Chapter 22: Unholy Past
Chapter 22: Unholy Past
Chapter 22: Unholy Past

10th Feb 2013, 1:31 AM

by inhonoredglory

Two days had passed since the Hooligan chief had left the isle of Berk. Three days had passed since the chief's niece had started a war whose ramifications had yet to be fully known. Six days had passed since one small boy had looked over the sea and saw a strange armada of ships and wondered innocently who they were.

She was angry, the girl named Heather. She didn't quite know how to deal with the fact that her prey had lived, that maybe this was the reason her dear father was still plagued. She wondered if maybe there was more than a curse in this son of Stoick's. Whatever it was, it had given him a strength to come here, an armada behind him or not, and pushed him to such lengths as saving a mere dragon from capture. It was strange, and in the darkest corner of her heart, she was curious.

The water dragons humming around Stoick's battered army were not driven away from the sacrifice taking place. They lingered, having heard the distress of their honored friend Ormarr, having watched him destroy and vanquish the Viking armada. They were scared for him, scared not merely because so many of them had great respect for the old dragon, but, more objectively, a creature that large could do horrible things if his mind was not with him. They lay quiet and solemn in the waters under the tattered ships, smelled through the salty sea the hot scent of burning dragon flesh, and the deft wafting of ash that dotted out the moonlight streaming upon them.

Even as much as they hated the flying dragons, they could read the human creatures as easily as any of their dragon folk, and what they read was deception. Humans could not be trusted. Some still held out a hope, but more resigned to the idea that maybe Ormarr was wrong. Maybe Dagr was wrong. And that story of dragons and humans on Berk . . . a small reprieve in what was really the timeless, unforgiving conflict between man and beast.

And then the people at Berk. They weren't used to things like this. War, yes, but something as personal and surprising as an old brother coming back for vengeance. It hadn't happened apart from the legends. Stoick had made a fine chief for them. He had protected them against invaders, arguing tribes, he had fought valiantly, traded peacefully, but never, never caught by surprise. And as the story emerged and as the people put one thing to another, and the significance of Stoick's past and what he had done those days not too very long ago, it gave a sense of unease in the Isle of Berk. The women and children, those left to mend the wounded dragons, they mused, for they had all the time simply to wait for news and ponder the facts that had been so violently made known to them. There were no men left on the island, for Stoick, in a move all knew was desperate and filled with fresh hate, brought them all on his fateful journey across the sea.

Dragons lay dying and gasping in their own blood, warriors lay injured and ill in every available resting ground. The odor of the wounds of man and beast lifting into the air in a fog of, if not visible, but tangible pain and shock.

In the Ingerman house sat a lonely, quiet mother, the fire in her heart dampened by the disappearance of a son whom she never wanted to believe would do something as frightful as racing into the open sea. And in the Jorgenson house, a stillness, with father at sea with his chief, his heart brimming with confidence over the bravery of his son, and the mother, timid and desperately worried, for she knew the shortcomings of a boy much too self-assured.

The Hofferson house lay empty and quiet, the father a captain of his own ship, collecting the wounded in the turbulent aftermath of the Great Dragon, and mother watching her Chief on the flagship, observing the sacrifice to the gods, in the hopes that such an act might lead them to a young boy whom her daughter had followed into the misty emptiness of the ocean.

And in the Thornston house, a mother desperately worried for her two children, and a father in one of those unlucky ships at sea, struggling in recovery, his arm removed from him.

No one said much, for each knew the significance of what had taken place. Suddenly Berk's hidden secrets, and the history no one wanted to remember, had come to the fore.

Gothi, the old woman without a voice, she fingered that charred volume of the Hooligan past, let her pale white fingers rove over the words that were penned in an ink now fading and willing to be lost. Today, she read the words with fresh eyes, with the blunt realization that old wounds never heal, and that the sins of the past are never quite forgiven.

:: ::

"Make yourself comfortable. It's the best accommodations you'll get."

Tuffnut squinted, eyed up wickedly at the gruff Skirra VĂ©llite who'd dragged them here. It was a dark tunnel, dragons and dragon cages lining its walls, the tunnel entrance yards and yards up in the blackness. There was a commotion at the Hall just before he led them out, just after that incident that had his sister staring at him oddly for the rest of the uneventful trip.

"What did you tell him?" she mouthed again and he turned away. It was one thing to play with these people, which was fun and everything, but to raise suspicion by asking stupid questions?

Everything was going to be fine. "Shut up, okay?" he whispered hotly, leaning back and letting the words slide out of his mouth. It was just a simple lie he'd told them. Enough to get them off her back and stop pestering her, way back in the Hall. So long as they didn't check up on the story, he was fine.

"You think our chief is going to be very happy about this kind of treatment?" Tuffnut piped out loud quickly, stuffing his chin out at the sordid character leering at him from the other side of the prison bars. He pursed his lips out at the man, looked purposefully gross, which wasn't too hard, considering he'd been perfecting the art all his life.

"You think you're so smart. Bah!" The man flipped a hand up and the shadows of men around him shifted their torches away. The light played off the bars sharply, casting long strips of shadows behind him and Ruff and Snotlout.

"I'm not of the belief that your story is true." The man leaned in, exhaled into Tuffnut's face. "You're lucky the chief's daughter gave strict orders not to send you down to the Blood Daggers." He jabbed a thick finger down the tunnel, deep into the descending blackness.

"B-b-blood daggers?" Snotlout's whimper came blubbering behind Tuff.

"Yes," the man hissed, grasping the bars suddenly and making them clang with the thick shimmer of metal shaking. "The ruthless, killer dragons, hungry and desperate for meat. They wait, expectantly, for that door to open and for a guilty victim to get thrown in. Within hours . . ." He let his voice hum slowly, as he wrapped his sight around Snotlout. Tuff could even feel a spark of spookiness himself. "Before night is over, only bones remain." He leaned back suddenly, laughed a huge laugh, strangely lighthearted and chilling in its joy. One of the torchbearers behind him shook his head and Tuff raised a brow at him, and the other man averted the gaze, moved up towards the entrance of the tunnel.

The man stopped laughing at long last, wiped his eyes and smoothed out the coat of mail covering his dark woolen clothing. "Come." He gestured his companions and moved up, shaking his fist playfully at the dragons that hummed irritatedly in the cages lining the tunnel. The light from the torches flickered on the captured beasts, their groaning lilting as the fire passed them. They must have fought those bars a long time, Tuff thought, squinting to see the charred metal on the bars going up the prisons.

The light faded from the torches as the men became smaller and smaller up the dark tunnel. Darkness filled the air, dark and a cold empty clamminess that made it disgusting to breathe. Tuffnut took a breath of the musty, moldy air, perked his eyes. It was a new smell, that's for sure. Not like you get this everyday.

A punch met his shoulder suddenly. "What did you tell them?"

He turned, could barely see his sister in the blackness. "What do you mean?"

"You know perfectly well what I mean. You whispered something and they let me go. Now spill it!"

"Gee whiz, just trying to help you out. Chill. Just some story. What? You thought I'd squeal on the others? I'm not stupid."

"Hey I didn't call you stupid, okay? Man, when'd you get so touchy?"

"I just told them a big giant army was coming after them." He flapped his arms wildly, for emphasis. It was nothing, just some cool data that hopefully would scare them.

"That's so dumb," Ruffnut lolled. "They'll check up on that the minute they get a chance and figure out we're alone. Sheesh."

Tuffnut shook his head. "Whatever." She probably couldn't see the motion anyway in this black hole. He leaned out on the bars, felt warm bodies next to him. On his right, Snotlout was humming something. Probably going to his happy place. Tuffnut rolled his eyes.

But it wasn't. Snotlout poked him. "What's that sound?"

"What sound?" Tuffnut looked up, squinting in the faint hum of orange light from a torch stuck to the wall some ways up the tunnel. He could hear dragons, breathing, the sound of giant creatures inhaling and exhaling with the sigh and exhaustion of captivity. He could hear the echo of water somewhere in the black, dripping, flowing even, down, trickling past them into the dark recess that supposedly housed those Dagger dragons. And then the silence. He could hear the silence and smell the mustiness and the sharp cold. The more he thought about it, the colder it got. He could hear the crick and flicker of some small creatures, insects and tiny reptiles maybe. There weren't any glowing cave creatures here, though, which was strange.

And then another sound.

"Morning . . . mor--"

He crossed his eyes.

"Hear that?" Snotlout slapped the bars again. "I told you we weren't alone."

Tuffnut swallowed. "Hey voice, speak up again!" He yelled. No point in beating around the bush.

"Aaargh . . ." it hissed, and Tuff leaned forward, pushed his face to the cold wet bars. The voice was in front of him, maybe in the cell just opposite them. He looked closer, could pick out a shape in the darkness, maybe it was moving. And then fingers, moving into the faint light and twisting around the metal bars. "Strangers," he whispered, as he came into view. As much of a view Tuffnut was going to get. The man was thin, thin oily strands of hair coming down from his head, a dirty beard hanging down from his chin, tattered clothing spotted with something that could range from grubs to stains to mold. He slid along the ground, and curved his knees up to support his shaky weight. He looked up at the kids. "You're new here," he said, barely audible, slowly and deliberately, suspiciously as it were.

"Um . . . yeah." Ruffnut said, to the left of Tuffnut.

"First them dragons, and then three new captives. What did you do?"

Tuffnut cleared his throat. This guy looked like he was one hundred years old. How long was he in here anyway?

"We're not spies!" Snotlout shouted suddenly, before Tuff could say anything. The yell awoke some of the dragons in the cells up from them, and some dragon with fire still left in him blasted out a ball of flames into the rock. The heat pulsed through the tunnel once, vanished with a sigh as the tunnel melded into darkness once again.

The man looked back at the kids, a flicker in his eye. "You didn't lose yer head, did ya? They say I can't find mine." He grinned and even in the darkness, Tuff could make out a creepy set of teeth staring back at him. The guy gave him the shivers. Like it was his job around here. Maybe he was another trick up the Skirra VĂ©llite sleeves, creep out the suspects and make them spill it. Well it wasn't going to work.

"Have you 'eard of the great dragon feud?" The man rolled the words around in his tongue, licking his lips and leaning back into the darkness. "Last thin' I remember. The last thing I . . ." His voice trailed, and he mumbled something to himself, like he was searching for some long forgotten memory.

"I'm not one of them," he said suddenly, with a sharp certainty, in a disgusted conviction. He spat on the ground for good measure, stared down at the pool of spittle for a moment before going on. "Those people, they're mean." He leered back up the tunnel.

Tuffnut sighed. This was getting boring, and pointless. "Hey, maybe we can chat some other time, we--"

"Don' interrupt a man who's talking, 'specially an elder." The man snapped sharply at them, eyeing them coldly.

"Gee, fine. Chill it, not like I was interrupting anything particularly--" Tuff coughed into his fist. ". . . important."

The man didn't seem to hear him. Tuff wondered what he could hear anyway. "As I was saying . . . before you interrupted me." He shot an unforgiving stare at Tuffnut. "My frien' he wasn't affected, when the dragons had at it, those stupid creatures. But what a beautiful sight it was. I still remember. The las' thing tha' was clear to me, now, after these times. They say it was now sixty some years. White, lots of white and blue light." He waved his shaky hands over his face, playing his fingers like fireworks over his eyes. "One creature died and one flew off, beautiful sight it was. Beautiful. And when I touched the light . . . they say it got me. Slowly, they say. I can't trust them." He narrowed his eyes suddenly, leered back at the entrance of the tunnel. "But my frien' told me that too, so maybe . . . no, they're wrong. They trapped me here, and I don' deserve it."

Tuffnut cleared his throat again. "Cool story," he hummed, and maybe it would be interesting, if it weren't so dumb.

"Stupid dragons . . ." the old man grumbled, pulling away from the bars. "Maybe my frien' will get me out of here. He visits me, says he'll get us all out, that they made all his people slaves. Is it true?" His whisper was cold, yet honest and fearful.

"Man, I don't know," Tuff exhaled. The poor guy was getting on his sympathy nerves. "I just got here myself."

"He said they made us slaves. He's going to start a rebellion, a peaceful rebellion." He spat again on the ground, muttering things as he shifted again into the dark corner of his cell, away from what little light there was to see him. "Peaceful rebellion, he said it could be peaceful . . ." The voice faded, crumbled away into the black.

Tuff looked at his sister. She shrugged her shoulders. "Weird," she whispered.

"Hey," Snotlout mumbled suddenly, poking Tuff. Tuffnut latched his arm away, offended. "Hey those dragons that guy was talking about?" Snotlout said.

"Yeah, what about them?" Ruffnut leaned past Tuff slightly.

"Remember that story Hiccup told us? Back at home."

Tuffnut could hear Snotlout swallowing. "What about it?"

"I don't know, maybe they're related to this. Somehow. It sounds similar."

Gee whiz, all this mystery. "Hey Snotlout, you're thinking. I'm proud of you!" he lolled, rolling on his heels.

"Hey watch what you're saying." Snotlout was understandably irked.

"Guys, cap it, okay?" Ruffnut sighed, and Tuff felt her moving behind them, her voice exhausted. "Let's just get on the idea of getting out of here. Before they find out Tuff told them a bunch of hogwash."

Snotlout shot his nose at Tuffnut. "Stupid."

"Idiot," Tuffnut shot back, jabbing his nose into Snotlout's.

He could feel Ruffnut crossing her arms, and caught a glimpse of her shaking her head, the braids shaking. "I guess it's going to be a long night."

:: ::

Hiccup wasn't a kid to hold a grudge, and he wasn't about to either. But seeing that girl again . . . he looked down at his shoulder, blood still visible in the blue shafts of moonlight through the tall conifers. His heart was beating faster, and he swallowed, feelings inside of him he couldn't understand. Except to call them shock, still a shock, and a kindled hum of anger. He put a hand to his eyes, didn't want to think about it, not with her hatred a permanent scar on his body. She took Toothless, was responsible for so much death in the little island he called home. That ember of anger warmed inside of him, flickered alive. His jaw tensed, and he looked out at the blue forest, the open space in front of him and Toothless, the concave of the small valley and the river. To see her, but shocked and stripped of her veneer of control . . .

He just wanted to get Toothless home, end this war, whatever it was coming to, get home and get things back to the way they were supposed to be. He wanted that, desperately now, his body tired, exhausted, his eyes finally heavy staring blankly at the drifting fog settling near the water, unfocused. He wanted his bed at home suddenly, with the fire downstairs flickering and warm, his father bumbling into his room to say good night . . . The last time they spoke it wasn't exactly the easiest conversation. What was his father up to now? He hadn't thought of what his Dad might do to find him and the rest of the teens. He hadn't thought he'd care.

But in the calm of the moon and the quiet lonely forest in the land of the enemy, he missed his Dad. It wasn't much. He just wished he could see him. Hiccup inhaled, put it out of his mind. He had to concentrate, on fixing Toothless and getting out of here. He already thought about how to get Toothless in the air again. Just a vine and some old school steering. It wasn't going to be easy, but it would work. He looked down at Toothless, the dragon calm and resting.

"You okay, bud?" Hiccup whispered, patting the cool black scales with his one hand. Even in the darkness he could read the glimmer of dimly shining blood where Toothless had been hit. He didn't really know how it happened, figured it was just plain cruelty. Which really wasn't surprising for a society that didn't respect dragons the way Berk had grown to do. He squinted, let his mind clear a minute, breathed in the fresh cool air and gently rotated his own arm, wincing to find the stab wound still humming complaints at him. It was amazing he hadn't been bedridden since that day. Well, that was what adrenaline did, made you do things even you thought were impossible.

Toothless hummed up at him, nudging his snout forward, saying something.

"Yeah, I'm getting this fixed." Hiccup crossed his legs under him. "You want a bite of something first? I found some berries." Hiccup dragged a flat panel of moss closer to him through the thin grass. The moss was so thick here it could hold a couple handfuls of those icky round berry things they generally avoided on Berk. But here, in this part of the forest, it was the only sustenance he could find quickly, without leaving Toothless too long, and to be honest, he was starving. Cold, hungry, and tired. The rush of adrenaline wasn't exactly the best thing for him physically, he quickly realized. It had drained out of him whatever was left of the fumes he was going on. Right now he wanted to rest. Sleep even, under Toothless' wing, like he'd done not so long ago.

But right now wasn't the time for relaxation. He stuffed the berries into his mouth and shook his head. Toothless, resting gently on the ground, didn't look too relaxed, either, his ears alert and his eyes, scanning the black forest as if he expected something awful to pop out of the dark, moonlit woods. Hiccup sucked at his tooth. That was the other thing about those berries. Too many seeds . . .

"Here, bud, take a few." He pushed the rest of the berries next to Toothless' snout.

The dragon huffed, growled at the black pile of fruit.

"I know they're not fish, but it's gonna have to do."

Toothless hissed, shook his head sharply.

"Toothless . . ." Hiccup slumped. "There's not a lot of choices, buddy."

The dragon hummed low, irritated, glanced up at Hiccup, popped a click in his throat. He sniffed at the berries, nudged them. He picked one up deftly and rolled it into his mouth.

"Awful, right?" Hiccup smirked at him.

Toothless' face shrunk into folds of displeasure. He glanced down at the berries dubiously. Well, Hiccup sighed. Gotta make do.

He slipped out from under the berries that other thing he'd located in the forest, thin fibrous leaves, a sprig of them. They made ropes and canvas with them on Berk. It was thin enough, strong enough . . .

He looked at Toothless' injury, the open wound spilling new blood. He bit his lip. The escape didn't help with that. It had broken it open again, and now it was soaking out new, slowly down Toothless' shoulder and leg. Hiccup tore through the leaves, the thin filaments, the waxy white fibers, deft and familiar in his fingers. They couldn't go anywhere until he fixed that. He slipped out from his belt the thin sharp thorn he picked up that night. Toothless was in the same position he was in, the same . . . injury. What was it with them? He let out a small smile. "First I get it and now you?" He patted his own shoulder and Toothless hummed, wavered his eyes at him, shook his head, hotly. The dragon was not amused. Toothless moved up closer, lilted concerns at Hiccup. "Okay, okay. . . I won't make jokes." Hiccup backed away from the licks of affection, reached behind his belt, pulled out the small dagger and scooted up close to Toothless, pushed the mat of moss away. Toothless blinked at the weapon, as Hiccup put his right hand on Toothless' neck, holding the dagger in the other. He set his jaw, his left shoulder still declaring itself unfit for action. The knife hovered over the wet injury a moment. Hiccup examined the spot, breathing consciously suddenly, peering up at Toothless from behind his hair. The dragon glanced between him and the knife, the black of the night hiding his features.

Hiccup swallowed. "I'm just closing the wound, it's going to be all right. It'll just . . . hurt a little. At first."

Toothless' expression remained unchanged, those eyes unsure, unblinking, watching him.

He felt nervous suddenly, cleared his throat. "Just trust me?" He turned away from those eyes, gulped, moved the knife in closer. Make it quick and fast, and get it over with. He secured one end of the loose skin with his right hand, the moisture making him smart. He touched the skin with the edge of the dagger, pausing suddenly. Even in the cold night, he felt a chill run through him. He slumped back, rubbed his wet stained hand on the grass. He didn't meet the dragon's eyes, looked down at the gleam of the knife in his hand, breathed in.

. . . cut out your heart and take it to my father.

He'd had nightmares about that moment, sometimes, when he was stressed out, imagining if he'd carried out that promise. And now . . . Even if it was to help him, holding that knife to Toothless was just a little too much for him.

A warm hum met his ears suddenly, rising in pitch. Hiccup glanced up, met Toothless' big shining eyes, his head nudging up at him. There was something different in those eyes now, the cold stare was gone. Toothless looked at the knife, snuffed his nose at it, brought up a black smooth paw and laid it on Hiccup's leg. Hiccup squinted his eyes, unsure exactly . . . what was going on in his friend's mind. "Um . . . what is it, buddy?" Toothless closed his eyes and opened them, stared up at Hiccup. There was meaning in those black orbs. Hiccup drew his head closer. A gentle meaning. Hiccup put his hand on the warm, black snout, his swallow tight in his throat. Toothless let out a low, soft murmur, looking at the knife. So Toothless remembered, too? Of course he did. Neither one of them was going to forget that day in the forest, that day a Night Fury was brought down, the day it was almost killed by a quiet, desperate boy from the village.

"So it's . . ." Hiccup's mouth was dry suddenly. "It's all right?" The words came out quiet, barely audible. Toothless hummed, pulled back, bent his neck slightly away to keep the injured area exposed to the faint light of the moon.

Hiccup bit his lip, glanced back down at the knife.

Only enough to get the stitching done, to get the fiber through the cut and close it. Hiccup looked up, the dragon nodded gently, humming. It was all right. Hiccup bent forward, his palms on the ground, looked into Toothless' eyes. "Thanks, bud."

:: ::

He'd done it for Hiccup. Toothless remained calm, even encouraged the boy with the knife. Another dragon would call him stupid, to trust a human like that. One who had a precedent for almost killing you . . .

That forest's clearing, the high branches circular around him rising to a sky he couldn't reach, the knife and the boy's promise of heated anger that even he could tell meant danger, and that was long before he learned to interpret human speech.

As old instincts came drifting back in the darkness, as that wariness came upon him, as the boy in the shadows knelt by him with that glimmer of a blade in his hand. But then . . .

"Just trust me."

Hiccup was different, and he needed no defense from him, nor did he need to fear.

Toothless hummed and eyed the boy again, closely. His face was hard to see, so near him and facing down into the wound. But he could feel the small warm breaths on his scales, the wet, almost shaky fingers grasping the skin of his neck. The small body near him, kneeling, and the fingers moving deliberately over the sensitive area. Something extremely thin was in those fingers, moving through the cut in the skin. It burnt as it slid, but not like fire. Toothless narrowed his eyes at the subtle difference, knew that this wasn't the blade. This thin something, it was weaving into his skin, pulling it, tightening it. His breath flickered. Toothless jerked his head up, suddenly felt the urge to see it. The dark shadow of his own wing was over him, and the moonlit shape of the boy, but he couldn't twist his head far enough, it was too close. The fingers suddenly moved over the side of his head, the arm blocking his view. He moaned in irritation, tried to flick off the hand's gentle pressure. He didn't want to lie still anymore.

"Shhhh," Hiccup's whisper above him, soft yet clear in the quiet of the night. Toothless stopped, the fingers still touching his face, but not pressuring him anymore. He perked his ears at the voice he knew, waiting for something definite said to him, a word or two. But Hiccup only hummed, a pleasant, lilting hum that rose in strength yet sparked with something delicate. The sound tapped with the trickle of the stream, weaved into a rhythm of the human voice that he only rarely heard within the homes of Berk, and then, hardly addressed to dragons. A movement of sound he could only describe as . . . beautiful.

Toothless hummed softly, as soft as he could mimic that sound. He could sense Hiccup's voice timing with his own, humming in a more gravelly tone and almost laughing. He could feel the great breaths between the hums, a certain whiff of strain in them, yet more than that, it was cheer. Toothless clicked his tongue, felt a wonderful tingling calm wash over him as that familiar breath touched his ear and whispered.

"Hey," Hiccup laughed. "You don't sing bad, bud. Keep it up."

He heard the boy smile, and he yapped back. He rumbled a contented purr, let his body relax and his mind hush as the sound of their voices rang together in the night. They'd hurt the boy, hurt him bad, yet Hiccup didn't let that stop him from finding him again. He knew before, but now, somehow, it felt real, it felt precious. Not many would do this for a dragon.

After sixty some summers, Toothless was still young in the dragon world. There were dragons he knew, back in the Cold Lands, or residing in the depths of the sea, who saw hundreds of summers before him, maybe even thousands. His father told him so, for his father was one of them. A thousand three hundred summers were a lot to live through, even for a dragon. Like his father used to say. You meet many in such a lifetime, and many say they are your friend. And you live to see them fail you. There are few to trust and even fewer to love. A Night Fury flies the highest among dragons, he leads the greatest of dragons, but he lives alone.

Orphaned in his first winter, on this very island, he took comfort in that counsel. He told himself this was the way of his species, that he was only thrust prematurely into an adulthood he was already destined to live. He made enemies, that was easy, and he looked out for himself, because all around him did the same. The flock required every member to be strong. No one licks your wounds for you.

But now . . .

He pressed his face into Hiccup's figure near him, still kneeling by his side, still singing to him, still mending his hurt. He purred again, deeply this time, in tune with the boy's song, and snuggled his face into the boy's knees in the dirt, and closed his eyes.

:: ::

Hiccup had run through almost all the lullabies he knew before he came to the end of stitching up the wound. They were songs his Dad used to sing to him when he was very little. Hiccup smiled. Dad always sung them quietly, like he was afraid some village woman might hear him and peg him as a softie.

Who would think of that? His Dad the chief? Hiccup rubbed his nose, realized the mess of dark blood on them, from fixing Toothless' wound. He swallowed. This wasn't exactly his business, as his Dad had long said. War, wounds, and him the absolute amateur doing operations on a dragon. Guess he'd have to face that normalcy at some point. All his life his father had kept him spared from much of the bloodshed and violence of life as a Viking.

Including the idea of letting him die as a kid.

He bit his lip, looked down at Toothless, the dragon purring like a delighted baby. Even among humans, there were things in the past that went unsaid. He sighed. "And what's your story, eh, bud?" He ran his hand gently over the fresh stitching. That great dragon he'd seemed to have an affection for, the Skrill and the feud the slave Hervi had spoken of . . . it was all a mystery to the boy. He hated it.

But he'd gotten used to not knowing. On nights when he stayed up talking about his problems, changes he wanted to make at the Academy, big plans and big dreams he had for his own life, traveling and getting to know all kinds of dragons and showing how much other people can love them and not fight them -- when Toothless just hummed lovingly, understandably it seemed, and nudged his nose into Hiccup. The words unspoken, if there were any, but always present, the care and tenderness that no one had shown him before or since. Even with Astrid, it wasn't the same. There was something special he had with the dragon, and it would go blissfully unexplained.

And yet he wished he knew more of the other side of their friendship. Toothless' side. What did the dragon want to say? Did he ever want to vent his frustration on a trusting friend?

The language barrier. Maybe he was being selfish for wanting to know more.

He pursed his lips, patted Toothless' shoulder and balanced unsteadily on his feet, felt the ache in his knees and shoulders suddenly, a numbness from hours of close work. His left fist still clenched the knife. He was amazed that arm held up as much as it did, but it wouldn't be long before the stress got to his own injury. They had to get moving.

Toothless perked his ears, watched Hiccup a moment and fell back, pushed his own snout into the stitches as best as he could reach them, his tongue lathering suds over the fresh blood. It probably was the first time he could lick his wounds, free from that muzzle.

Hiccup stepped away from Toothless, slipped quietly down the grassy green-black slope highlighted with blue from the moon above. The stream clattered softly in the moonlit river valley, sparkled specks of blinding white in the folds of water running down to the right, the face of the forest a thick wall on the other side of the small river. He sprinted across the short field of small pebbles on the shore, felt the rounded faces under his boot, heard the gravely crunch of his step in the immense stillness of the night.

He knelt down carefully to the water, threw his bloody hands into the wash, watched the stain come off his fingers. Something troubled him inside, and he turned back, saw Toothless' flickering eyes watching him from the little shelter of trees a couple yards away.

It was quiet now, but so much had happened. What was he going to do here now? He was so far from home. It hadn't occurred to him. Not much had in the madness of desperation to save his friend. But with him now, his mind could clear a bit, and what he saw was a mess of confusion.

How to get home? How to save the kids? Get home safely? And the war they were preparing now, those poor dragons. And the slaves . . . but like Astrid said, what could one boy do?

He had to get to the meeting place, and hopefully she had some better news about the fate of Ruff, Tuff, and Snotlout. They'd have to make a run for his ship. It was a good plan, simple. It didn't need to be complicated.

But could he walk away from the things he saw in that town? Astrid had accused him of being irresponsible. So what was his responsibility now?

Going home didn't seem quite like the option now.

He looked up at the moon, the light a blinding freshness on his weary eyes. He inhaled the white coldness in the air, let the air pulse into his lungs, fill him with a temporary alertness. He couldn't sleep now. There was no time for luxuries.

He heard something behind him suddenly -- Toothless, growling. He almost turned, saw a flash suddenly in the sky, flashing past the moon.

Only a moment.

And then it was gone.

Toothless growled behind him, the sound close suddenly. Hiccup felt a panic drive up him, and he knew there was something deadly in Toothless' growl. He whirled, too late, as claws slapped against his sides, a black shadow pinning him down. He twisted his head up, a huge breath flying out of him, the vision of Toothless suddenly over him and pressing his black body against his own. "Toothless--" The dragon was standing over him, something angry flashing in his eyes and filling up his throat.

So Hiccup hadn't been mistaken about that shape in the moonlight. Those thick wing spikes, the long tail, the barbs along his back, the ring of spikes on his neck . . .

"It's the Skrill, isn't it?" he whispered up, at Toothless.

The dragon snorted harshly into Hiccup's ear, making the boy wince. The last time these two met, violence was in the air. So what was Toothless trying to tell him? And why was he protecting him now? What was the deal with this ancient feud? Something seemed to have changed in Toothless' behavior to the Skrill from back then and now. What happened to the active sense of vengeance he felt before? What was this new protectiveness? Dragons didn't do that. They went after their opponent, they didn't run. And Toothless, least of all. Even unable to fly, he wanted to face that Whispering Death head on to settle some score. But this time?

Something was different.

Hiccup held still as he felt the black body close over him, the smell of scales and blood and dirt and adrenaline all pressing into his head underneath the roof of the dragon's body. And the savage, guttural growling -- so low yet so tangible in his ear right above him.

"Toothless, stop it," he spoke suddenly, forcefully. He put a hand out, dug his fingers into the sand and ever so slightly pulled himself forward on his back, just enough to get under Toothless' head. He eased his motion, felt the moisture hot on his forehead and his shoulder complaining.

Toothless hummed back something cutting, and Hiccup wondered if it was directed at him or not. "Buddy, just let me out of here, okay?" he chuckled, trying to bring a different mood to the situation. "Um . . . buddy?" He could feel Toothless still looking up, concentrating on the sky, and holding still. At least, he wasn't fighting. Not yet. Hiccup waited, until he felt Toothless let out his breath, then he slid along the ground again, forward, Toothless letting him escape the cover of his wings. Hiccup rose up warily, searched the sky quickly. It was clear and empty. Whatever the Skrill was doing, he was gone now.

:: ::

Toothless snorted back at the empty sky, scanning for any trace of Skari. The Skrill hadn't seen him or the boy, he was sure of that, but that dragon would stop at nothing to break both their necks. Such was his undying hatred, a hatred still alive after the many passing seasons. He knew Skari was coming back.

The wretched evil of that dragon.

Toothless snarled, felt the heat rising in his throat. Just come a little closer, Skari. Let me tear my teeth through you.

"Toothless?"

His name shocked him, and he glanced down. Hiccup was peering into him, eyes furrowed, his face tight. He was glancing back at the sky, and putting his hand out towards him.

"It's okay bud."

No it's not.

"He's, he's gone now." Hiccup looked up into the sky.

You don't understand.

"Bud, please--"

Hiccup--

Hiccup backed away, and his hand withdrew, something inexpressible in his face. And suddenly Toothless realized he had been snarling at the boy.

Toothless abruptly toned down into a quieter hum. He didn't mean to take it out on Hiccup, but it's just . . . the boy didn't understand. He turned his face from Hiccup, concentrated on the fire smarting in his throat. That was the problem. The boy wasn't there, sixty summers ago, in a migration of generations and a clash of species older than the mountains. The boy didn't fly with him into that black night storm, just a yearling Fury on a foreign island, trembling in a chill colder than snow. He didn't see the blue and violet fires flashing across the dome of the sky, screaming under the claps of night thunder. The streak of familiar black wings, the wings protecting him, and those foreign gray ones, sharp with hatred, attacking from the depths of the island. The island they thought was the end of the journey, a journey promising a new home, but delivering only death. The wings flashing, the strike in midair, the energy, the lightning, the power of the plasma--

He flexed his jaws, slicing his teeth against each other. It happened so long ago, and how could he make Hiccup understand?

"Toothless . . ."

The dragon whirled, at the sound of his name. Hiccup said it softly, questioningly, and when he searched the boy's face, he could see an honest question in them. If it was one thing they had between them in communication . . . each one could know if the other was curious. Curiosity ran through them, and this time it was a serious curiosity, a pensive, honest question. He deserved an answer. Toothless wanted to tell him. He had to. Skari meant business, and they were in the island now. There was a way to show him. Toothless let his eyes wander, to the depth of the forest, and in his mind's eye he envisioned the place, that place he hadn't seen in almost sixty summers. A shiver hummed through his body.

But it might be the only way to tell Hiccup.

Toothless looked up at the sky, at the place where the Skrill had vanished behind the trees. Hiccup followed his gaze. The dragon lilted a hum sharply, urged the boy to follow him. Hiccup nodded deftly, an unspoken understanding, and Toothless swiveled on his feet as his boy stepped swiftly besides him, moving with him into the dark overhang of the forest's heart.

:: ::

The ground was soft under him, mossy and wet through his boots. The forest was thick here, the branches low and thick against the deep blue sky above and the shafts of moonlight splintering through the trees. There was a gentle wind, warm almost, against the cool of the night. Hiccup felt his skin pulse to the change of temperature, and he inadvertently shivered, as the wave of warmer air passed and coldness wrapped around him.

"How long, buddy?" he whispered, stepped over the moss and large fallen trees under him. Toothless hummed, stopped suddenly, a soft crunch of leaves under his feet, and looked back at Hiccup. His eyes were alive with intention. Hiccup cocked his head to the side, a question on his lips. He looked up again, at the dark shadowed rock structure in front of him, a deep black cave, covered in green and shrubbery so thick he could barely make out the fact that a cave was there. Crumbles of dirt sat stuck to the side of the wall, with vines curling around the entrance and sprigs of ferns blanketing the front and edging into the forest.

Toothless jumped once through the grasses, towards the dark hole in front of them. He nudged his head at Hiccup.

So this was where Toothless was leading him?

They didn't have a lot of time. Astrid was waiting at the meeting place, and he'd spent too long here already. But--

If this was what Hiccup hoped it was . . . if this was Toothless trying to explain something to him. It felt like that. The way Toothless looked up into the sky and urged him forward. It was a move Hiccup knew he had to pay attention to. It was something he realized he desperately wanted, and he wasn't going to let Toothless miss that chance of telling him.

Hiccup stepped forward, let what little of the moonlight vanish above him as he entered the shadow of the cave. "Toothless?" He couldn't see the dragon in the blackness. "Toothless?" he whispered, leaning low, squinting.

The dragon hummed somewhere in front of him, and suddenly the cave lit up with a shot of blue plasma. Hiccup ran forward in the temporary light, stopped at Toothless' side. "What is it, buddy?" He put a hand on Toothless' head. There were cave creatures crawling over the walls, their light humming yellow and dull green, one corner draping in the thick light of those living things. He let the glow adjust in his eyes, made out the dark depth of the cave, how far in it went. Toothless urged him on again, leapt forward and glided through the floor of the cave. "Hey!" Hiccup stepped forward, trying to catch up. His metal leg tapped out a choppy rhythm, echoing sharply in the recess. He followed Toothless' growl into the darkness, wondered suddenly where the dragon was leading him. "Toothless, wait up!" he yelled, his voice reverberating chillingly around him, making his voice round and loud in the growing clamminess and chill.

Suddenly Toothless stopped. Hiccup yelped, skidded on the stone, his metal leg chattering. The dragon stepped back, lowered his head gently. His body heaved up in a long, deep, audible breath. The dragon kept it in a moment, let it out tensely, nervously.

This wasn't like Toothless. It wasn't fear, and it wasn't anger. It wasn't even curiosity, or irritation. "Toothless?" Hiccup stepped forward, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. Toothless moved forward slowly, into the darkness. Hiccup followed, hesitant. He could feel a change in Toothless, sense something different in his movement now, towards the dark corner of the cave. Toothless kept his head down, sniffed along the ground, didn't even look back when Hiccup called to him. This was private, Hiccup could feel that, and suddenly it struck Hiccup.

Toothless had been here before.

But when? That story that Hervi told when he saw Toothless, and Hervi lived here. So Toothless lived here, too . . .? But this place, this cave -- why? And--

A blast of blue white light shot the air suddenly, cast sunlight on the walls of stone. Hiccup blinked, shocked, and there before him, Toothless, head down towards . . . Hiccup looked closer. His breath caught inside him.

"Toothless . . ."

Bones. Brown, dirty, crumbled bones.

The plasma stuck to the walls, and the glow lingered, ebbing slowly to gray. Hiccup stepped forward, hurrying to the dead skeleton embedded in the dirt at Toothless' feet. He knelt down, the stone and earth cold on his knees, let his hands wander over the thin rib bones that struck up from the ground, the broken vertebrae that swept down from them and wavered over the blackness, into a long tail that vanished somewhere into the ground and stone and darkness. The wing bones so wide, so much larger than Toothless' and yet of the same proportion, the edges still bent at the joints, and fragments of membrane still hanging to the bones, quiet, lonely, still. And the wide pair of tailfins just below the wings, the joints incomplete and bare. The cracked skull at the top wider than Toothless' head and yet . . . Hiccup let out his breath, looked up at Toothless. It wasn't really a surprise to know that these were Night Fury bones.

He swallowed, reached out and put a deft hand on Toothless' foot. The dragon didn't respond, only . . . sighed, and bent down and lay on the ground, by the skeleton's head, those big eyes closed and in the faint light, even shivering delicately in the darkness. Hiccup looked down, at the remains of this dragon from ages before. Who was it? How long ago did he die? That Toothless knew him went without saying. There weren't many Night Furies in the Archipelago, the books all told of that. It wasn't a stretch to say that they knew each other, Toothless and this dragon that once lived. The bones were old, the flesh was gone and the creatures had already started working on the bones. A decade or longer? It was possible. Toothless before he met him, the wild Toothless, the life he'd led as a dragon in the world a dragon came from . . . belonged in. Hiccup looked at the quiet, breathing Night Fury lying beside him, and brought his hand away. "Hey, buddy . . ." he said softly, leaned in and whispered the words.

Toothless opened his eyes, slowly, and in the light glowing gently from them, Hiccup could read a grief, an immensity of feeling he had never seen from the dragon. And then anger, a fire of conviction and passion. Toothless jerked his head away, nudged the neck of the bones before him, looked up at Hiccup, telling him something.

Hiccup looked, leaned over on his hands and knees, keeping his left arm up, for it was getting stressed now, after those hours working on Toothless' injury.

What is it, buddy?

Toothless nosed the skull gently, letting it roll to one side. Hiccup looked closer, squinted. Toothless let out another blast of plasma, lit up the space in blue and white again. Hiccup touched the vertebrae carefully, let the light fill up the corners and the shadows between the segments of bone. He'd seen dragon bones before, not many times, but in a society where killing them had been the norm, it wasn't hard to come to know anatomy, and this was pretty clear. The bending crack in the neck, the violent distortion of the jaw . . . it was a terrible death. And then the teeth, there was something else on them, like charred wood, a kind of darkened ash. It could have been the time, the years of decay, but something in Hiccup's gut told him no, this was something significant. Toothless wouldn't be here showing him this if it wasn't important. He looked up into his dragon's eyes, saw the snarl in them, the snarl that went up, rising with his head above, into the far top of the cave. He wasn't mad at nothing. It had something to do with that Skrill. Toothless wanted to tell him something about the Skrill, and this was it. This was the story. Something in Toothless' past, the death of family, someone older than him . . . maybe an older brother? A cousin? Maybe even Toothless' parent? He gulped, looked at his friend. He had taken him from a society of dragons, and even though Night Furies were loners, it still suddenly felt strange to part Toothless from his fellow creatures.

He looked back down on the skull and the broken neck of the dead Fury. He inhaled, closed his eyes, remembered the way Toothless was so angry at the Skrill, remembered the words of Hervi, that story about the feud between the species. It wasn't a mere grudge here, there was . . . death involved. The Skrill killed this dragon. He was sure of it now. It explained everything. The Spiral of Death the slave had spoken of, the charred teeth and the electrical power of the Skrill, the way Toothless reacted to the Skrill, that hate, that vengeance. There had been death, there had been murder. Hiccup opened his eyes, bit his lip. But was this the first such killing? Or did this anger go far longer than even Toothless or this dragon or the Skrill?

If a feud can still be murderous twenty years after the death of a love and the birth of a child, as it was for him and his father's brother, and if things like that could exist among supposedly intelligent human beings . . . how about dragons? How long could a feud hold when lifespans could go for even hundreds of years? And who was in the right? If there was such a place in a feud that may well have began so long ago no one knew the origins of such hate.

He took in a breath suddenly, realized his heart was pounding fast now, in the encroaching darkness and cold in this clammy wet cave. He felt like running, suddenly, taking Toothless away from these terrible memories, from this danger. Maybe it was a good thing he got to know him, draw him away from the wild where this feud existed. He got to his feet, the echo of his prosthetic sharp and clear. He tried to say something, found his voice choked. He stepped close to his friend, cleared his throat. "Buddy, let's go." His voice was thin. "I, uh . . . thank you for showing me this. I know it's gotta be hard, but . . ."

Toothless bent his head up, looked at Hiccup, urged him on with a gentle nod, those eyes full of understanding, and full of words Hiccup could not read.

"I know what's going on now." He put a hand on the dragon's head. "As much as I need to."

The dragon hummed, closed his eyes and rose, nuzzling his head quietly into the boy. Hiccup bit his lip, looked out far out to the entrance of the cave. The dim light was faint, so far away, and the glimmering cave creatures like faint stars on a cloudy night. The hollow hum of wind through the cavern, the chill of cold, and the growl, the thin humming growl somewhere outside. . .

Hiccup was alert suddenly, he could feel Toothless tense. The hiss increased and Toothless gave a yelp of alarm. Hiccup glanced at his friend, saw a worry in Toothless' eyes, a fire in them, and a conviction and an anger throbbing through those green orbs. "Toothless--" He almost knew without having to ask. He knew what Toothless was going to do, and he knew what dragon it was that was out there.

He heard the shrill scream of the Skrill the moment Toothless jumped on him, sheltered him again. Hiccup fell, his back snapping into the stone below. He yelled at the shooting pain. Toothless roared, a horrible screeching, angry roar. And his black scaly legs, wrapping around Hiccup's body. It was protection, Toothless desperately wanted to protect him. But why? Hiccup winced in the tight grip. This was the Kill Ring all over again, that day when Toothless came to save him, protect him from Hookfang. But what did the Skrill have against him? And why hamper your own ability to fight by doing this?

Hiccup could feel fire rev in the throat of the Night Fury. Toothless didn't have to do this, he didn't have to participate in this war, this mad feud. It was deadly, Toothless had shown him that. And Toothless was at a disadvantage. "Buddy, stop--" he gasped. He could hear the Skrill out there, squawking in a hiss filled with a history of hate and evil. Hiccup wasn't afraid when he fought the Red Death, and he wasn't afraid when he rode Toothless into dark, dangerous adventures innumerable in their time together. But now, trapped under his friend, knowing all too well what hate can do . . .

He didn't want to end up like Hervi, when he said that day in Berk, a night that seemed ages ago.

The last time I saw a Night Fury . . .

He was dead.

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