Chapter 11: Dawn of Battle
Chapter 11: Dawn of Battle
Chapter 11: Dawn of Battle

16th Oct 2012, 5:08 AM

by inhonoredglory

It couldn't be that long. He thought for a moment he'd drifted out of consciousness -- but just a moment. He exhaled, opened his eyes again, something hot and wet under his lids. Sweat soaked through his cheeks and chest, a clamminess he could barely stand. He tried to see the outside through the crack in the door. The darkness was leaving now, just leaving, a dull gray emerging in the light, the wash of rain still faintly falling, clapping on the steps outside the Hall. If it was morning, they had to be coming, someone had-- The pain came crashing back and he gasped, felt his heart heaving, pumping faster, racing in his chest. He had to look at it, he had to see the damage.

He gulped carefully, turned his head to the left, looked. Calmly, looked. The thin sword was still there, just below his shoulder, under his tunic, sticking up through his vest, the fur discolored and soaked now, pinches of fabric stuck together in blacker strands, his sleeve stained and the stones under him glistening with wet reflections. He was nauseous suddenly and he turned away, clenching his teeth. He couldn't feel his hands anymore, didn't want to think why. Maybe the loss of so much blood, maybe the pain, maybe. . .

He leaned his head up slightly, saw the light come brighter through the door. Someone had to find him, someone. . . He heard a light murmur outside suddenly, like people, dragons? He couldn't be sure. Something misty was pushing into his head now, and he started feeling lightheaded. A rush of nerves hit him, shaking him. His heart seemed to speed up faster and he closed his eyes, breathed, winced, tried to calm . . . anything, everything.

The sounds were increasing, and he was sure it was a dragon. The mist in his mind buzzed in his ears. It sounded like distress out there. He pushed the thought into his head -- distress, dragons. He had to get out there. Had to, had . . . He tried to feel his right arm, moved it, the fingers still grasping that paper, that note. He fisted the stone floor, let the paper go, got leverage, inhaled, opened wide his eyes and lifted himself, steady. The rush of something white and forceful flowed up into his head, a silent screaming rush of color behind his eyes. Nauseous. Steady. He inhaled, gasped a little when something warm and murky flowed onto his left hand. He didn't want to look, just felt the back of his hand get warm and wet. He looked to the right, to the door, the opening, the crashing sound of something out there, in trouble, dragons screaming, wingbeats. He blinked, and a waft of focus sparked in him.

He had a feeling he wasn't going to be this alert for long. Move, now, while you can. He slid along the floor, clawing the cold stone, the screech of his prosthetic suddenly annoying and loud in his ears. He didn't care that he was making a muddy red trail up to the door, that he was covered in the stuff, wet and gasping around him. His left shoulder throbbed with a passion, threatened to force him into a tight and vicious curl on the floor. He gritted his teeth, felt some kind of steam misting over him, a moisture growing, dripping, from his chin. He reached the door, slapped his body against the closed one, gasping for breath, the rush of white hitting him again, draining him of feeling. He opened his eyes, ignored the watery vision, the dizziness, put out his right hand, his fist into the open air between the doors, the back of his hand on the outside of that almost open door, pushed, pushed--

Door, just open for me.

His hand dropped to the stone. He gasped, too tired, too weak, too much, pain. The muddled white buzz in his head. He slapped his right hand against the bottom of the door again, grunted and gasped, got the thing to creak wider, the swing taking on its own speed, falling away from him. He looked up, out the door, the rain misting now, the sky a mix of gray clouds and open patches of brighter sky.

And the dragons.

Through the buzz in his head, he heard screams, pained, awful screams. He leaned forward, winced hotly, his left hand dragging on the stone, his arm throbbing, his shoulder eating him, devouring his nerves. That sword was still stuck in him. He thought he saw someone out there, people, running down there in the plaza, he couldn't see anymore, the wet mist in his eyes, the clamminess in his hair, the quick, small breaths that hissed out of him, the cold stone, the warm blood.

"Help," he gasped, barely audible to himself, couldn't even see what was going on outside, the wash, the great river of pain swallowing him, snatching his breath, pushing into his throat and up his head. He pushed one more time, out the door, slipped, fell, his cheek on the cold rock suddenly, the hot mist around his face, the wet warmth crawling up his neck, the sword hitting the ground, sliding somehow, the blade twisting around inside of him. His eyes shot open and something thin and sharp gasped out of him. He turned on his back, breathless, waves of white and red and black clouding his vision. The sounds and screams of dragons behind him, somewhere. Voices, people.

Toothless.

Where was he?

:: ::

His wings pounded the dank air in the near-vertical ascent, his mind screaming at him to move, move. There wasn't enough time.

The stirrup flicked suddenly, tentatively, not deep enough. He forced his wings lower, into a more level flight path as he careened through the blasting droplets of the low clouds. The edge of his wings sliced through the thick, sticky mist, coating his scales. He narrowed his eyes, grunted as the pressure from the stirrup wavered erratically, his tail opening and closing and making him zigzag over the murky sea. He skimmed the waves, thrust his wings up to prevent a crash into the whitecaps. The girl didn't know the first thing about flying, he hissed inside. He squealed at her, but she wasn't Hiccup, wouldn't get it probably. Her legs were tight against his sides, thumping his scales, urging him faster. He accelerated as best he could, feeling her body sleek down against his as they climbed back into the heart of the low clouds.

Toothless muttered in a gravel tone as the blinding cloud fragments parted to reveal myriad black silhouettes of the Skirra Vél ships fast approaching across the dark expanse. She'd better know what ship he's on, because I can't waste time looking. He scanned the hulls below the quiet sails, lowered his front legs and curled his toes, ready to snatch Hiccup to safety the moment he spied him among the big, shifting bodies of the Skirra Vél. The people below were active, a strange sort of active that only spelled one thing. Barrels and catapults on the deck, people lowering catapults, setting stones in them. . .

He suddenly glanced back at his rider. Heather, furrowing deep her brows, only the stains of her tears remaining on her face now, her piercing eyes scanning the ships. Her ships. She said Hiccup was captured and taken to the ships, but these were her ships. What side did that put her on? He tore his glance away, concentrated on the patch of clearing sky ahead, sky beginning to blush with the first pink swaths of dawn. Bad vibes sparked inside of him. He suddenly abhorred the notion of her being his rider, her being the one to keep him flying. Maybe he misunderstood her, back there before she rode him. Maybe he was too quick, too impatient to get to Hiccup, too in a hurry. He hissed a dragon's curse. He could smell it now, the deception in her, the lilt in her arm, felt like triumph. Triumph. He roared out, flapped his wings, didn't understand the things he was feeling from her. But she flicked the stirrup suddenly, sent him rolling down, low, towards a ship. They were landing. He opened out his wings, didn't want to crash, eased, tried to get the wind to coordinate with them.

He thumped on the surface, suddenly felt a spark of fear run through him, that old feeling on ships, ships. Ever since Hiccup's father put him in one, and the bands, the leather straps on him. He lisped a squeal, suddenly distracted by a sudden flash of axe heads towards his head.

"NO!!" yelled the girl on his back, and the man with the weapon stepped back. Others, from that odd group of strangers that had come to Berk recently, they were here, brandishing weapons, staring at him, mingling his mind. The ship, he was getting claustrophobic suddenly, the girl stepping off of him, he tried to pay attention, the madness under his scales tickling up inside him and throwing back all sorts of old memories.

Hiccup.

Think of Hiccup.

He had to focus. The girl was calming the people, putting her hands out, speaking in soft, low tones. He tried to take a moment to compose himself, tell himself this wasn't the same as before. That never worked before. It was only Hiccup's ship he could stand at all. Hiccup. He tried to replay in his mind the things the boy said when he tried to comfort him, the little voice that was soft and gentle to him, stroking him, smiling at him. He closed his eyes a moment, let the vision calm him, the roll of the boat soothe him, the hard wooden planks under him. Don't let the past get to you.

Suddenly there was a hand on his head, a soft hand, Heather's scent. She was scratching under his chin, making his mind loll suddenly, waver in a watery sort of sleep, but no. He didn't want to sleep right now. He lashed out from her hand, growled. How did she know about this? Of course, the training. Hiccup had told them everything, they asked for everything, and blast it, none of them had figured it out. She got her hand on him again, scratched the special spot. He jerked, she held. These people were bad, he had no doubt now. Bad. Her fingers dug into the area, numbing his nerves. So what did that mean for, for . . . He had to find him . . . had to. . . The fingers caressed him swiftly, smoothly, right in the spot, that spot he only let Hiccup finger. And at that, only in play.

There was deception in this, some wicked, awful deception, he could feel it. He heard a gruff voice somewhere as an irresistible sleep overcame him, a voice so familiar, what was it? Like Hiccup's father, Hiccup. What was that? The boy's name.

". . . Hiccup. . ."

And she scratched one more time, and he cursed his natural functions, to make him weak like this. His mind slowly, firmly closed out on him.

:: ::

Stormfly.

She knew it the instant the squawking scream came through her ears. Her eyes opened and she jolted her head from the pillow. What was wrong? She threw the blankets off of her, planted her feet on the floor.

The scream again, with more this time, other dragons. Squeaks and growls and-- human voices, screaming. Buff, heavy voices, the spark and plunge of weapons. Something terrible was going on. She pounded to the window. "Mom! Dad!" she screamed, threw open the window.

The Nadder was throwing a vicious flame at a fat shape of a man. He threw his long, glinting axe towards the dragon, missing deftly as the Nadder jolted to the side. "Stormfly--" she gasped. There were other dragons, over at other houses, screaming, flapping, spraying fire over the plaza, and men-- They almost looked familiar, the clothing, the necklaces of dragon scales, the clang of all that decoration on their dark and dirty clothing. They were mad, angry, in their hands long blades of swords and axes, stark maroon and glistening. Blood. She gasped, whirled backwards, slapped a hand on her bed post, swung over to the head of her bed, grabbed the axe from under her pillow.

"Dad!" she screamed and jumped back to the window, threw a leg over and yelled. "You get away from that dragon." She jumped out of the window and ran forward, whipped the axe up to him. Stormfly hummed, throated a sharp and loud growl at the man -- a Skirra Véllite, she realized. The man whirled to face her, the dark, gruff look on his face changing from determination to fear as Stormfly closed in on him, the dragon gathering the gas in her throat, opening her jaws, inhaling--

Something crashed to their right, a hard heavy crash afar off and the man ahead of her whirled, ran towards it, calling, yelling, Stormfly letting out her fire on the ground, the stone ahead of her. She heard people all around humming, the chatter of weapons clanging on each other, and then the forms, the dark heavy forms of dragons, on the ground, motionless, other dragons nudging them, wailing, hissing fire and screaming. Her mother, at her side suddenly, gasped and brought a hand to her mouth. "They've killed them," she breathed and ran forward. Her father chased after her, yelling back at Astrid to get safe somewhere, "The Great Hall!" he screamed and left, the two of them spanning over the scene, mingling with the other villagers, the other warriors, all rising up out of their beds, running out the doors, calling out in a clatter of sounds at once mad and knowing, confused and fearful. Astrid stepped back, jumped on Stormfly quickly, swept low through the houses, not intending to sit quietly in hiding, but not knowing what she was looking for. She glanced at dragons, scores of them, lying dead on the ground by their homes. Nightmares, Nadders, a Gronckle, two Gronckles, baby Terrors in a small and lifeless heap. She heaved out an unbelieving gasp. How could they? Why--?

That sound, the one which startled the Skirra Véllite she saw first -- she guessed now it was a ship, a ship crashing into the docks. Because now, more of the enemy was clamoring up from the edge of the village, Skirra Véllites looking harried, almost worried, desperate, like something went out of plan. She tightened a grip on the handle of her axe. This was war.

Where was Stoick?

No, where was Hiccup? She got the horrifying vision he wasn't safe, the thin wisp of a kid he was, and hand-to-hand battle like this. . . The dragons on the ground in front, around her. She was looking for a black one suddenly. Where was Toothless?

She flew over to the main plaza, landed Stormfly and raced up to the steps of the Haddock house, stopped at the base of the stone steps as a colorful Nightmare flashed by her, Spitelout on his back. He screamed down something to her, hot and warning, flapped the dragon to the right, towards the ocean, the shore, the ships. Was the whole Skirra Véllite army attacking? People were everywhere, her parents, where were they? Someone was shouting, everyone was shouting. Dragons were roaring, crawling up the rooftops flying, some trying to fly, others screaming at the base of motionless bodies. She shivered. Something bumped into her suddenly, and she whirled, saw Stoick there in front of her, a gasping harried shock on his bristled face. "Where's Hiccup?" he gasped, eyes darting over the torrid of noise in the plaza.

"Hiccup?"

"He's not inside, neither is Heather."

This wasn't the time for jealousy anymore. She stepped around him, looked at the little overhang on the right side of the house where Hiccup kept the stirrup. Even from here she could tell it was empty. She cursed. "Toothless is gone, maybe he took him somewhere."

Stoick listened to her words, huffed and pounded away, booming something loud, calling individuals together, his chieftainship in overdrive. A blast of dragon fire filled the air, and she whirled, saw a funnel of arrows shoot upward into the air from something on the water. The dragons flapping wide and fast above them, no Toothless, no Hiccup. Where was he? And the kids, she had to check on them. Fishlegs, oh Odin's ghost, if Meatlug had died. . .

She raced back to Stormfly, threw her legs over her, and flapped quickly to the twins' house, Snotlout's nearby. The twins were on foot, just outside the threshold, long spears in their hands. Their home was nestled closer to the center of the town, safe at least for now from the brunt of the flames and the close battle on the edges of the village.

"Is your dragon okay?" Astrid screamed, flapping in a hover just over them.

"We haven't seen him," Ruffnut screamed back and Astrid swept low, landed.

"Which sucks, we need to snuff these thugs." Tuffnut's voice was hot and laced with anger. He grabbed his sister, headed someplace. Astrid jumped off Stormfly, kept her axe firmly gripped in her hand, jumped quickly towards them. "We need another dragon," Tuff spat.

Ruffnut held back, looked at Astrid. "Did you see what they did to the dragons?" Her eyes were big.

"Killed them, I know." She flinched.

"Not all of them."

"What are you waiting for?" Tuffnut stomped forward, the scream of dragons at war getting louder all around, above them.

"Wait--" Astrid grabbed his arm. "You seen Hiccup?"

"Hiccup's missing?"

"He's not at home. Neither's Toothless."

"Well, I don't know where the kid's gone."

Snotlout came up suddenly, from behind his house somewhere, a hammer in his hand. "Where's Hookfang?" He sounded desperate.

Astrid sharply sighed. "I don't know." She flicked her axe around, ducked as a colorful Nadder suddenly started spitting fire into the air, her rider lashing insults at her, frustrated. The dragon was going crazy. She looked at Snotlout. "You have to know where Hiccup is," she gasped, desperate suddenly. She couldn't stand the thought of him alone, not with war in the air.

Snotlout mumbled. "Naw, no, I-- I don't. I need to find Hookfang."

Astrid snapped her axe, knew the more she talked about it, thought about it, the more she thought something bad had happened. Hiccup wasn't out traipsing in the woods in the early morning, and he certainly wasn't sending plasma fireballs at these invaders. A Night Fury's fire could easily be heard, and she was not hearing it today.

A round fat shape came spinning by suddenly, Meatlug flying up there, Fishlegs looking down to them. "Fishlegs!" she screamed up at him. The kids looked up. He was pointing, his little chubby arm shaking desperately, motioning towards the Great Hall.

"What is it?" she shouted.

Fishlegs mumbled something, gasped out a little scream. "Hiccup--" he squeaked, "we got to help him."

A fear ran through her, like she was expecting something horrible. She clenched her axe, raced up to Stormfly, jumped on, kicked the dragon's sides and soared, got the Hall in view at last. And there, on the top steps -- a small, motionless shape, the little smudge of a shape. He was laying there, splayed out, motionless. She inhaled suddenly, sharply. "Hiccup--" she gasped. Stormfly sensed her panic, pounded down midway up the steps. She lurched forward on her, scrambled off, still holding her axe, landed on the steps, saw the kids afar coming up towards the Hall, on foot. She turned, ran up the stairs, impatient, two, three at a time. Meatlug was there, landing on the steps, and she passed him. "Hiccup's hurt--" gasped the small, squeaked voice of Fishlegs. She didn't turn to look, just pounded her boots up the steps, hot and hurried, threw one leg up, the next. She saw him up there, he looked so small and frail, so. . . "Hiccup!" She reached the top steps, the kids were still far down the steps, not. . . here. . . yet. . .

Her axe fell suddenly.

"Hiccup."

His pale face stared up at her, he was gasping, short quick breaths, shivering, and the blood, it was everywhere. The thin sword, the knife, whatever it was -- sticking out of him, just under his shoulder. . . She lunged down, sat on her bent legs, didn't know what to touch, what to do, her knees sliding on the red pool under him. He mouthed something at her, her name, closed his eyes, opened them with sticky trails of tears flowing under them. His chest heaved down suddenly and he gasped, choked. She couldn't find her voice, and he grew paler suddenly, his lips blue and chapped. He gasped something, hard to hear. She thought fast, had to think fast, put a hand carefully on his body. "It's going to be okay, Hiccup, just-- just keep breathing, okay?"

He inhaled sharply, hissed through his teeth. "I'm gonna-- Astrid, I--" His voice cracked, and his chest shivered rapidly under her palm. Her nerves sparked and his eyes dilated suddenly, the color in his face wavering. "I lost so much. . ." he whispered, hoarsely, making some awful pained noise, the fingers of his left hand crawling up to her, brushed by her kneeling leg. "I--" He let out a long breath suddenly, went limp. His eyes flicked shut.

"Hiccup--"

His head rolled to the side and his chest heaved down.

"No, no." She moved her hand to his face, her movements gaining speed. "Hiccup, stay with me." She clenched her teeth, looked up, saw the dragons still skirting over the sky, arrows flying out from the ocean, voices, big and heavy, confused voices everywhere, people running, fire, houses on fire, ships on fire, the hundreds of Skirra Véllite ships reaching out, spreading out on the ocean, towards the horizon, schools of dragons hovering over them, like a mass of insects over the textured islands of a massive fleet.

The kids were almost here. Almost, not yet. They had to get moving, do something. "Hiccup's dying over here--" She slammed a fist against the stone step. "I need you now."

Snotlout picked up his pace, landed in front of her, his eyes stunned. Fishlegs was speechless, his little eyes wide and round, his lips shaking. Ruff and Tuff landed on either side of the two kids. Ruffnut gasped.

Astrid's eyes latched down on the glinting metal, its violent shape, cutting into Hiccup, the red all around, staining him, his neck, arm, smears on his cheek. She couldn't stand that thing in him, willfully ignored the notion that such a horrible thing should stay in his small body. "We need to get this thing out," she gasped. "I need you to hold him down." She eyed Snotlout. He knelt down. "Wha-- wha-- what do I do?"

"Sure that's the right thing to do?" Fishleg's voice was impossibly small.

"Just listen to me!" she shouted.

Fishlegs flinched. "Then-- then we need something to dull the pain."

Astrid looked up at him. "What?"

"You pull that out now, and--"

"Just hold it a minute, okay? I got it." Tuffnut flashed into the Hall and Astrid winced to hear his boot squish once into something thick and wet.

Snotlout gazed stunned at the sword curving out of Hiccup's shoulder. "Will he die?" he said starkly.

That dream. "No," she snapped, quickly. He won't die. She bent down, touched him, slid her hand over the stained, sticky top of his tunic, felt the warmth of life still there, the subtle shiver of his heart. Can't die.

Tuffnut tumbled back, a mug in his hand, crashed onto Astrid's side, and grabbed Hiccup's head. Astrid shrieked. "Stop! I'll do that." She slapped Tuffnut's arm away and took the mug. She brought the mug to his mouth and let the liquid slosh gently into his lips. Come on. Hiccup's eyes suddenly flickered and her heart heaved a thanks. His body jerked and he broke into a cough. Then it clicked. She eyed Tuffnut sharply. "What is this stuff?"

"It was in the bar, what did you think?" He looked at her incredulously.

"Curse you, Tuffnut! Hiccup doesn't drink that stuff. It's gonna shock the living daylights out of him."

Hiccup gasped suddenly and began to squirm. Astrid laid a hand on him again. "Hiccup, you're going to be okay," she said, slowly, trying to impart some sort of calm in the madness, the panic inside of her notwithstanding.

Hiccup nodded tightly, lips white and thin.

"We just need to pull the sword out, you're going to be okay."

Something pained struck through his eyes, and he gulped air. Color washed over his face suddenly, wavering there. He was more alert now, awake. Astrid suddenly slapped Tuffnut. "Now look what you've done. Hiccup's awake now; he'll really feel it."

Hiccup writhed under her arms, desperation in his eyes. He tried to say something, stopped, and shut his eyes.

She brought the cup to his lips again. "Hiccup, you're gonna have to take this. It's going to hurt. This'll help some."

He peered open one eye, took the drink, and cringed. He hissed painfully through clenched teeth and fell back on the stone ground, breathing in huge gasping breaths that came out thin and shallow.

Astrid pushed the mug at Tuffnut and put her hands on Hiccup's arms. She eyed the sword, then Snotlout. "Do it."

Snotlout brought his hand over the blade, his face began to pale. His eyes widened. "No -- no, I can't."

"This is no time to argue!"

Snotlout paled. "I, ah, I just feel a little--"

"Fine!" She grabbed Hiccup's arm with one hand and slapped a palm around the sword with the other.

Hiccup screamed.

Astrid threw the sword away, heard it clatter down the steps, and pushed her hand in the wound. Hiccup lashed under her, squeezed his eyes tight and gasped, his arms clawing the ground, his left hand fisting into something white and tense. "Stop," he hissed, desperately, turning his head back, his jaw locked in a voiceless scream.

Astrid let up, ever slightly, felt him ease, felt the blood throb out stronger. She pressed again, both hands this time. "I'm sorry, Hiccup," she choked.

He went pale again, whimpered something small and terribly desperate. Sharp streaks of pain shot up inside her, to see Hiccup like this. The kids were moving around behind her and Fishlegs lumbered down to her left suddenly, a thick roll of cloth in his hands. Tuffnut knelt down on the steps near Hiccup's head, reached behind his belt, slipped out his dagger, and brought it over Hiccup's left shoulder.

"What are you doing?" Astrid gasped.

He didn't look at her, moved in and grabbed the top of Hiccup's vest, forced it cut with the blade, dug his hands into the shoulder of Hiccup's stained tunic, pulled the dagger through, the threads ripping. "Get your hands off," Tuffnut spat at her, grabbing the roll from Fishlegs and throwing off the clothing from Hiccup's shoulder. Astrid let go, caught on suddenly. "Let me--"

"I got it, okay?" Tuffnut snapped, pushing up Hiccup's shoulder and flapping the cloth around. Hiccup hissed, turned his head away and shut his eyes. Astrid pressed a clean fabric into the wash of red on his skin, pulled back the ripped clothing and tightened the strips of material Tuffnut swung over at her. She put a hand on Hiccup's chest lightly, felt the rapid shiver of his heart, the sharp inhale as the fabric tightened. He leaned his head up, looked at her, some intent in his hot and tired eyes.

"What is it, Hiccup?" She leaned closer, stroked his other arm, tried to somehow do something to tell him she was there, there for him.

"Cold--" he whispered, "get me warm, okay, I--" His head slapped down again, and he hissed in a breath tensely. Astrid fumbled for words, got up and hurried into the Hall, didn't pause to look at the wash of maroon on the floor, ripped a wool banner from the corner and rushed back outside. A louder scream hit the air and she looked up, saw a hoard of dragons flocking over the edge of the village, wings mingling into each other, fire spitting out of them, and on the plaza, Hooligans in every direction. She thought she almost heard Stoick's voice in the madness. She looked down at Hiccup suddenly. "We got to get him inside-- it's not safe out here."

Tuffnut looked up, his hands bloody. Fishlegs bent down carefully, put his right hand under Hiccup's neck, left under the base of his legs. She could feel Ruffnut swoosh behind her, sweep wider the Hall doors. Snotlout suddenly appeared, tentatively moving to the right side of Hiccup, opposite Fishlegs, his own face a little lost of color. "Need help, uh, Fishlegs?" he said, small.

"Thanks, but I, I think I'll be okay." Fishlegs' voice was hushed suddenly, as he gazed down at Hiccup's frail form between his big hands.

"Be careful," Astrid said, leaning down and laying the wool banner on Hiccup. He grasped the cloth tightly with his right hand, knuckles white and pale.

Fishlegs lifted Hiccup off the ground. Astrid put a hand under Hiccup's legs, alongside Fishleg's, could hear the sound of her own moan as Hiccup's head lolled down and his abdomen sank, without a strength or will of its own, between Fishlegs' arms. "Get him inside, quick, won't you?" she breathed, glanced up at the skies, filled with dragons and screams.

Fishlegs piped out a call to Meatlug and the dragon followed them, a sad and heavy look in his round eyes. Stormfly's shadow fell on them suddenly, as they got inside the Hall, closed the heavy door behind them.

Fishlegs carried him over to the deep inside of the Hall, lit vaguely by a lamp in the corner, the flicker almost dead this soon after dawn. Astrid kept close, trying to help carry him, her own arms suddenly feeling weak and shivering. Fishlegs brought him carefully over a table in the back of the Hall, laid his head at one end, his legs resting limp at the other end. Meatlug hummed something behind them and she rushed over to his rider's right side. Stormfly squawked a low and sad moan.

Hiccup coughed suddenly, and Astrid rushed to his side, watched him cringe to his right and move his hands in and out of clenched fists. "Hiccup--" she said softly, resting a hand on his arm and sliding onto the bench by the table, looked into his tired, wet, and pained eyes. He looked up at her, took a deep breath, pulled the wool fabric over him, shivered. "Astrid?" he whispered, his eyes blinking, glistening.

"Yes?" She moved her head closer to him, brought her left hand suddenly, meaningfully, up to the top of his head, ran her palm in his moist, tangled hair. He inhaled quicker, suddenly, sharper, and she pulled away. He crossed his brows, closed his eyes, breathed a long minute. She gently moved back, rested her hand on his head, held his right hand that lay limp and motionless near the edge of the table.

"Astrid--" Hiccup breathed. "Where's Dad?"

She swallowed. "There's a war outside," she said, simply.

He flinched suddenly, tried to lift his head up, suddenly got it into him to try and sit up. A panic came over him as he scanned the Hall, and he got his right hand out from hers, slipped as he tried to get his foot to grip the table and sit up.

"Hiccup, what's the matter?" Astrid held him gently. He was moving too much. "You need to rest."

"Where's Toothless?" The panic was lacing his voice. "I heard dragon screams."

She swallowed, glanced up at the kids, tensely. He needed to rest, the panic coming over him now, it was making his breath thin again, and she hated the sound of that brittle gasp. It wasn't good and she knew it. "Toothless is-- he's okay." She swallowed hard, and he looked at her, a tense brief moment, suddenly, too long. She stood up, put her hands on him gently and brought the fabric over him, trying to ease him down on the table again. "Everything's okay, Hiccup, you need to rest."

"It's not okay, Astrid, where's Toothless--?"

She pressed a hand gently on his chest. "He's fine. You have to rest, Hiccup." Her voice was firm and she hoped desperately to convey the seriousness she had for this.

"Where's Toothless?" Hiccup pressed up against her hand, the panic now consuming his voice, shaking it.

"He's fine."

He swallowed, lay down on the table. "Astrid, why are you lying to me?"

It hit her sharply and she felt the kids, somewhere ahead of her in the murky black of the Hall, flinch and step back. She didn't say anything.

She felt him move up against her hand again, look up at her, a tension in his eyes.

"I, uh, don't know where he is," she finally breathed.

"What's happening out there?"

:: ::

She told him everything, from the dragon massacre, the invading ships, the Skirra Véllites invading the place, his father out there, chaos.

Chaos.

He inhaled, felt a shiver run through him, a weakness in him he tried to force out. "And Toothless, you couldn't find him?"

"No, not yet, anyway."

He felt a sharp pang hit him, not the injury this time, which was thankfully easing, melding into a constant hum of pain. Toothless. They said Night Furies were some kind of prize? That game they had, the slave told him. It seemed so long ago now, ages ago, when they were fools deceived by that whole tribe. He had to go out and look for Toothless. What if they'd got him already? He didn't know what they were capable of. If they killed so many other dragons already. They can't have gotten Toothless, he refused to believe it. "I have to go out and find him."

"No, Hiccup, we'll do that." She put a hand on him.

He gulped, knew what she was trying to do. "No, I can't-- can't stand not doing anything. I need to look for him."

"It's a war zone out there. You stay here."

He could read the hard sincerity on her face as she leaned down to him. He felt the kids there, start to gather around, the flicker of the lone flame somewhere behind him, and in the silence, the shout and hum of noise outside. He couldn't just sit here. He was feeling so much, better now, he told himself. It wouldn't matter, he just needed to find out if Toothless. . . He needed to find out what happened to him.

"No, Astrid," he said, much harder than he intended. He slid off the table, opposite her, and he lisped a gasp as his side slid along the table's edge. He grabbed the table with his right hand. Fishlegs came up to him suddenly, and Snotlout, wavering there by his side. His legs dropped onto the bench on the left side of the table, his prosthetic falling through the crack between the tabletop and bench. He cringed.

"It's a war outside, Hiccup, are you insane?" Tuffnut snapped suddenly and a hand grabbed his right arm.

"Not until I find out what happened to Toothless I--" He snapped his head around, saw the kids there blocking his path, shock, confused, Fishlegs worried, reaching for him. Astrid was at his side of the table suddenly, grabbed his arm.

"Let me go," he snapped.

"You might get killed out there," she gasped.

"I don't care--" he gasped, tried to lift himself from out of his unbalanced position. He kicked the bench away and suddenly crumbled on the floor, the stone smacking his side suddenly. He cringed and hands reached down, grabbing him from every direction. "Stop, just let me go," he hissed, pushed forward to the other side of the table, crawling on his good arm. Legs appeared on the other side -- Astrid, Fishlegs, Ruffnut -- or was it Tuff?

Something wavered on his arm suddenly and a fresh throb of warmth pushed out of him. He blinked, cleared his vision, and crawled out from under the table. Someone took hold of his torso gently lifted him up, set him on the bench there, and another hand tried to push him down on his back, to rest, he supposed, but such an idea was the last thing he intended to do.

He slapped his left hand on the table's edge, flinched to have the thing move, to make his shoulder revolve in any direction, tried to keep upright. "Guys, you got to understand," he gasped, tried to push Astrid away, she was all over him, hands on him, pressing him down, a wild desperation in her eyes, looking at him like he had lost his mind.

I would if Toothless was in trouble now.

"Astrid, get off of me," he begged, his right arm getting leverage on the bench, his left on the table.

"I don't want you to die. You're in no condition to go anywhere. They might burn the whole village down, and--"

"Then why aren't you out there helping stop it?" He flinched as a wave of pain hit him suddenly. She let go suddenly, and he slapped back, grabbed the table again. He opened his eyes at her, saw the mingle of emotions in her face, regret, fear -- fear of what? "What are you afraid of?"

He got himself off the bench, to his feet. Steadied himself, grabbed her suddenly, catching his balance. He pushed her aside, took a step forward, inhaled suddenly, largely, as the process of motion made him nauseous. The kids were saying something behind him, and he pressed forward, didn't want them to catch up. One foot over the next, one foot over. . . He repeated, fearful of a nauseous wave hitting him again, maybe make him lose his balance. He couldn't afford that, not now. His prosthetic hit the spot where the most of his blood lay, still wet, on the floor. He inhaled, pushed open the door and blinked at the influx of light hitting him suddenly.

A wail hit him suddenly, wails and screams and the sound of voices shouting, screaming, a flicker, rush, of fire and the shudder of waves being tossed about by ships, many ships. He let his eyes adjust, felt someone behind him, panicked, stepped outside and snapped his prosthetic on the stone. He gasped, stepped down the first step, the next, rushed down, down the stone steps.

"Hiccup--" Behind him.

He didn't look back, felt the world rush across him, a rush, he realized, of people, Hooligans, dragons, schools of Terrors scrambling like a hundred lizards across the plaza, taking flight in front of him, the shiver of their wings above him, shocking him. And a swoosh deathly near, of wings, a Nightmare above him, fire breathing out to his left -- a Nadder lashing out at a man threatening it with a hammer. The hammer swung and the Nadder went down, rolled upright again and opened its mouth to fire and--

"Hiccup!"

A flap of wings hit him suddenly and he almost shook to the ground. "Take my hand." He squinted up, through the light of the sun that slanted on the horizon. Astrid, on Stormfly, hovering, landing next to him, leaning down sharply. "At least you won't be on foot," she shouted, through a sudden blast of fire from somewhere close. He hesitated. "Take my hand!" she shouted, a sudden conviction in her voice.

"Get out of there!" said a voice far away, some adult in the distance. To them? He looked over briefly, saw Meatlug taking off, Snotlout and Fishlegs on his round back. Ruffnut was trailing her brother, his step firm and heavy, his arms still a murky red. Hiccup turned away, grabbed Astrid's outstretched arm with his right hand, just enough strength in him, enough willpower, and enough adrenaline to make him ignore the weakness wracking his body.

Stormfly sprinted up, flapped wide and strong into the dragon-filled sky, the clouds all flying away in a sudden cold, clammy wind, the sun still misty behind some watery wash of cloud, trapped behind a gray veil. He inhaled suddenly, sharply, grasped her tightly, dug his right arm into her waist, pushed his head into her back, cold in the rush of air.

The air swooshed around him starkly, and he looked up, squinted, his eyes popping open at the vision -- dragons, half of them laying motionless on the ground, the other half livid and lashing out at the sky, some with riders, some without, and ships-- scattered thickly near Berk, sails rolled, arrows shooting out, and -- he gasped -- a boulder coming through the air. Stormfly ducked, sending them down, down-- she rose suddenly and the motion drove a shaft of pain into him, the imbalance making him latch onto her stronger, tighter. He forced his eyes open, looked amidst all the dragons, for that black one, the one that he didn't want to find on the ground lying still.

Astrid swooshed Stormfly towards his house. She pointed, shouted. "The stirrup's gone. Did you equip him?"

Hiccup caught his breath, gulped to moisten his suddenly dry mouth. "No," he squeaked. Stormfly swept up, towards the sounds of war, the smack of weapons clashing under them, dragon cries. "Where do you think he'd go?" she screamed. He shook his head, confused, grasped her tighter and leaned over, scanned the ground, the fallen dragons, the spaces between the houses and buildings filled with people and chaos. Dragons, too many of them, everywhere, and people, in masses of confusion, someone shouting, too many of them shouting, deep heavy groans of the sort that a peace knew was foreign.

No Toothless.

Astrid swept up, glided down on the edge of the village, her dragon lost in the mass of wings everywhere, the arrows passing them vaguely, unaimed and uneven. More of the same below, the same chaos, terrible chaos, a house sparked on fire, the flames gargled, licked up towards them. Stormfly shot back, Astrid leaned backwards, Hiccup shot his left arm forward to grab her for support, gasped as his side turned and the wound screamed at him.

"Are you all right?" Astrid gasped at him suddenly.

"Is a guy who's just been stabbed ever all right?" he hissed through clenched teeth.

"Oh, Hiccup--" Something pained laced her voice.

He cleared his throat, scanned the war zone under them, getting desperate suddenly. "Toothless!" he shouted, a gasp ending his scream. "Toothless."

Nothing.

"Where did he go?" he shouted, pushing his head into her back and forcing his left arm around her, cringing as he did, both arms around her, hissed as the wind snuck in between the cloths around shoulder.

He peered down suddenly. "Hookfang!" The red dragon was splayed out on the ground, a small figure kneeling besides her. "Astrid, get down there," he gasped. Stormfly jolted to a halt, and Hiccup slid off, holding Astrid's hand to help himself down. He stumbled forward towards the Monstrous Nightmare, in the shadow of a tall house, blocking them from a clear vision of the madness of the attack. The red dragon turned her head slightly, slowly towards him and hummed to the figure there next to her. "Snotlout, what happened?" Hiccup panted, reaching them.

"They almost got her, they almost got her," he shouted, a rush of heated emotions infusing his voice. He whimpered suddenly, and turned and patted the weak Nightmare. Hiccup knelt down beside her, ran a hand over her head. She looked up at him, eyes lolling and weak. His heart started beating fast, the closeness of this horror. Her chest was wounded, a dirty, grimy wound shattering her beautiful red and black scales. That gurgle of dragon blood sputtering from the base of her neck. Something sharp clenched his heart and Astrid was there beside him suddenly. He looked up at her, saw her look. She wasn't surprised anymore, a hard kind of acceptance of the horror.

He curved his right arm around, shook off his vest, and grabbed it from the ground. He stepped over to the rush of blood, pushed it into the wound. The cool air tickled into him suddenly and he clenched his chattering teeth. Rope, something, he needed to keep it there, some kind of hold for it. "Get me something," he shot behind him, "rope or--"

"Here."

Astrid slid down next to him, wound a strip of fabric around the Nightmare's chest and abdomen. She looked at him, his bare tunic, his exposed left shoulder. "You're gonna be cold."

He shivered suddenly. "Just don't remind me."

She stepped up and he saw that one of her arms was bare of the arm bands she always wore. He stood up, patted Snotlout. "You got to get Hookfang out of here."

"What?" he mumbled, clearly still in shock.

"I don't know. . . get her safe, someplace." Hiccup stepped to Stormfly, almost wished he hadn't given his vest away, just thinking now of the wind that there'd be flying on Stormfly.

"What about you?" Astrid's voice came at him suddenly.

"What about me?" He put up his right hand to Astrid, to get up.

"Safe, someplace." She mimicked him, grabbed his hand and hauled him up. He clenched his teeth, sucked in the pain and shook his head, smarted as his wound pumped warm again. "What about Toothless," he said, not a question.

A scream whipped at them suddenly and he looked up, saw the twins on Belch and Barf, flapping hotly towards the heat of the battle. Stormfly pumped her wings up, flapped into the air, slanted to the side, avoiding a pair of Gronckles mounted by a axe-wielding Hooligans. "Watch out!" someone screamed and Hiccup glanced up, saw a Nightmare mounted by a familiar face. He flapped down closer to them. Sven pointed at Hiccup suddenly, a harried look on his face and his brown beard crinkled and uncombed. "The dead dragons are making the live ones go crazy. We can't control them all. Get a move on that."

"Hey, Hiccup's hurt!" Astrid screamed out, but Sven had flapped away already, his dragon sweeping wide and vast towards the battle below.

Hiccup felt his mouth go dry again, the wash of cold wind on him making him shiver, hold her tighter in a vain attempt to get warm, the cold taking over his nerves from the throb of his shoulder. They can't be that bad off, right? He looked around, sure there was some dragons who were clearly losing it, a couple of their riders trying to get them to fly, to go out and battle. Sure, he could help with that, get them to calm, do the stuff they called him the Dragon Whisperer for. But. . . "We got to find Toothless first," he said into her ear. He prayed they weren't losing, that his Dad was still okay somewhere down there in the chaos. "We got to make this quick."

"Sure." She banked Stormfly, swept on over the village, the houses, the burning houses at the edges. Astrid's house. She must have seen it, too, turned Stormfly away, over the shore. "There wasn't anything important there anyway," she mumbled. He grimaced, put a hand on the top of her leg. She smirked, sighed, swept up into the sky. "You still think he's somewhere here?" She swept over the village again.

He felt his fingers so numb, the unfeeling almost a blessing considering the alternative. "I don't know, Astrid." He hunkered down on her, wrapped his arms around her. "He's rigged, so does that mean. . . I don't want to think they took him. But. . . why else can't we find him?" He refused to believe he'd been killed. But he was the prize dragon. But then why rig him? "Where would they take him?" Heather -- the name made his nerves spark suddenly -- seemed to like Toothless. She was the only one who could feasibly take him, perhaps, maybe. Being in the same room. "I don't know," he breathed aloud. "He's with them somehow." He could feel it, feel that that was the only way.

"There's one place we haven't looked," she said suddenly, hovering briefly, looking at the schools of dragons hovering over the ships on the shore. She jolted back suddenly, swept Stormfly around in a curved bank, headed for the shore. He took a deep breath, knew where she was going, braced himself.

"Take us in fast, Stormfly, get in, get out. Keep your eyes open, Hiccup, we're not doing this twice." Astrid patted her dragon and she swept forward into the mess of arrows, the ocean of wings and screaming, the mindless, living mass of things flying, fast and slow, deep, guttural sounds coming from the ships below, the snap of arrows leaving their crossbows, the rush of catapults slapping forward, the heave of ships on the sea, the flap of wings, someone screaming for them to get out, the wind in his ears, crawling through the shards of the top of his tunic, freezing him until he swore he couldn't feel his body anymore.

Keep your eyes open.

He looked down, squinted in the sharp vicious wind, looked. Old memories came shooting back into his brain and in the cold numbing wind he saw fire, fire on ships, looking for Toothless, a dark gray sky and caught his breath, smelled a stark odor of burning wood, realized it was all real again. His mouth went dry again and his vision flickered, don't let it, slapped himself suddenly, tried to keep back the wavering feeling that hit him, wasn't sure if he was drifting off into something unreal. "Toothless?" he screamed and suddenly Stormfly ducked, rolled, and Astrid screamed, and he saw arrows flying past them, a ship coming in on them closely. "Go, go, go!" she shouted, Stormfly sweeping up, out, away, forward, over the armada, swinging catapults over the ocean, rocks flying towards Berk. Why can't I help them? Where was Toothless? Afar, a lone ship churning out at full sail farther from the others, moving, rather than staying still at one point, and on its deck, a dark black shape and his heart jumped. He grabbed the back of Astrid's arm, leaned forward. "There," he shouted, shifted his prosthetic suddenly, realized he was on Stormfly. "GO!!" he screamed, impatient, and Stormfly fled forward, the sweep coming to a halt as a rush of arrows sped at them, and a shout from the ship.

He could see Toothless there on the deck, his black body and the strapped wings, the tail flapping and the red tail, and the people. Heather. His nerves chilled him, sent his teeth chattering. So she'd captured him. Something hot pushed its way into his heart and he itched to just be let down into the ship, get Toothless out of there.

Astrid screamed suddenly, something hot and convicted, curved Stormfly harder to the right, swept up, around the ship, another rush of arrows coming at them. "Down!" Hiccup shouted, Stormfly screamed, and suddenly, down, down, Hiccup could feel the shiver under his legs, Astrid calling something to her dragon, the Nadder wailing, and he knew it, knew they were going out of control.

Can't be.

The wings went out sharply, tried to stop the fall, Stormfly screamed, the water came at them, Hiccup braced himself. They were falling forwards, Astrid closer to the cold ocean, the dragon screaming in some kind of pain. He gritted his teeth, shifted his weight, his body, suddenly, got himself lower than her, the dragon upside down, Astrid above him. He grabbed her tight and bent down against the dragon's body, shouted as his wound came crashing back with feeling, as the cold block of water slapped, smacked them, smacked him and made him gasp, gulp in the salty sea water, open his eyes into the murky blue, inhaled again, not a good idea, gasped, more water in his lungs. He rasped sharply, felt himself sinking, the weakness hitting him now with a force. Stormfly was somehow somewhere else, he felt alone in the growing blackness, pumped his legs, his arms, stopped as the pain shot back in him with the water, the horrid salt, the cold. He hissed, felt his head mull nonsense to him. And then. . . Toothless. He jabbed his right arm, his prosthetic, felt sinking, lower. Astrid! No.

:: ::

"Did you hit it?" Rune shouted, his voice sharp and thick in the excitement of battle, as he leaned over the ship's edge, a feeling of keen triumph in his bones.

"Yes, sir!" came a warrior. Rune turned, saw him still with his bow held high in the air, at the spot where the Nadder had dropped from the sky. Rune sighed, grunted in a wonderfully sane and living satisfaction. "This is beautiful," he said, feeling the thickness of meaning in his own words. He hadn't felt this alive since the battle of more than a month ago, and even then it wasn't as freeing as this now, this moment, this glorious moment where he could finally let out all he felt for that blasted brother of his, and the cursed offspring who took his love away. All those years, those horrible eighteen years, without her, and then as if Fate had wanted him wasted and miserable for the rest of his life, that news which came so recently. Alvin was right. The kid was a Dragon Whisperer now. Blast those curses, do they only last sixteen years? Fate was horrendous at keeping her promises. But now. . . He looked out at the burning houses on the shore, the dead dragons somewhere behind the structures, and Stoick's runt of a son, finally dead, gone, and given justice. He wanted to shout, wanted to live, wanted to tell the world, tell Fate, who had finally cheated her. The thought of dying was ugly now, not when he felt this alive. How his daughter was right. Why did he doubt her? He turned around at Heather, expecting a raised fist of approval, or a flashed sword of agreement, a smile of triumph.

But he got none of that.

She was looking nowhere, out at the sea, lingering her eyes at the rippled circles of water where the Nadder had splashed down with her strange set of two riders. He hadn't thought much about it, children sometimes were put into war -- when the enemy was desperate -- but Heather seemed to be thinking something else. It bothered him. She needed to be happy now, she was supposed to be happy. Of all the joys -- years of planning and frustration, the last year in which his mind had been tested the most -- all of that was behind them now, the fire of battle and blood was fresh and thrilling, it made him feel life, something infused in him. And now, with the purpose of their journey nearly over, he was filled with an awesome joy.

"Heather, what's wrong?"

She snapped her head back to look at him, averted her eyes.

"Heather, look at me."

She glanced up, briefly, her cape fluttering in the wind behind her, her hand reaching out to the edge of the ship, to support her as the hull lurched upward suddenly in a gale. "Nothing," she mumbled and stepped back, turned her back to him. He considered his move briefly, whether to follow her or not. She was an independent woman, a strong personality, and he respected her. But he wanted her happy. He stepped forward, put a hand on her shoulder. "This is a great moment, for both of us."

She didn't turn around, turned her head to look at the dragon, that black beast she'd ridden on. The one the Dragon Whisperer had subjugated. The beast was quiet now, strapped up in leather and ropes, a moment of surrender, from his livid lashing before. They'd have a grand chase killing him in the hunt back at Herkja. One of the world's greatest dragons, in one of the greatest moments of his life. Heather had mentioned something of an altered plan with regards to that aspect, when she brought the dragon down here. I'd have to ask her again. The excitement of war mulled away any other topics from his mind.

She cleared her throat suddenly. "We, uh, didn't kill all the dragons, Dad," she said. He could feel that this was not quite the thing that was troubling her. He knew her, and there was something else on her mind.

She raised her voice slightly. "The dragons still alive are fighting us now, beating us."

That was a bigger point.

He turned and looked at Berk, the fire on the houses, the schools of dragons flitting about his ships near the shore. "Are you saying we might lose?"

"Not lose," she said quickly. "We never lose. Just not . . . win."

He raised a brow. Sarcasm was not one of her strong points, usually. "Explain," he said, still on a high from battle, and quite refusing to think defeat was anywhere in sight.

"We used all we learned, and they taught us so much, but the dragons are not as weak as we think they made them out to be. From the reports, I think we only got a third of them." He felt her swallow, watched her look out at their ships, a few of them lit up in flames, some of them turning back, sails alive with wind and gales. He could hear his men shouting, fighting the flying reptiles with arrows and boulders, his own ship being turned sharply to the back, ostensibly to protect him and the prize dragon and his council. He hadn't expected to lose this battle, hadn't expected dragons, I suppose, was looking forward to watching his brother's tribe finally know the truth of his brother and him, thought that today would end with a sunset over the burning Hooligan village and a final last meeting of him and Stoick, over the runt's lifeless body perhaps, just to bring the point home.

But, this . . . losing?

"It's not that we are giving up," she said, as if reading his mind. "We need to regroup, rethink our strategy." She pulled away from under his hand, turned and faced him. "I know everything about dragons now, me and my council. We can train our own dragons, fight Stoick on his own terms. Should we risk so much now, when we now are the ones caught off guard?" She exhaled suddenly, looked back at the staff, the council members leaning over the edge of the ship.

Maybe she was right.

"Perhaps," he said. The ship moved suddenly east, and she made a motion with her arm towards the others, motioning them back. There were more of their ships on fire, and he could see his own warriors flailing in the waves, not to mention dragons, some of whom they managed to down, their blood mingling on top of the water, their riders splashing alongside them, most of the beasts still living, screaming from the top of the waves, angry and flustered.

Heather moved away from him, towards the end of the ship, faced the spot again where the Nadder had gone down. It was farther now, seeing as they'd moved away from there by this time, and he could see something splashing in the water, wasn't sure if it was dragon or rider. She looked at the spot, the waves all obliterating the area now, and he wondered what exactly she was thinking. What was it about that one random dragon?

She looked back suddenly, at the dragon in their ship. He followed her gaze, still trying to read her. She had a sympathy in her eyes, as she watched the black beast breathing, his form moving up and down gently. Her previous words finally came back. She had wanted to keep it, that was what she'd said. He shook his head. A strange notion. But now . . . if she wanted to create a dragon force, like his brother's. . . He felt a sudden pang of disgust rise up inside of him, looked out at his ships, the dragons blasting endlessly into them, and he could feel, didn't want to admit it, but she was probably right. Don't doubt her.

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