coursing around its stern.
But, of course, nobody complimented me on its beautifully trimmed hull, or the elaborate Viking shields lining the rails, or the five rows of oars ready for service. No one noted how the mainmast was hinged and folded over so it could pass through this low tunnel without breaking apart. No one gasped at the beauty of the carved dragon figurehead, or praised the fact that the ship was much larger and more spacious than your typical longship, even boasting a covered area belowdecks so we wouldn’t have to sleep in the rain and snow.
Mallory Keen’s first comment was, “Can we talk about the color?”
T.J. frowned. “Why is it—?”
“I don’t know!” I wailed. “I don’t know why it’s yellow!”
My father, Frey, had sent me the boat weeks ago, promising that it was the perfect vessel to use on our voyage. It would get us where we needed to go. It would protect us on the most treacherous seas.
My friends had been excited. They had trusted me, even when I’d refused to give them a preview of our magical ship.