Chapter 30: The Other Side of Heroism
Chapter 30: The Other Side of Heroism
Chapter 30: The Other Side of Heroism

9th Jul 2013, 9:04 AM

by inhonoredglory

It was still in Astrid's mind -- that expression on Hiccup's face, the confidence in it, when he told her, "trust me" and then was dragged out of the slave house, like a wild, unruly dog. She could still see the chain around his neck, too many dark bruises on his body, more than she figured the boy was aware of. It filled her with disgust, anger, but she listened, she wanted to trust Hiccup. When she had gotten word that he was alive, and they took her to the slave house, all she could think of was him, taking him in her arms. They said he was hurt, but how hurt, she had never imagined. And now, these long hours without him . . . Maybe he had a point, that they needed him to train dragons. But her heart was ripping, seething, red filling the vacancy he had left when they took him away.

She'd heard Fishlegs outside, that was a while ago now. The guard at the front kept him out of the house, did something to try to keep him from coming back. "Keep out of here, this is your chief's house."

"But I need to see someone in there!"

"No one enters here. Get out of here, before I ask you why you're so interested in the chief's slaves . . ."

But Astrid didn't believe it for a second that Fishlegs would just leave. She wanted to get out there and tell him something, managed to get outside and collect vegetables for the French woman, but Fishlegs was already gone. She debated striking off into the woods then and there, stood staring at the dark forest for longer than she should have. Noor called her back, reprimanding her, and she'd looked down on her bandaged hand again, remembered the paralyzed shock in Hiccup's face, the way he had begged her to stay safe. She couldn't do this to him. If she escaped and they found out, they'd punish him, just because they can. She needed to know what was happening to him, before she did anything stupid -- or heroic. As much as she hated to wait, for Hiccup's safety, for his life, she did. She needed information. So she'd asked Hervi to check on him, to find out where he was and what they were doing to him, because Hervi had more freedom in the town and they trusted him. But as each minute passed, her confidence in Hiccup's word ran low. Maybe they weren't afraid to kill him, just because he had to train dragons. Maybe he'd try to be a hero again and get himself killed.

She sat at Noor's table, listened to the clack and clatter of her constant, pointless housekeeping. She watched the guard still staring at her, those eyes unafraid and his hands, stroking his unsheathed sword. It was still dark, damp in the house, despite the morning light. Noor wanted to keep her busy, kept asking her to do something, help her knead dough or slice roots. Maybe it was her way of keeping Astrid calm, or helping her pass the time. But to Astrid, it would only be betrayal to do anything but scheme ways to get out of here and protect Hiccup, find a way to free Toothless and the kids . . . "Why are you taking so long, Hervi?" she hissed, under her breath.

The back door opened suddenly, a cool morning wind blushing through her hair. She stroked it back, didn't look up at whoever it was who was entering. She could already feel that it was one of the slaves. There were two others besides Hervi and Noor, and neither of them she felt good vibes from. The one man, quiet and submissive, the other, rebellious and insulting, the one who said Hiccup could never be chief.

"So I heard him call you Astrid . . ."

She looked up, quickly, offended. It was Vott, his face dark, black oily hair slipping low over his eyes. She didn't like his tone. He slid down, sat on the bench opposite hers by the table. He leaned forward, leered at the guard and looked back to her. "Gotta keep still for that guy. He's sword-happy."

She said nothing, stared at him with a fathomless, wordless well of anger.

"Nah, I'm not scared of him, though."

She could read a lie the moment she heard one.

"Playing my game right, fast, not like said chief of the slaves here." He laughed, the volume of his voice only raising slightly above his whisper. She made no reaction, bent her head down, hair falling over her face to hide her eye. He stopped smiling, flashed his eyes at her, the glow in them softening, the smirk thick on his stubbled skin. "Hey, I'm trying to help you."

"Help me?" The warrior in her burned through her hoarse, whispered voice. "You were the one who gave me this." She pushed out her injured hand, pulled it back and rose from the table.

He grabbed her arm, pressed it to the rough wooden surface of the table. "Don't run away. You can't anyway, of course . . ." He smirked.

She leaned her head to him, darkly. "Get away from me," she spat, her words slow, pointed, threatening.

"What, I'm not going to hurt you." He moved his hand up her arm, whispered, "I'm leading the slaves into rebellion, haven't you heard?" His voice was low, and he licked his lips, leering at her.

"Oh, and why should I care?" She pulled her arm, but his grip was strong.

"I think you're a great warrior. Why not stick around?" He nudged his head towards the back, and she looked up with her eyes, saw through the crack in the door that other slave, digging up the ground, a flash of metal in the dirt. She kept watching. A sword, wasn't it? Rusty, like it had been there too long, waiting . . . waiting for the right moment to be used. Her eyes went to Noor, who was also looking out the doorway, her lips clicking frustration as her hands flapped frustratingly on a small cloth, water spitting from her hands. "J'en ai ras le bol," she muttered.

She didn't look at Vott, brought her head lower to him, still staring outside, over his head. "I'm here for one thing," she hissed, "and your scheming isn't part of that."

The grip on her arm let up slightly, pressed in again. "You're still thinking about that boy, aren't you?"

She looked down to him, found his face creased with a hard impatience. "What's that supposed to mean?" she hissed.

His hold on her tightened and she pressed her teeth together. He stood, leaned to her, his face inches from hers, the hissing growl in his voice graveled, spitting. "You know what they're going to do to you, once they kill him? Make you a slave, like the rest of us." His stare broke into what could have been an earnest plea -- or a clever imitation of one. She kept her stare in those dark eyes of his, the dim lighting carving thick shadows on his face, the air musty between them. "Forget about him, save yourself." His head nudged down and he watched her a moment, let his grip of her arm loosen. "You can be a hero, help free hundreds." The cunning smile returned to his lips. "I can use you."

She slipped out of his grasp, something sharp lisping up her throat. "Sorry, but my loyalty isn't as shallow as yours." She stepped away from the table, leaned to him as she walked past. "May the people you free be more worthy than you of that liberty." She felt him stiffen, seethe, and a wash of warm satisfaction hummed through her. How could he even conceive of such an outrageous alliance. She looked out again, at the weapons Vott's partner was digging up from the earth. It was tempting to just . . . step out and take one. How her hands longed to wield an axe and use it. She looked back, the guard watching her. She almost wanted to see him figure out Vott's scheme, see what he would do with all his cunning wiles. But there was a shrill yell suddenly -- from outside, like a child. She felt Vott react to it, step up. She stepped away, saw further out the doorway -- saw a small kid, running past the other slave, his panting audible. She looked back, Vott glaring at her, saw the guard rise, but as Iggy came bursting through the back door, he relaxed, kept his eyes again on Astrid, slipping his sword back into the scabbard. Vott muttered something, turned away from the child, as if offended by his child's voice yelping into the air. "Astrid!! Astrid--"

She looked down. Small hands wrapped around her legs suddenly, pulling at her, a desperate, foreign terror on the child's face. Pure fear, as his little hands clamored up her, reached for her arms, hands, anything he could grab onto. "Hush, shh, what's wrong?" she whispered, her tone forcefully neutral. Maybe it was just a lost plaything, or a snake bite. Children were rash and overreacted like that. The child pulled at her, trying to get her to a corner of the house, the corner where Hiccup had been chained. She resisted, felt in her heart that somehow this news was about him. "What is it Iggy?" she whispered, trying to grab the boy's face, calm down, his cheeks flared and hot, his head bobbing in unconscious panic. "What is it!" she persisted. Iggy stopped struggling, blinked his wide blue eyes, inhaled, breathed deeply. He licked his chapped lips, braced his little frame. "Hiccup told me . . . to tell you everything's okay. And-- and-- and Toothless is safe, and--"

Astrid swallowed, her throat tight. Children don't lie.

The kid brought his hand up, rubbed his nose. "He wants you to leave," he choked, sniffing. He shook his head, clearly begging her, without word -- no, no. She brought her hands over the child, held him close to her, the shivering fear in him. "He said leave . . ." he whispered. That was the clincher. That's all Hiccup wanted out of this message for her. Maybe he did get Toothless safe, but why not say he got away with him, if everything truly was all right . . .? No, Hiccup was lying, and when Hiccup lied, it meant he had run out of options, he was throwing up the final flag.

The fire welled up to her face, made her voice almost angry, her hand raised to emphasize-- "It's never too late" before she realized this wasn't Hiccup she was speaking to. That day on the docks, when he was rejected and she'd seen him more hurt than any time else in his life. When he'd avoided her, until she found him looking out on the shore, maybe for hours, looking into the nothingness of the ocean void of ships. What thoughts went through his head she could only guess, but when he spoke, it was raw, it was failure, it was hopelessness. She made a decision that day to get to the bottom of what made him do the things he had done, why they were so important, even as she had basically guessed the answer herself. He needed her, to force the truth out of him, give him hope. That's what she was to him, that's what she wanted to be for him. He needed hope today, and she would give it to him, if what she did would kill her, if what she did would do nothing but make him die knowing that none of his friends had abandoned him.

"Is that all he said?" she whispered, her emotions a storm within her, controlled on the outside, the child small and frightened in her arms. "No," the boy breathed, and she could feel him shake his head, a tiny motion before he looked up to her, his eyes so wide and sad, so pure in a child's simple sorrow. "He said something about green-eyed kids, wishing to have them." He sniffed. "It sounded bad." He swallowed and pushed his head into her waist. Astrid let her lips fall open, her mind back to a day so far away from now. A cold fear ripped through her, a fear and the anger that comes when you didn't want to give up. "Iggy," she whispered, holding his head close, bringing his ear close to her lips. "Iggy, I want you to tell me the truth."

"But--" His small hands on her arms.

"Listen to me, Iggy. This is important." She held the back of the boy's head, leaned down to him. Why did he have to say things were okay? Why did he try to save her? Free her from feeling responsible for him. So she wouldn't come and save him, trying to protect her . . . again. But Hiccup would do a thing like this, talk about water when the world was on fire, give someone his ship when he was sinking. It was the kind of thing she admired in him, that helpless heroism which made him do stupid, hopeless things. But that was the thing about a leader, about the person she wanted Hiccup to be, and those were the choices kings and heroes had to make.

But she was no king nor hero and she would not give up on Hiccup, just because he had given up on himself. That was the other side of heroism, to give it back when it is given. Only one question stood in her way. She swallowed, held Iggy close, her lips touching his little ear. "Iggy, just answer me this. Is . . . is Hiccup dead already?"

The boy stopped shivering, settled into a calm that suddenly was frightening. He looked up, his eyes wide, staring at her. "I don't think he'd want me to say." Iggy's voice was breathless, mature, calm for his small years.

Astrid held him, her hands on his shoulders. She didn't have time to play games, especially Hiccup's. "I know he doesn't want me to save him. I know he wants to help me get away." Her whisper was hoarse. "But I can't leave him. You understand that? Even if he's dying right now, I can't do what he's asking me to."

Iggy bobbed his head once. "Gee . . ." He gulped.

"Just tell me, is he gone already?"

Iggy breathed in, held the breath a moment. "No, not yet . . ."

"Okay," Astrid breathed, letting the boy go, preparing herself. She would get to him, and she would not be too late. "And where is he?" Her voice was firm, controlled.

"On the beach, next to the boats."

She stepped back, looked to the guard, to Noor. Vott wasn't in the room anymore, but the sound of his cohort outside, digging up the metal, the sound of dirt flying from his shovel. She had no fear now, of what they'd do if she fought back. Apparently Hiccup had decided the worst had happened to him already. She whispered once more to Iggy, told him to stay safe, and out of the way. Then she stepped outside, without permission, felt the guard stand up from his seat, step towards her. She looked at the slave digging up the ground, carefully hiding the weapons under the dirt of his excavation. She bent down, found a metal hilt that looked capable, slid out the spear it belonged to.


She grasped the spear with her bandaged hand, felt the blood rush to her forehead. "Not this time."

With a swift slicing motion the spear twisted forward in her hand. She preferred an axe, but she didn't have time to be choosy. She whirled, found the guard's weapon unsheathed and ready, his step fast towards her. She covered the distance between them, intent on meeting his aim with one of her own. He swung his sword, she met its metal with a clash of her spear, sliding sideways, towards the frame of the house. She thrust her weapon ahead of her, ducked to the side of the door as his blade swung towards her, missed, and chopped into the wood. The metal caught a panel of her skirt and pinned it to the wall. She swiveled, trying to turn, her trapped skirt keeping her stuck facing the wall. His large hand grabbed her right wrist and he yanked his other arm up, lifting the sword from the wood, the pressure off her skirt. She lashed and the blade flew up, towards her throat. She threw her head back, the thrust flashing above her eyes and her wrist twisting savagely in search of release. How was she supposed to use this spear if he paralyzed her hand like that? So much for a fair fight.

Her body lost balance. She grunted as her back smashed into the dirt, her shoulder blades reeling with the collision of armor against packed earth. The guard fell on top of her, apparently not part of his plan of attack. It was difficult to swordfight with your enemy inches away from your face. Astrid spat into the man's eyes and his head recoiled. Her right hand still was useless in his crushing grip, her weapon stupidly lying by her side as her body kicked underneath her opponent. Her knee found his ribcage, he yelped as she shouted through gritted teeth. "That's for Hiccup." Another kick, this time the stomach. "For the Hooligans."

Suddenly his thick hand crashed into her face and pushed into her eyes, the fingers grappling her cheek sideways into the dirt. She gasped and her lips smeared open against the damp palm. His knee hit her thigh and pushed her legs flat. She cursed, suddenly became aware of Noor somewhere over them, slapping the man with a broom and yelling in irritated foreign syllables. Astrid rolled her eyes. She should've picked a kitchen knife. And then there was Iggy's small voice, too close to the warfare, yet yelping in excitement, shouting for Astrid to get up and "Get him! He's gonna get you!"

Noor gave the man another whack, a hard slap which made the guard snap, turn up and grab the bottom of Noor's makeshift weapon. He yanked, slipped it from her grasp, shoved it up and made its end jerk into her face. Noor slipped, squealing, an offended yelp on her lips. He turned to Astrid and she winced, found the sword's edge at her neck, lashing hard against her skin. His eyes were hard and calculating, unfeeling as he stared at her, his hand ready to swipe the blade. She thought fast, her one arm still free from his killer grip. If she could find his dagger, the sax every Viking carried in his belt-- She found the small hilt in his belt, and in one fast motion, jabbed it into him, anywhere, his grin contorting into a scream, as the man's body jumped above her and Iggy yelped. The sword kicked into her jawbone, but she stifled the panic, knew it was just a reflex.

She heaved the man off her body, unlatched his grip around her wrist as he lay twisted on his side, his eyes and face a sucking plastered white. He grappled feebly, but she had already secured his sword for herself. She took a breath and shoved a finger across her wet stringy bangs. He wasn't dead -- yet, but he would talk when and if one of his comrades came by. She looked to Noor and the child, who stared at his kicking, sprawled figure with a shock and a curious solemnity. She heard a lisp behind her, whirled around and saw Vott's partner still unearthing weapons, as if nothing had happened, and then Vott himself, looking her over with a smirk in his eye and a slightly rusty sword in his hand. "So it's begun . . ." he hummed. She inhaled, turned away, felt the chaos that was going to happen, if the slaves in the island revolted, in the middle of a war. She stepped quickly to Noor and Iggy, whispered, "You can't stay here."

Iggy looked up at her, tugged on Noor's apron as he pointed towards the shore. "Let's find Hiccup," he whispered, and Astrid pressed her lips together, put her hand on the boy's shoulder. "We will," she said, firmly, more to herself than to the boy. The French woman seemed to catch the drift, held up her hand a moment and dashed back in the house, emerged with a small basket. "Emergency," she spat, in her thick accent, as the warm, fresh scent of bread wafted up from the basket. Astrid nodded, threw her hand back for them to follow.

:: ::

The tide carried him swiftly, his heart driven with the one goal: to get to Hiccup. Once Toothless had made the decision to go, to disobey the one he loved most and take matters into his own power, the single-mindedness of protection that was so keen in creatures kicked in, that fierce will to defend. His senses were sharp, his mind alive with panic, fire, anger. There were dragons on the shore, chained Nightmares and Timberjacks . . . some of them he recognized as cohorts of that devil Skari. The sand was warm and smooth under his feet, as he spat it away in a half-flying, half-running haste. The vision of Hiccup on his knees, comforting him, talking to him, that voice which begged him. . . .

Toothless let his wings out, his feet pounding forward. There were human screams on either side of him, women and men, children and shouts of fear, playing morning light off the grassy structures of their human homes, as he raced through the human settlement, a desperate wail in his throat, mingled with a fierce and tireless growl that stretched the wicked leather strap on his snout and the tight bound of Hiccup's own saddle on his back, strained with the anger of his jaws yearning to break free, the anger of his pounding rushed feet to reach that hillside, that pen where he'd seen him last, his anger stronger than his wildness, maybe so strong now because he had to make it, he had to be right, it was a choice of no return.

He growled, roared in his throat, his wings slapping down barrels, lifting him up into the air a few moments before lack of flight brought him down again. Dust and dirt, mud and grass kicked up around him, as he fled down the pathways of the town, the apparent labyrinths scheming against his haste. The leather bridle around his snout had at long last ripped, the corner near his seething mouth charred and wrinkled, threading with the passion of his will. He lashed his head around, his jaws working upward, a slap of mud on some corner of standing water in his path, the yell of a woman, a flying lash of light from a thrown javelin his way, slap, splash of water, up the path bordered by houses, broken barrels and pieces of wood, a pile of firewood he leapt over, and up the hill, his wings carrying him up, doubled, oh how much he wanted to fly, needed to. His jaws opened in a growl, a glowing blue hiss as gas and ignition mingled in his throat. There, the pen, so close now, the moist ground under his feet, the mossy grass, his claws jabbing into the earth, one more leap, a flap of his tail, his impassioned wings. The dragons in the old pen hissed, yelled at his sudden, violent return. Skari stared at him, lashing his legs down, firm and his black wings vibrating with a hatred that never changed. Toothless ignored him, looked around the pen. But it was just mud, patches of dirt and grass, the broken old tree holding the chains to those dragons, the bars of fenceposts, and the footsteps, the depressions in the ground. He leapt on them, sniffed them. He could hear Skari taunting him in the background, saying the rebellion had already begun, that the human scum was going to be swept away, that it was his own boy who brought these creatures into such deceptive contact with so many of your vile human followers, he hissed.

Toothless growled, let his lungs fill up with the bloody, faint scent of Hiccup on the ground here, trailing away from the pen. I'm done with you, Skari. He leaned back, looked into the sharp yellow eyes of that Skrill. Maybe Hiccup was right, that feuds like this came to nothing, came to only him nearly losing the thing which meant most to him -- and keeping that thing meant more than the pain of losing his father and his family, and the vengeance, even the justice, which violence would entail. He had Hiccup, and the madness in this shared hatred had driven both him and Skari to such ends that one had lost his freedom, and the other, his best friend. Dagr let out a growl, welled up the fire in his throat, raised his wings and shot high into the trees, the bare naked branches of the tree, let the pieces of his anger fall like leaves onto the torched, brown earth, the blue viscous flames bursting to orange, taking flight in the branches, licking down to the fenceposts and the dragons below. Skari turned his eyes away, struggled in the chains that lashed him to the burning tree. Toothless narrowed his eyes, shook his head. It wouldn't kill him, just a little fire. . .

He turned from the Skrill, back to the scratched depression in the ground where Hiccup's metal leg had dragged across. He could hear the dragons seething behind him, vowing vengeance. But his mission here wasn't with them. Dragons ahead of him were writhing in their cages, their eyes alive with the passion to consume, burn, and kill. The rebellion in their hearts coming to the fore as teeth met metal bars, as chains and leather straps met once and again a hunger for violence, for freedom. It would not be long before chaos came, destruction and fire, when these dragons got out, either by the force of their will or the betrayal of their riders . . . Toothless could feel it, as he tracked that single precious scent of the one sanity in this madness.

:: ::

Maybe there was such a thing as Fate. Such a thing which laughed at him, taunted him, played with his mind and teased him with peace.

Rune clenched his fist, felt the waves of hatred pulse through his body, that same hatred which he felt so many years ago now, when his brother first lied and pretended he had never deceived him for Valla's hand, when his brother cast him out of the tribe and left him to mourn his loss of Valla in the wild winds of the sea, alone, schemes of pain and anger seething in his mind. Stoick may have had his daughter, and he did . . . Heather. He could see her now, when he told her the boy had changed her. She didn't deny it, she didn't say she was wrong. How could he change her? Why? And the dragon -- how did she think she could trust it? Dragons were as wild as the wind, as the tempest, and maybe it was a dark force Hiccup used to quell their fiery spirits. He should have stopped her from riding that beast, and maybe she'd still be here to finish the job they had come here for.

He looked out at the growing storm, the flashes of lightning coming closer, the boom of thunder punctuating the wash of air and ash in his face. Ragnar had nearly killed the boy, they told him, and he wished he had. It didn't matter if he went by sword, axe, or by whip, he wanted the boy gone, done, and he wouldn't survive thinking he was still breathing.

And Heather . . . Was it even true what his brother said? Rune closed his eyes, whispered his daughter's name, remembered her dark hair, the white cape behind her, the way she held him and promised him that one day he will be free, that his heart would no more plague him with sorrow. Stoick had cheated once on him and he wouldn't be afraid to do it again.

:: ::

Hiccup breathed slowly, carefully. He felt so small, so frail here on the cool sand of the beach, shaking nervously, like the wet, whispering shiver of a spider's web in a storm. He was still laid out on the shore, face down, the voices rising around him. His body was fighting, to regain its sense of sanity, to stay alive, the pain, almost too much for his small frame to take. Hiccup let out a shaking moan, felt the relief in it, gritted his teeth and hissed a yell that crumbled into a gasping, wet wail. The voices grew loud and panicking, and in his struggling mind, only pieces came through: daughter for son, his father's name, his own name, Heather's, the war, what to do, what would the chief do? Do about what? That haggard voice, a crunch on the sand, someone prodding him, a thick, hot hand, gripping his arm, raising it, trying to lift him up. He yelled, resisting fiercely, the broken skin of his back moist and hot, like unforged metal, glowing and piercing, pressing into his body, his nerves begging him to squelch the flames, put it out, do something. But the force would not stop and he resigned to it, pressed his jaws together and sucked in air, grappling with his hands on the arm lifting him. His fingers clawed the warrior, meeting the metal arm guard, the itchy wool, the clean, healthy skin.

Hiccup felt himself raised to his feet, supported by someone who gingerly removed the loose rope on his hands, the fraying ends that were useless now. His legs didn't hold, wavered like wet leather under him, his stub of a leg wrenched and bleeding. He feared the metal might come loose, instinctively put more pressure on the slipping strength of his right leg. His eyes had squeezed shut in the strain, and he concentrated on breathing, as a familiar voice pushed clear into his head. He exhaled tensely. He didn't need to see that man now, he didn't want to. Rune. Was this the end now, couldn't he have died before? Without seeing the pleasure of this brother of his father's? Hiccup breathed, exhaled through an open mouth, felt sticky liquid spill out from his lips, curve around his jawline. That person holding him firmed his grip, but it was gentle, as if there was a heart behind it. As if he knew how horrible the state of the boy in his grasp. Hiccup leaned his head up, looked at Rune, his eyesight muddled, like an underwater scene. He forced out the tears, blinked, saw that face, the one which looked far too much like his Dad's. He winced, the left side of his teeth cracking, air hissing into his lungs. Rune looked at him, his eyes hard and muddled with what looked like sadness red with hate, a depth of anger. Hiccup exhaled, tensely, shivering, breathing, watching those eyes.

"Let him go," Rune suddenly said, his voice edged and dark, to the man behind Hiccup, keeping the stare between them. Hiccup felt the grip on him ease. He parted his lips, sucked in air thicker, bracing himself. The man let Hiccup go and he wavered in the vacancy, his left leg firming, blood slipping down the stump of his leg and down to where he couldn't feel anymore. He kept still, his balance frail, his arms hanging down, weak and useless to him. Hiccup clenched his teeth, stared at Rune who stood alone with him on the shore. He tried to speak, but only a hissed whisper came out. "What is . . . what do you want with me?" He swallowed, looked up at Rune, forced stability into his frame.

The warrior left them, and Rune came closer, his eyes flashing, as if thoughts were sparking vibrant and alive behind his mind, still in his thoughts, shivering on his lips, the way anger does before it shouts into the open. "You knew all along, didn't you?"

Hiccup shook his head, a spasm more than anything. "What . . . ?"

Rune pounded his feet into the sand, got too close to Hiccup. The boy leaned back, caught himself with his left foot, the metal sinking into the sand, squishing into the wetness. He winced, his eyes flickering.

Rune breathed a hot breath into Hiccup's face. "You let your dragon trap her, you made it send her there."

The words fought for understanding in Hiccup's distracted mind, fought through the fire, the thin strips of pain raging in his back. "Toothless?" Hiccup breathed, the pieces, what this man was saying coming together. Stoick is demanding a ransom . . . Sparks of consciousness flashed into his mind. He blinked and suddenly -- daughter for son. His chest spasmed, made him gasp, the realization of what his Dad was trying to do. And Toothless-- The idea formed, like passing patches of light in a forest. Hope, some unreal sensation glowed in his mind, that maybe . . . maybe he'd come out of this alive.

"My daughter--" Rune's voice was suddenly hard, shaking, taking Hiccup's attention. He looked at Rune again, that voice shivering with a fragility even Hiccup in his weakened state could feel. "Don't act like you don't know . . . that your scum of a father has her."

Acid shoved up Hiccup's throat, his body tensed in one great washing pulse, alertness breathing through him. "Don't dare-- don't you dare speak of my Dad . . . like that," he spat, his voice cracked.

"I speak of him as he is," Rune shouted, glared at him, his chest heaving, emotion throbbing through his expression, a deep desperate emotion Hiccup could tell -- that fear, or was it love? It looked so familiar, felt so familiar. Hiccup swallowed, parted his lips, licked the spill of blood that met the edge of his mouth.

"What shall we tell Stoick?" someone asked suddenly, a quiet frightened voice from behind Rune.

But the Skirra VĂ©llite chief didn't turn back, only clenched his fist, his eyes still on Hiccup, those sorrowful eyes . . . his shoulders weakening, a defeat, a resignation? Hiccup was confused. "Tell him I--" Rune said, his voice bitter. "I think he's lying. She's already killed . . . and tell him, so is his son."

Hiccup shook his head. "No . . ." Rune waved his hand, indicatively, and a young warrior stepped forward, a clean axe in his hand, one that clearly had seen no bloodshed. Hiccup lashed his head down, frustrated, tired, drained of energy he did not have. The warrior stood above him and Hiccup felt the chain removed from around his neck, the cold metal clashing sharp against itself on the ground. The cutting wash of pain in his back ebbed, burned him with an amateur's fire for a moment, not the hot and learned hearth of an old blacksmith. Hiccup drunk in air, souping into his lungs like grimy water. There was a sound suddenly, far away in the depth of his mind, from somewhere real, real but . . . coming closer. Hiccup opened his eyes, looked into the town, into the gray musty green patches of grass, houses, the warriors that weren't looking his way, but now yelling, drawing their weapons, and the young warrior, turning from him -- a growl, a clatter of wood and metal, the hiss and roar of some great, ferocious animal, a predatory hiss, loud and hungry for something, from the shadows behind the town and the dark gray air. Instinct made Hiccup step back, stumble, the imbalance of his weakness tripping him, and he caught the ground weakly, the warm sand finding the lash breaking through the back of his hands, yellow specks on streaks of red. He winced, heard -- arrows slicing off from bows, warning shouts, "Dragon!" -- then he turned back, saw, a black shape, wings, blue fire and suddenly orange in the town, catching fire on sod and fenceposts, flames that made his heart race, panic, as he clawed the sand but realized-- "Toothless?" he gasped. "Toothless!" The yell in his throat surprised him. He clamored to his feet, felt Rune next to him, stumbled, fell again and got more sand on him, but Toothless was there, he could see the dragon's fierce body, those dark, dangerous eyes flashing, hissing at the warriors around him, fear and shouts of defiance in their voices, the instinct to shoot and defend. Hiccup felt life pulsing into him, life and a terror -- that Toothless was here, that Toothless was here and he wasn't safe. "Toothless--" he shouted, his eyes latching to the warriors around, weapons drawn. Old memories hit him, the Kill Ring, and Toothless, who was still alive only because his father still loved his son and held back from ending the dragon's life then and there.

But here, there was no chance for bargaining, a day of do or die, he'd thought before, and why did Toothless come back? No, he wasn't supposed to. Hiccup clawed the sand, struggling to reach the dragon -- he desperately wanted to get to him, a visceral desire that burned in his core. Strength yelled through him, and he put his leg out, lifted himself and forced himself forward.

Blue fire lit up the scene before him, rolled on the sand like balls of viscous liquid. Hiccup shielded his eyes, yelled as the fire rolled past him, made someone behind him shout with a shaking, horrific terror Hiccup had only heard from people who-- he turned back. The man was on fire, his clothing alive with flames, licking orange and yellow and red. Hiccup bent shocked a minute, his own pain suddenly muted. He could never get used to watching a human being die.

"Get the dragon!" someone yelled, Rune's voice. Hiccup whirled.

"It's come back for the boy, the creature knows."

The sound of arrows drawn.

"NO!!" Hiccup screamed, jumped up and ran, pain streaking down his legs. He could see Toothless, still too far from him, fighting with his wings, his tail, looking at him, those eyes mixed between yelps for him and anger for those people trying to harm him. Sand was kicking up around Toothless, a dozen and more men aiming for him, the young ones daring and boisterous to kill the dragon, the older men hanging back, shields and swords and crouched low. Someone tried to grab Hiccup as he skidded through the sand, Hiccup slapped the arm away, then-- snap. Hiccup heard the sound of Toothless yelping, saw him buckle, his back concaved, wings shooting out with a stiff suddenness. A high-pitched gasp of injury. The wail stabbed Hiccup, and he spun his foot forward, fear shooting through his nerves. Snap. Another arrow dug into the dragon's neck, behind the leather harness. Hiccup shouted, jumped the last distance between them, fell in front of the dragon, a gasp on his lips, sand and rocks flying into his face. Why? Toothless lashed, his writhing body like a snake in front of him, the tail whacking and the wings a mess of joints and membrane. Hiccup crouched low, muffled the shock of Toothless' prosthetic hitting him in the randomness of the dragon's convulsion. "Toothless, it's all right," he desperately gasped, putting his hands out, not knowing what to grab or how to comfort him. Toothless got upright, growled, shouted and let out a seething passion of blue and white fire, edged with purple. Hiccup ducked, gritted his teeth, looked back and saw the arrows still coming, the spear that just missed the dragon's head. "Buddy, you gotta get out of here--" he yelled, above the shout of men and Toothless' incessant and offended hiss. "Toothless-- why--"

Toothless looked at him, those narrow eyes melding to roundness, the docility, the tenderness and care that bonded them. Hiccup lisped in a breath, the pain in his body thrashing back. "Why did you have to come back?" he breathed, something stabbing his heart. And Toothless, looking at him, a hum in his throat, a warm tender hum. Hiccup hissed in a breath, through the burning raw agony, felt the dragon, felt in his heart, hurt, love -- he knew now that in asking Toothless to leave him, he had asked something the dragon could never give.

Toothless' eyes squeezed into a convulsion, his frame slinked down. Hiccup put his hand on the dragon's back splattered with red, pressed in and tried to comfort him, tell him sorry. He knelt up, looked back and saw the arrows aimed, flying, snapping into Toothless' hide, the dragon snapping back, shoving his body into Hiccup, shielding him, forcing him back. Hiccup pulled himself up, held onto the metal rings of his saddle, leaned over and grabbed hold of an arrow in the dragon's neck, pulled, pulled, the effort deafening in the tendons between his arm and back. Toothless pulled away, the arrow snapped off, and Hiccup gasped, hissed a yell for the strain in his shoulders. More shouts of men behind him, then Toothless' contorted body swooping around him, circling him, the tail slapping into his face, fire flying out of the dragon's mouth, boom, blast, fire -- blinding, hot, angry, fast. Hiccup pulled his arm up, his body draped over the dragon, the open cuts in his back furrowed, hot, grabbed another arrow in Toothless' hide, his fingertips red with his dragon's blood, his hands shaking as he gripped the thin wood, stress on his arm, pressing down and pulling up. The arrow came out, and he felt Toothless hiss, jerk in a spasm. The dragon looked at him, fire in his own eyes. He growled, nudged his nose into Hiccup's body, quickly, harshly, a statement of purpose. Hiccup had seen that look before, that purpose in Toothless' motion. He braced himself, slipped upward, took a breath and threw his arms over the dragon, hissed through his locked teeth and held desperately onto the handles of his old saddle, slipped his good foot into the right pedal, and his left . . . Hiccup looked down, at the pedal that was not his own, but the replaced one which wouldn't take his prosthetic. He cursed, looked up again at the arrows aimed at them. "Go -- NOW!" he shouted, wrapping his arms around the dragon, pulling his left arm down to the replaced stirrup, shoving it up by hand with a thick violence. Toothless hissed, opened his wings and leapt off the ground. Hiccup felt the dragon lift up, flap his wings and shriek as another arrow lodged into his scales. Hiccup kept down, knew he wouldn't be able to hold on much longer, his back bent and his fingers frail and shaking as he turned the pedal with one hand, gripped the saddle with the other. He looked back, below him, the warriors still aiming, and Rune's face, a defiant anger, a wrath so deep and hateful Hiccup turned away and let the pain wash over him, the feeling that the air was sinking under them, Toothless yelping as the tail failed. Hiccup squeezed his eyes shut, yelled as he lifted the pedal again, his hand flashing with sparks of nerves. He could hear the men coming after them, the voices loud and commanding, and the fire in the town, warm on his skin, the smoke thick in his lungs. He let the pedal go, his arm tearing with agony, Toothless yelped, hummed. He grabbed the pedal again, tried to lift it, couldn't, felt his body slipping from the saddle. The dragon banked erratically, Hiccup grabbed the saddle handles desperately, with both hands, his right foot caught in the other pedal. He could feel that they were going out of control, looked out and saw the flames of the burning town bursting all around them. He felt the fire on his legs, sparks jumping across Toothless, people screaming, running out of houses and into the streets. And then dragons' wings, a breath of air above him, and he looked up, saw creatures flying, fleeing out of cages and bursting from behind houses, chains still on their necks and jaws, the burned remains of wooden poles hanging from the end of the lashing leashes of metal. Hiccup ducked, and Toothless skidded to the ground, the tail a useless appendage. Hiccup slipped off, back to the warm earth, his right foot still caught in the stirrup. There was a yell, a dragons' scream that wailed deep and long into his ears. He looked out, for the warriors but all he could see was fire, flames of a horrible inferno, as an inferno it had become, hundreds of untrained, caged creatures setting themselves free, rising into the air like a million dead birds come to life from the smoke and ash of the sky and the flames. It was an unreal vision, looking through the smoke and ash, the silhouettes flying up in the glowing orange.

Hiccup swallowed, his mouth dry, as Toothless nudged him again, points of arrows coming out of him, the dragon's snout shoving fast into his chest and face. Hiccup heard the sound of running up behind him, men he prayed were not their pursuers, as he forced himself up, put his arms around Toothless' head. He felt so weak, his strength fighting to come out, failing. But he could do this, please -- he gasped, couldn't let Toothless down now, couldn't have let him come back for nothing. He gripped the saddle bars behind on Toothless' neck, forced himself up, as he heard the warriors' voices coming louder, looked and saw their shapes through the fire. "Just run," he breathed, unable to work the pedal right now. Toothless yelped, set off through the flames, Hiccup holding tight and desperately to the handles, praying they could make it, that the seed of hope which had died in him could be revived.


29th Aug 2013, 10:36 PM


when is the next chapter i'm sitting on the edge of my chair waiting to see what happens

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30th Aug 2013, 8:40 AM


Gosh! I'm so sorry it's late. The muse has been really hard this time around. I'm hoping to post it today, *crossing fingers* Thanks for looking forward to it!

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9th Oct 2013, 3:38 PM


When is your next chapter going to be posted? You are way behind schedule. Please get it posted, I want to know how the whole ting ends before the year is over.

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15th Oct 2013, 11:56 PM


I just recently found this webnovel- and it took me about three days to get through it.

I just saw that you haven't posted for months- PLEASE tell me you haven't given up! I love this story and want to see how it ends.

thanks for putting so much effort into it in the past, please keep trying.

<3 thanks!! plz reply

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30th Nov 2013, 12:32 PM


When think you can post the next chapter .?

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7th Dec 2013, 6:18 PM


Omg tbat was an awesome story. Some many feels! Please update.

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