Centuries ago, the Norse gods and goddesses fought their Last Battle with the trickster god Loki and his frost giants. All were believed lost, except for a few survivors...including the Valkyrie Mist, forgotten daughter of the goddess Freya.
But the battle isn't over, and Mistliving a mortal life in San Franciscois at the center of a new war, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance. As old enemies and allies reappear around the city, Mist must determine who to trust, while learning to control her own growing power.
It will take all of Mist's courage, determination, and newfound magical abilities to stop Loki before history repeats itself.
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By Susan Krinard
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Susan Krinard
All rights reserved.
TRILLEMARKA-ROLLAGSFJELL BUSKERUD COUNTY, NORWAY
Rebekka struggled through the snow, aware that the Nazis were not far behind them. Uncle Geir was helping to break the trail, but Mist had gone off to find the enemies and stop them before they got too close.
Uncle Aaron put his heavily padded arm around her. "Hurry, little one. We must move fast."
She sighed. Her legs were tired and sore. She wished she were still perched high on Mist's shoulders, above everyone else, imagining that she was riding on an elephant far away where it was warm and there were no bad men.
But Uncle Aaron was too tired to carry her, and he wasn't very strong. He kept hurrying her along, his breath making clouds that covered his face and the scared look he tried not to let her see.
The sound of gunfire stopped everyone. Rebekka's heart jumped in her chest. That had to be Mist, killing Nazis. She'd learned all about killing a long time ago, and it didn't make her sick the way it used to. She knew the bad men had to be stopped.
"Move on," Uncle Geir said, though he really wasn't her uncle. She just liked to pretend. He skied alongside the others, waving his hand. "Let's keep going."
Slowly everyone started forward again, huddled against the wind. She heard the noise first, though she didn't know what it was until it was too late. Someone rushed out of the saplings to either side of the trail and raised a gun. Mrs. Dworsky fell, her chest blossoming with red, and then Mr. Becker and Miss Hammerschlag staggered and dropped beside her. Another German soldier emerged from the trees and knocked everyone else down with a spray of bullets.
Uncle Aaron dragged Rebekka to the ground, covering her body with his. She didn't see anything else, just heard — the bullets, the screams, the silence afterward. Then Uncle Aaron collapsed on top of her, and she couldn't move, couldn't breathe until someone pulled her out and carried her away.
Uncle Geir pushed her underneath a pine heavy with snow and aimed his own gun at the soldier running toward them, his boots kicking up red-stained snow. She caught a glimpse of someone fighting, not with a gun, but with a long staff. Horja, who always carried the long stick but had never done anything with it until now. She knocked a Nazi down while Geir fired at another German soldier.
Then the staff broke, just like it was a branch snapping under too much snow. Horja fell, one half of the staff still clutched in her hand. Her arm was bleeding, but Rebekka could see that she wasn't going to die.
Neither was Uncle Geir, because suddenly the Nazis were gone. Dead, like all of Uncle Aaron's friends. Like Mama and Papa, though no one else seemed to know that she'd already figured that out.
Rebekka sniffled, but she didn't cry. And when she finally saw Mist ...
"No!" she screamed. "Orn!"
* * *
Anna opened her eyes. Tilted elven eyes gazed down into hers — Hrolf's, dusk-blue framed with unusually pale lashes. It was those eyes that drew her back out of the memories. Memories that were not and had never been her own.
"Are you well?" Hrolf asked. Anna almost thought she detected anxiety in his voice.
But elves, she had learned, were remarkably even-tempered, dispassionate by human standards. She wasn't going to let him see how disturbed she really was.
"Fine," she said, sitting up. The lean-to Hrolf had constructed was still standing firm, though the snow was falling steadily. Rota and the elves were on watch, armed with bows and daggers that never seemed as if they'd be much good against automatic rifles.
Fortunately, unlike the Nazis, the enemies who pursued them were confined to pre-industrial weapons themselves. That "rule" had never been fully explained to Anna, but Freya and Loki had agreed to it when they had begun their "game" for possession of Midgard. The "game" wasn't a game anymore, but apparently there were lines even the trickster god, Loki, wouldn't cross.
"Jotunar?" Anna asked, brushing her gloved hand across her face.
"We seem to have evaded them again," Hrolf said, rocking back on his heels. "But the weather grows worse. We must find the Treasures soon."
"I know." Anna stared out at the white world, so like the one she had just left behind in her dreams. "I thought Horja's memories would have come to me by now."
"Then your dreams were of the other. Your kinswoman."
Anna closed her eyes. She hated it when Rebekka took over. The blood, the screams, the darkness ...
"You should go back to sleep," Hrolf said, offering her his blanket. "Perhaps the right memories will come to you if you aren't so cold."
"You sound like Dainn," she murmured.
Instantly Hrolf stiffened, and Anna ducked her head. "I'm sorry," she said. "I never got to know him really well. But I still can't believe he's a traitor."
"Let us not speak of it," Hrolf said.
Anna sighed and closed her eyes, too exhausted to argue. Five minutes later — or what seemed like five minutes — the same slender hand shook her awake again.
"Frost giants," Hrolf said.
"Where?" Anna asked, grabbing her own pathetic little knife.
"Too close." He picked up his bow and ran outside. He and Rota consulted in low voices, and Hrolf dashed off. Rota, her bright red hair escaping her cap, crawled inside the lean-to.
"They know our tricks now," she said. "Hrolf has gone to warn the other Alfar. You'll run while we hold them off."
"We'll know in a few minutes."
Feeling a little sick, Anna let Rota help her put on her pack. They were always ready to travel at the drop of a hat — or a Jotunn's nearly silent footfall — so she had all the provisions she needed. Rota strapped on her snowshoes and herded her outside. Hrolf reappeared, his breath raising a white cloud that wreathed his fair head in a veil of elvish mystery.
"North," he said. "There's a narrow gorge perhaps half a kilometer from here. Find a place close to the brook that flows between the mountains. There, you will find cover enough to hide until we come for you."
Hrolf took her arm, but Anna shook him off. "Rota said they know our tricks now," she said. "It's different this time, isn't it?"
The elf exchanged glances with Rota, who made a helpless gesture with outspread hands. Hrolf sighed.
"We have been fortunate in throwing them off our scent for so long. But they have not yet prevailed in any of our skirmishes."
Tell that to Eilif, Anna thought, remembering the slight elf-woman who had been killed only a week ago.
Killed defending me.
"And what if none of you comes back?" she asked, wondering why she was no longer astonished to hear such cold, blunt words coming out of her own mouth.
"It is possible that we must lead the Jotunar on a false trail well away from here," Hrolf said, "but one of us will return for you." He hesitated. "You may be alone some little while, but —"
"What's 'some little while'?" Anna interrupted. "Do you think I can survive out there for longer than a day?"
"You have learned quickly," Hrolf said, his dark eyes earnest in a way that made her feel like she was five hundred times his age rather than the reverse. "You know what is most important."
"If worse comes to worst," Rota said, "find a way to call on Horja's memories. She knew how to survive."
"And if I can't?" Anna shook her head. "No. I'd rather take my chances with you."
"You don't have a choice," Rota said, pulling Anna away from the lean-to with all her irresistible Valkyrie strength.
Anna had learned a lot more over the past few weeks than just basic survival skills, or how to be detached — even cold-blooded — when she needed to be. She'd also learned to recognize when she was beaten.
"Don't let them kill you, okay?" she called to Hrolf over her shoulder as Rota plowed ahead of her through the snow.
"I will do my utmost to prevent it," he said.
Once she and Anna had put a good quarter mile of snowbound forest between themselves and the temporary camp, Rota slowed and began to look for the gorge Hrolf had mentioned. The ground began to rise, growing steeper with every step, and soon Anna spotted a high, rocky outcrop thrusting up out of the hillside.
"There," she said.
Rota nodded, and they kept going until they found the gorge, thick with trees and cradling a white, fast-moving stream at the foot of a narrow falls.
"Be careful going down there. And don't worry about us." She held up her hand. "And don't argue. Now, vamoose."
"Go," Rota said, giving Anna a gentle push.
Anna began to scramble down the rocky side of the gorge, resisting the urge to look back. She had just reached the bottom of the slope and was walking into the cover of the pines when she saw the Jotunn.
He grinned at her, all teeth, and strode toward her. Anna shoved her pack off and fumbled for her knife. Hrolf had tried to teach her, but there hadn't been enough time. And she wasn't nearly good enough.
Especially not for —
Vidarr? Anna blinked twice to make sure she was seeing correctly in the snow-glare. But it was Vidarr, in his SS captain's uniform, a Walther pistol trained on her chest. Anna stepped back and nearly fell over a dead branch. Vidarr Odin's-son had gone missing after he and his brother Vali had set Dainn up in Asbrew. But this could all be part of the past.
It had to be, because Vidarr shouldn't have a gun. Not in this war.
But if she was wrong ...
"Where are they?" he asked, continuing to advance.
"You've already lost them," she said, feeling her way.
"Don't lie to me," Vidarr snarled.
"Where have you been, Vid?"
He tightened his grip on the pistol. "You tricked me."
"It's not me who's been playing tricks," she said. "How did you find me?"
Vidarr's heavy brow wrinkled. "I ... I don't —"
"I'm surprised you're still in one piece after the beating you took from Loki."
"Loki." Vidarr blinked several times, as if the name were strange to him, or hadn't been spoken in his hearing for a very long time. His shape seemed to waver, one moment decked out in the SS uniform, the next in the kind of clothes any cold-hardy Jotunn might wear in the winter forests of Norway.
"I don't even know if you're real," Anna said with a sudden laugh.
The uniform returned, perfect in every detail. Vidarr snapped out of his confusion and aimed at Anna's head.
"This is real," he said, his deep voice taking on the distinctive, biting cadence of a classic film Nazi villain. "I will give you one last chance. Surrender them to me, and I may show mercy."
"I don't have them, and you'd kill me anyway," she said.
Vidarr grinned. "You're right," he said, and pressed down on the trigger.
Time stretched, a single second spun out to minutes as Anna realized that she was going to die. She saw Vidarr's finger move millimeter by millimeter as the trigger strained to fulfill its deadly purpose, felt her muscles contract to carry her out of the bullet's path.
She was far too slow. But an endless instant before the hammer hit the bullet, a heavy clump of snow broke free from a branch over Vidarr's head and splattered over him, driving him to his knees. His shot went wild, but in another moment he was on his feet again, shaking the snow from his clothing and taking aim.
Anna didn't wait. She didn't even think. She felt the pistol cold against her palm and shot him full in the heart. And then she shot him again, and again, until she had no bullets left.
With a look of utter shock, Vidarr sank to his knees, clutched at his chest, and slowly fell into the snow facedown as if he'd been practicing his death scene for months. Anna began to tremble, and the world turned sharp and bright and immediate, as clear as the fast-running stream a few feet away.
The man she had shot wasn't wearing a uniform, and there was no gun in his hand.
Or in hers.
Turning sideways, Anna vomited into the snow. Suddenly Hrolf was at her side, guiding her to a boulder and sweeping the snow away with a gloved hand so that she could sit.
"I ... killed him," Anna whispered.
"Who?" Hrolf asked, looking back toward Vidarr's body.
It was gone. None of it had been real, after all.
Except that there was still a single black spot of blood in the undisturbed snow.
"There," she whispered, pointing at the spot.
Hrolf followed her gaze, rose, and crouched again near the place where Vidarr had fallen. He removed his glove and touched the dark spot with the tip of his finger.
"Animal," he said. "I am not yet familiar enough with Midgard's beasts to be certain, but perhaps it is a —"
"It isn't human?" Anna asked. "Or ... god?"
"Another of your dreams?" Hrolf asked, getting to his feet.
"It must have been ... Horja's memories," Anna said. "But this wasn't like the others. I felt like —" She shivered violently. "Like myself the whole time."
"Whom did you see?"
"What did he say?"
"He wanted 'them.'"
"That's what I assumed."
Hrolf frowned. "If he were real, we might assume that he was still aiding Loki. It would explain his disappearance, if the Slanderer had been hiding him."
Anna remembered mocking "Vidarr" about the beating Loki had given him after he'd defied the trickster god. He would have hated Loki for that, even though Loki had left him alive. Why would he help Loki now?
Anna touched her neck, feeling for a familiar weight on her skin. Like Vidarr, the pendant — along with her very special "parrot," Orn — had vanished before Freya had come to Midgard in an elf-woman's body. Anna still didn't fully understand the purpose of the pendant, though she knew it was somehow responsible for blending her soul and memories with those of its previous carriers, the Valkyrie Horja and her own grandmother, Rebekka. She had tried to make herself believe that Orn would return to her, or at least to Mist. He'd wanted so badly to convey some message to the Valkyrie.
And he'd made Anna believe she had some purpose in helping him complete a vital task, some divine objective he'd dragged her all the way across the country to achieve. He'd made her believe she was safe.
She'd made the mistake of trusting him.
"The Jotunar are gone," Hrolf said, pulling her back to the present. "We must return to the others."
"Was anyone hurt?" she asked, berating herself for not having thought about it earlier.
"Minor injuries," Hrolf said. He helped her to her feet. "If you can walk ..."
Anna nodded, and they climbed out of the gorge. When she and Hrolf returned to the lean-to, she didn't even notice the raven until it spoke.
"Anna," Orn said. "Go now."
Her mind filled with whirling black feathers, crowding out every other thought. When she came to, she found herself sitting in the snow, the elves looking down at her with the grave expressions that passed for alarm among their kind. Rota was crouched beside her, peering into her eyes.
She knew they hadn't seen Orn. But it didn't matter now.
Taking Rota's offered hand, Anna scrambled to her feet. "It's okay," she said. "Horja knows where to go."
* * *
Orn flew in wide, sweeping circles over the Alfar as they began to dig. He knew that the cache was under four feet of snow — not deep, but deep enough to conceal it from the eyes of the casual passerby, as if any such could be found in this vast track of wilderness. In fact, the magic that warded the chest — powerful Rune-staves etched into the steel lid — would be very difficult for even a former resident of the Eight Homeworlds to counter.
Horja had learned those Runes from him. The memory was vague. When he'd been with Anna, all he'd known was that he must find Mist, and that he was carrying a vital message. But his brief contact with Odin's Spear, Gungnir — as well as with the seeds of the Apples of Idunn — had begun to change him. He had remembered how important it was to find the other Treasures and make physical contact with them.
And he knew that a little more of himself would return with each Treasure. He had not been able to stop Vidarr from kidnapping him and Anna during Mist's battle with the World Serpent, Jormungandr, but they had escaped. Even Vidarr's act of treachery had aided him. He had grown stronger. He had brought Odin's sons to heel and made them serve his purpose.
He had also realized that he must hide, especially from the enemy who had tried to take him and Anna before. Hide himself with spells of concealment until he was strong and wise enough to face that enemy and fulfill his destiny.
That meant that not even Odin's chief Valkyrie, Mist, could know where he was. He had sent Vidarr to follow Anna when she left the city where the battle would begin and end. He had taken the pendant from Vidarr and kept it safe.
The pendant was important. Orn knew he was very close to making sense of all the fragments of thoughts and memories buzzing around in his head, and the stone with the raven's-head etching was where all the fragments would come together.
The fragments, and the Treasures. The three that Mist held — the Chain, the Glove, and the Steed — were too well warded for him to touch unless he exposed himself before he was ready. But once he had these ...
Excerpted from Battlestorm by Susan Krinard. Copyright © 2016 Susan Krinard. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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