Mon
Apr 8 2013 3:00pm

Loki’s Wolves (Excerpt)

K L Armstrong and M A Marr

Check out Loki's Wolves by K. L. Armstrong and M. A. Marr, out from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on May 7:

In Viking times, Norse myths predicted the end of the world, an event called Ragnarok, that only the gods can stop. When this apocalypse happens, the gods must battle the monsters—wolves the size of the sun, serpents that span the seabeds, all bent on destroying the world.

The gods died a long time ago.

Matt Thorsen knows every Norse myth, saga, and god as if it was family history—because it is family history. Most people in the modern-day town of Blackwell, South Dakota, in fact, are direct descendants of either Thor or Loki, including Matt's classmates Fen and Laurie Brekke.

However, knowing the legends and completely believing them are two different things. When the rune readers reveal that Ragnarok is coming and kids—led by Matt—will stand in for the gods in the final battle, he can hardly believe it. Matt, Laurie, and Fen's lives will never be the same as they race to put together an unstoppable team to prevent the end of the world.

 

EIGHT

MATT

 

“ALLIANCE”

Right after the Norns vanished, Cody and the others found him. While the last thing on Matt’s mind was hanging out at the fair, right now, being part of a group might be the best thing. No one would bug him if he stayed with his friends, who also wouldn’t really notice if he was quiet. He wasn’t exactly loud at the best of times. He could just retreat into his thoughts. And he had a lot of thoughts to retreat into.

He had no idea what to do next. Apparently, he was supposed to buddy up with Fen. Which was not happening. Fen wanted nothing to do with any Thorsens, and Matt’s family was worst of all—his dad had been responsible for putting Fen’s father behind bars.

Speaking of his parents, what did they think of all this? He remembered his grandfather’s words. Those who need to know the truth already do. His dad and mom would need to know, obviously. So they must. That’s why they’d been so nice to him. That’s why Dad had given him a hundred bucks for the fair.

Enjoy yourself, son . . . while you still can.

The Norns had said that he didn’t have to die fighting the Midgard Serpent, but Granddad believed the prophecy was fated to come true. That meant he couldn’t go to his grandfather or his family for help. He needed to do this on his own. Gather up the other kids and find Odin. Train. Fight. Win. There was no other way. If they failed, the world as they knew it would end. Which was kind of a big deal.

He was supposed to start with Fen. And then what? He had no idea. He only hoped something would come to him.

He was waiting for Cody and their friends to get off the Avalanche—his stomach sure couldn’t handle that tonight— when he saw Fen trudge past without Laurie, his gaze on the ground, boots scuffing the sawdust as he headed for the exit, looking like he’d had a really bad day.

Matt figured Fen had a lot of bad days, with his parents gone, being passed from relative to relative. Even if Dad said that’s because Fen was too wild for anyone to handle, maybe all the moving around made him a little wild. And those cuts and bruises on his face . . . Matt had heard Fen was staying with his cousin Kris, and everyone knew Kris was quick with his fists.

Thinking about that put Matt in the right state of mind to talk to Fen. Not to tell him about Ragnarök and the Midgard Serpent, of course. That’d be crazy. If Matt had any chance of winning Fen over, he had to take it slow. He’d just happen to be leaving the fair at the same time and bump into Fen and offer him some . . .

Matt looked around. Corn dogs. Sure, that might work.

He told Cody he wasn’t feeling great and was catching a ride home. Then he grabbed a couple of corn dogs. By that time, Fen was leaving. Matt jogged to catch up, but one aunt and two cousins stopped him on the way.

When he reached the exit, Fen had veered right, passing the parking lot and heading into the field. The sun was almost down, but the sky was oddly bright with a faint tinge of yellow. The wind seemed to be picking up, promising another cold night.

Fimbulwinter was coming.

Matt shivered and walked as fast as he could toward Fen, who’d disappeared around some trees. Matt broke into a run then, slowing only when he’d passed the trees, and saw Fen just ahead, trudging along.

“Hey,” Matt called. “Fen? Hold up!”

Fen glanced over his shoulder. Then he turned back and kept walking.

“Fen!”

“Shove off, Thorsen.”

Matt jogged in front of Fen and held out the tray of corn dogs. “I was just leaving, too, and I thought you might want these. I bought them, but I’m stuffed.”

“And I look like I’d want your leftovers?”

“They’re not leftovers,” Matt exclaimed. “I never touched them. Even the ketchup’s still in the packets. See?”

“You don’t want them?” Fen asked.

“No, I thought I did, but I ate so much at the feast....”

“Fine.” Fen took each by the stick and whipped them into the field. “The crows can have them. They’re scavengers. Not me.”

Fen walked around Matt and kept going. Matt looked out at the corn dogs, yellow blobs on the dark field, and felt his amulet warm. Maybe offering Fen food hadn’t been a good idea, but he didn’t need to do that. He—

Loki may, or he may not. That is up to you.

Whether Fen led the monsters into the final battle depended on Matt. He took a deep breath, broke into a jog, and called to Fen, but a sudden gust of wind whipped his words away and nearly knocked him off his feet. He recovered and caught up to Fen again, this time walking beside him.

“I noticed your face looks kind of messed—” Matt began. “I mean, you have some bruises.”

“Do I? Huh. Hadn’t noticed.”

“About that . . .” Matt cleared his throat. “If you’re having problems—with Kris or anyone else—you should talk to the counselor at school. No one should do that to you. You’ve got rights.”

Fen stopped and turned. A gust of wind whipped past, and Fen’s hair fell over his eyes. “Excuse me?”

“If someone’s hitting you, you should talk to Ms. Early at school. She can help. It’s against the law for a grown‐up to hit a kid. You don’t need to take that.”

“No one knocks me around, Thorsen, unless I’m knocking them back. I got into it with someone, okay? Someone who fought back. Someone with more guts than you.” Fen didn’t shove Matt, but he looked like he was considering it.

“More guts than me? Um, you know what I said last week, about your memory? It really does suck, because I’m pretty sure I did fight back. You jumped me, and you didn’t land a single hit before I knocked you flat on your butt. Which is where you stayed.”

Fen lunged. Matt ducked, swung around, and nailed Fen with a right hook that sent him stumbling. As Matt watched Fen recover, he reflected that this might not be the best way to make friends.

Matt clenched his fists at his sides and held himself still. “I don’t want to do this, Fen.”

“Really? Because it sure looks like you do.”

Fen charged. Matt told himself he wouldn’t hit him back. Defensive moves only. Except, as Coach Forde always said, he really wasn’t good at the defensive stuff. So when Fen charged into Matt, they both went down.

Fen went to grab Matt by the hair, but Matt caught his arm and tried to hold it—just hold it—but Fen started thrashing and kicking, teeth bared, growling, and the only way Matt could stop him was another right hook that sent him skidding across the grass.

Then a blast of wind hit, so strong that it knocked Matt to his knees. He struggled up, blind, his eyes watering. When they cleared, he could make out figures. At least four. Surrounding them. The one in the middle towered over him.

Grown‐ups. Someone at the fair had seen the fight and come over, and now Matt had been caught fighting Fen, and his dad was going to kill him before the Midgard Serpent even had a chance—

He blinked as the figures came clear. Not grown‐ups. Kids. Six of them. Wild‐looking kids, some in well‐worn military surplus, others in ripped jeans and T‐shirts. Raider Scouts. A weird Boy‐Scouts‐gone‐bad kind of group. His dad and his deputies ran them off every time they found their campsite. Raiders didn’t get their name because they thought it was cool: they really were like old‐fashioned Viking Raiders, swooping into town, stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down before disappearing into the woods again.

The biggest one looked about sixteen. He wore shredded jeans, hiking boots, and a skintight sleeveless shirt that showed scars on both arms. The group leader. Had to be. As Matt tensed, he kept his gaze on him. First sign of trouble, that was his target.

The leader reached down and picked up Fen by the scruff of his neck. He leaned over to whisper something before tossing him aside. Fen hit the ground, and Matt took a step toward him. It didn’t matter that Fen had been trying to beat the snot out of him; Matt wasn’t going to stand there and let outsiders treat a Blackwell kid like that.

But as soon as Matt stepped forward, the boy to his right lunged. Matt wheeled and nailed him with a left. There was a satisfying thwack and a grunt of surprise as the kid staggered back. Matt started toward him, but another kid leaped onto his back.

Matt yanked the kid over his shoulder, thinking as he did that the kid seemed awfully light. When Matt threw him down, he found himself standing over a boy no more than ten. Matt froze then, his gut clenching, an apology on his lips. The boy grabbed Matt’s leg. Matt tried to kick him off, but halfheartedly. When you grow up bigger than other guys, you learn really fast that if you so much as shove a little kid you’ll get hauled down to the office for a lecture on bullying and a call home.

The kid sunk his teeth into Matt’s shin. Matt yelped and tried to yank back, but another kid jumped him. He wheeled to swing, but this one was a girl, and seeing her face, even twisted into a snarl, made his hand stop midpunch. Hit a little kid? Or a girl? He knew better than that.

The wind howled past, stinging his eyes again, and he dimly saw the girl go flying. For a second, Matt thought he’d accidentally hit her, but when he blinked, he saw Fen slamming his fist into her gut. Then he turned on Matt.

“I need to rescue you from a little kid and a girl? Really?” Fen grabbed for the boy, still snarling on Matt’s leg, but another kid jumped him from behind. As Fen hit him, he yelled back at Matt. “Fight, Thorsen!”

Matt shook his leg, trying to disengage the boy. Behind him, another one snickered, taking in the spectacle as he waited his turn.

“Thorsen!” Fen snarled.

“But he’s just a—”

“He’s a Raider!” Fen yelled.

The boy lunged to bite again, and Matt grabbed him by the arm and threw him to the side. Then he looked up to see the leader smirking. The boy was twisting, scrambling to his feet, and to Matt’s left, another was getting ready to take a run at him—a kid closer to his age, but scrawny, half a foot shorter. Matt glanced back at the leader, just standing there, arms crossed.

Matt charged. He heard Fen shout “No!” but Matt didn’t stop. At tournaments, Coach Forde always tried to arrange it so Matt took on his toughest opponent first. Take care of the biggest threat while you’re fresh. If you win the round, you’re left with weaker guys who’ve just seen you knock out their best fighter.

As Matt rushed the Raider leader, he saw surprise flash across the Raider’s face. Matt barreled into the guy and sent him staggering. It was only a stagger, though, and the guy came back swinging. Matt managed to duck the first blow, but he took the second to the side of his face, his neck wrenching.

Matt swung. He landed three blows in quick succession, the last one hitting so hard the guy went flying.

As the Raider leader fell, the wind whipped up again. This time it sent Matt stumbling. His ankle twisted, and he went down on one knee. He started to rise again and—

A low growl sounded behind him.

Matt lifted his head to see a wolf standing there. A giant wolf with gray fur and inch‐long fangs. The guy he’d thrown to the ground was gone.

Matt could tell himself that the wolf had somehow run in without him noticing, and the Raider leader had taken off, but one look in the beast’s eyes and he knew better. This was the Raider leader. The guy had turned into a wolf. Now it was hunkering down, teeth bared, ready to leap and—

Someone screamed. A long, drawn‐out wail of a scream that made the wolf stop, muzzle shooting up, ears swiveling to track the sound.

Not a scream. A siren. The tornado siren.

Matt looked up and saw that the sky had turned yellow. Distant shouts and cries came from the fair as people scrambled for cover. Then, far to the left, a dark shape appeared against the yellow sky. A twister. It hadn’t touched down, but the gathering clouds seemed to drop with every passing second.

A howl snapped Matt’s attention back to the wolf. It wasn’t the beast howling; it was the wind, shrieking past, as loud and piercing as the siren. The wolf ’s eyes slitted against the wind as it sliced through his fur, and he turned away from the blast.

Matt charged. He caught the wolf with a right hook to the head. The beast staggered, but only a step, better balanced on four legs than two. Then it lunged, teeth flashing. Matt caught it with an uppercut. A yelp, but the wolf barely stumbled this time, and its next lunge knocked Matt down, with the wolf on his chest. He grabbed its muzzle, struggling to keep those jaws away from his throat as the beast growled and snarled. Matt tried to kick it in the stomach, but his foot wouldn’t connect.

Someone hit the wolf’s side and sent it flying off Matt. Matt scrambled up and tackled the wolf. His rescuer did the same, both of them grabbing the beast and trying to wrestle it down. It was only then that Matt saw that it was Fen who’d come to his aid.

“Attacking a wolf ?” Fen grunted as they struggled. “You’re one crazy—” The wind whipped the last word away.

Matt looked across the field. The tornado had touched down. They needed to end this and get to safety. Now.

With a sudden burst of energy, the wolf bucked. Matt lost his grip and slid off. Fen stayed draped over the beast’s back.

“Use your thing!” Fen shouted.

“What?”

“Your—” Fen’s face screwed up in frustration as he struggled to stay on the wolf’s back. “Your power thing. What you hit me with.”

How did Fen—? Not important.

Matt clenched his amulet. It had barely even warmed since the fight had begun, and now it just lay in his hand, cold metal. When he closed his eyes to concentrate, something struck his back. A chunk of wood hit the ground. A sheet of newspaper sailed past, wrapping around his arm. The next thing that flew at him wasn’t debris—it was one of the Raiders. Matt slammed his fist into the kid, then turned back just in time to see the wolf throw Fen off.

The wolf looked at Matt. Their eyes met. The wolf’s lip curled, and it growled. Even as the sirens drowned out the sound, Matt swore he could feel it vibrating through the air. Matt locked his gaze with the wolf’s. It didn’t like that, snarling and snapping now, but Matt held its gaze, and as the beast hunkered down, Matt pulled back his fist, ready to—

A black shadow leaped on the wolf’s back. Matt barely caught a flash of it before the two went down, rolling across the grass. Then all he could see was fur—gray fur and brown fur.

Two wolves. The big gray one and a smaller brown one. Matt looked over to where the wolf had thrown Fen, but he wasn’t there.

Loki. The trickster god. The shape‐shifter god.

Fen was a wolf. These kids all were—which wasn’t possible. The Thorsens all said that the Brekkes didn’t know about their powers. You can’t use powers if you don’t know about them.

He looked at the wolves again.

Apparently, everyone was wrong.

Matt ran at the leader wolf. Another Raider jumped into his path. It was the little kid from earlier, but Matt was beyond worrying about fighting fair. He hit the boy with a blow to the stomach, followed by an uppercut to the jaw, and then shoved him aside.

Now the big wolf had Fen pinned, jaws slashing toward his throat. Matt jumped on the beast’s back. It reared up. Matt grabbed two handfuls of fur, but that was really all he could do. He didn’t have claws or fangs, and he wasn’t in any decent position to land a punch. Just get the thing off Fen. That was his goal. Just—

He saw something sailing toward them as fast as a rocket. A branch or—

“Duck!” he shouted to Fen as he leaped off the wolf ’s back.

He hit the ground hard. He heard a yelp and rolled just in time to see the wolf staggering, a piece of pipe hitting the grass beside him. The beast snarled and tried to charge, but it stumbled and toppled, blood trickling from its ear. It hit the ground, unconscious.

Fen leaped up and they turned to face the other Raiders, who’d been standing back, letting their leader fight. Half of them were wolves now, and they were closing in, growling and snarling, eyes glittering.

A figure jumped one of the human Raiders. It was Laurie. The Raider grabbed her and threw her aside. Two of the wolves jumped Fen. The biggest ran at Matt, but he veered aside and raced toward Laurie. He caught her attacker in the side and knocked him away.

He put out a hand to help Laurie up.

She waved off the help and glowered at him. “I could have handled it.”

“I was just—”

“I’m here to help you two. Not to be rescued,” she said.

Before he could answer, the bigger Raider was on him, and Laurie’s attacker was back on his feet. Matt managed to take down his, and Laurie seemed to be doing okay with hers, but when he went to help her, a hand grabbed his shoulder.

Matt turned, fist raised. It was Fen, now back in human form. He pointed to the east, and Matt saw the twister coming. The dark shape was stirring up a debris cloud, making it seem even bigger than it was.

“We gotta run,” Fen said.

“What? No. We’re—” He slammed his fist into a charging attacker. “We’re fine. That twister—”

“Not the twister,” Fen said as he ducked a blow. He jabbed his finger east again, and Matt made out a group of figures racing across the field. Coming their way. More Raiders. He faintly caught a groan to his left and glanced over to see the big wolf rising.

“We need to run.” Fen gave Matt a shove in the right direction and went after Laurie.

Matt turned to help, but Laurie had thrown off her attacker. Fen grabbed her by the arm, and they started to race toward the fair. Matt took one last look around—at the twister, the Raiders, the giant wolf.

At this rate, I’ll be lucky if I make it to Ragnarök, he thought, and tore off after Fen and Laurie.

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