Chapter 12: To Save a Dragon
Chapter 12: To Save a Dragon
Chapter 12: To Save a Dragon

23rd Oct 2012, 4:55 AM

by inhonoredglory

Her eyes popped open and she pumped her legs down, down into the ocean, not willing herself to scream out a warning or panic, lest the water dive into her lungs. Hiccup. She put her arms out in front of her, drove her body towards him, that face clearly lost of consciousness.

She knew it was a bad idea to look for Toothless like this. But Hiccup just had to go do it and now look at this. He might--


She pushed down one more time, looked back and saw Stormfly up at the surface, a flash of silhouetted wings. She was alive. Astrid let that comfort her a little. She was a tough girl, she'll make it with whatever injury the arrow had given her.

She concentrated on getting Hiccup now, finally reached his limp figure in the green water, put an arm around his torso. He was breathing out bubbles now, his eyes closed and his mouth open. She brushed her fingers over his face, rubbed her palm over his cheek. Don't leave me now. He had to wake up. She grabbed his right arm, slung it over her shoulder, pumped her legs to the surface. He wasn't responding, a dead weight behind her. And the surface-- the impact had thrown them so low. Time, she needed to give him air. She threw her arm forward, sent him floating forward limply, grabbed him and pushed him forward, pumped her legs hot and thick behind her, cursed the heavy boots, and saw the light above the water. "Aaargh!" she shouted, let out the water in her mouth, got through the last stretch to the surface, broke into the air, gasped, panted, turned to Hiccup, still limp and lifeless floating on his back in front of her. She put her hand under his head, the other around him. "Wake up!" she gasped, looked out quickly, saw that the ship was farther away now, Stormfly kicking her wings and squawking not far from them, and the smoke, the fire in the air, thick brown and gray clouds over Berk. She inhaled a deep breath, turned back to Hiccup. "Hiccup--" He was still motionless. She took his head in one hand, pinched his nose with the other. She pressed her mouth to his thin, pale lips and breathed out. Don't die on me now.

:: ::

War was not the way he expected to wake up that morning. And now, screaming orders madly, his voice was amazingly getting hoarse, the panic in him -- not out of fear, but plain stupid ignorance and blindness. How could he be so blind? How could he have trusted his brother after all these years? There was no forgiveness in that scum of a man, no, no--

He sighed hotly, ran up the slope to the house again. "Thornado!" he shouted, as the dragon slid forward and they met on impact, Stoick leaping onto the dragon's back in one learned motion. He shouted some bungled orders to the dragon, the words coming out in some hot mash of nonsense syllables, the dragon roaring and soaring up into the air, knowing instinctively what he was asking.

"Get those dragons out of there, and get them in the air!" he shouted to the ground, his warriors a mess of nerves and shock, the dead dragons and the panicking live ones. Where was Hiccup? Damn the war, the Skirra Vél, and Rune, the lying piece of scum. He should have never bought it, how much of an idiot can a man be?

Thornado flapped up and Stoick reined him in. He'd given his orders, got his men to organize themselves to some extent, put a semblance of sanity in the madness that was being surprised by the enemy before dawn.

Where was that boy?

He didn't have time right now, he needed to get an overview of the battle, tell his Council, get the ships-- "Get those ships out there, east side and give it all you got!"

"Yes, sir!" shouted the man on the dragon in front of him, as he flapped madly away to the shore and the puff and ooze of smoke thick below. Stoick flew inland a minute, found Gobber on the plaza, hauling out his weapons stash and passing swords to the panicked Hooligans. "Gobber!" Stoick shouted, swooping low. "You find my son and get him out of here." He didn't bother to look for a nod of agreement, flapped up and away into the thick of war. He needed to see the scope of this madness, there were too many cursed ships in the harbor. What had they, brought the whole blasted fleet with them? Dragons were thick in the air everywhere, arrows and boulders flying, screams and splashes, dragons flailing in the sea, ships flailing in the shallow waters, burning and dying. Through the thick ash, over the harbor's expanse, about a hundred Skirra Vél ships visible, perhaps a third burning near the shores of Berk. The dragons were lambasting them without a pause for breath, doing a mighty job of it, coming in relentless waves, Monstrous Nightmares flocking together, Nadders joining in groups, Zipplebacks taking turns shooting gas and fire down below. Even Gronckles buzzing just above the waves, blasting the sides of ships with spats of molten rock. Yet no purple shockwave, no Night Fury screaming down from the skies to dive-bomb ten ships at a time. Hiccup wouldn't waste time -- he'd get in the fight if he was able. If he was able.

"Hiccup!" he shot across the squawking, burning vista, not really believing his son was in earshot. He yelled more orders to the men on dragons passing him, barking out the open spots to shoot at. He searched downward again, taking in the enemy.

The vast fleet of ships, many times that of Berk's number, collected in row upon row that stretched from one end of Berk to the other, engulfing the harbor, spilling out into the open sea beyond. Ships so densely packed in lines that they formed walls of war with barely a break from the bombardment. Yet they weren't moving forward. They were edging away, pushing away, from the shore towards the open sea. Retreating.

But the dragons continued to fall, continued to panic with the smell of the blood of their dead or injured comrades down below in the reddening waters. The semi-ordered lines of dragons broke and scattered with each wave of flying arrows. The arrows and boulders flew so thickly from the retreating ships that masses of dragons fell at the same time, the survivors circling back in hot attack and equally hot counterattack. Heavy tolls on both sides.

He pulled up Thornado, shouted a war cry and let the dragon blast thickly into a ship, sending its sails riveting in the waves of air and noise, the mast clanging into the one behind it, a clang of wood against wood, hull on hull, and shouting, the crisp cut of arrows flying up into the air. Stoick turned Thornado up, just missed the flood of arrows at him, ascended and sailed along the armada, a shot here and there, thrown at him. He wanted to get to the end of it, the edge of the fleet, see how far it went, find the ship that held his brother, blast that thing out of the water. He shouted a hot scream and Thornado pumped forward, screaming out a booming force of vibrating air.

There was a ship farther, separated from the rest, bigger than the rest, something that could have been more beautiful, were it not for the darkened, decaying wood of its hull and the frayed criss-cross of leather on its dirty sail. But the detailed bow ornamentation, still bright and defined--

It was the chief's ship, he could feel it in his bones. Out here, at the back of the pack, a coward, afraid, how low could he go? Fire welled up inside of him, a burning rage at such deception and dishonor. He yanked on Thornado's bridle, locked eyes on the lone ship, still some distance out there--


He stopped suddenly, Thornado threw his wings into a heaving hover, growling.

"Stoick--" the voice was breathless, below him somewhere, in the ocean. Astrid's. He turned down quickly. She was small in the water, the figments of ash and burning embers around her, waves lapping at her, and-- and--

The thin shape next to her, lying on his back, the water lapping up his sides, covering his legs, her arms on him, holding his head up, worry on her face.

"Hiccup--" he gasped.

Stoick yanked Thornado down, and the dragon dived, splashed, sunk, into the water, the ocean around him for a breathless moment, the dragon emerging out with a vicious splash and floating alongside the wet figures in the sea. "What's happened to him?" Stoick gasped, pushing the dragon towards his son and the girl. She inhaled a gasping breath. "He's been stabbed, and--" She splashed a hand up to wipe her face.

"Stabbed. . ."

"--We were looking for Toothless and they shot us--"

The word still hung in the air.

Astrid put her other hand suddenly under Hiccup's head. "He's not coming to. We got to get him out of here." Her voice was cracking. "Stormfly's okay, she's hurt but. . ."

Sense kicked into him suddenly and her voice faded, as a sudden anger fired inside of him. His son, so still in the water before him, pale and lifeless, the wet and bloodstained bandage on his bare shoulder, the ripped clothing-- He splashed closer to Hiccup, leaned down from Thornado and got his hands under Hiccup's head. "Help me get him up here." She took Hiccup's legs, and they hoisted the boy onto Stoick's lap, carried him up out of the water and into his arms. "Get on," he said, eyes still locked on the pale figure of his son, slumped in his left arm, his body cold and wet. His right hand tightened hotly around Thornado's bridle and he didn't care that his knuckles were turning white pressing into themselves around the rope. Hot and angry and-- Rune.

Thornado rose suddenly, wings flapping vast and wide, splashing. Stormfly was wailing in the water and Astrid called down to her, "Keep strong, girl, I'm coming to get you--" She turned to Stoick, put a hand on his shoulder. "Tell me Hiccup will be all right."

"He's not dying. Not in my arms, he's not."

She squeezed his big arm, and Thornado swept low. She jumped off, splashed near where the injured dragon flailed in the waves. It wasn't that far to a Hooligan ship. Stoick turned and yanked the bridle, soared above the fray.

:: ::

The reddened orb of the sun had fallen into the sea long ago, and even the blush of violet washing over the sky in its wake had faded away. Toothless gazed at the pattern of stars, watching them trek their nightly journeys in the sky above the ships, little pinpricks of light, markers of navigation when he flew in the dark, on a moonless night like this. But he wasn't flying this night.

He shifted his body, the crisscrossing leather cords tight and uncomfortable. He snorted at them, tried jerking more sharply, but halted at the uselessness of the effort. For hours he'd fought against the bonds, fought all the while the battle raged on Berk. Houses on fire, dragons screaming, falling, dying. Boulder after boulder and arrow after arrow fired from the ships, from the very ship he was trapped in, fired into the little village and smacking dragon after dragon clear out of the sky. Dragons he knew by name, flew beside every day. Even Stormfly -- Astrid and Hiccup on her. Hiccup. He shook his head, snorted again, hot with rage as he clawed the wooden panels below him. He jerked his head up as a human moaned near him -- a Skirra Véllite lying on his side among the prostrate, sleeping bunch of warriors. The armor on the man clinked as he turned on his side, opened an eye, shot a look at Toothless.

"Shut up dragon," the gruff voice muttered as the figure rolled over to face away, settled back into the blanket on the hard floorboards of the ship. Toothless growled low, narrowed his eyes at the warrior's back. That man. The same man he had taken the axe from in the Great Hall, the same one who shot the Nadder and her two riders into the sea. He was sure she was Stormfly, sure he saw Hiccup on her behind his sun-haired girl, even from this difficultly far vantage point. Hiccup, without his fur, his shoulder stained red, staring down at him, him. He knew those green eyes, knew he wanted to land on the ship, free him, fly him, save him. But that arrow. He screamed at Stormfly to turn, but it was too late. She fell, upside down, and--

Hiccup. If you didn't make it . . .

He whined a growl, his chest hurting, seething, raging. He whipped his head to the sleeping Skirra Véllite only a little distance from his snout, his teeth clicking sharp and hot. Killer. He shot glares at the sleeping forms across the deck, lying silently, quietly, peacefully. Axes, swords, crossbows, hammers, all resting silently beside the mounds of warm, breathing bodies under soft cloths, snoring and shifting on the hard deck. Murderers.

No. He shook his head. Can't be. Hiccup can't be dead. He just can't. If he died, he'd know it, his chest would feel it. Hiccup couldn't get a bruise on his knee without him knowing about it. He didn't know how, but he knew. He must be alive. Despite what they did.

His body shook with a renewed intensity, rage rippling through his muscles. He eyed the sleeping Skirra Véllite near him. Brandr, they called him. Helmet off his head by his side, body relaxed under the metal shingles coating him, the flaxen cloth draping over his hulking form, his breaths coming in and out easily. Too easily. He heaved his tail towards the figure, to slap it, to shake it awake, to make it gasp, make it hurt. Anything but breathe. But a pained yelp escaped himself instead. His tail stung, splinters of wood digging into his scales. The crates. He curved his head back, saw the neat row of wooden crates still lying over the length of his tail, immobilizing it, numbing it, the last one flattening over the red fin. Yeah, forgot about those wretched things. "That'll teach you," Brandr had spat at his face that morning when the warrior shoved the crates on him after he had flicked his tail for the fifth time. Tripped nine warriors smack on their faces and backs with one clean sweep -- at least he stopped them from shooting down Thornado. The people hurled insults at him, but that man in particular enjoyed putting him in misery. Every time Brandr passed him during the battle, he'd smack the wood end of his axe into his nose or the side of his head. He almost did it with the other end once, but the girl had stopped him, told him to leave the Night Fury alone. The guy never quite followed that order, and it made his scales itch and his jaws chafe at the strap whenever he came near.

Toothless shuddered, closed his eyes, opened them again. To be at the mercy of these people. Without claw, teeth, or fire to fight back. Flightless, defenseless. His ear flaps flattened, his wings clung closer to his body under the crisscrossing cords. His breathing suddenly shallowed, quickened, his legs bunching under him, muscles ready to bolt. But couldn't. He let out a sighing, ragged breath, lowered his head, stared at the wooden boards below him. Unfocused his eyes. An image of a red-headed boy there, fur, green tunic, holding out his hand and grinning. "Where does it hurt, bud?" the green eyes furrowed, the little mouth tight, the gentle hand moving over his nose, stroking the side of his head. He purred. That's the spot, yeah, keep going. He closed his eyes, almost could feel little fingers tickling him, caressing his ear flaps. Do it again, Hiccup. The caressing started getting cold, creaking noises coming from the image.

He shot open his eyes. Just floorboards there. A cold wind, blowing over his head and back, pushing hard against the sail, whistling and creaking into the horizontal beam above him. A rising panic struck him, staring at the flat floor, the feeling of the waves fighting against the ship. A feeling that had been welling up and subsiding constantly in him ever since he got trapped onboard. I hate ships. Sucked two summers ago, still suck now. He tried to gurgle the last part nonchalantly, but a shiver ran up his back as he clenched his jaw, willed his body to still. Never could stand sitting in any deck too long, except for Hiccup's ship. He'd had nightmares of this very thing. "Just your imagination," Hiccup would tell him, after he found him growling awake on the stone slab, coming to him, patting his head, saying it was all right, all in the past. "And the past doesn't come back. Now go to sleep, bud."

But I can't go to sleep. He raised his head at the vibrating sails, perked his ears at the creaking boards, shifted against the constraining bonds over his wings, the leather strap tight over his mouth and connected by chain to the leather collar around his neck.

How could this be happening again?

Where you taking me? He throated low at the ship, his claws scratching the floorboards. The sails above whispered back, the wood creaked, every rope shuffled some faint sound that kept his ear flaps shifting and his eyes roving from sail to sail. The ship clipping the waters, moving onward, onward, from the rising of the sun over the sea to the setting under it. No land, just endless water and endless sailing. He had jerked and shoved for so long underneath that sun as it climbed above him, growing tired as it sank underneath the waters. He watched those sails, those people, those floorboards, those birds gliding after the ships in the ashen gray sky. Same thing all day long. Didn't even get to chew out a juicy fish to give him something to vent his rage and hunger on. One time, that girl held a small fish near his mouth, but he growled, startled her away. Maybe he shouldn't have. He could use that fish right now.

His nostrils flared suddenly. A scent, faint but sure. Dirt and rocks mingling with the smell of salt and sea. He jerked his head higher, peered at the blackness beyond the ship's edge. Blacker silhouettes, craggy shadows, jutting out of the sea at the edge the horizon. Eerily familiar. He wrinkled his eyes shut, tried to concentrate his mind. He knew where he was. He could feel the place coming back, the pattern of the jagged rocks sparking a memory many summers forgotten. He suddenly sensed a vaster jag of land farther ahead, sense it coming in the distance. His mind raced. The ship moved slow. But how slow? He thought hard, tried feeling the speed of the wood under him as it hit the waves. About as fast as a human walked. Might take till the next sun setting before they reached it. But by flight time, it was as close as the sun's rising, maybe sooner. Of all the islands . . .

He shoved against the straps with renewed energy, heaved at them desperately. He looked up suddenly, across the expanse of bright darkness, the pinpoints of light scattered across the black dome above him. He stood still, watching for a shadow across the stars. An elusive shadow, a shadow that only came out at night and in storms. He scanned the sky, the star patterns creeping across the dome as he kept looking, watching, the ship relentlessly clipping the waves, moving forward, forward.

Then he saw it. A black flash across the stars. Unmistakable. The small sleek silhouette, almost the form of a Night Fury, but its body thinner, its head pointed, its wings sharp. Strong, pumping wings, flying towards the ships. Several larger shadows behind it, vast in wingspan and circling high in a gliding pattern. Timberjacks. Six of them, circling after the first silhouette, circling towards the ships, circling over the ships, like vultures searching for a carcass on the beach. He crouched his head low, flattened his wings, held every muscle still, as the shadow crossed the first line of ships ahead, hovering over each ship in turn, the small eyes of the leading shadow searching each deck. Only a couple more lines of ships and his ship would be next. Blasted. He shut his eyes from the sky, tried to hide the conspicuous brightness of their green glow. But it was useless. He could already smell the Skrill, and that meant the Skrill could already smell him.

He froze at a sudden swish of fluttering above him. The wood floor beneath him pitched down just slightly, a small weight adding itself to the ship. A sharp mutter shot from his chest; he opened his eyes, raised his head towards the ship's mast. A pair of small yellow eyes stared back at him, tiny eyes at the end of a long pointed snout, framed by a crown of spikes shooting out of a short neck and a slim gray and purple body, his pointed wings folding in as he settled himself on the horizontal beam of the mast as his spiked tail swung low towards the deck, curling down, nearly touching Toothless' snout. Those claws clutching the beam above him, several of them missing. Skari.

Toothless bristled at the cool breath blowing down on him, could feel Skari panting a bit shallow. A suppressed gnashing rose from the Skrill's jaws.

You're hard to find, Dagr. Harder to corner. Fortunately, the humans made my job easy. The slim jaws clicked their sharp teeth, the little eyes glancing upward at the vast circling wings above the ship, great shadows blocking out the stars. And this time, I've brought friends.

Toothless stared back at the little eyes, could see them roving over his head and body, his wings and tail, over the straps and the cords and the crates. He could smell the menace, the glee, reeking out of Skari. He stifled a growl, clamped his mouth tighter a moment. Breath, just breath. He can smell you. He let out a breath as the dragon above him continued to survey him. The others above, the Timberjacks, were peering down too, gawking at him as they circled, like he was some caged animal. Yeah, that's what he was. It was bad enough that humans gawked like that, but other dragons?

He shot a glare at one Timberjack, his long head lowering a bit too close for his taste. Had your look. Now back off. Toothless spat. The Timberjack's eyes widened and his neck tucked away from the ship, the big wings lifting higher.

Skari's cold breath chilled him suddenly. Shut up Dagr. What you gonna do, shoot a fireball at him? I can break your neck right now you piece of black scum. And you can't do a thing about it. The slim snout lowered, hissed and gurgled. The Timberjacks gurgled too, their jaws clacking, their wings flapping with the beat of their amusement. Toothless shot a snarl at Skari, flexed his jaw tightly underneath the strap as the six horned heads peered low at him, purring to one another. Something hot welled inside him, washed through his chest and shoulders as his breaths quickened and his nostrils flared. He could smell the bloody anticipation in Skari, in the Timberjacks, eying him, clacking their jaws. He dared not return the insult, was in no position to return the insult, had to think, think. He knew why Skari hated him, but these Timberjacks? He could hear their sharp wings slicing through the air, nearly clipping the mast, too eager to touch him.

What you want from me? He throated to the myriad of wings, the slim snake-like heads paralleling the ship on his right, his left, above him.

Your blood, traitor. One head squealed down as his glowing eye glanced over him, the shifting winds whistling over the leading edge of his green-gray wings.

Toothless tensed, the leather hot on him suddenly, hot and compressive. He knew what dragon packs did to traitors. The scum of the dragon world, the betrayers of the flock, weren't simply tolerated. He'd seen them dragged by the neck out of the nest, clawing and squawking within the suffocating mass of dragons biting at them, dragging them, until silence. He never liked what they did to them, but they endangered the flock, they had to die. Suddenly his mind flashed, flashed through some sixty plus summers and winters of his life, trying to cull up anything he did that could garner such a charge.

What are we waiting for. The Timberjack's low mutter stabbed through him.

His comrade hummed back. It's our duty you know.

The masses of gliding wings lowered, landing gently on the masts of the other ships, so gentle that they only dipped the ships like the slender swells of the open sea. The compression of the straps started choking him, the crates unbearable over his tail, everything closing in on him and drowning escape. He glanced everywhere, anywhere, panic striking him as the cold air from the Skrill's mouth blew over his head. He shot a look over the sleeping people, the axes and swords and hammers quiet and glistening by their sides. Where was a dragon slayer when you needed one?

He snarled at the blanketed mounds. Some blankets stirred, rolled over. The Timberjacks lifted from the masts, rose high into the cover of the black sky. He kept his eyes on Skari, the Skrill suddenly starting back and lifting his tail away from the deck as the snoring rhythm broke. Toothless growled. Don't you touch me. Or you'll have the whole army shooting you full of arrows. Just what am I guilty of?

Skari scowled, wrinkled his nose as he relaxed, surveying the people returning to stillness. Let's not get violent Dagr. Not yet, at least. And funny that you should appeal to them -- the humans are after you, not me. Didn't you wonder at all why they didn't kill you on sight? After every battle, they always spare the best dragon, the prize dragon. Spared to be hunted down on their island. Usually clip their wings to make the hunt, as they say, "fair." Skari spat the last word with contempt, blue sparks crackling around his ruff of neck spikes. His little yellow eyes suddenly shot into Toothless.

But in your case they won't have to bother.

Toothless smarted, looked away from the Skrill. His throat dried suddenly and his ear flaps flattened against his skull. So that's where they were taking him. A hunt. He suddenly couldn't help but glance over at the blanketed mounds, his eyes riveting on the weapons lying at the ready beside each warrior's body. Glinting axes, swords, spears as long as his body, innumerable little arrows. He could outrun a sword, a spear, but those arrows. Or a flying axe head -- he'd seen the sun-haired girl throwing her axe into trees, slicing precisely into the heart of the trunk. A shudder quivered through his chest, through his neck. He could smell his own fear pushing up his throat, breaking into his mind. Just what did they use on a hunt for the prize dragon?

He was suddenly aware of Skari's voice, realized the Skrill had been speaking all this time.

Your head will join the others mounted in their Hall. About thirty prize dragon heads. It's an elite group. Only the best are represented. You'll be the first of your species.

Toothless muttered quietly, more to himself than for reply. A dubious honor.

And you'll be the first prize dragon I'll deliver into their hands.

Toothless bolted his head up, stared incredulously at Skari. Isn't my being chased around by a bunch of blasted dragon killers enough revenge for you?

Skari snapped his jaws, cocked his head down at him. Aren't you forgetting you're a Night Fury? I know your species -- and I know the human species. They may be stubbornly relentless to kill, but they're also downright stupid. Sometimes takes them a week, two weeks even, to bring down the smart ones. You, Dagr, are smart -- you'll find a way to outwit them for a while, delay the inevitable. But you can't outwit me. We're the same class. I know how you fly, how you sleep, how you fight, how you hide, how you think. And I've waited sixty winters to see your blood, and I'm not gonna let some dimwitted humans delay it any longer.

The yellow eyes flashed away from him, the spiked wings unfolding as the Skrill shifted his balance on the mast. See you on Herkja.

Toothless throated sharply, quickly, at him, couldn't believe this was happening. How can you hate me for ancient history? He craned his head forward, pushing against the straps. Sixty summers past! Okay, I know I helped my father fight yours, but I nearly got myself killed doing it, and now everybody's dead. I'd just as well never come to your island or met any of you -- I never wanted this. Never wanted to put you in whatever misery I'm supposed to have caused you. Toothless growled the last part, hated to plead mercy from this scum of a dragon, couldn't possibly imagine what sort of suffering he was responsible for worthy of the misery the Skrill was putting him through.

He started back as the Skrill whirled back at him and gurgled, clacked his teeth, his body heaving with the clicking of his jaws and his cold breath coming in bursts over Toothless' body. You think this is only about that? It's not just that you helped kill my parents -- you did more than that. You joined the other side. Our enemies for hundreds of years. You fraternized with the humans, revealed our secrets to them, became one of them. You're worse than a human -- you left the dragon world for theirs. You're a traitor. Traitor to your species, traitor to my species, to all species. As the guardian of this island, it's my duty to kill traitors.

The deck heaved down as the spiked wings heaved and pumped into the air, streaking over the blackness of the sea and into the mosaic of the stars. He watched the sleek shadow, joining the other vast shadows of wings, already heading for the jag of land jutting just over the horizon. A cold wind shot through him as he watched the shadow, small and nimble like a Night Fury flashing past the lights of the heavens. He looked away.

He suddenly felt droplets drenching him, cold droplets over his scales, tickling his nose and filming over his ear flaps. Was the dawn dew already settling? No, the sun wasn't ready yet, not for a while now. It was the coldness of Skari's breath. Even the floorboards were coated, cold and wet. Cold breath, cold fire. He had felt that numbing blue lightning fire once. There weren't many dragons to have cold fire like the Skrill. Worked to their advantage. Nearly every dragon was fireproof, but hardly any could stand the numbing, electrocuting cold of the Skrill's lightning fire.

I'm not gonna die. The snarl shot out of his throat suddenly, startled him. He breathed, let his breaths out slowly, felt his back move up and down gently. Had to calm himself. Had to prepare. He'd need all his senses alert and quick the moment the people released him to begin the hunt. Except there wouldn't just be people hunting him. Not just axes and swords and arrows and spears to worry about, but every dragon on Herkja. The Skrill had already recruited those Timberjacks -- how many other dragons did he convince?

He clenched his jaw, shook his head in disgust. Traitor, you called me. You're the one surrendering me over to those killers. What kind of a dragon are you? His muscles tensed suddenly, his mind sparking at the phrase of the Skrill. Just how exactly did Skari plan on delivering him into human hands? A shiver shot through him, an image of himself dragged, a sharp feeling of teeth in his neck, cold fire numbing him.

All I did was befriend a human, Skari. And he's nothing like you think he is.

He moaned suddenly, felt a pain in his chest sharper than the piercing feeling in his neck, colder than the chilled droplets coating his scales and tickling his nose.

Hiccup. The image of the hair flopping over his eyes, little eyes looking up at him, big and round, innocent and furrowed with concern. Little mouth, open and questioning. Little hands, touching the side of his head, stroking his snout. What if you never saw me again, Hiccup? He swallowed tightly, hated to admit it, but it was a distinct possibility. No, not possible, more than probable. He preferred to consider the brighter side of things, but even he couldn't think of a better outcome for his dilemma. He was grounded, cornered, trapped between the humans and the dragons, and one of them was bound to get him. He'd try his blasted best to outrun them, to outfight them, but what if his best wasn't good enough? He shut tight his eyes, couldn't imagine, couldn't bear, the pain he'd cause that boy if he never came back alive. No, he shot out at the black sky, chafing at the leather, snorting and heaving. I'm gonna fight. I'm gonna make it. Skari thinks he's so smart -- he couldn't find me for sixty summers. I'm a Night Fury -- people have been trying to bring me down for hundreds of years but couldn't. Only one time, only Hiccup could do it. He stopped his chafing, held still a moment, just feeling the rhythm of his beating chest.

Hiccup, he breathed the name slowly, clearly, into the shining pattern of stars. Can you live without me?

:: ::

Something warm and hot shot into his chest, making Hiccup heave a breath as faint sounds started to reach his ears.

"Today of all days--"

"Stoick, ya know that's probably what 'e planned."

"Of course I know. Induction Day, my Induction Day way back then, and now Hiccup's. What do you think is making me so mad? I should have known--"

"Ya can't have known."

"He's my brother, Gobber."

"Not anymore, he ain't."

"That doesn't change anything; I should never have bought that trick of peace he dangled on me.

The voices were far away, someplace. . .

Hiccup felt himself inhale, consciousness slowly awakening in his brain. He grunted, felt the cool flow of breath into his lungs, the spark of pain again, in his shoulder, somewhere slowly throbbing in him.

"And they left because. . ." It was Gobber, he finally recognized the voice.

"Rune's not leaving. I don't think he'll leave for good." His father.

Hiccup flicked open his eyes, realized the voices were coming from downstairs. Downstairs, and he was on his bed, a blanket on him. He mushed it with his right hand. Two, maybe three blankets. He should have felt warm, but chills ran down his body and made his teeth chatter suddenly. His head burned and pressed into his eyes, and the light glowing down on the room was suddenly harsh, even the soft candlelight flushing out the darkness of the night.

Night already. . .

What day was it, anyway?

Induction Day, the day he turned eighteen, became a man.

He swallowed, felt terribly dry, tried to push thoughts into the mushy warmth in his head.

"Shush, you guys," came a new voice. His eye lids flickered, he could place it. Just give me a minute. . .

"You'll wake him up," the voice snapped again.

"I'm sorry, Astrid." Gobber.

That was it. He gulped a breath. Astrid. The last he remembered it was morning, and she was--

He steadied his nerves, suddenly remembering snatches of what happened. "Okay. . ." he whispered, closing his eyes and thinking about his breathing for a moment. He saw the glinting sword again, her harsh knees on his arms. . . and Astrid, the sheer horror in her face. . . He opened his eyes, sucked in air, pulled the blankets closer to him, his left arm oddly refusing to move.

"You're up!"

It was Astrid. He turned his head her way, saw her stepping up from the stairs to his room. She looked. . . horrible, he suddenly realized. Her braid was a mess, the fur on her boots was tangled and dirty, and her face, stains of brown, and her eyes tired and red. Smears of red smudged her clothes and skirt. Most of it, crusty and dry now. She was carrying a bucket, the contents sloshing as she stepped forward, her eyes suddenly creasing as she looked at him.

He tried to say her name, cleared his throat and realized he was dry. "Astrid." It came out as a whisper.

She plopped the bucket down on the side of his bed, pulled up the chair that was sitting beside it. She sat in it, put a hand on his right arm that was resting by his side. "Hiccup," she breathed, laying her other hand on his forehead.

He inhaled sharply, closed his eyes, her hand cold on his head.

"You're still too warm," she hummed and suddenly something splashed somewhere and a damp, warm something sloshed over his forehead. His eyes opened suddenly and he took another careful breath, felt her sponging his face, gently.

His father's voice came rumbling behind her. "Hiccup--"

He swallowed again, tried to get some moisture in his throat. "Hi. . . Dad."

"Are you feeling -- all right?" There was a genuine concern in his big, strong voice.

"I-- I'm fine," he stammered, not really thinking about the question. "What, uh, happened?" He tried to get a grip on his situation, looked around his room again, the glow from the candle shading everything in deep golds and browns. In front of him, the stone slab, cold, wide, sat suddenly very empty. Toothless. His jaw locked for a moment. "What's happened to Toothless?" he gasped. He pictured the ship again, Toothless strapped on it, like two years ago. Instead now, on this foreign ship, unknown and-- And the stirrup gone. . . Heather. She probably flew him out that night, lured him out somehow and took him, for what? Why? Some prize thing they'd hunt down, some--

"Hiccup, calm down!"

He glanced up, saw Astrid over him, her arms holding him down. "Wha-- what did I do?" he stammered, leaning back suddenly into his pillow.

"You're panicking, didn't you see yourself?" She let him go, slapped the moist fabric on his forehead again. He gasped at the splash of warm water.

"You need to rest," she said, firmly. "The healer said you need to rest." She stared at him pointedly, a will in her that he often only saw in hot competition and battle. She put up her fingers, counted off. "You're chilled, you're weak, you're breathing fast. It's not a good thing. You still could die."

He flinched.

"So you sit there and don't do a dragon-blasting thing." She eyed him critically.

"I-- I'm okay, Astrid," he said, choking on the words suddenly as a cough struck him, shook him.

"Yeah, very okay." She smirked at him.

He swallowed, almost wanted to poke some other jab of sarcasm, but the thought of Toothless got him again and that rising feeling in his nerves crawled up his spine. He groaned. He had no idea what was going on with Toothless; the last he saw him, he was captured. "We got to save Toothless."

"That's goin' to be a tad difficult, I'd say."

Hiccup turned to the entrance again, saw Gobber hobbling up into his room, emerging from the shadow of the corner of the house.

"The ships all left hours ago, and the dragons--" Gobber whistled, a low, sad whistle, and a sigh. "It makes a grown man cry, I swear."

The massacre. He remembered Astrid telling him. He shut his eyes a minute, let the fact sink in. The horrible fact. Hours ago? He cursed the sleep he's been lost in. "We can still get to Toothless." He didn't want to let that picture of his dragon in bondage get to his nerves again. Astrid was right; he couldn't let the panic get him. He needed to keep together. "Can't we still catch up to them?"

"With what?" Gobber jabbed his crook of a hand out towards the window. "Our whole fleet is crumblin' under our very eyes as we speak, and the dragons -- my mother's memory. . . they've gone through so much already. Did ye see the size of that Skirra Véllite lot? Stoick will tell ya."

"Dad?" Hiccup glanced up at him, desperate suddenly.

His father motioned to Astrid and Gobber. "I need to talk to my son," he said, simply, slowly, his demeanor detached from the conversation, it seemed. Odd, I should have been watching. His heart started racing now, the unconscious panic for Toothless, he figured, and he leaned back, tried to calm himself, think clearly. Astrid rose reluctantly, squeezed the fingers of Hiccup's left hand before stepping out. Gobber grumbled something hot and angry as he descended, his wooden leg clapping on the steps.

His father turned back to him, scooted into the chair next to his bed.

"What about Toothless?" Hiccup asked. His father sighed, shifted his weight on the little seat. "Like Gobber said, we can't help him now."


"The ships are long gone."

"Dad, it's not too late."

"Listen, son." Stoick latched his eyes on him, put his hand out pointedly. "You haven't seen the damage outside--"

"Is it too much to spare one ship."

"It's not about one ship, Hiccup."

"Aargh--" he gasped, irritated.

"They crippled us, they've crippled our dragons, they still have so many ships. We can't afford to go chasing them now. We need to get our fleet together, we need to cure our dragons. Half of them are incapacitated, either dead or traumatized. You need to be there to get them back to their senses. We might even have to train a lot of new ones. It's just not easy."

Hiccup lisped a hot breath, felt his lips press together in anger. His heart was heaving heavy now, and he knew it was giving his body too much stress, for his condition, but. . . "I'll go out and look for Toothless myself, then."

His father jolted up, the light from the candle slanting over his features.

"I'm serious," Hiccup snapped.

"And what will you chase them on? One of the broken ships?" His voice got thick. "You're in no condition to go flying."

"I did it before." Hiccup clenched his fist. "I can do it again."

"Hiccup, you're not doing that."

"I am, Dad."

Stoick slapped his hand on the boards of the bed. "You're not well, son."

"Says who?"

"You've been stabbed, that's not a light issue."

"I lost a leg, I think I can handle this just fine." Hiccup inhaled, felt his throat dry again. The fever, probably. He grimaced.

"Hiccup." His father's voice was firm, hard, like when he used to berate him every night for leaving the house to kill dragons. "I'm not letting you run off on some suicide mission."

"What do you think this is for Toothless? He's going to die, out there, if they get their way. I'm not letting that happen."


"Stabbed or not stabbed, I'm going after him." He flapped the blankets off of him, swung a leg over--

"Hiccup!" Stoick put his hands heavily on Hiccup's arms, pushed him back into the bed. Hiccup gasped and stared at him, looked into his father's round green eyes. He felt a hot steam coming out of his own chest, something angry, defiant.

"Hiccup, if you fail. . ."

"I won't fail."

"I'm serious, Hiccup."

"I'm serious."

"Hiccup, listen to me." His father pushed his hands into Hiccup's arms for emphasis, let go and sighed irritatedly. "These people are not just any rogue villains. They won't let you get away that easily. They tried to kill you once, if he sees you alive now -- you won't make it out next time."

Hiccup lashed his head to the side, exasperated. "And what's this thing they have against me?"

Stoick rustled up a paper from his belt, threw it on Hiccup's chest.

Hiccup inhaled sharply, didn't have to read the words.

You should have killed him when you had the chance. . .

He peered up at his father, the big eyes glaring down at the blood-stained note.

"They tried to kill you first, didn't they, before they started the war?" His father's voice was grave.

Hiccup stared down at the note, the presence of it on his chest throwing his mind into convulsions. He gasped a breath. "It was Heather," he breathed, calming himself, stopped the visions of her over him, the slanted light from the moonlight, the sword-- So they tried to get him first?

First. . .

He looked up at his father. "What did I ever do?"

Stoick sighed. "There's something I should have told you a long time ago. . ." He snapped out of his musing and tapped the paper suddenly. "You know they left this on you?"

"I know, Dad." He tried not to sound irked. "I was there, remember?"

His father did not catch the joke, mumbled as he read the note, silently. "It's true, though, I could have," he said, gruff and hard, suddenly, almost cracked. It was a change. . . a strange, sudden change. Hiccup swallowed, an odd fear brushing through him.

"And that's what's irritating Rune, I see now."

Hiccup licked his chapped lips. "Uh, what . . . do you mean?" He stared at his father, tensely.

"Rune hasn't forgotten the fact that Valla's gone. I guess he's never forgiven me for taking her, and he'll never forgive the fact that she died trying to save the runt of the tribe." Stoick flicked the paper from off Hiccup's chest, crumpled it in hot anger.

Hiccup blinked. ". . . me?" This was something different, not the story of his mother's death that he'd been told before. She was supposed to have died in some illness. Not. . . "What does that mean, Dad?" He cleared his dry throat suddenly, felt that strange sensation in him again, that cautious fear.

His father took a deep, heavy breath, his frame shivering thickly. He looked Hiccup in the eyes. Hiccup cringed down, inhaled. "Son, I never told you this. . . but . . ." He cleared his throat. "You know what we do with unwanted offspring. . ."

Hiccup blinked, his heart thumped suddenly, thick and heavy. His father's eyes were steady on him, and something horrible, terribly unthinkable starting pushing into Hiccup's mind.

Stoick looked away suddenly, pursed his lips. "Valla went out in the morning afterwards and found you, still alive on the hillside."

The breath left him.

He felt very pale suddenly.

He wasn't lying, was he? Of course he wasn't, why would he? He was the runt, he never doubted that, but to this extent. . . to, to. . . He inhaled, feeling suddenly very weak, his breath shivering. His father wasn't looking at him anymore, was mulling his eyes towards Hiccup's hands resting on the blankets. "Your birth was supposed to be a month later," the big man whispered. "You were so weak, so small. How you made it out of that night alive is just-- You're not supposed to live, but she. . . she wanted to save you."

Hiccup desperately cleared his throat, croaked out a mumble. ". . . how? How could this. . ."

Dad wanted me to die. . .

Stoick continued talking. Hiccup tried to keep up with the meaning of the words he was hearing. Something about an illness, his mother, the sickness going around the village. Stuff he heard before. "She was too weak to nurse a child."

Hiccup fingered the blankets suddenly, couldn't look at his father anymore.

"She only got weaker, taking care of you. We tried to help, but. . ." He sighed heavily. "It was too late by then. She died a month later."

Hiccup swallowed, didn't think there was any saliva left to do it with in his dry throat. Why didn't you tell me this before. . .? How could you. . .

"Rune came back a year after we banished him, found out she was gone because of you. He was angry. Angry that we banished him months before, angry that. . . Gobber told you about the competition? For Valla, on my Induction Day."

Hiccup nodded tensely. That love triangle of his Dad and Rune and his mother. . .

A lump formed in his throat. How could you think of just letting me die. . .

"I would have lost in that competition." Stoick said suddenly, taking a deep, dense breath. "But I only swam halfway to Odin's Point before I turned back."

Hiccup crossed his brows, couldn't get his mind off the fact that he, his own father could think of such a thing. All those years he'd hated him, since the beginning. . . His father's voice was still there, talking. ". . . Rune knew what I'd done, but no one believed him. I wouldn't let them." Hiccup blinked, tried to focus again, felt the throb in his side again. Okay, so his father was talking about that competition thing Gobber had told him about. So now. . . it was cheating? To win his mother. . . There was a sudden, increasingly disgusted feeling inside him and he cringed, turned to the left slightly, as much as he dared with his injury, away from Stoick. His father kept still talking, details like how he'd made sure Rune was blamed for the outburst, banished for trying to murder him.

Don't talk about murder to me. . .

. . . how Valla really did love him, but Rune just would never get it. A year after Induction, he'd come back looking for Valla, learned the truth and put a curse on Stoick, and on his children. And now Rune was probably out to avenge Valla somehow, get back on what he'd done to him at Induction. Stoick breathed out, sighed, and stopped talking suddenly. He patted Hiccup's arm. A horrible, disgusted feeling rushed up inside him and Hiccup pulled away, lisping something.


He breathed hard suddenly, looked away from Stoick, avoided his eyes.

"That's why I can't let you go anywhere near the Skirra Vél."

Toothless. So that's what this story was for, to keep him from getting to Toothless? He didn't say anything, kept staring at his desk on the other side of the room.

"You understand what I'm saying? He'll kill you."

Hiccup licked his lips, looked down at his father's hand next to him. "I guess that's nothing new," he whispered.

Stoick maybe sensed something, pulled his hand away. "That was all in the past."

"Then why didn't you tell me before."

The big man was quiet, turned away from looking at him. Hiccup watched him, waited for some kind of answer. He watched him breathe, large heavy breaths that made his shoulders rise and fall, the face hidden away in that big beard, his eyes small and downcast, sad. Regret, maybe?

Stoick never regretted anything.

"You're not going to try and save Toothless, are you?" Hiccup ventured quietly, knew almost the answer.

"There's not enough resources to engage in another battle."

Hiccup swallowed. "I'm going after him."

"Hiccup, we went through all that already. A sick, feeble boy is no match against an army of vengeful warriors."

Hiccup flinched, felt the sparked hum of pain in his shoulder again. He could still fly a dragon, and this -- he peered over at the stained bandage on his shoulder -- this wasn't going to stop him.

"That's not the point, right now," Stoick hummed, a thin edge of anger in his voice. "We have to get our resources together, and then go after Rune. We were surprised today, we can't go into war unprepared again. You understand that?" He looked at Hiccup closely.

Hiccup kept the stare, then turned away, and said nothing.

Stoick rose suddenly. "I'll let Astrid take care of you now. I have a war to run."

Hiccup didn't look back, stared at the desk, listened to him creak out of his room, down the stairs. He said something quiet to someone downstairs, Hiccup couldn't tell if it was hard or sympathetic, angry or maybe just flat and uncaring.

Did it matter?

A little gasp and the clap of small feet met his ears suddenly and he turned over to his right, saw her running up the steps, the cloth in one hand, a mug in the other, and. . . She looked different now. He leaned back, blinked. She'd thrown some water on her hair, smoothed out the crinkles in the braid, and her skirt, the red stains had been washed off and a gleam of moisture glistened on the leather. She stood there a moment, and he imagined the faintest of smiles on her lips, and for a moment he thought he was happy.

But not for long. Toothless. . .

She bent down to him, a hard determination in her eyes, her hands busy around him. She asked him if he was still cold.

"He doesn't want me to go after Toothless, Astrid."

She patted his head with the cloth. "I asked, are you cold?"

"Didn't you hear me?"

She pulled back, flapped the moist cloth on the bed next to his arm, a quiet irritation in her movement.

"I said I'm going out anyway. By myself, if it comes to that."

She looked at him, inhaled and looked away. "I know we have to save Toothless, but . . ." She put a palm on his forehead. He hissed in a breath, felt her fingers cold, suddenly very cold on his skin. "Hiccup, you're not in any condition to do anything heroic."

"I'm not trying to be a hero."

"Well, what would you call running out after Toothless alone?"

"Astrid, you sound just like him."

"Your dad's got a point."

My Dad. . . His breath suddenly got heavy and he pursed his lips. Would it matter if he told her now? It wouldn't fix anything. . .

"Hiccup, what's the matter?"

He blinked, looked up at her. She was eyeing him critically.

"Besides Toothless?" he sighed.

Her look melded into concern.

"Aaah." He flumped another heavy sigh. "Apparently I killed my mom, and Rune and the rest of them are going after me -- and my father. It doesn't make sense, Astrid. I just. . ." He swallowed. "Did you know I was supposed to be killed?"

She pursed her lips. "I guess they tried." She pointed to his shoulder.

"No, no, not that. Ugh!" He inhaled. This wasn't coming out right. He put his right hand to his forehead, tried to get his thoughts into something sensible. "Astrid, he just told me that he didn't want me, from the beginning. I don't know how to say this. . . They left me on some hillside to die, and I guess my mother took pity and saved me. I--"

She was looking at him incredulously now, a splash of shock on her face.

"That's what he just told me." He sighed. It was hard calling him Dad right now, he couldn't explain the feeling. He pursed his lips. "I guess taking care of me was the death of her, and now Rune's mad because she's gone." He closed his eyes and breathed out, exhausted. "It's crazy. . ."

A hand rubbed his right shoulder, suddenly, gently.

His mouth felt dry again and he licked his lips, opened his eyes and watched her face, thoughts running fast behind her eyes. "I didn't know that," she hummed.

"He never told me before."

She pulled her hand from him, reached out and took the mug from the bed stand. "You better drink something, Hiccup, if you want to help Toothless." She nudged the mug up near his lips.

He took her wrist, kept the mug from coming closer. "You mean that?"

She looked down, put her other hand on his. "I don't want to."

"What does that mean?" He let her hand go.

She took his head in her other hand, brought the lip of the cup to his mouth. "Just drink something, Hiccup, I don't know what I'm thinking. It's crazy."

The water sloshed up his mouth, felt cool and refreshing in his throat. He gulped it down and she brought the cup away. "You know I can't leave Toothless," he said.

"But I know you can't just go killing yourself trying to get to him, either."

"What if there's no other option?"

"Are there, really?"

Hiccup sighed, got a spasm of chills and brought the blanket closer to him. "He doesn't want to go after Toothless, and I don't know how long it'll take for him to get ready -- or if it won't be too late by that time."

Astrid patted his chest lightly. "All I know is that you're not risking your life, and you're going to rest. I won't have you dying, whatever you do."

She brought the cup up to his mouth again, pushed it up his lips. He took it, let the water mingle in his mouth, slip under his tongue.

He didn't want to tell her yet, not exactly. When everyone was asleep, maybe, if they would sleep that night, he was going to get out there and save Toothless. He could follow the ships, it wouldn't be that hard. Sure, he'd be risking a lot, and maybe he needed to think about it more. And if his father was right and they were out to enact some insane revenge, well. . . He sighed. If Dad could keep secrets as big as that, surely I can. Leave Berk, on his ship or on a dragon, it didn't matter. And would he care? Probably not. But. . .

Whatever happened, he was going to get to Toothless, somehow.


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