Chapter 17: Madness at Sea, Division on Land
Chapter 17: Madness at Sea, Division on Land
Chapter 17: Madness at Sea, Division on Land

27th Nov 2012, 10:33 PM

by inhonoredglory

The storm was breaking now, the buffeting winds subsiding and the rain only a gentle misting upon the fleet of Hooligan warships. A great tear in the clouds spilled out brilliant sunrays glistening along the endless sea surface, the waves calmer now and lapping against the drakkars' hulls. Great lines of ships spread out laterally on either side of the lead ship, an uncommon formation for Stoick, chosen specifically to cover the widest surface area of the ocean between Berk and Herkja. It was still possible to find his son along the way to battle, perhaps also encounter the lost search party of the kids. But even with the lifting of the storm and an orchestrated search line of his entire fleet combing the waters from horizon to horizon, not a trace of anything was found, not even the broken remnants of a shipwreck if that was his son's fate. The sun was already lowering considerably behind the clouds, sure to near the western horizon in several hours, and he didn't relish sailing in the dark, blind to the watery expanse and any sight of that metal boat he'd been yearning to spot. He hated to reach Herkja before he found Hiccup and the kids, hated to force his mind on war when they or his son could be lost or dead at sea. He had to find him. Hiccup couldn't have already reached Herkja, could he?

Stoick grasped the edge of the ship's wall, surveyed across the vast vista, the color of the waters wavering, changing, along the line of the horizon, from the familiar deep blue of Berk's seas to a lighter gray-green of foreign waters. Strange streaks of black tainted the whitewater running underneath the ships, an oily, shimmering blackness he'd witnessed only a few times in his maritime travels. Usually very far out to sea, near evening, among foreign waters such as this, and always, sea dragons weren't far away. He squinted through the rushing waters, trying to glimpse a sight, just one sight, of anything underneath the waves. They never did get very good glimpses of the small-winged creatures, shy they seemed, never much of a threat. The Scauldrons and Thunderdrums were more harrowing monsters of the sea, but fortunately, he had one of those with him now. He glanced up to the right, Thornado dozing pleasantly on the deck, his massive frame stealing almost half the space for the people as he slept off his exhaustion from the hours of flying he had endured in the storm. Other dragons, the ones who'd survived the slaughter, the Monstrous Nightmares and the Nadderheads, Zipplebacks and Gronckles, were perching on the masts or taking off and soaring in the air with their riders, some part of the search parties for his son, others making advance reconnaissance ahead of the war fleet, ready to report back to him with sightings of land or the enemy. A slight smile mused on his lips, despite the tiredness invading his own bones and wearying his standing. The Skirra VĂ©llites, his brother, had given them a hard blow, caught them by surprise, but just wait for the Hooligans now. He'll see his brother face to face all right, when he arrived on the shores of Herkja leading a whole dragon fleet upon the wretched place. Rune was going to get his war all right, get right what was coming to--

An ear-splitting roar suddenly broke around him. He grabbed the rim, the sound awfully deep and strong in his ears. It was that dragon he heard a few days ago, that dragon which scared their dragons way back before war began. "Men, hold!" he boomed out, instinctively, as the horrid noise screamed across the ships and pulled taut the sails. The ocean came alive with writhing, churning water dragons, flashes of wings and strange flickering lights and screams, screams mingling with the flying dragons, with the shocked shouts of his own warriors.

He swept his hand behind him, trying to get the message to his men. He lost his balance as the deck shuddered under him, pitched starboard, men yelling and dragons suddenly taking off and fleeing. Even Thornado's great body jolted to life and launched into the air, the deck thrust into the waters with his force and the waves smacking into Stoick's body, hitting the deck. His boots slipped in the sliding layers of water shimmering down the deck. Another deafening boom -- a thunder that rattled his mind and spasmed the very foundations of the deck. He whirled, saw Spitelout clapping his hands over his ears, Gobber grabbing an axe hand extension fallen in the waters of the deck. Gobber was screaming something at him, pointing, but he couldn't hear him, his ears ringing. He shouted suddenly, an order, looked out at the sea again, the waters madness. And his dragon-- What on earth--

"Thornado, you come back here--"

But his voice stopped within him, his hands thrusting himself above the ship's rim, his eyes fixed upon the ocean's surface just ahead of the bows of the armada. Across the entire sea surface, a massive churning transformed the calm sea into a swirling, immense vortex of water of a diameter fifty ships wide and one hundred ships long. The swells of waves taller than masts swirled within the watery vortex, miniature eddies within vaster walls of living horror indescribable. And in the middle of the vast vortex, the entire ocean was rising, rising, rising above them all, a thunderous towering heap of water glistening full of wrath. And alive. A living, breathing tower of water, a great mammoth sun of an eye burning through the sheets of water falling away from it, falling away from a vaster snout, vaster jaws, a vaster head rising from the sea, consuming the sea until all that was left before them was that burning head and burning eye. The Great Dragon.

:: ::

It was dark, lonely--

He knew they were there, the other dragons. Why couldn't he sense them? Open your eyes, feel it.

Ormarr looked out in the green, black ocean. It had been a while, how long he felt unsure -- an insecurity borne of the damage done by the Skrill, by Skari. The lightning inside of him, it had done horrible things, he could feel it, even if he couldn't tell what exactly was wrong, he sensed that he was not the same, that his mind was lighter now, if that could be used as a word for this feeling, this . . .

A shadow moved to his right, a host of black shadows, and he blinked his great eyes, saw the light from them wash over the school of dragons that was passing him by. His dragons and friends, they were humming things to him, in tones concerned and thick, yapping as they neared and the dark shape flapped towards him. He felt something dark and sharp push through him, like a force he could not control, and . . .

What did the lightning do?

The Skrill fire did things like that, he knew it from before. It was mental like that, it did different things to different victims. It was more than merely physical, it was, it could be--

He lashed out suddenly, thoughts spilling out in his brain, unable to piece them together suddenly, leaving him in a fear of the worst, a fear that he might never be quite the same again, that-- He roared suddenly, boomed out into the ocean, into the blue darkness and the throbbing school of twittering dragons swimming all around. Get away from me, he hissed, a sudden madness filling him, a dire need to get angry and destroy, to let out this pent-up confusion. He lashed his tail, the ocean heaved, swirls of water curled around him, and he could feel a great mass roll to his motion.

Chirps of no and Ormarr hit his ears and suddenly he couldn't stand it anymore. They needed to understand what this was about, that Skari had gotten him more than any of them, that he was one of those unlucky ones to feel the mental horror of the Skrill's weapon, that maybe if he was someone else, things might be different, but right now they needed to keep away, because it wasn't in his control anymore, sanity was not in his control anymore.

He lashed his tail again, the great mass of his body sending the schools fleeing, pushing them away, he could tell, violently maybe, but he didn't care, couldn't care at the moment. He needed to get away, get away from this place and everything familiar, from Skari most of all. The idea of his presence so near filled him with something morphing from fear to disgust, awful ugly disgust and disdain. Ormarr flapped his mighty body forward, not quite thinking of directions, just away from the plaintive sounds of his fellow dragons. He moved, pushed, swept down, down into the depths of the blackness, trying to work off those feelings obsessing in his brain. Minutes passed, some undetermined amount of time, and he felt a ripple of anger cringe him and he rose, swept up suddenly, the trail of his body creating a wake that he could hear in the water around him.

There was something up there, spots in the top of the water, human things, something foreign and-- a feeling sparked in him and for a brief moment he knew it was the madness in his nerves doing something to him, before he felt an honest urge to lash out at the specks of boats in the ocean above him.

Where was he anyway?

Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew it was somewhere familiar, could almost sense that he met some of these ships before.

But it didn't matter now.

He lashed up, pushed his body up towards the ships and roared a great heavy, angry roar. It was enough to shake the ocean and he knew it, hissed a grin as he watched the boats roll in the wake of his anger. He lashed upward, felt the water fall away as he burst out of the top, the wind in his eyes suddenly, wrapping around his eyes, licking in between the folds of skin and cooling the water soaking over his body. The ocean was white and black, the wind strong and fierce and his own lashing devastating and beautiful. He roared again, saw the armada shrink at his own voice, the minuscule figures on them yelling and cowering. Sails shivered and hulls bent back. This was some great army, coming forward. He'd been around enough to know what war looked like, and what was this people trying to fight now?

He roared again, lashed his tail, watched as he overturned a segment of ships, the boards cracking and breaking, people shouting and the sound of fear shrill and sharp in the sky.


The word sprang in his mind for a moment, made him stop, the water lapping. The people yelled, their voices clear in his mind's stillness for the briefest time.

Then the word faded and the hot confusion overcame him again. He heard himself shouting, his voice vibrating inside his throat, the pain in his head getting stronger, that digging angry force in his mind. The ships didn't have a chance, if he could help it. . . .

:: ::

"This was a stupid idea."

"Oh you're afraid, Snotlout?"

"No I'm not--"

Fishlegs frowned. That little banter had taken place at least, uh, eleven maybe twelve times in the trip. Maybe thirteen. Thirteen sounded about right. Didn't Snotlout figure out he was looking like a dummy? It's true, though, even he thought the escapade was looking pretty dumb right now, walking for hours and hours and still not coming upon the town. Astrid and Hiccup were so going to be worried about them but no, no one would listen to him, and he sure wasn't going to high tail it back through the woods alone -- not with strange dragon creatures around to bite your head off. He was no Hiccup and he was not going to chance an encounter with some dragon he hadn't studied up on.

Fishlegs looked up and squinted at the afternoon sun.

So there. That was his rant. He'd told Ruff and Tuff and Snotlout, but they wouldn't believe him. Well, Snotlout might have believed him, but he wasn't going to let anyone know.

And it was his own fault for letting them bring him along.

"Let Astrid and Hiccup have their talk," Ruff said.

"We can do this just fine and get all the credit," said Snotlout.

"Hiccup deserves that we do something instead of sitting around," Tuff said.

All nice and fine. Until you can't find the town Astrid said was somewhere here.

Fishlegs whistled, bumped his feet forward, stepped on a crawling fern on the dirty brown earth under them. Poor thing. These plants looked a little different from the ones on Berk. But whenever he stopped to investigate one of them, they'd drag him forward again and say they had things to do.

He was not looking forward to those "things" whatever they were. He just wanted to get Toothless out all safe and easy, like. Wasn't there some other way besides brute violence? He had no idea what Ruff and Tuff had in mind, less of what Snotlout would do to make a mess of it.

He looked over to his right, the slant of the sun creating unsightly splotches on the kids' faces, tired frustrated faces. Behind them, the green of endless pines and spikes of leaves and brambles. Scratched bark and thin films of moss -- a landscape he'd been seeing for hours now, though he did notice the gentle sloping of the earth as they progressed, the way it was getting lower now, a slight incline, with a subtle change in the fauna, maybe a touch of flowers now and lighter leaves, and--


He popped his head up quickly, realized it was Tuffnut whispering something hot and low. Fishlegs ducked instinctively. "Not a dragon, I don't need to be chased by one of those right now."

"It's not a dragon, stupid, look!" Ruffnut jabbed her hand ahead of her, her finger pointing deftly towards the valley below them, the grass waving gently over the slope, hints of green and sunlight-tinted, the space framed by a grove of the tangled trees they'd been walking through for eons. Fishlegs gaped a bit, blinked at the sunlight that was coming through clear and fresh now, and the rush of a wind that was beginning to pound his face as the forest fell away into the grassy meadows below.

There were people there, small figures he could barely make out in the foliage and undergrowth and peat and moss. Or maybe because they were wearing dark stuff and it blended in too well. Fishlegs squinted, figured he'd go with the latter. But . . . "Who are they?"

Tuffnut rolled his eyes at him. "The enemy."

"Oh no, does that mean you're gonna do something?" Fishlegs felt his pulse quicken. He wasn't exactly in the best mood to see fistfights and without Meatlug, he was feeling pretty defenseless. "What's going to happen?!"

"Cool it, Fishlegs," Tuff lolled, waving him off and grabbing a thin tree branch suddenly, snapping it off and shielding his face with it. "Grab something, you guys, we're moving in." He stalked forward, Snotlout suddenly at his side, the latter teens' movements oddly choppy.

"Oh no. . ." Fishlegs whimpered. This was not a good idea. But when was it? Stuff like this never ended very good. He snapped a shrub and shook it in front of his face. "Meatlug . . . ?" he whispered, to himself, and he clapped his palm over his mouth in case the other kids caught him. He'd never see the end of it if they did, and that was another thing he didn't want to face. He was stupid, stupid to join these kooks on this so-called mission. But they were trying to save Toothless, so things couldn't be all bad. Like, what if it was Meatlug caught there? Fishlegs frowned, blinked down from the vista and eyed the shrubbery at his feet. Yeah, it was better to take a chance like this. If only it hadn't taken them forever to get here. But they didn't want to turn back, even as hours passed. They were stubborn, like any good Viking, stubborn and dumb. Fishlegs was of the opinion that waiting and being prepared was better, but majority won and so here was he, hiding behind shrubbery and hoping the strangers out there would be nice to them, or not see them, either of those choices would be good.

"Ssshhhh," Tuff said suddenly, creeping forward.

"I ain't saying nothing. . ." Fishlegs whispered, cowering down behind his bush.

Ruffnut slipped out after him, the two of them quickly moving over down the slope, their shapes getting lost in the grasses that Fishlegs suddenly realized were quite tall. He fought off the urge to measure the stalks, and compose some kind of naturalistic observation. But the leaves definitely were--

"Get down, Fishlegs, I'm coming through--" Snotlout pushed by him suddenly and Fishlegs yelped. "Whoa!" He stumbled back, grappled the earth underneath him in an attempt to catch his balance. Snotlout snickered and flashed his camouflage sneakily at him as he passed. Fishlegs frowned. That wasn't nice at all. Of course . . . he peeked over the ledge, the expanse of grass that Snotlout disappeared to and the random figures that were converging at some, what was it? A stream. It looked like, or some springs -- springs! They didn't have too many of those on Berk, and this one looked really bubbly. And the people were scooping up the water and filling up leather satchels with it and their little horses were off to the side, almost hidden in the crabby bushes and the pines and low branches and stuff, and then there was a movement there that looked familiar and suddenly he realized it was Ruffnut and Tuffnut, sneaking around the back of the horses and wagons and stuff and they were not going to be doing something smart, were they?

He hid behind his branch, realized what they were thinking and he didn't like it. There were huge square, wooden baskets hanging on either side of the pack animals, baskets filled with peat and grass and stuff to hide in. He would barely have even noticed the clandestine move if Snotlout hadn't tried fighting for a spot in one of the baskets. "They're gonna see you," Fishlegs whispered and closed his eyes. He couldn't watch.

He peeked out, put the branch aside for a moment. All was quiet down there, the 'enemy' all mulling over the stream and the horses neighing softly, grazing in the grasses. He swallowed tightly. So that's how they thought they could get into town? Well, not me. I'm going to find Hiccup and Astrid.

Cuz maybe it would be a good idea if someone did something smart for a change.

:: ::

Skari stirred, uncurled his head from underneath his wing and peeked towards the entrance of the cave, the strands of orange light glinting sharp off the rock walls and splintering through the comforting darkness. He buried his head back under his wingtip, clacked his jaws irritatedly, snuck his eyes back out and squinted at the fragments of light playing off the curve in the stone. He hated daylight, even the last faint remnants of the setting sun, but maybe just this once he'd brave it. The hunt must have started by now. At least, he hoped it had. A hot clawing played up his chest, his cold breaths heaving out fast into the dark space ahead of him. To think the very hunts he hated all these winters could be the thrill pulsing through him now, the means of retribution long overdue. His ancestors had suffered long and hard to fight the invaders, to eradicate every one of them off the islands, and now that dream was nearly to fruition. Only a remnant remained, a meager remnant of the Night Furies. Dagr's death would be a blow unrecoverable, a tipping point to certain extinction. And for all the Skrills who'd gone before, he'd be the one to strike it for them. It'll have to be breathtaking.

A quiver trembled through his body, down the spines of his back. He shook his head, the strange agitation still tickling him. An anxious anticipation. There wasn't any doubt about the outcome, but so much was riding on this. He shifted his body, snuck out his wing ever so slowly from underneath two small bodies resting besides him, their wings enfolded around themselves and their little neck spikes still soft and pliable, pleasant little points jutting into his chest and belly. They stirred as his wing slipped out from underneath them; one little snout yawned and opened yellow eyes at him, clacking her jaws as he lifted himself above the cave floor.

Can we go with you?

Ing, go back to sleep. Skari nosed the faint sparkling purple of Ing's small forehead, nudged her head towards her chest, but she refused to curl up again. He could feel the shivers vibrating through her body near his, the tickling adrenaline that was also quivering through himself. She could feel it too. They all had been feeling it, ever since he came home with the news of his encounter with Dagr. They knew this day would come, he knew it would come. There was nothing to be afraid of. He pushed his snout over her back, licked her little spines, felt the shivering subside. But the other body was jerking now, wiggling against his sister as he whipped his head up and dug his small pointed nose into Skari's neck.

I can fight too. The small head sniffed at him.

Skari nudged the top of the snout of that slim head, a perfect miniature of his own and brimming with the same rashness and eager anticipation. Too rash, too young. He clacked his jaws at the little one. Not against Dagr. I'll deal with him myself.

But he can't even fly.

Makes him all the more desperate -- and dangerous. Your scales are still too tender to withstand his fire.

But father--

Fenris. Skari throated sharply, halted the fledgling's clacking, but the little eyes stared back at him, glassed over in obstinacy, the little ruff of neck spikes hackling. He had to quell that. You're not getting mixed up in any hunt, least of all one involving Dagr. He's weak right now, but he'll still rip you limb from limb. You think killing a Night Fury is so easy?

I can do it.


His chilling breath formed speckles of ice over the bodies of his offspring. The small body near him slumped down, the head thudding down on the rough cave floor and rocking from side to side, a swoosh of motion amidst the black shadows of the overhanging rocks. Skari lifted his left wing over the two besides him, sifted that wing's edge through his teeth, the sharp preening quickening his mind. He stretched his wingspan, the wingtips brushing against the cave walls, his tail whipping around the young pair huddling near his body. He clacked his jaws at the defiant one.

We're not dealing with a stupid Gronckle or a hotheaded Nightmare. A Night Fury is smart, reclusive, and ruthless; you must be more so. You can't just fight his strength; you must find his weakness.

He cocked his head at the glassy eyes and the faintly spotted, gray body. The pointed head sulked at him, the nimble tail thrashing against his own and its pliable spikes bending into Skari's scales, the slim sheaths still not developed into the razor spikes of his own neck and back. Which only made his point. You will learn, but not today. Watch your sister for me, Skari hummed pointedly.

He stretched the limbs of his wings down, dug the great lone claws of his wings into the cracks in the stone, moved towards the scattered, fading light of the entrance. A cool brisk wind sifted in from the gaping hole that opened up to a sheer cliff face screaming down to crashing waves far, far below. He perched on his hind legs over the entrance, tipped forward in a free fall, shot out his wings and pumped across the shimmering blue vastness of the sea to his right and the lush craggy green of the vertical land to his left. The light was bearable now, the sun's direct glare vanishing under the sea, replaced by violet sweeping over the delicate wisps of cloud thickening along the skyline, streaming in violet tendrils across the shimmering dome above him. The same violet glow every evening, just after sunset. Too much like the fire of a Night Fury. He glanced away from the violet horizon, turned instead to the vast deep blue on the opposite side, the sign he'd been waiting for. Soon darkness would envelop the land and sea, that lovely darkness without moon or stars. Those blackest of nights when the Night Fury invaded, struck without warning and without mercy. The battles in mid-air, the relentless screaming and fire-charged swirling air, the tumbling to death in the sea. They kept attacking, forced his father to muster up every spark of lightning energy to paralyze the wretched dragons. Over hundreds of passing seasons, they grew more resistant to the lightning fire, got tougher to kill, and even the poison of their violet fire invaded into the lightning Spiral itself, twisting in a vortex of hot and cold, numbing lightning and searing fire. The Spiral was supposed to be a Skrill's ultimate defense, but it had become a deathtrap. The lightning surged to frightening energies to counter the fire, surged to levels even unbearable for a Skrill. One night, it went beyond unbearable. Only one came out alive, only Dagr.

He mustn't let that happen again.

He flapped his wings sharper against the brisk gale, clicked his tongue against his teeth, scanned the dark clefts indented in the vertical faces of the cliffs, the clefts he knew so well and was sure Dagr would hide in. Yet, it wouldn't be easy finding the Night Fury, even a flightless one. An unease played inside him, his eyes surveying the waves smacking into the cliff bases far below. It would have been much simpler to have killed him on the ship when he found him bound and captured. Just pounce on his back, break his neck, flee before the humans awoke. Simpler, but too easy. Dagr couldn't get away with a death as instantaneous as that. No, he'd have to think of a more fitting fate, a demise just as tormenting as his father's had been. No, worse than that -- something only a traitor would deserve.

He bristled at the sparks fizzing around his spikes, streaking down his neck and across the leading edge of his wings in small tendrils. The wind wavered uncertainly over him, angled him nearer the cliffs. Just how he'd do it, he wasn't sure yet. The hunt was the perfect setting, but the details still escaped him, which was a bit disturbing. He'd examined several plans, felt flexible about them, but eventually he'd have to settle on something final.

Suddenly he sensed a sharp black shape ahead and far below, a long smooth silhouette against the forested headland lying halfway on the graveled beach, its length bobbing in the breaking waves and its multitude of great white sheets filling with brisk air. A ship -- the same one out at sea, in the midst of the water dragons. He had been so consumed with Ormarr at his tail, blasting the vile beast and his minions, the ship hadn't caught his attention much, just another human crew caught in the storm. But now--

His spines bristled instinctively, the many masts foreign and ominous, the hull strangely glinting like volcanic rock and sleekly jet-black like a Night Fury's skin. No hull glinted like that. He hovered above the masts, wavered against the stiff wind, cocking his head towards the lone ship bobbing in the inlet waters, only its sails rippling a reply. No sign of humans. He angled himself, lowered gently, and clasped the main beam, digging his wing claws into the wood. A wicked scent startled him; he lowered his snout down against the beam, ran his nose along its axis. A Night Fury's scent. Dagr.

He purred long and low. Interesting. Fairly old, but very thick along the entire length of the beam. He pitched forward precariously, wrapped his tail around the beam to steady himself. His lowered snout sensed another smell, a human smell, faintly familiar, wafting stronger from below, emanating from the deck. He bunched his legs, leapt down, the deck heaving with his energy, the scent stronger now on the floor as he touched his nose along the wooden boards.

The rider. That's who it was. His mind sparked, the little image of a boy, just a portion of his face, behind the hissing jaws of Dagr in the storm several days ago. He hadn't expected Dagr to be ridden, to find any dragon ridden by that two-legged vermin. And now this. He tossed his head, snorted, his guts churning inside him hotly and his breath casting chilled dew on the wood below. He eyed the lustrous black walls of the ship all around, a strange lustrousness foreign to wood. He flicked his tongue at the ship's side, gaped his jaws slightly and shot blue sparks shimmering across the rim. The sparks took to the lustrous walls, streaked through and zig-zagged, came back again. Playful little lights. He shot another volley, stronger this time, the sparks crackling audibly and leaping off the walls, sparking into the wooden floor, spraying his snout with his own little lightning. He hummed, the feeling electrifying, exhilarating, breathtaking.

A sudden swooshing sound jolted his head up, from the right towards the jutting cliff head walling one side of the inlet. Human voices, many voices. His muscles tensed and he launched into the air, his left wing smacking into the great sheet above him, the spines of his neck tearing into the fabric as he winged madly off the deck. He flew into the rifts in the high cliffs a few wingspans ahead of him, clawing a grip on the rocks. He tucked himself into one slender crevice, twisted around in the cramped space to glimpse out the narrow opening.

The force of his takeoff had dislodged the ship from its beached position, jerking it backwards into the breaking waves. The sparks still snapped and sputtered conspicuously along the ship's hull, the blue tendrils snaking along its length and fading within the lustrous blackness. The ship was gaining speed, the rip current sucking it past the cliff's head. The voices beyond the cliff grew louder, and suddenly a great shadow of a ship turned the corner around the headland. He recognized the broken, barnacled hull and tattered sails. A crisp brown singe edged along the sail's top, traces of the last dragon raid of the town. Nets streamed down the sides, some brimming with succulent fish flapping helplessly within the wet prisons. He sliced the edge of his tongue along his jaw, wetted his teeth. When was the last time he nabbed a few off their nets? A lovely breakfast that would be. He clawed along the edge of the opening, ventured his head slightly out of the cleft in the rock, his eyes on the bursting trawl, but the excited sounds of the humans distracted him. No, not excited, alarming. The round faces were staring towards the smaller ship, the black-hulled one now drifting towards them and threatening to intersect the great ship's path. The massive hull turned and brushed up against the side of the unmanned vessel, humans in sudden motion and scampering over the edge and landing on the deck. Their thin upright bodies bent down over the deck, fondling various objects, searching over every part of it, like it was a foreigner, an invader.

The image of Dagr's rider came back to him and he felt his nerves hum inside of him. Something played up his mind, something that seemed horribly outlandish, but perhaps it would work?

How much did Dagr feel for the boy anyway? So much as to leave the dragon world, as to become a traitor to everything he was? To abandon anything that seemed like a family. . . .?

Maybe the boy actually meant something to him, the way Skari's own family meant so much to him.

He hummed, gazed more intently at the black-hulled ship, now accosted by the humans, their movements fretting, their voices agitated and talking fast gibberish as the ship began to move in line with the great ship's course, the shadowed hulls melding in the twilight of the coming night. Maybe it would work. The boy was on the island somewhere, and if he could just find him . . .

:: ::

She was getting frustrated now, he could tell.

Of course hours of walking would do that.

He looked at her, her face hard and serious, firmly watching the scene before them. It was tired, he had to admit, but when the kids disappeared . . . they had to go find them again. He and Astrid had been talking, just talking for a while, until he got that funny feeling inside of him and he had the notion that the rest of them were not doing something quite so sensible. Only after a couple minutes was he actually convinced that they'd gone out to find the town themselves. And with the impatience they had to do something, doubled with the lack of progress most of that morning, no wonder they went off to try something. Astrid was not amused by that, and for a good hour or so sarcastic mimicking was all he heard out of her.

But now all that had faded and she was silent. Silent and mad. He hated to ask why, it's not like they could stop the kids from doing something stupid, and weren't they going to have to find the town anyway? Trailing the kids was a chore, but . . .

It kept his mind busy, busy from thinking about Toothless, unable to do something about it.

Torture of the heart was exhausting, and it would do him no good to be tired when he finally got Toothless out of there. He sighed suddenly, squinted in the dimming light. They'd been walking for hours -- all day in fact -- through the dense forest and the intermittent meadows. At first, the broken twigs and flattened grass patches gave a pretty good idea of their trajectory, but after several stretches of barren rock fields, smoking, still-hot volcanic debris that took hours to climb through, they just about lost all trace of them.

The heavy branches were a tangled maze above him and the thick canopy of leaves dappling light and shadow across the little clearing. Streaks of light swathed over his hands, played up his tunic, struck across his face and made him squint in the orange glare. The light was orange now, and that wasn't good.

The forest had been so thick at times that he wasn't always sure what time of day it was. Breakfast and lunch passed ages ago, judging by the several rounds of hunger that grabbed him in their clutches and then subsided, only to bite back sharper than before. His shoulder, his stomach, his throat, his legs and feet -- everything hurt, ached, hungered, and thirsted. The meager amount of berries they had picked off shrubs were hardly sufficient for this kind of travel, and he was worried that maybe Astrid might be running off of adrenaline now. She hadn't said she was hungry, and while he knew she wouldn't stand to be the first person to complain about something, he knew she had to be running low about now. He'd only brought a few items of sustenance with him from home, and they'd agreed to save those for emergencies. After all, he had planned on resources for only one person, not five.

He looked up again, crunched on the dry leaves under him. He looked down, saw his boots laced with beads of dew, the grass sumptuously wet underneath the shade of the leafy canopy, the slender shafts of light growing fainter and fainter with each moment of time. The sky's orange light was unmistakable. Evening was approaching, and with it, the night. Astrid's silhouette walked on ahead of him suddenly, that same murky pace in her step. "Astrid?" he asked, the first word between them for at least an hour.

She kept walking. "Yeah, what?"

"You're okay, right?"


Hiccup smirked, felt that she was lying, and kicked the leaves. There was a moss-cocooned log in his path; he mindlessly clinked his metal foot against the shadowed underside, bits of molding bark chinking off and tiny specks of insects lifting into the air like dust. The hypnotic haze of living dust floated in a standstill there, glowing bright against the black backdrop of the log's shadow. He looked up at where her shape was punching through the forest, determination and irritation in her movement. He stepped forward, his strides long. He hated to see her like this, hated to think that something was festering inside of her. They used to be able to talk about things -- sure, it seemed that mostly he was the one with the problems to gab about, he was always the one that needed a pat on the back or comfort. She seemed pretty much perfect with things, and she always had it together. He was proud of her for that, but . . . right now, it didn't seem that way. None of them were being their normal selves. The past few days were insane, and they hurt to live through -- he'd done a few maybe rash things? And she . . . she never wanted to get involved like this. She just wanted to keep him safe, and now here she was, still trying to make good of that goal while they traipsed over enemy country to a place they'd never seen to spring a dragon from a trap that might not even be there, if they'd gotten to the hunt first. . .

Hiccup, you better stop thinking about it.

He swallowed, stepped up alongside her. She turned her head slightly and glared at him. He stepped back, surprised. "Why the look?" He caught up with her. She didn't answer, pressed forward again.

He pursed his lips, slapped his arms down, wincing as the movement made his shoulder complain. Why didn't she open up to him? Holding it in was not the way to do things, he'd learned that lesson long ago. He closed his eyes a moment, tried to let ease what he realized was frustration.

There was a rushing sound suddenly, and he pressed his lids closer shut. It wasn't his imagination. Water. He opened his eyes suddenly, blinked and scanned the forest around them. There was a stream somewhere here. The dryness in his throat scratched at him and he licked his lips. He looked to his right, saw her still trudging on, her form unchanged among the mesmerizing, endless lines of trees rising all around her, the streaks of light between the leaves dappling her in orange light, her hair turned a fiery sandy-gold.

"Astrid, did you hear that?"

She turned, and he sensed a dull sadness in her, as she glanced up at him, a weary tiredness. She didn't answer.

"It's water, Astrid--"

She nudged her head up, looked at him from under her bangs. He exhaled, felt the dryness in his throat. "Come on, we can get a drink, we really need one, and then we can get back to searching for the kids--"

"That's not what I'm worried about, okay, Hiccup?" She had a snap in her voice suddenly and she looked at him sharply, her one revealed eye hard and narrow.

He was getting tired of this mystery. Why wouldn't she come out with what was bugging her? "Then what is?" he snapped back, and the tension in his face suddenly loosed when he realized he was shouting. "I-- I'm sorry, Astrid." He blinked at her. "I didn't mean to shout."

She shrugged. "It had to come out sometime." She turned her back to him, started in the direction of the stream.

He swallowed, stepped towards her. "What is bothering you?"

She stopped and he held back, nervous suddenly. The hum of bugs somewhere murmured along with the stream, chirps of birds -- too happy for this situation, but their brightness giving him some kind of hope in all this. The light shifted gently, as a wind breathed through. "Astrid?" he said, his voice level.

"Let's get to the stream, okay?" she said, not looking back at him. She moved forward, threw herself over a fallen log, old and rotting, and pushed her hair over behind her ears. He paused before stepping forward to follow her. So this was something more serious then? One of those things that you had to, like, sit down for to take?

Maybe it was, the way she was acting now. He jumped over the log, held his left arm to keep the injury from moving around too much. He winced suddenly, shook his head and looked forward. The trees were giving way into a clearing now, the branches thinning, the ferns falling away to the bumpy shoreline. The rush of water was clear now, as he looked over the length of the dark waters running free and happy, long and clear. A smile suddenly played on his lips, something like relief perhaps, the thought of something to quench the dryness inside of him. She was standing there, behind the ferns and bushes, just inside the curtain of forest before the open space next to the river. He ran forward, felt his prosthetic smart over the rocks and pebbles on the shore. The water was so close, and he slid down on his knees suddenly, sliding over the gray rocks, running his hand into the stream, scooping up the clear, refreshing water. The water poured down over his chin, flowed cool and fresh in his throat, lapped down his neck and made his tunic wet and cold. He hadn't known how desperately thirsty he actually was.

He whirled around, saw Astrid there a few feet from him, that somberness heavy in her features and pose, her shoulders slumped, her eyes lifeless. He bit his lip. In their two years together, he always found ways to lighten her up, ways to make her smile when she was serious. The water played around his knees, made him chilled. He cupped his hands and swept them up from the water, threw them towards her, laughing suddenly.

She smarted suddenly, stepped back, gasped.

"Astrid!" He smiled.

She got a fire in her eyes, splashed down into the water and shoveled a handful of stream his way. He laughed, shrieked as the water soaked into him, made his hair stick to his face. It was deathly cold, but he didn't care. He'd made her smile.

"Don't play with me," she hummed, a playfulness finally kicking into her voice. She splashed towards him, kneeling in the water, and flicked her fingers at his face, the tiny splats dainty and small on his cheeks. He squinted, smiled, reached up and grabbed her hand, looked into her lovely blue eyes, eyes at last sparkling and full of life. She stopped flicking her fingertips suddenly, looked at him and paused. He swallowed, felt like he needed to say something here. . . .

Her face pulled into something uncertain and darkness clouded her eyes. She slid her wrist out of his grip and pushed her hand into the sand, rose up out of the water. He shifted his legs and pushed them into the gravel underneath him, let the water slide off of him as he got to his feet.

"You want to tell me something?" he ventured, quietly.

She crossed her arms a moment, sighed, and let her hands loose again. She pushed her bangs away, and they fell back over her eyes. "Hiccup, I've been thinking about this, a lot."

He searched in her eyes, and she looked away, cleared her throat. "I have to be honest with you."

He swallowed.

"And I think you're wrong." She sniffed, inhaled suddenly, talked fast. "You were wrong to come out here and take a chance by yourself. You were wrong to skip on your responsibilities to your tribe. You were . . ." Her voice was cracking now, a gentle, sharp cracking. "--wrong to make us come out here, instead of helping with the war that's been started. We could have done so much, you could have done so much. I'm sure they need you there, for those dragons. There's so many dragons who need you, and you're the only one of all of us who knows how to deal with them." She wiped her bang from her forehead, looked at him. He stared back, somehow not surprised with the words she had to say. It's just that no one had quite spoken them before. His heart was numb, oddly numb, and he merely nodded at her. "Yeah, I know. . ." he hummed. Something convicted stung in his heart and he swallowed. "But I can't let Toothless get killed." He peeked at her, knew that whether or not she understood, that was the truth and he would not regret it.

She wiped her bangs away, the water dripping from her fingers. "You realize that Induction Day still happened, in theory . . ."

He squinted. Tradition was strange like that, but would that day actually count?

". . . and I'm not sure your father is ready for you to join his council, or--" She caught her breath. "--if I am . . ."

He looked up at her, found a strange maturity in her blue eyes.. "Astrid, this is a special case. Stuff like this doesn't happen everyday--"

"You mean war?" She locked eyes with him. "Yeah, that's what Induction Day was all about, to see how you'd fare in war. And I think you failed with flying colors."

He blinked, stepped back, the slosh of water around his feet sharp suddenly and intruding, angry even like her. He opened his mouth to say something, realized he didn't know quite what to say.

"You don't know responsibility, Hiccup." She looked away, turned back out of the water, the liquid's sound cold and sharp and lonely, pricking off her boots in glimmers of white and nothingness, rippling down past her, waves fading flat, flat and empty into nothing as it rippled towards his feet and just didn't quite reach him.

She turned back to him, motioned for him to come forward. "We got things to do," she said, lifelessly.

He turned his eyes down, stepped forward in the water, into the fading ripples from her waves, muddling up the mess of circles in the water, the splashes confused and lost in the surface of the waves, drifting on into the center of the river, melding into the current, out towards the town where they were headed, the ripples fading and soon gone.

He turned to her, stepped out of the water. She eyed him, a heavy sadness in her eyes. He looked closer, tried to find the beauty in those blue eyes again, tried to find the joy in them, the endless confidence, the way she used to lie and say he was doing all right, that he was going to make a great council member, a great man.

But it was gone.


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