Chapter 23: When Enemies Cross
Chapter 23: When Enemies Cross
Chapter 23: When Enemies Cross

23rd Feb 2013, 1:25 PM

by inhonoredglory

For the longest time Astrid had concerned herself with Hiccup, distracted herself perhaps with the legitimate worry over his injury, about his stupid will in the madness, the way he handled -- and mishandled -- himself over here, where he was supposed to be mature . . .

But now the rage inside her boiled over.

She'd kept it inside her, because she was mature enough to realize going out of control wasn't going to do anybody, her least of all, any good. If it was one thing she prided herself in, it was controlled violence. She was no Tuffnut, she wouldn't run into anything without knowing what she was up against, and she was no ordinary Viking, she wouldn't let emotions only drive her sense of vengeance. She didn't have a weapon in this place, so by what immature urge would she lash out at a fistful of Skirra Véllites with her bare hands? She was busy enough keeping one very injured Viking boy in check himself from going mad over Toothless being separated from his sight. She had to take care of him. She had an investment in the kid. One day she was turning over her last name to him, and he needed to be alive for that.

Astrid pulled a punch on a particularly stout spruce tree that was leaning towards the ground in a strange curl, as if it once were twisted out of clay.

"Um . . . Astrid? That won't bring him here sooner." Fishlegs' voice was tiny.

Astrid whirled. She could feel her eyes narrowing at the round Viking teen. He was only sixteen now, he was still a little ignorant about everything, and maybe he didn't get the seriousness of this situation, and what it meant to her. She had doubts about Heather since the beginning. Sure, she didn't think it would go the lengths it did now, but they had, she had, and Astrid knew that if she wanted to, when the time was right, and she had that woman cornered, she wasn't going to come out alive.

The thought shocked her, slightly. But she was a Viking after all, and she was blunt with the truth, and truth it was. If you touch him, you're dead. If this weren't the enemy's land . . . If the battle started back at home would continue, she'd have dibs on Heather. If blood had to be shed in this war, she wasn't afraid to shed it. That was war, after all, and that was growing up. And what better fate for someone like that? No one got their hands on Hiccup. No one.

"Astrid, you okay?"

She blinked, inhaled. Fishlegs was looking really worried now, she could read that simple sense of concern in his eyes. He was a good kid, and she felt sorry for him being stuck here, without the other teens, without Hiccup, his best friend, and no Meatlug or parents. Must be hard on him.

"Yeah, I'm okay," she mumbled, kicking a rock on the dark black, moonlight-speckled earth below. She cleared her throat. "Hiccup's been gone for hours now. We need to get back to them . . ." She gestured in the direction of the town. The kids had to be saved at some point. It was sure a snag in their plan. "I'm getting worried about him. I don't know what happened. He might be killed for all I know." She swayed unevenly, flopped to a seat on a ragged felled trunk. She shivered, not cold, despite the fact that it was a frigid night, but shivered for a spark of fear, that the simple plan might have fallen through. If Hiccup didn't make it to the meeting place by now . . . what might have happened?

"We need to go back."

Fishlegs looked at her. "What?"

"She got them, I feel it."

"Yeah, but. But, but, they'll come. We have to trust him!"

She exhaled. "It's out of his control, Fishlegs. We have to help him. I can't sit here worrying that he's within shooting range of his killer. I need to know what happened. I'm getting bad vibes." She stood up, whipped her bangs away from her face and started north, into the thick forest, towards the town.

"Hey, wait for me!"

Astrid paused gently, waited for Fishlegs to pant up behind her. "You know it's tiring to sit and wait so long." His eyes gleamed softly in the dim light from the moon. A cloud moved over the light source suddenly, casting a dark black light over the scene of blue and shadows. Astrid turned back, heard something suddenly and squinted over the western woods, where the trees descended into shorter spires and mountainous upswells melded foliaged and thick from the surface trees. There were sparks coming from one of those hills, like a muffled lightning show. And cut off from sight by, by . . . a cave in the hillside? She was standing on a kind of a hill with Fishlegs here, with the one end opening out into the valley before her and the town far below. But out there on the left . . . now dragon screams. Hot, angry, and--

"Toothless?"

:: ::

She wasn't normally cold. The weather was something she could handle. But tonight, the cold chill of the night air dug into her veins, bore down deep into her core. Heather shivered, looked around in the darkness of the forest around her, heard the shouts of her people, pursuing that escaping boy and the freed dragon. She was with them, deep in the thick pines, the hunting hounds with them now, barking and lisping at the edges of their leash. Someone shouted and sent them off, and she watched the dogs rush hotly through the greenery. The warrior who had commanded the dogs rode past her on his short black steed, bowed briefly, the night black and lightless on his features. She acknowledged him, kicked the flanks of her own black horse, galloped forward.

She wanted to be alone. Alone with the sharp emotions growing inside her. The wind struck her again, and she rode deeper into the forest, eyes alert and hungry for sight of that cursed son.

Fate had been busy these past days, but whose side was she on?

She reined in the horse, clapped to a stop on a jutting of stone overlooking the valley of trees. Where was he in this place? She was having doubts now of finding him. He'd escaped her sword, he'd evaded warriors on every side to steal back the dragon. And yet in the years he was alive, he was a disappointment to his father. At least for most of the time. But the man who forged that curse, her own father, was still dying from the loss of his love and the life of this boy. Maybe Fate didn't have a side. Maybe the gods were teasing her. She watched the sky, eyes alighting on a fleck of light, a shooting star on the horizon.

At the end of this, she'd know.

She turned back from the cliffside, clapped down into the cover of the darkness and canopy of branches, walked on for a while. They had yet to finish off Stoick's tribe. Prolonged war like this wasn't something she was fond of. She never really liked war. She wanted it short and fast and over. After they subjugated the Hooligans, it was going to be peace for them. Her father was going to let her take full chieftainship of the tribe. He was going to settle down, dwell on the memory of his love and the justice that he'd have carried out.

This snag in the plan, this dragon training and Hiccup's coming back here alive. She sighed hotly, spied a warrior panting up to her from a dark corner of the woods. Hiccup came here, and who knows who was with him? Maybe Stoick was here already, as they had learned from the spies. But why was the attack slow in coming? Where was the Viking counter attack? Why hadn't they been attacked now?

The warrior was at the foot of her horse now. "Yes?" she asked. He was a messenger.

He was panting, hands on his knees, shards of leaves and branches littering his woolen clothing. "The scouts -- they've spotted an armada. Very far away, but like the spy said. And dragons--" he gasped suddenly, out of breath. "The Night Fury is fighting on the west side."

She reigned in her horse, alarmed at the news. "How far away, the ships?"

"At least a day. Maybe more. They're against the wind."

She leaned over, directed a few men to ready for the impending bloodshed. She turned to the messenger again. "And the Night Fury?"

"One of the men saw a Night Fury fighting with a Skrill by the Wold Caves."

"And the boy?"

"With them."

She reigned in the horse, jerked her head to her people. "Ready your nets, men. We're taking back the Fury." She slapped her legs against her horse, set off through the woods. Even here she could imagine hearing those dragons screaming at each other. It was real, and if what the messenger was saying was true, then that story by Hervi was real. She'd always wondered. Night Furies were legendary here. Her father had found the bones of a Night Fury long ago, that terrible beast, when he first came here some twenty years ago. And wasn't it in that place too? That hill she was heading for now, the caves of Wold. Hervi had shown him, and they'd collected the scales, made gleaming black helmets out of them.

And if Stoick's ships were coming and Hiccup was here . . . She still didn't know why the boy was in her presence, on her island. It was as if Fate was laughing at her, a battle she'd picked out with her, to spite her.

The whisper of that day in Berk came back, that night in Hiccup's room, when she watched him sleeping and almost thrust the blade into his heart. The moonlight was very white suddenly, and stark in the night. She inhaled the coldness of the night, closed her eyes and opened them again. She couldn't be afraid now, could she? A thought entered her mind, a kind of plan, and she knew it was because the honest truth was that she was afraid to kill him again.

Because he was the dragon trainer after all, as the stories had said, the dragon whisperer. Maybe, maybe she didn't have to face that again, those wide eyes, full of green and wonder, and . . . innocence.

:: ::

"Toothless--!"

Hiccup gasped underneath the body of the Night Fury. He tried to move, found his friend's grip around him tight and convicted. The cold stone of the cave was hard against his back, and he yelped, tried to get Toothless' attention to the fact that he was hurting now, his shoulder having deftly realized it was twisting in a not-so-desirable position. "Toothless, buddy--"

The dragon above him hissed, wasn't paying attention to him right now. Hiccup could hear the Skrill up ahead of him, he could feel the vibration in the ground, the sharp tear of claws against the rock, thin echoes in the darkness. And down here, his head on the rocks, something moist making his cheek cold, he could hear the scatter of creatures, lizards and beetles, hurry past him, down into the depth of the cave, the faint glow of the cave creatures drifting down, somewhere on the other side of Toothless' legs and wings. The cold seeped in between the dragon, licked at him in the mixed heat from the angry Night Fury above him. Hiccup had never felt Toothless so heated. This was serious, this war between them. How could so much hatred flame up so quickly?

And then the pulse of plasma. Hiccup winced, could feel the fire churn in Toothless' body. He had to get out there, intervene somehow. "Buddy, let me go--"

Toothless hissed, shoved forward slightly, rubbing Hiccup against the rock. Hiccup sucked in a breath, pushed up with his good arm, afraid to use the other one. Toothless couldn't fly, and trying to protect him, he couldn't move either. Both of them would get killed this way. Hiccup shoved his hand up Toothless' middle. The Skrill was scratching the ground now, and there was a buzz of lightning sounds. Hiccup forced his hand up harder. If they had to fight, he had to fight with Toothless. Didn't his friend remember that? They did it together.

Toothless jerked suddenly, to Hiccup's motion, and pressed harder down, shrieking at the dragon ahead of him. Hiccup felt the pulse of lightning in the air, the rush and cackle of white fire, and he looked down, past his feet and through the membranes of Toothless' wings, saw the light bouncing, flooding past the ground. Hiccup locked his jaw, firmed both palms on the stone, his injury notwithstanding, and shoved himself downward, under Toothless, and behind him. He whirled up, saw the black silhouette of the Skrill, a moment before he fired, lighting up the cavern as like midday. Toothless growled, a sharp piercing hiss, and turned suddenly, to face Hiccup. "Toothless-- stop," Hiccup gasped, dropping forward, to the right of the dragon, kneeling and putting his hand out to his friend. Toothless jumped back suddenly, stared at Hiccup with a white shock, yelped in fear. The Skrill hissed, cackled in an almost laugh, and snaked up towards them, dark wings jabbing down towards the stone, the claws white and sharp on the ground. Toothless jumped forward suddenly, between the Skrill and Hiccup, that conviction in his step and then the fire in those glowing Skrill eyes -- the words to the death snapped through Hiccup's mind and he screamed, jumped forward, white fire in the air suddenly, cold and sparking in Hiccup's nerves. He yelled, found his metal leg shivering, the stone under his feet, a river of lightning rushing past him, and the dark cavern suddenly snapping in his vision, flickering white and-- suddenly a force against him, a hard warm body, something clamping over him, and he looked down before the thought solidified in his mind-- saw that dark spiked dragon's head latched to his body, the jaw around him, and suddenly his feet slipped off the ground. The dragon whipped his head, pressed his jaws down into Hiccup. A gasp escaped him, and he jabbed his hands out, found his left one stuck in the corner of the dragon's jaw. The saliva soaked over him, that icky dragon goo. The teeth jagged down like a thousand pinpricks digging deeper and wider into his skin. No, no-- he shouted. He'd never planned to die by ingestion. Sometimes he had all the luck.

:: ::

Toothless blasted a volley of fire as he skidded on the cave floor. Plasma ripped through the tunnel. The Skrill squawked and spiked wings jumped out of the fire's path. A sudden flash of lightning shot back and Toothless sparked and fired -- kept firing, over, again, over, and again, the blasts pummeling into the cave walls in blinding succession. The chamber quaked, rock fragmented and crashed. Toothless paused to see past the light's brilliant wake.

But Skari was gone. There was a fast streak past him, a shrill screech. Toothless turned and screamed at the shape, prepared to fire again, but in a moment his fire died in his throat, for the vision that met his eyes. His boy, Skari had taken him, and Hiccup was writhing and fighting in the jaws of that dragon.

Hate filled the darkest corner of Toothless' soul. How dare he touch him. He lunged at the Skrill. Skari pitched sideways, but Toothless' claws struck into the Skrill's back and the Night Fury held on. Hiccup shouted, Skari yelped, bucked wildly and suddenly those long spines slashed into Toothless' belly. "No--" Hiccup yelled. Toothless roared as the flailing body under him turned over, and him with it. Toothless found himself upside down on his back, spines cutting into him, and he bit back at the points, struck his legs out and let out a roar. The heaving body suddenly lifted from him and he breathed out, angled his head and caught sight of Skari flying out of the cave. But Hiccup--

Toothless jumped up and ran. He collided into the harsh emptiness of the night, his jaws biting air and his eyes searching up--

The Skrill let out a laugh of syllables in his growl from the air. Dagr you fool.

Skari hovered, Hiccup's small shape hanging, fighting between his teeth. He was kicking, he was afraid. Toothless stopped breathing, panic ripping through him. He knew Hiccup, and he knew his boy was never afraid.

Suddenly the Skrill heaved a breath and jabbed his jaws forward. Skari flicked his prey in the air and caught him again in his mouth, like a fish freshly snagged and toyed with. Hiccup's movement ebbed and his legs went limp for a moment. An unearthly fire tore through the Night Fury's heart and he roared at the Skrill, a hot, angry roar filled with all the trapped hate that longed to fly up to that monster and swirl down and away into the spiral of death and final comeuppance.

Toothless leapt up and slammed his wings into the air, but the Skrill only flew higher as Toothless plunged to the ground screaming. Skari gurgled in mockery at him, lifted his spiked wings and began flying over the meadow, Toothless running after him.

Chasing after your boy . . . The Skrill lilted the words in his silky growl.

Fight me, coward. Toothless' guttural hiss was low and sharp.

. . . clever escape you had from the humans . . .

Shut up Skari--

. . . too bad you won't make it off the island . . .

I'll soak the dirt with your blood.


Skari stopped in mid-air, his body turning, his eyes flashing down at him. He hissed one more time, the words low and deep in his throat. Only a Night Fury will die tonight.

Skari flapped forward. Toothless hissed, a thousand shards of rage and bloodlust burning through his chest. A sudden fear welled up above his fury, a fear for Hiccup, and with those words ringing in his head, he'll use him against you, Dagr.

:: ::

Astrid had a notion it would come to this. Heather and her maniacal crew, here in the forest, chasing down Hiccup and Toothless. While she'd been running towards that cave with Toothless' voice in it, she'd seen them, on horses and running after the dragons. So much for the cover of night and the escape. No wonder those guys were late. She should not have trusted Fishlegs, she should have thought the worst, and she wouldn't have to be grasping at straws now, running, jumping over crawling vines and branches and hoping she wasn't too late.

"Hiccup!" she screamed. This wasn't a time for being quiet. She'd seen glimpses of the dragon holding him up, and Toothless chasing after him. She'd never seen such a thing before, and she was scared to death that this was going to be the end for Hiccup. What untrained dragon pulled that stunt without something lethal in mind?

She didn't care that Fishlegs was falling behind, on his stubby legs, yelping after her. She couldn't wait any more. Those Skirra Véllites were ahead of her. They'd seen the dragon and the boy, and they'd have no mercy. They wanted the Night Fury for some ceremony, and they wanted Hiccup dead. But she wasn't about to let either happen, not if she could help it. Fishlegs was far behind her now, still scampering through the undergrowth. She almost didn't want him involved. Someone had to stay on the outside, if what she had to do failed.

The woods were opening up now, into a field of brown, sticky mud and bare pines, as if they had been scorched some time long ago, and huge puckered rocks in the murky mud afar, boulders jagged and volcanic.

Heather's horses and men were only a few dozen yards from her now, just on the edge of the forest. Several were dismounted, hauling themselves into the mud, armed with a net with rocks attached to the corners. The Skrill with Hiccup was flapping ridiculously close to the ground, with Toothless splashing through the muck, those eyes angry and very much the vicious Night Fury that he was. She yelled, a cold, chilling battle cry and let all the anger she knew lived inside of her spill out in a vent of war. Pounding through the last edges of the forest, preparing herself. The time of careful caution was over. If she didn't do something now, there wouldn't be a second chance. So maybe Hiccup had a point in being rash.

She had no weapon, no axe, and no dragon, but men had faced worse odds before. Didn't they?

:: ::

It wasn't so much the moment that scared him most but the pain he knew was coming. "Get me-- off," Hiccup gasped, gritted his teeth when he felt the sink of those jagged teeth into his abdomen. The jaws of the Skrill were locked around him, as he faced upward and his legs dangled into the air on the Skrill's left side. He barely kept conscious, the shock of the situation doubled with the crackled hum of lightning thick in the air. Was this guy going to chop him down? Dragons didn't eat people, did they? Oh suffering scallops . . .

He felt his hair raise on end, his skin crawl with a thousand creeping dagger points up and down his arm and leg. What the dragon lightning would do to him, he could only venture to guess. His prosthetic sparked, and the skin there was strangely chilled, like a pulsing shot of ice morphing to fire and back again to cold. The dragon snapped his jaw, and Hiccup hissed a gasp, the fresh cuts on his body competing for attention from his left shoulder, which found no pleasure in its forced position between the dragon's jaws.

"Aaargh--" He pulled his right arm up, slapped it onto the thin snout of the Skrill. He pushed, bent over and looked down--

Some moments must have passed between the time the Skrill grabbed him and now, for he found himself in the air, some forty feet up, Toothless jumping into the sky, crawling up trees, leaping at them, desperation in his eyes and a horrid, hateful growl in his throat. "Toothless--!" Hiccup shrieked, catching his breath as the Skrill threw his head up and sank his jaws tighter together. Hiccup felt his eyesight waver, and something more vital than mere dragon saliva soaking through him. He exhaled forcefully, pushed again on the dragon's snout. What was this creature? He focused his eyes on it, saw the thin evil in its eye, that very sane determination, and looking down at Toothless with a sort of communicative knowledge in them.

He had the sudden notion that the Skrill wasn't going to eat him alive.

Those dragons were humming to each other now, hot angry growls and sharp piercing hisses and jabs. He was the ploy in this feud now, wasn't he? Some kind of bait for Toothless. But-- bait for what?

The Skrill hissed suddenly, jolted up and dived down, that piercing howl in his lungs, as he swept near Toothless, jabbed his jaws at the Night Fury. Hiccup winced, his breath jagged and rasping. He could hear Toothless yelp up at him, that hurt in his voice, mingled with hate, down below him. "Toothless--" He pushed the panic down inside of him. If the Skrill had the upper hand here, if Toothless . . . his mind ran madly, his breathing got fast. He had to figure this out.

He tried to slide up, but leaning over was too painful, and the Skrill banked suddenly, over the tops of pine groves on the edges of the flat grassy strip of land widening out from a thin parcel north of the cave. A panic throbbed through him, suddenly. Where was he going? The beat of the spiked wings undulated beneath him, as the cold night of the air pierced beneath his clothes. If Toothless knew him once, and this feud . . . if only he could understand, if only he could speak to them, and maybe there was a peaceful way to end this madness. He had his right hand free, and with it he jabbed hard at the head of the Skrill, felt almost awful for doing that to a dragon. He shivered, in the cold and the wash of fear and uncertainty, and his eye caught a golden light on the ground amidst the black, blue forest bathed in silver moonlight. He yelled, instinct telling him to call for help, to whoever it was with that torchlight. The jabs of pain in his middle flared up again, as a breath of blue smoke drifted out of the Skrill's snout and the dragon laughed suddenly, a gargle of pleasure as he swept down again, towards the stolid treetops of the forest. The motion made him dizzy suddenly, and he blacked out a moment, heard the sound of Toothless yelping for him, crying out in a knowing desperation. The next moment he opened his eyes, head lolling to the side. He could see his friend running behind the Skrill, who was strangely flying low, through the tree trunks in the dense forest, deft and agile, dodging right, left, jerking upwards and sweeping low. This dragon lived here a long time, and knew the path. Toothless fell behind, but always, he was there leaping over the next brambling bush and cluster of ferns and fallen, rotting branches.

Hiccup gasped in a breath of cold air, jabbed his right hand up the Skrill's jaw again, found it hard to get a grip now, and with the teeth still lodged inside him, movement was not exactly your most painless endeavor. And then there was that orange light again, in the woods. He turned up and looked, saw the silhouette of horses, dark and clustered, somewhere in the distance, past a clearing in the woods just coming up-- the Skrill broke out of the forest, into the large clearing, filled with dirt and glistening mud beneath, bordered by forest again, and a messy, watery swamp at the end of it, with the river wide and fast beyond. He pressed up in the jaws again, got the Skrill to notice. The dragon jolted, flapped both wings forward, swept backward, hovered, shook his head and the prey within. The dizziness hit Hiccup again, and in the confused mingled reality in his mind, he thought he heard Astrid, screaming something, in the distance, below. It felt so real, and yet . . . like a dream. He inhaled again, deeper, longer, blinked and was blinded by the clear, bright moon. Sight whitened for a moment, he felt only pain, and a strange surreal weightlessness, here in the air. He had to get out of here, he wasn't going to be able to take this much longer. His legs spasmed suddenly, and he heard a slosh in the mud beneath, Toothless yelping, screaming. "Buddy . . . help," he gasped, letting off his hand on the Skrill's jaw, tightening his own jaw as the force of the dragon sweeping down again got to him, as he heard that laugh in the dragon's lungs, the cold pitch penetrating into Hiccup's bones.

He opened his eyes, heard Astrid again, looked down and saw the horses, with the riders, their hands glistening with swords and axes and standing back, the lead horse small and black, with a familiar form on it -- even from here, with the dizziness and a growing numbness messing up his senses, he could read the figure of that girl. Like when he first saw her on that ship, her cape flowing in the ocean breezes and her hair flapping black and long in the wind. They were running, on those horses, towards them below, like some small army of riders with torches and glistening swords. He inhaled again, winced shut his eyes and opened them, felt something change with the dragon holding him, a pause in the flapping, and then a scream from the dragon's gut. The Skrill turned back, looking down and Hiccup knew somehow it was a stare at Toothless following below him. But this pause?

The Strike class was an intelligent species. And the Skrill had a hateful vengeance for Toothless. This was where he was taking Hiccup. In a horrid vision of the future, he knew why he'd become bait.

:: ::

Hiccup was screaming now. "Toothless--!"

Toothless lifted his head up, but he couldn't take his eyes off the people, the glint of metal rushing into view from the forest's darkness--

"It's a trap." That urgency. Toothless growled. He knew that, he knew what the Skrill was doing now, but he didn't run. He stood still in the wet ground under him, his chest beating fast. Skari paused in the air above him. A deliberate pause, a pause fully aware of the sudden appearance of humans from the forest's edge, men armed with axes and swords and arrows -- dragon hunters.

"Toothless, come back for me later, just--"

Toothless snorted. He could deal with this. He shifted his body, caught sight of humans on his right and ahead of him. A horde amassing, edging into the open space, the slosh of their steps into the mud awful and disgusting, and the clap and clang of their weapons suddenly sharp and loud. So this was what Skari led him to. He bared his teeth and flattened his ears against his skull, wrath exploding in his soul.

Ruthless little things, those dragon slayers. Skari's gritting hiss. As my brother could tell you, it's nasty business being the prize dragon.

Toothless twisted underneath Skari's shadow, a sudden clarity hitting him, sparking horror, disgust. He snarled. You meant them to find me.

Didn't think you'd run into dragon killers all by yourself . . .

Getting men to do your dirty work--

They're already dirty. Invading what's not theirs, killing what's not theirs to kill . . .


Skari flapped lower, his wingbeats cold and biting. He hissed.

. . . just like you, Dagr. Like your father, like all Night Furies. You thought you could take this island, kill every one of us--

--you know NOTHING about my father, or me.
A surge of gas welled up in Toothless' throat. Instinct was not something he was used to pushing aside. He'd have sent that Skrill begging for his life, but Hiccup was there--

"Get out of here buddy--"

--and he kept it back. He could hear men breathing fast and near him, the men coming close. Hiccup needed him, and he needed him now. He whirled up and screamed at the Skrill, the language thick in his throat. Skari, you got what you wanted. Go watch me die--

I fully intend to . . .

--you don't need the boy anymore.

. . . is he so precious to you?

He's not part of this--

. . . worth more than your life to you?


"Toothless, listen to me!!"

He is the enemy--

HICCUP--

They who capture us--

Let him GO--

. . . enslave us--


"Leave now. Buddy--!"

. . . kill us--

Never, Hiccup.

You're selfish, Dagr.


Toothless blinked, couldn't believe what he'd just been accused of. He let the impatient explosion of plasma out of his throat. He aimed below Hiccup for the Skrill's belly. But Skari dipped sideways, and the plasma missed, glowing bright and surreal in the black sky. Toothless snarled and Skari hissed a sticky chime of laughter. The Skrill rose into the night, so high Hiccup was only a shadow, and the Skrill only a wild and shrieking voice of hate. You've sided with our murderers. You are a traitor. And as a traitor, you must die.

Skari slammed his wings low, swept over the people, and heaved his body down. The men shouted, the dragon diving overhead, and suddenly, the Skrill threw Hiccup down, down into the mass of people and axes and glistening swords. Toothless could hear Hiccup screaming, the Skrill laughing, and he lunged forward, towards the warriors. For a moment he knew exactly what the Skrill had intended, but this time he didn't care.

:: ::

The impact of Hiccup's body on the ground made him black out for a moment. He shouted, doubled over in the shards of pain that stabbed him fresh. The Skrill might have released him, but it wasn't in the most human-friendly manner. But this was all part of that dragon's plan. Mud sucked around him, and he sloshed his one hand in, trying to get a grip.

"Toothless--!"

He gasped the name, as a panic swept through him. Toothless was in danger. That's what the Skrill wanted. After all, he had nothing against Hiccup personally, did he? Hiccup's eyes shot open, and he was met with a sight of swords and axes in his face, scattered around him and heavy shoes running everywhere. Somewhere he could hear the Skrill's scream and the sound of arrows flying into the air, and the squelch of that dragon's body into the ground, more yelling, and the hot breath of dragon screams doubled and thick in the night.

He groped in the sloshing dirt again, felt arms reach down and begin to grab him. He fought back, weakly. It was chaos, whatever was going on. He tried to get upright, but his own side stopped him, and he fell back on the soft dirt. That girl's voice he heard, it was screaming now, so close and now he knew it was real. It was Astrid. "Astrid?" he gasped, barely audible to himself, as a hand grabbed him. He slapped it away, heard Toothless growling, screeching in a different kind of hatred. He looked between the running feet and saw that familiar netting swimming over the wet earth, the large black silhouette underneath it, thickly-clad Vikings around him, shapes so familiar in his time. Dragon hunters, dragon catchers, dragon killers. That's what the Skrill wanted when he threw him in here. He knew Toothless was so loyal to him that he'd follow him anywhere.

"No!" he screamed. "No! Stop it--" His voice choked on him, and those arms hauled him up out of the dirt, pulled on him. His jaw locked, his whole body hurting, and the screaming voice of Astrid mingling into an inhuman yell, a battle cry of one lone girl. Some foreign sense of inspiration struck him and he told himself to do something. He threw his left arm back, grunted to compensate for the pain, stepped forward as the man behind him jolted back to the surprise elbow punch. Hiccup gasped, went for Toothless just a few yards from him, those Skirra Véllites thick around him. He looked back briefly, saw Astrid kicking up her feet and cartwheeling in the muddy black landscape. She had a grown man's sword in her hand and there was a cluster of fallen, injured men behind her, getting up from the brown muck. What was she doing? "Astrid, behind you!" he yelled, and hesitated. Astrid was going to get murdered there, doing such a stupid thing as taking on a whole pack of the enemy single-handedly. She whirled at his words, kicked the warrior behind her. "Astrid, get out of here!" He turned back to Toothless, found a horse in his path suddenly, rearing and spitting mud from his hooves, blocking him from his dragon. He could hear Toothless fighting, those claws scratching at something metal, and a hiss of anger and defiance. Hiccup slid down, into the mud and under the horse as it slapped down again. He clawed the ground on his hands, found the end of the net and grabbed it, jerked it back, adrenaline flowing fresh and white in his veins. Toothless was trapped in between the lines, the mess of rope looked impossible, he pulled again, desperate, looked back and saw Astrid, still fighting, her yells and shouts strong and forceful. "Astrid--" he shouted, not knowing what to say, panicking with a very real fear. These people didn't fear killing, of men or dragons. "Astrid!!" Someone was coming at him now, dark shapes who figured out this thin intruder was trying to mess with the prize dragon. He curved his hand behind him, lashed out the dagger from his belt, snapped the net and yelled for Astrid again. "Get over here!" he shouted and threw his arms into the opening in the net he'd created. "Buddy, jump!" Toothless leaped forward, and then the dark shapes reached him. Hands heavy and hot grabbed him, swept around his neck and shoulders, almost choking him. Another female voice, commanding and strong, broke through and yelled, "Don't kill him!"

Toothless jumped for him, and Hiccup tried to tell him, the words garbled now in the big man's grip. "Go Toothless!! Run!! Get-- out of here!" The man pulled on him, made his legs drag in the slopping mud. Toothless jumped after him but the men were prepared. Another net came flying down and yells of war clamped down on Hiccup's ears. Some dark figure threw himself on Toothless' head, and the dragon's snout disappeared into the mucky darkness of the mud. There was a laughing dragon's scream somewhere far away, and Hiccup shouted, his voice muffled in the grip of his captor. "Let him go! Let Toothless go--" He couldn't see anymore, the arm so thick and hard around him. And Astrid-- Astrid! He heard her. "Get your filthy hands off--!"

"Astrid!" Hiccup managed to gasp. No, don't let her get in this mess, too, he prayed desperately. Toothless' blood on his hands was enough. Not Astrid's too. He struggled against the tight hold on him, fought with everything he had in his small frame, and almost got to slide past, but then that woman's voice, it sounded deep and strangely mature now-- above him and biting. "Hiccup Horrendous Haddock," it gasped out in a horrid sense of hate and spitting revulsion. He stopped, it was Heather. He was thrown into the ground suddenly, face down, and he hit the wet mud with a shocked gasp. Those wounds in his body screamed out at him suddenly, and he inhaled sharply. He could feel men around him, surrounding him on every side. Boots slapped down in front of him and mud spat out from under them, squeezed and sucked in and out with her every step towards him. He heard a sword unsheathe and looked up, squinting in the moon that shone somewhere behind Heather's black, silhouetted face and that hair flying ragged and silky in the night air. Her blade glimmered in her right hand, its point to the ground, just above the dirt and grime below her, her cape dark and flapping behind her.

He held his breath, tried to get a hand down to get up, felt the blade's flat edge against his left shoulder suddenly, pressing down. He winced, inhaled again and heard a muffled cry afar, it was Astrid and he got a grip with his right hand on the solid earth somewhere below him, looked out to his right, saw Astrid in the tight grip of three bulky men, her limbs still fighting, kicking, as she spat hot curses in her captor's faces.

"Look at me," said the voice above him, and he glanced up, saw Heather leaning down to him, blocking out the moon, that blade sliding down his back and the end jabbing into the back of his harness under his muddy, stained fur vest.

His breath increased and he exhaled hotly. "Let her go," he said, calmly, the anger in him at a boiling point. "You can have me, but don't you touch her."

"I'm not after your girlfriend," she said, and the tone in her voice sickened Hiccup. His lips curved into a grimace and once again he tried to get up. Heather grabbed the lace of his collar suddenly, jerked him to his feet and held him close to her, her dark glimmering eyes piercing into his, a shiver in them, like . . . evil, or was it apprehension?

He swallowed, and she whispered, low and quiet. "You've always been known for changing fate, haven't you?"

He didn't answer.

"Well, haven't you?" Her voice rose, shaking.

"What do you mean?" He cleared his throat. Somewhere afar he could hear the shrill yelp of a dragon -- the Skrill, it wasn't Toothless, and he looked out quickly, saw the same netting over that dragon, warriors clamoring over him as they had on Toothless.

"I'm not speaking in riddles," she hissed, and he looked back at her. "I mean the curse we had on you. You're supposed to be an embarrassment, a sick blight in your family." She eyed her warriors around suddenly, and he felt a deft sense of solitude surround them. They'd backed away, just enough to be private, not enough to relinquish caution. Their axes reflected white and blue in the moonlight. Heather dropped to a whisper again and looked at him. "I just got word that Stoick is near, that his armada is preparing for war on us."

"What?" Hiccup caught his breath.

"Don't act like you didn't know." She pulled him in closer, whispered angry now. He caught his breath, the shoulder screaming, his body shaking. "Your spies told us," she spat, "and we've confirmed it."

He swallowed, couldn't believe it. The spies, the kids of course, they didn't know if his Dad was coming or not, he didn't know.

"My scouts have seen the ships," she continued, letting up the pressure on his collar. "He's not an easy man to beat."

His breath heaved harder, and he didn't blink, kept his stare on her. She whirled her other hand, and the sword in it flashed again in the moon. She looked behind him, her eyes suddenly avoiding his. A twitch in her face, and she forced her eyes on him again, but this time he could sense a hesitation. It was slight, but it was there. She bounced the sword in her hand, and suddenly lashed its edge up to his throat. He caught his breath.

Her eyes steadied on him. "I-- I won't kill you," she said, a surprising unsteadiness in her voice, "on one condition. That you train our dragons."

His mouth fell open and he almost said something, but-- was it what he thought it meant? If they meant . . . "I'm not training any dragons," he said, firmly, his mouth dry.

She swallowed and pressed the blade closer. It almost dug in, but she brought it out suddenly, brought the sword down and turned her eyes away, as if she were . . . scared of something. The shiver in his heart ebbed, and the hand on his collar tightened and she looked out briefly, before focusing on him again. She locked her eyes on him, a forced conviction in them now. "You lived when you weren't supposed to. You're here when you should be dead and gone." She hissed the last words into his face, her lips close to his, her eyes so close and sparkling black in the moonlight behind her. He breathed hard, the pangs of pain in his body growing harder and harder to ignore. "You're going to train our army. You--" She latched her fingers around his collar. "You are going to create the army that will defeat my father's brother."

A horror filled him, an emotion greater than his pain. "Never--" he gasped.

She lisped, her lips shaking suddenly. "I said I'd kill you, if you don't."

He inhaled again, kept his eyes on those shining black ones, ones so close. There was something in them besides hate now, and he couldn't understand it. But what she was asking him to do--

"Then . . ." He swallowed, his mouth so dry and aching. "I'll die first before that happens." He raised his chin, still looking at her. Her eyes wavered, and the tightness of her brow shook suddenly. The stare held, and the pain started getting to him now, in the midst of the horror and the fear, and the conviction that was running through him like adrenaline fast and frigid in his nerves. He gasped in a breath, clasped his right arm around his middle, broke the stare as he squeezed shut his eyes.

"Take him to the execution chamber," he heard her say, above him, and those big heavy arms grabbed him again. He shrieked in the agony that hit him now, gritted his teeth and heard somewhere so close the voice of Astrid screaming, shouting, desperate and afraid.

"Hiccup-- Hiccup!!"

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