Chapter 13: Search Over the Sea
Chapter 13: Search Over the Sea
Chapter 13: Search Over the Sea

30th Oct 2012, 11:16 PM

by inhonoredglory

It was night, and she was asleep.

At last.

He squeezed shut his eyes, opened them, blinked in the growing mist of the moisture in the air, the sticky prelude of another storm. Stoick was somewhere else, tending to the village, the dragons. He could sometimes hear his big voice shouting in the distance, like a leader in the darkness. He wouldn't be home that night, he heard him say. There was just too much to do. Hiccup was glad about that. Less impediments to his plan.

And then Astrid . . . she was there next to him, asleep by now, her back bent over the side of his bed, her head on her arm, the moist cloth still in her hand. He sighed, could still feel her hand on his forehead, constantly checking him, and the warm water she dabbed on his chest and head. She'd gone out earlier, reported that the damage was much worse than he thought. Stormfly was okay, thankfully, she'd told him that. But the arrow wound would incapacitate her for a week, at least. The same with Hookfang. They both needed major recuperation. "Like you," she'd said, with a hint of purpose in her voice.

Astrid, do you want me to save Toothless?

He wasn't really sure. She seemed to dodge the question whenever he tried to bring it up that evening. Which is why he couldn't risk telling any of them -- the kids, his father, Gobber -- about what he was planning to do. He hated to do it, hated to keep them, her in the dark, but . . . She was worried about him too much. And not enough about Toothless. Of course she said he might die trying something, anything to save Toothless.

So?

There were only two options -- doing nothing or doing something. And he wasn't going with the first option, that much he knew. And he'd rested quite enough, didn't he? He tested his own forehead, couldn't tell if he'd improved or not, decided that he had and slipped the blankets off of himself, careful not to wake her. It's not that cold, he hummed, pushing down the chattered feelings nipping inside of him. He cursed his condition, inhaled slowly, carefully. He can make it, I can make it. I have to.

He set his foot gently on the ground, grateful they hadn't taken off his prosthetic before putting him to bed. One extra step he didn't have to take now. He put both feet on the ground, sat at the edge of his bed, looked back at her.

He wanted to bring a hand over her head, over the blonde curls glinting in the moonlight from the cracks in the paneled window above. He'd watched her sleeping before -- out when they went camping together once a couple months ago, and they'd decided not to head home for once, just rubbed out a place in the grass and watched the stars come out. He didn't dare sleep before her, he wanted to see what she looked like still and quiet. She was so beautiful angry, even more beautiful in the placid calm of sleep. He hated to leave her, here in the dark. But it was this very thing that would keep him here, that would make her beg him to stay. He figured that out about her, with that whole jealousy mess. He smiled. But Toothless needed him, more than anything right now, certainly more than she needed him. He inhaled, stepped up, and made his way to his desk. If any of them came in and saw him out, doing something, that would be the end of him. He fumbled quickly through the stuff, the papers and doodads on the desk. He kept telling himself he had to clean up this place, get it organized better. Man, there wasn't any time in his life, not with the Academy and Induction training and--

Induction training. He smiled, a small ridiculous smile of strange amusement.

I guess that's not happening anymore.

His smile faded into a dark sorrow. "Oh, Toothless," he breathed and closed his eyes, put a hand on his face and his elbow on the table. "Please be okay," he whispered. "Don't be afraid, I'm coming for you, bud. Just . . . hang on . . ." He inhaled, opened his eyes and looked out at his desk again, a whirl of purpose and what he figured was adrenaline pumping through him. Good, that was good. He needed that. Might be the only thing keeping him through this journey. It was going to be a long one. Astrid mentioned the direction the ships had gone, and how it must be a long ways off, if the Hooligans never came upon their island -- Herkja, it was -- before now.

He was going to be needing a lot of supplies.

He swallowed, got some moisture in his throat, and reached for the knapsack in the cubby hole of the table. Silently. He threw one of his spyglasses into it, dashed in a roll of ropes, just in case . . . who knows? He fingered the tiny contraption he'd made, the one with the hovering bar of metal -- that weird metal that kept pointing left of the sunrise -- and threw it into the bag. And then the little ticking contraption. He spent ages on it, and it didn't really have a purpose, but the regularity of its tick-tock fascinated him, and he figured once he added markers, it might make a good time-telling device. Stoick was not amused.

But then he's never amused . . .

He sighed, threw it into the bag, looked back suddenly and checked that she was still asleep. He flipped through his papers, looking for something that might be of help. He found an empty paper, picked up his charcoal and wrote a note out to her, rolled it in his hand, suddenly realized . . . hmm. Something was odd. He ruffled through the papers again, finally realized it.

She'd taken the plans for his ship, his metal ship.

He shook his head. As if taking Toothless and killing him weren't enough for them. What did they think of doing? Making . . .

Metal ships.

He breathed in. If they got that done, Berk's doomed. He shook his head. It only worked with that metal on Dragon Island. I mean, I never tried it on anything else, but . . . It wasn't a good sign, no matter which way you looked at it. He flipped back the papers, couldn't think of it right now. It would take them a couple days at most to even figure out his plans. He didn't exactly write them as anything readable except to himself, so . . . maybe his shorthand would throw them off for a while. And then there was the thing about the metal itself . . . well, he'd hope for the best. It wasn't exactly something in his immediate control right now.

He'd have to get food -- blankets and tent material maybe. He had a funny feeling he wasn't going to be able to get to any dragons. His father had them all collected in the village, arranging them for war, or in the Academy, caring for them. He'd heard that already. There'd be too many people, out to get him back in bed. At least his Night Fury was still in that hidden spot he'd beached it at because of that spat with Astrid. Man, that was ages ago. He breathed in, looked for things on his desk.

The Academy was probably a hospital now, he suddenly thought. He swallowed, suddenly felt very guilty, leaving them all like that.

They needed him here.

He pursed his lips and his fingers brushed by a sketchbook on the table. He knew which one it was, that one he drew Toothless in at the beginning. Don't do this to me. . .

Of course he had to go. The kids were here, the rest of the village. It's not like he was the only one who could deal with dragons. And who was going to go after Toothless? Everyone would think it was crazy, and that was the plain truth -- crazy to do something so unprepared. He turned from the table, took the sketchbook for some reason, started for the stairs. He was an idiot, he knew, being ridiculously stupid right now. He stuffed his blankets and some spare clothing into the sack, threw in a roll of fabric for his injury, slipped on a new vest, two of them, just for good measure.

Stupid, really stupid.

But smart wasn't going to help Toothless, so . . .

He stepped back, watched Astrid's sleeping figure breathing there, gently, unknowingly next to his bed. He unrolled the paper from his hand, placed it carefully in front of her, pursed his lips and turned away.

He stepped down the stairs, quietly, was grateful that he wasn't feeling cold or weak or nauseous right now. It probably would all hit him on the ship, he figured. Just as well. At least he'd be out there already, and there won't be any turning back. He reached the end of the stairs, adjusted his eyes to the darkness of the lower room from the moonlight of his room. He slung the sack over his right shoulder and winced as he unintentionally stretched his left side. He'd have to learn to live with that. It won't be that hard. He snuck over to where the food was kept, grabbed a couple dried things and a couple sealed skins of water. There was still a good bit of wind outside, probably another storm coming. He could get more water from the rain. The finality of what he was doing hit him suddenly and he paused just at the doorway of the back door. The chills came back and he shivered, wrapped his vest around him tighter.

:: ::

Do it again, Toothless was shrieking, pumping his wings, roaring across the spinning expanse of blue and white and blinding light. Come on Hiccup, flip the stirrup harder! He jerked his head back, tried to spy through the flap of red hair into the face underneath. A big grin staring back at him and a sudden whoop. "Okay, bud, but don't blame me if you get winded." Ha! That'll never happen, Toothless throated back. His tailfin suddenly flicked, he slicked his wings against his hot breathing sides as the familiar little legs tightened beside him and the small body crouched against his neck as the wind shot through them and the mountain peaks screamed past them. He flattened his ear flaps against his head, narrowed his eyes, aimed for the ships far but fast approaching below, the dirty, blackened, barnacled, crusted, decaying ships. Those ships. A savage growl escaped him. Let's blast them. Blast every one of them. "No Toothless." The familiar voice, elation gone, firm and urgent now. But what they did to you-- "No, we can't, it wouldn't be--" The voice trailed off; he was getting exasperated with it. Come on Hiccup, our chance is flying away. It's us or them, them or us, Hiccup, don't you hear, listen to me . . .

Voices sparked in his mind, grew louder, more boisterous. From the left side. Different voices. Just shut up.

Wait-- Toothless jerked his eyes open, nudged his head up, suddenly found his head had been resting on his feet and his whole body slack on the deck. It was just a dream. Hard orange light slanted across the wooden floorboards, armored humans bustled about the deck where quiet mounds of blankets had been the night before. A gritty ash wafted past the mast of the ship, wafting down thickly from a gritty gray sky, the smell of sulfur pungent and biting. The sun's light fought through the blanket of ash, slanting hard and brilliant through the volcanic fog in shafts of flameless fire. The dawn was imminent.

He jerked up to his feet, a fire welling up in his throat, parching him. He glanced around among the people, searching, crazily hoping, but in vain. Of course not. There was no way possible. The last place Hiccup would be was on this ship.

He snorted, tried swallowing to relieve the dryness in his throat. Dreams, he mused. The real ones were the worst. He attempted to yawn, to stretch his legs, his wings, just a little, but all the straps and cords and aches and cramps came shouting back at him from all sides as every nudge he made in any direction met with tight resistance. A sudden numbing sting shot from his tail as he jerked it. He could feel the crates almost tipping, yet not enough. They were still on him. He wasn't even sure if he could feel the end of his tail. He grunted, edged his mouth open, just wanted to bare his teeth at the straps, but couldn't.

Go ahead and complain Toothless. Hiccup was probably going through just as much. Toothless stared down at the molding floorboards. Hiccup. What was he doing now? He hated not knowing where his best friend was. Even when Hiccup snuck away from the village during stressful days at the Academy, when nobody, not even Astrid or Stoick, knew where he'd gone, he'd always set off with him by his side, both conspiring in whatever fun or mischief they had planned. Sometimes they escaped for an entire day, snuck back to the cove, splashed each other underneath the waterfall. The longest they'd been apart was those three days on that winter a year ago, those days he regretted for even thinking he could live without the boy. And then in the Hall, as Hiccup cradled his chin in both his palms, he made him a promise, a promise he knew the kid couldn't hear, anyway, but swore to keep nonetheless. I will never leave you.

So what about that promise now?

Toothless suddenly focused his eyes on the deck, flexed his wings underneath the straps. I'll escape. If not here, then on the island. His glance crept to the side of the ship, across the vast expanse of sea clouded in ash and cluttered with ships. He'd figure out how to fly over that hurdle when he got there. For now, concentrate. Watch these people. He scanned the deck, observed the gossiping warriors clustered together around semi-circles of crates as sudden hot smells wafted from the things in their hands and mouths. Some of the hands flicked stuff over the edge of the ship, into the waves, which the wandering water dragons scavenged as the stuff hit the water. Toothless flared his nostrils, felt a pang in his stomach as he recognized the scents one by one. Cod. Mackerel. Salmon. Those words Hiccup voiced whenever he fed him. The pang in his stomach rumbled again. On most days at this time, he'd be diving into a nice big pile of fish in the downstairs room next to the table. Hiccup always got my breakfast first . . . Before he even sat down with his father for his own.

He shook his head, tried to yawn again, the mouth strap suddenly clamping his jaws taut. He growled, irritated, clawed the ground--

Skari said you were captured.

Toothless whirled. The hum came from below someplace, over the side of the ship.

You're not the one who shot down that monster dragon? The smaller hum was pointed, questioning. Toothless glanced out, saw the water dragons assembled near the side of the ship, lolling in the waves, lapping the debris thrown out by the humans, eyes bright and yellow and curious. Their bodies were lined with glowing specks, their eyes glowing even brighter as they stared amusedly at him. Scavenger Swordtails.

Toothless grumbled, was in no mood to gab about old times when he and Hiccup shot that volcano dragon out of the sky. What's it to you? he hissed through his mouth strap.

You're caught now, aren't you? The one dragon eyed him with a smirk.

My questions stands. Toothless growled, leaning his head in towards them.

Skari came back from Berk with all the details, about you and the monster dragon and the-- The thin dragon spat a glob of oil into the water. And that human. He sniffed and licked his tongue across his narrow snout. Toothless narrowed his eyes at him, did not appreciate that attitude. Did Skari tell them about the so-called traitorousness of his actions over the past two years? Someone like him would.

We thought you were something fabulous. The water dragon purred. Now look at you.

Toothless snapped his jaws, hard to do in the bounds. The straps of leather that only seemed to prove that horrid little dragon's point. He hissed, a loud dragon's curse at them, snapped his head back and glared.

And to think -- that Ormarr would even think of caring for you.

You shut up about Ormarr.

We'll tell him about you now, weak and helpless, nothing like the great Night Fury he kept telling us about.

Toothless lashed his head, as best he could. He didn't care about these creatures' opinion, knew Ormarr was not stupid enough to believe them, but . . . Go ahead and tell Ormarr. . . . but maybe they'd tell him and maybe he'd blast this fleet out of the water, and get him out of here. He hated to ask for help, knew he could escape when they got the cursed bonds off of him, but what fool was he not to sneak in a little assistance? The little school of water dragons, the main one talking to him, snuck off into the ocean, lilts of smirking spite on his lips. Toothless hated to let that go, to see that succeed. That was the thing about the water dragons. They hated his kind, his flying kind, and his kind hated them. It wasn't something he regretted right now.

:: ::

She blinked her eyes open. Her face was on the edge of his bed, her arm under her head. She hummed pleasantly, feeling comfortable, rested, maybe a little stiff with her back bending over like that all night, but refreshed nonetheless. It was an insane day, the battle, the injuries, all the dragons. It made her suddenly sick to her stomach and she jolted upright. "Hiccup--" she instinctively said, opened her eyes and suddenly, suddenly--

"Hiccup!"

The boy wasn't there. The blankets weren't there. Her head jolted up, around the room. Where had he gone, curse him. He was in no condition to go traipsing around. What was she here for anyway? To-- to sit and do nothing? She could just as easily get his breakfast and--

Her eye alighted on a paper suddenly on the bare wood panels of the bed. She grabbed it quickly; she could recognize his handwriting anywhere.

I'm okay, Astrid. Don't worry about me. Just left to find Toothless. Take care of the dragons for me, I'll be back as soon as I get him.
--Hiccup


She pursed her lips and hissed a curse. That crazy kid . . . He'd been prodding her about that all evening, she never dreamed he'd just go off and do something so stupid. She turned the paper around, wondered suddenly how long ago this was, or how he planned on leaving Berk. It was morning now. She looked at the window, the window that they'd blocked up because of the storm, but through the cracks, she could feel the wind pushing through. The storm was kicking up again, sharp and livid in the air. She suddenly stepped to his desk, her fingers rifling past the scattered papers and curling behind the stands of clay pots holding brushes, searching, finally finding, the little tubular object he'd made. The spyglass. She'll need that, before the storm got so bad to block out the view of the sea.

She whirled around, headed down the stairs. Stoick was still not in -- he probably never got in, really, and Hiccup wasn't anywhere in sight. If that note was right, he was probably out at sea someplace, either killing himself on a dragon or killing himself on a ship. She burst out of the house, shocked at the blast of cold, unfeeling air that hit her -- and the murky fog of ash drifting in her face. Much more ash than last night, that's for sure. How could that volcano all the way from Dragon Island be throwing this much stuff over here? It must have belched out something in the night. She waved her hand in front of her, irritated. Someone was walking slowly, exhaustedly by, and she accosted him quickly.

"Have you seen Hiccup?"

The weary eyes -- of Sven, she realized -- blinked at her, dumbfounded. "No, Astrid," he said, gravely, and pulled out of her grasp. "I need some sleep right now. Find your dragon trainer for me, okay?"

There was a bitterness in that voice, a terrible, haunting bitterness. Was it that bad? She whirled, faced the wind and swirls of dust and ash in the air. Upwards, the sky was black and heavy, dark on the horizon, sparks of lightning already in the clouds far above, and the ocean, already rippling to the vibrations of the wind. Maybe he didn't get out that far, maybe he came back and realized how ridiculous it was what he was doing.

But somehow that seemed oddly unlikely; she knew Hiccup too well, and if he said he was going to do something, he wouldn't go back on his word. She pursed her lips, raced down towards the Academy, didn't know why, just had a hope against hope that he was there, taking care of the sick dragons and not doing whatever his note claimed. "Hey!" she screamed. "Any of you seen Hiccup?"

:: ::

"Are you sure Stormfly can't do it?"

"No, Astrid, it's gonna be a good week or maybe two, before she can get on her feet --er, her wings again. And in this storm, no, nope, I'm sorry, she needs to rest."

Astrid sighed, slapped her fist against her thigh. Gobber was right. She was in no condition to go on search and rescue right now. Gobber had been up all night, she could tell, the black bags under his eyes, the tired movements. The spitting wind and the suddenly incessant rush of ash in the air didn't help, either, she was afraid. Her own eyes were beginning to twitch to the stuff in the air. Hiccup could have helped so much with the dragons, if he were well -- if he were here. The kids mulled around her, and next to her, Stoick -- a fuming volcano about to explode, so hot was his irritation. His heavy form shook in the swirls of air, like a mythical sculpture in the fog, standing over the sea. She smirked, had better things to do than imagine fairytales and legends. "Hookfang's not ready, either, is she?" she asked Gobber.

"Of course not," Snotlout cut in suddenly, "thanks to Hiccup and his Dad."

Astrid snapped her head to him. "Hey, watch your mouth -- what's that supposed to mean?"

Snotlout put his lips together, stared at her.

"Snotlout, you shut up." Stoick's big voice was barely controlled, and Astrid could see a thousand thoughts running in the back of his mind. "You get your parties ready, I'm getting on Thornado. Sven and Gandalfr, Halldorr, Fishlegs, Snotlout, you get in the air, now. Tuffnut and Ruffnut you make sure your dragons are ready. I expect to see you up in five minutes, and you don't come back until you get my son. Understood?"

"Got it, chief," Tuffnut said, voice edged with excitement. He punched his fists together.

"You double up on your dragons, okay, kids?" Stoick latched eyes with Astrid. "We need to spare every dragon we can to get ready here, in case we have to move before we find him."

Astrid nodded, turned to the twins. "Let's hit it." Ruff nudged her head down, caught up with her brother, who was already making his way to the Zippleback. "Belch, Barf, let's make this snappy," he hummed and mounted his head. Ruff swung her legs over her side, and Astrid hopped onto the back, the base where the two necks converged. She suddenly felt someone behind her latch some arms around her waist. She whirled. "Snotlout!"

"He said double up!" He grinned.

Making jokes . . . "Have you no respect?"

"For what?"

"Wipe that grin off your face, I'm here for Hiccup, and nothing else."

"Sure, sweet." He hugged her tight, as the dragon suddenly launched and they sped into the stormy sky. "There's not a moment to lose!" Fishlegs' voice came broken in the vast wind. As if they didn't already believe that. She caught sight of him fluttering awkwardly on his dragon next to them, the round shapes sorely non-aerodynamic. She grasped the spyglass close to her, squinted in the rain that was now falling, as they rose higher and the wind flapped stronger against her face. They rose, up into the lowering overcast, leveling out below the base of the clouds. The ocean was so big -- and Hiccup was so small. But he couldn't have gotten out that far.

They headed opposite the sunrise, where Stoick had told them Herkja was located. They'd have to cross paths with Dragon Island. Her eyes squinted just thinking about it. Too much ash, from the thing blowing off steam again sometime in the night. She hated it, knew that a driving curtain of rain was bad enough -- but a wall of ash? Hiccup was gonna be one sticky, grimy mess when they got to him. If they found him. She shook her head at the thought, suddenly realized-- "You think he went by ship, or by dragon?" she said out loud, to no one really.

"Hiccup?" Snotlout behind her suddenly laughed out loud. "He'd scram out on his hands and knees to--"

"Hiccup did not scram." Astrid jabbed her elbow suddenly into Snotlout's side, relished his pained, pitiful moan. "Hiccup never scrams."

"Oh, okay," Snotlout whimpered. Astrid looked on ahead, smiling, through the rain and ash.

"Well he was stupid, you gotta admit," Ruffnut drawled from her post on Barf's head, shielded her face with her arm.

"Stupid -- and far too noble for his own good," Astrid shouted back, leaning forward, letting Snotlout hold her closer to keep her from falling. "But let's be serious. Wouldn't any of you feel the same way if it was one of your dragons nabbed right now?" She swiveled around, eyed each of them. Fishlegs stroked Meatlug thoughtfully, and the twins threw knowing glances at each other. She turned away from them, set her eyes across the ash-drenched sea and sputtering whitewater, let the gritty, brisk wind lift her bangs above her eyes.

She could hear a slapping ahead of her between the two Zippleback heads. Tuffnut punching at his sister again. "Yeah, Ruff, what's more stupidly noble than nabbing your dragon back from three hundred Drakkars and a thousand angry warriors? That's totally awesome, man, it's totally hero."

Ruffnut slapped his arm. "And don't forget he's got only one good arm. I'm not missing this."

"Won't you two get serious?" Astrid half-rose from her seat on the dragon. "We're gonna stop him from being a hero. For his own good."

Tuffnut's shoulders slumped. "You sound like his mom, if he had one." He giggled.

"Hey, you don't know anything about his mother," she spat savagely, slapped the side of the Zippleback with her fist. The dragon quivered under her fingers. The kids didn't know about the whole story he'd told her, but that kind of insult, it was too much, even in jest. "Who's side are you guys on anyway?" she hissed. "You know he's not up to this kind of thing, not in his condition. I'd gladly run into battle with him if he wasn't stabbed, half-drowned, and dying of pneumonia. Maybe I'm stupid." She palmed her face in her hand, hit the spyglass against her forehead. "Maybe I should have gone after Toothless myself, gave him his precious peace of mind, ugh!" But Toothless was too important to him, so . . .

"Uh guys?" Fishleg's quavering voice. She craned her neck to the left, saw him holding a stubby hand over his helmet and trying to steady Meatlug in the rising gale. "Is it just me, or did we just lose the rest of the search party?"

"What?" Astrid scanned the air around them suddenly, her vision met only by thickening waves of blurry gray rain and ragged, lowering clouds. She shivered suddenly, her arms and face coated in water and her bangs, stringy and sticking and awful over her eyes. She swiped her hair away and grabbed Snotlout's knees as she twisted her body on her perch and made a full circle of a search around the dragon, over the quickly vanishing expanse of the roiling waves. No Stoick, no Sven, nobody. Only a curtain of gray in every direction.

"They're lost!" Snotlout blurted as she curved around him to look behind the Zippleback. She pursed her lips. Or we are. She lifted the spyglass to eye level, scanned the murky horizon. Even Fishlegs and Meatlug were fading vaguely in the thick curtains of rain as the plump boy and dragon tried desperately to keep with the Zippleback.

"Can't you go any faster?" Astrid shouted suddenly, the rain melting into her mouth.

"Hey, Belch is huffing the best he can," Tuffnut slung his offended blond dreadlocks behind him, his sister shoving her braids and also snapping back. "We won't take you for a ride next time if you're gonna be such a cranky passenger." The twins jolted forward again, facing the driving rain. Astrid jutted her chin at them and sighed at the rhythm of the dragon's flight. She continued staring through the spyglass. But what a waste it was, like staring into a mug of yaknog for all the good it was doing her. The morning was slipping by fast, the storm was strengthening, the gritty ash was unbearable. And Hiccup was nowhere in sight. They could have passed him for all she knew, judging by the opaqueness of the rolling fog enveloping what little remained of visible water. If only they had set out for him sooner, and if only she could fly faster, faster! If only she had Stormfly right now, instead of languishing on this lethargic reptile. Hiccup, why did you have to go off and be a hero?

It was too many hours now; she had lost count of the endless search over the sea. What was she doing in this blinding rain, getting chilled to death and probably getting lost in the middle of the sea? Dragons couldn't fly forever. What if they themselves couldn't find land? What if they went out too far and didn't head home? This weather would down them, this storm and this ocean could land them in the unforgiving waves. And they wouldn't be much better off than Hiccup then, would they?

Her skin crawled at the very thought of leaving him out here, cold and wet, hurting and alone. She wouldn't turn back, couldn't leave him out here to wait for the storm to blow over. He was so worried about Toothless, it was true, with that dumb sort of love that was bound to get him killed one of these days. But maybe she had that for him, too, for the stupid son of a chief. Right now she didn't care, it wasn't the place to think big thoughts about this mess. She was going out to save him and that was the end of the matter, suicidal missions on both sides notwithstanding.

A faint glow pulsated suddenly in the corner of her eye, through the thick curtain of cloud to their right. She opened her mouth, almost spoke, but Tuffnut and Ruffnut suddenly angled the Zippleback to the lights, Fishlegs and Meatlug shifting course automatically, hypnotically, like moths drawn to a candle in a sea of darkness. But there were many candles, all across the water, pinpoints of lights dotting the waves below them. The lights, alive, leaping, gliding, out of the water. Water dragons aglow, thin wings shining, their heaving sides lined with lights that flickered as the bodies crisscrossed in and out of the sea. Myriads of lighted dragons jeweling the sea, playing in the pitching waves, playing delightfully in the storm.

:: ::

The fact is, they didn't call him a Dragon Whisperer for nothing. He perked the moment he felt it, felt that presence of something big and dangerous in the water, bigger and different than the school of water dragons that was purring and glowing around him. His body stiffened and he swallowed. He peeked his head out of the blanket that he'd thrown over himself as a sort of hood. Another blanket was hanging in a tent shape from the mast and bow, providing a sort of shelter from the rain and wind that he expected from the storm -- and that had been pummeling him and his ship for the last twelve hours. The little fire he made was sitting in front of him, flickering away under the protection of the tent, burning in the depression of metal he had built into the floor of the ship. He'd made The Night Fury flexible for things like this, like living long-term on a ship. After all, she was a prototype, a fully functioning warship, swiveled crossbows on the rims and a small lookout tower at the top of one of its three masts. The crossbows were, of course, his Dad's idea. He was still iffy about his supposed fate as a Viking warrior, what with war and bloodshed . . . it wasn't looking very attractive now, not unless it was really needed, and that, he felt, didn't happen too often. Not under his watch, it wouldn't.

But chiefdom, like Induction Day, was pretty far away now. Thoughts like that had run their course around his head in that half day on the sea, over the endless, faceless ocean. Now more pertinent issues were at stake. Like Toothless. And the monster sea dragon he felt somewhere in the ocean around him. He didn't have time to get shipwrecked, and he spat a nonsense syllable of irritation before flapping open the tent cover, squinting in the torrents of rain and flecks of dust, ash, and now snow that was swirling around him. He caught himself and grabbed the mast, a little dizzy suddenly. He'd already gone the whole run of illness in the first couple hours on deck -- from the chills to the nausea, the fever and coughing, the general seasickness. He missed Astrid. But the bouts kept him busy for a while, some other pain from the one in his shoulder, although battling all that while still manning the tiller alone was a challenge, especially as the winds shifted and he had to adjust things. But The Night Fury was a good girl, and she took the winds beautifully, like he planned her to, the huge sails -- all seven of them, plus the subordinate sails he linked from mast to bow on the front -- all billowed wide and glorious in the wind, like Night Fury wings stalling a dive. That's where he'd got the idea from, Toothless. . . .

Now, with the storm still in full swing and the weather being a general adversity, he stepped out of his shelter, expecting to find something dangerous in the waves. But maybe it was just a feeling inside him. There didn't seem to be anything out there, not yet anyway. Just lots of harsh, rolling water, waves breaking out into white, thunder somewhere in the distance, under the black clouds. And of course, the glow he was now used to -- the shimmering lights of the water dragons as they lapped around his ship and played in the stormy waves around him. He pursed his lips.

". . . hey . . ."

He swore he heard that, something, some voice. He whirled to face upward suddenly, shielded his eyes from the rain and falling drifts of ash and snow. "Meatlug. . .?" he mumbled. Sure enough, it was the Gronckle, spinning shakily in the stormy air, the round shape of Fishlegs balancing atop him. And behind him, the twin's Zippleback, the heads bobbing in a fashion unmistakable. The poor dragons were dead tired, and--

He suddenly realized. This was a search party -- for him, and those poor dragons were probably flying for hours. When did they start? And was his Dad here . . . ?

He jumped down suddenly, into his little tent near the mast, felt like he needed to scramble for something, anything, because he had this feeling they were going to want to take him back. And that couldn't happen. Suddenly the ship lurched to the right and Hiccup jolted, grabbed the mast for support. His injury complained again at the quick movement and he mentally berated it. The ship jolted to portside all of a sudden, and he felt weight being put on her, growls and finally human voices. They'd landed. He released the mast, crawled out towards the opening of the tent. The kids were jumping down off the dragons, which were panting on the deck of the ship. Astrid hopped off the neck of the Zippleback, Snotlout sliding off from behind her. He stared Hiccup down suddenly, hot complaint in his voice. "We've been flying for hours!"

Hiccup raised a brow. What happened to the sympathy?

"Hey!" Tuffnut jumped off his head of the dragon, snapped at Snotlout. "You should have enjoyed it, I thought you liked Astrid . . ."

Astrid stomped on ahead of them, down the wooden planks, landing on the panel of iron next to the tent structure, bending down to him, a sudden concern in her eyes. "Are you all right--?"

"Sure, Astrid." He popped out of the opening, tried to get to his feet, and suddenly felt her arms around him, supporting him. "What were you thinking, are you out of your mind?" She latched one hand on his chest, the other on his back. He tried to wave her off, tried to step out of her grasp. "Hey, I'm okay, didn't you get my note?"

"That's what convinced me you'd gone nuts."

"Ugh--" he snapped a sigh.

"You're coming back with us."

"I can't, Astrid."

"Can you please stop being stupid."

"We've gone through all this before--"

"Hey, Hiccup and-- and Astrid. . ." Fishlegs' little voice piped in suddenly, shaky. Hiccup looked up, but Astrid was still looking at him, at his shoulder and holding him up.

"I, uh, think we'd better get moving . . ." Fishlegs was pointing out at the ocean, and the kids behind him -- the twins and Snotlout -- followed his gaze. Hiccup sucked in a breath, knew what it was before Fishlegs even had to point it out. Out in the middle of the ocean, lightened by the glow of the hundreds of dragons in the sea, he saw the huge gigantic dragon he'd felt all along. Astrid stiffened suddenly next to him, yelped as she saw the huge dragon. "What the--"

"It's the Great Dragon," Hiccup said quickly, "he's not dange--"

An ear-splitting roar shot at them suddenly. The ship jolted, sending them backwards suddenly, Hiccup slipped and hit the deck, gasped as his left arm smacked under him. "Whoa!!" Fishlegs shrieked. The twins yelped, odd smiles on their faces as they hit port side, grappling the metal rim and scrambling up to where he and Astrid were. Snotlout had somehow slipped overboard and was squeaking as he fumbled for the rim. Astrid reached out for him. "Grab it," she snapped, and hauled him over as the ship lolled starboard, Hiccup sliding across the metal panels on deck. The drifting rain above mingled with a cold, salty splash of seawater on his face. Dragon screams came at them suddenly, and flashes of dragon wings as Hiccup realized Belch, Barf, and Meatlug weren't on deck anymore, were flapping up into the sky, the ship unstable to hold them. "Hey!" Fishlegs shouted, clamoring the air to get to his dragon, who was flapping shakily above them. The screams were coming from afar now, with those dragons out in the sea. Big, heavy screams, from that huge dragon -- and, and another dragon. Hiccup scrambled up, threw a hand over the rim and looked out. Astrid was screeching something behind him, probably telling him to get back or something, he didn't quite catch it because--

That Skrill again, now fighting the Great Dragon. The Skrill was covered in flashes of white and blue, sparks of purple. Increasing, brighter, louder, it seemed, and the big dragon, that monster of a creature. He opened his mouth suddenly, shot out fiery daggers from his jaws, let out an ear-splitting boom that dug harsh and deep into Hiccup's skull. "Aaaargh," he hissed, clasping his right arm over around his head. The water dragons all around were splashing up everywhere, yelping suddenly, in sounds he could only place as fear and maybe even pain. The roar died down and he peeked up slightly, heard someone gasp behind him -- it sounded like Fishlegs.

"No!!!" came a scream. Snotlout? He whirled, his right arm latching onto the rim of the boat as the ship careened back again. A water dragon suddenly flapped onto the deck, splashing its tail into Hiccup's face. Snotlout's panicked yelping continued through the sound of water in his ears. He gasped as the sea water soaked up his upper body, finding its way under the bandage on his shoulder. Astrid was crawling up to him suddenly, and lurched into him as the ship leveled out and another boom came screaming from the direction of the fighting dragons afar. "Hiccup!" she yelled, grabbing him and shouting as some other force suddenly wavered the ship level again, unsteadily shaking on the surface of the ocean. The colorful lights of dragons everywhere flashed in his vision, and then the boom again -- and a shot of something sharp and white. He could see purple-white light flash across the sky, lightning without thunder, and he immediately knew it was the Skrill. He grabbed the ship's edge, hauled himself up to see over, saw the lightning dragon flapping away from the Great Dragon, the great beast heaving its mass over the waves, roaring again, yelps from the water dragons surrounding the ship, surrounding the huge creature.

"Where's our dragons?" someone shouted. Ruffnut. He whirled, Astrid in his face, still trying to protect him somehow, from what, he didn't know. Water and random dragons were everywhere. "What's happening?" he shrieked, and another wave of water rolled the ship.

"Stay down!" Astrid shouted, covering him.

"From what?" he shot, trying to get out from under her.

"Meatlug!" Fishlegs was screaming now. Hiccup pushed Astrid off of him, slid across the deck, looked, followed Fishlegs' gaze, up, towards the black sky and rain and wind. The spotty shapes in the distance, flapping, screaming, he could hear it from here, those awful fearful cries. Belch, Barf, and Meatlug were flying desperately away, and-- another ear-splitting roar from the Great Dragon. Hiccup hissed through clenched teeth, buckled down, heaved a breath, felt his shoulder scream and the chills in his body consume his nerves. Something warm and soft draped over him, cradled as he covered his ears, sprawled on the unsteady deck. Astrid bent her body over his, her elbows jutting into his side as she clapped her palms over her ears.

". . . our dragons . . ."

The words went around faintly, through his own covered ears, but he knew what was happening. The Great Dragon's horrifying roar . . . what dragon wouldn't fly from that, not any in his right mind. . .

Then a scream.

Ruffnut.

He struggled to get out from under Astrid, uncapped his ears. "What's happening--?" he shrieked. Astrid rose, gasped. A wash of white fear sparked through him, and he had to get free. Astrid was limp suddenly, and he jolted up, looked over the ship's edge, saw white, white. Lightning, sparks of purple, the Skrill's fire, everywhere, running across the water, tripping over the waves.

Lightning.

Metal.

Someone's arms latched around him suddenly, pulled him into the center of the ship, away from the metal rims and the panels of iron that formed the fire pit under the tent. He gasped, his body twisting and his shoulder complaining again. "Get away from the sides!" Astrid screamed and he felt the kids cover him, gathering in the center. The ship rocked again, a crackle of lightning, the great boom. Astrid pushed her face down into him, eyes shut and pained. The sound throbbed into his brain and he opened his mouth desperately, let out a yell. The sound ended, suddenly, roughly, and he gasped. There was a strange, sudden silence, the lap of water against the hull. Astrid exhaled suddenly, leaned up, and looked out. He could hear splashes, desperate fast splashes. The water dragons around-- "What's happening?"

Snap.

He jolted, the spark of that lightning fire, he could feel the guttural hum of the Great Dragon. Someone gasped above him, and he saw their eyes locked on something on the sea. He thrust his right arm into the deck, elbowed himself upward, looked, blinked suddenly at the throbbing glow of the huge creature, his great form lifting out of the water, white foam around him, waves that he knew were bound to overturn them, gasped, dug his nails into the wood below him. The scream of the Skrill, as he flew deftly away from the monster's gaping mouth, that great roar again, the ear-splitting horror. Astrid hit the deck, tried to bring him with her. "No." He pulled himself forward, needed to see this, knew something was happening, watched as the Skrill shivered in the air near the clouds, suddenly dive down and blast, blast a tendril of white lightning into the jaws of the Great Dragon. Hiccup gasped, memories crashing back. Toothless and the final battle . . . The Skrill threw his head up, let out a cackle, thrust his snout towards the sea and sent his lightning over the waves. Hiccup lashed back, blinked madly, the blinding white. Dragon screams crashed into his head, the water dragons. That pained, helpless desperation, as the white lightning rushed over the sea, pushed up and sparked over the ship. Hiccup lunged down on deck, hid his face from the blindness. The hissing cackle of the Skrill was so close suddenly, he could feel the wingbeats, the splash of dragons as they flailed in the waves. The shock, the lightning shock, was getting to them, in the water, defenseless against the fire. A deep groan waved over him suddenly, a reverberation he could feel so tangible and horrifying. The Great Dragon's roar again, coming closer, near. He could sense it, and it scared him suddenly. "Astrid--!" he called, looked up, saw water coming at them, the ship lurching backward at the wave, a great uneven wave, rushing at him, the waters full of wailing, panting water dragons, their eyes, he could see as they spilled over the deck, jittered with the shock of the lightning fire, their bodies vibrating. Scales rubbed by him as his body slapped against the starboard side, dragons flapping over, around him. Someone's boot slapped against his head, his vision blurred a moment, the great roar consumed his head, filled and thundered through his ears and down his body. He inhaled sharply, couldn't think anymore, grabbed the edge of the ship before he caught a glimpse of the white lightning again, washing over him, jolting him, making him cringe suddenly. The ship lurched back suddenly and he slid over the deck, looked up and saw the Skrill flapping up, into the dark skies above, white lightning in his wake. Water poured over Hiccup, and he gasped for breath, felt someone grabbing him, the voices of the kids somewhere on the ship, voices broken and confused, Snotlout gasping, "What happened?"

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