Underworlds #4: The Ice Dragon (5 page)

BOOK: Underworlds #4: The Ice Dragon
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He led us from the banquet hall and up more high steps until we came to a flat terrace in the open air, where Baldur’s body lay on a platform, waiting for his final voyage to the Underworld. Behind Baldur stood
a tall arch of blue stone. Beyond it, we could see only darkness.

“Go through the arch,” Thor said, “then travel to the end of the ramparts. The throne stands at the very top of Valhalla. I cannot pass this point.”

“Why not?” asked Sydney.

Thor pointed to words carved over the arch. “It translates to ‘No god nor man can enter here but the All-High Odin Himself.’”

“So Loki can’t go in, either,” said Jon.

“Loki is a shape-shifter,” said Sydney. “He’ll find a way.”

“But we can go in,” I said, suddenly understanding. “Because we’re not gods or men. We’re … kids.”

There came a growl so loud and deep that the stones quaked beneath our feet.

“What is
that
?” asked Sydney.

“One of the many signs that foretell our doom!” said Thor.

Comforting.

We ran to the edge of the terrace and looked at the
field below. Fenrir, the red wolf and son of Loki, was now as large as a house. When he opened his jaws, they seemed to reach from the ground to the clouds. An inferno of flame burst out between his fangs, scorching large swaths of the green fields.

“I cannot stay!” Thor said, stepping away from us. “I would tell you, ‘May the gods be with you,’ but I fear you’re on your own. Good luck. It’s all we have now!”

And without another word, Thor raced in great strides down from Valhalla and the mountain, leaping over rocks and stumps. He jumped from ledge to ledge, back to the field where Fenrir leaped, fiery-mouthed, at Odin himself.

J
ON
, S
YDNEY, AND
I
STARED DOWN AT THE FIELD FROM
the doorway of the great hall, and suddenly it hit me that we
were
on our own. I couldn’t tell what I felt. Would Asgard really fall today? Would Loki rule? Would our worlds crumble?

I looked at the lyre in my hands. It seemed so old and frail.

“Come on,” said Jon. “Odin may not survive, but let’s do what we have to do.”

We slipped under the arch and started running up stairways to the summit and Odin’s throne. Finally, we came to a place open to the sky, a high, flat terrace of white stone polished to a glassy sheen. At the far end stood a tall throne, as high and wide as a house, made entirely of crystal.

“That’s the engine of death?” Jon said. “It’s so … beautiful!”

In the throne’s back was an indentation the exact size and shape of the Crystal Rune. I felt my knees ready to buckle. To destroy it meant the death of Odin. Not to destroy it meant the end of our world, if Loki had anything to say about it. “This lyre isn’t going to do anything at all —”

Then we heard something weird. It sounded like crunching and cracking and stomping, but it wasn’t coming from the noisy battlefield. It was coming from the forest just below Valhalla’s uppermost level — just below us.

“Oh, please,” said Jon. “Tell me it’s not him.”

Sydney ran to the edge of the wall and looked down. “It’s him.”

And it was.

While his armies blasted the fields below, Loki had somehow gotten away and was now making his way up the north side of the mountain. In one of his armored hands, he grasped the Crystal Rune he had stolen from us. On either side of him were Frost Giants, uprooting trees as they came. Behind them, a beast that looked vaguely like an oversize ox, with a forehead of iron horns, was dragging a giant battering ram.

My heart pounded like a drum. “How did he get away from the battle?”

“He’s a shape-shifter, remember?” said Sydney. “Odin needs to know he’s here.”

But when we looked down, we saw Fenrir twist his giant head and blast a huge fireball across the field directly at Odin.

Thor leaped for his father, throwing him out of the way as the ground exploded in flame.

“Odin is busy. So are the others,” said Jon, scanning the field. “Maybe Kingu —”

WHOOM!

The walls of Valhalla rang like a bell and burst open with a blast.

“Valhalla is breached!” I cried, whipping out the lyre. “We have to destroy the throne!”

In what seemed like a matter of moments, we heard crashing stones and shattering timbers. The walls echoed with the sound of Loki bellowing. And suddenly, he was blasting his way through stones and ice and wooden beams, past Baldur’s body, up the last set of stairs until he stood outside the final arch to the throne, the arch that Thor couldn’t enter.

Loki’s dark eyes smirked as he read the inscription on the crown of the arch. The horns on his head twisted and coiled through the woven bands of his terrifying helmet.

I drew in a breath and slowly plucked a string, knowing it might mean the end of Odin.
Plang-g-g.
It echoed against the stones, then faded. It wasn’t the right note. I set my fingers on the next string.

“He’s doing it again,” said Sydney, pulling me back with her.

“How many ways can one guy be ugly?” Jon muttered.

Quite a few, it turned out. First, he was a clawed beast with six legs, then a serpent, then a woolly creature with fiery horns, then a wormlike man with no bones, and a skeleton with no skin. Then, finally, standing among the broken walls of Valhalla, was a dragon.

A dragon made of ice.

His silver armor had become a scaly hide, making him look like a crazy machine — a cross between a robot and a reptile, a prehistoric serpent, a beast made of spikes and jagged scales. His head was enormous, and the gleaming Crystal Rune swung on a silver chain around his neck.

Lifting a clawed foot high, he stepped under the arch and onto the ramparts leading to the throne.

“We have to stop him here,” Sydney said. “Jon, your sword —”

Both swords flashed out as my friends stood side by side, ready to guard me.

My breath seemed to have stopped. I could barely
move my fingers. This was really happening. I plucked the lyre’s second string. It sang across the air and faded.

Loki roared, a horrible sound that made my insides twist. His horns, normally clawing like creepy fingers, had frozen as sharp as blades. His wings crackled as they stretched from one wall to the other, a full fifty feet or more. I looked down at the little lyre in my hands. It seemed like such a lame weapon now.

“I claim my throne,” Loki said in a weird, slithery voice as he strode forward. “But please don’t stand aside. Try to prevent me. I shall enjoy the sport of destroying you. And it will be such fun to tell Dana Runson of your last minutes —”

Before we knew what was happening, Loki lunged at Jon, then swung a claw and tore the lyre from my hands. It flew through the air, struck the icy floor, and crashed into the base of the throne. It must have sent a pain rocketing into my head, because I blurted out the dumbest thing possible before I could stop myself.

“Give up,” I said.

Loki laughed. “Are you speaking to me?” he said. “Or to your little friends?”

With a flick of his tail, he slammed the base of the arch behind him. Strangely, it was suddenly as if we were inside an actual room, rather than being beneath the sky. The sharp noises from the battlefield were muffled and distant.

“Now we are alone,” Loki said, slowly clawing his way forward. “Every step of the way, you have been there, slowing my progress, clouding my dream.”

“It was pretty cloudy to begin with,” Sydney said.

Loki sneered at her. “Hades. Kingu. Anubis. You’ve turned them all against me. You …
children
! The amusing part is that it only makes my work easier. For now I can defeat all my enemies in a single battle, a battle that ends with my taking Odin’s throne as my own. And, thanks to you, I have the key.”

“No one but Odin can sit in Odin’s throne,” I said.

“Except the possessor of the rune,” Loki said, holding it up. “I can read, you know — ‘Whoever holds this crystal key holds close the fate of Odin’s throne.’”

“Except there’s more,” I said. “‘Come Ragnarok, when all is gone, great Odin’s throne alone shall be.’ That means not even you, Loki. That means nothing at all will survive … except the throne itself.”

I felt if we could just keep Loki busy long enough, Odin would get there. Or Thor. Or Hades. But the distant battle seemed farther away than ever, and the lyre was now thirty feet away from me, possibly busted, a worthless mess of wood and wire.

But if we didn’t have the lyre, we didn’t have much. So I had to try to get it, however I could.

Loki slid one clawed foot forward. In three moves, he could be at the base of the throne. In two more, he could insert the rune into the throne. This was it.

I glanced at my friends. Sydney was on one side of the room, Jon was in the middle, and I was on the other side. While Loki edged along the wall nearest the courtyard below, I saw my chance.

Just a little more …

Come on …

“Charge him!” I cried.

“W
AIT
,
WHAT
?”
SAID
S
YDNEY
.


Charge
him?” said Jon.

I was the only one who moved. But maybe that worked for me. As Loki’s dragon head swung around to look at each of us, I raced at him, then faked a lunge with my sword, spun, ducked, and hacked down as hard as I could. The blow on his left front leg rang in my hands as if I had tried to break open a stone. But the thrust was powerful enough to send a shiver
through his body. I heard a crackle of ice and pressed all my weight on the sword.

Sydney and Jon were suddenly with me, thrusting their swords into the same leg. Loki shook himself free and began to slide down the stairs, howling and clutching wildly at us. Sydney tried to pull us back from the edge of the stairs. She would have done it, too, except for the long reach of Loki’s tail. He swept all three of us off the ground and we fell with him — thirty feet to the courtyard below, barely missing Baldur’s body. The stones cracked beneath the dragon’s weight. Jon, Sydney, and I thudded on the floor, hard.

I don’t know if we passed out or what, but by the time I opened my eyes, Loki was hobbling back toward the stairs, dragging his wounded leg.

“Jon! Syd!” I called. “We clipped his leg. We can stop him!”

“Just us?” said Jon, groaning for breath. “Have you
looked
at us lately, Owen? We’re … nothing! We’re just kids!”

“That got us this far,” Sydney said. “Come
on
!”

Despite his wounded leg and a cracked wing he must have gotten in the fall, Loki dragged himself up the stairs to the level of the throne. We scrambled after him. When we reached the ramparts, Sydney cried, “Owen, watch out!”

Too late. Loki snapped his tail like a whip and swept me across the floor. Jon jumped over the moving tail, then plunged his sword into Loki’s cracked wing. The dragon screeched and flung his wing forward, sending both Jon and Sydney tumbling into me.

“I’m going for the lyre!” I called to my friends. “Cover me —”

Loki swung around, his icy claws slicing.

Jon narrowly missed getting his head knocked off. I dived over Loki’s coiling tail and slid across the floor toward the lyre. Loki slammed his foot on the lyre, then thrust the Crystal Rune at the throne like a missile shot.

“No!” I cried. I couldn’t reach the lyre with my hands. The only way to make a sound was to strike the strings with the sword.

I slammed the sword down.

BOOK: Underworlds #4: The Ice Dragon
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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