Home > The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1)(9)

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1)(9)
Rick Riordan

Ever held a spinning top on the tip of your finger? You can feel it moving under its own power, tilting in all directions. The sword was like that. It swung itself, blocking Surt’s fiery blade. Then it spun in an arc, dragging my arm along with it, and hacked into Surt’s right leg.

The Black One screamed. The wound in his thigh smouldered, setting his trousers on fire. His blood sizzled and glowed like the flow from a volcano. His fiery blade dissipated.

Before he could recover, my sword leaped upward and slashed his face. With a howl, Surt stumbled back, cupping his hands over his nose.

To my left, someone screamed – the mother with the two kids.

Hearth was trying to help her extract her toddlers from the stroller, which was now smoking and about to combust.

‘Hearth!’ I yelled, before remembering that was no good.

With Surt still distracted, I limped over to Hearth and pointed down the bridge. ‘Go! Get the kids out of here!’

He could read lips just fine, but he didn’t like my message. He shook his head adamantly, hoisting one of the toddlers into his arms.

The mom was cradling the other kid.

‘Leave now,’ I told her. ‘My friend will help you.’

The mom didn’t hesitate. Hearth gave me one last look: This is not a good idea. Then he followed her, the little kid bouncing up and down in his arms crying, ‘Ah! Ah! Ah!’

Other innocent people were still stuck on the bridge: drivers trapped in their cars, pedestrians wandering around in a daze, their clothes steaming and their skin lobster red. Emergency sirens were closer now, but I didn’t see how the police or paramedics could help if Surt was still storming around being all fiery and stuff.

‘Boy!’ The Black One sounded like he was gargling with syrup.

He took his hands from his face, and I saw why. My self-guided sword had taken off his nose. Molten blood streamed down his cheeks, splattering on the ground in sizzling droplets. His trousers had burned off, leaving him in a pair of flame-patterned red boxers. Between that and the newly sawed-off snout, he looked like a diabolical version of Porky Pig.

‘I have tolerated you long enough,’ he gargled.

‘I was just thinking the same thing about you.’ I raised the sword. ‘You want this? Come and get it.’

In retrospect, that was a pretty stupid thing to say.

Above me, I caught a glimpse of the weird grey apparition – a girl on a horse, circling like a vulture, watching.

Instead of charging, Surt bent down and scooped asphalt from the road with his bare hands. He moulded it into a red-hot sphere of steaming gunk and pitched it towards me like a fastball.

Another game I’m not good at: baseball. I swung the sword, hoping to knock away the projectile. I missed. The asphalt cannonball ploughed into my gut and embedded itself – burning, searing, destroying.

I couldn’t breathe. The pain was so intense I felt every cell in my body explode in a chain reaction.

Despite that, a strange sort of calm fell over me: I was dying. I wasn’t coming back from this. Part of me thought, All right. Make it count.

My vision dimmed. The sword hummed and tugged at my hand, but I could barely feel my arms.

Surt studied me, a smile on his ruined face.

He wants the sword, I told myself. He can’t have it. If I’m going out, he’s going with me.

Weakly, I raised my free hand. I flipped him a gesture that he wouldn’t need to know sign language to understand.

He roared and charged.

Just as he reached me, my sword leaped up and ran him through. I used the last of my strength to grapple him as his momentum carried us both over the railing.

‘No!’ He fought to free himself, bursting into flames, kicking and gouging, but I held on as we plummeted towards the Charles River, my sword still embedded in his stomach, my own organs burning away from the molten tar in my gut. The sky flashed in and out of view. I caught a glimpse of the smoky apparition – the girl on the horse diving towards me at a full gallop, her hand outstretched.

FLOOM! I hit the water.

Then I died. The end.

EIGHT

Mind the Gap, and Also the Hairy Guy with the Axe

Back in school, I loved ending stories that way.

It’s the perfect conclusion, isn’t it? Billy went to school. He had a good day. Then he died. The end.

It doesn’t leave you hanging. It wraps everything up nice and neat.

Except in my case it didn’t.

Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, Magnus, you didn’t really die. Otherwise you couldn’t be narrating this story. You just came close. Then you were miraculously rescued, blah, blah, blah.

Nope. I actually died. One hundred per cent: guts impaled, vital organs burned, head smacked into a frozen river from forty feet up, every bone in my body broken, lungs filled with ice water.

The medical term for that is dead.

Gee, Magnus, what did it feel like?

It hurt. A lot. Thanks for asking.

I started to dream, which was weird – not only because I was dead, but because I never dream. People have tried to argue with me about that. They say everybody dreams and I just don’t remember mine. But, I’m telling you, I always slept like the dead. Until I was dead. Then I dreamed like a normal person.

I was hiking with my mom in the Blue Hills. I was maybe ten years old. It was a warm summer day, with a cool breeze through the pines. We stopped at Houghton’s Pond to skip stones across the water. I managed three skips. My mom managed four. She always won. Neither of us cared. She would laugh and hug me and that was enough for me.

It’s hard to describe her. To really understand Natalie Chase, you had to meet her. She used to joke that her spirit animal was Tinker Bell from Peter Pan. If you can imagine Tinker Bell at age thirty-something, minus the wings, wearing flannel, denim and Doc Martens, you’ve got a pretty good picture of my mom. She was a petite lady with delicate features, short blonde pixie hair and leaf-green eyes that sparkled with humour. Whenever she read me stories, I used to gaze at the spray of freckles across her nose and try to count them.

She radiated joy. That’s the only way I can put it. She loved life. Her enthusiasm was infectious. She was the kindest, most easy-going person I ever knew … until the weeks leading up to her death.

In the dream, that was still years in the future. We stood together at the pond. She took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of warm pine needles.

‘This is where I met your father,’ she told me. ‘On a summer day just like this.’

The comment surprised me. She rarely talked about my dad. I’d never met him, never even seen pictures of him. That might sound strange, but my mom didn’t make a big deal out of their relationship, so neither did I.

She was clear that my dad hadn’t abandoned us. He’d just moved on. She wasn’t bitter. She had fond memories of their brief time together. After it ended, she’d found out she was pregnant with me, and she was elated. Ever since, it had been just the two of us. We didn’t need anyone else.

‘You met him at the pond?’ I asked. ‘Was he good at skipping stones?’

She laughed. ‘Oh, yeah. He destroyed me at stone skipping. That first day … it was perfect. Well, except for one thing.’ She pulled me close and kissed my forehead. ‘I didn’t have you yet, pumpkin.’

Okay, yes. My mom called me pumpkin. Go ahead and laugh. As I got older, it embarrassed me, but that was while she was still alive. Now I’d give anything to hear her call me pumpkin again.

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