Underworlds #2: When Monsters Escape (4 page)

L
IKE FIREFIGHTERS HANDING WATER BUCKETS DOWN
a line, a bunch of dead Vikings unloaded armor from the coal car and passed it along to the others, including Jon, Dana, Sydney, and me.

I was tempted to steal a chunk of armor and bolt back through the storm. I’m sure we all were. But the dead eyes of the Draugs were everywhere and we were way outnumbered. If I could read my friends’ minds, I was sure they’d all say the same thing: “Remind me
again why we’re doing this?” But we’d have to wait for another chance.

Soon the coal car was empty. We stacked Loki’s heavy silver armor into a pile by the mouth of the cave. I could hear the sound of breath from within the darkness.

When Loki stepped out of the shadows, I saw him up close for the first time. My insides twisted. The only other time I had seen him, at the tower when we rescued Dana, was no more than a glimpse. He’d ridden on the back of Fenrir, his enormous red wolf. He’d been moving. There was smoke. We were afraid. We didn’t get a good look.

But now, so close that I wanted to be anywhere else, I saw that Loki really had been horribly wounded.

As he came toward us, he dragged his right leg behind him. His left arm hung limp at his side. Dangling lifelessly from it was a white, skeletal hand. The cloak over his shoulders hid a powerful frame that was bent and weakened.

Worst of all was his face.

It seemed like it was made of smoke — moving, changing, and dark, with a sense of evil about it. On top of his head were horns of twisted ice. And there was a scar. It traveled like a deep trench from his right eyebrow across his nose and cheek to his lips. The scar was what caused him to hiss.

Then Loki spoke at the cauldron in a raspy voice. “Come forth, my northern friend!” At once, the blue liquid spat more fiercely. A form grew out of the steam rising from the cauldron — the face of a woman. She was hideous, blue-skinned, with black lips, dark holes for eyes, and hair like a mass of writhing blue snakes. I felt Jon quiver beside me. I nudged him as if to say,
Yeah, I’m terrified, too.

“You move quickly,” the woman said to Loki. Her voice sounded like an echo returning from far away.

Loki turned back to the shadows and hissed a brief command. Fenrir appeared from the blackness, wearing a spiked collar. A pair of reins ran from the collar to a long sledge on rails, made of oak timbers. As Fenrir dragged the sledge over the ice, we saw that its planks were carved with strange symbols.

Runes. I glanced over at Sydney and Dana. They had noticed them, too.

Loki smiled. “I control many things with my magical stones. They are how I managed the Cyclopes’ es-s-scape. They are how I race from world to world.”

“Why do you call the ancient oracle from her sleep?” the woman said.

“To s-s-secure the future of my plans,” Loki hissed, his eyes flashing. “Watch closely.”

Loki pulled a large piece of silver armor from the pile — a breastplate. It was three feet wide at least. Loki swung his cloak back to attach the massive thing, and I swear I caught a glimpse of rib bone where his chest should be. I tried not to lose my lunch. Then he took another piece and strapped it onto his wounded leg.

As we watched silently, Loki became an armored man.

“Impressive,” said the blue-faced oracle.

Loki’s scarred lips pursed into a cold smile. “My war begins. The world above will be the battlefield.
Now that I am armed, I can proceed. But tell me of the Crystal Rune….”

“The key to Asgard?” the woman said.

I tried not to show my surprise. Asgard. The home of the Norse gods. The court of Odin.

“The two humans are close on the rune’s trail in Iceland,” she said.

Dana let out a quiet gasp. “Nooooo …”

I brushed against her shoulder. I knew. The two humans the oracle mentioned might be Dana’s parents. That couldn’t be good.

“One day more and they will have that which you seek,” the woman intoned.

Great. What was that supposed to mean? Couldn’t these people speak normally?

Loki scoffed. “Then this very hour, I shall release my …
creatures
. They shall s-s-stop the meddlers. The Crystal Rune will be mine.”

I shall release my creatures. Stop the meddlers.
If he was talking about Dana’s parents, I couldn’t imagine what was going through her mind right then.

Raising his one good hand, Loki turned to Fenrir. The wolf leaned to its master, its yellow fangs dripping liquid that hissed on the icy ground between its front paws. I couldn’t hear what Loki said, but then he raised his head and turned to the oracle.

“I take a journey soon,” he said. “But in two days’ time, I will have everything I need.”

The oracle smiled. “There are others against you. The three children and the girl they rescued. I sense them close to you now.”

I shivered from head to toe.

“No human in history has visited more than one of the Underworlds,” Loki said.

The words struck me. We had rescued Dana from the Greek Underworld. Were we in the Norse one now? Had we done something no one had done before?

All at once, Loki swung his head around to us. I almost screamed.

“You, Draugs!” he snapped. “You shall remain behind. Destroy the children. Capture the girl. I can use her. But destroy the other three!”

It felt really wrong to bow in agreement, but we had to.

Loki turned again to the oracle. “Before I dismiss-s-s you and s-s-secure the final piece of my puzzle, conjure me a vision of the days-s-s to come —”

Smoke blossomed around the face of the blue woman. Hideous creatures took shape in the haze. Monsters — spiked, clawed, fire-breathing — crawled and slithered and flew across miles of golden sand, destroying everything they touched.

That scene merged into the next, where those same monsters raced through our world. I saw towns, villages, cities turned to ashes. The water tower in Pinewood Bluffs toppled in flames. The buildings on Main Avenue, including our school, were piles of smoking rubble. My knees felt weak. It was horrible. But I couldn’t look away.

This scene melted into another, showing the same creatures attacking a giant wooden hall nestled in mountains of ice and snow.

I guessed it was Asgard, the home of the Norse gods. Odin’s house.

So, first the Underworlds. Then our world. Then the throne of Odin.

Loki would attack them all.

When the vision finally faded, Loki took one of the last pieces of armor from the dwindling pile — the helmet. He slid it over his head. It clicked into place. It was magnificent and horrible at the same time, a helmet of silver bands that wove around and between the icy horns on his head.

“I venture now to a far land,” he said. “When I return, no one shall keep me from sitting on Odin’s throne.” His voice was clear and deep. He no longer hissed his words.

We watched Loki produce a stone from inside his cloak. It was carved with shape-shifting runes. He fitted it into a notch on his breastplate, then picked up the last piece of armor. It was the left-hand glove I had seen being forged, the one for his lifeless hand. It shimmered in the firelight.

“With this final fragment of armor,” he said, “I become whole once more.”

Dana leaned close to my ear. “He’ll be unstoppable. We have to do something —”

Suddenly, the snowstorm parted and the bald Cyclops stumbled among us, half his giant size, rubbing his eyes and groaning with each step.

“They — escaped!” he exclaimed.

“Who escaped?” Loki demanded.

I could see the giant thinking hard. Then he brightened. “Nobody! I remember. Nobody escaped!”

“Fool!” Loki shouted at the giant. “Don’t you read your own myths?” He whipped his one gloved hand at the Cyclops, and a bolt of light blasted out.

Just then, the blue woman shot up from the smoke and thrust a blue finger at the four of us. “The children!” she screamed, vanishing into the freezing air.

All at once our disguises fell to the ice. The filthy shrouds bunched around our ankles, and we were suddenly ourselves again.

“Uh-oh,” Jon said.

“Time to run!” yelled Sydney.

Which I thought was a really good idea, but Dana broke away from the rest of us. “We’re not leaving empty-handed!” She leaped over to Loki. “You creep! Leave my parents alone —”

And before Loki could react, she slammed into him, which didn’t budge him an inch. He flung her away with a flick of his wrist, but when Dana fell to the ground, she was holding a single silver glove as if it were a hot potato.


Now
we get out of here!” she cried, and leaped right past the startled dead men.

“D
RAUGS
!”
CRIED
L
OKI
. “T
AKE HER
. D
ESTROY THE
others!”

As the ghost warriors hurled themselves at us, I whipped out the lyre and thumbed the lowest string.
Thoommmm!
Time slowed for an instant, but it was all the distraction we needed.

“Hold hands!” I shouted. The four of us plunged into the whirling wall of snow.

Furious, Loki burst through the storm, sending
fire bolts slicing across the air and exploding at our heads. At the same time, he touched the rune on his breastplate. The entire suit of armor began to move, growing into his body and turning him silver from head to toe.

“Whoa …” I breathed.

The helmet wove bands of silver over his face. The horns on his head stuck out of the helmet and writhed as if alive. His smoky face was half visible through the crisscrossing bands — and so was his deep, long scar.

Over it all, we could hear Loki scream out his runic magic.

Dana’s face was tight with pain and fear. Clutching her with one hand and Sydney (who held on to Jon) with the other, I plowed deep into the icy passages that led back to the power plant. We hurried through the tunnels, barely staying ahead of Loki and the Draugs.

We were escaping … until Dana fell behind.

“Dana, what is it?” I said.

She suddenly crumpled to the passage floor and cried out, “My hand!”

I bent to help her up, then stopped. Loki’s armored glove was
forming around
her hand. It melted over her wrist and palm and fingers like liquid silver.

“It burns so much!” she said.

“Get it off of her!” Sydney cried. But as soon as she grasped Dana’s arm, she jerked her fingers back. “It’s freezing!”

Dana sucked in a breath. Her eyes rolled up into her head. We heard the clatter of the Draugs and dead horses behind us.

“Dana,” I whispered, “we need to —”

“I know!” she snapped, jumping to her feet. The silver still moved over her fingers, growing from her elbow to her fingertips like molten silver.

“That glove is alive,” said Jon in awe. “Like the rest of Loki’s armor.”

The thunder of horses’ hooves rang through the passage.

“Dana, don’t worry,” I said, urging her forward. “We’ll get it off. The lyre can —”

“No!” she said, gritting her teeth. “Not yet. Without
this hand, he’s not complete. This glove might help us —”

All at once, a bolt of razor-sharp light exploded from Dana’s silver fingertips. We were thrown against the icy walls of the passage. The shot hit the ceiling overhead, raining chunks of ice down on us. Another bolt shot wildly behind us. The Draug horses reared and the dead men scattered.

“Whoa!” Jon cried. “Lethal weapon!”

The bald Cyclops was in the tunnel now, bounding toward us, his shoulders scraping the jagged icy walls. The rune was keeping him smaller than normal, but he still barreled easily through the Draugs.

“Come on,” said Dana, pushing us toward the power plant with her normal hand.

“Dana,” I said, “are you sure —”

“I’m fine,” she said, her eyes still wide. “And now we have our weapon!”

A trio of Draugs clambered up the passage and leaped at us before we could get to the end. Jon ducked out of the way. Dana spun like a ballerina, and blades of light swung around her like scythes.

The ragged shrouds of the Draugs caught fire.

“Man, she is good!” said Jon, running ahead again.

“And on our side!” Sydney added.

Another group of Draugs pushed its way through, hacking wildly with their axes and spears, but Dana deflected them all.

“Brother!” called the bald Cyclops as we approached the entrance to the plant. I realized that the other one, still a giant, was probably waiting for us — and was probably mad. But we had nowhere else to go. We raced into the big, open room.

“Take cover,” Dana said, dragging us all behind a crumpled generator.

She swung her heavy silver hand toward the furnace. A single, narrow bolt flashed from her fingertips, and the furnace exploded.

The attacking Draugs catapulted head over heels into the giants, who swatted them away like flies. I slammed backward into the brick wall. Bricks crashed around me. More flashes of light shot from Dana’s hand, and more bricks fell like rain. I don’t know if I passed out or what, but when the smoke cleared,
the Draugs and their dead horses were nowhere to be seen.

“Did we win?” asked Jon.

“Not yet,” said Sydney. “We still need to trap the Cyclopes!”

Both giants were full size now. They were mad — and getting madder. They started banging on the walls with their enormous hammers, hoping to crush us under a rain of bricks. A crack appeared in the wall behind the forge. It quickly spread up the side to the ceiling. Bricks cascaded to the floor as the wall separated. The entire room was crumbling, while fire spilled from the furnace onto the floor.

“We need to get out of here!” I shouted.

“Not yet!” said Dana. She aimed her silver hand at the forge. A lightning bolt blew out of the forge and struck the wall above Baldy’s head. I didn’t know how Dana was learning to use the glove so fast — but I was glad she was.

Ka-boom!
Bricks tumbled on both Cyclopes.

Dana kept throwing bolts of silvery light at the bricks until the entire wall crumbled. With a tremen
dous
thud
, the giants fell backward onto the ground outside the plant.

“Loki could return any second,” said Jon, rain pouring down his face.

“Not this way, he won’t!” said Dana. She destroyed the passage entrance with one final blast. Then we staggered away from the plant.

“Back, giants! Get — back!” Dana was unstoppable. With her hand streaming fiery light, she forced the giants to the edge of the rocks. The sea howled behind them.

“We’re taking you back!” I called to them. “To Hades’ Underworld!”

Dana twisted her gloved hand in the air. I knew it hurt her. I could tell by the pain on her face and in her eyes. But Loki’s glove had magic. Thick chains swirled suddenly out of the storm like snakes and wound around the Cyclopes’ wrists, binding the giants tightly together.

We had captured them.

“Woo-hoo!” Jon cheered.

Behind us, the power plant was an inferno.

“We can’t stay here,” I said. “We need to get back to the school, fast. Any ideas?”

Jon grinned. “Let’s make the giants tow us back to shore. Captain Jason, at your service!”

“Perfect,” said Dana, nodding firmly.

Threatened by her sparking fist, the two Cyclopes stepped into the water. We chained them to the front of Jon’s rowboat. I pulled out the lyre and turned to Dana. “The lyre of Orpheus and the magic armor of Loki. Is there anything in your book like this?”

Dana shook her head. “Nope. We’re writing our own mythology now.”

That seemed just right to me.

“Earplugs!” I shouted.

My fingers found the right notes on the lyre. First string. Second string. Sixth string. Fifth string. The waves calmed.

Looking odder than just about anything I could imagine, the towering one-eyed giants from Greek mythology tugged our tiny boat back to shore.

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