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A Recipe for Disaster

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Dragons. You've probably heard of them. Big, scaly lizards with a slightly unhealthy attachment to fire. Terrifying mythical monsters that have filled our legends since the beginning of time. I'm sure you've heard of them. You probably know a lot about them.

But of course, if you believed everything I just said, you obviously don't know as much as you think you do. See, not everything I told you is true. I'm not talking about the scaly part – that's true. Or the big part – that's usually true. And certainly not the fire part. No, the lie I told was the mythical part, because you see, dragons are very, very real. My village was at war with them for hundreds of years before Toothless and I came along. Now, we all live together in harmony. We're partners, allies, best friends. Virtually every family in Berk has at least one dragon of their own, and everyone able to shoot a bow knows how to ride one. I'm no exception. I got one, too: Toothless. He's a good guy. A little too obsessed with chewing on tables, but I still love him.

Seeing as we're a village full of dragon-riding Vikings (and trust me, it's every bit as awesome as it sounds) you would think that any intelligent resident of Berk would naturally have an open mind about other mythical beasts. Maybe for everyone else that was true, but not me. Nope. No way. I didn't think there could be anything out there other than dragons. So, when I finally found my first so-called witch, I laughed.

Right up until she started throwing lightning at me.

"Move!" I cried.

My foot shifted in the stirrup, changing gear and sucking in Toothless's tailfin as he twisted to dive. A stream of yellow lightning passed over us, just inches away from frying me. The clouds rumbled. The residual light made Toothless's eyes glow.

"Careful, guys!" I called. "She's winding up for another!"

"I got it." Fishlegs grinned atop his hovering Gronckle, and pointed at the witch. "Meatlug, go!"

Above me, Meatlug spat out a glob of fire. It descended to earth with a whine, picking up speed as it did.

The witch snarled. She leapt out of the way, and unleashed another bolt of hot lightning.

"Oops." Fishlegs said. He and Meatlug watched with wide eyes as the lightning drew closer –

"Hookfang, now!"

With a war cry, Snotlout and his Nightmare swept in, bearing down directly on top of Meatlug, forcing both rider and dragon below the lightning. That wasn't all it did; the momentum sent Meatlug and Fishlegs down further, right into the ocean.

"You're welcome!" Snotlout hollered. He jutted out his chin, puffed out his cheeks, and looked around for a certain someone. "Hey, Ruffnut, did you see that?"

"Yeah, yeah," Ruffnut grunted. "Eyes on the prize, loser."

With Ruffnut atop one head and her twin atop the other, Barf and Belch weaved their way toward the witch. The Zippleback twisted past one bolt, drew its necks far apart to evade another. Meanwhile, I urged Toothless higher, higher –

"Got you!" Armed with a sharp grin, Astrid patted her Nadder's neck, signalling her to fire. The Nadder swooped in behind the witch, bearing her wings wide to slow herself.

The witch yelped. She barely dove out of the way, and flames scorched the rocks next to her. But she managed to force Stormfly back with more lighting. The witch rose, bushy-haired and wild-eyed . . .

This seemed as good a time as any.

"Like we discussed, Toothless. Ready . . ."

He found a spot above the witch, and hovered.

" . . . Now!"

We dove. The witch stiffened as she heard the telltale shriek of a Night fury preparing to fire.

The second she looked up, it was done.

No, we didn't shoot her. I wasn't looking to splatter her all over the island. Toothless just hit the ground next to her, which I heard feels like being smacked by a Gronckle's tail.

A cloud of dust rose, hiding everything on the ground. Grains stirred, moving away like a school of fish as the other riders and I descended. Once we hit land, I dismounted, taking a moment to switch my prosthetic leg from its flying setting to its walking setting.

I hadn't heard anything yet. I held my hand up, warning the others to stay back. Off my waist, I grabbed my sword, and the fire lining it made just a tiny bit easier to see through the dust.

A hand reached out.

The witch was on the ground, completely brown with dirt. She clawed her way up to her hands and knees, hissing, "You . . ."

I bopped her on the head with my sword's pommel, and she dropped.

I turned. "Everyone accounted for?"

As I spoke, Fishlegs and Meatlug finally caught up. They were dripping and panting. "Yeah, I think so."

"Great." I looked at the still witch. "Now what? I don't think a regular cell would hold her."

Tuffnut laughed darkly. "Let's burn her."

"Nah." Ruffnut shoved her brother aside. "I say we fling her off a catapult!"

"Oh, oh, I know!" Fishlegs bounced up and down, hand up. "Let's leave her on a rock in the middle of nowhere!"

As they, plus Snotlout all began to argue, I rolled my eyes and walked toward Astrid. "What do you think?"

"I don't know." She frowned thoughtfully, absently petting her purring Nadder. "I'm sure Stoick would like to know why she's here and where she came from, but it's too risky to bring her back."

"Well, we could always keep her in place and bring him here." I lifted an arm, and flexed. "I think I'm strong enough to wrestle an old lady."

Astrid laughed. She flicked my bicep, teasing, "You sure about that?"

"Hey, I've been working out," I said, strutting around her. "It takes a lot of muscle to wrangle a vicious Night Fury, you know."

She smiled. "I'm sure."

"I might even be stronger than you . . . Argh! Okay, you win!"

Astrid released me from the lock she had me in, and I rubbed my sore wrist tenderly. She offered me her hand, and pulled me to my feet. At that, Toothless and Stormfly, reassured that no fighting was happening, went back to trying to herd the remaining bits of dust in the air.

"Nice try," she told me.

"Someday." When she playfully rolled her eyes, I walked backwards and said, "No, you just watch. I'm going to became a big, hairy giant like my Dad, and then you will be sorry you ever teased me . . ."

As I was speaking, Astrid's eyes had grown wide. Odd, but maybe I sounded scarier than I thought –

"Hiccup, behind you!"

I looked just in time to see a very much awake witch. A white beam shot from her hand directly toward me.

Toothless shrieked. A ball of purple fire emerged from his throat, seeking to intercept –

The two smashed together. The beam didn't stop. Now, it was just covered with purple sparks as it came toward me.

This was going to be fun.

Boom.

A quick wiggle told me that I had all my fingers and toes. I could still see . . . oh joy, I was still alive. Hooray! And I didn't feel like I was missing anything. Maybe Toothless's fire had done the job after all. You know what they say: dragons trump witches!

Speaking of the witch, Toothless had pounced, and I don't think she would be getting up again.

"Well, that could have been a lot worse." I shook my head, and shuddered. "Good thing, Toothless was there to save the day. Right, bud?"

Toothless panted. He wagged his hindquarters.

"Okay, now we need to get back to Berk." I glanced at the others. "Why is everyone looking at me like that?"

By that, I meant slack-jawed and with pale faces. Even Astrid. It was pretty adorable.

Stormfly suddenly hopped closer. She leaned down, and sniffed me.

"Hello to you, too." I said.

"Hiccup?" Astrid walked forward, scanning the air. "Hiccup, are you there?"

"Uh, yes," I said. "Astrid, I'm literally right in front of you."

She continued to look at the air above me. What was she doing? I walked up to her, determined to get her to stop this madness . . .

Whoa. Whoa.

Since when did Astrid get this tall?

She looked down – down – at me. In a tight voice, she said, "Hiccup, is that you? Nod if you understand."

I had no idea why she was treating me like this, but I nodded. When I did, instead of being relieved, Astrid was clearly horrified. She held her hand over her mouth, and backed away, whispering, "Odin . . ."

She wasn't the only one. Everybody was giving me that same horrified look. Except the dragons. And even they – with the exception of Toothless who seemed to be practically leaping into the air with excitement - were looking at me strangely.

I looked around. What . . .?

I noticed my helmet. It must have fallen off when the witch attacked. I walked up to it, intending to put it on.

Something was wrong. It shouldn't be this big.

I leaned closer. Peered into the shiny metal at my own reflection.

I saw green eyes. A black body.

Wings.

I screamed.

Chapter Text

“This is terrible. Terrible! I’m a dragon. A dragon! Not even an adult one. Dad’s going to kill me for this. No, he’s going to completely freak out, and then he’ll kill me!”

I moaned. I meant to grab my head, but I had forgotten I now needed four legs to stand. So I just face-planted into the ground.

I rolled over. “Help me.”

The other teens stared.

Ruffnut burst out, “He’s adorable!”

What? I got back to my feet, but wasn’t fast enough to avoid Ruffnut.

“Look at him!” She gushed. One hand was splayed across my stomach, holding me to her chest. The other was poking me in the cheek with each word she spoke. “Aren’t you a cute, bloodthirsty, little Night Fury?”

Astrid scowled. “Ruff . . .”

She laughed. “Relax, Astrid. I’m not hitting on your boyfriend. You have to admit he’s cute.”

She pinched my cheek and tugged. I tried to shove her away, but that just made her go, “Aww!”

“Give him to me!” Astrid, my saviour, snatched me away. She held me under the armpits, holding me out as far from her as she could. “Guys, what are we going to do about this?”

Toothless whined. He bounded up to where Astrid was holding me and sat patiently.

I squirmed. Astrid got the point and set me down where Toothless, in his haste, rammed me hard with his snout and flipped me over. He sniffed, maybe to double-check that it was really me, and then dragged me toward him by the tail. He laid down, one leg on either side of me.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” I said to him.

He nuzzled me. Then he licked my face.

“We need to get back to Berk,” Astrid declared.

“Yes, I agree!” I said.

“What about the witch?” Snotlout asked.

“See if she has any books on her,” I told him. “It could give us a clue how to reverse this.”

“Check if she has anything on her,” Astrid said. “We might be able to figure out how to cure him.”

“Okay, what about Toothless?” Ruffnut asked. “Doesn’t he need Hiccup to fly?”

“Astrid can take him,” I said. “I showed her how to fly Toothless.”

“I’ll take him,” Astrid said. “Hiccup taught me the basics of how to work the tailfin, just in case . . . well, in case something like this happened.”

“Uh, I just said that,” I told her. She ignored me, as did everyone else. “Why are you repeating everything I say?”

I had tried to approach her, but one of my too-many legs tripped me up. I laid there, staring at what I realized were not fingers anymore, but toes.

I was struck by a thought: could the other Vikings still understand me?

“Astrid? Hey, Astrid! Can you hear me?”

She didn’t respond.

“Oh, no . . .”

Things had just gone from bad to worse.

I screamed up at Toothless. “Toothless, blink twice if you understand me.”

He stared at me.

He licked my face.

Forget worse. We were doomed.


I had honestly thought that turning into a dragon would have engraved the secret knowledge of dragon speech into my brain. Apparently not, though, as none of them were responding to my flurry of barks and howls, and I couldn’t understand their noises either. I could see them concentrating, trying to figure out what I was saying, but nothing so far. Somehow, becoming the same species just made me even more alien to them.

I was nestled in Astrid’s lap, the tip of my tail resting against Toothless’s saddle. So far, she had gotten Toothless safely into the air with little trouble. No, the trouble had been getting on Toothless in the first place. Every time Astrid had tried to climb on with me onto the saddle, Toothless had moved away and turned so that he could stare at me. While everyone was caught in various degrees of shock, he seemed utterly delighted by my affliction.

“Astrid, you okay?” Fishlegs called out from somewhere behind us.

“Fine!” she shouted back. “Don’t worry about me, I can handle this . . .”

I heard the gears click.

We fell out of the sky, leaving an echoing trail of screams.

“Sorry!” Astrid clung tight to Toothless as he climbed back up. “My foot slipped.”

I buried my head in my arms.

Apart from the occasional cooing from Ruffnut, it was pretty quiet flying back. Normally, the journey back home would be filled with enthusiastic retellings of our latest battle, illustrated by the elaborate arm movements and flailing of one Snotlout Jorgenson. Not this time. I think the thought of how Dad was going to react had damped the mood a little.

Astrid landed farther from Berk than she usually would, giving herself time to slip off Toothless before anyone noticed. She held me close to her, doing her best to hide me from any prying eyes and ran for my house.

“Stoick! Are you here? It’s me, Astrid!” She knocked on the door violently. I feared it would crack. Behind us, Toothless barked.

The door swung open.

“Astrid!”

I knew dragons had sharp hearing, but I hadn’t expected it to be like this. Dad’s voice boomed through my skull, as if seeking to crush it, and I curled into a ball of agony.

“I see you all are back. How’s my favourite daughter-in-law?” Her grip around me tightened as Stoick wrapped her in a brief hug, and then a tremor went through us both as he slapped her on the back. “I see Toothless is here, too. Where’s Hiccup gone off to?”

“Well, you see . . .”

“Taking care of business, isn’t he?” Stoick laughed. “That’s my boy! Always working. Has he shown you what he’s got down at the forge? You see, he’s been playing around with some metal crafting . . .”

My heart stopped. He wouldn’t.

“ . . . and you remember that little figurine you were admiring when the traders came by?”

He WOULD. I wanted to cry. He was ruining the surprise!

My pained groan attracted Dad’s attention. For the first time, he spied the tiny bundle – aka. Me – in Astrid’s arms.

“Astrid,” he whispered, “is that . . .?”

I felt her wince. “Stoick, I am so sorry . . .”

“Shh . . .” He held a hand up, silencing her. “I don’t believe it. Hiccup finally found another one.”

“It’s not what you think . . .”

“Why, hello there, little guy!” Dad grabbed one of my hands – paws, whatever – and shook it up and down. “Nice to meet you. You can just call me Uncle Stoick.”

“He’s not a dragon,” Astrid cut in. “I mean he is, but he’s not –”

“Oh, a girl, then? Sorry, my mistake.” Against Astrid’s protest, he took me from her. The sun was hot on my back as he held me up in front of his face. “Don’t you worry, sweetheart. We’re going to take good care of you.”

He leaned in, and rubbed his nose against mine. If I could still blush, I would have. Not for myself, but for him. Dad was going to be so embarrassed.

“Stoick . . .”

“Where did he find her?” Dad asked. By this point, Toothless was jumping around on his hind legs trying to reach me. Dad obediently lowered his arms so that Toothless could sniff. “Did the parents come, too?”

“Hiccup didn’t find him,” Astrid said.

“Oh? Did she find him, then?” He smiled at me, and stroked my head. I counted down the seconds until the explosion. Three. Two. One . . .

“Stoick, that is Hiccup.”

Dad’s hand froze mid-stroke. He slowly turned me to look him in the eye.

I raised a paw in greeting, and smiled.

Chapter Text

“So?”

“So.”

Astrid and Dad were sitting at the table, appearing like they were staring at each other, but really they were looking into space. I was sitting on the tabletop between them, trying to figure out how to keep my wings closed. I hadn’t had any trouble with them before, but that’s because I hadn’t really noticed them. Now, they seemed to flop down every time I relaxed. And I wasn’t even going to get started on the awkward protrusion that was my new tail.

The table bumped. Toothless was down below, gnawing on one of the legs. Neither Astrid nor Dad seemed coherent enough to stop him.

“And the witch just died?”

“Yep,” Astrid said. “Didn’t leave behind a spell book or anything.”

“Oh.” Dad shifted. He looked like he wanted to poke me. “Well, that’s unfortunate.”

“Yep.”

The table bumped again, more violently. Skullcrusher had just decided to join Toothless. Unlike Toothless, he didn’t really fit, and the table ended up bobbing up and down as it teetered on his back.

“Out from there.” With his foot, Stoick shooed both Toothless and Skullcrusher away. “So, any suggestions on how to deal with this?”

“Not one,” Astrid said. “Hiccup might have one, though.”

They looked at me hopefully. I shook my head.

“Darn.” Stoick drummed his fingers against the table. “I’ll speak to Gothi. Maybe she’ll know.”

“Hopefully.”

As the front door shut, signalling Dad’s departure, Astrid sighed. “Guess we’re postponing that picnic.”

I waddled up to her, doing my best to shrug.

She giggled. “That’s cute.”

I scowled. I sat down and turned my head away from her, letting her know exactly how I felt –

My wings flopped open.

She giggled again.


 

I always hear people telling others to use their eyes more, or their ears more, or whatever assorted body part they wanted to talk about. What I don’t hear is people saying to use your nose more, which is a real shame, because boy, we missed so much. Yesterday, I had been a little too wrapped up in events to notice, or maybe my brain was too busy adjusting to register the smells, but now? Wow.

I woke up to the smell of dew and sheepskin. The sheepskin was normal – what else would we make our blankets out of? Dew was an unusual scent. See, in geographic terms, Berk sits right on the Belt of No Summer, so I usually only ever saw dew as frozen beads of water. The wooden walls, damp but sturdy, carried a taste of mulch to it. Or maybe that was coming from outside; I had left my window open. Taking another breath, I could detect some of the wildflowers that grew outside my window, and with them, a cool edge of frost.

I yawned. I had no arms to stretch, but my wings filled in for them. They fell to my sides afterwards, like a loose piece of parchment. My bed sure was cozy today.

I hopped to the edge of the bed, and peered over. Odd. Where was Toothless?

Someone breathed behind me.

“Toothless! You know you’re not allowed on the bed.”

Toothless yawned. His teeth popped out of their sockets. He smacked his lips, and then warbled a good morning.

“Off, Toothless!” I planted my two front paws on Toothless and pushed. He stared at me curiously.

I backed off. Lowered my head and charged. Hah! Take that! Now he was moving . . .

But not from me. Toothless had rolled over to his side, but in a flash, he had hooked his paw under me and pulled me against his chest. He rolled onto his back with a very confused me sitting on top of him.

“Uh . . .”

He swatted me. Both of his paws were up, like raised fists in a fighting stance.

“Uh, no. Not happening, bud.” I pounced on one leg, wrapping my own around it, and shoved it down with my chin. Toothless’s leg bent under the force.

More force then? You got it! I drew myself up high, and slammed down.

But despite my earlier success, this time I merely slid off the leg and landed face-first on his chest. A strong scent of salt water and smoke greeted me.

“You smell,” I told him. When he smiled in answer, a wave of fishy air slapped me in the face. I wasn’t as revolted as I would usually be.

There was something else. Something sharp and biting. Metallic. I traced that down to the prosthetic. I really, really should have felt bad about that, but a little part of me was proud that I had made an impact on Toothless’s personal scent. I looked for further traces of me, and observed that there was a musky undertone to his scent, and that he smelled . . . cold. It was hard to describe, but it had that same make-your-nose-hairs-stiffen effect that a gust of wind did. I couldn’t find anything else that resembled me, but I also wasn’t in the habit of sniffing myself, so I had no idea what to look for.

What did I smell like? Suddenly, no other question had been so interesting. I turned, trying to press my nose against my shoulder, but couldn’t quite reach –

But that’s what tails were for. I eyed the loose limb hungrily. It was so long, there was no way I couldn’t reach it.

However, there was the unfortunate fact that my tail, well, was permanently stuck to my body. When I swung around to catch it, it swung out of my way. I shook myself. I glanced over at Toothless, who seemed putout that I wasn’t wrestling with him anymore.

“Just wait a second,” I said to him. I crouched, bracing myself for the hunt. “Aha!”

I charged. My tail slipped out of the way at the last second, and I couldn’t stop myself . . .

Ahh!

It was a long fall from the bed to the floor. I had enough time for my life to flash before my eyes. It was pretty boring. Unless running away and being shout at by angry people, and failing, exploding inventions were your thing. And even if they weren’t, it was only boring up until the part where I met Toothless. Then, everything was great.

As I hung there, pondering, it became apparent that the floor hadn’t gotten any closer for a few seconds. I looked up.

I sighed in relief. I might have failed at catching my tail, but someone else hadn’t.

“Hiccup?”

I looked at the doorway. Huh. I must have looked funny: dangling over my floor, held up only by the tip of my tail.

“Alright, Toothless, I think you can put him down,” Dad said.

Toothless did so. As in he let go and let me drop. I glared at the other Viking. Thanks, Dad. At least you had the courtesy to wince.

“You okay, Hiccup?”

I was going to say yes, but Dad walked forward at the same moment a breeze came through the open window and whoa, he reeked! Toothless’s scent had been musky, but Dad’s was really musky. I could smell the sheepskin he had slept with too, and a wonderful cologne of manly sweat and dirt-caked grime. At the same time, his smell was relaxing. There must have been something in it that signified family.

“Hiccup?” He waved his hand in front of my eyes. I wondered what would happen if I snapped at it, but instead, I lifted my paw and pushed his away, giving him what I imagined to be a suave and indifferent stare.

Hey, I wondered what Astrid smelled like?

“Nice talk and all, Dad, but I got things to smell!” I bounded past him and out of the house, pausing only to take a deep breath of some meat boiling over the fire. Still needed to grab breakfast at some point.

Berk was different from this angle. Houses rose like mountains. The sun behind them made giant shadows that hid their lower halves. The stone steps that ran down from my house to the village square were the same height as me, so I ended up walking down the grassy slope beside it. When I did get on stone again, my claws made little clicking sounds.

I breathed deeply. By far, the strongest smell in Berk was that of fish. No surprise there; we have a few all-you-can-eat buffets set up for the dragons. The other smells? Most I didn’t recognize; others were ones that I had smelt when I was human, but much stronger.

It was then that I realized I had walked into the middle of Berk. And everyone was staring.

Well, here goes nothing.

People stared. I had already known that news of my transformation had spread like wildfire. No thanks to the twins, I bet. Odin knew that the best way to spread information around was to tell it to them in confidence. The dragons, on the other hand, didn’t pay me much attention. Until I got close enough to smell. Then they all perked up, nostrils flared as they tasted the familiar scent that was not supposed to belong to a dragon.

Great, they were getting closer.

“Hi.” I said.

I was now surrounded by dragons. Little Terrors, about my size, clung to the necks and bodies of the others. Thunderdrums and Gronckles formed a circle that kept me from fleeing; a Nightmare had managed to force its way through. The long necks of Zipplebacks rose over top of them. An unintentional growl left my throat. I was a person who enjoyed my personal space very much, thanks. Only Toothless and Astrid were allowed to invade it whenever they wanted. The dragons’ scents were all intertwined, but I found that if I focused, I could isolate’s one dragon’s scent from the rest, the way you could choose to listen to one conversation while others were going on around you.

A hard snout dug into my flank. I whirled around, snapping at the dragon to tell him to quit it. Then the Nightmare poked me. I went up on my back legs trying to swat his claw. When my front fell back down, it was to land on the snout of a Gronckle, who shook himself to dislodge me. Before I could recover and stand up again, a Terror leapt on me.

“Come on, get off!” I complained as the Terror crawled all over me.

All my voice did was lure in another five of them.

My head hit the ground. Great.

My wings flopped open.

Then, the dragons stilled. They were all looking toward the Great Hall, even the Terrors on top of me.

A dragon yowled.

In a burst of barks and whines, the dragons exploded into the sky. Through the cloud of wings, I caught glimpse of a black creature bounding toward me. Not just any creature – a certain Night Fury. Toothless skidded to a stop beside me, snapping at and chasing off the last Terror, and then bumped me with his head.

I patted him as best as I could. “Thank you.”

“It is him,” I heard someone exclaim.

Yep. Showtime. I extended my wings. Attempted to. Didn’t quite work the first time. I got them halfway out before I had to close them and then try again.

“There we go.” I balanced as best as I could on my back legs. “Yes, everyone it’s true: I’m a Night Fury. Don’t really know how, don’t really know when I’ll turn back, so everyone’s just going to have to deal with it. Uh, haven’t been able to talk to dragons so far, so don’t ask about that. I would also prefer if you didn’t tease Astrid about her boyfriend being a dragon. Remember, I’m the chief’s son, so you don’t want to get on my bad side. Any questions?”

Everyone just stared at me.

“Okay, I know nobody can understand me . . . you know, this might actually have benefits. You, there!” I nodded at a fellow Viking. “You need to shave. And you smell. And you?” I stopped right in front of one of the Vikings, shaking my head in shame. “That beard you’re growing? Please reconsider.”

I preened as everyone blinked, having no idea what I had just said.

“Whoa, there!” Toothless had just come up behind me, and had nearly lifted me with his snout. “Careful, I’m still not used to this whole dragon-thing.”

He got me off the ground, then. I curled up on top of his head, right between his ears. His scales were warm from the sun. Perfect.

“Oi! So this is where our dragon-boy has gotten off to.”

“Hey, Gobber.” The tip of my tail flicked as I said that. I swear I didn’t tell it to do that.

“Well, this is a bit of a doozy, ain’t it?” Gobber walked up to me and crouched so that we were eye-level. He carried a very strong stench that I bet matched the forge – as in molten metal and burning wood. I had to remind myself not to be grossed out because I probably smelt the same a good three days out of every week.

Gobber lifted my chin with his hook. Then tried to pry my mouth open, although I fought him on that. He did take the time to pluck at my tail, though.

“Are we absolutely sure this is Hiccup,” Gobber asked, “and not just some poor baby Night Fury?”

I lifted my paw and pointed at myself. A very Viking-ish and not dragon-ish move.

“Well, alrighty then.”

A melodic voice floated into the midst of our one-sided conversation. “Believe me, I wish it wasn’t true.”

“Astrid!” I would have leapt to my feet, but Toothless was faster. His head whipped around fast, and I had to keep lying there in order to stay on. See, Toothless loved Astrid. In his eyes – and in my Dad’s - she was as good as family.

He ran over to her with me bobbing precariously on his head, claws trying to find a hold. My whole body vibrated as Toothless hummed, responding to Astrid’s scratching.

“Don’t you look beautiful, today,” I said to her. Her hair was radiant in the sunlight, and it was also making her eyes sparkle. She smelled nice too; there was none of that musk that followed Toothless, Dad and Gobber around. Plus, her voice . . . as a human I had never been able to hear all the little inflections and layers that made it. By the time I would be able to speak again, I would have a whole new set of compliments to dazzle her with.

Was this strange? Mulling over all the flattery that I, a dragon, could give her? As I said, I was a dragon, now. But mentally, I was definitely human, and the human side of me most definitely still considered Astrid my girlfriend.

“How are you feeling?” she asked me.

I nodded. “Good, good.”

I heard and smelt them before I saw the other teens, and quickly scanned through each of their scents for future reference. It was then I finally noticed the pattern: the musk seemed to be following the males around. Guess that was how dragons determined gender.

“Aw, there’s my little killer!”

Ruffnut descended. I backed away and some sharp noise – a squawk, I think – exploded from my chest. I had no idea what it was, or why I had done that, but Toothless suddenly snapped to attention. In one smooth move, he tipped his head so that I slid off, snatched me up in a wing, and deposited me between his front paws. He hunched over at the shoulders, wings curling forward and leaving only a small gap in front of me. I heard Ruffnut shuffle closer; Toothless shied away from the sound, teeth bared.

I looked up. “Toothless, what was that?”

Toothless ignored me. He glared at something, maybe Ruffnut.

I tried to make the sound again, but it didn’t come out as loud or sharp as it did before. It caught Toothless’s attention though. He cocked his head and made what I called his dok dok dok sound. Kind of like the sound you hear when you repeatedly hit a hollow tube of wood.

So I squawked again. Toothless cocked his head to the other side. I squawked, drawing him in closer.

By the fourth squawk, he was rubbing his cheek against my back and purring. A warm tongue dragged itself across my neck.

Whispers. When I looked up, Astrid stepped back from Ruffnut. She rolled her eyes, but there was a bright smile on her face.

“Fine,” Astrid said. “I’ll admit it: that was adorable.”

I smiled in her direction. It was okay if Astrid said that.

Hey, hold on a second. Had I just talked to Toothless? Okay, ‘talked’, since I had absolutely no idea what I had said, if anything. But his reaction to my squawking hadn’t been like the befuddled reactions of the dragons yesterday.

Holy crap.

I could speak to dragons.

. . . kind of.

Chapter Text

Minutes later, I was certain I had translated one part of dragon speech: the squawk. Not the high-pitched one that had Toothless shielding me with his wings, but the more neutral one that required no special work from me. It seemed to be some variation of Pay attention to me! I had great fun squawking and luring Hookfang away from Snotlout.

It drove Toothless crazy. At first, he had leaned back on his haunches and swatted at my back, then he realized whom I was squawking at. A low growl from him had made the Nightmare pause.

I sighed. Toothless was so crouched over that when I raised my head, it rubbed against his neck. That seemed to calm him.

Astrid groaned. “Hiccup, let’s try not to start a fight between the dragons.”

I glared at her, offended.

Meanwhile, Snotlout marched up to a curious Hookfang and tried to pull her away, upset that I had usurped him. Not that Hookfang usually listened to him anyways. Take now, for instance: a gust of wind was buffeting Ruffnut’s hair, and Hookfang was amazed by the swaying.

“So,” Fishlegs said, “is he an actual dragon whisperer now?”

Everybody, and I mean everybody, stared at me. As much as I would have liked to say no, I tilted my paw side to side in a kind of fashion.

Which everyone immediately took to mean absolutely! Tuffnut barged forward, throwing Ruffnut aside, and asked, “Who does Barf and Belch like more? Me or Ruffnut?”

“Uh, me, obviously!” his sister said. “What kind of stupid question is that?”

“One that you just got wrong,” Tuffnut said. He lurched toward her, and the horns on their helmets smashed together.

“Oh, yeah? You tell him, Hiccup!” Ruffnut said.

I looked at Astrid.

She strode forward. She put a hand on both of the twin’s helmets and pushed them apart. “Okay, that’s enough. No one’s going to bother Hiccup about this, got it?”

“That’s not fair,” Tuffnut complained. “You’re just going to ask him when you two are alone.”

Snotlout suddenly snickered. “Hey, do you two still kiss, or do you just lick each other now?”

Astrid’s face went red as they all giggled. She could put up with a lot of things, but our love life was one of the things that would always get a rise out of her.

She spat, “Either of those is still better than making out with my pillow.”

That shut Snotlout up. He said, “I told you, I was half-asleep. I thought it was a hot girl!”

“Sure you did,” Ruffnut said, stretching out the first word.

“A really hot girl!”

“Nobody cares,” Astrid said. “Come on, Hiccup. Let’s get out of here.”

Oh, yes. I was in. I trotted – jogged, I guess – at her heels, and Toothless followed the both of us.

“So, now what?” Astrid asked me.

I licked my lips. Breakfast?

“You haven’t . . .” She trailed off. “I guess you can’t cook anymore. I’ll get you something.”

She carefully avoided the f-word. Toothless knew some Norse words, including: Hiccup, Dad, fly, fire, Astrid, fish and food. Which one of those last two was the f-word? Both, technically. They meant the same thing to Toothless, and once he latched onto the promise of a fish, good luck getting him to think of anything else. Even if the dragons had access to all the fish they could eat outside, it apparently tasted much better when it came directly from a Viking’s hand.

But anyways, even though he had already eaten, once we were in Astrd’s house, she tossed Toothless a couple of herring anyways. Mostly for a distraction. If he didn’t get anything, Toothless might insist on sharing my food.

“Here.” She slammed down a plate with bread and cheese in front of me, waking Stormfly who had been sleeping in the corner. The small meal was fine with me. What was a normal portion to her had morphed into a gigantic portion for me, so I didn’t need more.

Toothless warbled. He put his head on the table and stared at my food.

“Not for you,” I told him, even though I knew he wasn’t interested. He ate fish, meat if he couldn’t get fish, and the occasional bit of vegetation (nine times out of ten, when he ate something that wasn’t protein, it was because I was eating it, too). Grain and dairy however, did not appeal to him.

He lashed out suddenly. Right when I had opened my mouth, he pushed my plate away.

“Astrid, don’t encourage him,” I said as she laughed. Toothless had moved it far enough away that I had to leap on the tabletop to get it. Stormfly keened as I did so; no doubt, Astrid had told her many times that dragons weren’t allowed on the table.

Toothless pushed it away again. When I glared at him, the plates on his head stuck out. Something in his scent turned sour.

I pounced. Toothless pushed the plate out of my way again, and then hooked a claw underneath the edge. He flipped it. The bread and cheese flew into the air and plummeted to the ground, where Stormfly charged and began an abrupt game of keep-away.

“Toothless!” The sight of a charging, shouting Astrid shooed Toothless away from the table. “Stormfly, leave that alone!”

She scooped the food up and deposited it back on the plate. Also fine with me. We Vikings didn’t care much for hygiene.

When she set the plate down, Toothless popped up right beside me. His plates flapped.

“Toothless . . .” He complained and dug in his claws as Astrid shoved him away from the table, and Astrid eventually recruited Stormfly to help her. Although the Nadder helped Astrid, Stormfly seemed confused as to why.

So I ate quickly (by which, I meant I tore pieces off and swallowed them. Chewing wasn’t working out for me). No need to drag this out any longer than I had to.

“There. Done.” I barked at Astrid.

Hearing that for what it was, Astrid released Toothless. He scampered up to me, and licked my face.

“Love you, too, bud.”

Toothless snuffled. His snout rubbed against my scales as he kept licking.

“Okay . . .” I backed away. “I have no idea what’s up with you.”

Astrid picked me up, saving me from Toothless’s greedy tongue. She looked just as confused as me.

I thought at first that it was her sweet scent or my close proximity to her that made my stomach twist. But then the pain got worse; it was like something was bubbling up inside my stomach, and the pressure inside was threatening to rupture the organ. I wheezed. My saliva became thin.

Oh no. Not here. Not while Astrid was holding me. She was unprepared for me to thrash, so I got loose easily and staggered outside –

The barely-digested contents of my stomach splattered onto the grass.

“Hiccup!” Astrid grabbed me, pressing the back of her hand against my forehead. “Are you sick?”

I didn’t know. My stomach was apparently playing host to some tap-dancing giants with spikes in their shoes, but otherwise I felt okay.

Toothless waddled over. He plopped down, tilted his chin slightly downward, and gave me a look I needed no manual to translate: Told you so.

Maybe Toothless’s aversion to grains and dairy wasn’t just a personal preference.

After spitting out a last mouthful of bile, I scratched into the dirt: Can’t eat.

Astrid scrunched up her nose. “Do you have the flu?”

I shook my head. Can’t digest.

“Oh.” Her voice reflected her understanding. “Then, did you want something else?”

I thought about it. I nodded.

“Okay, I can grab you a fish –”

Toothless’s head shot up. His tongue slapped against the side of his mouth, and then slid over his lower lip.

“I already gave you some,” Astrid said, trying her best to ignore Toothless’s excited panting, and the way he circled her legs. “You can come along, but this is for Hiccup.”

As she started walking, Toothless nudged me, as if to say: look, we’re getting fish!

Both Toothless and a tagalong Stormfly ended up badgering Astrid enough to get a herring. She originally tried giving me a larger fish, but thought better of it when it became apparent the fish was nearly the size of me. Not even a teenage boy could force that much down his throat. So, I got a roasted herring, to Toothless’s approval.

“Eat up!” Astrid downed a mug of mead. She had earlier made a motion as if to pour me some, but luckily, common sense had caught up to us both.

My mouth snapped close on the fish. Okay . . . now what? I had thought I could eat this fish the same way I would if I were still human, but that wasn’t working. See, dragon jaws didn’t move the way ours did. There wasn’t enough side-to-side movement to grind food. Nor did they have the flat teeth required for that. And as I had discovered with the bread, they couldn’t really chew. Which is why, in my haste to ground the herring into a manageable pulp, it fell out of my mouth. Twice. Astrid just watched me with pity.

Toothless hadn’t eaten his yet. He had been too busy watching. But now he poked me, then very deliberately picked his up. He threw his head back, bobbed it a couple times more to get the fish in proper position, and then slurped it down.

I got it. I knew what he was doing. Well, here goes . . .

I bit down on the fish’s tail, threw my head back –

It slipped from my grasp, and tumbled head-over-heels onto my tail.

Stupid fish.

The second time was more successful. I knew it was in the proper place; my throat had even begun to loosen in preparation for a fish sliding down. All I had to do was swallow . . .

Easier said than done. The human side of me very much objected to stuffing a solid object down my throat - choking hazards and all that. At the same time, hunger prevented me from letting go. I was stuck.

Toothless glanced over. He roughly started licking the underside of my throat, and before I could make sense of it, I reflexively swallowed.

Gah. I shuddered. That felt weird.

And I would only have to do it a billion more times. I tried not to pity myself, but Astrid had made a noise of disgust, and from there, it was inevitable.

“It could be worse,” she said. “You could be a raven, and stuck eating carrion . . . We should probably tell your dad about this. He’ll need to know if you’re not going to starve . . . Hiccup, he can’t be that bad a cook.”

I gagged and stuck my tongue out. Astrid had no idea. Dad at the cooking fire was like pre-Toothless me in a dragon raid: disaster. He’d start off okay, but then he’d reach the point where he had to wait, and get distracted by chiefly duties, or talking or whatever he deemed important at the moment. Meaning he overcooked everything. Then he made me eat it anyways, claiming it kept us tough.

She patted my head. “You could try Fishlegs. He’d love to have another dragon to cook for.”

I nodded. That sounded good. It was well known around Berk that Fishlegs wanted to become the first chef for dragons . . . if he could get any customers. Meatlug ate his food, of course, and she seemed to love it, but the other dragons tended to avoid him at meals. Probably because Fishlegs’s idea of finding customers was to run around shouting and chasing them.

On the walk there, I tried to keep up, but for every step Astrid took, I had to take five or six. And I was barely walking; it was more like hopping, if anything. Either way, it got some odd looks. Although those looks may have had nothing to do with my walking-hopping and everything to do with the chief’s son becoming a dragon.

Just as Astrid had predicted, Fishlegs was delighted. He started asking all sorts of questions, like whether I liked my food spicy, or if I was partial to raw fish. Yes to the first, no to the second. I was a dragon, but I wasn’t really a dragon.

“This is awesome! I can finally figure out why nobody will listen to Meatlug! I mean we’ve tried to get the other dragons interested, but all they want is their raw fish.” Fishlegs made a face. “You’ll tell them about my food, right, Hiccup?”

Sure, sure. As long as it kept me away from Dad’s well-intended cooking.

Meanwhile, Toothless was hopping up and down, having heard the f-word twice. He glanced from Fishlegs to me, wriggling in excitement.

“Oh, I can make you both something right now!” Fishlegs was practically bouncing in anticipation. Meatlug, seeing her rider’s excitement, panted. “Just give me a few minutes.”

He ran into the house. Toothless looked at me and smiled.

Looks like someone was having a great day.

Chapter Text

“Dad. Hey, Dad! Look what I can do!”

Dad may not have been able to speak dragon, but the way I bounced in front of him got my meaning through. He crouched down, asking a question that rumbled through my ears. I stopped in front of him, opened my mouth wide . . .

Snck! My teeth shot out of their gums.

Dad laughed. “Well, that’s one thing down.”

Toothless peered at me. He unsheathed his teeth as well, and then clicked them. Not to be outdone, I closed my mouth, and then opened it again to reveal my sheathed teeth. Toothless sheathed his.

Snck! went my teeth.

Snck! went Toothless.

Snck.

Snck.

Snck. Snck. Snck . . .

“Stop it!” Dad reared back up into a standing position. “You two are giving me a headache.”

I couldn’t resist sheathing my teeth one last time.

Dad sighed fondly. He turned away and walked deeper into the forge, shouting at some villager peeking through the window.

Toothless glanced at me, and then sheathed his teeth.

I hopped around the forge, scrabbling over a drowsy Grump’s tail. Toothless followed, pausing to sniff the other dragon. Usually, Toothless wasn’t allowed to be in here, not since he had nearly burned the place down while chasing down a beam of light. With my current situation, however, exceptions were made. I think Dad and Gobber thought that having Toothless around would keep them from stepping on me.

With Toothless’s help, I hauled myself onto one of the tables in the back. One of my tables, to be exact. I had a couple: one plain table where I mostly worked on my designs (the shelves upon the table were just bursting with them), and an actual workbench where I put my designs to the test. Upon this workbench today, there was what an ignorant person would call a heap of metal and leather. Anybody who had ever fiddled around with inventing, however, or even lent a hand in one of mine, would know better.

I grabbed a corner of the heap, and stretched it out, unraveling the prototype of my wingsuit. At first glance, it looked like some plain armour with random sheets of leather attached to the arms. But when I was done with this, it was going to be my key to joining Toothless in flight. First though, I had to fix it. There were holes in the ‘wings’ from the last attempt where . . . let’s just say Toothless had a mini panic attack.

“So, what do you think?” I asked my companion.

Toothless placed his paws on the tabletop. He licked one of the suit’s shoulders, before trying to swallow it.

“Right, bind the wings tighter to the arms,” I murmured. Eyes on one of the rips, I reached for my tools –

My stubby, very un-fingerish toes wiggled in front of my face.

“So much for that,” I mumbled. Right. The only natural interaction dragons usually had with metal was trying to eat it. That actually disappointed me more than the whole turning-into-a-dragon thing originally did.

We wandered outside. From the ocean came a cool breeze that buffeted my face and making my wings vibrate. The midday heat bore down on me, blocked only by the shadows of a flock of Terrors as they danced in the currents far above. I puffed my chest out. It had been nearly an entire day since I had changed into a dragon, and I wasn’t about to spend my entire journey moping.

“Ready . . .” I crouched. My claws braced themselves against the ground, and clacked when I jumped onto stone. My tail followed with a thump; I still barely had any control over it. But I had mastered the art of controlling my teeth. That still left flying and fire-breathing, but I had no idea if I was old enough to do either of those things.

We walked down to the docks. No, there was no real reason why. Toothless apparently just felt like going down there. I think he liked the smell, as he was leaning into the wind, eyes closed.

I peered into the waves. For the first time since my transformation, I really saw me. I could still see my eyes in that face: green, just like Toothless’s, but not so slitted. Not so . . . wild. And rather than the pure black colour Toothless had, there were lighter imperfections on my cheeks. Like freckles. I bet if other Night Furies were around, they would call me ugly.

I headed back to land, careful not to fall through the gaps between the planks. Toothless chose to remain on the docks, while keeping one eye on me. Though I was a grown man perfectly capable of taking care of myself, I stayed within eyesight for Toothless’s peace of mind.

I scrambled up to the top of a fence post and stopped to admire my claws. In all honestly, I had thought they would be soft, like the child I appeared to be. But they seemed just as hard as any other dragon’s claws though, and strong. I could literally hang from the fence with nothing but the claws on my front paws.

“Hey, Toothless, can you do this, too?” I strutted down the length of the fence. The friction between the wood and my claws was more than enough to keep me steady –

I only noticed then that my tail had fallen to one side.

Time to jump! As the weight of that extra appendage pulled me down, I launched myself off the fence. Genius, if I do say so myself. I was all prepared for a smooth landing . . .

Except I had forgotten to make sure there was nothing in front of me.

I got my paws up right in time. My claws sunk right into the tree trunk. I waited a few seconds for the tree to explode (because something always went wrong for my friends and me). When that didn’t happen, I bravely lifted one paw off the tree. I didn’t fall.

“Hey, Toothless, look at me!” Remembering afterwards how to translate that into dragon-speak, I squawked. From the docks, Toothless called back to me with a throaty chuff.

I slapped my loose paw back against the trunk, driving in my claws. Then, I carefully dislodged a back paw. Moved that upward. A branch with a single leaf at the end caught my eye. There was my target.

I didn’t even think about what I was doing; I just enjoyed the sensation of getting higher off the ground. I don’t know if every dragon had this feeling, but I could physically feel the pulsing space between me and the dirt. And down was heavier. Up was lighter. Better.

I blinked. Not better. Ground was where Berk and Toothless were. That was better. Home.

By this point, I was on a branch. The rapture of climbing had begun to wear off. But I hadn’t reached my goal yet, so I drove myself higher, higher . . . I was small enough that even the thinner branches merely bent under my weight.

The leaf was within my sight. I crawled forward, nearly on my belly. The leaf swayed back and forth on its perch.

Suddenly, the branched dipped. Hard.

I leapt back just in time. The branch snapped up to its regular position, almost hitting me in the face. Alright, no hunting leaves today. I could deal with that.

It occurred to me: I had to get down.

Sure, no problem. I would have to do the same thing, but in reverse.

And here was where my plans finally went wrong. It was one thing to climb upwards, where you could drive your claws into the wood with all your weight behind it. It was another to go down, where you had to stretch out your legs with barely any bodyweight to support you. In other words, I wasn’t going anywhere. I thought about going down headfirst, but I studied my claws, saw how they hooked downward and made the discovery:

Dragon claws, at least young dragon claws, were only meant to climb upwards.

I was trapped.

Okay, don’t panic. This is why I kept a giant, flying lizard as a pet.

“Toothless! Toothless, help me! I can’t get down.”

Toothless looked up at me. He trotted over to the tree, and reared up to stare.

Oh, no. The tailfin. He couldn’t fly on his own.

“Okay, never mind. I’ll find someone else.”

I looked around. Skullcrusher was hanging outside the forge, probably waiting for Dad. Good enough for me.

I squawked. I squawked loud and clear. My voice didn’t carry far enough, however. In frustration, I kept squawking and didn’t stop, drowning out the sounds of Toothless’s curious barks.

The tree shook.

I glanced up at another branch to see a stray Nadder. She stared down at me, head cocked. Before I could try to communicate with her, a Terror popped up next to me.

It slowly dawned on me that dragons were swarming my little tree.

If they couldn’t sit in the tree, then they were gathering at the base. The poor tree itself was starting to bow; flakes of bark rained on the ground. And where there were dragons, there came Vikings. Seeing the commotion, much of Berk had decided to go on break and observe the heir-who-was-a-dragon and his sudden entourage. Just perfect.

“Can you help me down?” I asked one of the dragons. I pointed downward with my paw.

They all stared at me. It was terrifying.

“Down. Down! Come on, you have to know what I’m talking about. Me, down. I can’t make it any more obvious than that!”

I was right on one part. I was being obvious. But to the Vikings, not the dragons.

“I think he’s stuck,” I heard someone gasp. Not a horrified gasp, but an Is this actually happening? gasp.

I could feel a hundred eyes boring into me. I whined at the Nadder, who stretched out her wings and flapped them.

“I don’t know how!” I complained. I had no idea what kind of sounds were actually coming out of my mouth, but it was making the buzz downstairs increase.

“Hiccup?”

I froze. That was Dad’s voice.

Odin, help me.

“Hiccup!” Dad shouldered his way through the crowd. “Hiccup, are you okay?”

I uneasily scanned the crowd below me. No one was concerned – of course not. We were dragon-riding Vikings. It would take more than a little fall to kill one of us – mostly, they seemed a little bewildered. I could sense they were on a knifepoint, just a nudge away from finding this hysterical.

“Hiccup, what are you doing up there?”

I peered over the branch, and hoped he could see my smile from here.

“Hiccup, are you . . .?” Dad lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the sun. “Are you . . . stuck?”

He just had to say it.

I closed my eyes and nodded.

This was so embarrassing.

When the giggles started, I covered my head with my paws. Which meant I only had my back paws keeping me in the tree. Which would have been perfectly fine, except that another, heavy Nadder tried to land on my branch. The branch nearly went perpendicular to the ground. The Nadder retreated, the branch –

I shrieked as I was thrown into the air.

Something closed around my waist.

“Got you!”

I recognized Astrid’s voice. She was sitting on Stormfly, and I was neatly contained within the Nadder’s talons.

They lowered me gracefully. I tumbled from Stormfly’s talons not-so-gracefully. Once again, I was the center of attention for all the wrong reasons.

When I saw a flash of black, I dove for the safety of Toothless and buried myself against his side. He caught on and enveloped me in his wing, blocking me off from the outside world.

To him, I mumbled, “I’m never coming out again.”

Chapter Text

Never turned out to be about ten minutes. I swear I meant it to be longer, but black wings absorb heat, and the small space I was hiding – ahem, resting – in heated up quickly. Too quickly for a dragon used to living next to the cold ocean.

Thus, at the ten-minute mark, I crawled out. Thankfully, most of the crowd had grown bored and dispersed. Stormfly and Astrid were still there, the latter with her eyebrows raised. I sullenly stared at the ground.

"I'd promise not to tell them," she said, "but everyone's already heard by now."

I sulked. I sulked even more when Snotlout and Fishlegs came around. Snotlout complained about how the two of them had 'missed all the excitement', but Astrid shut him down pretty quickly.

"Whatever," Snotlout said. "We're supposed to go now, anyways. Are you coming?"

"Sure," I said, "let me just . . ."

I looked back at Toothless, who towered over me.

Oh.

"Give me a second." Astrid adjusted the saddle on Stormfly's back. She climbed on-board, and then finally remembered that I had been sitting in front of her.

She smiled awkwardly. "Sorry, Hiccup. Uh, talk to you later?"

I gave her an exasperated stare.

"Right. See you later."

I nodded. That was better.

The three of them took off into the sky. A few seconds later, shouts rang through the air as the twins and their dragon appeared over the houses and tried to catch up. Toothless watched them go. He turned to me, mouth partially open. The ground trembled as he hopped up and down, tracing out a small circle around me. I knew what this was: it was Toothless's Let's go flying! dance.

"Toothless, I can't," I told him.

He nudged me with his snout. Then he drew back with a confused croon.

"Even if I could work the tailfin, I can't even get the saddle on." My chin fell against the ground. "Until further notice, we're grounded."

Toothless laid down next to me. He laid his head on my back. I had assumed that this spell would only be an inconvenience for me, but I'd forgotten just how intertwined me and Toothless were. Dragons were meant to be in the sky. But, just as I was no longer able to ride dragons, Toothless could no longer fly. Sure, I could get Astrid or even Dad to fly him from time to time, but they weren't me. They couldn't work with Toothless like I could. It would be like taking a dog trained to fight boar and pitting it against a rat. Almost cruel.

"Sorry, bud." I nuzzled him as best as I could. While I had never stopped regretting how I cost Toothless his tailfin, some days were worse than others. Today was one of those days. I mean, when you're faced with a reminder on how your best friend can no longer fly on his own, you get . . .

Wait.

He could.

"I got it!"

I meant to jump to my feet, but Toothless had his weight on me, so my tail just flopped up and down.

"Uh, could you let me up?"

Asking politely didn't get anywhere, so I got my point across by clawing the dirt vigorously. Once freed, I shook myself, and then ran to the forge. Toothless followed after a beat.

"Whoa!" Gobber nearly tripped as I darted between his legs, grazing his peg leg. He did fall into the wall when Toothless accidently body-checked him.

"Where is it?" I leapt back onto one of my worktables, and began raiding the shelves above. Scrolls tumbled onto the wood, unravelling themselves and drooping off the table's edges.

"Hiccup?" That was Dad speaking. "What are you doing?"

I tried to explain through a mouthful of parchment, but gave up halfway through. They'd understand once I found what I was looking for.

There it was! I unrolled my scroll of choice, and flattened it out as best as I could. Which involved stretching myself out and laying on top of it.

Dad and Gobber inched closer. Toothless stared at the scroll, too. But unlike the two Vikings, his eyes did not light up with understanding.

"Aye, I remember that," Gobber said. "But didn't the dragon hate it?"

I slammed my paw on the scroll. Yes, Toothless had once rejected the auto-tailfin and the concept of flying alone, but times were different now. I had no idea when this spell would wear off, and I wasn't about to leave Toothless grounded during that entire time.

"Sure, I could whip up another for you," Gobber said.

Dad frowned. "Will he accept it?"

I nodded. Toothless would, even if I had to nail it to him myself.

With that, I left Dad and Gobber in the forge. The auto-tailfin was a delicate machine, so it would take them a while to make. There was no need for me to hang around and get in the way, especially since if I was there, Toothless would be getting in the way, too.

I sat down. "So, now what?"

Toothless sniffed around. A piece of rawhide – some other dragon's toy, no doubt – caught his attention, and he claimed it eagerly. I crept closer. It smelt of leather, and a touch of blood. Didn't seem too disgusting . . .

I pounced. I snapped my jaws shut on the rawhide, and pulled. Toothless immediately sunk down, body rigid. My face tried to smile even as I clung to the rawhide. I tugged and tugged with jerky motions, keeping my eyes fixed on Toothless's face.

He growled playfully. Small furrows formed in the dirt as he dragged me forward. He shook, lightly, but still enough to draw me off-balance. The sudden movement made my wings open.

This was fun. If it wasn't for the fact that I was using my teeth to hold the rawhide, it was like things were perfectly normal. Just a boy and his dragon, having some fun in the sun.

Toothless's eyes narrowed. His head tilted slightly in that way it did when I knew he was really going to shake . . .

Oh.

Oh.

And suddenly, hanging on became a matter of life and death. Before I could even consider letting do, I was thrown into the air. My whole body snapped to one side, then reversed direction. And again. And again. Part of me just wanted to let go and get it over with, but the muscles in my jaw had hardened. Like it or not, I was going to hang on.

It was over quickly. The momentum of the shake sent me rolling onto my side. The rawhide slipped out of my mouth.

Toothless leaned toward me. He sniffed.

I rolled belly-up. I laid there, stunned.

Toothless dropped the rawhide on my face.

"Add insult to injury, why don't you?" A spark of energy ran through my blood, lighting it on fire. I whipped into a crouch, and pawed the ground.

He backed up a step as I charged. I went after his forward foot. He moved that out of the way, so I seized his other one instead, remembering just in time to sheathe my teeth. Not that it would have made much of a difference.

Warm air slithered down my back as Toothless picked me up by the wings. I flailed. My tail kept smacking him in the shoulder.

With me still dangling by my wings, Toothless marched to the forge. He peeked his head inside, calling to Dad and Gobber through his mouthful of dragon. The two of them were still bent over my scroll, muttering to each other. I couldn't hear them over the ambient noise and the crackle of flames, but I could tell by a lack of the scent of burning metal that they hadn't started on the tailfin yet.

"What is it?" Dad set down a metal tong as he turned. "Hiccup, what are you doing?"

I squirmed. Believe me, Dad, this was not my idea.

Toothless held me up high. His body wriggled with excitement. When Dad spoke again and mentioned my name in passing, Toothless nodded eagerly.

Gobber laughed. "Well, looks like you caught yourself a baby Hiccup."

I bared my teeth. A moment later, I remembered I had to unsheathe them.

I rocked as Toothless's weight danced from one side to the other. He seemed to be waiting for something, but neither I nor the other two Vikings had any idea what.

"Well, okay," Dad said. "Uh, good boy? You can go now."

Toothless did so happily, head – and me – held high. He set course for a nearby Gronckle.

I curled into a ball, and tried to blend into his scales. Looks like Toothless had decided to play show-and-tell with me. Maybe if I were quiet, no one would notice . . .

When I finally uncurled, Toothless was busy showing me off to a Nightmare, who was cautiously sniffing. I snapped at her, and she drew back. Toothless shook me a little, as if to tell me I was being rude, but he set me down. While he smelt of cold, Nightmares smelt like warmth. Damp, sticky warmth. Like sweat or saliva, though not as pungent as the former.

I slipped past her head (it was bigger than me!) and scampered toward her body. Her head followed me, with her neck curving and nearly going between her front legs. Her claws flexed, adjusting their grip on the ground as her weight shifted. Beside her head, I caught a glimpse of Toothless's green eyes.

I wonder . . . I mean, if anything went wrong, I'm sure Toothless would protect me. I'd seen him take on Nightmares before, like Hookfang way back in the day. I would be safe.

With that in mind, I took a deep breath. Then I pounced on the Nightmare's tail.

It wasn't like biting Toothless. She was slimy. Must have been the stuff she used to light herself on fire. So, I spat her tail out pretty quickly, and then focused on scrubbing my tongue.

Both Toothless and the Nightmare gave me a pitying look.

The slime clung. It tasted like something had thrown up in my mouth. I had to lick dirt before the taste went away.

"You could have warned me," I complained. I cast the two dragons a sullen glare.

Okay, so new discovery: biting Nightmares was a very, very bad idea. I wonder if anyone would ask questions when they saw that addition to the Book of Dragons. Well, if they did, they would probably assume it was the twins. Or maybe even Fishlegs looking for a new ingredient. Certainly not old, reasonable Hiccup.

Toothless chuffed. He nipped at my tail and then took off, nearly spinning. When I just stared at him, he did his little shrug, and then chased around the Nightmare.

I watched them.

Well, it's not like I had anything better to do.

I ran after them.


The riders returned at sunset, miserable, exhausted and beaten down. Toothless and I had been waiting for them in the center of Berk, although I was starting to regret that now that I saw their expressions. Whilst Fishlegs just looked like he needed a good nap and the twins like they had been forced to sit through a two hour lecture on making bread, waves of frustration were rolling off Snotlout and Astrid. Astrid, in particular, looked menacing.

Snotlout was first to stomp off. He had his helmet tucked under his arm, and his hair seemed greasy with sweat. His dragon followed after a second, seemingly still in a good mood. Fishlegs and Meatlug left next, both with heads bowed and feet dragging. The twins and their dragon left soon after.

That left Astrid, our dragons and me. Stormfly had already gravitated to a fish buffet. Toothless looked as though he was considering joining her.

Astrid growled under her breath. She dragged a hand through her hair. As the blonde strands rippled, her scent sharpened. And by that I mean it shot straight up my nose and made my proverbial hackles rise. It was still her scent, but too hot – too piercing.

She was angry. I would have been able to tell that without my enhanced sense of smell. Her face was doing that thing where it scrunched up and some of her upper teeth showed. Though part of me instinctively shied away from her anger, I crawled over to her anyways. I stayed close to the ground, with my eyes fixed on her boots. The picture of submissive caution.

It took her a while to notice me. I think she had forgotten I was no longer taller than her. But when she saw me and my subdued manner, she calmed down a little. At least, that's what her sudden deep breaths said.

"I'm sorry, Hiccup." Her fingers worked their way through her hair again. "We looked everywhere in that area, but we couldn't find any trace of where the witch had been. No supplies, no home, nothing."

She was upset. That was obvious. Upset over what she perceived as a failure, and even more so over what she perceived as failing me. I wanted to tell her that it wasn't her fault, especially since I shouldn't have turned my back on a known enemy in the first place, but that wasn't exactly happening in my current state. I tried patting her foot, but I don't know if she even felt it.

She exhaled. She glanced at me, and I think it dawned on her that I was kind of getting a neck strain from trying to look at her face. So, she knelt down, and using her knee as support, I stood up. It almost put us at equal height.

"I might be able to chase down a few of the trader's ships," she said. "They might know something about her. If not, there are the other islands . . ."

She waited for my opinion, which I gave her at once: absolutely not. Other islands meant other tribes and few, if any of them, were dragon-friendly. Not yet, at any rate. Dad and I were going to try to force the issue at the Chief Gathering in a few weeks.

"I thought so," she said glumly.

For a moment, we basked in each other's gloom.

. . . And then Toothless dropped by wanting to be scratched.

He purred loudly, and nuzzled Astrid's hand. She rolled her eyes, but obeyed. Toothless savoured it for a minute or so, and then poked me.

"Uh, no thanks," I said.

He got more insistent. Mostly toward Astrid. He was prodding her free hand, and trying to guide it toward me.

"Toothless, I don't think Hiccup likes being scratched." She smiled. Say what you will about Toothless, but he knew how to cheer people up. She very deliberately stared at Toothless, and then reached over to scratch Stormfly, who had joined us, while absently remarking on how it was getting dark.

Technically speaking, that was true. But I was a Night Fury. Lightwise, I didn't notice very much of a difference. What sunlight had vanished had been replaced by stars and torches. There were more of those torches leading away from the center of Berk and lighting up dark passageways, but mostly they were centered here. Once, long ago, there would have been big fires in the watchtowers as well. However, with our former aggressors now safeguarding our village, keeping a lookout wasn't such a necessary task. With the absence of a known foe, those watchtowers often sat empty.

But while it hadn't gotten much darker, the colours had shifted. Shadows were longer, deeper, and those parts of Berk still exposed to light were awash with red from either the waning sun or the torchlights. A darker form of the pink-tinted sky.

I walked her home. Well, I sat on Toothless's back as he walked her home. The sentiment was still the same. Her scent had relaxed, so I think the short walk had done wonders to soothe her anger. The dragons recognized the change, too, and Stormfly swooped in to nuzzle her favourite person.

She did something funny when we reached her house. I could tell that when she turned to me, she had definitely been searching for someone taller. She had leaned forward a bit too, as if to peck my human-self on the cheek. But when no handsome, Viking boyfriend smiled back at her, she blinked rapidly, and then found me. Her smile was real, but sad.

"I'll see you tomorrow." She caressed my cheek. Then, she and Stormfly were gone.

I miss being human.

Home was a pit of embers and light snoring. Okay, fine: loud snoring. Dad was louder than I was, even when I tripped over a bowl in the dark. But that was the only hassle as we made our way to my inviting bed.

It took three tries to get on. And one the third try, I only got the upper half of my body on anything solid. Luckily, my quite impressive claws had buried themselves in the blanket, and I was able to haul the rest of me up.

I had just curled up on the pillow, and begun debating whether to go under the blanket instead, when Toothless decided to join me. I felt my ears flatten.

"Toothless, get off!" I hissed. My shoulder dug into his neck as I shoved.

He stared at me with his head cocked.

"Toothless!" Rearing back, I teetered on my hind legs for a glorious second . . . only to fall right over as my wings opened unevenly. So, with my two pairs of legs making circles in the air, I said, "Toothless, you know dragons aren't allowed on the . . ."

Oh. I understood.

"I don't count," I told him flatly.

But of course, I didn't speak dragon. Still, Toothless understood something about what I was saying, because his pupils suddenly grew huge and he snuggled his chin between his front paws. It was, as I liked to call it, his cute face. Toothless knew that it could work wonders on some of the more emotional Vikings. Not me though. Nope. No way. I knew him much too well to be deceived.

Seriously. It wasn't working.

I pointed to the floor. "Off."

Toothless whined. He glanced up and down the bed, as if pointing out how much room there was now. Before, we could only fit if I was on top of him. Now? Well, his tail still hung over the edge, but there was enough of a gap beside his head that I would be comfortable.

"Off," I repeated.

He slunk off the bed and away into the shadows. Then he was back. Half his green eyes shone at me from above the bed; the other halves were hidden below.

"Toothless."

His ears lifted, indicating he had heard me.

I looked back at Toothless. He was giving me his cute face again.

I sighed. I suppose that with this current situation, I could get away with breaking a couple of rules.

"Alright, come on up."

I patted the bed. Toothless sprang up like a jackrabbit, nearly startling me into falling off. I found a nice spot in-between his shoulder and neck, where the curve fitted my back perfectly.

"Goodnight," I said to him.

He purred, and rubbed his head against mine. It was a sentence I needed no help figuring out:

I love you.

And he was gone.

Only for a moment. He had the corner of my blanket in his mouth, and was pulling it toward me. I was just about to thank him, when he spun around, grabbed the opposite corner, and pulled that too. Then another corner. Then the last. And then he went for my pillow. He dropped that not where I was, but on one of the sides.

Then he was gone again.

He returned a few seconds later . . . Dad's blanket in tow.

"Toothless!" I squawked.

Toothless hopped on the bed and happily dragged Dad's blanket with him. He then happily set to arranging his small collection of blankets and a pillow for some reason.

He stopped. I could feel him thinking about Dad's pillow.

"No!" As he made a move to try to snatch it (probably from right under his head, knowing him), I bit down on his tail. That made him pause.

"No," I said slowly. For good measure, I bared my teeth.

He shrugged good-naturedly. Then he started playing with the blankets again. I watched, both with amusement and a bit of irritation as parts flew into the air and blocked me off from the outside.

Which apparently was his intention. When he finally settled down, we were contained within a burrow made of blanket. Oh, and the pillow was against Toothless's back. I pawed at the burrow's 'wall', finding it tougher to budge than I thought.

"Is this a nest?" I asked him.

Toothless chuffed. He nudged me, trying to guide me back toward him. When I allowed myself to be guided, a large wing opened up and then engulfed me.

Despite the coolness of his smell, he was warm. It was like sitting next to a smouldering fire. I was squeezed in against his chest, with one of his legs serving as my new pillow. The other was draped loosely over my neck, like an imitation of a hug. Further up his body was gap that I could have used to escape, and I thought I caught a shadow of him staring at me. Hard to tell though; it was too dark.

For me, the little Night Fury who was actually a Viking, Toothless's smell was distracting. But I got used to it, soon enough, and my brain ceased to notice. I listened to his breathing: deep and strong. I soon matched his pace.

The underside of his chin grazed me. He purred. I love you.

I stretched up so that I could rub against him, too, and purred. I love you, too.

Chapter Text

Dad woke up earlier than us, so there was no way he didn’t notice that his blanket had gone missing, but he hadn’t done anything. When I woke up, Toothless and I were still nestled comfortably inside our burrow.

I yawned. My teeth popped out of their sockets, and I sheathed them again one-by-one. My paws kneaded Toothless’s chest – a replacement for stretching. That woke the big lug, and he rumbled before lifting his wing off me. Light, stained brown from the blanket, entered our small cavern.

I crawled out and up to his chin. “Good morning.”

He chuffed at me. I rubbed against him.

That was it for morning greetings. I was a young, energetic Night Fury, formerly an inquisitive, teenage Viking, and nature demanded that I do something exciting. Or at least get something in my belly. It felt like a bottomless pit right now, and was wailing at me to go hunting. To Fishlegs, it was, then!

Toothless followed at a leisurely pace. Not that he would have had to try very hard to keep up with me, anyways. For every step he took, it took me a couple of bounds to cover the same distance. When he did catch up with me though, I had made some lovely claw marks in Fishleg’s door, and was squawking at the top of my lungs. If Fishlegs didn’t hear me, then I knew Meatlug would.

When Fishlegs answered, he was still half-asleep. His helmet was hanging half off his head. Blond fuzz dotted his lower jaw; apparently, he was growing a beard to try to impress Ruffnut. Again. Because his attempts worked so well last time. Meatlug was similarly tired, and she didn’t walk so much as she dragged herself behind Fishlegs.

I cringed. Looks like I hadn’t chosen the best time.

“Sorry.” Fishlegs rubbed his eyes. “I was up all night writing a song for Ruffnut . . . Hey, if you want, you can hear it.”

I froze. I had no idea how to refuse without being rude.

But that’s what dragons were for. When the first note left Fishlegs’s mouth, both dragons dropped and clamped their paws over their ears. With a dark blush spreading over his cheeks, Fishlegs mumbled, “Ah, actually I haven’t finished it yet. Maybe another time.”

Not if I could help it.

Despite his state of half-sleep, Fishlegs still managed to cook something up. It smelt like fish – it was mostly fish – but I could detect garlic as well. There were a few other green things sticking out of the body, too; Fishlegs had cut open the chest and stuffed it, and poured some kind of sauce in to ‘season’ it. Put frankly, it looked like some animal had torn the fish open, played with the organs, and hadn’t eaten any of it. But at least mine was cooked.

I was beginning to reconsider this idea.

“Okay.” Fishlegs had his hands together, as if he had just clapped. “It’s ready.”

I looked around. Meatlug was happily guzzling hers down. Toothless, not so much. He was confused by the plants in what he thought should have been a pure fish.

Well, it couldn’t be worse than Dad.

I balanced the fish on my jaw. My tongue ran along the undamaged side. It tasted . . . fishy. Like a normal fish. So, I swallowed. And it was still fishy. But when I ran my tongue against the roof of my mouth, there was something delicious on it. The sauce, or whatever it was that Fishlegs had made.

I licked my plate clean, hunting for any remaining sauce. Toothless had finished his. Unlike me, he didn’t look at all impressed. Which surprised me because it hadn’t been bad. The sauce was delicious actually, although I wasn’t able to taste any of the herbs.

And it hit me. I watched Meatlug, who alone of the dragons, enjoyed Fishlegs’s food. Unlike Toothless or any of the other dragons I’d seen, she didn’t just swallow her fish. Instead, she stuck her snout in the opening, and then used that to slaughter the sauce all over the fish’s body before eating it. So she could taste it. Fishlegs knew enough to leave the fish as intact and whole as possible, but he didn’t know enough to realize what part of the fish needed to season.

“Well?” Fishlegs bit his lip nervously. He had parchment and a charcoal pencil in hand, as if I was actually going to speak Norse to him. “What do you think? Need more garlic?”

I signalled that I was the one who actually needed the writing utensils. When he handed them to me, I grabbed the pencil in my mouth (tasted like smoke), and proceeded to write as best as I could. The letters came out huge and loopy; really huge. Two sentences nearly took up an entire page. I was surprised that I hadn’t broken though the parchment.

Fishlegs quietly read my initial verdict to himself. Then he looked at me. “Wait, why shouldn’t I stuff the fish?”

I wrote: Dragons can’t chew. They only taste the outside.

“Hmm.” Fishlegs stroked his chin. He tossed a spare fish at Meatlug and then watched how his dragon swallowed it. Next to me, Toothless huffed, annoyed that he hadn’t gotten an extra one, too.

“That’s it!” Fishlegs exclaimed. “Oh, thanks, Hiccup. You’re a genius!”

He knelt down, put one hand on either side of Meatlug’s face, and squeezed gently. “Come on, Meatlug, we’ve got a lot of experimenting to do!”

Meatlug waddled after her rider as he retreated in preparation for even more cooking. That left Toothless and me alone.

Into the silence, I said, “Uh, bye.”

We left. It seemed like it was going to be a good day. The sky was blue, clear except for a couple of white wisps hanging around in the sky. Most of the older Vikings were awake. There was a man saddling up his Nadder not far from us, and a group of kids were playing a game of run-away from a stray Gronckle.

My wings flexed as a breeze hit it. I could faintly see how the membranes bulged, catching the air as if I were aloft. I looked at Toothless, unreasonably excited by my . . .

My joy evaporated.

Oh, Toothless.

He was on his hind legs, wings fully open, walking slowly backwards as he struggled to keep his balance. His eyes were fixed firmly on the sky; the muscles in his chest were braced with the readiness to spring into the air. But his tail . . . his normal tailfin, his natural tailfin, was closed, but the other was open.

“Toothless . . .” I didn’t mean to whine, but that’s how it came out.

Toothless cocked his head. He dropped back to his feet and trotted up to me, acting as if he hadn’t just been wishing he could fly. No, if anyone had been watching, they would have thought I was the one who needed comforting, not him. I moved into him, resting my head against his leg, wishing I knew how to apologize as a dragon. However, all Toothless saw was a despondent little Night Fury (formerly his rider), and he sought to comfort me with a lick.

I turned away. “I’m fine, Toothless.”

He clearly didn’t think so. He sniffed, trying to use that sense to figure out what had me bothered. And that just made me feel worse.

Trying to distract myself, I muttered, “The tailfin won’t be done yet. It’s too early. Astrid’s probably still sleeping, and I have no idea where Dad is. I don’t see any way to get you off the ground . . .”

And apparently, Toothless was just as disturbed by the fact that I was grounded. He tried to pick me up by the wings again, and I responded by sinking to the ground and spreading my wings out flat. Yep, there wasn’t much for him to grab now.

Black filled my vision –

And everything went dark.

I squirmed. Warm walls pressed against me on all sides. A moist draft, carrying with it the scent of fish, came from behind me and filled the space like smoke. Blind, I groped for an exit, and even my tail mapped out the area as best it could. It was small, whatever it was.

Part of the wall gave. It split horizontally, and I crawled toward the crack . . .

I poked my head out of Toothless’s mouth.

I glared at him. “Really, Toothless? Really?”

I suppose that I shouldn’t have been too shocked. While I had certainly never seen an adult Night Fury interact with a young one before, I had seen Nightmares and Gronckles carrying their children around in their mouths. The Nightmares would leave their mouths slightly open, and their kids would peek out from between the teeth. Gronckles seemed to use it more as a punishment because they would swallow one kid and then sit there. Toothless seemed to be leaning toward the Nightmare style of things, though.

He seemed to have some kind of destination in mind. Plus, I doubted my chances of wrestling free, so I let him carry me. I scanned his face; my presence made his cheeks puff out, but other than that, having a little dragon in his mouth didn’t seem to bother him. Again, not much surprise there. He had once carried around my helmet in his mouth.

He took us home. Exciting, I know. But don’t worry: it got better. He walked right up to the door, and then leapt and attached himself to the wall next to it.

“. . . Toothless?”

If his laboured breathing and clumsy movements were anything to go by, baby Night Furies were better climbers than grown ones. Toothless kept trying to use his wings - not necessarily to fly and skip the whole process - but just to try and keep himself attached to the wood. His claws didn’t seem able to grasp the wood as well as mine; his weight kept tearing them out and kept him scrabbling for a hold. But we got up. Eventually. In about three times the amount of time it would have taken me.

His jaws loosened, inviting me to walk on my own feet again. I took that offer very happily, thank you. Please ignore that I am now covered in drool.

“Okay, we’re here. Now what?”

Toothless chirped. At the fore of our house, a wooden dragonhead protruded out into empty air. Toothless perched on the nose of that, wings half-raised. With a jerk of his chin, he ordered me to follow. Easy. The wooden dragon was more than wide enough for me to walk down.

A shadow passed over us as a bird darted through the sky. Toothless dug his claws in, and opened his wings wide. I crawled underneath one, coming to a stop just beyond his left foot.

He squawked. (Hah, I knew the meaning of that!) The wings spread even further, until his very bones seem to be trembling with the effort. His front claws dislodged from the wood; they rose too, even as he checked whether I was paying attention.

He jumped.

His one real tailfin snapped open. The other rattled, flicking back and forth indecisively before settling on closed. In the few seconds that took, Toothless picked up speed. A lot of speed. Too much, I knew, for a dragon looking to land.

The uneven tail made his right side pitch up. His wings splayed oddly, trying to keep him level. It lasted about three seconds. Not because he rolled over or anything. But because he landed. Crashed. Whatever. At least he got his feet under him this time.

He shook himself and shuddered. That should have been the end of this little excursion, but then he had the gall to look back at me and call me down.

I backed away from the edge. “Nope. Not happening.”

Toothless cocked his head. He sprung at the walls and started to climb.

There was no way this was going to end well.

“No. Oh, no. You stay back!” I reared up and hissed. Actually, I spluttered a little bit. The splutter ended quickly because my lips caught on my tongue. Fearless as ever, Toothless walked right up to me. He stared at me, then out into the empty air beyond the wooden dragon’s head, and chirped.

Go, he was saying.

I shook my head. Not on my life.

Toothless was not amused.

And he decided to express that by grabbing my tail.

I flinched. What was he –?

He flung me into the air.

Toooooothless!”

It didn’t even occur to me to open my wings, but the air caught their corners and pried them from my sides. My tailfin was already open. Not like that meant anything because I had no idea how to steer. I somersaulted through the air, like a typhoomerang closing in for the attack.

I hit the ground tail-first, followed by the rest of me. A disorienting tremor went through my body, but other than that, I think I was okay. Let me just check . . . yep, tail’s not broken. Wings? Check. Legs? Sore, but working.

I laid there, listening to my own heartbeat.

Toothless crashed behind me.

“Serves you right,” I grumbled. Of course, Toothless was all smiles. He actually wanted to climb up again.

“No,” I told him firmly.

He stared at me.

He started to open his mouth . . .

“No! I said no, Toothless!”

With Toothless hot on my heels, I ran.

Chapter Text

“Oi! Looks like someone’s been having a bit of fun.”

The look I gave Gobber could have wilted a flower. My chase with Toothless had ended in a mud puddle – great for me, because Toothless’s weight meant that he stuck and couldn’t keep up; but also terrible for me, because now my lower half was covered in mud. Especially my tail. I was sure there were at least a couple of lumps attached to it.

In his good hand, Gobber held a pair of metal tongs, which he clicked together as he asked, “Now, where’s your dragon at?”

A good question. Toothless was nearby, for sure. I could feel it. When I looked around though, I couldn’t see any sign of green eyes.

But I was a dragon now . . .

I took a deep breath. Air flowed through my nostrils, and my brain set to work, splitting each scent from the rest like a weaver carefully unwinding one thread from the spool. I tasted Gobber and the forge, the sweat of my father from inside the forge, mud, and a rainstorm that appeared to be on its way. And, I tasted Night Fury.

There he was. He was lurking under a cart, sneaking up on me. As not to alarm my stealthy dragon friend, I flicked my ears in his direction, alerting Gobber to his presence. Gobber grinned.

“Alright then.” He casually moved back into the forge. “If he isn’t around . . .”

Right when Gobber vanished from sight, Toothless sprung. He ate up the distance in bounds, eyes firmly on his prey, aka me. He had no idea Gobber was waiting just inside the forge, counting down the seconds . . .

“Got you!”

Gobber’s weight flattened Toothless to the ground. But only for a moment, as one measly Viking was no match for the will of a majestic Night Fury. Toothless bucked, tossing Gobber to the side, and then pounced on him instead of me. So all in all, this was a good situation for me.

“Alright! Let me up, you smelly lizard.” When Toothless ignored him and began an impromptu game of tug-of-war with Gobber’s bad hand, Gobber looked at me for help.

I marched over and whacked Toothless on the snout. He snorted, but let Gobber pull the now-slimy hook free.

“Great, now keep him still.” He hollered into the forge, “Stoick, your boy and Toothless are here.”

Hauling the auto-tailfin behind him, Dad said, “Good.”

Like most beings, Toothless was a creature of habit. He had his favourite sleeping place, his favourite saddle, and – of course – his favourite people. He also had his favourite tailfin, which meant that he did not appreciate our attempts to replace it. Dad had to grab his head and pin it, much like they had long ago when he had captured Toothless in the ring. Even that didn’t stop Toothless from lashing his tail violently, doing his best to keep it away from Gobber’s grasp.

“Almost got it . . . Just stay still . . . Ow! Going to feel that one in the morning.”

Toothless growled. His claws tore at the ground.

“Stop your complaining.” With one last tug, Gobber removed the old tailfin. Toothless shuddered. Maybe he felt naked without it.

His tail started lashing again. This time, he caught Gobber in the chest, sending him to his knees.

“Okay, that’s enough.” I barked and then sat on Toothless’s tail, making him hesitate. As much as Toothless wanted his old tailfin, I knew that it wasn’t enough for him to whip me against a wall. Either way, that gave Gobber enough time to recapture the tail.

“Just one more twist . . . ah, there we go!”

The second he was released, Toothless ran. Only for a little bit. Then he stopped to glare at us, huffing.

“Toothless!” I bounded up to him. He seemed undecided about whether he was mad at me, too. “Look, the tailfin! You remember this, don’t you?”

At my urging, he curved his tail so that he could examine it. He held the tip aloft, watching as his artificial tailfin opened and closed in time with his natural one. He swayed; his tailfin seemed to reach out and caress the air. It was red, this one, the same shade as his usual one; and I could see that Gobber had added his own personal touch of a picture of a giant dragon about to gobble up a Viking.

“Go on, fly! Fly!” Normally, I would have pushed Toothless or something. That wasn’t so practical in this form, so I tackled him instead.

Snap! Two black wings shot open. With one leap, he was airborne. The red tailfin expanded behind him. The edges rippled, and then I saw no more as he veered upwards, soaring into the sky where he belonged.

“Yes, go!” I clambered up to the top of a fence post, standing on my hind legs as I tracked his silhouette against a perfect sky.

He went higher, higher, until he was nothing more than a dot. And then he came down. His wings were folded neatly at his side as he nudged himself into a spin. The wings opened then, and he twirled and twirled in a ribbon of black.

He passed over a house, so close that if he had reached, he could have clawed the roof. He wound his way past a chimney, and then dipped even further so that he could pass over the fence right next to me. The structure quivered from his wake, and I dug in my claws.

His next turn was nearly vertical, up the side of a house, where he startled some poor Viking who had been leaning on her windowsill. She peeked after him, and her mouth opened in what must have been awe. Everyone had seen dragons show off before; I’m pretty sure everyone had even seen Toothless and I showing off. But that didn’t matter, because there was a majesty to the Night Fury, a freshness that never quite died. Even if he didn’t mean to show off and he was just testing the tailfin, Toothless was a sight to see. I only wished that I could be up there with him.

He came down again, looping backward before settling into a fall. The tailfin stayed open behind him, red flashing like a flag. Unlike last time, this dive was leisurely – at least for a Night Fury. It was slow enough that when he got closer, I could actually see his eyes.

He circled around me before taking a precarious perch on the fence, too. At least he tried. He was way too big though, so he just ended up with his front paws on the fence.

“So, how was it?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

He purred. Now would normally have been the time that we cuddled a bit, but since I was lacking hands, I just nuzzled him under the chin instead.

“So, it works.”

Dad and Gobber were still here. I had completely forgotten. Actually, quite a few Vikings had gathered to watch Toothless’s flight; most of the adults appeared to have been dragged out by their children. They were leaving now, though, since the show was over. A couple of kids approached Toothless, who sniffed them but otherwise, wasn’t that interested.

Dad walked over. He ran his fingers over the bone in Toothless’s tail as he inspected the tailfin for damages. So far, so good. It had held up under Toothless’s rigorous test.

“Seems like you’re good to go.” With a splash of dust, the tail fell back down. To me, Dad said, “I’ll be in the forge.”

I purred thanks to him. Dad gave me a weird look, but he didn’t say anything.

Thump! Thump! Toothless performed his Let’s go flying! dance around me, going over the fence and back again. His upper half bobbed up and down; his paws tapped out a catchy rhythm on the ground.

“You have wings,” I told him. “You go.”

Toothless snuffled. Smooth scales stroked the underside of my wing as he grabbed it and gently tugged it open. With one claw, he poked at the other one. With a sigh, I let them unravel, faintly aware that my tailfin opened as I did so.

“Toothless, I can’t fly.”

Thump!

“No, really, I can’t. I know I might have wings and an uncomfortably long tail, but this up here,” I tapped my forehead, “is raw Viking.”

His dancing grew faster and louder. Flying. Now!

Looks like someone wouldn’t take no for an answer. When the opportunity arose, I pounced onto Toothless’s back, and sat in the same place I would have had he been wearing his saddle.

At his surprised stare, I said, “Well, you wanted to go flying.”

It was different, sitting on him like this. It felt like there was a lot less friction. A lot less. Even with Toothless sitting still, I still worried in the back of my mind that I would slip off. Sure, I had awesome claws that could easily keep me in place, but tearing up my best friend’s back didn’t exactly appeal to me. Speaking of these claws, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Did I just sit on them normally, and hope they wouldn’t accidentally scratch Toothless? Or did I try to go the uncomfortable route of curling back toward me, and risk slicing myself open instead? Decisions.

A chord of muscles shifted under me. That was another difference. Contrary to what his adorable and playful behaviour would suggest, Toothless had a very powerful and lithe body. Poke anywhere, and all you would get was hard muscle. It kind of felt like sitting on a rock. A moving, breathing rock. But a rock, nevertheless, and a warm one, at that. Between my own body heat and clothes, Toothless’s heat and the sun, I had never been cold during flight, but there was something more intimate about skin-to-skin contact.

Just when I started thinking this might be a bad idea, he took off.

So much for not clawing him. When I felt him slipping under me, I instinctively tried to cling. Thankfully, those scales were thicker than they looked.

We went high. It was like sailing in a storm; his body pitched up and down as each wingbeat echoed through it. Only my front paws, hooked around the spot where his wings and shoulders met, kept me from falling.

When I looked down, something heavy dropped into my stomach. Foreboding or fear, I think. I had never been scared of heights – I couldn’t be, not as a dragon rider. But riding a dragon while strapped into a saddle was very different than sitting bareback on one in a body that wasn’t yours to begin with.

I flattened myself against him. All the wind was only adding fuel to the fire. Toothless had rounded out into a glide, just enjoying the sights. I would have, too, but we were really high, and I wasn’t at all happy with that. No seriously. I wasn’t.

I think he had always rocked when he flew. I just had been too big before to notice. Now, with me being as small and as flat as I was, I noticed. It was like a boat in a calm stream; like a cradle. Comforting. I closed my eyes, pretended I was on ground, and let that soothe me.

Toothless chirped. I opened my eyes. I didn’t see anything different. We were still circling Berk, and the sky was calm. A Nightmare weaved through the space below us, but he was quickly gone.

Toothless chirped again. Jerked his chin up, pointing at something. But ahead of us, all I saw was empty sky. I thought back to the last time he had chirped . . .

He chirped again. Go. Fly.

“No.” I shook my head so hard he must have felt me vibrating. “There is no way I’m going out there.”

Nothing happened for a few seconds.

Then he flipped over.

I screamed. My wings fluttered uselessly, catching the air at random moments and sending me spinning in one direction or another. It was like being caught in a rapids filled with invisible rocks, just as violent and hard to breathe. Air seemed to be sucked right out of my mouth, as if I were literally moving too fast for my lungs to swallow it.

Black filled my vision. Toothless was calmly falling beside me, his head closest to the ground and slightly cocked to one side, as if he were asking what I was so freaked out about.

“Toothless, help!” That’s what I tried to scream, but some wild noise came out of my mouth. Whatever it was, it got his attention. Green eyes widened, and he reached out for me.

The first attempt, my paw slide over his scales. Second, our claws locked for a beat, and then parted. The third, fourth, and fifth attempt pretty much all happened at the same time. Each miss made my pulse race a little faster, and though it couldn’t have been more than five seconds, I was sure I was about to become a splat on the ground.

I whined. It was the only sound I could make. My chest had tightened, squeezing out what little air my lungs had scavenged. I couldn’t grab his paw, and Toothless didn’t seem to understand that. He thrust it at me again, actually touching my neck.

Panicking, not at all thinking, I bit it.

I think . . . I think that’s what he actually wanted. Even with fear lacing my bite and making it strong, I didn’t draw blood. He pulled me toward him, and wrapped his other paw around my abdomen.

We levelled out. Intellectually, I knew we were slowing; but I didn’t feel it. We were still falling way, way too fast. But Toothless was here. He wouldn’t let anything happen to -

He was letting go.

I tried to cling to his leg, but Toothless had already yanked his paw out of my mouth, and there was nothing binding me to him. I picked up speed, drawing further away . . .

But he reached out again, and hooked his claws under my wingjoints. The claws ran along the bone, forcing them to open.

“Toothless!”

For a brief moment, his snout was buried in the back of my neck. It’s okay, he was saying. I’m here.

One paw fiddled with my tail. The other was around my chest now, keeping me from flipping over. I took deep, steady breaths.

He let go.

It was actually fear that kept me upright. I was so nervous, that I went rigid; my tail went out straight behind me, and my wings remained fully extended.

Time ticked by.

I finally realized that I was in control.

It wasn’t quite flying. Just gliding. But I was no longer hurdling toward the ground. Toothless was right beside me, tailfins open wide like his wings. A glance over my shoulder told me that my body looked the same.

“Hey! Look at me!” I squawked. I faintly heard Toothless purr.

We soared over Berk and toward the docks, and I stretched my wings even further, wanting every inch of me to be a part of this. We weren’t that high above the village; anyone standing on a roof could have thrown a rock and hit me. We were close enough that I could see people going about their daily business. One villager was trying to pull her rug away from a hungry pig; a pair – the twins, I think – were stalking Fishlegs from an alleyway. Above Berk, it smelt a lot like smoke, even though I could barely see any. There were a lot of gentler scents as well: wood, boiling meat, roasted fish . . .

As we approached the docks, and dropped below the level of Berk’s roofs, I felt disappointed. I wasn’t ready to land yet; I could still wrestle a few more seconds of flight. So, I dipped. I rotated my body so that my wings no longer lay parallel to the ground. I knew this was how Toothless turned; next to me, he nodded in approval.

It was like running and suddenly hitting a patch of ice. I had tilted further, eager to turn quickly so I could get back to flying, when I . . . slipped, for lack of a better word. My tail fell through the sky; my wings, used to the air pushing against them, crumbled.

I was falling. Again.

“Watch out -!”

Cold slapped me in the face. The impact vibrated through me like a stricken bell. The world was dark, freezing cold, and gleamed with a few rays of light that cut their way downward before fading into darkness.

When my lungs burned, I realized I was underwater. I kicked for the surface. My wings, hanging down loosely, acted like anchors and dragged me down.

No. No! A sour taste filled my mouth. I wasn’t going to drown here. But for every two inches of progress I made, my wings dragged me down another inch.

A dark shadow emerged from underneath me.

My head burst through the waves. I gasped for breath, panting as I clung to Toothless’s back. He was paddling steadily toward the docks, wings spread over the water, almost using it as a floatation device. When we reached one of the dock’s wooden pillars, he climbed up it, dragging me along.

I shook myself. I moved into the sunlight. There, that was better. Toothless sniffed me. He licked my neck as he, in his own way, checked that I was okay.

“I’m fine,” I rasped. “Just a little tired.”

We sat in silence, recovering. Above us, a rider left Berk on their Nadder. I knew that soon enough, I would be up there again.

The only question was whether it would be as the rider, or a dragon.

Chapter Text

“Ah . . . Ah-choo!”

Seated at my bedside, Astrid smiled. Her callused fingers stroked my back with enough pressure that it felt like she was trying to press my spine flat. Unlike my current, miserable mood, she was in good spirits. Her body was relaxed, and a light smile graced her face. With the sunlight coming in through the window and making her hair glow, she was absolutely radiant. Had I been human, I would have told her that. Actually, even as a dragon, I probably would have tried to say that, too. But, like I said, I was currently in a miserable mood.

I sneezed. Astrid’s smile grew brighter. As she had happily informed me earlier, my sneezes sounded like a baby having hiccups. She enjoyed it. I didn’t. Firstly, because each sneeze inevitably shook my body, and secondly, I was sick!

“Shouldn’t have taken that dive into the ocean,” she said playfully. Yep, Toothless and I hadn’t been spotted gliding over Berk, but we had been seen dripping on the docks. Everyone thought we had gone for a swim.

I glared at her. She adjusted the blanket, scooping part of it under my chin so that it acted like a pillow. Another strip was draped across my lower half, although I could tell that my tail was sticking out.

On the floor next to Astrid, Toothless rolled over onto his back. His tongue hung out of his mouth, flopping toward the ground.

I sniffled. It felt like there was a web inside me, doing its best to block my lungs. My nose didn’t seem too clogged, but I couldn’t smell things the way I should be able to, and there was a crust around my nostrils. Mostly though, I was tired. I wanted to go back to sleep and never wake up.

“Do you want some more stew?” Astrid asked. “It’ll make you feel better.”

I thought about it, and then said no.

“Alright.” She stroked my back again. “Maybe later.”

I complained loudly about my condition. Astrid just absently rubbed Toothless’s belly. He chuffed, tail thumping against my bed.

“Toothless, I’m trying to sleep here,” I said lazily. “Go be adorable somewhere else.”

The bed rocked as Toothless rolled into it.

My door opened. Heavy footsteps, the heavy footsteps of a certain Viking Chief, traced a path to my bed. A wide, shaggy shadow fell over me.

“How are you?” Dad asked.

I stuck my tongue out. I hated being confined like this.

Dad looked at Astrid. She told him, “I think it’s just a cold. Nothing serious.”

“Are you sure it has nothing to do with . . . this.” He gestured to all of me.

My ears perked up. That . . . that was a possibility I hadn’t considered. I mean it felt like a normal cold. I think. Actually, I might have been feeling a little too drained for it to be just a regular illness . . . and now that I thought about it, maybe I did have a fever.

“I . . .” Astrid bit her lower lip. “I don’t think so. Hiccup?”

I didn’t know either. I think it was a cold, but what if it wasn’t?

“Hiccup?”

I thought quickly. We couldn’t tell. Who would know . . .?

Got it!

My claws drummed against the bed’s wooden frame as I tried to deliver my suggestion. When they both stared at me, I traced an ‘F’ in the air.

“Oh!” Astrid snapped her fingers. “Fishlegs. He is our walking Dragon Manual.”

I nodded.

Astrid left to fetch him, leaving me with Dad and Toothless.

“How are you really?” Dad asked.

I patted his hand, telling him I would be okay. Honestly, I almost smiled at Dad’s question. I guess he didn’t know, but if I wasn’t actually feeling well, I was more likely to tell Astrid than him. Nothing worse than a fretting, bumbling father.

“I’m not just asking about your sickness,” Dad said.

I shrugged. Yes, I know. I was a dragon. It was kind of hard to miss. But, there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I was coping. Would have been better if I wasn’t stuck in here, though.

“Do you need anything?” (I shook my head no) “Are you hungry?” (I shook my head NO)

“Well . . .” Dad leaned back on his heels. It was killing him to be helpless. He was a Viking Chief, used to running around and fixing everyone’s problems, whether with an axe or a stern lecture. He hated being idle; that much, I had inherited from him.

Astrid returned with Fishlegs. I suddenly found myself the center of a rigorous physical examination. Odin only knew what Fishlegs was looking for when he yanked out my tongue or handled my wings.

His final verdict?

“I think it’s just a cold.”

A sigh rolled through the room. Dad grunted, “Well, if you’re sure . . .”

Fishlegs said, “There is a teensy chance that it –”

I bit him, effectively silencing him.

As Fishlegs rubbed the bite with his shirt, screaming about how he was contaminated, Astrid said, “You know, Ruffnut’s dragon was sick once. She told me that he seemed to feel better when they left him out in the sun.”

I looked at Dad hopefully. Please say yes!

“They are reptiles,” she pointed out.

“Alright. Just,” he rubbed his forehead, “keep him out of sight. The village doesn’t need to know he’s sick on top of everything else.”

“Sure thing, Chief.” She wrapped me in a cocoon of blanket, and then stood. “We’ll be behind the Great Hall.”

A few people noticed Astrid and her bundle, but nobody said anything. I’m not sure if they knew it was me in there. Toothless and Stormfly had engaged in a game of Stalk and Pounce with each other, so for the moment being, it was just the two of us.

“Here we are.” She unrolled my blanket and me on the grass. It was cloudy today, but there was a patch of light on the ground near me, so I moved into it.

Oh. Wow, that felt good. It was like sticking a burned hand into a mountain stream. Refreshing. I flexed my wings, wanting every inch of me to bask. Compared to the heat rippling along my back, the grass underneath was icy. It still carried a memory of the night’s chill, of gusts tinged with frost. But the grass smelled alive. Even I with my diminished senses could tell that.

“Feeling better?” Astrid asked.

I rubbed my cheek against the ground, a purr rumbling through my body. It felt like the sickness was just evaporating from my body.

Her laughter reminded me of bells. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

I swung around. My intention had been, I don’t know, to cuddle with her a bit or else peck her on the cheeks with my germy lips. Something a human would do. It was when my forehead whacked against her knee that I remembered I couldn’t. Quite annoying.

“Hey, guys!” The twins scampered up to us.

Ruffnut crouched down. “How’s my baby dragon?”

“Sick,” Astrid said flatly. “I thought the sun might make him feel better.”

“Sick? Gross.” With that, Ruffnut suddenly didn’t care about me. Needed to remember that for the future . . .

“Whatever,” Tuffnut said. “Are we going now?”

“You guys go without me,” Astrid said. “I’ll catch up.”

They didn’t seem impressed. Tuffnut actually said, “I think this is more important than your sick boyfriend.”

Astrid took a deep breath. “I’m sure you can find the merchants without me.”

“Uh, yeah, of course we can,” Tuffnut said, “but who’s going to talk to them? Snotlout?”

“Hic –” Astrid paused. To herself, she muttered, “Right, that’s my job now.”

Just then, Snotlout and Fishlegs came barrelling around the Great Hall. Snotlout asked, “Hey, are we leaving now . . . ? What’s with him?”

“Sick,” Astrid said. She patted my head.

Snotlout rolled his eyes. “Uh, obviously. He’s turned into a Night Fury.”

“No, like actually sick! Right, Hiccup?”

I sneezed.

. . . Which had Ruffnut cooing all over again. She crouched down low, stuck a finger in my face, and said, “Aw, does our little Hiccup have a cold? Or does he just have the hiccups?”

I bristled. My nose itched. I tensed even further as I tried to keep the sneeze in . . .

“Come on! Coochie, coochie coo . . .”

That one finger tickled the skin between my nose. Every breath I took just made the itching worse.

Nope. Not happening. Not in front of her –

As my body grew stiffer, something in my chest seemed to rupture . . .

Screk-CHOO!

Silence. Then . . .

“PUT IT OUT! PUT IT OUT!” Fishlegs screamed.

Snotlout ripped off his Viking helmet, and beat the flames on the Great Hall with it. Although they hadn’t been that colour when they left my mouth, they were yellow as they flickered over the charred spot. It wasn’t that big, maybe about the size of Fishlegs’s palm, and my flame hadn’t even been strong enough to break anything.

Crack! With one last swing, Snotlout extinguished the last of the flames . . . while embedding one of the helmet’s horns into the wood. It left a bigger mark than I had. Took him three tries to get it out, too. I clapped slowly.

“There goes that problem!” Twirling his helmet by the horn, Snotlout plopped it back on. “Nobody told me that Hiccup could breathe fire.”

“Nobody knew,” Astrid said. Her mouth was still hanging open in shock.

Fishlegs went on his hands and knees to match my level, one eye closed as he peered at me. He hummed thoughtfully. One finger tapped his chin, before he made a motion to touch my face. “What’s it like? Does it hurt afterwards?”

No, it didn’t seem so. It was no different from spitting out a wad of spit. Except for the tiny fact that one of them was made of saliva, and the other exploded on impact and set things on fire.

“Can you do it again?” Tuffnut asked.

“No! He will not ‘do it again’.” Sensing danger in the immediate proximity, Astrid – my favourite person ever – scooped me up into her arms. “Someone could get hurt.”

Tuffnut laughed shortly. “That did less damage than a Terror’s flame. He’s not going to hurt anyone.”

“I don’t know. . .” Fishlegs said.

Ruffnut shrugged. “I think it would be cool.”

A pause.

“Once more can’t hurt,” Fishlegs said.

Astrid glared at him.

“Come on, Astrid. You heard the lady,” Snotlout said. He reached for me, and Astrid swung me out of the way just in time.

“What part of no can’t you understand?” I don’t think she knew she was doing it, but she started petting me like a cat. I put an end to that.

That’s when they tag-teamed her. Snotlout played the role of the distraction: grabbing for me, being loud and annoying. Fishlegs was the sneaky one. He crept around to her other side, hoping to snatch me. But Astrid was too smart for that. As Fishlegs moved around her, her body shifted minutely, reacting to his. And when he lunged, she smoothly slid out of the way.

“It’s not happening, and that’s my final decision,” she said.

That . . . didn’t go over so well. They all protested, but Snotlout was the loudest. He proclaimed, “Hey, you don’t speak for all of us, and we all want to see Hiccup breathe fire, so that’s like four to one. Hah! Majority rules.”

The others cheered.

“Not for something as stupid as this,” said Astrid. I think that’s what she said, at least. I was a little distracted by a tickle in my nose.

Snotlout said, “Astrid, just chill, okay?” (I scrunched my nose up; the tickle was getting worse) “You’re not the boss of me.”

The tension suddenly thickened. It caught even me by surprise. Astrid had drawn herself up to her full height. They stared into each other’s eyes, like two dragons about to fight. It was weird, to say the least. Sure, Snotlout was being his usual irritating self, but this? This was definitely beyond the usual.

I was distracted from my thoughts by the itch, which had grown to the point where it was nearly painful. I pawed my snout, trying to press my claws in deep enough that the force would pass through the skin and scratch the inside part. Meanwhile, Astrid and Snotlout were still staring each other down.

Naturally, Fishlegs saw the opportunity to reach –

“Oh, no you don’t!” And the scuffle began anew. Somewhere along the way, my face was thrust into Snotlout’ furred shoulders. The strands poked into my nostrils, making the itch so-much worse.

Yep. This was a battle I was going to lose.

Thank Odin for Astrid. Somehow, even though she was dealing with Snotlout and Fishlegs, she still felt me stiffen. With a cry, she pulled me back and pointed me away from Snotlout, back toward the Great Hall –

Screk-CHOO!

A small, purple ball flew out of my mouth, narrowly missing the Great Hall. Instead, it proceeded toward the village . . .

There was a distant, faint boom. Followed by a moment of peace.

“Well, that was fun,” Snotlout announced. Feet already moving, he said, “Let’s talk later!”

He and the other teens took that chance to run for it. But then, a dark figure stepped in their paths. The sun shone from behind him, making the black on his clothes and helmet all the more darker. Two curved horns rose from that helmet, reaching skyward. The man had his arms crossed, and his heavy jaw was set into a scowl.

Snotlout rubbed the back of his neck. “Hey, Dad . . .”

Spitelout asked, “What was that?”

As one, the teens – except Astrid – pointed at me.

Astrid sighed. “He has a cold. Apparently, he sneezes fire.”

“Fire, huh?” Spitelout sounded decidedly amused. “Don’t you think you should turn him back before he destroys something?”

I blinked. Astrid echoed my confusion. “Sorry?”

“He’s nearly been a dragon for four days now,” Spitelout said. “It’s time for you to turn him back.”

“We would,” Astrid began, “but . . .”

Shrugging, armed with a grin, Ruffnut said, “We have no idea how.”

Spitelout didn’t say anything. Just looked at his son.

“I’m trying!” Snotlout complained. “But all this magic stuff is pretty crazy and –”

Spitelout cut over him. “We need him turned back by the end of the week. We’re leaving for the Chief Gathering in two weeks’ time, and he needs to polish Stoick’s presentation before then.”

“I’ll figure it out, okay, Dad?”

Spitelout didn’t even offer his son a nod. “Make sure you do.”

No one spoke as Spitelout walked away. Finally, Snotlout broke the silence with, “Let’s get going.”

Fishlegs said, “What about -?”

“Let’s go!” Snotlout said that, his scent spiking with the hot flavour of anger. The others quailed under that anger, all except Astrid whose scent spiked with its own brand of hotness.

“I’m staying,” she said stubbornly.

Before Snotlout could say anything, she straightened up again. Now, I understood. They weren’t two dragons about to fight, but two wolves trying to decide who was in charge. My absence, well, my metaphorical one, had opened up a hole in the group that no one was quite sure how to fill. Apparently, this was the result.

Well, it would only be for a few days. Soon enough, everything would be forgiven and forgotten.

Chapter Text

Basking in the sunlight, as it turned out, did wonders for sick dragons. I rose with the sun the next morning, healthy and raring to go. My legs twitched when I stood still; it was like my body knew I had missed an entire day and to make up for it, was determined to stuff all the adventures of two days into one. Thus far, I had chased five sheep, (caught one), pounced at and missed two mice, been chased by one particularly grumpy ram, and posed with an adoring crowd of five year-old fans. Now, I was in Astrid’s room. Which I guess means that I forgot to mention climbing up Astrid’s wall and through her window in my previous list.

You would think that living in a village full of free-roaming Terrors would have taught people to keep their windows shut. Nope. Not Astrid. So, I had crawled through her window, leaving below a tuckered-out Toothless. Stormfly had chirped at me, but otherwise left me alone.

My weight wasn’t enough to wake her. I settled on her abdomen, and watched the steady rise and fall of her chest. Gold hair fanned out around her head; it looked fine to me, but when she woke, I was sure she would call it a mess.

I didn’t have to wait too long. Astrid had always been an early riser. She shifted under the covers, and her lips parted slightly as she released a soft sigh. When her arms stretched out, that required enough movement that she finally noticed the foreign weight sitting on her. Blue eyes snapped opened, widened, and then relaxed again when she remembered whose mind inhabited the little dragon’s body.

“Hiccup.” She groaned and tried to pull the blanket over her head. “Go away. I’m a mess.”

I purred at her. Then grabbed the blanket and tried to tug it off. She flicked me in the face and chased me off.

“I’m up, I’m up.” As she had promised, she rose out of bed, touching the bedraggled strands of her hair. Her fingers then found her comb and she began to work.

“Hopefully, I don’t have to wake everyone else up,” she said absently. “I want to find the merchants before they get too far away. We’re going to look south for them. It’s nearing the end of autumn, so I think they’re probably going back to somewhere with warmer weather.”

A fair conclusion. I signalled my approval.

As she worked over a knot in her hair, she asked, “How are you feeling today?”

I purred. Then, figuring that wasn’t loud enough, I barked.

“That’s good.” For a brief moment, I was the recipient of an over-the-shoulder smile.

“So, does this mean I can come along?” I asked. When that didn’t work, I attempted to explain myself by squawking and flapping my wings really hard.

“Sure, you can come,” she said. “You can ride with me and Stormfly.”

That settled that. I spent the rest of her morning routine sniffing around her room or pestering Stormfly, up until she kicked us out so she could change. Stormfly, used to her rider’s need for privacy, just shook herself and wandered off to where a stew-filled cauldron – skause, I imagine - simmered over a small fire. It smelt of meat, various types of meat, and vegetables. Cabbage was the strongest of those.

Stormfly slurped up a few licks of the skause, and then poked her head out an open window. After a moment, she wrenched her head back, only for Toothless to fill the gap instead. Chin on the windowsill, he chuffed at her, and then rolled his head a little to stare at me. I walked over, barely managed to put my front paws on the sill, too, and although he already knew what I smelled like, he sniffed anyways.

Of course, he could have been reading my mood. As I was discovering, emotions tended to have their own distinctive scents. Anger was loud. Both in volume and the strength of its owner’s scent. Sadness was strong, too, but while anger tended to be like a knife in the nose, sadness was more pungent. Like walking into a cloud of smoke. It was a type of smell that was almost disturbing. No wonder our dragons hated to see us upset.

While we waited for Astrid, Toothless and I had a quick game of slapping each other’s paws. Stormfly tried to participate, but seeing how she went to bite us, I don’t think she really got it. That annoyed Toothless, so that by the time Astrid emerged, he and Stormfly were shrieking at each other.

“Both of you, shush!” she snapped. I looked at her innocently.

Astrid and Stormfly ate (after Stormfly defended her meal from a hopeful Toothless), and then we headed out to the Great Hall to meet the others. As I could have predicted earlier, we were the first ones there.

Astrid laid back on the slope. Her arms were behind her head, cradling it as she crossed one leg over the other. She confessed, “I’ll be glad when this is over. It’s so weird having you look like that.”

I grumbled in agreement. She added, “It’s really weird hearing you speak like that, too.”

I feigned insult.

“Oh, come on.” She pushed me lightly. “Most of the time, you barely even sound like a dragon. More like a sleep-talking Viking.”

Hey! I knew what sleep-talking Vikings sounded like, and I was sure my underdeveloped voice wasn’t able to make those kind of harsh, deep sounds . . . Astrid giggled at my expression.

“Okay, I do not sound like that,” I said. “Sure, maybe I mumble a lot, but it doesn’t sound anything like them!”

Ragh-grr-mmm,” went Astrid, as she mimicked what she accused me of sounding like.

“No, no.” I emphasized that with a shake of my head. “I chirp and squawk. See? Listen: I’m doing it right now!”

Ragh-grr-mmm.”

“Now you’re just making things up.”

I turned away from her, and held my chin high. Didn’t bother her too much. She was laughing. Strong, gentle finger skimmed over my back, lingering a little longer on the spot right between my wings.

She asked, “Did you just purr?”

I huffed. And stopped purring.

The other riders filed in slowly. The twins first, then Snotlout, and then finally, Fishlegs. The dragons seemed eager to go, even though Hookfang was sprawled across the grass, eyes half closed. Astrid grabbed me, seated herself, and then tucked me into her lap as Toothless watched. She, in her thoughtfulness, had brought along a little blanket for me to nestle into.

“Everyone set?” she asked.

“Hold on,” Fishlegs grunted.

She spared him five seconds. “Let’s go.”

We sprung into the air. Being as small as I was, my presence made no difference whatsoever to Stormfly. We rose above Berk, Toothless right next to us. He had his head tilted slightly to one side as he warbled curiously.

I asked, “You okay, bud?”

He took that as an invitation to swoop closer. He was off to the side a little, just below us, and turned upside-down as to keep an eye on us.

Astrid’s brow furrowed. “Uh, Toothless?”

He suddenly charged. He reached out for me, the same way he would to snag a fish, only to be warded off by Astrid’s quick reaction. Not like that bothered him much. He shifted just out of the way, and then reached for me again, flying so close to Stormfly that I could hear his wings smacking her in the head.

“Toothless!”

Stormfly snapped at him, annoyed by what she deemed as his harassment. Toothless hissed back. His groping became rougher, less considerate of accidently bumping Astrid and her dragon.

“Toothless, knock it off!” I let the annoyance seep into my voice. Even if he didn’t hear it, I knew he would smell it.

He just got annoyed back at me.

From behind us, Fishlegs shyly said, “Uh, I think Toothless wants Hiccup to ride with him.”

After that last impromptu flying lesson? I don’t think so. It had all been well and good before, but this time we were on a mission. Falling into the ocean was not part of that.

But Toothless insisted. He harassed Stormfly like a wolf pack robbing a bear, all full of bluff charges and nips. Eventually, he herded Stormfly right into the ground, where dirt splashed up as if we had crash-landed.

“Toothless!” Astrid threw her hands in the air, thoroughly exasperated.

Save for grumbling under his breath, Toothless ignored her. He stalked toward the grounded Nadder, and stuck his snout right into Astrid’s lap where I lay. Above us, the other riders circled.

“Astrid, just let Toothless take Hiccup,” Fishlegs said.

Offering his two cents, Tuffnut said, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

From atop his mighty steed, Snotlout called, “Hurry up. We got to get going!”

That seemed to irk her. Mumbling inaudible curses, she lifted me up and plopped me on Toothless’s back. His head shot up. His gums showed as he smiled.

He was actually well-behaved on the flight. He stayed at the forefront with Hookfang and Stormfly, occasionally dashing ahead to investigate one thing or another, before rounding back to join them. There was none of that spinning, or falling into the ocean, or sudden thoughts that now was the perfect time to teach his rider how to fly. Instead, he dutifully stayed with the flock, even though I could feel that he wanted to go faster.

Then, the flock split.

“Whoa!” Astrid spun around in her saddle. “Snotlout, where are you going?”

“To look for the witch’s home, duh!”

“We agreed to go south today!”

They agreed to that.” Steadily, Snotlout’s voice was growing distant. “I’m going east.”

“Snotlout!” When he failed to respond, Astrid smacked her fist on her saddle. “Fishlegs, go with him. Keep him out of trouble.”

Fishlegs and Meatlug separated from the group, going after the lone Snotlout. The twins looked at us uncertainly.

“We stay with the plan,” Astrid said. “South.”

“Maybe it would be better if we all split up,” Tuffnut said.

Astrid’s laugh was more of a snort. “Because that worked so well yesterday.”

The twins shrugged at each other, but offered no more objections.

It was quiet after. Astrid was visibly stewing from Snotlout’s defiance, and I don’t think the twins wanted to tangle with that. Her tension had spilled down into her dragon too, who was scanning the horizon carefully, as if worried some monster would rise out of the waves. Toothless cooed to her occasionally, and Stormfly would cluck her irritation back.

Of course, with the others growing distant, Toothless didn’t feel the need to stick around them so much. Which meant he had more time to concentrate on me. So far, there were no sudden acrobatics, but I could tell that he was being deliberate with every wingbeat – trying to set a good example.

“There,” Astrid suddenly said.

Sure enough, far off in the distance, nearly invisible thanks to the sunlight bouncing off the waves, there was a black thing above the water. More like a blob, if you ask me. It was just a smudge of black. But Vikings were people of the ocean above all else, and my instincts told me that speck was too small to be land, and too large to be a rock. Just to be sure though, Astrid whipped out a telescope and checked it out.

She didn’t say anything, but she spurred Stormfly onward and that was enough. We landed in the middle of the deck between the foremost and middle mast, ignoring how the sailors squawked and scattered.

One screeched, “Dragons! Vikings! Dragons riding Vikings!”

“It’s Vikings riding dragons, you dweeb,” Ruffnut said. Astrid gave her a look.

Even as we were surrounded and men pointed crossbows at us (Toothless arched his back and growled), Astrid calmly raised her hands. “It’s okay,” she said. “We’re from Berk.”

“Oh.” Those crossbows were lowered and relived sighs filled the air. Vikings . . . not all of them liked to drop by merchant ships to talk. Berk was an exception. We were known to be a friendly tribe, despite our former, long war with the dragons. Actually, it was directly related. When you spend all your time fighting dragons, then you usually don’t want to add other people to your list of enemies. So, by specializing in killing dragons, we indirectly gained a reputation for being peaceful.

I know. It’s a little difficult to wrap your head around.

“Berkians.” A grizzled, bearded man pushed his way through the crowds. He wore what appeared to be a bear-fur coat, and the pelt of an otter for a scarf. A wide captain’s hat cast shadows on his craggy brow, and made his already sunken eyes seemed even beadier. He looked tough. Exactly what a captain travelling through Viking-inhabited waters needed to be.

He looked all of us over with that vague air that tried to feign indifference. Still didn’t stop his eyes from lingering on Toothless and I. In a gruff voice that made it seem like his throat had been rubbed raw with a scraper, he said, “I see the rumours about your kin and the dragons are true.”

Astrid said, “They are.”

“You bet they are! Isn’t that right?” Making cooing noises, Ruffnut put her dragon in a playful headlock, and grinded her knuckles into one of his skulls.

The captain said nothing about the display. I noticed his hand twitch toward the knife at his belt. He asked, “Something you need?”

“We’re not here to barter,” Astrid said. She didn’t pay attention to the twins, who were trying to goad their dragon’s respective heads into a fight with each other. “We’re looking for information about a witch who lives somewhere northeast of here. Heard anything?”

“Recently? No,” the captain said. “A village made mention of one before, but that was months ago.”

Astrid glanced at me. I knew what she was thinking: it was the only lead we had.

As the captain pointed out the area to Astrid on her map, I took the time to lazily examine our surroundings. Although, as I mentioned earlier, the sailors had lowered their weapons, very few of them had put them away completely. They avoided our eyes, scurrying around us like mice scavenging near a sleeping cat. I guess that not everyone had realized that dragons were no longer a threat.

I could hear whispers. To a regular person, they would have been indistinguishable, but to a curious baby dragon? Easy. I zoomed in to their conversation, and listened.

“I’m telling you, look! Right there, on the big black one’s back, there’s a baby.”

Internally, I grinned. Oh, yes, there was. Even though said little dragon would much rather be a Viking. I couldn’t catch much of their scent from here, so I listened to their emotions instead. There were pinpricks of curiosity running along those words, no matter how wary they were of Toothless and the others.

Maybe, maybe I could . . .

I rolled off Toothless’s back. He jumped. I smiled at him, telling him it was okay. Snuffling, making a show of how uncoordinated and not dangerous I was, I wobbled over to the whispering sailors. They skittered away like I was a wave of boiling lava. I sighed. Walked toward them with more confidence. By now, others were raising alarms, but they were too uncertain to attack first, especially when I was so small and harmless.

“Hiccup!” Astrid hissed.

I cornered the sailors against the rail. Sat right at their feet, gave them a big-eyed stare, and chirped. Ruffnut found it cute, so I was hoping they would, too.

The sailors all looked at each other. One of the men I had cornered found his voice and asked, “So . . . do we touch it?”

“Hiccup . . .” Just when I was making progress, Astrid scooped me up. “Sorry about that. He’s curious.”

“It’s okay,” a sailor squeaked.

“Astrid, put me down! I think I can get through to these guys.”

“We’ll just go now,” Astrid said, making her way toward Stormfly with me.

“But –”

We took off. A few seconds passed before Toothless demanded custody of me again. Astrid handed me off without a word, and I kept my eyes fixed on the ship below.

Maybe next time.

Chapter Text

“So . . . how do you expect to find them?”

“I don’t know, Tuffnut!” Astrid snapped. “Maybe if someone hadn’t run off in the first place . . .”

“Whoa! I’m not Snotlout, so quit yelling at me.”

She cast her gaze forward. “Sorry.”

Our reflections shimmered in the waves as we flew overhead. The merchants had pointed us east of our original starting position, or in others words, where Snotlout and Fishlegs had gone. No sign of them yet, though. Just water, water and, yes, more water. Lovely.

“They couldn’t have gone that far,” Ruffnut said. “I mean it’s Meatlug.”

“It’s a big world,” Astrid said. “Who knows what weird thing caught their attention.”

Another fair point by my fair lady. Fishlegs was the most curious of us, and Snotlout was the most likely to ignore a mission. The combination of the two weren’t as likely to get into mischief as Snotlout and the twins were, but still not a great pair. Astrid and I were the only two who could keep Snotlout in line. And that was on a good day.

“There’s an isle up ahead,” Astrid said suddenly.

I knew what she was getting at. It had been a long way without land, and Fishlegs was a heavy rider even for Meatlug. Fishlegs would have probably insisted on a break, and as stubborn as Snotlout could be, there was a good chance he didn’t leave them behind.

It wasn’t much of an isle. Mostly water crashing against cliffs, rocky beaches, and a few prickly batches of plants. So, a lot like the shores around Berk, only without any trees. Astrid walked to the center of the place, a feat that took her a grand total of five seconds, and looked around. She put her hands on her hips.

“Well, if they were here, they aren’t anymore,” she said. “Anyone need to rest?”

“Nah.” Ruffnut grinned at Astrid from over Barf’s head. “We’re good. Right, Belch?”

“Uh, I’ll decide that.” Tuffnut grabbed Belch by the horn and examined him. “Yep. He’s fine.”

“What about you, Stormfly?” Stormfly clucked happily as Astrid rubbed her neck. “Toothless?”

Toothless gave her a smug look. Toothless and I, we could fly for days. Now that I was miniaturized, he could go even longer.

Just when Toothless arched his wings in preparation of a take-off, I spotted something. I jumped off his back, squawked and ran over to the object of my investigation: footprints.

“Look at these,” I said to Astrid, even though she couldn’t understand me. I ran the point of my claw around the heel of the prints. “They went that way.”

Astrid followed the trail, noting where the prints disappeared and which way they were facing when they did. “They were here. They went this way,” she said. I could see her eyes brighten.

But before we could really celebrate, Ruffnut said, “Uh, guys, apparently they went this way, too.”

“What?” Astrid ran over, and checked out the trail there. “Ugh! They split up!”

What a surprise.

“You go after Snotlout,” she said to the twins. “I’ll take Fishlegs.”

Before I could voice my surprise, Astrid swung herself onto Stormfly and left. The twins departed shortly after. Toothless and I stared at each other.

“Uh, let’s follow Astrid?” I flicked my ears in that direction.

Toothless shrugged.

We caught up quickly. I tugged on Toothless’s ear, urging him to get close enough to Astrid so that I could hop onto her. Toothless huffed and scowled a lot, but since I had chosen to swap dragons, he didn’t seem to think he had permission to snatch me.

I crooned, looking up at Astrid curiously. Sending the twins after Snotlout was not a decision I expected of her. I definitely would have assigned them to Fishlegs.

She took a deep breath. She told me, “I don’t want to face him right now. They can handle him.”

Okay. Whatever she said. I’m not sure I believed that, though.

She squinted suddenly. “Hey, is that Fishlegs?”

I looked. There was a small blob bobbing up and down in the distance. Judging by the pattern of their flight, it was probably those two.

“They’re coming back,” she said softly, almost in alarm. “I don’t see anything chasing them.”

Even still, we stayed alert. Astrid kept one hand on the axe at her belt, even though it wasn’t much use when you were riding a dragon. A spicy, sour smell wafted from her –adrenaline, maybe. I wasn’t experienced enough to know – and it had the two dragons up in arms. Toothless immediately declared his guardianship over me. Stormfly even helped him take me back; she tipped just enough for his greedy paws to reach.

When Fishlegs and Meatlug reached us, Astrid demanded, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yeah?” He said the word slowly, as if unsure whether we would understand Norse. “Why?”

“I just thought . . . never mind. Where’s Snotlout?”

Fishlegs winced. “Uh, I might not . . .”

“I told you to keep an eye on him.”

“I did. Uh, I mean I am! We’re meeting up at this little island over there.”

“And how long do you think it’ll take him to get back?” she asked dryly.

Fishlegs didn’t answer.

When we got back to the isle, it was empty. Surprise. Astrid made a show of looking around. She said nothing, but she didn’t need to. She ended up sitting on the cliff side, wave-tips leaping at her feet, while she ran her hand down the shaft of her axe. It was a nervous tic of hers. And a worried one. And an violent one. My bet was that her current feelings were leaning toward the latter.

In a much shorter timespan than I had expected, we saw them on the horizon. Snotlout, his helmet hanging half off his head, swooped in on his trusty Hookfang, one hand raised in a slight wave as if he was a king saluting his commoners.

“Where were you?” Astrid demanded as she marched up to him. She at least had the foresight to put her axe away.

Contrary to what I had expected, Snotlout didn’t get mad. He smiled at her – a cutting, smug smile, yes, but still a smile. He said, “Just solving the mystery.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that I,” he jabbed his thumb into his chest, “found it.”

A short pause.

“Found what?” Fishlegs asked.

“The witch’s house, duh!”

What!

Snotlout ignored Astrid’s outburst. “Now quit slacking and follow me.”

Astrid was still struggling to speak, even as Fishlegs and the twins took off with Snotlout. Toothless looked at me questioningly.

I tugged at her shoe. She only murmured, “How . . . ?”

“We can ask that later,” I barked at her. “They’re going to leave us behind.”

She couldn’t understand me, but she still snapped out of her daze. Under her breath, she mumbled, “Talk about dumb luck.”

The ride to the witch’s house was . . . hostile. By all rights, Snotlout should have led the way. As much as I loved Astrid, he was the one who actually knew where he was going. Astrid wasn’t so keen on that. She wanted Snotlout to tell her where to go, and then fall back so that she could lead. And she wasn’t quiet about it. Snotlout just sneered and said not so polite things to her and . . . oh boy. It was a mess. I swear if Stormfly and Hookfang weren’t deliberately keeping distance between them, their riders would have tried throwing a few punches.

And the rest of us? Well, we just mostly huddled back and pretended not to exist. Those of us that had a choice, that is. Unlike Meatlug and Barf and Belch, Toothless wasn’t intimidated by the loud voices. Nope. He just got more and more worked up, and he buzzed around Astrid and Snotlout, snapping his teeth together in midair. It unnerved the dragons, but those two didn’t really notice.

Finally – finally – we reached our destination. Nothing fancy. Just a beaten, one-room hut on the first island in the chain of the Mazy Multitudes. It was perched upon a crag like some plump, old raven, and there was a path leading down from the hut to a rickety dock at the water shore. The boat itself was missing.

“So lucky,” Astrid repeated.

We landed. Astrid was the first to approach the house, Stormfly at her shoulder. I would have been with her, but she had signalled Toothless – that traitor! – to keep me back. Snotlout babbled to Ruffnut about how he would protect her.

Astrid took a second to study the locked door, then went for the very Viking method of just kicking the thing open.

Another second.

“Seems safe enough,” she said.

Tuffnut walked past her and through the door. He said, “Are we sure this is the right . . . whoa!”

Tuffnut’s question turned into a yelp. He jumped back violently. On its rope, the skull still swung from when he had bumped into it.

Astrid moved toward it. “Is that . . . is that a dragon skull?”

As if they understood her, all the dragons stared at that skull. By size alone, it would have either had to belong to a Terror, or a very young dragon. Meatlug whimpered and huddled against Fishlegs. Toothless growled. His tail wound around me as he glared at the area around us.

“Toothless, it’s fine.” I rubbed up against his chest. “She’s dead, remember?”

He didn’t stop growling. I would have done something about that, but the spikey scents of wariness and mistrust distracted me. By this point, Hookfang was snarling, too. Barf and Belch were whistling their ‘Where are you, threat?’ song, and Stormfly had gone perfectly still. The mistrustful scents started to emit from their riders too, as they noticed their dragons’ body language.

“Maybe we should leave,” Fishlegs said.

Astrid looked like she was on the verge of agreeing with him. The twins were impossible to read. And Snotlout?

“You’re all a bunch of babies.” He shoved his way past Tuffnut, and into the room beyond. Hookfang did not go after him.

Guess that was our job.

It was dark inside. Would have been a great time to have Inferno. Fishlegs found the shutters quickly and opened them. Motes of dust floated peacefully in the ray of light that entered, and that little bit of light was enough comfort for Meatlug to waddle in. Toothless was already with me.

The hut smelt of dirt and moss, of wilderness. And decay. I could taste it in the back of my mouth. Other than the skull, I couldn’t see anything that would be emitting that scent, but it was there. It was everywhere. There was one foreign human scent - the witch herself, I presume - but it was fairly weak. I’m going to assume that’s why Toothless wouldn’t let me leave his side. His teeth were still showing; his wings were arched in an automatic act to make him look bigger.

There was a bed against a wall, and lots of shelves filled with dried plants, liquid-filled flasks, and all sorts of crazy things. It was like someone had crammed my work area in the forge together with Fishlegs’ kitchen. A wooden table lay against another wall, and there was a knife sticking out of its surface. At the back, where a stack of cages.

“Hiccup, look!” Though aimed at me, the tone of Astrid’s voice was enough to grab the attention of everyone. She ran right to the back of the hut, and wrenched open the door to a small cage. Something inside squirmed –

I smelt dragon. And fear. There was something else as well, like that decaying stench, but not. Definitely a relative of it though, and it made my mind go somewhere dark.

I wonder if dragons could smell when something was dying.

In the cage, the Terror hissed. She kept pushing backwards, like she thought if she pushed hard enough, she would pass right through the cage and wall. Astrid was trying to shush her, but the sounds were just freaking out the Terror more.

“Everyone, back off!” I ordered.

They did the complete opposite.

I nudged Toothless. He huffed, and then shoved the others back with his head, giving me a clear path to the Terror.

I climbed onto the table. “Hey, it’s okay. We’re friends. We’re here to help.”

The Terror cocked her head. She was panting heavily, eyes wide, but she wasn’t hissing. Okay, right. Language barrier. What was a non-threatening sound . . .?

I chuffed.

The panting slowed. She sniffed. I wanted to tell her that the witch that had caged her was dead, but the closest I could get was by flicking my ears at the others, and then at that skull. She nodded when I did that.

Okay, I think she thought I was asking whether people had killed that dragon . . . this wasn’t really working. I tried to tell her instead that we were good people, but she didn’t understand me.

Toothless must have though, because he suddenly purred very loudly and rubbed up against Astrid. Meatlug followed suit with her rider. Fishlegs looked confused, but he gave her a gentle pat on the side.

“See, it’s okay,” I crooned. “They won’t hurt you.”

Some more crooning and similar displays either, I convinced her to crawl out of the cage. She moved slowly; I could tell she was starving.

Fishlegs was the first to pick up on that. As always, he had some food stashed away in his pockets, and offered that to the little Terror. She refused to touch it until Fishlegs put it down and backed away.

“Poor little guy,” Astrid murmured.

“I got water, too.” Fishlegs’ voice was high, like he was dealing with an angry Nightmare. “Here.”

When he untied his water skin, the Terror cried out. In her haste to get to the water, she even forgot her fear of Vikings, and Fishlegs couldn’t even find something to pour it in before the Terror tried to tear apart the leather with her teeth.

“Wait, don’t do that! Uh, use this!” He poured some water into his helmet and left it for the Terror to drink.

It was pitiful, watching her. Even more when she tried to growl and threaten the others. I really wish I could have talked to her.

But before I could even consider that, Stormfly squawked loudly from outside. Hey, over here!

Astrid nearly burst through the wall. I couldn’t blame her; we were all on edge. Toothless didn’t seem any more agitated though, so Stormfly couldn’t have been alerting us to something dangerous.

Stormfly was stock-still. Her tail and neck were parallel to the ground, so that she resembled an arrow. That arrow would have been pointing in the direction of Barf and Belch, who were watching Hookfang as he dug a hole.

As I approached, the stench of death hit me.

Not just me. All of us recoiled. Snotlout was the first to brave his way through the invisible miasma, and peer into the hole.

“Gross!” He stumbled back. “There’s bones in there.”

Quietly, Astrid asked, “What kind of bones?”

That . . . was Fishlegs’ job. We all looked away as he sifted through Hookfang’s hole.

“Some of them are dragon,” he whispered. “Most aren’t. They were probably food for the dragons.”

“ . . . This is bad, right?” Tuffnut asked.

Face green, Fishlegs mumbled something incoherent. He ran back into the hut.

There was a shriek from inside. From the Terror, most likely, reacting to Fishlegs’ reappearance. A second later, Meatlug waddled out, the Terror attached to her back. Out in the daylight, she looked even more wretched. Maybe her scales were naturally that mottled colour, but I had the feeling it wasn’t natural.

She didn’t stick around long – too many humans for her – and her absence left a silence that couldn’t be filled. Either the birds had stopped singing, too, or we had all grown temporary deaf to their songs. Instead, there was the whistle of wind dipping and diving through the trees, and the creaking of some +ancient tree.

At least the dragons had calmed down. They were still nervous, but no longer acting like someone was lurking in the woods, ready to attack. The riders, on the other hand, if anything, were worse. Astrid was keeping a brave face, but I could smell her anxiety beneath it all. None of that was expressed in her voice, though.

“We need to talk to the villages around here,” Astrid said. “Someone’s got to know what’s going on . . . not you, Hiccup. You’re not coming.”

I pouted.

She said, “They’re probably not dragon friendly, remember?”

Right. The pains of being a little fire-breathing lizard.

“Hey!” Fishlegs jogged up to us. In his clammy hand, he held a stack of parchment. “I’ll go back with him, too.”

“You, too? Why, are you scared?” Snotlout jeered.

“No . . .” Fishlegs waved the parchment in front of our faces. “But I found some kind of research notes, and the ride will give me time to look over them.”

Astrid thought over that. “Okay, sure. I was probably going to do most of the talking anyways.”

I tugged at Fishlegs’ pants, wanting to know if he found anything interesting.

He flipped through the papers. “Some of these are old. Like before we met our dragons.”

“That long?” A sharp note of suspicion made itself known in Astrid’s tone. “What are they about?”

Fishlegs shrugged. “I haven’t looked at them enough to say.”

Astrid nodded at him. “Read them. I want to know everything those notes say.”

Chapter Text

Meatlug had always been the slowest of the dragons. And as you can imagine, that didn’t go over well with Toothless, the fastest of the dragons. He would have been able to live with it, but Meatlug also wasn’t as chatty as Stormfly or Barf and Belch. Which basically boils down to: Toothless plus Meatlug equals a very bored Toothless. Which meant I was counting down the seconds until he began to focus on me.

Right now, Toothless was making large, lazy swoops. They were U-shaped, ending a few yards above Fishlegs and his dragon, and passing underneath them. Toothless was barely even flying; he just fell with his wings extended, and let the lift his speed generated carry him back up to the top. Occasionally, his wake would rustle the unearthed pages in Fishlegs’ hands, although Fishlegs himself didn’t seem to notice.

“She was studying them for a really long time,” Fishlegs said. “Look, she even knew about the Red Death!”

“And didn’t tell anyone? She sounds like a wonderful individual.”

“Looks like she knew that the Red Death was controlling them, too.”

“Again, sounds wonderful.”

“I wonder why,” he said. “I don’t think she would have done all of this just out of curiosity.”

I swallowed. I had ideas. None of them were what you would call good. Which was fitting, seeing that the witch had attacked us anyways.

“Whoa!” I pressed myself against Toothless’s body as he nearly went upside down at the end of his loop. He glanced over his shoulder, curious gaze passing over my face.

I knew what that stare meant.

It was the beginning of the end.

“Toothless, I really don’t want to . . . no, don’t chirp at me! We’re on a mission, right now. No time for . . .”

“Whoa!” That was from Fishlegs this time, not me. The sentiment was the same though, as he said that after watching Toothless try to buck me off.

“Toothless!” At that moment, l looked not like a little dragon, but the human I very much was. I had wrapped my arms around one of his ears, clutched it tight to my chest, and stared at the ground with wide eyes as I hung on for life itself. Toothless just thought I was being silly.

He turned over. I could feel my grip slipping, so I automatically bit down on his ear. After a few seconds left, that’s all I had left. I was hanging in mid-air, attached to Toothless by my teeth.

Through a mouthful of dragon, I said, “Toothless, let me up!”

He flipped back, but then he started tossing his head, trying to dislodge me that way. Thank you, teeth. They were the only thing between me and a terrible fate.

“Are you two okay?” Fishlegs called.

I rolled my eyes. I tried to say ‘fantastic’, but I think it came out more like: “uh-aa-ic”.

But my brilliant comeback had distracted me. I found myself biting empty air, and Toothless flashed me a victorious grin. I staggered as the slope of his shoulders became uneven.

“Toothless . . . !”

The angle steepened –

“Toothless, no!

The snarl came unbidden from my chest, bouncing from side to side of my throat like a startled rabbit. It was guttural and lasting, vibrating through the air long after I stopped. Deeper than a regular growl; fiercer than I thought a dragon like me could sound like. And would wonders ever cease, Toothless listened. His roll stopped, and his ears flattened against his head as he whined. It was what I liked to call his pouty mode.

I noticed Fishlegs was staring at me.

“Sorry,” he said bashfully. “That’s just the first time that you actually sounded like a dragon.”

In an odd way, I was flattered. Throw what you could at old Hiccup, and he would find a way to make use of it. At the same time, I felt guilty that one of the first things I had ‘said’ to Toothless had been in the form of a snarl.

I didn’t know how to say sorry, so I went for the closest thing. I rubbed my head against the back of his. I love you.

It was hard for him to stretch and rub back against me, so instead he chuffed. Hello.

Then he chirped. This time though, it was softer. A question rather than a demand. I pressed myself to his back, making my position on the topic very clear.

He made a sound I couldn’t translate.

I had a sneaking suspicion it meant: next time.


 

Fishlegs was consumed by those papers. He read them all the way home; he was still reading them when Stoick greeted and asked us about our search. He ended up walking into his front door because he was so busy reading them. Somehow, though, we had made it to his room. Now he was lying back on his bed, still reading. Meatlug dozed across his legs. I had no idea how she didn’t crush them.

“It’s control!” he said suddenly. He tried to jump up, but could only do so much with Meatlug’s bulk atop him. “That’s what she wanted; she was experimenting on the dragons because she wanted control over them.”

From where I was on the foot of the bed, I cocked my head. Toothless laid his chin on the frame.

“It’s not like us,” he further elaborated. “She didn’t want to tame dragons. She wanted to control them. Like the Queen did.”

The difference didn’t surprise me much. From what I had seen, the witch had kept her dragons in cages, and when you did that, of course they would act like mindless animals. They wouldn’t have acted like their true gentle selves. So, it was only natural she wouldn’t have known that dragons had a mind of their own.

A while later, Toothless and I perked up when we heard Astrid outside the house. She ended up letting herself in, seeing that Meatlug had Fishlegs pinned. And I was right at the door to greet her; I bounced around her feet like an overexcited puppy. Toothless chuffed.

She picked me up. “Not much happened on our end,” she said. “Just wait. I’ll tell you both together.”

Fishlegs didn’t even notice when we walked back in. He was scanning through the papers, mouth half-open in an expression of awe. It took Astrid clearing her throat to finally get an acknowledgement out of him.

He told her what he told me, about the control. She took it all in with a neutral expression. She asked if the witch had succeeded, to which he answered no.

“Great.” The bed rustled when she sat on it. “At least you found something. All we learned was that the Ferocious Fiends used to sell captive dragons to her. But then the Red Death happened, and the dragons didn’t come into their village for them to capture anymore, so now? Nothing.”

“Then how did she get the Terror?”

“It’s just a Terror,” Astrid said. “She could have trapped it herself.”

“Okay, so it’s back to square one. Where’s everyone else?”

She pointed her chin toward the window. “Outside. They said they had something important to do.”

Snotlout and the twins? I was doubting that. As for why, let’s just say that we had a radically different definition of ‘important’. That was why I had a desire to look out the window for them and . . .

Hey, they were right there.

Ruffnut waved me down, visibly stifling a snicker. Next to her, her twin put a finger to his lips. Snotlout grinned widely, hands grasping something behind his back.

I glanced back at the others. When I looked back at the trio, they all shook their heads.

Right . . . this couldn’t possibly go wrong. But at least I think I got to be a prankee this time, instead of the pranked. I mean with this whole dragon situation and all, I deserved a break. Right?

I snuck out of the house, but that didn’t mean I went directly toward them. Okay, I did. But I kept distance between us. As much as I trusted them to have my back . . . I really didn’t trust them.

Good thing, too. Because if their smiles were telling me anything, they had no plans to make me a partner-in-crime.

“What’s going on?” I backed away, mindful of how their shadows seemed to reach out for me.

“Nothing!” Snotlout said that much too happily for my liking.

They were lying. That was obvious. I just didn’t know what they were lying about . . . but I did have my secret weapon: my enhanced senses. I took a deep breath, shuffled through their individual scents, and zoomed in one that I didn’t recognize –

Whoa.

It was warm and gentle, yet also red-hot and as sharp as a blade. Like the smell of sunlight. It shocked every nerve in my body; static danced along my skin. I paid no more mind to my earlier suspicions and crept closer to the trio.

What was that smell?

The scent grew stronger. I shuddered deep in my bones. It was . . . beautiful. I could feel myself floating away . . .

Oh, wait. I was just leaning back on my hind legs. I don’t remember doing that.

“Whoa, it’s actually working!” Snotlout laughed. His hand moved to his front and opened –

That was it. There it was. It was everything I ever dreamed of . . . I couldn’t actually see it that well; the smell had overwhelmed my senses and the world was so bright and pretty, but I knew it was there. Snotlout waved it over my head, and I followed it –

Whoops. Just fell over. Heh, funny. I’m funny.

Where did it go? I followed my nose, ending up right at Snotlout’s feet. It was still in his hand, higher up. Sure. I could work with this.

Argh! Dude, that hurts!”

He was sure moving a lot. That’s okay. That’s what claws were for. I dug them in deeper and climbed.

He threw it. Why would he do that?

But it was mine now. I pounced. Rubbed my face in it. So perfect. I just wanted to gobble it all up and make a nest out of it. All for me. Mine.

Upside down, I purred, “I love you guys.”

The twins were staring at Snotlout’s leg. He had pulled his pants up, revealing a couple of red scratches. Oops. Was that from me? It probably was. Bad Night Fury.

Night Fury?

“Toothless! Hey, Toothless! Where are you, you big oaf?”

Toothless burst out of the house. He stopped short.

“Isn’t it wonderful?”

Toothless joined me in rolling around.

“ . . . Hiccup?”

I slurred, “Astriiiiiiidddd!”

She stepped toward us. “What are you doing?”

“Just enjoying life.”

She scowled. And turned on the others. “You!”

I frowned. She sounded mad. Why was she mad?

“You gave him Dragon Nip?”

Ohhhh. So that’s what it was. Dragon Nip. Got to remember to grab myself some.

“It was Fishleg’s idea!” Snotlout shouted. His voice was all wobbly and funny. “He was the one who suggested I try it.”

Tuffnut added, “Yeah, we’re going to try the eel next.”

What?” Astrid sprung between Toothless, me and them, arms held out as if to shield me. “You are not going to poison him!”

“We’re not poisoning him; we’re just going to see if he’s scared of it.”

I didn’t quite catch Astrid’s response. Everyone’s voice was weird and it took way too much focus to listen. But she was mad. Very mad. It was distracting. She just needed to take a deep breath and relax . . . she needed some Dragon Nip. Dragon Nip was amazing. It made everything better.

No, Toothless. Stop complaining. Astrid’s on the Sharing List.

“Astrid!” I grabbed a few strands of the Dragon Nip and walked over to her. I accidentally crushed them. Juice trickled into my mouth and . . . and . . .

What was I talking about again?

Hey, look at all the bright lights.

I tried to grab one. Astrid held me against her chest. She smelled nice . . . ugh, my head hurt. Too much at once.

Astrid hissed, “Well, let’s see what Stoick thinks about this.”

Snotlout made a weird squeaking sound.

Tuffnut held his hands up. “Okay, no need for that.”

“Come on, Hiccup.” Toothless and I both cried out when she stuffed the Dragon Nip in her pocket.

Everything was kind of a blur after that. I hung limply in Astrid’s arms, still holding onto the memory of that perfect moment. I missed that Dragon Nip.

Astrid sighed, and said, “You are going to be so embarrassed. Yes, I’m being serious. You can stop purring. Once you sleep off whatever that stuff did to you, I don’t know how you’re going to show your face.”

I just purred. Silly Astrid. Everything was perfect.

Chapter Text

“I said quiet!”

Dad’s voice cleaved into my brain like a wedge. Again. This time though, I wasn’t going to blame him. It was the only way to be heard over this crowd of rowdy Vikings. Not that all of them listened.

It seemed like every Viking above the age of ten had been stuffed into the Great Hall. Body heat and sweat-turned-vapour had turned the place into an oven. On a different day, we might have propped the doors open to get rid of the excess heat – and the smell – but it was nasty out, and we didn’t want rain, or dragons seeking shelter, to get in. There were enough of us in here already.

With no windows, you couldn’t actually see what the weather was like outside, but the humidity was undeniable, and the occasional clap of thunder rolled over the building. There was a drip in the corner, slowly filling a bucket that had been placed there just for this situation. I wouldn’t mind taking a dip in that.

He roared again: “Everyone QUIET!”

The chattering started to die. The ruckus broke into smaller groups huddled at the ends of their tables. Most of the Vikings were sitting, but not Dad. He prowled behind the Head Table, tossing his head from side to side like an angry ox. Gobber stood back at the corner, waiting for his cue as he always did. Astrid was at the Head Table too, seated, speaking in my place. And to remind everyone of that, I was on the tabletop in front of her. For that reason only. Not for any other. Seriously.

Dad ceased pacing. He rested his hands on the table, and leaned on those for support. “Now, I know we have a bit of a situation here . . .”

“A ‘bit’?” someone shouted. “We leave for the Chief Gathering in two days! How are we supposed to explain that the chief’s son had turned into a dragon?”

“We don’t.” Dad said that nice and slowly, putting enough force into that second word that you would have thought he was thrusting a knife into someone’s chest.

“Then how do we explain his absence?”

Gobber shrugged. A fishbone stuck out from between his teeth as he said, “Eh, we’ll just tell them that he’s back at home. Tell them that there’s some sort of sickness going around and he needs to run the place.”

To my surprise, Snotlout spoke. -“Uh, we already used that excuse three times before, remember?”

I blinked. They did? When was this? Dad and Gobber were occupied, so I looked back at Astrid for an explanation. She avoided my eyes.

“Doesn’t matter,” Dad said. “They’ve seen Hiccup these last couple of years. They know we have no reason to lie anymore.”

Lie . . . anymore? What? A feeling of being ignored swept over me; I was almost getting the feeling that Dad had forgotten I was sitting at (on) the table in front of him.

“Just tell them the truth,” Gobber said. “Say there’s a big problem at home involving dragons, and Hiccup is off dealing with it.”

Astrid piped up. “We’re trying to promote peace with dragons. Not give them yet another reason to hate each other.”

“Astrid’s right,” Dad said. “They’ll be looking for any reason to start up another war. We stick with our first idea.”

Spitelout leaned forward. “That may work, but you’re forgetting the bigger part of the problem: the Night Fury. Without Hiccup, we don’t have a dragon to show.”

“Uh, excuse me, but I’m sitting right here,” Snotlout protested. “Me and Hookfang can put on just as good a show as Hiccup and his dragon can!”

“Yeah.” Ruffnut’s voice hitched a little when she snickered. “We’ll show them.”

I heard Astrid groan. When I glanced back, her forehead was resting in her palm.

She said, “Fishlegs and I will present the dragons.”

But Spitelout wasn’t done. “It was going to be the Night Fury that won them over.”

“Stoick, can’t you control the beast?” someone asked.

“To an extent. But Toothless obeys Hiccup above all others, and I doubt the dragon is willing to leave him.” Wood creaked under Dad’s weight. He wiped his brow as he scanned the crowd. “They’re expecting to see a Night Fury. To come with anything less . . .”

Astrid’s touch passed across my shoulders. She was staring at me thoughtfully, biting down on her lower lip. I could see the light of an idea growing in her eyes.

She stood suddenly, and walked in front of the Head Table. “So, we’ll give them a Night Fury. We’ll give them a Night Fury that’s perfectly trained; a Night Fury who’s perfectly at ease in a crowd.”

Stoick frowned. “I don’t think Toothless is that sociable . . .”

“No, not Toothless! Hiccup. We give them Hiccup.”

With that dramatic announcement, a hundred eyes were on me. Astrid swung around, pointing at me, just in case people had somehow missed the dragon sitting on the table. I tried to smile; I unsheathed my teeth a second later.

“That could work,” Dad said.

Gobber grinned. “You up for show biz, Hiccup?”

I waggled my shoulders, and tried to spit out a little fire. But all I ended up with was a little drool. I don’t think anyone noticed.

“Then that’s settled.” A loud thump echoed through the Hall as Dad slammed his fist down. “We take Hiccup with us.”

Fishlegs put his hand up. “What about our dragons?”

“I’d rather we avoid any shenanigans.” Even as he said that, Dad’s lip had curled into a little smile. “Leave them here.”

As he marched toward the exit, Dad called out, “Prepare the ships. We leave at noon tomorrow.”


 

The storm had ended. The clouds had faded from an intense black to a darker grey. The trees were heavy with rainwater; every gust sent another barrage to the ground. Little beads gathered between individual blades of grass, glinting in the light like a sheet of fireflies.

Fog rose when we breathed. The moisture was thick enough that Ruffnut was occasionally compelled to grab a handful of her hair and squeeze it, as if she had just been swimming. Our steps echoed; most of the dragons were still hiding from the nonexistent rain, and the village was emptier than I had ever seen in months. The dragons’ feeding stations were filled to the brim with water, and in some cases, fish corpses had spilled out onto the cobblestone. Toothless, one of the few still outside (he had been perched on top of the Great Hall), happily guzzled up those in his path. He seemed to glide across the ground from shadow to shadow, like the champion of the night he really was. I was a little jealous.

“That could have gone a lot worse,” Astrid said.

“This time, there wasn’t even any yelling,” Tuffnut said, sounding disappointed. He shivered. “It’s cold out.”

“Then let’s go burn something,” Ruffnut suggested.

At the same time, Astrid and I said, “Not anything that doesn’t belong to you.”

Ruffnut rolled her eyes. “You’re no fun.”

“Then stick around,” Astrid said. “You’ll get fire.”

. . . What?           

Astrid led us purposefully out and away from the village . . . for some reason. I wasn’t too clear on her plan. There would be fire, that I knew. But why?

I frolicked ahead of them, spending some time slithering around in a mud puddle . . . so I could go back and rub up against Snotlout and the twins. Hah! I think it was Tuffnut that once said it: revenge is sweet. And I needed some kind of revenge after that incident with the Dragon Nip yesterday. It had been bad enough with Astrid there while I was at home still under its effects, but then Dad walked in . . . I honestly don’t remember much, but according to Astrid there was lots of swaying and chewing of beards.

Anyways. Revenge, It worked on Snotlout. The twins just made fun of each other, and then got it in their heads to start a mud-fight. All of us, not just me, ran away from the wrestling siblings. You never know when they would decide to stop fighting and decide to team up on someone else.

We stopped in the middle of an open field. Astrid silently communicated with Fishlegs, and then took a deep breath.

“Alright, this is it,” she said. “Time to get started.”

“Uh, what exactly are we going?” Snotlout asked.

“If Hiccup’s going to go on that ship, he needs to figure out how to control his flame.” She smiled at me. “Not that I don’t trust you, Hiccup, but I don’t want to take a chance when we’re on a wooden ship in the middle of the ocean.”

Fair enough. No offense would be taken.

“Okay . . . so go!” She clapped her hands together.

I stared at her.

I coughed.

“You did it before.” She couldn’t keep the whine out of her voice.

“Well . . .” Fishlegs wrung his hands together in front of him. “He didn’t really. He was sneezing. It seemed more like an involuntary action.”

“Great. Just what we needed.”

I felt my ears droop. Astrid was right: we needed to get this fire problem dealt with before tomorrow. But I had no idea where to start – and I was the dragon! Granted, I wasn’t a real dragon but –

Toothless!

I squawked. Pay attention to me. I had no idea if dragons even had a sound that referred to fire, so I hacked and tried to mimic spitting a fireball. Toothless cocked his head to one side, and then the other. His throat clenched as he made part of his harsh, laughter sound.

I nodded. I think he understood –

He promptly spat up half a fish on my head.

Never mind.

The fish splatted against the ground.

Behind me, I heard Snotlout say, “So, let’s just make him sneeze.”

The next thing I knew, there was a piece of grass under my nose. Snotlout was tickling it.

Astrid pulled him away. “Are you trying to get your hand burned off?”

“At least I’m doing something!”

I left them to their squabble. As much as they seemed to need it, it wasn’t really helping. I sucked in a deep breath, blew it out sloooowly . . . that didn’t do much either. Huh. This might be harder than I thought. Snotlout might actually be on to something with that whole ‘make him sneeze’ thing. At least then I would have a starting point.

Making yourself sneeze was harder than it looked; Toothless was looking at me with concern. Couldn’t blame him too much. I sounded like I was dying. Plus, even though I wasn’t actually sneezing, my body still twitched like I was.

Toothless poked me.

“I’m fine!” I complained. “Just getting a little frustrated, that’s all.”

My next attempt ended up with a string of drool hanging from my mouth. I decided that was enough.

“How do dragons learn to do it?” Astrid was asking.

“Oh!” Fishlegs practically jumped to his tiptoes. “From what I see, they just kind of seem to stumble into it. Like one day they suddenly realize they can breathe fire, and that’s it!”

“Wonderful,” I said. My chin hit the ground. Smelled earthy.

“Hiccup, we’ve got to figure this out somehow.” Astrid’s fingers gently pinched the scruff of my neck and pulled me off the ground.

I stared at her, trying to communicate that I had no ideas.

“Maybe he just needs some encouragement.” Before I knew what was happening, Ruffnut had me. Most of her left half was soaked with mud, and both of the forearms she was using to hold me.

This would not turn out well.

“Come on!” she hissed, shaking me a little. “We want fire.”

“Fire! Fire!” Tuffnut chanted.

I blew a bit of hot air into her face, but otherwise did nothing.

“Hiccup!”

Ruffnut wasn’t like Astrid; she wasn’t gentle. She didn’t hold, she squeezed. She had her arms hooked underneath my armpits from behind, so that I dangled like a sack of potatoes. It wasn’t pleasant. At the same time I felt her grip was too tight, it was also too loose and I thought I was at risk of slipping to the ground. My ribs ached from the strain.

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Astrid said, sounding amused.

I squirmed. The weight of my tail jerked me from side to side. Ruffnut didn’t adjust her grip once. Instead, the hard bar of her arm dug deep into my chest, and something automatically shifted to accommodate –

Wait, what?

I frowned. Something had moved . . . but I couldn’t feel anything amiss. I felt normal. Well, as normal as I could be, given the situation. But something had moved . . .

I did it again.

There was something in my chest. Not a living thing – that would be creepy – but some kind of muscles Now that I had noticed them, they were as easy to move as my shoulders were. Not that I would be rotating these ones or anything; these weird chest muscles seemed to only be able to clench and unclench.

. . . First my mostly automated tail, then the muscles controlling my wings and now this? What other weird things were hiding in my body?

I couldn’t answer that, so I focused on something I could: What did those muscles do? They seemed to be naturally clenched, so I left them unclenched for a while.

It quickly became apparent that keeping them that way stopped me from breathing.

Okay. Great. Plenty of useful things there. Suffocating myself was always an excellent –

Wait a second. Why would dragons have a means to cut off their air, unless . . .

Oh. Oh yes.

My mouth cracked into a grin. I set my eyes on Snotlout’s helmet, aimed –

Fire!

It went slightly off course. Didn’t hit him, but whipped right past his head. No one realized what was going on at first, until a tree a little ways behind us suddenly caught on fire. Then five pairs of eyes sought me out.

“Hiccup, was that you?”

I grinned and spat another fireball – at the ground this time. The twins cheered.

“Okay, that’s one thing done,” Astrid said happily. “Stoick will be glad to hear about this.”

“We could go show him!” I suggested, wriggling in Ruffnut’s arms. Astrid understood me easily enough.

Dad was down at the docks. Gobber was next to him, absently munching on a chicken leg and using the bone to direct the others. They were hauling crates and barrels onto the ships for the journey tomorrow. They weren’t the dragon-headed long ships though; for this occasion, Dad had ordered the construction of a more knarrs. They were wide cargo ships, and didn’t require as many Viking as the long ships. Back in the old days, Dad claimed we had a fleet of a dozen knarrs or so. But then the dragons started attacking and fire doesn’t exactly mix well with wood . . . you can imagine what had happened.

“Stoick, we’ve done it!” Astrid announced. There was a bit of swagger in her step, but I wasn’t about to point it out to anyone. Instead, I proudly spit a fireball at the air above Dad’s head.

He laughed. “Excellent. Then you two better start packing for tomorrow.”

“Sure, although I don’t know if Hiccup has anything to pack anymore.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll find something.”

Astrid was about to say something, when shouts caught all of our attention.

There was another ship sailing into the harbour, and it wasn’t waving our flag. No need for alarm yet, though. I recognized the ship’s emblem as that of the Meathead tribe, a clan that, as Fishlegs put it, was made of your typical Viking: all brawn, not-so-much brain.

“Ahoy, Stoick!” That was Mogadon, chief of their tribe. Though he looked more like Gobber with his peg-leg and eye patch, he was to Dad what Snotlout used to be to me: the rival. Not that you could tell right now. There were no arm-wrestling contests to be won, so the two were smiling brightly at each other.

“Mogadon,” Dad said, “are you looking for something?”

The big Viking shrugged. I didn’t fail to notice that he refused to look at Toothless or me. “Nah, just thought I’d pop by and say hello. You still waiting for your ship to get back from the witch?”

A pause.

“What do you mean?” Dad asked.

Mogadon said, “The Fiends said you sent a party out to investigate the old hag. When we sailed by, there was still a ship there.”

Dad frowned. “We did send a crew. But we didn’t send any boats.”

Chapter Text

Ever seen a parrot? Like one of those birds that pirates (which everyone know are just a madder form of Viking) apparently carried around on their shoulders? Not me. Not in person, at least. There were always those little carving the traders brought along, but never the real deal. I would just have to settle for Nadders, then. Those dragons were definitely birdlike, and as colourful as the parrot drawings I had seen. Although they had a lot more spikes.

But before you ask, no, there’s no important reason to mention that. That was just where my thoughts had wandered after watching Astrid swoop down onto the docks with Stormfly. The dragon had flicked her wings out in preparation of landing, reminding me of an osprey about to take a plunge, leading me to think about birds in general. Hence, parrots. But thoughts of pirate-accompanying, obnoxious birds were wiped from my mind when Astrid approached Dad and I with a clear intent to deliver a report.

“Well?” Dad prompted her.

Sounding confused by her own words, Astrid said, “They say they’re fishermen.”

“Bearing our flag?”

“They were worried about being attacked by the other tribes.”

Okay . . . this wouldn’t be the first time that had happened. Both the attacking of non-Viking vessels and the fake flag bearing. Usually, we Vikings could still tell apart our own by the much-harder-to-imitate boat designs, but like I had said earlier, the Meatheads weren’t the brightest bunch. Still, in light of everything else, the odds were low that these were some shivering fishermen using us as a shield.

Dad turned. There was a small audience behind us. Some older Vikings, mostly those that would be accompanying us tomorrow, were there, along with the other riders. There was Gothi, too, frowning, still as a Terror crawled around her shoulders.

“Come.” Dad clapped his hand on Astrid’s shoulder. One look told the others that they were not to follow. I, of course, being Berk’s technical heir, followed anyways.

We walked up the path toward my house. Once, everyone else was out of earshot, Dad asked, “Do you believe them?”

“No,” Astrid said bluntly. “They’re hiding something. They were too . . . guarded to be just fishermen. They weren’t hostile, but they kept looking around like they were expecting to be attacked.”

“That isn’t an unrealistic assumption on their part,” Dad admitted.

“Yes, but they weren’t watching for ships or an army. They were watching the sky.”

There was a minute twitch of Dad’s jaw. “Did they know you were Berkian?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “And I was careful to leave Stormfly out of sight. They associate that place with dragons.”

“They must know something, then.”

But of course. Apparently everybody knew something but us.

Dad said, “We’ll investigate again at nightfall. Me and you, Astrid.”

I whined.

But Dad shook his head. “I’m not planning to talk to them, or to be seen. You stay, Hiccup.”

Sullenly, I extended a wing. Even though I stood directly in the sunlight, there was no reflection to be seen. Instead, the interlocking scales seemed to absorb light, to literally remove it from existence. Black. Pitch-black. If I had known how to fly, it would have been perfect.

Before I could even put on my pouting face, I smelled something. Dad and Astrid, being as tall as they were (and ahead of me), didn’t see me bristle like a dog. Don’t worry, there was no danger. Yet. Hard to tell with them . . .

They must have seen me, because when I dashed towards the source of the scent, I could hear the slapping of feet against the ground. I didn’t bother to chase. My legs were too short to keep up.

But that didn’t mean this was over.


There was no sky, tonight. No moon, no stars, just a black void of nothingness. Still, there was easily enough light to see by, even without the torches. There was no yellow though, and what pink remained was barely that – more a purple, at best. Even the orange fires struck my eyes as being ruby, or else too bright to see.

It literally hurt to stare at them. They gave off that same blinding, shard of light that the sun would on a bright day, and a colourless, white halo circled them. I guess that was the drawback of being able to see in the dark; no fireside parties for me, but hold one in a dark alley and I was good.

Berk was blue, purple and grey. Like someone had leeched the colour out of my flame and smeared the village with it. They were nice colours. Easy on the eyes.

A shadow stirred in the town square. Against a backdrop of firelight, Stormfly was beating her wings in anticipation. Her shadow swayed dangerously; as the light shifted, it occasionally outlined the edge of a Viking. Not Astrid, though. No, the shadow was much too big for that.

I didn’t need to smell him to identify him. Thornado may not be around anymore, but he had chosen Dad for a reason. Dragons, I’d noticed, seemed to gravitate towards those who were like them. And Dad and Thornado were both . . . loud. Well, Dad didn’t have supersonic vocal abilities, but he could still burst an eardrum or two when he was angry. Especially when you were a dragon. Dad’s voice had this low undertone that let it ride the air like a Thunderdrum surfing the waves. It carried far; sometimes, I swore that even the earth rumbled with his voice. And it was that rumbly voice I was hearing right now.

“Are you ready, Astrid?”

“I am.” I heard Stormfly cluck as well. “Is Hiccup sleeping in his nest again?”

Of course he told her. That wasn’t a surprise.

“He was last I checked.”

Leather slid against scales as they prepared their dragons.

Astrid sighed. “He’s watching us, isn’t he?”

“Of course he is.” Dad scanned the rooftops as he very loudly said, “The boy doesn’t know when to give up. Not when dragons are involved.”

Astrid waved in the opposite direction of where I was. “We’re fine, Hiccup. You don’t need to come along. That means no coming after us, either.”

“Hiccup can’t fly,” Dad said. “So, unless he manages to sneak up on us . . .”

Astrid’s giggle tickled my ears. “He could be hiding in your beard.”

“Hmm. It is getting a tad long, isn’t it?”

“I’m just joking. You look fine, sir.”

They shot a few more remarks in my direction, all while trying to spot me along the darkness. But, they were right. I wasn’t going to be flying after them, and there was no way I was taking Toothless for a night flight like this. That being said, I wasn’t the only other one with a dragon . . .

And judging by the shift in the air, they had just arrived.

Just as Dad and Astrid took off on their dragons, my sharp eyes traced out three silhouettes in the shadows. A few moments passed, and then Snotlout and the twins crept out into the square. Snotlout shielded his eyes as if it were day as he stared upwards.

With all the noise they were making now, I was surprised Astrid and Dad hadn’t spotted them. But, to give credit where credit’s due, when the three of them got their mind to do something they weren’t supposed to, then their abilities seemed to gain a one hundred percent jump – especially the twins. Snotlout whistled short and loud, and then Hookfang lumbered out into the open, followed by Barf and Belch.

I sighed. Here we go.

They didn’t see me enter. The dragons definitely smelled something, but my scent was familiar enough that they didn’t freak out. I made it all the way to Snotlout’s foot, and then cleared my throat.

“Hey, guys.”

Snotlout twitched. “Uh, did you guys hear something?”

Tuffnut said, “Yeah . . .”

I shouted, “Here! I’m down here!”

Snotlout looked down.

Next thing I knew, I was on my back, with a bruise growing on my chin. Not that my scales would let you see it.

“Oooo . . .” Ruffnut and Tuffnut had their ‘Somebody’s in trouble’ faces on. Snotlout scowled, and took a step back from the scene of the crime.

“He shouldn’t have snuck up on me!” he complained.

“And you guys shouldn’t be here.” I rolled back to my feet, resisting the urge to rub my sore chin. I knew I had smelled them earlier today.

“Do you think he’s going to tell?” Tuffnut asked.

Ruffnut shrugged. “How can he? He –”

I screeched.

It lasted about half a second. I could have gone longer, but Snotlout clamped down on my snout and snapped it shut.

Snotlout hissed. “We’ll take you along if you stay quest!”

Not the result I had expected, but still acceptable!

The one downside was that apparently I had to ride with Ruffnut. I mean I would rather be with Barf and Belch than Hookfang, since he wasn’t the most . . . obedient dragon. But still, Ruffnut? Ugh, I really wish Tuffnut would have been more motivated to annoy his sister, since apparently I was going to spend the rest of the night being cuddled by an overly aggressive Viking.

Night flying had always been different from flying in day. It was colder for one, and the skies tended to be less crowded. Most birds preferred the daylight, and the only dragons that tended to be out now were ones from the Strike or Tidal class. If you looked downward, you could see some of the latter. They would breach from time to time, appearing as dark blobs on an otherwise smoothsea of silver.

The ride there was pretty quiet. The twins squabbled a bit, but it never lasted long. Snotlout didn’t seem to have the patience to side with either of them; I was actually surprised at how focused he was. Like he had taken this whole situation personally. Hookfang, on the other hand, had already made two attempts to fly off course, and Snotlout barely managed to keep him on track.

Just as the Meatheads had claimed, there was a ship docked by the witch’s hut. A big one. The Meatheads must have seen this ship from a distance if they thought it was ours. This was a double-sail boat, and all of ours had a single sail. And the sail shape was odd too; like a quarter circle. Not as effective as ours, I was willing to bet. The bow was fairly close to the water; at least they had gotten that part right. There was a raised cabin area at the stern, and on the deck, what looked to be an entrance to a part below deck.

I counted three sailors, two of which were seated on crates, and the other was leaning against the railing. I was surprised that they were still awake this late, although the reason why became apparent when I picked up the faint scent of meat. But while the sailors were exactly where we had expected them to be, Astrid and Dad were not. My guess was that they were in hiding, waiting for the sailors to sleep before they investigated.

“So, what’s the plan?” Ruffnut asked.

Before Snotlout could say anything, Tuffnut said, “I dunno. Climb over the side and hide behind those crates at the stern?”

Yep. Leave it to the twins to see the perfect place to eavesdrop.

“Hookfang’s too big to get me that close,” Snotlout said.

“Okay, then we’ll do it. You keep watch, or something.”

Ruffnut shifted me so that my spine slotted into her armpit. They guided Barf and Belch in, staying just above the waves. Snotlout and Hookfang hovered a bit, before heading to the shelter offered by the forest. I had a feeling he wasn’t totally okay with this plan.

The twins – with me – hopped over the rail. They pressed up right against the crates in a way that I knew meant they had done this very action many times before. What a shocker. Tuffnut signalled for their dragon to leave, but Barf refused to move until Ruffnut did the same. That left us three, alone, on a boat with strangers. Just another day in the life of Berkians.

“I can’t hear them!” Ruffnut complained.

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?” Tuffnut hissed back.

“I don’t know, genius. Maybe something not stupid?”

Yep. Even volunteering for a stealth-based mission couldn’t stop these two. I head-butted Ruffnut to remind them I was there, then tapped my head. Dragon. Sharp hearing.

“Good idea. You go!”

Before I knew it, I had been shoved out into the open.

They still couldn’t see me. My belly rubbed against the ground as I crawled forward. Slowly. Slowly . . . I only needed a few steps, just enough so that I could focus on them and not be bombarded by the twin’s whispers. My ears swivelled, acting independently to fulfill my wish of being to hear what look to be a private –

“- believe we came out here for nothing.”

That had been sailor number one, otherwise known as the sailor who was standing up. He reeked of sweat, even more so than the others, and fish. There was a strange growth on his head, and it took me a few seconds to realize it was just a funny hat. Seriously, it looked like the guy had stuck a vase on his head. The other two had hoods lined with the fur of some canine. I couldn’t tell if it was dog or wolf. What I could tell, however, that it was a little excessive. All three of them were bundled up in thick coats; they couldn’t have been from around here.

“So, what are we going to do now?” said sailor number two, aka. the one holding a strip of jerky. “The hag ain’t here, and there’s no note saying where she’s gone . . .”

“Not our problem,” sailor one said. “We’re not the ones who have to pass on the news. That’s our boss’s job.”

Far off in the distance behind him, on the island the witch’s hut lay, I saw motion. Two figures, one with distinctive wings. Snotlout and Hookfang, looking for a place to hide. Actually, their hiding place was already sufficient; it was only my Night Fury vision that allowed me to see them.

“You think she ran?” our last sailor asked. “She might have caught wind –”

“Nah,” sailor one said. “He wouldn’t go out of his way to hurt her. Boss says she practically raised the kid after the dragons massacred his village.”

The third sailor, the one holding a lantern, snorted. “And then he paid her back by stealing her dragon. Sounds like a true family to me.”

Second sailor shrugged. First one said, “She was supposed to be working on something important for him. Seems like they’re on good enough terms.”

Working on something? Working on what? Did this have to do with the ‘control’ Fishlegs had talked about? In that case, it didn’t seem like she had succeeded. That much was a relief.

“Whatever. It isn’t our business. Hey, you want any mead?”

And the third sailor began walking right toward me.

I crouched low. The light from his lantern washed over me, but I remained invisible. He stopped right by the crates, pried the lid off one, and rummaged through it. His elbow jerked and twisted wildly, finally bumping the lid, which fell –

Right onto Tuffnut’s foot.

“Huh?” The sailor leapt back. Tuffnut’s groan had been quiet and brief, only enough that the sailor wasn’t entirely sure whether he had heard something. To make things better, his exclamation had attracted the attention of his friends. They stood too, and began to advance on the crates –

I leapt into the shadows, and then shot a fireball into the sky.

The diversion was enough. All possible stowaways were forgotten as their eyes flickered with the purple light of my flame. “Where did that come from?” one murmured, as they began to look around.

In the distance, I saw Hookfang rear up, clearly alarmed. But thank you, he stayed put –

Unlike Barf and Belch.

Upon seeing the fireball appear over the place where their riders were, the Zippleback had darted towards the boat in the quickest, most un-sneaky way he could. And those sailors, already expecting to see a dragon, saw him.

“Incoming dragon!”

“Good. At least we won’t go back empty-handed.”

Sailor two threw his jerky to the ground, and ran to the rail to man some sort of machine. It was mounted onto the ship, but could rotate on its platform. And its shape, it looked . . .

It looked like a crossbow.

The twins had peeked out and saw it, too. They were gesturing frantically for their dragon to go back, but either he couldn’t see them, or had already made his mind up to ‘protect’ them. Toothless could get like that, too. But there was no Toothless, now. Just Barf and Belch, and a crossbow aimed right at them . . .

Sailor two grinned. “That’s it. Come closer.”

There was no choice.

I pounced.

Argh!” My mouth filled with coppery liquid as I sunk my teeth in. I was off the sailor in a flash, running madly around the ship’s deck – anything to stay out of sight.

“A rat! I think there’s a rat!”

More lanterns were lit. Barf and Belch were close now, and the commotion appeared to have attracted attention on shore. Hookfang had spread his wings, but I had no idea if Snotlout had told him to, or not.

Then, I was illuminated in red. And this time, there would be no hiding.

“Is that a Night Fury?” sailor three asked.

“I’m not sure . . . Grab it!”

They lunged. The first two slammed into the deck, one right on top of the other, actually. I would have paused to laugh, but the last one was chasing after me, the light of his lantern following me like some creepy ghost. I ran back toward the crates, pressing my back against the wood as he closed in –

Clang! Ruffnut popped up from behind a crate, bowing her head just in time so that the sailor’s head collided with her metal helmet. Next to her, Tuffnut laughed, “Bet he’s going to feel that in the morning.”

One of the sailors growled as he stood. Not a real growl, but that low, angry sound that makes somebody sound like they’re in pain. Or trying to terribly imitate a bear. The twins didn’t seem frightened by it; if anything, they were even more pumped up. But we were still outnumbered, and if the second sailor’s descent into the cargo hold meant anything, they were armed.

“Time to go!” Ruffnut deftly scooped me up, and then the twins ran for the rail. They leapt gracefully into the air, soaring right above the wide-open sea. One of the sailors’ mouths fell open. Then, our flight came to an abrupt stop as Barf and Belch came up from underneath. With practiced ease, the twins slithered up his necks until they were in their usual spot by the head.

“See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya!” Tuffnut crowed.

They wound one victory lap around the masts and then headed out to sea–

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the mounted crossbows pointing right at us.

Chapter Text

It happened so fast. All I saw was a glint of silver, and then something cold and hard smashed into me. Barf, or Belch, shrieked, drowning out the sounds of his struggling wings. We plunged downward. Right into the water.

Something heavy weighed us down. I squirmed out of Ruffnut’s grasp, clawing for the surface. But there was something in the way, a net, but one of metal. I couldn’t break though. And even though we were underwater, I heard Ruffnut’s panic as she realized the same thing.

Barf and Belch whipped their body from side to side, trying to swim like an eel. Belch had his head free and above the surface; Barf was under with us, but it seemed like they only needed to breathe with one. Barf watched us helplessly, entangled in the net. Streams of bubbles escaped from between his teeth as he tried to call to his rider. Tuffnut, also free, pulled at the net in an attempt to free his sister and me.

And me? I just floated there, caught in an unreal daze as around me, the water grew hazy from the twins’ thrashing. I . . . I was having a hard time grasping the severity of this. My body had already surrendered, growing cold as if preparing for a deep sleep . . .

The sky suddenly glowed orange. The light faded.

Then something broke through the waves.

Hookfang bellowed as he strained to lift us clear of the ocean. Snotlout was practically standing on his back, unable to do anything but watch. Barf and Belch were limp in Hookfang’s grip, although their wings twitched erratically in a fruitless attempt to fly. The metal mesh had wrapped around their body, pinning their wings, and Barf’s head, which had apparently been too close. Ruffnut was squashed against his neck, held down by the spherical weights that hung from the net’s edges. Tuffnut was clinging to Belch.

“So, there really are dragon riders!” The sailor smirked as he said that. With agonizing slowness, he pointed the same mounted crossbow he had used to take us down at Hookfang.

Snotlout hit his dragon’s head. “Go, move!”

With a great stroke of his wings, Hookfang pitched sideways. With a great whoosh a metal net shot past us, but the sailors were already preparing for another go. For the first time, I realized there wasn’t just one of those crossbows, but several – at least three on each side. One for each of them.

Hookfang dodged the next one, and the next. But in doing so, he swung the hapless Zippleback and his passengers sharp to the left, and was unprepared for the sudden jerk. His wings pumped frantically, but we were already toppling sideways. The whole boat rocked as we crashed into the mast. Hookfang managed to back away -

- just as a net slammed into his side.

The force knocked Snotlout off. He landed on the deck with a yelp, followed by the much louder crash of everyone else. Tuffnut cried out, mostly in annoyance, and he pushed at Hookfang’s back, which had fallen across his shins. He had just barely missed crushing Belch.

Snotlout stood unsteadily, his helmet crooked. “Whoa -!”

He stopped short. The sailors had no need for the mounted crossbows now, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t use regular ones.

Hookfang growled. He tried to stand, but with his wings and a leg caught in the net, he couldn’t. His sweaty scent suddenly adopted a smoky aftertaste, but before he lit himself up, he remembered he was tangled up with some very non-fireproof humans. Not me, though. Now that I wasn’t at risk of drowning, I could think enough to find a gap small enough to crawl through. I ran up to stand next to Snotlout –

Who, true to form, was trying to use force.

“ . . . don’t let us go, then they will hunt you down!”

“Hard for them to do if they don’t know where to look.” Sailor one walked toward us. He had his crossbow levelled at Snotlout’s chest. “Dead men tell no tales.”

“But all of this seems rather unnecessary!” Sailor three lobbed an arm around the first sailor’s shoulders. “We have no problem with you. We just want the dragons, that’s all.”

There were many protests voiced at once.

“Alright, settle down. The Night Fury, then. Just the one. One itsy, bitsy dragon.”

“Uh, yeah. I don’t think so.”

The sailor sneered, “You’re not in a position to bargain, kid.”

It was a standoff. Them versus us. Them, with arrows, and us with fire on a wooden ship, and a small knife Snotlout had brought with him that was still in its sheathe. As hard as I thought, I couldn’t see a way out of this.

Then, a miracle happened.

Out of nowhere, spikes cleaved all three crossbows in two, ripping parts of them right out of the sailors’ hands and nailing them to the deck. Stormfly screeched; the sailors ran for the mounted crossbows, but then something literally smashed through the cabin, leaving a jagged hole that ran all the way through. The boat trembled as Skullcrusher slammed his front paws down. Dad leapt off his back, and pulled out a long sword in one easy motion. It was a display meant entirely for intimidation, and boy, it worked.

His expression never shifted. “Let them go.”

“Okay, okay! No need to be hast – whoa!” The sailor flew right into the mast when Dad threw him aside. Dad bent his legs, and then grabbed the net trapping Hookfang and lifted it – dragon and all. Hookfang was able to roll out from there, and Dad set to freeing Barf and Belch as Astrid and Stormfly finally landed.

“Hiccup!”

“I’m fine, Astrid. Just a little waterlogged, that’s all.”

Of course, seeing as I no longer spoke Norse, she had to check that out for herself. By the time she was done, Ruffnut and her dragon were free, and Dad was advancing on the sailors.

“Who are you?” he growled. “Why are you here?”

“It-it’s nothing personal!” They were practically scrambling over each other to get away from him. “We’re just dragon trappers! We trap them, and sell them.”

“Is that so? Well, there’s been a change in plans.” Dad easily picked out the leader of the three, and promptly grabbed his lapels, holding him up in midair and slamming him against a mast. “The dragons in this sector are off-limits.”

He let go, and the sailor gasped as he fell to the ground.

“There’s one other thing,” Dad said. He pointed at the witch’s hut. “What did you want with her?”

“Her? Who are you talking about? I don’t . . . alright! Alright! We were hired to check up on her progress or something.”

It was amazing how a hand around the throat changed people’s minds.

“Progress about what?” Dad spat each word out.

“We weren’t told the details. All we know is that it had to do with something crazy. Something to do with dragons. And people. People and dragons . . .”

“. . . People turning into dragons?” Astrid said quietly.

The sailor blinked. “Yeah, actually that might have been it.”

Then it . . . it wasn’t an accident. It slowly hit all of us. Dad turned with agonizing slowness, whispering my name. This was bad. This was very bad.

“Uh, are we missing something?” one of the sailors asked.

“Get out of here. There’s nothing for you to find.” Dad released the sailor, and beckoned Skullcrusher forward. The dragon snapped at the other men as he did so. Dad grabbed me with one hand, climbed atop the dragon, and before he signalled the rest to depart, told the sailors one last thing:

“Don’t ever come back.”

We left them with that very vague threat.

It was very quiet.

“I told you not to come,” Dad said.

I whined and flattened my ears. Sorry.

He turned to look at the others. “Whose idea was this?”

“His!” the twins answered in unison. They pointed one finger at Snotlout accusingly.

Astrid sneered. “Of course it was. What were -?”

Dad held up his hand. “Astrid, stop. No, no buts. Let it go.”

She clearly wasn’t happy about it, but there was only so long you could argue with a chief.

Dad’s voice had gave away nothing, and his expression was equally stony, I tried to smell his emotions, just so I could gauge how much trouble I would be once when we got home. There was anger – would have been a shock if there hadn’t been – but not as much as I was expecting. There was something else rolling underneath it too, that left a faint aftertaste of sadness, but wasn’t it. I didn’t know what it was.

When we landed, he dropped me on the ground, not even bothering to tell me to go home. He didn’t need to. My pre-Toothless years had taught me how to read his ‘I’m quite upset with you’ body language at a glance. Dad said nothing to Astrid, or the twins, but when Snotlout tried to walk past, he held him back.

“Come with me,” he said. Snotlout didn’t protest.

They walked off into the darkness.


I was in trouble.

Not the ‘I’m going to stand here and yell at you!’ kind of trouble. Already went through that with Dad and Astrid. Nope, this was Toothless’s turn. When I first got back, he had been all excited and insisted on sniffing me everywhere. Then, he remembered that I had disappeared in the first place and got quite mad. There had been lots of hissing and pacing, and now he was just ignoring me.

He had his back to me. Every time I moved to stand in front of him, he would turn his head and fix his gaze on the wall. When I got insistent, he would stand and go somewhere else, always with his back to me. The one time I had attacked his tail, he whipped it hard enough that it knocked the air out of me.

Which was why I was currently crouched in front of him, giving him my best, adorable stare.

“Okay, I’m sorry. Next time, I’ll invite you along. How about that?”

Toothless continued to sulk. He was hunched over, so that I could barely fit in the space between his snout and the floor.

“Come on, Toothless. Nobody got hurt. Not for our lack of trying, but you can’t understand what I’m saying anyways, so it doesn’t really matter.”

I bounded up to him, and laid my paws on his forehead. “Toothless!”

He shifted, sending me to the ground.

“Come on, Toothless. How can you resist this adorable face?” I rolled right underneath Toothless’s chin and started swatting at it. “Please, I’m sorry!”

I smiled at him. “Forgive me?”

Head cocked to one side, he studied me. His lips parted, just an inch, and the corners began to lift.

“Thank you!”

He rubbed against me. I love you.

I rubbed against him, too. “Yes, I know. I happen to be a very lovable person.”


Despite our late-night adventure, Dad still insisted on leaving at the crack of noon. Sleep meant nothing to a big hairy Viking like him. Nor to me. I did ride a Night Fury, after all. Sleep was less forgiving to the twins, and they spent most of the morning yawning and dozing off on various barrels and crates around the deck.

“You be a good girl.” Stormfly purred as Astrid rubbed down her neck. She probably didn’t really understand what her rider was saying, or else she would be putting up a bigger fuss. Same went for Meatlug, who was at Fishleg’s heels, blinking with confusion when he blocked her from walking onto the boat. Barf and Belch were squabbling with each other. Toothless was hanging upside down from the sail’s boom.

And Hookfang? There was no sign of him, or his rider.

“Alright!” Gobber dropped a large crate onto the deck, yanking his hook free afterwards. “I think that’s the last of it.”

“All the food’s aboard?”

“Enough for two weeks both ways, and a bit of midnight snacking.”

Dad nodded. Barring a vicious storm, it should only take us a little more than a week to reach our destination, but better safe than living off rats. If there were even any. The Terrors had done a great job at taking care of our former rodent problem.

As for where we were headed, this year we were off to the island of the Rabid Raiders, the Viking settlement closest to the Roman Empire. Also the furthest away. It wasn’t all bad though; because of their distance, the Raiders hadn’t fallen inside the range of the Red Death’s territory. Or, in layman’s terms, they hadn’t been harassed by dragons nearly as much as the rest of us. The whole situation was kind of nonexistent with them. Nope, instead of participating in the engaging pastime of tangling with fire-breathing, sheep-snatching, hard-as-rock dragons, they had partaken in old, traditional Viking activities - like plundering the hapless villages of the nearby Romans. Out of all of us, they were probably the only ‘regular’ Vikings. It would make a good neutral territory for this meeting concerning dragons.

“Oi, there’s the lad.”

His dragon nowhere in sight, Snotlout walked onto the docks. Unlike usual, he didn’t seem very enthused about the journey; he didn’t seem like he was feeling much of anything. He had that glazed, emotionless look of someone who hadn’t slept for so long that he had forgotten how to feel.

I warbled at Dad, surprised that Snotlout was allowed to come after last night.

Arms crossed over his chest, gaze fixed on my cousin, Dad said, “He’s next in line for the chiefdom after you. If you can’t be here, he has to be.”

Makes sense. Someone had to be there to take my place. Usually, it would be Astrid, but we weren’t . . . uh . . . officially committed yet, so that wouldn’t mesh with the rest of the tribes. Snotlout, it was, then!

There was a look exchanged between Dad and Snotlout, just a second long. But in that second, I saw disappointment on Dad’s face, the kind that used to be directed at me. And Snotlout slumped past him exactly as I used to.

“Everyone aboard!” Dad shouted.

Astrid murmured one last thing to her dragon, and then signalled for her to stay. Stormfly clucked curiously, but she didn’t move as Astrid walked onto the ship.

“Toothless.” Dad poked my big overgrown lizard with a stick, until Toothless finally grew annoyed enough to drop down from the boom. He complained loudly as Dad and Gobber herded him off the ship, plopping down on the docks with a pout as Astrid told him firmly to stay.

“Him, too.” Dad pointed at a Terror sitting on the wheel.

One of the Vikings grabbed the Terror. Instead of tossing him away, however, he hugged the Terror to his chest. “But Sneaky is our ship’s dragon! You can’t go on a voyage without the ship’s dragon. It’s bad luck!”

“That’s cats,” Dad groaned.

“Well, we don’t have any cat. So, our ship has a dragon!”

“We were fine before the dragons,” Dad said.

But other sailors were beginning to crowd around Sneaky, who preened at the attention. “You can’t go without the ship’s dragon!”

“Alright, alright. The Terror can stay.”

“Sneaky,” the Viking holding him corrected. He was cuddling and rocking the little Terror like a baby. Sneaky just laid there with a smug look on his face.

“. . . Right. Is everyone present?” Nobody said otherwise, but Dad counted just in case. “Okay. Haul in the anchor!”

Three strong Vikings pulled in the anchor with nothing but pure strength. They set it down gently on the ship’s deck, and then carelessly tossed the pile of rope on top. The three joined the others at the oars as Dad marched up to the helm. Chin high, stomach sucked in, he took one of the wheel’s spokes in each of his huge hands, and bellowed, “Row!”

The oars moved. They dug deep into the water with that sucking sound we all knew by heart. The boat rocked, and began to move out to sea, as the Vikings on shore cheered and waved. I had a feeling at least three of them would suggest throwing a party.

“Bye, Dad! See you in a couple of weeks!” The other riders were crowded at the rails, waving goodbyes to their families. Of all of them, I was the only one to actually have my parent on board; Spitelout usually came along on these trips, but in light of the whole my-son-has-turned-into-a-Night-Fury thing, Dad had left him behind so that he could take charge of trying to find a cure. Not that I expected him to achieve much success. Spitelout was a great Viking, but he wasn’t me or Fishlegs.

Speaking of Fishlegs, he was already starting to glance down at the witch’s journal. With the new information that we had gained, mainly that turning me into a dragon hadn’t been an accident, he was determined to go through it again. As he had told us in a frenzy, he hadn’t seen any mention of dragon transformations in there, so he must have really not been paying attention. Personally, I doubted that; it was Fishlegs. But he was right that there must have been something in there.

The oars stroked again. They did until we were out enough from Berk, at which pointed the Vikings drew them in. The other teens adjusted the sail under my supervision, turning it into the direction of the air currents. The sail bulged, and then we were one with the wind, soaring through the waves.

“Looks like we got a sunny day ahead,” Gobber said. “Here’s to good sailing!”

He handed Dad a mug of ale. They knocked them together, and then slurped them down.

Fishlegs frowned. “Uh, Stoick?”

“Yes . . . Oh.”

Toothless had taken to the air. He called to us, and then swooped in–

“Oh, no, you don’t!” Dad got in Toothless’s way, and waved his arms wildly to stop him from landing. “Go on, shoo!”

Toothless made confused noises, but eventually was chased off from the deck. He lingered above our ship instead, circling.

“Stoick?” Gobber said.

“Don’t worry,” Dad said. “He’ll give up eventually.”

Chapter Text

“Err, Stoick?”

“Yes, I know.”

It was approaching midnight, and Toothless had given no indication of giving up his pursuit. You couldn’t really see him against the night sky, even if you concentrated, but every once in a while, there would be a shadow darting across the moon, or a whoosh from wings that were close, but too dark to see. Even I had a hard time spotting him.

Whoosh. Dad’s brow crinkled as he automatically tried – and failed – to find Toothless. There was a thump further down the deck as Toothless tested us and touched down for a moment, and the boat rocked gently from side to side. For a moment, Dad’s throat tightened, as if he was going to shout something.

“I don’t think he’s leaving,” Gobber said.

Dad curtly said, “Nope.”

“So, does this mean he can stay?” I bounced up and down, the excitement too much for my tiny body to take.

They didn’t even notice me hopping around their feet. Dad turned the wheel a bit to the right, and the ship groaned in response. He said, “It’s a bit too late to chain him back up at Berk.”

“Eh, let him come,” Gobber said. “Without Hiccup around to tell him no, you’re not going to get much choice in the matter.”

I preened. That was right: I was Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, Dragon Trainer Extraordinaire! It was nice to be acknowledged.

“Where did he go anyways . . .?”

I played with the idea of staying hidden, but fate made the decision for me when Gobber stepped on my tail.

“Whoops! Sorry, Hiccup. Didn’t see you there.”

I curled my tail in close, fighting an urge to lick it better.

“You better call your dragon in,” Dad said. “He must be getting tired.”

I didn’t remind him that Toothless was a Night Fury, and wasn’t about to fall asleep because the sun went down. I hopped down to the deck, and squawked loudly for my overgrown lizard.

“Not you,” I said to a yawning Sneaky.

Click. Toothless claws dug into the ship’s rail. Judging by his posture he still wasn’t sure whether he was allowed on the ship; his front legs were held up, so that only his back ones attached him to the ship. His wings were extended on either side, taut as if they were pushing against something. At the shoulders, he hunched forward, so that his silhouette represented a large vulture.

I squawked again, inviting him onboard. He chuffed and rubbed against me. Hello. I love you.

“Love you, too, bud.” I craned my neck back, and touched his neck with my snout. I could feel his heartbeat.

The door to below deck swung open. Some big, smelly Viking came out. I don’t think he even noticed Toothless and I as he made his way across deck. He exchanged a few quick words with Dad, who patted him on the shoulder, and then they swapped place at the wheel. The ship groaned as the new captain adjusted its course, as if it was protesting the change in ownership.

“Well, Hiccup, I’m off to bed.” Dad paused, the door to our private quarters open. “What are you doing?”

I shrugged. Toothless might be allowed on the ship now, but I knew he wasn’t allowed in the cabin with us. So, it was only fair that I stayed outside with him.

“Are you sure?” Dad asked. “It’s going to get cold . . .”

I took my paw, put it on my chest, then slid it downwards as I gestured to all of me. Dad, dragon. Remember?

He cleared his throat. “Right. Goodnight, then.”

“See ya, Hiccup!” Gobber said as he turned in for the night, too.

Waves beat against the hull in a steady beat. Above, a thin sheet of clouds passed over the moon. Without Gobber and Dad, it was pretty quiet. The ship had ceased complaining, and the guy at the wheel didn’t seem to have any interest in starting conversation. Granted, seeing that Toothless and I were dragons, it would have been a very one-sided conversation.

“Be a nice night for flying,” I said. I shifted my wings a bit, letting them taste the air. Toothless cooed.

On an impulse, I climbed up the mast to the boom, and perched on its tip. Toothless was too big to fit on there with the sail, so he clung to the boom upside down, instead. I could see over the ship rails now, trace the curve of waves glimmering with starlight and see beyond that to the black horizon. There was no land in sight. Just us and the empty ocean. If I were to fall in, no one, save maybe Toothless, would be able to see me. And yet, the more I stared . . .

“Whoa!” Apparently, I had opened my wings. A stray gust caught them and sent me tumbling back to the deck. Toothless unhooked his front claws, and straightened up . . .err, down, I guess.

“I’m fine.” I wandered back to the base of the mast, and stared. I could just climb, but where was the fun in that?

Time to fly.

“Ugh!” My wings slapped against the wooden pole, getting me nowhere. Toothless flexed his on an angle, no doubt trying to give me an example.

I growled. My claws chaffed the deck. I back up a few hops, charged and leapt –

Smack went my face into the wood. My wings continued to flap a couple times more, then stopped. Toothless winced.

“Okay . . . I think I need a change in strategy.” I stood up on my hind legs, and flapped my wings. Must have had a wrong angle though because I pushed myself backwards onto my back.

Toothless squawked. He dropped from the boom, and bounced in his let’s go flying dance. He danced up and down and around, and then, with his side facing me, slapped his tail loudly. Then, again.

Tail? Okay, tail? Mine seemed intact, so that wasn’t the problem. I hadn’t shredded it with my hilarious attempts at flying. But it must have had to do something with flying. Experimentally, I slapped my tail. It made a sound like a wet fish. My tailfin opened naturally with the impact. Is that what he wanted?

Nope, didn’t work. Still ended up on my back. Toothless kept slapping his tail insistently.

“I think I’m going to give up on that. No taking off for me . . . But we can glide a bit. You’ll catch me, right?”

I didn’t wait for his answer. I scrambled back up the mast, perched on the tip of the boom where the sail wasn’t in my way, and opened my wings . . .

The wind caught me quickly. It ripped me right off the boom, threatening to send me tumbling head-over-heels. I flailed; my tailfin opened, then shut again, confused.

Deep breath. Deep. Breath. Just remember how it felt the first time: straighten out, and extend . . .

There. My body complained a bit from being so stiff, but I was no longer in immediate danger of falling into the ocean. My chin was raised, and my chest was puffed out so that my back felt like it was arching downwards. But my wings and tail were straight, and I knew those were the things carrying me through the sky right now.

I slowly relaxed, going muscle by muscle just to be safe. My neck actually cracked when I rolled my head. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear and smell Toothless behind me. A good thing, since the ship had decided I wasn’t worth waiting for. It was a yard ahead, and steadily increasing the distance. I doubt anyone had noticed they had a dragon overboard. (Overair? Not exactly sure what to call this).

“Gliding, check. Great. Fantastic. Uh, I don’t feel like taking a dip into the ocean today, so let’s skip turning. So, how do you make this thing” (I wiggled my body as I said that) “go faster?”

I knew from observation that Toothless always needed to flap his wings to do that. Seemed harmless enough. Though it was actually harder than it looked. It wasn’t like taking your arm – a human one, might I clarify – and flapping it up and down. Nope. Wings were light and wide, and the air pushed back when they wanted to move. Much more like moving your arm through water. Too much of this, and I knew I would be aching in the morning.

For all my flapping, I didn’t get faster. Just slower. And higher, actually, so that’s one mystery solved. That figuring that part out hadn’t been on my list soured my excitement a little. Here I was flapping my wings, just like Toothless would, so why wasn’t it working . . .?

Once I did that, started to analyse the mechanics of my theory, it hit me. Duh! When I just flapped my wings aimlessly like this, all my force was directed downwards. Of course I would move upward. It made perfect sense. So much that I wanted to slap myself. If I wanted to go faster, all I had to do was use my wings to push myself forward. I could do that. While it was the muscles in my back and shoulders that controlled the actual flapping, there was a thin of layer running along the main bone in the wing, as well. It was how dragons were able to curl and shape their wings.

I curled the ends in, and forced my wings to curve down, so that they no longer sat in a straight line with my shoulders. And then I flapped.

I think I was going faster? The ship was still moving fast, so it was hard to tell. But there was one thing I knew for sure: the water was rushing at me much faster.

Too steep! My wings must have been at too steep an angle. I set them level again, and pumped hard so I didn’t get a sudden crash course in what it was like to be a Tidal Class –

And there went Toothless. Swooping down toward the waves with me, and then rising again in an arc without ever flapping his wings.

Show-off.

“Okay, I’m still in the air.” That was true, but the boat was starting to grow distant. “Uh, Toothless can you take me back?”

A bit of squawking and pointing got my message across. Toothless came up underneath me, letting me settle on his back, and made the trip in what, two seconds?

“And that is enough for today. Come on, we should get some sleep.” I automatically walked toward my cabin, before I remembered Toothless couldn’t come.

“So, what’s your plan?”

Apparently, it was to hang from the boom and sleep upside down. Typical. He held his wings opened and cocked his head to one side.

Coming?

Sure, why not? True, the idea of sleeping upside down didn’t appeal to me, but I was sure I could just point myself up.

I ran up the mast, and then dropped down onto Toothless’s chin. He grumbled a little, but didn’t put up too much up a fuss. A second passed and then his wings enveloped us in darkness. I stirred a bit in my leathery cocoon, until I found that spot that was just right.

I closed my eyes.


The gods were smiling on us. So far, it had been very smooth sailing. Though there were a couple of times that the oars had to come out, the wind was fairly steady throughout our entire voyage. The weather was perfect: brisk, with a slightly overcast sky so that it still appeared sunny but we weren’t burning our skin off. At night, the stars were bright and easily found. A perfect journey. But, as with all things, there was one little downside to all of that:

It made things really boring.

If there wasn’t any trouble, there was only so much to do on a ship. I actually had it easiest: being as small as I was, there was plenty of room and things for me to play with. I could even get a good workout just running around the deck. Plus, I had Sneaky and Toothless to occupy my time. Can’t say the same for the others, though. Gobber had spent most of the last couple of days at the wheel, but even his body seemed to sag with boredom. Apart from the man in the crow’s nest, most of the other adults were lounging around the deck, sipping ale from huge mugs. It was like a party, but with most of the energy sucked out.

The exception, of course, was the twins. They were currently practicing their sword-fighting skills with a couple of fish. They sparred back and forth across the ship, leaping over crates, ducking under arms, and coating Fishlegs’ scalp with a layer of fish slime. He didn’t notice, as he was too busy reading through the witch’s journals.

Ruffnut tripped suddenly, and Tuffnut went in for a blow . . . only to be wrestled back by Snotlout, who defiantly stood between the two.

“Hey, you can’t hit a lady when she’s down!” Snotlout said.

“A lady? Have you even seen her?” Tuffnut scoffed. He beckoned to Ruffnut, who was wearing a lopsided, smug smile.

“Ruffnut is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met!”

Fishlegs peered up from his reading, detecting a threat.

“That’s right.” Ruffnut walked up behind Snotlout, and rubbed his shoulder. With her other hand, she pressed her fish into his chest. “Now, go get ‘em!”

As Snotlout charged, she wandered away to where Astrid was watching. She grinned. “Boys.”

Astrid smirked. “Boys.”

I stirred. “Okay, Sneaky . . . Now!”

As Snotlout wielded his fish in a wild, overhead blow, Sneaky and I leapt off the boom and rocketed toward the two. Our wings were tucked in tight, legs, too, so that we were moving at maximum speed.

Time slowed. Adrenaline made each of my heartbeats thunder through my chest as black spread from the edges of my vision, so that all I could see was my target and his fish. Wind whistled past my ears as I mimicked Sneaky: I snapped my front paws forward, spread my toes out so that there was space between the claws that glistened black, and reached.

Success! My claws snapped shut automatically when they detected the first bit of fish. Next to me, a happily shrieking Sneaky stole away Tuffnut’s fish. Our speed was so great that the two teens didn’t even have a chance to hold on. Nope. These fish were ours!

Just one problem.

How do I stop this thing?

Crack. I remained splattered against the gunwale for a second before gravity finally realized I was there. Toothless laughed.

“Oh, Hiccup.” As Sneaky crawled over her, Astrid came over and scooped me up. “Are you okay?”

I tried to give her a thumbs-up.

“Serves him right,” Tuffnut said. “That’s what you get for stealing from me!”

He went over to the fish, presumably to pick it up and begin the struggle anew. I was perfectly willing to let him have it; my head hurt too much to fight over that. Sneaky, on the other hand? In a word, no.

“Get back here!”

Astrid had trained him for speed, so Sneaky easily outmanoeuvred Tuffnut. At one point, he gracefully skimmed the top of Fishleg’s head, and Tuffnut ungracefully knocked the larger boy over in his attempt to catch the Terror.

“Hey!” Fishlegs scowled and snatched up the journal, holding it tight to his chest. He shuffled back to his spot, and began reading again.

“Find anything yet?” Astrid called to him.

“Nothing on wanting to change humans into dragons,” Fishlegs said. “I’m actually starting to think that this isn’t the witch’s journal, and actually belonged to her assistant.”

Astrid groaned. “So, back to square one.”

“Maybe.”

“Hiccup!” Dad burst out of his quarters. “What about the winter? How will they feed the dragons, then?”

“For the last time, Dad, dragons have survived winters long before they started living with Vikings! The sea doesn’t usually freeze over entirely.” That’s what I wanted to say, but sadly, Dad didn’t speak dragon. So, I barked at Fishlegs to give me parchment and something to write with, and set to the very long task of writing it out.

“Right. That makes sense. Wasn’t there something similar in here . . .?” Dad shuffled through his pile of hastily scribbled notes. With every jerk of his muscles, a sweat-flavoured odour rolled off him like water off a duck. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, his quick, whip-like motions and mumbles clearly said that he was nervous. For good reason. Dragons weren’t exactly Dad’s strongpoint; I was supposed to have carried the bulk of this meeting. Not to mention, if things went horribly wrong, there was a chance war was on the horizon.

“Alright,” Dad said, “what about . . .?”

Then, the man in the crow’s nest began to shout. One by one, all eyes turned to the distant horizon.

“Stoick,” Gobber shouted, “get the dragons inside. We’ve spotted land!”

Chapter Text

“Toothless! Come on, boy!”

I squawked at my oblivious dragon, and pretended he was listening to me rather than following Dad, who was baiting him with a fish. Astrid had lured Sneaky within arm’s reach, not that he put up much of a struggle. He seemed eager to explore The Forbidden Room, or as it was known by my kin, The Captain’s Quarters. Astrid shooed him inside, Dad tossed the fish in for Toothless, and then the door slammed shut.

I climbed up the door and tested the knob. Locked. Good. Some dragons, especially the Terrors, were smarter than they looked. There was a small opening between the door and the deck, but it was too small for Sneaky or I to fit through, and all I could see through it were feet. Apart from the locked door, the only possible exit was a shuttered window. Or, I guess, through the walls themselves if one of us felt an overwhelming need to breathe fire.

Dad was a man of simple pleasures. His quarters were sparse. No fancy decorations here, although there was a rather superb sword mounted against the wall. Nearby, there was a small imperfection in the wood from where the blade of his axe had dug in. His shield, too, was missing.

Sneaky whined when Toothless refused to share his fish. Buzzing furiously, he flew around the ceiling. He passed over the shuttered window, where a stray beam of light bounced off his scales for a bright instance, and settled on a table in the middle of the room. He stuck his snout into a goblet, and then knocked it onto the ground when it proved to be empty. The action rustled a corner of the map spread across the table. It was pinned in place by a knife, because it’s not like Dad could have used a paperweight or anything.

Toothless sniffed my Dad’s bed. Then he sniffed a much skinner one, and correctly determining it was mine, sprawled across it. He snapped at Sneaky when he tried to join.

“Play nicely,” I scolded him. I painstakingly made a small tear in the shutters, and peeked outside. Lots of water. How unusual. Never seen that one before. If I leaned out, I probably would have been able to see the island ahead, but I was trying to stay hidden.

Eventually, we felt the boat start to slow. Footsteps echoed through the wooden floor as Vikings ran about, preparing to dock. From outside, the first scents of land (it has a very distinct smell – especially when you’ve spent the last few days at sea) trickled in. A huge splash marked the dropping of the anchor, and the boat jerked as it bumped against something solid.

We were here.

I ran back to the door, and looked under again. A big shoe darkened the slit, but then it was gone. I saw the metal of Gobber’s peg leg, and that black shoe near him was probably Dad’s. There were other shadows and feet nearby, but those were the only ones I could identify.

Thump. A new pair of feet appeared. These were brown shoes, and the ankles above them were wrapped with a long, brown, cloth strip. I pointed my ears forward.

“Chief Stoick the Vast.” The man’s voice was deep and powerful. Every time he moved, chainmail rattled.

“Chief Hagan the Barbaric. It is good to see you again.”

I could picture the handshake in my mind, the first test. A handshake between Vikings, especially Chiefs, was meant to break the bones of a lesser being. Any flinch, any expression other than one of mutual respect or indifference, was a failure. Part of the reason I used to be so unpopular in my tribe.

“You, as well. Where’s your son?”

Dad cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, there’s been a terrible sickness going around . . .”

I closed my eyes and tried to remember what Chief Hagan looked like . . . Hey, don’t make fun of me. There are so many things to remember in the world, and when you’ve stuffed your head full of plans and ideas, faces tend to take a backseat. Not that I’m saying I don’t like people; I just like inventing.

Anyways, from what I remembered, Chief Hagan was a scruffy man. He had black bangs that touched his eyelids and a beard that was just short enough so that it didn’t move much in the wind, and was just long enough to give you the urge to touch it.

Hagan was saying: “You left him in charge, or you left him in charge?”

He said that in a way I couldn’t quite place, but left me bristling. Dad didn’t sound too amused either when he answered, “Yes, I left my son in charge.”

Hagan said, “Settle down, Stoick. No need for that face. Two years ago, it would have been a genuine question.”

A throat cleared. Gobber’s peg-leg made a very distinct sound as he walked across the deck. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen this place. Love what you’ve done with it!”

“It is quite . . . decorative,” Dad said.

With a laugh, Hagan said, “All thanks to the Romans. They appear to be going through a golden age of art. Pity the same can’t be said for their warriors.”

Roman art? Where! I had never seen any in person before, but I had heard plenty of their marble statues and ivory carving. Too excited to cope, I forced my head through that hole in the shutters and looked out. But instead of my darling marble, the first things I saw were stone, grotesque, screaming gargoyle perched on the end of the docks.

I turned my head, and met Chief Hagan’s eyes.

He had been leading my Dad onto the docks when he saw me. I didn’t get to see more than his eyebrows raise before I dove backwards into the safety of the cabin. He saw me. He saw me. This couldn’t possibly –

“Cute cat,” I heard him say.

Or it could. Alright then.

Yes, Astrid, I know. You don’t need to kick the door like that.

I couldn’t resist another peek. Apart from those statues and the pier, I couldn’t see much as there were other ships blocking the way. The one right in my line of sight belonged to the Hysterics. I could tell by the emblem on their flag: an overly muscular woman squeezing a puny invader so hard that his head had popped off. Were they actually capable of such an astonishing feat? In all honesty, they just might be.

I allowed myself to wallow in pity as I watched the others leave the ship. Yes, I had done this before. The memory of – and stench – of dozens of Vikings gathered in one place was well-engraved into my brain. But this was different; this was the home of the Rabid Raiders. They were different than the rest of us; stepping into their world was like jumping back into the past. And even if raiding the Roman Empire wasn’t my cup of tea, I still wanted to see my origins.

“Well, this sucks,” I said to Toothless.

He purred and snuggled into the blankets.


“I’m bored!”

I shouted that while rolling on the floor, showing all my teeth. Astrid just sighed and rubbed her forehead, while Fishlegs nervously asked, “Is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” Astrid said. “I’m not enjoying this either, Hiccup. Apparently, you not being within eyeshot of me means that I’m single again.”

I huffed and crossed my legs over my chest. Looks like the vultures have descended.

“Come on, there’s got to be some way you can smuggle me out. I mean look at this place! I have to go see it!” I pointed wildly at the window.

“I don’t know . . .”

Okay, time to bring out my secret weapon.

“Astrid!” Fishlegs tugged on her sleeve, and hissed loudly into her ear, “Astrid, he has a cute face.”

She laughed. “I didn’t think that was your style, Hiccup . . . Okay, you can stop. Hiccup, seriously. We’re not going to change our minds just because you look . . . cute. Really cute.”

I shuffled my paws together and whined.

“Astrid! I can’t take it!” Poor Fishlegs was trying to shield his eyes, but he couldn’t seem to resist peeking through his fingers.

“Hiccup, no. Bad dragon! Stop doing that!”

“I give up!” The sheer despair in his cry made Fishlegs drop to his knees, as if in rapture. “You can hide in my vest.”

Heh. Gets them every time.

“My vest is covered with fur,” he was explaining to Astrid. “No one’s going to notice a little lump.”

She actually looked thoughtful. “That’s probably true. And if you cut a little slit in it, he’ll be able to see.”

“Cut it?!” he squawked, drawing every dragon’s attention.

“Relax,” Astrid said. “You can just sew it back together. What’s a couple more stitches after all the times Meatlug used it as a toy?”

“She doesn’t mean to destroy it. Sometimes, she just gets lonely and it smells like me . . .”

“I’m not judging. Just take him.”

She scooped me up and shoved me into Fishlegs’ chest. I set to burrowing up his sleeve until I found a nice, comfy spot near the shoulder.

“Hiccup, is that you?” Through the fabric, a hand covered my face.

“Yes.”

“Okay, stay back, I’m going to cut . . .”

A silver blade cleaved through the vest. I watched as she hacked at the spot, once, twice, five times before finally withdrawing. A finger followed shortly afterwards, curving and bending like a worm on a hook.

“How’s that?” she asked.

I crooned my satisfaction.

We tried to leave then, but a confused Toothless tried to follow us out. He stared blankly at Fishlegs and Astrid when they tried to tell him to stay put.

“Here.” Astrid led Toothless away. She sat down on my bed, and scratched him under the chin. Apparently, he was okay as long as somebody was with him. “You two go ahead. It’ll be nice to hang out with a couple of boys who don’t care whether or not I have a boyfriend.”

As she said that, Sneaky came over and curled up in her lap.

Fishlegs waved. “Okay, see you later.”

Next stop, land. I could feel the difference between the steadiness of the earth and the rocking of the boat right away, even if my feet weren’t actually on the ground. Vikings generally adapted quickly, but just in case I got dizzy, I focused on the heat rising from Fishlegs’ skin. He was a naturally anxious guy, and me hiding under his vest wasn’t helping matters.

“Hello!” He pivoted on his heels, staying face-to-face with some strange Viking as he walked past. “How’s everything? Nothing unusual happening here. I’m just your regular Viking –“

I kicked him in the ribs.

“Oww,” he whined, rubbing the spot. The strange action attracted the attention of some neighbouring Vikings, who hooted and began to saunter over.

“Hey, Fishlegs.”

Oh joy. It was some guys from the Meatheads. The type of guys that Snotlout used to hang out with. That should give you a good indication of their personality.

“Hey, guys.” Fishlegs was already backing away.

But, we were surrounded. One of them put their arm over Fishlegs’ shoulders, trapping him in place, while another, a Raiders and not a Meathead, circled from the front. “So, where’s your buddy, Hiccup? Snotlout says he’s stuck back at Berk.”

“Yeah. There’s an epidemic back home. He’s in charge.”

“That sucks. People are saying that he has a sword that lights on fire . . . Is that true?”

“Do you mean Inferno? He covers it with Nightmare saliva and –”

Out of nowhere, the Raider pulled out a very spiky flail and asked, “Do you think he could make this light on fire, too.”

“Uh . . . maybe? He’s the expert on it, not –”

“Because that would be awesome!” The Raider shoved the other Viking’s arm off Fishleg’s shoulder so he could replace it with his own. With a sweeping motion, he gestured toward the distant Romans. “Imagine it: sailing up to the villages in our longboats, then leaping onto shore and spinning these over our heads. Ha, we could scare off the entire Roman army!”

“Uh, that sounds pretty cool, but Hiccup’s really into peace –”

The Raider laughed. “He doesn’t have to know.”

I sniffed. That’s what he thought.

“Okay . . .” I was a little surprised to hear Snotlout’s voice. The last couple of years, I hadn’t seen him hanging out with his old friends. “That’s great and all, but Hiccup isn’t here. Can we talk about something else?”

“Sure . . . what’s with this whole dragon thing?”

My ears flattened as most of the other Vikings scoffed or otherwise reacted badly. This was not a good omen.

Fishlegs started to say, “I don’t think . . .”

No. I kicked him in the ribs again. This was something I needed to hear.

“Berk’s trying to convince everyone that we should stop killing dragons,” someone complained. “It’s stupid!”

“It’s not stupid!” Fishlegs protested. “Dragons are really nice, and –”

“They burned down our village!”

“They ate our sheep!”

“They melted my favourite axe!”

“They killed my father.”

The heat rising off Fishleg’s was nearly unbearable, and he smelt so strongly of sweat that I wouldn’t be surprised if the other Vikings could smell it.

This is what I need to deal with, I realized. It wasn’t just a case of people sticking to tradition for no reason; it wasn’t even a case of them not understanding that dragons weren’t mere animals. These people had only ever seen the dangerous side of dragons. They had every reason in the world to only see the darkness in them.

“Hey, just think of it this way,” Snotlout said. “Bears kill people all the time, but it would still be awesome to have one as a pet.”

“That’s true,” the Raider said.

“That’s different,” a Meathead said. “Dragons are born evil. You can’t train them.”

His words echoed in my mind. Evil. No, dragons weren’t evil. The Red Death might have been, but dragons themselves were good. I knew that. I just didn’t know if I – if Dad – would be able to prove that. But for the Meatheads at least, it seemed that the idea that they couldn’t be trained followed from the idea that they were evil. If we attacked one idea, maybe we could loosen their conviction on the other. It was the only plan I had.

A silence followed. From us, at least. The other Vikings in the village were still pretty noisy. Finally, Thuggory, heir to the Meathead throne, turned to Snotlout and asked, “If Hiccup isn’t around, are you taking his place at the Council?”

“No.” The word seemed to be forcefully yanked out of Snotlout’s throat. “Astrid’s going.”

“No? You used to always be there.”

Quietly, as if he didn’t mean for anyone to hear, Snotlout answered, “Yeah . . .”

“Chief Hagan the Barbaric!”

Fishlegs spun around so fast that I nearly lost my hold and dropped a few inches. I peeked out through the slit. Yep, Chief Hagan the Barbaric was there. His grey coat of chainmail glinted and rocked just above his knees, almost like a dress. His helmet, carved from steel, had horns that curved down and in toward his neck. It looked shiny and new. From what I had heard, the Raiders refused to wear their horned helmets into battle. Something about humans having hands and liking to grab things with said hands.

“Hey, Chief Hagan!” Fishlegs stuttered.

Snotlout was bolder. “Hey, dude. Nice place you got here.”

Hagan gave him an onceover, as if trying to place where he had seen Snotlout before. “Right. You, Fishface, right?”

Fishlegs raised his hand. “Actually, it’s Fishlegs.”

“Hiccup’s really back at Berk?”

“ . . . Yes?”

“Oh, pity.” Hagan sighed heavily. “I was looking forward to meeting him.”

Meeting me? I scrambled to get a better look, making Fishlegs squirm.

“What did you want with Hiccup?” Snotlout demanded.

Hagan smiled toothily. “I wanted him to show me how to light my sword on fire.”

Chapter Text

“Absolutely not!”

I whined. I would have given Dad my cute face, but if my previous attempts were anything to go by, he was immune. Must have been that manly Chief aura. The same couldn’t be said for Gobber, who was shielding his eyes with his forearm.

I gestured at the window. “Dad, it’s night out there. Nobody’s going to see him. Come on, he’s a dragon! He needs to get some fresh air.”

“Hiccup, we are on an island filled with Vikings who would rather kill dragons than enjoy each other’s company. Under no circumstances is Toothless, or Sneaky, allowed to leave this room.”

“But –”

He put his hand up. “End of discussion.

I sighed as Dad and Gobber left the cabin. He was right. If someone even caught a glimpse of Toothless, we were dead. But I was right, too. Dragons weren’t just your regular animal. They were creatures of flight, used to going wherever they pleased. Being locked in a room all day was not good for their health, and I knew Toothless enough to know that if this continued, he would bust out on his own. Then, we would definitely be dead.

I went through the facts. Toothless needed to get out. It was night, so we would both be hidden. No one would be expecting two Night Furies to roam around the island. And a good portion of the Vikings were probably drunk. So, if we were careful, we should be okay. The main problem would be getting past Dad.

I needed a distraction. And I knew just who to ask.


“Gobber, are Ruffnut and Tuffnut having a stick-fight on the boom?”

“Why, yes, Stoick! I think they are.”

“Are those sticks on fire?”

“Yep.”

“ . . . Did they just light the sail on fire.”

“Oh. That might be a problem.”

As I heard everyone run forwards to stop the fire, I leapt at the cabin’s doorknob, and wrestled it open. Under the cover of the darkness and all the shouting, Toothless and I snuck out and shut the door behind us.

I hopped on his back. “Next stop, freedom!”

He flew high above the village, so that he could study it without being seen himself. Along with the darkness, there was lots of smoke from bonfires to keep us invisible. I could hear music and laughter even from up here; night-time at these meetings was the time of fun and entertainment.

I just happened to glance sideways then, and noticed we weren’t alone.

“Sneaky? How did you . . . right. Super-fast, super-sneaky dragon.”

Sneaky trilled to himself as he rode the wind currents.

“Too bad we can’t be down there,” I said. “They probably have some Roman stuff down there . . . Toothless? Toothless, wait!”

Hearing my lament, Toothless had decided to take the only reasonable course of action and land. We ended up behind a crown of brambles by the edge of the village; close enough that I could make out individual tones, far enough away that we fell beyond the range of the light. There was no bonfire here, but a couple of torches were mounted into the ground on either side of a small stage. Upon that stage, was a man, and I was immediately struck by, well, how weird he was.

How weird? Well, he had no beard. And no moustache. Or whiskers. Or anything. I don’t think he even had sideburns. If he were my age, it would have been fine, but he was definitely older. Not to mention I had always been rather odd by Viking standards, anyways. Alas, this man had managed to replace his beard with blue markings on his chin. Finger paint? No idea.

I said, “This tribe is so weird.”

“Romans? Sure, I know Romans,” the not-at-all-hairy man was saying to a small audience. “Disgusting creatures. They’re scared of their own shadow. Haven’t got an ounce of fight in them unless they’re soldiers.”

Echoes of disgust rose up. I cringed in sympathy for the Romans.

“Isn’t he wonderful?”

I nearly screamed. Ruffnut reached over and pulled me to her, so that our cheeks touched. “I could just listen to him all day . . .”

I pulled away from her, and backed into Toothless.

My expression must have conveyed my confusion, because Ruffnut and said, “Hiccup, we usually spend the half the day spying on people. Obviously, we know where to find people who are doing the same thing.”

We? I looked to my right, to see Tuffnut sprawled on the ground with Sneaky lying across him. He raised his hand. “Surprise. Your dad’s mad, so we’re laying low.”

“Not like that’s inconvenient.” Ruffnut sighed. Her chin fit nicely in the ‘V’ created by her hands. “Oh, Eret, son of Eret, you are the man of my dreams.”

“Ugh, gross!” Tuffnut shuddered, as if every inch of him was physically affected by Ruffnut’s words.

“Right,” I said. “I think we’ll just be going now . . . Sneaky?”

Something shiny in the audience must have caught his attention, because at some point, Sneaky had scampered up to the edge of the darkness. One more step, and he would be wreathed in red firelight. Not that he cared much. It wasn’t like the people around that fire were bloodthirsty, dragon-hating, season fighters or anything . . .

Oh, wait. They were.

But before anything could happen, Toothless sprung. His paw slammed down on the Terror’s back, squashing him. He dragged Sneaky back to safety and then, with his paw still pinning him, let the plates on his face flare and snapped at the Terror’s nose. You, stay.

Got to remember that one.

The dragons and I skirted around camp, gliding in out of the shadows. When the coast was clear, Sneaky - provided he had Toothless’s approval – would charge and grab some shiny thing or another. Pretty soon, I was wearing a lovely jewelled necklace, and had a cuff bracelet for each leg. I had put a necklace on Toothless, too.

“Too bad he didn’t grab the jade instead of the ruby one. Would have gone better with your eyes. But I guess we’ll just have to settle for red. Oh, well.” I flicked Toothless’s necklace. “You can thank the Raiders for this. Or the Romans, I suppose. Same idea.”

Toothless growled and tapped the necklace with a claw. He was convinced it would come alive and bite him.

Sneaky suddenly perked up. His nostrils widened as he inhaled deeply. You could almost see his eyes glaze over as he followed the scent of food. I smelt it a moment after: fish.

Near one edge of the village, there were Vikings, my age, gathered around a small cooking fire. I couldn’t detect the scents of anyone from our tribe. It was more crowded than Toothless should have been comfortable with, but he had always been a sucker for a quick snack. He sent Sneaky in, and not ten seconds later, the Terror was back holding a fish bigger than his head. Though Sneaky arched his back and tried to defend his prize, Toothless tore it away from him. He ripped off the head with his jaws and handed that to the Terror, ate another third of it himself, and handed the rest to me.

Don’t mind if I do.

As we chowed down, a hornpipe wailed from the center of town. I could hear a rebec, too, although that was soon drowned out by a dozen drunk voices, none of which were in tune with any of the others. Clearly, this would be one for the ages.

“Look at us,” I said. “Listening to music, eating with friends, wearing fancy Roman jewellery . . . It’s like we’re throwing the party here.”

Toothless grunted. He licked the ground, hoping to find some remains. Then, his head swung around. I peered into the dark. Even now, I could still recognise the spiralled horns of Snotlout’s helmet.

Although Snotlout couldn’t have seen us, he suddenly froze. He was staring at the fire, or more probable, the people around it. He pivoted around on his heels – just like I would, actually – and set off in the other direction.

But not before he was seen.

“Hey, Snotlout! We were just talking about you.”

“Great.” His tone said it was anything but.

“The Raiders said you aren’t allowed to be at the meeting. That true?”

Snotlout said nothing, but I could smell the sudden tension that rose from him.

Someone laughed. “Gees, even when Hiccup’s not here, you’re still second-best.”

They laughed wildly, with the kind of enthusiasm that I associated with the crazy Berserk tribe. Snotlout had spun around, and his whole body had stiffened and rose like a serpent about to strike.

I actually felt bad for him. I knew Vikings could be rough on each other –believe me, I did. I even knew that oftentimes, Fishlegs was the target. Snotlout, though? I wouldn’t have expected it. He was 100% Viking.

“So, if you’re second-best to Hiccup the Useless, what does that make you?”

I couldn’t stop the very real snarl that escaped my throat. Luckily, Toothless had the sense to squash the air out of my lungs while he snapped at me to Stay.

In the middle of the laughter, Astrid and Fishlegs had wandered up the path. Fishlegs only needed one glance before he was keeping a careful distance from Snotlout. But Astrid was different. She didn’t know the meaning of the word fear.

“Come on,” she said, sounding as though Snotlout was a stubborn child throwing a tantrum.

“Astrid!” someone called. “We were wondering where you were. You’re welcome here.”

I felt a great well of satisfaction when she refused to acknowledge him. I stuck my tongue out at the other Vikings as I secretly followed her -

What? That’s not creepy. She’s my girlfriend. It was my job to make sure that she . . . that she wasn’t ambushed by a bat or something. They can be dangerous. Phlegma was bitten once. I think it left a scar.

“Every time, Snotlout.” Astrid was marching ahead of the two boys, her steps heavy and brisk. “Can’t you just get over yourself and let it go? Hiccup is the heir, not you. Deal with it.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Snotlout shot back. “People treat you like you’re a god.”

“And maybe there’s a reason I’m still treated that way and you’re not.”

Snotlout muttered something. Whatever it was, it made Fishlegs flinch and back away with his hands raised.

“Uh, I’m going to look for the twins,” he said, before darting off into the bush.

Astrid turned around slowly. With each second, you could almost taste the silence grow bitterer.

“What did you say?” she grated out.

“I said you’re only important because of Hiccup!” They stood nose-to-nose, sparks flying between their eyes. “You wouldn’t be getting all this special treatment if it wasn’t for him. You’re no better than me!”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Why don’t you save us the trouble and admit you’re jealous?”

“Fine. You know what, I am jealous. I’m jealous that you get everything handed to you just because you kiss my cousin.”

Rather than upset her, Astrid seemed to grow more smug with Snotlout’s outburst. “Say whatever you want. I know I’ve earned my place in the tribe.”

She started to walk away, but Snotlout wasn’t done yet. He raced ahead of her, and then turned, jogging backwards as to keep in front of her. “The chiefs don’t even know your name, Astrid. You’re just Hiccup’s girlfriend to them.”

Her face twitched. For a moment, that smug confidence was replaced by uncertainty. Quickly, with all the swagger of a pure-blooded Viking, she recovered, but that note of unease remained in her scent.

“At least they know who I am,” she hissed.

“I’m serious,” Snotlout said. “I hear them talk to each other; they don’t use your name. They don’t even care –”

It wasn’t anger I felt. Anger was too weak and passive. No, this thing I experienced was too strong for anger, too potent. It was alive, and before I could even blink, wrestled away control of my body and launched it at Snotlout.

I bit down on the first chunk of flesh I found and shook. I wanted him hurt. Snotlout needed to learn. There were some things you couldn’t say. Not in front of me. He yelled, as did Astrid. Her distress rattled my already strung nerves and I bit down harder until I tasted copper. It dripped down my throat, gathering into a swirling, hot ball in my chest.

Fire.

The tightening of my fire-breathing muscles jolted me back to my senses. My throat relaxed, letting me breathe again. My tongue was coated with Snotlout’s blood.

Hide!” Astrid shoved Snotlout into the forest that I had come from. She tore me off his leg, bundling me up in her arms as we plunged into the woods. Meanwhile, Vikings from the cooking fire I had watched earlier walked up the path where we had been before, searching for the source of the screams.

When we were safe, she shook me. “What were you thinking?”

I said nothing. I couldn’t. The only sound I could make was a deep growl.

Snotlout rubbed his leg. In the faint light, I could see the blood glistening. “That hurt!”

Astrid thought so, too. “You deserved it.”

“Why? Because you can’t handle the truth?”

He spoke too loud, too aggressively. The step he took toward us was too bold. And then Toothless was there beside us, his green eyes flashing as he bared his teeth in warning. Snotlout backed away – anyone who was anyone knew to fear the Night Fury. Before he left, he looked me in the eye. Everything he wanted to say was engraved in his face. It was one I wouldn’t forget for a long time.

“Toothless?”

Well. We were busted.

Oh. Here comes Sneaky.

“Hiccup, you know they were supposed to stay inside!”

I did my best to shrug. Whoops.

She groaned. Sneaky purred and rubbed against her cheek. I whined.

“Just make sure you’re not seen, okay? Promise me.”

I nodded energetically, and placed my paw over my heart.

She squinted. “Is that . . . is that a bracelet?”

A twig snapped. When the wind turned our way, I knew it was only a hare, but part of me had still thought it was Snotlout coming back for round two, and I snarled. Astrid looked at me, shocked, before she figured out where my thoughts were going.

She stroked my head. “It’s fine, Hiccup. Snotlout’s just being an idiot. He’s mad that people aren’t falling over themselves for him. That’s all. He’s just jealous.”

But her heart started to pound.

Firmly, she repeated, “He’s just jealous.”

I pressed close to her, trying to will her heartbeat into slowing.

“He knows I wouldn’t be second-in-command in the Dragon Academy unless I deserved it. You always choose the best person for the job. Right, Hiccup?” Her voice cracked a bit on that last word.

“I do,” I whispered, wishing she could hear me.


We didn’t stay out much longer. The mood had died. Dad and most of the others were drunk, so it wasn’t too hard sneaking Toothless and Sneaky in. There was awkwardness between me and Astrid after that, one that I would have only been able to fix with my voice.

“I’m going to turn in for the night,” she said, not really facing me.

“Oh, okay. Sweet dreams.”

With her gone, and Toothless and Sneaky back in Dad’s cabin, I was suddenly alone. I could smell that Snotlout and Fishlegs had been here recently. They’d probably retired, too. The smoke-tinged smell of the twins from earlier was still present, but stale enough that I knew they were still out there. I couldn’t smell any non-Berkians.

I bathed in the moonlight. Wasn’t quite like sun-bathing. Much colder. Bottles clinked and Vikings hollered as I laid there. In a way, surrounded by the drunken sounds and smells of my fellow Vikings, it felt a lot like home.

Then I heard the twins. They were whispering and jostling each other as they tiptoed onto the ship, avoiding the older Vikings. They moved oddly enough that I knew they had found some mead of their own, although judging by the smell, not as much as Snotlout had by his return. One of them crept over to Dad’s cabin, and opened it a bit to check whether the dragons were there.

I chirped at them.

“Hiccuuuup!” Yep, definitely a bit of slurring. I hoped they wouldn’t trip or fall into the water. “How was your secret adventure?”

“Not going to be much of a secret if you keep talking that loud,” I grumbled.

They sauntered over. I say ‘sauntered’ because they were moving with these big steps that made me worry they would fall over halfway through. Tuffnut hit me with his foot. “Where is everyone? Haven’t seen them since Fishlegs decided he was too lame to drink with us.”

“So lame,” Ruffnut agreed. “It was free, too.”

I took that with a grain of salt. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Raiders were offering free drinks, but I also knew that the twins tended to refer to their ‘borrowed’ goods as free. As if nobody could figure out what they really were referring to.

“By the way, nice jewelry.”

Yes. They were quite nice, weren’t they?

“So, where’s your girlfriend?”

I tapped the deck with my claws.

“Fishlegs?” (Tapped the deck again) “Snotlout?”

I tapped the deck, but couldn’t quiet the instinctive growl.

Tuffnut smirked. “Somebody’s mad.”

“Bet Snotlout couldn’t keep his mouth shut,” Ruffnut said. “He’s been grumpy ever since we got here.”

I leapt to my feet. “Yes, I know. He was yelling at Astrid earlier and –”

They couldn’t understand a single word of my rant. But seeing how their eyebrows rose and Ruffnut inched back, it must have sounded impressive. When I ran out of breath, there was a loud silence as all of us struggled to find something to say.

Being the genius he is, Tuffnut decided on: “Wow.”

I bared my teeth, and dug my claws into the deck.

Ruffnut took a seat on the rail. “Snotlout’s been a jerk lately, but I guess I feel a little bad for him. Must have been rough going from being the best to nothing.”

I needed more than a few sounds to ask my question this time. Fortunately, the twins’ earlier stunt with fire had left some ash on the deck, and I was able to blacken my claws and write using that.

What are you talking about?

Tuffnut shrugged. “You know. All of us used to look up to him. Except Astrid. But everyone wanted him to succeed your dad. Like, everyone.”

My ears flattened. I didn’t need that reminder.

“But then the Red Death thing happened, and our dragons came along, and now you’re the one everyone respects. Snotlout’s just the pathetic guy who can’t control his dragon.”

“Plus, you grew up.” Ruffnut’s grin made me squirm. I really would have liked it if Astrid was here to protect me. “So, now all the other tribes are sure that you’ll be chief after Stoick. Snotlout’s pretty much the back-up plan. He tried hard to hate you for it.”

Tried? I wrote.

“He’s pretty much over it,” Ruffnut said. “I’m sure he decides to hate you again from time to time, but you’re a hard person to hate now. You’re too nice.”

Tuffnut rolled his eyes. “Tell me about it. Remember Mildew?”

Ruffnut snorted. She deepened her voice, and said, “Hey, Mildew. It’s me, Hiccup. I love dragons. I know you’re a traitor and got me and Toothless captured, but you look really sad. Why don’t I tell you all my big, dark secrets about training dragons, whom I love. Do you love dragons? Because I do.”

I grumbled. “That’s flattering.”

Tuffnut said, “You forgot the part where his leg falls off.”

I sighed and let my chin hit the deck.

Chapter Text

Although I knew Dad had drank a lot last night, he had no traces of a hangover when he woke up. He yawned, stretched, and cracked his back in the process of that. But he was Viking, and something like that was no different than being bitten by a mosquito. I woke to him humming in front of a mirror as he dragged a comb through his scraggly beard. Sneaky watched his every move.

When he was satisfied, he placed his helmet neatly upon his head, adjusting it until it was just right. He picked up his sword, swung it through the air once before sheathing it at his side, and then he grabbed his shield, as well.

He didn’t turn around to face me. Through his mirror’s reflection, he looked me in the eye.

“Big day, today,” he said. “After this, everything will be different. For better or for worse . . . Hiccup, what’s around your neck?”

“Oh, this? Well, uh . . .” Last night, I had taken the cuff bracelets off, but I had forgotten about the necklace.

Dad chuckled. “Don’t let any of the Raiders see that. Don’t need sticky fingers on top of everything.”

“Got it.” I kicked it under the bed with the others.

On deck, Gobber tossed me a few fish. Many of the adult Vikings, just as immune to alcohol as my Dad, were awake. They prowled the deck in lonely pairs, keeping watch over the docks and ocean. Swords, daggers, all sorts of pointy things were kept close. None of them were being brandished, but I could tell that they were freshly sharpened. Even Gobber’s hook had that particular edge to it.

“The Berserks docked last night,” Dad said. “I had hoped they would miss this one . . . would have been fine if Oswald was still chief.”

“You’ll be fine,” Gobber said. “Everyone knows Dagur is a bit loose in the head. He isn’t known as Deranged for his friendliness.”

“Astrid,” I murmured as she appeared on deck. I hoped that she didn’t take anything Snotlout said yesterday to heart.

“Hey, Hiccup. Ready to go, Chief?”

Dad patted his chest. There were little knobs attached to the armour around his neckline that I could cling to, and I did so, shivering as the cool metal touched my underbelly. Coarse, red hair tickled the nooks and crannies on my back as he adjusted his beard, shaping it so that it hid me from view. I could still through the tangled mess, but no one would be able to see me unless they were very close.

“Let’s go.”

The march to the Raider’s Great Hall was quiet and uneventful. A feeling of peace had passed over the village – probably because most people were still sleeping off yesterday. Partying and alcohol would do that to you. There were unconscious Vikings here and there, draped over crates and logs like weird decorations. One heavyset guy had a bird tugging at his beard. Banners fluttered in the half-hearted wind, twitching, and then dropping limp as if they, too, had been drinking.

Their Great Hall was grander than any I had seen. Of course, the Raiders did have that tiny advantage of avoiding that whole dragons-burning-everything-down phase. And they had put it to good use. While the outside architecture wasn’t that different, the Raiders had gone ahead and slathered the thing in paint. On one long side, the side facing the sea and potential invaders, a mural had been painted. It had the Raiders on foreign shore, with their dragon-headed ships tucked off to the far left side. In the center, a figure –Chief Hagan the Barbaric, of course – had his sword parallel to the ground as he chopped through the neck of some Roman (No idea who, but I bet the Raiders knew). His painted army of warriors cheered at the sight, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the village was burning down around them.

I didn’t get to see the other side, but on the wall which actually held the doors, two pupil-less ravens stared at us. The silent message was clear: Take caution. The gods are watching.

“Hail, Chief Stoick the Vast!” The greeting was loud and clear as we strode through the doors. Genuine, too. The other Chiefs looked at him with varying degrees of warmth, from Chief Hagan’s crooked grin, to Mogadon’s laugh and his pointing to the empty throne next to him. It was times like these where I remembered that everyone, except Dad himself, had been killed at a Gathering many years ago. Of course, all the Tribes already had their successors declared before the accident, but according to Spitelout and Gobber, Dad had still spent some time rebuilding the other Tribes. They were all thankful for it. Which was a really good thing, considering it had been a Gathering in Berk that had killed them.

Actually, let me revise one of my previous statements. Everyone was happy to see Dad, except for one. As I shuffled through the scents, I detected one of hostility. I followed the scent to its source and spied no other than Dagur the Deranged. He was eyeing my father the way a hungry cat would stare at a mouse. The veins on his arms popped as he strangled his armrest. He would be trouble. I was sure of it.

Chief Hagan yawned. He scratched his underarm lazily before starting his speech. “Now that we’re all here and gathered . . . Welcome to my village, nice to have you here, blah blah blah. Of course, you’re all honoured to be here. ”

As he continued to mock the typical pleasantries, I studied the rest of the audience. To our right, was Mogadon. Thuggory sat on a smaller throne next to him. To our left, were the representatives of the Bog Burglars: their chief . . . uh, their chief . . . Big-Boobied Bertha. Really. That’s her name. Rumour had it that more than one animal had been suffocated by – I think everyone gets the point. Her daughter and heir, Camicazi, was rather pretty, too.

Next to our resident Deranged Chief, was yet another crazy guy whose black hair was sticking out in clumps: Nobert the Nutjob, chief of the Hysterics. In a word, that tribe was crazy. You could barely have a conversation without one of them bursting into a rant about some crazy, made-up world called America. And did I mention they were convinced the world was round? Crazy.

Across from us was the chief of the Lava Louts, Berk’s historic, greatest enemy . . . Chief Ranvir. I had no idea why the Lava Louts were considered Berk’s worst enemy. It had been that way since as long as I could remember, and both tribes didn’t seem interested in changing things. If anything, they took pride in it. That being said, the Lava Louts had spent the last few years rubbing me the wrong way. Not because of anything they said, or did, but what they wore: dragon skin. Shiny, thick coats of dragon skin. Sometimes, I just really wanted to punch them.

There were two other people, two that I knew very well: Alvin the Treacherous, and Savage. It had been a while since we had last seen each other. Not since we had helped Alvin take back his tribe from Dagur. And even though Alvin had nodded respectfully at our entrance, his face was neutral again. We had parted with the suggestion that we were to be allies, but I couldn’t predict whether he would honour that.

Hagan suddenly cleared his throat. “First order of business. Last night, I was told that a couple of kids –”

“How much?” Dad interrupted.

“Hmm?”

“How much damage by the Thorston twins?”

Hagan grinned. From this angle, the resemblance to a wolf’s smile was uncanny. “Not as much as usual. I’m surprised you still bring them.”

Dad shifted. “Considering the circumstances, I thought it best. Now, how much do I owe -?”

Crack.

Nearly half a dozen, battle-hardened Vikings leapt to their feet, but it was only Dagur. He had slammed the pommel of his knife onto his throne’s armrest, and was clenching his teeth like he was grinding a bone between them.

“Stop wasting time!” he demanded, as if he had the divine right to dictate what we did. “I didn’t spend a week on a boat for this.”

“Shut your mouth!” Alvin snapped. His eyes seemed to flash, not just with hate, but with the memory of Dagur’s crimes.

Hagan, on the other hand, shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind skipping to the dragons.”

A quick vote later, and it was agreed: dragons, it was. A bead of sweat tried to navigate its way down Dad’s chin, but was snatched up by a strand of beard. Astrid straightened up in her seat; it was weird how I could actually smell that she was hiding her nervousness.

Hagan asked, “So, just what is this business with the dragons?”

Dad tried to say something, but there was no controlling the Deranged Chief. In a flash, like someone had lit his pants on fire, he was standing. Every word he spoke seemed to be accompanied by a white fleck of spit.

“Berk wants us to stop killing dragons!” he snarled.

A pause.

Mogadon said, “Err, let me explain. You know we’ve been at war with the beasts with hundreds of years. Stoick has the idea that we should draw up some sort of truce.”

There was no warning when Dad stood. Only quick reflexes stopped me from tumbling into the open. “It was never a war. The dragons raided us, and we defended ourselves. But the raids have stopped; there is no reason to continue hunting them.”

Before anything could be said, Nobert leaned over and clamped a hand over Dagur’s mouth. Apparently, the young chief was coming across as too annoying even for him. In the lapse, Big-Boobied Bertha asked, “And what happens when the raids start again?”

“They won’t,” Dad vowed. “It wasn’t their fault to begin with.”

“Yes, you did mention something along those lines to me before,” Mogadon said. He had a particular glint in his eyes now, the same one Dagur had worn when we had entered.

Dad quickly explained the Red Death to them. It didn’t seem to stir the crowd at all. All I could see was a circle of bored faces, and even scent couldn’t tell me what really lay inside their heads.

Bertha said, “You’re avoiding the question. So what if they were hypnotized? They can be hypnotized again. I won’t have these creatures roaming my island knowing that they could turn on us in an instant!”

Hagan raised a hand for silence. “Is there any way to protect them from this hypnotism?”

“I . . .” Dad glanced at Astrid, who did her best to give him an encouraging smile. “Hiccup led our dragon riders into battle with the Red Death without any problems. He must have figured something out.”

Uh, no. I don’t think I really did. It just kind of happened.

“How convenient he’s not here,” Ranvir drawled.

Astrid spoke up, “We told you, he’s needed –”

“Shush, girl. No one asked you.”

Outraged, Astrid tried to say something back, but Dad waved her off. I knew he wasn’t happy about it, but I knew there wasn’t much he could do either. Astrid and I weren’t betrothed, so the other heirs and chiefs expected her to be silent unless spoken to. She must have known this, too, but the face she wore was one of betrayal.

I would be hearing about this in the evening.

Dad took a deep breath. “I will admit it is risky. But, we’re Vikings! We live for danger. We used to draw swords against the Romans for fun. How is not killing dragons any more dangerous than that?”

“It’s different when the danger is on another’s shore,” Ranvir said.

Dad countered, “There had always been a chance that the Romans would come after us. You know that.”

“That’s different. Romans can’t fly, or breathe fire.”

“Romans can’t be tamed,” Dad said. “Dragons can be. It is no different than when we took the boars from the woods to be our livestock. Dragons are just as useful – even more so. There is nothing else like them.”

It made me uncomfortable to hear my own father speak of dragons like this . . . like unthinking tools. They weren’t; dragons were smart, wonderful creatures. Not a weapon to be wielded by any careless Viking. But Dad knew his audience better than me. He knew what he had to say to sway the crowd.

“Why destroy what can be put to use?” Somewhere in his speech, Dad had wandered into the center of the circle. “The dragons were a pain in the past. I had wanted them dead more than any of you can imagine . . . but even I could see the potential in wrangling those beasts. Odin sent them to us for a reason.”

“Blah, blah, blah.” Dagur had finally wrestled Nobert’s hand away. “Who cares? They’re dragons! They’re just dumb animals.”

“Says the boy whose tribe worships the Skrill!” Alvin sounded mad. Very mad. “When you had your chance, you didn’t hesitate to tame a dragon.”

That drew attention. All eyes turned to Dagur, who clearly had no idea how to counter the truth.

“And you certainly weren’t talking about killing dragons when you were trying to kill me with a Skrill,” Alvin hissed. “I stand with Berk.”

There was a shift in the air. More than one chief and their heir were exchanging furtive glances. This spat between Dagur and Alvin . . . it might just be the best thing that could have happened to us. See, the Berserkers and Outcasts have always been the least trustworthy of tribes. They were always picking fights for ridiculous reasons – even during the dragons raids, we had to be on the lookout for their flags. So, if they were secretly taming dragons, then suddenly every other tribe felt vulnerable. And when you were vulnerable because your enemy had a shiny new weapon, then you wanted one, too.

“Is it really that easy to train fire-breathing animals?” Hagan said.

“Dragons are easy to train,” Dad answered. “Why, Hiccup didn’t even take a day to tame a group that we had been using as target practice for months. They are . . .”

He stopped suddenly. Just stopped. Long enough that Astrid tried to discreetly nudge him.

“ . . . They are natural servants.”

Slaves. That’s what he wanted to say. Astrid stared at him. I was . . . I . . . he was going too far! If they thought of dragons as slaves, Dad knew how they would be treated. I stabbed him in the throat with my claw, and his massive hand swung up and squashed me. He tried to pass it off as rubbing his beard.

“That doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous,” Nobert said. “The skraelings were, too, but . . . Never setting foot in America again.”

“All dogs bite when they are cornered,” Dad said as he returned to his seat. “The key with dragons is to guide them with a gentle hand. They are like the nisse: happy to serve, but disrespect them and they are quick to attack.”

“And where’s your proof?” Ranvir demanded. His voice seemed to coil around me like a snake. “Your tribe is apparently the expert in training dragons. I see no dragon.”

I felt a touch on my spine. I twisted, and pressed my forehead against his finger. I’m ready.

“Dragons? Is that what you want? Why didn’t you say so?” Dad said.

Light blinded me. Dad’s hands were wrapped around my midsection as he held me in the open. There were shouts, the sharp smell of metal being drawn, but nobody was charging yet. I’ll take that as a good sign.

“What is that?” Ranvir barked.

“A Night Fury.”

Silence. Pure silence. Even from Dagur and Alvin. They had been expecting Toothless, not me.

“They don’t exist.” Of all people, it was Nobert the Nutjob who said that.

“I have a little dragon in my hand that says otherwise.” He tried to pet my head. It felt like he was going to tear my scalp off.

Mogadon blurted,” Your son rode that into battle?”

“He rode the older Night Fury,” Dad said quickly. “Not this little guy.”

“You have two?” Dagur nearly screamed. For a moment, it looked like he was actually going to charge, but Alvin happily sent Savage over to restrain him.

Dad ignored him. “Astrid, why don’t you take over? You’re his trainer, after all.”

I felt like there was some kind of inside joke there.

Astrid took me happily. “Sure thing, Chief.”

She’s his trainer?” Hagan asked that with all the grace and politeness of a hog leaping upon a banquet table.

“It was Hiccup’s Snoggletog present to me. It only made sense.” I could hear her sharp smile. “After all, Hiccup’s Night Fury was the father . . .”

Oh, good move. Yes, we Vikings in Berk weren’t just training dragons, we were breeding them. Try to deny that they could be trained, now!

“And it’s trained?” Bertha asked.

Astrid put me down. As I was turning to face her, she flashed me a quick signal with her hand. The signal we used to tell our dragons to sit.

Okay. Sure. Sit and wait for Astrid to decide on something to show them. It took me a few seconds before I realized that had been part of the demonstration.

“Down,” she ordered.

For the next minute or so, I let Astrid order me around. I sat; I rolled; I twirled; I waited at her heel like a good pet. I even begged for a little herring. Above all, I avoided looking at the others. I knew word would get out, and the twins wouldn’t let me forget it. But, when I pretended the other Vikings weren’t there, it made me feel a little better.

“Good boy,” she said, almost breathless. She held one arm straight out, tapped it with her other hand, and I happily climbed up her back and onto her arm.

“A dragon will do anything if it likes you enough. Do I need to show you more?” she asked our spectators.

Camicazi spoke up. “How do we know that’s a Night Fury?”

Astrid and I exchanged a glance. She grabbed her helmet, and tossed it into the air. “Go!”

Screek!

The signature blast sent the poor thing spinning across the room, where it stuck in a wall. Being the vigilant, never-resting boyfriend, I scampered over and retrieved it for her. Took me more than two tries to get it out of the wall. And it came back with a chunk of wood still attached. But it was the thought that counted!

With me cradled in her arms, Astrid asked, “Any more questions?”

There were. I could see them in their eyes. But no one actually asked anything, and I wasn’t sure what to make of that.

Astrid whispered to me, “Fetching my helmet was a really smart idea. I think that sold it.”

. . . And it wasn’t even why I did it.

Then, Thuggory was bold enough to stand up. Even though no one else moved from their throne, the circle of Vikings seemed to grow tighter. I checked Astrid; she had grown still, but not tense. Dad was carefully watching the proceedings, and his scent revealed nothing. At least I couldn’t smell any danger from Thuggory.

He stopped about a foot away. One hand hovered near his chest. “May I?”

She nodded, surprised. Most Vikings just took what they wanted and asked permission later. Especially heirs. Especially heirs that weren’t dealing with other heirs or chiefs.

Thuggory held his hand out. I swallowed my pride – wait until the twins hear about this – and sniffed his hand. It must have startled him, because he jumped and hit me in the chin. That made him pause, and the already silent crowd grew quieter. I sighed mentally, and then allowed a purr to rumble through my throat.

That did it. The tension broke, and a wave of curious Vikings were suddenly on their feet and heading towards me.

“Settle down!” Dad stood in front of us, a living barricade. “He doesn’t like to be crowded. It frightens him.”

“Frightens him?” someone scoffed. “It’s a Night Fury.”

“A baby Night Fury,” Dad stressed. “He’s not used to meeting strangers.”

Did I ever tell you how much I love Dad? Because I do, I really do. And I even loved him before he neatly saved me from being mobbed by a pack of grabby Vikings.

Thuggory asked Astrid, “What’s his name?”

“His name? Uh . . . Thornado?”

He nodded to himself, almost thoughtfully. Afterwards, he returned to his father’s side.

“Alright, Stoick. I think everyone here can agree that dragons are clearly trainable. What do you want from us?” Mogadon asked.

“Give them a chance,” Dad said. “Stop hunting them. If you want the dragons on your side, you have to show them that you aren’t a threat. And if that isn’t enough, I’m sure Hiccup would be happy to help.”

Never!” With the sharp sound of danger, Dagur’s axe was in hand. Same went with Hagan and his sword. As much as the old chief liked a good brawl, I knew one in this situation was utterly unacceptable.

“Sit down,” Hagan growled. His hair seemed to bristle.

Dagur snarled, “Berk is full of traitors and liars, and you’re going to listen to them?”

“Hiccup and Stoick are the most honourable men I have ever dealt with,” Alvin said calmly.

“Says Alvin the Treacherous.”

“Whatever this problem you three have with each other is, I don’t care.” Nobert picked at his fingernails. He yawned widely, exposing a gold tooth. “But if dragons can be tamed . . . it’s worth checking out. Maybe it’s the key to finally settling America . . . I’ll give them a chance.”

“Aren’t you lucky?” Dagur said to Astrid, rolling his eyes. “You have the support of a liar, and a nutjob.”

But then Mogadon spoke. “I’ve seen more proof of your claims than anyone else. We’ll stop hunting them . . . if you promise to have your riders stop flying over our island. They’re spooking the sheep.”

Dad chuckled. “I’ll speak with them.”

Bertha was next. “If we catch dragons around our village, we’re still going to take care of them . . . but we won’t seek them out.”

Ranvir said, “Sure, I’ll bite. It’s worth a shot.”

Alvin said, “You already know where I stand.”

Hagan held eye contact with Dagur for a moment, as if to taunt him. Then, to Dad, he said, “You better be right that Hiccup is going to help.”

That was it. We had everyone but Dagur, and I didn’t expect him to cave. Sure enough, he was shaking his head, and backing towards his throne like a wounded animal. If the place wasn’t stuffed with very large and aggressive Vikings, he would have attacked.

“We all had an agreement to kill dragons! If you break that . . . that’s war.”

Flatly, Chief Hagan said, “I’m terrified.”

There was nothing else to be said. Dagur, Deranged though he was, knew he had lost. He shoved his way out of the hall, muttering something about vengeance.

Hagan said, “We’ll give it a year’s trial. Decide next Gathering whether Berk is right. Agreed?”

One by one, the chiefs voiced their agreement.

“Then that’s settled.” Hagan plopped down into his throne. “Now, back to the Thorston twins . . .”


“I think that went well,” Astrid said, as we left the Great Hall. I was perched on her shoulder. Now that the chiefs had seen me, there was no point in hiding. Dad still said that we should keep Toothless and Sneaky hidden. For a trump card, if we needed one.

Dad didn’t say anything.

“Stoick?”

“We may have overdone it,” he said quietly.

Astrid and I looked at each other. “What do you mean?”

He sighed a great, heavy sigh. “Don’t forget: Berk is not your usual tribe. We are much too peaceful. These next few years will be very rough for the Romans . . .”

He looked off into the distance, where between the trees, you could just glimpse the ships of the Berserks and the Lava Louts.

“. . . Or for everyone.”

Chapter Text

Maybe I should have rethought perching on Astrid’s shoulder. Everyone knew what the Gathering had been about, but they hadn’t been there for the actual show. Meaning, I was now in the sights of some very confused, and some very angry Vikings. In a way, I was glad this whole turning-into-a-dragon thing had happened. If they were this upset seeing me, imagine how they would feel knowing there was a full-grown Night Fury running around. Not to mention, Toothless wasn’t nearly as patient – or trusting - as me.

I could see it in the way they moved, hear it in the way they spoke . . . I could just see it in everything. I had no idea if it was real or my imagination, but once I had become aware of that first sign of danger, everyone seemed dangerous. Every approach seemed to be a feint; every harsh word seemed to be accompanied by a glance at me. I huddled against Astrid’s neck, trying to hide myself behind her hair.

“They’ll ease up,” Dad said. “Once they hear from their chiefs what happened, they’ll respect it.”

Not soon enough for me.

“That will be nice,” Astrid said. “But I guess we still have to worry about the Fiends. I’m surprised they didn’t show up.”

Dad shrugged. “The Fiends are hardly real Vikings. Just some fur-trappers who prefer our lifestyle over the Roman way.”

“As they should,” Astrid said, preening. “I –”

“There’s my favourite chief!” Somehow, the not-very-small Chief Hagan had managed to sneak up on us. He wrapped his arm around Dad’s shoulder, and started leading him off. “Why don’t we discuss these dragons of yours?”

“Err, well, Hiccup is the real expert . . .” He bit off that protest midway, knowing it was useless. “Alright. Astrid, I’ll see you two back at the boat.”

“Guess I’m the one telling everyone the good news,” she said.

“You’ll be great,” I told her happily.

I did my best to act like a harmless little pet from then on. Like a parrot. It was amusing enough that I temporarily forgot why I was acting this way. Until a shadow crossed in front of us, and a Viking, about our age, stood in our path.

“Hey, Astrid.”

Part of me wanted to growl. The rest of me knew that was a terrible idea. I couldn’t place his tone; it didn’t sound hostile, but I could tell he wanted something. His gaze was too intense for anything else.

Astrid groaned. “I already told you: I’m not interested, Cael.”

The boy – Cael – didn’t seem bothered by her rejection. His smile took up half his face. He reeked of arrogance. He could go away now, thank you very much!

“Aw, Astrid. Loosen up. Nobody has to know. It’s not like your little pet can talk.”

Oh, he had no idea. I snapped at his finger when he tried to scratch me.

“Go away,” she said. Her voice was dull, telling Cael that he wasn’t even worth getting angry at.

“Hey!” He hurried to keep up as she kept walking. “I get it, you know. Politics. Hiccup’s the heir. Blah, blah, blah. But we both know you don’t really like him, so why not have some fun?”

She neatly spun around and grabbed his wrist in her hand. Smiling innocently, she said, “I’ll give you five seconds to leave. If you don’t, you will have an unfortunate accident.”

Heh. It was always funny when Astrid threatened other people.

He took the hint. He wrenched his arm back, and rubbed his wrist tenderly. “Just trying to do you a favour. You said it yourself: he’s Hiccup the Useless.”

My snickers stopped. What.

Under my paws, Astrid’s shoulders went rock-hard. Even though I could feel heat rising from her, colour had drained from her face. She didn’t say anything, and the only reason Cael didn’t notice something was wrong was because he was walking away from us.

“Astrid . . . ?”

At the sound of my keen, she flinched. “It’s not what you think.”

But it was. She just confirmed it.

“Wait!”

It was so easy to jump off her shoulder and disappear into the bush. I should have been more worried about being caught by the other Vikings, but I wasn’t. I just wanted, needed to be alone. I didn’t want to see her guilt. I didn’t want to hear her apologies. I just wanted to be alone.

Somehow, for all these years, I had always believed she was different. That she had never really thought of me as that. Stupid. It must have been the crush talking. Of course she had. Everyone had.

“Stop!”

I ignored her. Right now, I just needed to process.

But, try as I might, my super-hearing couldn’t block out Astrid’s voice. It was like she was speaking on a frequency designed to pierce through my eardrums.

“Hiccup, please. I know you’re upset, but you have to understand. It was a long time ago, and I was angry and . . . I was being stupid, okay? I didn’t mean any of it. Hiccup?”

I burrowed deeper into the dirt.

She continued to hunt for another half hour, and it made me do nothing but want to hide. When she gave up and left, there was a void left behind. I wasn’t that angry. Could I really be mad at her for saying that? I guess, theoretically, sure. But it wasn’t like she was the first. Or alone.

Or that I didn’t deserve it.

A rustle. That was all the warning I got before Toothless uncovered me. He barked, shaking in that weird imitation of a dog’s wagging tail.

“Uh, Toothless, do you mind? I was in the middle of sulking.”

He grumbled and licked me from shoulder to tail. That was Toothless for you. Always knowing what to say.

“Must have really spooked Astrid if she sent you out to find me.”

Maybe I did, but I didn’t feel like going back.

“Come on. Let’s get out of here.”


We found a small cove by the shore, a small reminder of the place Toothless and I had truly met. There was a small indent in a spot carved into a half-sphere, and that’s where Toothless decided to curl up. The top passed over us, blocking my view of the sky. I rested on his flank, just underneath his wing. He stunk of burned wood. Odin knew what kind of mischief he had gotten into when I was gone.

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be human?” I asked him. “I bet you’d be like Dad; popping off dragon heads right after he was born . . . No, I‘ve never seen him do that. But I bet he could. If he wanted to. You’d be like him: all courage and muscle.”

Toothless purred, understanding nothing.

“Maybe you should have been the human, and me the dragon. I seem to be doing a pretty good job at it.”

He stretched. His back paws kneaded the wall.

“Oh, come here, you big lug. I need comfort.”

Toothless was happy to oblige. He wrapped his front legs around me, imitating the hug he so often saw us Vikings do. He gnawed on my head. Lovingly.

He stopped suddenly, and crooned. I then became aware of the panting behind me.

“Sneaky?”

He chittered to himself, excited. Then he swooped back toward the open, shrouding himself in sunlight before landing on the arm of none other than the Chief of Berk.

My ears drooped. Oh, boy.

But he didn’t smell angry. He kneeled down before Toothless and locked eyes with Toothless, silently asking for permission. As if Toothless was my father, and not him.

“Heard that you and Astrid had a bit of a tiff.”

Sure, if you wanted to call it that. Hard to have a fight when one party can’t talk.

“I know what happened. Astrid told me everything.” He sat against the corner of the entrance to Toothless’s little burrow, so that I could only see the right half of him. His back blocked the light, leaving it dark as the sun traced an odd, shining path along the bottom of his chin. “I know you don’t like hearing those things, but these aren’t our people. They only think they know you.”

I scratched into the dirt: They won’t let it go. Normally, I would have added something sarcastic, but writing took too long.

“Of course not. Everything’s a fight with Vikings. Insults are just another battle. We all do it, but it doesn’t mean what they say are true.”

I growled, and shook my head. Not me.

Dad turned his head. The light bounced off his eye and reflected sympathy. “Hiccup, you enjoy calling him Nobert the Nutjob as much as anyone. We didn’t give him that name for fun.”

I wanted to deny it, but couldn’t after remembering how I had laughed at him in my head earlier.

“They don’t matter,” he said. “Berk trusts you. That’s all you need to care about.”

Before, I scrawled.

“You were a strange kid. You know that as well I as do. And when you starting building things that destroyed other people’s homes . . . well, it was too much trouble on top of all the trouble from the dragon raids. The dragons didn’t stick around for them to yell at, so they went after you.”

When I just stared at him, he took a deep breath and continued. “You don’t need to know all the reasons. They love you now. That should be enough.”

I wasn’t sure. My insides were like the raging sea: cold and violent. Toothless stirred uneasily, aware of my turmoil, but unable to figure out what was going on.

“We all hate the person we used to be.” With a smile, Dad said, “Yes, even me. I should have been more patient with you. Maybe then there wouldn’t have been so many wasted years . . .”

No. No. I shook my head violently and hissed. That wasn’t true. I had always loved him, even during the pre-Toothless years. He was my father. I didn’t want him any different.

“I pushed you too hard,” he rattled on. “Did you know that when you were just a baby, I could hold you in one hand? You were such a wee thing, and born in such dangerous times. The Elder didn’t think you would last through the winter. But you did. That’s you: always full of surprises. But you were still so small, and so many great men and women had died in the raids . . .

“I tried so hard to hide you away and make you into something you weren’t. I convinced myself I was the only way. And if that meant I had to see you unhappy, so be it. As long as you survived.” He choked and wiped his eyes. “That was all that mattered to me.”

“Dad . . .” I put my paw on his knee, and looked straight into his eyes. There was no disguising his tears now.

He said, “I’ve already lost your mother. I can’t imagine losing you, too.”

Mom. I couldn’t remember her face, but still felt the ache. I crawled into his lap, laid my head against him, and listened to his quiet sobs.

Dragons couldn’t cry; but for a moment, I didn’t believe that.


She was waiting for me on the ship, as I knew she would be. When Astrid wanted something, she didn’t give up for anything. Seeing her almost made me feel nostalgic, as if it was possible to go back in time and pretended I hadn’t heard Cael.

It was just me and Gobber walking onto the deck (he had come looking for Dad and I after he heard what had happened). Dad was waiting in the woods with Toothless. We had lucked out when Toothless had gone looking for me, and Dad didn’t want to chance him being seen when he returned to the ship. So, the two of them would wait for night. I would have waited with them, but I wanted to settle things with Astrid.

Oh, and Sneaky was flying somewhere far above. Terrors were common enough, even around here, that no one would notice.

“Hey,” Astrid said quietly.

I was perched on Gobber’s bicep the way Sneaky had been on Dad’s. My tail, hanging straight down before, started to curl around his arm.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” Gobber said. He jerked his arm, sending me falling into Astrid.

When the clops of his footsteps faded into silence, I jumped out of her arms and onto the ship’s rail. We stared at each other, waiting.

“I don’t blame you for being mad,” she said. “But that happened years ago. It was . . . I don’t even remember what you did . . . it slipped out. It was just the spur of the moment. I didn’t mean for it to get out, but Ruffnut overheard . . .”

She bowed her head. “I’m sorry, Hiccup. If I could take it back, I would.”

“It’s okay, Astrid.” I nuzzled her hand. “I forgive you.”

She smiled. She said something, but I don’t know what. Because right when she started to speak, the wind changed directions. It brought with it the usual smell of salt water and wood and people, but there was something else. Something wrong. The spicy, sour odour of adrenaline floated towards us like a mist. There were too many people.

I smelled metal.

My body reacted: arching my back and making my wings flare. I growled, even before I tried to peer around the deckhouse and figure out what was going on. Astrid spun around, reaching for the axe strapped to her belt. I could see the hairs on her arm rising.

“Hiccup, what is it?”

I . . . I wasn’t sure. Something was there, though. My instincts could tell.

I saw them. There were Vikings leaving one of the docked ships. They didn’t seem odd, but even looking at them made me shiver. The wrongness surrounded them in a black aura.

Then, I saw the ship’s flag: a spiked dragon spitting lightning.

“Astrid, the Berserks!”

“Everyone, arm yourselves!” She ran and planted herself in the middle of the plank that connected our ship to land. The other Vikings rose from their relaxed positions, switching into fighting mode seamlessly. Gobber flung open the trapdoor to below deck, hollered down it, and then went to stand next to Astrid.

The way Dagur moved, it seemed more animal than human. He hunched over slightly at the shoulders, and his gaze was dark and direct, focused only on what was in front of him. His bare arms moved back and forth in time with his steps; the muscles on them flexing accordingly. He stopped at the base of the plank, and his hands curled into fists. The fingernails scraped against his palm like claws against rock.

Astrid walked halfway down the plank. “What do you want?”

“Where’s Stoick?” Dagur spat. Literally. I saw it.

“That’s none of your concern.”

He paced irritably across the short width of the plank. It was like watching a cornered animal whose one escape route had been blocked. “He’s not here, is he?”

I could taste bloodlust. It flowed out of the Vikings – both ours and theirs - like a flood, slopping over the deck and coating everything in an invisible, musky slime. Ferocity sparked between the two groups. Berk may have been the tribe of peace, but every man and woman here came from pure Viking stock. Our very blood was infused with the aggression and viciousness that had given the berserkers their legacy.

“If I were you, I’d think carefully,” Gobber warned. “We’re all here on friendly terms. There’s not supposed to be fighting at a time like this. The Raiders wouldn’t like it.”

“I don’t care about them!” Dagur said. “Chief Hagan’s a coward . . . this has nothing to do with him. You owe me a dragon.”

I growled as menacingly as I could. It didn’t reassure Astrid, who shoved me off the rail and out of sight.

“You’ll get him over my cold, dead body,” she said.

Even before she finished speaking, I knew what would happen: Dagur would take her words to heart as a challenge.

He lunged with a wild cry. And that was all I saw before I was caught in a rush of thundering feet.

Crash. Instinct ripped my tail out of the way, right before a leather-cladded foot would have squashed it against the ground. The pull of instinct - of that feral, violent desire for life – tossed me against the side of the ship where it was safer. Still not enough. I could feel the air tremble from the stampede. Feet stepped so close that they seemed to move in slow motion.

“Get him out of here!” I heard Astrid cry out.

Something grabbed me. I twisted and bit down. Tasted blood.

Fishlegs yelped. He fell back against the rail, clutching his bleeding hand.

I winced. Sorry.

I was sorry, but in the pandemonium of battle, it was hard to think rationally. There were too many scents, too much sound, too much everything. And blood, too much blood. Blood that was coming from the Berserks; from Berkians; from people I had known since I was born; from friends.

Astrid. Where was Astrid? There was this gaping hole inside me, and I needed her. I needed her. I needed Dad. I needed Toothless. I needed to see them and smell them; to snuggle up close and listen to their heartbeat.

I climbed to the top of the rail. Then immediately ducked down when I saw the faces staring at me. Then peered over again. I was at an impasse. My muddled mind said: Move! Find family. My body refused. Too much danger, it warned. Be small. Be still. Maybe no one will notice you.

Splashing. There were people in the water, swimming for shore after they had been tossed off the plank. Friend or foe? I didn’t know. But they weren’t Astrid. They weren’t Dad, or Toothless. I looked away.

Another pair of hands grabbed me. These ones had learned. One arm swooped under and held me from there; the other kept my jaws shut.

Danger. DANGER! my mind shrieked. Legs and wings flailed, looking to climb, run, fly . . . whatever they had to do. Fire boiled in my chest.

“I’m fine,” a voice said. “You go help the others.”

The familiar voice wormed its way into my consciousness for a second. Then it was gone. It wasn’t family. Wasn’t safe.

“Stop squirming!” The Voice said.

I would not. I expressed that clearly.

Then, we were weightless. Only for an instant and then I realized that the Viking holding me had hopped over the rail, and the water was approaching very fast. My wings snapped open in time with my tailfin –

The cold water did what nothing else had done: cooled the heat of my wild, dragon instincts. From the moment my head breached the surface again, I could feel the instinct-induced haze rolling off me just as the water did. Snotlout. Snotlout had been the Voice. Now, he was just wet.

I clung to his back as he paddled away from the battle, towards the ships of the Bog-Burglars. I didn’t like it at all. There were hooks inside me, pulling insistently back towards our ship. It wasn’t dragon instincts acting up now, but the Viking ones of: Fight. Protect. My inner chief, if you will.

I whined loudly when we hit land. So loudly and shrilly it almost turned into a howl. It was one of the only sounds I could make with Snotlout’s hand clamped over my snout.

“What?” he demanded.

My front paws moved in little circles, like I was swimming. I kept my eyes locked on the chaotic mass of the two Viking tribes as I continued to whine.

I didn’t mean to do it. Of course not. But It’s not like my tail ever waited for my brain to give it a command. It, surprisingly strong, whipped sideways into Snotlout’s gut. His breath escaped him in a wheeze, and his fingers jumped enough that I slipped through.

I made it one step before he stepped on my tail. It hurt. Although it was a distant hurt, like beforehand I had laid my tail in ice for a while.

“Get off!” I snapped at him.

He looked at me. Looked at the ship. Looked back, and it finally seemed to click.

“Uh, Hiccup, maybe you weren’t listening, but they’re after you.”

Wasn’t everyone? No, seriously. There had been Alvin, and Dagur, and every random person ever who wanted to train dragons. Flattering, but starting to get rather annoying.

I grumbled at him, telling him to let me go back and help in a language he couldn’t understand. He didn’t looked amused, and picked me up by the wings.

“Astrid says you need to hide.”

I growled. More than anyone (except Dad), it was hard for me to disagree with Astrid. That’s probably why he said it. Still, these were my people we were talking about. Even disregarding the fact I was the heir, as a Viking of a Berk, I was responsible for them.

Not that Snotlout felt the same way. “If you’re on that ship, they’re just going to grab you. And Astrid and your Dad will kill us. We’re going.”

I whined, but didn’t fight further. And the sounds of the battle grew fainter as he carried us into the woods.

Chapter Text

The walk was slow. I don’t think I was making things easier. I was a very unhappy Viking, and was not shy about showing it. Snotlout mostly ignored me.

Even though I could no longer see the ships, or the water through the trees, I still heard enough. Dragon brains were wired to pick out certain sounds, like the rustle of a bush that concealed prey, or the hiss of dragon fire. Or danger. Maybe it was my imagination, but I was pretty sure I could still hear fighting.

Snotlout had me under his arm, so that my spine slotted into his armpit. With his other arm, he pushed through branches and . . . oh, one just hit him in the face. It would have been funny, but I was too worried for that.

He forced his way through another thicket, and half-stumbled to a stop in front of an upright spear. There was something off about it; it didn’t look quite like Viking design. Maybe it was Roman? I could tell by the smell that it had been placed recently.

Next thing I knew, Snotlout had let me go, and I crashed to the ground.

He sat against a nearby tree, and scowling, picked leaves out of his hair. There were a couple of dirt streaks on his cheeks. How he got them when he had been walking through the forest, I have no idea. Trust him to figure out a way.

That’s when Sneaky revealed his presence. He was sitting on a branch above Snotlout, and chewing on a fish. As I watched, part of it dropped onto Snotlout’s helmet with a splat. It slid off sideways, leaving a grimy trail.

“This sucks,” Snotlout said.

I said, “Well, it could be worse.”

Dark, hooded eyes met mine. Snotlout’s scowl grew deeper as he turned away from me.

“You’re not seriously mad at me, are you?” Honestly, I wasn’t as mad at him as I sounded either, but the frustration of knowing my people were under attack leaked into my tone. “I didn’t ask for this, any of this! Dagur would have attacked whether I was human or not. This isn’t my fault!”

Snotlout slumped over. His knees were drawn tight into his chest, as if he was trying to make himself into an angry ball of Viking. My nostrils flared as I studied his scent more closely . . . maybe it wasn’t this problem with Dagur that he was so angry with.

I pushed his pant leg up, finding the scars of my bite. They had been wrapped, but not much more than that.

He slapped me away. “Leave it alone.”

I returned. Poked my snout against the wrappings. It didn’t smell like there was an infection, so that was good . . . I had a sudden, utterly gross itch to lick it.

Ugh. Sometimes being a dragon wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“What?” he snapped. “Now you’re sorry?”

I wasn’t sure. But he didn’t have to know that.

I stumbled away from him and in the direction of the ship, listening hard. There was still a low hum in my ears, but I still didn’t know whether it was me or actually real. Anything could be happening right now. Anything.

“Hey!”

I looked over my shoulder. Sneaky had grabbed Snotlout’s helmet by the horn, and dragged it right off his head. Snotlout tried to retrieve it, but stopped short when the Terror ran in my general direction. He crossed his arms and stared stonily at the sky.

“Come on, Sneaky,” I said. “We’re already having enough of a rough day.”

He didn’t want to give it back, so we played a short game of tug-of-war (it ended up with his snout in the ground. Did you know he squeaks when he’s startled?) My tail sort of accidentally hit him in the head as I passed. I dropped the helmet on top of Snotlout’s knees.

He stared at it for a long time.

A very long time.

Maybe he had never seen a reflection before?

Argh!

With one hand, Snotlout hurled his helmet through the air. With the sharp crack of metal on rock, it tumbled over a boulder, and out of sight. He stared after it with an expression that was partly pained, but mostly said he wanted to throw it again. Then, he turned to me.

“Stop it!” he shouted.

I stepped back. “What did I do?”

“Just stop it!” He was on his feet, towering over me. “You’re always doing that thing where you’re all nice and forgiving and feeling sorry for everyone. I’m sick of it! I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, okay? I don’t . . . I . . .”

He asked, “Why can’t you just hate me?”

Whoa. Okay, then. Before, there had been a nagging feeling that there was more going on here than I understood. That was no longer just a feeling.

It was weird seeing Snotlout without his helmet. His hair was tangled and greasy, as if it had never heard of a comb. And once I noticed that, I noticed something else: he looked terrible. There were shadows under his eyes, and the skin seemed a little saggy. Had he lost weight? He might have, but it was hard to tell under all those clothes. But with my keen eyes, I could see that there was a quiet trace of exhaustion to his movements. They seemed stilted instead of smooth, like a nervous actor on stage.

He fell back against the tree, sliding down its trunk until he hit the ground. The anger was gone, but I could still sense loathing. I just wasn’t sure what – or whom – it was directed out.

I approached. “Look, Snotlout, I have no idea where all this is coming from, but I don’t hate you. It’s true. I never hated you. Disliked you, sure. Rather strongly, actually. But I never hated you.”

I put my paw on his foot. “Ruff and Tuff told me what’s going on . . . boy, it’s weird giving a pep talk to someone who can’t understand me. Anyways, what I want to say is that I get it. I spent so much of my life wishing I could be you; wishing that I could be part of the gang instead of just me . . . and I really wish you could understand me.”

I couldn’t say to Snotlout what needed to be said, but there were things that could be communicated without words. I crawled onto him, climbing up his chest so that when I smiled, I was right in front of his eyes.

“Come on: turn that frown upside down.” I stuck my claw in the corner of his mouth, and pushed it upwards. It made him look a little scary.

“ . . . Or not.”

He was staring at me, and it made me uncomfortable. Not enough for the dragon-side of me to take over and run, but enough to freeze me in place. I waited. For what, I had no idea.

“We’re leaving.” Before I could react, he rolled to his feet, snatching me up at the same time. Sneaky jumped into the air like a startled grasshopper, and landed close. One of Snotlout’s arms were under me; the other was against my throat, and that one pressed hard when I squirmed.

“Quit it. We have to go!” He hesitated a moment, staring at the boulder that his helmet had disappeared over. But for whatever reason, he deemed it unimportant, and began to shoulder his way through –

“Hey, Snotlout! There you are.”

Sneaky took off. I blinked. I knew that voice, but it was definitely not one I had expected to hear. Snotlout turned to face the man -

“Sorry it took me so long,” said Eret, son of Eret.

Snotlout mumbled something, looking downwards.

The wide smile that had been on Eret’s face began to fade. “You weren’t going somewhere, were you?”

He asked that with a theatrical flair, but it fooled no one. It was surreal: seeing someone speak and act so friendly, and still just know that something was off. He smelled faintly of sweat, but that could have been anything. It didn’t reveal much.

But his eyes. I recognized them. They were the same, predatory eyes that I had seen on Dagur.

I hissed. “Snotlout, something’s wrong!”

“I’ve changed my mind,” Snotlout said to Eret.

Eret’s smile twitched in a way that was almost painful. “Changing your mind? No, that’s not going to work. Not after all the work I’ve done. Aiming Dagur at your ship without getting my throat cut is harder than you think.”

“ . . . Snotlout?” The horror hadn’t quite settled in yet, but it was sinking in.

“Come on,” Eret said. “You can’t bail now. We’re almost at the end. Nobody’s going to find out.”

“Snotlout?” My voice was a whisper now.

Eret held out his hand. “Just give me the dragon, and Berk is yours.”

No. Snotlout wouldn’t have – he couldn’t have. But the look on Eret’s face was one of smug confidence, while Snotlout’s was completely pale. Sweat dotted his palms, and built up along his forehead.

“It’s what you always wanted.” Eret was too close, and Snotlout was rooted to the spot. “Remember what you told me: you deserve it. Not him. Come on. Just give me the dragon. Give me Hiccup.”

“You sold me out,” I whispered. “You sold us out.”

Snotlout swallowed. “I . . .”

I kicked him in the stomach and pushed off hard. I landed on all fours between the two, so suddenly that neither seemed sure how to react. But when I started to make a run for it, Eret moved. He raised his hand, shouting “Hey!” as if that would actually stop me.

He whistled sharply.

From the woods in front and around us, strangers stepped forth. They all had the same kind of face paint markings as Eret: like they had dipped their fingers in paint and then dragged it down their chins. The hats they wore weren’t horned, but tall. These were no Vikings. These were the same people had shot down the twins and me at the witch’s hut.

“What’s going on?” Snotlout demanded.

Eret stepped forward, hands spread wide in a friendly, disarming fashion. “I’ve dealt with small dragons before. They’re slippery, so I brought some backup.”

The circle closed in, and which each step, I could feel the noose around my neck tightened. It was hard to breathe, and what breaths I did take were hard and heavy.

“Look, kid, it’s done. All you got to do now is go home, wait for your chief to croak, and you’re next in line. Everyone wins.”

“What about him?” Snotlout asked, glancing at me sideways.

“Dragon trapper,” Eret said. “Not killer. He’ll be fine. I won’t hurt him.”

“Snotlout, don’t do this. Please!”

Snotlout stepped forward. At this angle, with him looming above me, he looked unearthly. His breath condensed in the cold air, shimmering in front of his face. His hair stuck to his temples as if he had walked through a rainstorm.

“We’ll take care of the rest,” Eret urged. “You just have to keep your mouth shut.”

Silence. Snotlout looked at me.

And he turned away.

“Snotlout!” I shrieked. “Look, I know you’re mad at me, and that we’ve never really seen eye to eye and all, but think about what you’re doing. I’m your cousin. Snotlout, you can’t do this!”

My speech degraded into frantic yips and yelps, until even I wasn’t sure what I was saying. Snotlout was eerily still, unable to look at me, or the terrifyingly confident Eret. Out of all of us, he was clear that he was in control of the situation. He wore a half-smile now, and had a little tilt to his head that gave it that threatening undertone. His men waited, tense and alert.

“Walk away, Snotlout,” he said, voice gliding through the air like a serpent. “Walk away.”

There was nothing. Nothing but the silent countdown in my mind as I realized I was alone. There was no Toothless to bail me out this time. And Snotlout . . . Snotlout couldn’t be trusted.

Then, every muscle in Snotlout’s body slipped into place as he built himself up from the bottom up. His face remained slanted towards the ground, but then his chin began to lift, exposing his eyes . . .

With a wild cry, he flung himself at the wall of bodies, bringing two of them to the ground. He twisted at the hip, shouting, “Hiccup, go -!”

And stopped dead. There was something sticking out of his neck. A dart? He garbled a few random syllables. Then, his eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he collapsed.

“Snotlout?” I ran towards him as the circle began to close in . . .

But in doing so, I had forgotten about Eret. A firm hand closed on my tail and held me high, so that I dangled like a fish on a hook.

“And that’s one down.” I hissed, but Eret’s other hand clamped down on my snout. “Nice try.”

His men began to move, and with an eyebrow cocked, Eret said, “What are you doing? Grab the Viking, too.”

One of his men glanced at Snotlout. “But . . .”

“We can’t have him tattling on us when he wakes up. We’ll drop him off on an island somewhere.”

No! This couldn’t be happening! I thrashed violently, reaching with my claws towards his tempting, bare flesh.

“Hey, knock it off. Just stop fighting and . . . What am I doing? He’s a dragon. Hey, give me a hand and shoot him!”

I twisted. Maybe if I was quick, it would miss -


It was dark and damp. A single porthole provided sunlight, but everything seemed a sickly grey colour. Snotlout was in a corner, staring dully at the locked door keeping us in this small room. As the ship rocked, the chains holding his wrists behind him rubbed against the wooden walls. Without his helmet, he looked small. Diminished. But at least if he wanted to, he had the chance to move around. The cage I was in was small enough that I couldn’t lay down without curling my tail.

In desperation and frustration, I charged up a shot and flamed the iron bars. Again. Night Furies could break through cages. Toothless could. But I was too young a dragon; my fire was too weak. If the table my cage was nailed to hadn’t been made of metal, the only thing I would have done is burned the place down.

The red glow faded from the bars as I panted. Nothing. For once, my mind had deserted me. I had no ideas, no clever plans. Nothing. And I was sure Snotlout wasn’t going to be much help.

“Well, this is fantastic.” We had quite the ideal situation here. Lost at sea on a boat filled with strangers, with absolutely no idea where we were going, and with Berk not even knowing we were gone. Sure, they’d figure it out eventually, but then what? They didn’t know where to go, and there was only one dragon . . .

I winced. Oh, Toothless. Forget Dad and Astrid, he was going to be furious. He might even accidentally sink this ship in any attempt to rescue me.

Mouth dry, I began to wonder again about the end of Dagur’s attack on our ship. Had Astrid warded them off? Had they boarded only to find I wasn’t there? Odin, what would Berk do when they realized I was missing? Surely, they wouldn’t expect some random strangers to have abducted me, not when the island was filled with so many present and former enemies.

I clawed at the bars, and then slammed my forehead against it. It hurt.

“What am I going to do?” I whispered.

Chapter Text

The metal bars were warmer on my tongue than I had expected. Probably because I had been chewing on them for a while. Weird? Sure. But I had always been the odd one, and when you were a dragon trapped inside a cage, there wasn’t a whole lot to do.

We’d been left alone. If I hadn’t been able to hear the ship echoing with footsteps, I might have even thought that they were all gone. Not that it would have mattered. I’d already tried to fit through the bars, but they were just small enough that I couldn’t force my skull through. I was beginning to suspect that Eret had known about me even before he set foot on the Raiders’ land.

I smacked my head against the bars. Again. Forget being kidnapped; I was going to die of boredom before anything terrible happened.

“Can’t you just blast it open?” Snotlout asked. “Toothless could.”

“Oh, great idea, Snotlout. Maybe the tenth time is the charm. It’s not like every other time I’ve tried it’s been completely useless!”

I didn’t know whether or not to be glad that he couldn’t understand me. On one hand, he didn’t know I was insulting him. On the other hand, this was Snolout’s fault. He was the reason this was happening.

You know what? I think I’m going to go with ‘not glad’.

I howled. My thrashing tail was between two bars, and thumped loudly against each one. My wings unfurled as much as they could – maybe about half their length. Who knew?

Snotlout had watched my little tantrum, but now he stared at a corner. A damp spot was there, being . . . damp. Exciting. But there wasn’t much else to look at. There was me, him, my cage and its table, and a ragged old bear pelt on the floor that I think was supposed to be Snotlout’s bed. That was about it. There wasn’t even a sign of rats.

When I heard the footsteps in the hall, I ignored them at first. There were lots of sailors, and lots of them walking down this hall. But then the steps stopped in front of the door. Metal – keys – jingled. I smelt the food even before the door opened.

“Chow!” Eret nearly sang. A small of me wanted to growl, but I did want that fish . . .

He tossed some biscuits and a salted fish in Snotlout’s direction, and slammed a mug of water down on my table. Grinning, Eret said, “You can share the water with the dragon.”

Straining his cuffed wrists for emphasis, Snotlout asked, “How am I supposed to eat this?”

Eret shrugged. “Be creative. And here’s one for you.”

He dropped a fish in front of me, so that its tail was inside the cage. I yanked it fully inside before he could change his mind.

“Hungry, huh? I –”

As Eret reached with that finger, as if to scratch behind my ears, I lurched towards it with my teeth showing. I had the fish now; I didn’t need to play nice.

Unfortunately, Eret seemed to find it funny.

“I’ll see you two later,” he said, as he walked towards the door. “Don’t look so down, Snotlout. We’re not going to keep you forever.”

Snotlout didn’t say anything.

The door closed, and the lock slid into place.

I narrowed my eyes, and sniffed. Oh. Raw. Like a dragon would eat it. I mean, I guess it could be worse. It’s not like Toothless never made me eat raw fish before, way back in the day. Good times, that.

Still didn’t mean I wanted to eat this.

I poked it. It felt like a raw fish. A bit of water dripped out of its mouth. Freshly caught, then. At least my captors had put some thought into my dinner. Too bad I couldn’t just blast and cook it with fire.

A thought struck me. A plasma blast would destroy my lovely fish, but Night Furies . . . they didn’t just have one type of flame. They had another, didn’t they? A softer kind. A gentle one. I took a deep breath, felt the air swirl in my chest, and let my chest muscles move into place. The Night Fury’s plasma shot was sharp, and quick. Like a bark, or a shout. But that wasn’t what I wanted.

I stared at the fish, and breathed.

The colour was more whitish-blue than my typical purple flame, kind of like a star. It came out in a full stream, lighting up my face and the metal around me. Fish scales cracked as water vaporized from underneath them, and then they curled and grew black along the edges. Better. This might even be edible.

I stared. Some of the scales had charred and gone black; others glowed red. I cocked my head. Something was stirring in the back of my mind. Something blurry, but important. I swallowed hard. I needed to think . . .

The ship bumped. The mug rattled, and some water sloshed over the lip. At the same time, Snotlout, who had been trying to pick at his food like a dog, heaved forward. His head crashed into the floor, grazing the corner of his plate, which tipped upwards and came back down with a quiet clang.

That unleashed the flood. The dark confines of our prison were replaced with another room; the smoking fish under my paws grew into embers. I could taste the molten metal inside my mouth as I stared into the forge. I had worked with metal all my life. Maybe even more than dragons, I knew metal. And to work the metal, you always had to heat it . . . The plasma blast was too much. It was too fast. The heat didn’t keep. But this, this other fire . . .

This could work.

Snotlout watched me from his corner as I breathed on the bars. It wasn’t as quick as the plasma blast - it wasn’t nearly as fast – but eventually, the bars began to glow red. It started in the center of the flame, and then grew outwards slowly, like a flower opening its petals. I was vaguely aware of the heat radiating from the bars, but my scales shielded me from most of it. The pair of bars I was focusing on turned ruby, and then became hotter still, until it seemed to be trying to imitate the colour of my fire.

“What are you doing?” Snotlout asked.

I ignored him. There. This should be hot enough. It certainly looked it. And felt like it, too. The heat had spread through the metal of the cage, so that even the floor below me was hot enough to be uncomfortable. Now, what I needed was the hammer. I didn’t have that, but I did have something else.

My tail curled against my side. I could feel how hard, how strong it was, especially compared to the rest of me. It was like a pure chunk of muscle.

“Here goes.”

It was tight, but there was just enough room so that I could whip around, extending my tail at the last moment –

And immediately regretted that decision.

“Okay, ouch! That hurt! Wow. Definitely not one of my brighter ideas.” In a moment of self-pity, I licked the sore spot.

“Uh, what was that for?”

“If you’re not going to help, Snotlout . . .”

The room still smelt more like burning metal than the fish I had barely touched. I dipped a claw in the fish’s juices and scribbled symbols. Maybe I should write my eulogy. Here lies Hiccup. Still a dragon.

But that could wait. There had to be something stronger. It couldn’t be a full-body charge; there wasn’t nearly enough room for that. But there had to be something. Toothless –

That was it!I moved back so I was up against the opposite bars, took a deep breath . . .

Screek!

The fire blinded me. It slammed into the red-hot bars, and split off into purple motes, which rained down like dust settling after a storm. They left orange pinpricks on the ground, which scattered as I stepped forward to examine my handiwork.

Nothing. The bars were still there.

Snotlout had stood up, understanding what I had been trying to do. Upon seeing the bars intact though, he slumped against a wall. His forehead smacked into the wood. Again. Again, and again. Each time, the chains around his wrists rattled.

I watched him for a long time. His restraints gleamed with light. It should have been attractive to a young, bored dragon’s eyes, but I didn’t really care. I was ready to sleep. I was just . . . finished.

Snotlout skulked over. He tried to watch me from the corner of his eye while simultaneously staring at the mug of cold water. Didn’t know how he was planning to drink that.

“Want some?” he asked cautiously.

I didn’t answer.

He twisted and did some weird thing where, despite his bound wrists, he tried to reach around his waist and grab the mug anyways. I doubt he could hear it, but I could hear the metal links sliding against cloth and each other, see the sharp flash of light –

Wait a second. The link. The metal links.

My claws snapped out and snagged a section of the chain. Snotlout froze. I could almost feel his heart pounding. I ran my paw over the chain. It was metal. Probably the same metal my cage was made out of. But the links weren’t nearly as thick. My cage had been made to hold a dragon – and not just any dragon, but me: a Night Fury.

Snotlout’s cuffs were meant to hold a human.

“Stay still,” I hissed. The more I tugged, the more nervous Snotlout became. What I wanted was for his back to be facing me, so that I had clear access to the chains. But, for some reason, he didn’t seem so happy to trust me. You’d think that I had sold him out to a bunch of dragon hunters, or something.

I finally got what I wanted. Snotlout watched uncertainly over his shoulder. I spread the chain wide, so that nothing overlapped. This could be it. These were thin. Built to contain a regular, non-fire breathing Viking. Not me.

I took a deep breath, and let go.

Snotlout only screamed a little bit.

But when the dust cleared, the chains were still there.

“It didn’t work. It . . . it didn’t work.” My legs were suddenly too weak to hold me, and I collapsed onto my stomach. “I thought it would work.”

Snotlout wasn’t speaking. I could smell sweat. Guess I made it too hot.

Then, he grunted, “Uh, Hiccup, I could really use a hand!”

What was he talking about? For a bright moment, I thought maybe I had been mistaken, that the chain did break. But I quickly proved that wrong. So . . . not too sure what was happening.

I stared. I couldn’t read his face since he wasn’t looking at me, but his shoulders were positioned oddly. Like he was being squeezed between two walls. I followed them down to his arms, which were straight and stiff. A bead of sweat clung to one, tracing the edge of a large, bulging vein.

“What are you doing . . . ?”

His arms began to shake from strain. The chain began to shake too, and I finally understood. Alone, I was too weak, as was Snotlout. But together?

Screek!

There was no loud crack when the chains gave. The whole affair was rather quiet. Snotlout was unprepared for it, and the speed at which his arms swung out almost sent him to the floor. He slid along the tabletop, tripped up at the edge, and hit his elbow. My cage wobbled and shifted so that a tiny corner was suspended over air.

“I’m free,” he said, breathlessly. “We did it. I’m free . . . Ow! Hot, this is very hot!”

He blew on the manacles encircling his wrists. They weren’t red, but the broken chain-links were, and metal tended to let heat spread . . . Yep. He was getting burned. Sure enough, the manacles hissed when he poured the mug of water over it.

Hey! I had wanted some of that.

Snotlout rubbed his wrists, whimpering like a wounded dog. The chains still made that annoying clinking sound whenever he moved. Almost as bad as those bells we used to tie around the sheep’s’ necks.

I tapped on the bars. “Uh, a little help here.”

“Right. Don’t worry, Hiccup. I got this. You hear that, cage? You’re going down.”

He bounced around the table, elbows close together as he held up his fists. They hid his eyes. Don’t tell me . . . He couldn’t possibly be thinking of –

Crack.

Yes. He was.

I think he groaned. That or tried to imitate a dying elk. But, he wasn’t tearing up. Good for him. Of course, my admiration was lacking since I had just seen Snotlout try to punch through a metal cage.

To his credit, he admitted, “That wasn’t a good idea.”

“Well, you got to start somewhere,” I said. Neutrally. Didn’t laugh even a little.

And it struck me. Our little interaction. How normal it was, even though this was anything but normal. Is this really all it took for me to forgive someone? Practically nothing at all? The twins were right; I was too nice.

“Come on, Hiccup. Use your brain,” I muttered. I needed Snotlout right now, but that was it. Our relationship was one of necessity. Yes, he was my cousin, but that just made the entire thing worse. I didn’t know if I could forgive him.

“Hi-ya!”

The mug bounced off the cage.

“ . . . I need something harder,” was all Snotlout said.


For all the noise he made, Snotlout didn’t attract much attention. I guess, in a way, it made sense. If Eret had done his research – and he appeared he had –, he should have expected Snotlout to act out. Plus, who cared if he was throwing a temper tantrum? As long as we stayed in the room, and on the ship.

Right now, Snotlout was trying to pry the room’s door open with his plate . . . oh, the plate just broke. Great. What brilliant idea would he come up with next?

He fell flat on his face. “I give up!”

So much for that.

“Nothing you tried would have worked,” I said. “We’re not going to break through that door on our own.”

He couldn’t understand me, of course. He just laid there with his face flat against the ground. Probably the same reaction he would have had if I could speak proper Norse.

We waited a long time. Snotlout slowly migrated from the door to the other side of the room. One hand rested on the wall, as if to steady him against an imaginary storm. But based on the boat’s rocking, it was actually nice out. Perfect for flying.

Then, we heard it: footsteps stopping outside our door. I stared at Snotlout, who was advancing.

The knob turned.

“Snotlout . . .”

My whine made him grin. He put a finger in front of his lips. “Relax. I’m going to use my head.”

“Your head? Really? Because that’s gotten us so far-”

The door opened. Snotlout lunged . . . and slammed his forehead into the other man’s skull.

“ . . . Oh. That’s what you meant.”

A few seconds later, and Snotlout was in possession of the man’s belongings: a weird, woollen hat, some jerky, and a bola. All of which, I’m sure, would be very helpful. Especially since Snotlout didn’t seem to know what a bola was.

“Hey, I get it.” With the chain looped around one finger, Snotlout spun the bola experimentally. “It’s one of those chain-ball things.”

“Flail,” I corrected. “And it’s actually a bola.”

The spinning stopped. Snotlout tilted his head to one side thoughtfully, while staring at me.

I said, “Please tell me you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking . . .”

Snotlout held the bola high above his head, and began to spin it.

I swallowed hard, and backed up.

With a true Viking roar, he brought the iron ball down with a clang that I knew every man on this ship had heard. The ball bounced off the cage with a few sparks, leaving a sizable dent, before smashing into and leaving a smaller dent in the table. It took him a few tries, but eventually, the cage warped enough that I could fit through.

“Yay,” Snotlout said hoarsely, panting fiercely. The arm holding the bola dropped as if someone had removed the bone.

“We can rest later!” I snapped. “We got to get out now.”

Despite my size, I was faster than he was. Not to mention much more light-footed. Maybe it was the extra weight of the bola, but Snotlout was worse than a boar. By the second turn, we had been spotted, and there was now no less than four burly men chasing after us.

“Aha! Got you.” someone cried as they stepped out in front of us –

“Nope!” Snotlout slung the bola forward, striking the man straight in the face. Then, with his shoulder, he easily forced the larger man side.

“I like this,” Snotlout said, gazing at his bola fondly. “Think Berk’s ready for a weapon upgrade?”

“Snotlout. Escape. Now!”

A sudden burst of light erupted in the corridor. Someone had opened the door to the deck, and there were five figures shrouded in the light. One of them, hatless and taller than the others, leaned down.

“Uh oh,” Snotlout said.

Eret sighed. “Why do you have to make things so difficult? Men, grab them.”

We tore past them. But with people behind us, and people guarding the way to the deck, there wasn’t anywhere for us to run. Not unless we wanted to head deeper into the bowels of the ship.

“Hiccup, what’s the plan?”

“Uh, Snotlout, I’m the dragon here. Coming up with a plan is your idea!”

His clever plan was to run into a room and shut the door. And then hold it shut with his body. His heels dug into the ground every time someone pounded, and he gave way a little more each time. We could hear our pursuers on the other side, coordinating themselves for an attack.

“Now would be a great time for one of your crazy ideas,” Snotlout said.

Yes, it would be. The rather spacious room we were in was one meant for food storage; it stunk strongly of salt. And where there’s food, there might be a knife . . .? Nope, not here. Fantastic. But we did have salted fish, hardtack, flour, rum . . .

Flour?

Slowly, an idea – a crazy idea – began to form. Oh, Snotlout and the twins would like this one.

The flour was being kept in a cluster of crates in the corner. I hopped onto the top one, ripped it open with a bit of fire and teeth, and sneezed as I caught a noseful of powder. I leaned back, flapped my wings hard –had to get a lot of air in there . . .

“Hiccup?”

I barked at Snotlout, and drew up flame in my mouth. Then, I tapped the top of the crate. Immediately, Snotlout’s eyes went wide, and he dove for the shelter of a few barrels. With his bulk no longer in the way, the door gave way at once. Six or seven men tumbled in, scrambled to their feet and spied me –

Just as I fired straight down.

I am so glad dragons are fireproof on the outside.

It all happened in slow motion, but I still couldn’t move nearly fast enough to escape the explosion, but the force of the imploding crate threw me out of the way. The entire thing had bulged, before shattering into a thousand little pieces around a hot, orange flame. That was enough for Eret’s men. They nearly trampled each other getting away as the fire rolled along the ceiling. I lay on the ground, half-stunned, half-mesmerized. The crate’s tattered shell lay everywhere; one sharp-looking shard stuck out from the ground just a few inches away. The flames themselves had vanished quickly. With them gone, Snotlout, covering his head, felt it fit to peek from behind his scorched barrels.

“That was awesome,” was all he said.

“Look,” I said. Along with terrifying Eret’s men, the explosion had blasted a small hole in the hull. I could smell – see – the outside world.

We didn’t need to speak. We could hear Eret outside, demanding loudly to know what had happened, and where we were. But by the time Eret had arrived in our room, we were already poised to go.

Eret ran towards us. “Stop -!”

We jumped.

Chapter Text

Snotlout fell straight down. I opened my wings, and glided above him. Lucky for us, the ocean was calm, but it was cold; I didn’t need to be a teenage genius to figure that out. When Snotlout breached the surface, I could hear his teeth chattering.

I looked around. I didn’t recognize these waters. There were ice floes, so we had to be in the northern country. But as for land, I didn’t see any of that.

Dread pooled in my stomach. What now? I could hear people scrambling on deck; no doubt, they had seen me. I was a black blob in the middle of a blue sky.

“Think, Hiccup . . .”

I looked. For the first time, I saw the ship we had been trapped on. It was much bigger than I had expected, more like a Roman warship than any of our ships. But that was the key, wasn’t it? A big ship like this would never have been able to sneak up on the Raiders’ island. There had to be a smaller boat, a lifeboat or something . . .

Perfect.

I folded my wings and dove, smashing my body and claws into the hull. They sunk in, holding me steady as I eyed the ropes holding one of the smaller crafts in place. I would have to be quick, precise, like a true Night Fury.

Above me, someone peered over the rail. “He’s on the hull!”

Well, here goes nothing.

The first shot grazed the back rope holding the small boat up. Practically before the rope had time to react, my second shot snagged the front rope. With both ropes hanging on by the seams, the boat swayed dangerously. Each swing made the ropes fray more, letting the boat swing further, which frayed the ropes even more.

And within a few seconds, they gave.

It fell on an angle, bow-first, so that the bow went under, and scooped up some water when the stern hit. The boat seemed to shudder, as if affected by the cold, but it floated. I sprung and landed neatly in the middle while Snotlout swam towards it.

He pulled himself up easily, using all that Viking strength he had been blessed with. He grabbed a pair of paddles, and rowed.

It took him a whole five seconds to get the boat moving.

We were doomed.

Click. Click. The sounds of a dozen bola-shooters reached my ears. They were all lined up along the deck’s length, and I would bet my freedom that they were all aimed at us. But, before we were bombarded, Eret cried out, “No! You could sink them. Drago will murder us if the Night Fury drowns.”

Remind to thank this Drago person if I ever met him.

Eret’s huge ship began to turn. Snotlout rowed as fast as he could, but I knew Eret would overwhelm us given enough time.

“Not on my watch,” I growled. I hopped onto Snotlout’s head, squared my shoulders, and aimed.

This time, I targeted the sails. They didn’t burn up like I had hoped, but each hole meant the ship moved that much slower. I stared at one of the booms. Maybe if I broke that, the entire sail would collapse.

But when I made a move to strike it down, the flames seemed to catch in my throat.

Snotlout heard my coughing, and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m out of fire. Snotlout, I’m out of fire!” He couldn’t understand my words, but my frantic squeaking said enough.

Snotlout worked hard, but he was only one Viking, and for all I had slowed the ship down, it wasn’t enough. The bowsprit of Eret’s ship was nearly above us now, and there were men descending ropes strung down the hull. They weren’t very intimidated by my hiss.

Snotlout threw the paddles down. “I don’t know about you, but I’m going down fighting . . . Hey, where’s the ball-chain thing!”

“Guess you lost it. That explains how you were swimming with that thing.”

As the enemy got nearer, I backed away and tried to hide. Even as a human, fighting wasn’t exactly something I was good at.

I still wasn’t used to smelling aggression. The spiciness electrified my body, and if I had hair, I’m sure it would have been standing on end. But, instead of those, I had nubs and tendrils on my head, which opened and stuck straight out. I couldn’t get enough air through my nose, so I opened my mouth to breathe, and the bitter taste of Snotlout’s fear rolled into my throat.

The tendrils on my face moved back and forth, as if they had a mind of their own. Then, stopped. And things . . . fell away. I was still there with Snotlout. I was still staring at the ship, but it felt distant, like I was just dreaming. Even my fear was at arm’s-length.

And I heard something.

Danger, you?

Something shifted, like I was standing on the back of some invisible beast. There was a force curling around me, almost like a snake, but I wasn’t alarmed. And what I heard next, I didn’t hear in words, but in calm and rumbles that my brain translated into words regardless.

Danger, yes. We come.

“Snotlout,” I said mindlessly, “Do you hear something?”

He didn’t listen. I didn’t expect him to. In fact, he seemed to be staring directly into the ocean.

I blinked. “Wha -?”

Then, a mountain broke though the waves.

It grew before us, right between Eret and us. The waves it created forced us far apart, nearly capsizing both vessels. The force tossed us both against our craft’s stern, and the aftershocks were so great that Snotlout couldn’t stand.

“Hiccup, what is that?” Snotlout squeaked.

I stared, only able to croak, “It’s a dragon.”

And dragon it was. Covered in thick, white scales, and black-tipped spines like a hedgehog, the massive dragon seemed to go on forever, bigger than even the Red Death had been, and there was still part of it under the waves. I thought it was roaring at first, but soon realized the dragon was silent. The thunderous noise I heard was simply a deluge of water pouring off its body back into the ocean.                                      

I smelt something behind us too late. Something large and scaly swooped in, armed with not one, but two pairs of wings. A clawed foot opened, and closed around me and in that same second, a dragon snatched up Snotlout. The dragons, along with an entire flock, flew towards the behemoth before us, before making a sharp turn upwards.

“Whoa.”

Sharp cracks, sounds I associated with ice, reached my ears. I had no idea where it was coming from – the dragon carrying us were flying away from the giant dragon, back towards where they had come from. Although the dragon had a firm hold on him, Snotlout was clinging to her leg as if his life depended on it.

“Can somebody tell me what’s happening?” he said.

“I . . . I don’t think they want to hurt us. Right, guys? Little help here.”

But of course, nobody understood me. Snotlout’s frightened eyes scanned each and every one of the flock. Then, they widened with shock. “What is that?”

He seemed to be looking at something on my dragon. My neck wasn’t long enough for me to see what. When I stretched, all I could see the pale underbelly of the Stormcutter holding me, and flashes of his beating wings (only one pair now; the other seemed to be tucked under the larger pair). He smelt like pine, like frozen earth, and of strength. Didn’t know you could really smell strength until now. Maybe it was because he was so big – at least twice the mass of Toothless, but I think Toothless still had the larger wing-to-body ratio.

We flew a long time. The dragons hummed and purred, sounds that I was starting to understand meant Here! Flock, here! I’m here! Sometimes, one would lock eyes with me, and purr directly at me. Snotlout was mostly ignored, but honestly, I think he was happy with that.

Then, we arrived. At an island with a bare beach, but whose centerpiece was a pointed citadel made of green-blue crystals. There were gaps in the wall, guarded by rings filled with sharp edges, but easily passable to anything with wings. As the flock took us inside and we flew through narrow halls filled with shadows and dimly glowing crystals, I remembered a similar place: the orange-tinted maze leading to the Red Death’s layer.

But they didn’t set us down in a volcano. The dragons stopped in a dark room, where light shone through the crystal walls and painted it black and blue. The Stormcutter put me down gently, and leaned in to sniff. His eyes were dilated, with the top lids hidden beneath a huge horn-like growth that started at his nose and grew well past his cheeks. A small, bony crest divided the growth in half and on either side of that and behind the horn, was a large, spiked fin.

“Hi,” I said.

He cocked his head to one side, then to the other.

They weren’t so nice letting Snotlout down, but Snotlout stayed on his feet. He hit the ground nearly at a run, arms making those large circles that meant you were on the cusp of falling over. He took a second to grab his bearings, and then jumped with a yelp. Dragons lurked around him, flat-faced with teeth that stuck out of their lower jaws. The Stormcutter, balanced on his feet and lower wings, arched his back defensively. The blue-tipped spines on his back almost seemed to glow.

Snotlout stumbled in a tight circle, trying to keep his eyes on all of them. “Okay . . . uh . . . we come in peace? Magic dragon taming would be nice around now! Hiccup, you listening?”

Something moved. The Stormcutter had lowered one of his wings. Something crawled off it and now . . . now I knew what Snotlout had been staring at before. There was a creature . . .? No, no. That was a person. But they . . . she - smelt like a she – was wearing some sort of mask. It was blue, and decorated with striped spines at the top, as well as two tusks on the cheeks. I was assuming those were her cheeks. There wasn’t any hole for her mouth, and that threw me off.

The black patches that marked her eyes stared at Snotlout. Her head turned suddenly and . . . what was she? I knew she was human, but it was like looking into the face of an insect.

“Uh, hi?” I said.

She shifted again, and something stirred behind her shoulder. Short and hooked, it was some sort of staff, and for the first time, I noticed she was holding a shield in her other hand.

My legs moved of their own accord. I darted out from the Stormcutter’s shadow, not an instant before she reached for me. I curled around Snotlout’s ankles, and strength seemed to leech through his skin and into me.

The stranger was low to the ground, almost on her hands and knees, still staring as if shocked at how fast I had run. There was nothing I could detect in her scent that told me if we were in danger. But she smelt wild. Feral. More like dragon than human.

She didn’t move right. She seemed to be hunched at the shoulders, which didn’t move as she paced. Or maybe it just looked that way because she was covered in leather armour. And when she walked, it was sideways like a crab, with one leg passing in front of the other. She kept a good distance from us, with her staff and shield in front of her chest defensively.

“You better let us go. I’m in a really bad mood right now, which means I’m in a perfect mood to kick some butt!” Snotlout pounded his fist into his other palm for emphasis.

But the moment the two hands made contact, a deafening growl rang out from the Stormcutter. The stranger raised her staff, hooked at both ends I could see now, and hit it against the ground. It rattled and one by one, every dragon around her lit its mouth up with flames.

Snotlout gulped. “Just kidding?”

My own chest was tightening. When I inhaled through my nose, the air seemed to boil in my lungs. What did she want from us?

With the dragons’ eerie, orange fire in the background, the stranger fell forward onto her hands. Her tattered, red cape lay along her spine and spilt onto the ground, almost like a tail. With a flick of her wrist, the staff and shield were discarded. Hands free now, she skulked towards us on all fours – not crawling, but using her hands and feet, and her back resembling the humped, sloped one of a bear.

We backed away. My wings extended in an instinctive bid to look bigger. Her expression never changed – yes, I know it’s because she was wearing a mask! A mask utterly devoid of emotion, or anything that made it human.

“Whoa, okay, stop! It’d suck if I had to hurt you . . . Not that I would!” Snotlout quickly added, as some of the dragons began to growl. “But, uh, you’re getting a little close.”

“An explanation would be useful right now,” I added.

That was a mistake. At the sound of my voice, her attention turned back on me. We had backed up, but she moved too quickly. She was right in front of us, body small and compact almost like a Gronckle. With fingers spread, she reached for me again. But she didn’t touch me. Her hand stopped in front of my snout, and moved in an odd curve toward the ground.

I stared at the hand, then at her. “What are you doing?”

She hesitated. Then tried it again. Tried it a couple of times. That gave Snotlout enough time to recover from the surprise of her approach, and he pushed me back with his foot. I’m guessing he was just as confused as I was, and that’s why he didn’t kick her instead.

She didn’t like that. When Snotlout’s foot moved, it was like she just remembered he was there. She slunk back out of range. Still on all fours.

“Yeah, that’s right. Stay back!” Apparently, that itty-bitty victory was all it took to restore Snotlout’s confidence. “That goes for all of you. We have places to be.”

I sighed. “Really, Snotlout. Way to make friends.”

He strutted forward, me following. But the stranger slid into his path, unarmed, but starting to straighten up.

“Can you move?” Snotlout snapped. “We have to go.”

In answer, the Stormcutter reared up behind the stranger, wings black with shadow. And there went Snotlout’s confidence. He nearly stepped on me as he tried to move away.

“What do you want?” he demanded, voice wavering. I took my place beside him, and slid my teeth out. Just in case.

This time, she reached for Snotlout’s face, fingers wide and spread, feeling the air like a cat’s whiskers. Snotlout stared at them, breath catching in his throat. With each inch of space that vanished between them, all the sound in the room was sucked deeper into a void, so that our ears thrummed with absolute silence.

And he broke.

“Get back!” He stumbled backwards, arm flying out and smacking her in the face –

The Stormcutter shrieked. He threw himself at Snotlout, jaws wide –

“No!” I ran forward, and shouted at the dragon to stop –

I realized too late that my fire had returned.

The plasma blast slammed into the back of the Stormcutter’s throat, sending him reeling back as if he had been punched in the face. His tail crashed into the stranger’s legs, sweeping her right off her feet.

The other dragons began to growl.

Run!”

We tore past the fallen stranger and the Stormcutter checking up on her. Behind, I heard at least a dozen dragons take flight. Without scales to protect him, Snotlout felt the heat first. He screamed, and folded his arms awkwardly over his head as he tried to protect it and sprint at the same time.

The way was rocky and filled with spikes, much better for climbing and flying than running. Even I seemed to have an easier time than Snotlout, but pure adrenaline kept us ahead.

Until he tripped.

His foot had caught when he had tried to vault over a barrier, propelling him onto his stomach instead of his feet. A red Hobblegrunt landed on the same barrier, and its long neck curved down, bringing its teeth close to him. I leapt onto Snotlout’s back, faced the dragon, and growled my fiercest growl.

I don’t know if it was my threat or shock that held the Hobblegrunt still, but it gave Snotlout enough time to find a shard of crystal, whip around and bash it against the dragon’s face. It screeched in pain, and then came back with a mouthful of fire that Snotlout just barely avoided.

Three Snafflefangs began to clamber over the barrier. I spat a fireball at the Hobblegrunt to slow it down, and took off after Snotlout.

“We can’t outrun them!” I shouted, eyeing a Nightmare crawling along the ceiling.

Snotlout stopped short.

I skidded to a halt. “Snotlout, now isn’t the time . . .”

I saw why. We weren’t in a dead end, but there was no way Snotlout would be able to climb to those exits.

Thankfully, I saw something. “This way!”

There was a small nook in the crystal walls, large enough for us to get inside, but too small for most of the dragons. Snotlout crawled inside as I watched his back, hissing at anyone who could hear me. Then, I joined him, practically curling up against his chest. I wasn’t sure if it was my pounding heart I was hearing, or his.

It was dark. Dark enough that if I hadn’t known Snotlout was here, I probably wouldn’t be able to see him. I could barely hear him either; the acoustics of our cavern meant that every loud noise echoed. Our world was filled with dragon barks and heavy landings.

“What now?” Snotlout whispered.

I didn’t know. I lay flat against him, even my ears folding back. Maybe if we were still, they would go away.

Things seemed to be getting quieter. But I heard sniffing, and I knew what would happen before it did. Suddenly, the cavern’s entrance was blocked by a Nightmare’s face. Fire flickered along her snout as she flamed up to see inside.

“A Nightmare. Okay, don’t worry. I got this.” Oh, yes. Snotlout sounded really confident about that.

Snotlout, on his hands and knees, crawled forward. The Nightmare growled –

Dust rained on us as the Nightmare lunged, only to find her head made her too big to fit. The eyes were hidden from us, but the Nightmare’s snout was inside the cavern, nostrils flaring as she sniffed feverishly.

“Nice dragon . . .” Snotlout leaned back as he held his hand out right over the Nightmare’s snout.

And the Nightmare was gone. Snotlout blinked. Then, with the giddiness of a kid on Snoggletog, laughed. “See! Told you I could -”

A masked, eyeless face thrust its way into the entrance.

“Wah!” He tripped right into the back wall, barely missing me. The dragons may have been too big to fit, but not the stranger. She entered the cavern, body held so that she seemed to be on the borderline of moving on all fours. I could smell the Stormcutter outside.

“Stay away!” He was groping everywhere. I don’t know if he was looking for a weapon, or just trying to figure out where the invisible Night Fury had gone.

In the darkness, it was hard to see what the stranger was doing. She was fully inside our cavern now, blocking all avenues of escape. The shield was gone, but her staff was held within one hand. She shook it, making it rattle gently as she closed in.

Snotlout finally found me, and he gave me a frightened glance. I couldn’t tell how the stranger reacted to that. The colours of her mask and her proximity to the ground made it hard to see; all I could clearly make out were the spines on the mask’s top.

“What do you want?” Snotlout demanded. He sidled closer to me, and I pressed against him. I still couldn’t really make out her face, but I could feel the stranger’s eyes on me.

She seemed to study us a long time. Then, she stepped back, and gently laid her staff down.

“I . . .”

Snotlout jumped.

“ . . . I mean no harm,” the stranger said.

. . . So she could speak. That bit of information just freaked Snotlout out more. He kicked out, sending the stranger scrambling out of the cavern with her staff.

We stood off: us shivering in the dark, her watching emotionlessly from the outside, and with an entire flock of dragons as our audience.

Then, she turned. Her staff rattled and made whooshing noises as she left us, and I could hear the dragons leaving with her. Almost all of them. When I peeked out, there was a Stormcutter positioned on the wall right above the entrance. I got back inside before it could grab me.

I growled at Snotlout. “This is why you’re supposed to let me do the talking.”

Chapter Text

With a curse, Snotlout scrabbled back inside the cavern. “It’s still out there.”

I barely stirred. “Of course it is. If you haven’t noticed, there are a ton of dragons here, and only two of us. We’re not going to sneak out.”

Snotlout curled up with his knees against his chest. He looked miserable, but on the bright side, at least I knew he wasn’t cold. Even though it looked like we were in a cavern carved from ice, it was surprisingly warm. Or maybe my magic Night Fury powers simply prevented me from feeling the cold.

I wasn’t betting on that, though. Snotlout’s bangs were plastered across his forehead. Not from sweat, I think. The air was damp, unlike the usually crisp air that chilled Berk. It was like there had been a huge rainstorm in here, and none of the moisture had been able to escape, so it hung around. Within our cavern, a few water droplets glistened on the walls. I lapped them up gratefully. You know, I never did get to eat that fish on Eret’s ship.

“Any ideas?” he asked.

I shrugged as best as I could. “Well, I don’t think would have gone this badly if you had a little more tact . . . But, anyways, if we’re being honest, I think we – well, you - are screwed.”

“ . . . Was that a yes or no?”

I huffed.

Unlike Snotlout, I didn’t feel the need to lurk at the back of the cavern. If I wasn’t worried that dragons would mob him the second he set foot outside, I probably wouldn’t even be in here. As it was, I felt the need to stick by him, since we were the only Berkians present, of course. Even despite . . . despite everything.

Ever felt your happiness, everything that made you feel content with the world, just be sucked away? Yeah, that’s what I felt just now. Snotlout’s betrayal was the millstone around my neck. It hurt whenever my thoughts grazed it. But whenever I remembered it was there, I couldn’t resist poking it.

Ouch. Need to stop doing that.

Outside, our “guard” cooed as another Nightmare approached. The two locked horns briefly, before the larger one rubbed her snout against the other’s neck. They chittered and trilled to each other, with light bird-like sounds that you wouldn’t expect from the throat of a Nightmare. I smiled, watching them.

“Makes you think of Hookfang, huh?” I said, mostly to myself. Seeing as Snotlout was pretty much paralyzed, his dragon may not have been the first thing on his mind.

The Nightmares stopped nuzzling. Their snouts were pointed the same way, slowly tilting downwards as they followed the cautious path of the stranger. She had neither the staff nor the shield now. Good?

“We have company,” I said.

The Nightmares murmured, but the stranger put a hand on the larger one’s nose and pushed her away. The two dragons fell back obediently, eyes alight with curiosity. The smaller one tried to creep forward, but the stranger glanced at him sharply. He shrank back and tucked his chin in, saying, Sorry.

She paused at the entrance to our cavern, kneeling, but not yet on her hands and knees. The threat of a fight had Snotlout rolling out of his little ball. With one hand on the ground for support, he locked his body in position, matching her crouch. His breathing was steady, but quicker than usual.

The stranger took a few steps back, and slowly raised her empty hands. The way they opened, it wasn’t fluid, but happened in parts. Her hands, unlike most of her, weren’t covered in armour, but pale skin. Much like me and Snotlout’s, actually. Once she was a respectful distance away, the stranger reached into her . . . pockets? Cape? Hard to tell. Her costume kind of swirled and wrapped around her.

Splat.

I blinked. Was that a fish?

Yep. A raw fish. Smelt like it was freshly caught, too. Snotlout, his one-track mind forgetting that he was supposed to be worried, wrinkled his nose. He looked at me, jerking his chin at the dead fish in a manner that said I was supposed to be disgusted. Because it’s not like he and the twins ever dumped a bucket of fish guts on me, or anything.

Her hand swept out again, and this time, deposited a pile of berries. As she, again, moved back, Snotlout’s eyes widened in surprise and confusion, but mostly confusion.

“I think that’s for you,” I said.

I nudged him forward, but Snotlout shook his head wildly. He spluttered, “No way! I’m not going out there.”

I rolled my eyes. Way to exhibit that Viking courage.

With every foot I moved forward, the stranger moved half a foot back. Her head was bowed respectfully, almost like an animal facing its alpha. The two Nightmares were virtually vibrating with energy, but she kept them back without ever facing them.

“Uh, thanks?” I put my paw on the fish, marking my claim. Sure, I was hungry, but this was raw.

The stranger bobbed her chin, making that same gulping sound Toothless had made the one time he forced me to eat raw fish.

I cringed. “Uh, thanks, but I think I’ll pass. Hey, Snotlout, here you go.”

I hooked a berry with my claw, rolled it back towards him, and he dove out of the way like it was going to explode. He reappeared a moment later.

“It’s . . . it’s just a berry?”

I’m not commenting on this whatsoever.

Snotlout crawled out of the cavern. His sweaty hand held the berry tight enough that you would have had to kill him to take it, but gentle enough that it didn’t break. He stood slowly, looking more like a bewildered child than a fierce Viking.

“Who are you?” he said.

“Please.” The stranger stood up, speaking in a slow, carrying voice. “I come in peace.”

Snotlout glanced at me uncomfortably. “You were the one who grabbed us.”

“You were in trouble,” she said. “I wanted to help.”

Snotlout clearly didn’t trust her. I, on the other hand, held the opposite opinion. Despite everything, she hadn’t really done anything that I could classify as having bad intentions. So, I marched up, sat by her feet, and made my position clear.

“Oh . . . he’s wonderful.” It took a full five seconds before I realized she was talking about me. “I’ve never seen a Night Fury in person before.”

Fingers danced along my spine. They dug into the small crook between my head and neck, and it felt good. Really good, in fact, but also really degrading. I couldn’t help my back leg from thumping, but I moved away regardless.

Snotlout shrugged. “I think he only likes being petted by Astrid.”

The stranger tilted her head to one side. Splitting the name into two words, she repeated, “As-trid?”

“His girl . . . his girl trainer!”

What a save.

The stranger stared at him, obviously catching his slip. “This dragon, his name is Hiccup?”

“Weird name, I know.”

“Why is he named that?” I could feel the tension in her fingers, and leaned away.           

“I dunno.” Snotlout kicked at the ground, eyes wandering as he struggled to come up with another lie. “Named after my cousin?”

Your cousin?” She said that sharply, unlike the slow, uncertain tone she had been using until now. Her fingers left my back completely as she swept forward, cape dragging on the ground behind her. I was behind her now, at her heels, while she stood like a statue between Snotlout and me.

Her breathing turned quick and sharp, the contrast so jarring that it nearly had Snotlout running back into the cavern. I could feel her eyes sweeping over Snotlout’s face, engraving every little line into her memory. She reached out again, stopping an inch away from brushing his cheeks. She didn’t seem to handle her fingers like a normal person, I noticed, but more like hard, dangerous claws.

“You look like someone I knew,” she said, and I don’t think I could really blame her. Big and strong, dark-haired with the barest of facial hair? Yeah, he looked like a lot of Vikings.

“Great?” he squeaked.

And I felt her mood change before she even spoke. “You’re from Berk.”

The word rang through the air like a stricken gong, wedging itself into my chest with an icy thrust. How . . . ? How did she know Berk? I think I would have been the first to know if some crazy dragon lady had been flying around our island. This wasn’t . . . something was wrong here.

Everyone else thought the same. Orange flashed in my eyes as the watching Nightmares set themselves alight, and from a dark corner, the stranger’s previously hidden Stormcutter snarled. Snotlout went rigid, head turning quickly as he tried to keep an eye on everyone at once.

“Okay, everyone calm down!” I shouted. “Let’s sit down and talk about –”

The stranger let out a rattling breath, like a dragon’s hiss. Her heel dug into my neck, shoving me back toward the Nightmares, who advanced so that they loomed over me. But it was Snotlout they glared at, not me.

“What do you want with the Night Fury?” she demanded of Snotout.

“What? I . . . we want to go home. Back to Berk,” he said.

“Berk is . . .,” She said that quietly, almost sorrowfully. Then, her voice hardened again, “Berk is no friend of dragons.”

“Look, lady.” Snotlout seemed to have calmed down a little; he was no longer holding his hands up in that universal please don’t hurt me manner. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but we’re totally cool with dragons. We’re the ones that killed the Red Death!”

Of course, the stranger had only heard one thing.

“Are you so proud of killing dragons?” she hissed.

“Whoa, you have this all wrong. The Red Death was evil. Seriously evil.”

He was blowing it. Each word he spoke was another piece of wood on his pyre. I lunged, and launched myself onto his chest. I had to do something fast, something to prove once and for all that Snotlout was my friend and wasn’t trying to . . .

Oh, no. Please don’t say . . .

Sometimes, I hate being me.

Swallowing my pride, I stretched upward . . . and licked his cheek.

The reaction was immediate.

EEEEEEWWWWW! Why did you do that?

“I’m trying to save your life. You could be a little more grateful!”

“Did I say I wanted you to do that, huh? At what point, did I say: Gee, it would nice if Hiccup licked my face right now!”

“Like I wanted to do that. Maybe you didn’t notice, but I’m the one who had to humiliate himself here!”

I could still taste it. And Snotlout didn’t taste much better than he smelt. It was oily and sweaty, and clung to my tongue like . . . like something clingy. I don’t know. Clever metaphors aren’t exactly at the top of my mind right now!

“Have you even heard of a bath?” I snapped. “Or did you think jumping off ships into the ocean was good enough?”

I scrubbed my tongue. I didn’t taste good either, but I tasted better than Snotlout. He mimicked me and scrubbed his cheek.

Our ritual was finally interrupted when we remembered we weren’t alone.

“Well, this is awkward,” I said, hopping back to the ground as human and dragons stared at us, speechless.

The Stormcutter recovered first. His big, owlish eyes closed and opened slowly, and he shook his head as if to clear them of cobwebs. Although the stranger’s back was to him, she seemed to sense his movement and was spurred into speaking herself.

“You are friends,” she said.

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Snotlout said.

“But . . . I don’t understand.” She began to move, circling us, although it wasn’t as threatening as the time before. As she passed in front of them, the two Nightmares fell back, dipping their heads in submission. “Berk hates dragons. The village is built on their bones.”

“That was like five years ago,” Snotlout said. “We don’t do that anymore.”

“How? Why?” she asked. “I spent years trying to make them see, but they were so stubborn . . . How did you do it?”

My mind, wasn’t on any of her questions. Who was this person? Dad had never mentioned anyone, anyone who had advocated for the dragons before. I thought I had been the first. Maybe Dad had just forgotten. Still, the encounter sounded unusual enough that I thought it would have stuck with him.

Snotlout said, “Well, once we got rid of the Red Death and the dragons stopped raiding us, everything was pretty cool. Mildew was a jerk, though.”

The stranger exhaled. “I never was a fan of him.”

That, that sentence had way too much familiarity in it. While my pupils narrowed to slits, I inhaled deeply. But she had been hanging out with dragons too long. She smelt more like them than she smelt human, and she definitely hadn’t been among other humans for a long while. I didn’t understand who this woman was.

Snotlout didn’t seem to notice. “So, uh, I’m Snotlout Jorgenson, son of Spitelout; dragon trainer extraordinaire and rider of Hookfang; nephew of Stoick the Vast and also the manliest Viking you’ll ever meet. And that’s Hiccup.”

“. . . Stoick is still Chief.” Her scent changed. Became downtrodden. The Nightmares smelt it too, and cooed softly.

“What’s your name?” Snotlout asked.

She turned away quickly, cape swishing through the air and pooling at her feet. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not important.”

“Okay . . . then where are we?”

She turned her head. Her stare was so intense and sober that for a moment, I thought Forseti, he of judgement and justice, had borrowed her body. “Let me show you,” she finally said, beckoning us.

As she made her way to leave this place, the Nightmares took flight, passing her quickly. The Stormcutter waited for her, however, and plopped down on the ground behind her. I could tell that he wanted to fly with her, but it’s not like I would have been able to carry Snotlout. Plus, I don’t think he trusted us to ride with him.

The further we delved into the interior of the crystal fortress, the darker it got. There was always enough light to see by, especially for me, but Snotlout bumped into an edge here and there. Not the stranger, though. She must have been through here dozens of times. And even if she hadn’t, she used her fingers as feelers and gently mapped out the world around her.

Before we saw it, before we saw the light pouring in through a gap in the crystals, before we heard them or heard the Stormcutter bark back in response, I smelt them. Not one dragons, but many. Their scents intertwined in a cloud so thick I could barely separate one from the rest. When the stranger’s dragons had first grabbed us, I thought that had been a lot of dragons. Now I could tell there were so many more.

Snotlout and I paused right before we could see through the gap. I expected him to be frightened, or nervous, but his face had hardened into stone. He reminded me of his father, or mine, watching as the enemy’s boats grew closer to their home.

“You ready?” I asked him.

He looked down, lips turned slightly downward as if wondering what I was doing here. I offered my paw in a mock handshake.

He grinned. “Let’s do this.”

Together, we stepped into the light.

I couldn’t believe it.

Where I expected to see crystal and rock there was, instead, life. The walls were carved from crystal, but soft grass covered the ground. The warm, humid air nourished the growth of broad-leafed ferns and lichen that coated the walls like a second skin. The moisture had also allowed the formation of several small pools, which spilled from one to the other in an exceptionally long waterfall, before coming together in a great lake at the bottom that must have been part of the sea. Great stone pillars, green with life, rose from the depths, ending in jagged, fragmented ends all connected to each other by a plane of ice. The sunlight passing through the icy roof made it shine blue, like we were looking at an exceptionally bright sky.

And dragons. So many dragons. Big dragons, small dragons, species I knew and those I had never seen before. A cloud of them circled a large, slanted pillar in the center of the lake, where others roosted on its side. They were a rainbow; you named a colour, any at all, and it was there.

“This is incredible,” I said, stepping in front of Snotlout who had been stricken dumb.

Squeak. At the sound of my voice, several small heads popped out of the ferns. Gronckles, baby Gronckles, scurried toward me. Their tiny legs were almost too small to support their weight, and they slipped and teetered along the way.

“Hi there,” I said, remembering afterwards that in dragon-speak, I had to chuff. They chuffed back in high, light pitches that sounded more like a poor human imitation than Toothless’s throaty chuff. Like me!

I was so distracted that I didn’t notice the mother until her wings were buzzing right behind me. I jumped – playing with a strange dragon’s children was usually a bad idea – but she chuffed at me herself. She sniffed me, and licked my cheek in what I was sure was meant to friendly.

“Snotlout, are you seeing this?”

He remained silent, slowly walking forward like a man walking the plank. But his mouth was parted in amazement, fixed upon the pillar and its dragons. If I was stunned, I couldn’t even imagine what he was feeling.

“I’ve been here for nearly twenty years,” the stranger said, startling us. Somehow, she and her dragon had gotten behind us. Oh, and she had her staff again. “Living among them, learning their tricks . . .”

“Snotlout asked, “But what is this?”

“A safe haven for all,” the stranger said. She knelt down and extended a hand in my direction. I knew what she wanted; I didn’t have to sniff her, but I guess I should approach her anyways to act friendly.

“You said he was named after your cousin,” she said to Snotlout as she scratched under my chin. “Did something happen to him?”

“Nah, Hiccup’s fine. He’s . . . we left him at home because there’s a bunch of sick people or something.”

I rolled my eyes. That was the excuse we had agreed to use, but I don’t think that it needed to be used on the crazy, feral Dragon Lady.

“He’s doing well?” I could feel her doing her best not to look at Snotlout while she asked that.

“Uh . . .” He studied me closely. “I think so.”

“Good, good.” Her voice was happy and clipped, but I smelt the same sadness I had detected when she spoke of Dad. Her dragon noticed too, and nuzzled her.

The silence stretched on, disturbed only by the squawks and calls of various dragons. Finally, Snotlout asked, “Are you the boss here?”

She laughed a true, genuine laugh whose mirth radiated out from her in a brilliant aura. If someone had walked in just now, they would have thought the three of us were best friends – certainly not that we had been seconds from fighting each other not so long ago. With her staff planted into the ground for support, she stroked my chin one last time before standing.

“I may be the queen, but it’s the king that rules this roost,” she said. “Come and see for yourself.”

She led us forward, to the edge of our island’s cliff. Snotlout stopped short, and I crashed into him.

“Thanks for the warning,” I said. I walked past him, and peered over the –

Wow.

“The Bewilderbeast,” the stranger announced. “The alpha dragon, and guardian of us all.”

Down, down below, resting in a pool of seawater was the massive dragon that had fended off Eret’s ship. The great king’s eyes were closed as he dozed, and the sound of his breathing rolled through the air like thunder. Spines, taller than any house, rose from his brow like a thorny crown. They were thinner though, than the scattered ones on his back that followed his spine, and even larger still were the two tusks that protruded from either side of his face. They were long and smooth, nothing like the ridged horns of the narwhals that I was used to.

“That’s a really big dragon,” Snotlout brilliantly said.

She laughed again. “This is our king. With his icy breath, he built our nest. We all live under his protection, and command.”

She leaned down and tickled me again. “Not you, of course. Babies don’t listen to anyone.”

Before I could object that I wasn’t a baby, I heard the Bewilderbeast shift. Static built on my face’s tendrils, making them flare.

Snotlout scrambled back. “Why is he moving?!”

The stranger said, “Don’t be scared. Were you telling the truth when you said you were a friend of dragons?”

He nodded.

“Then you have nothing to worry about.”

The Bewilderbeast raised his head. Although before we had been staring at him from above, he barely had to stretch to tower over us. He came close, so close that I could make out every individual scale.

The stranger, with a graceful sweep of her arms, dropped to one knee and bowed. The Stormcutter dropped his head too, as did all the Gronckles. I didn’t mean to, not at first, but the moment those blue eyes met my own, I couldn’t help it. I felt his authority and power like a physical force. I could feel it in every instinct and part of my mind: this was a king - this was the king. The great king of the north. To not bow was sacrilege.

He only paid a little attention to Snotlout. I was his focus, and my chest bubbled with a wondrous, humble glee. Whatever his majesty required, I would do my best. The conviction in my thoughts surprised even me, but it couldn’t be helped. I held the attention of a god, and there was no other choice.

Welcome. I heard the king’s voice in my mind. Safe, here. Safe, you.

Thank you, I thought back. Did I do that right? I’m pretty new to this whole telepathy thing.

The king blinked slowly. For a few dreadful seconds, there was no response. Then: You have a much better grasp of language than I had expected.

It’s a long story, I said back.

He watched me, and I had the eerie feeling that he knew exactly what that story was. Rest easy. The hunters shall not trouble you again.

Thank you. I bowed to him again and he breathed on me, coating my back with snow.

“Aw, he likes you,” the stranger said.

Snotlout complained, “What about me?”

His majesty almost turned away then, but at the last second, turned back to Snotlout. His gaze seemed to close upon my cousin like a vice, holding him in place. Every bit of Snotlout was scrutinized under those eyes, like a piece of gold being examined by a jeweller. I had the feeling Snotlout was regretting this.

At least, his majesty turned away and drew back to his resting ground. Snotlout, after checking his hair for the telltale snow, asked, “What did that mean?”

“He’s giving you a chance,” the stranger said. Her tone was carefully neutral. “Do not waste it.”

With that, she climbed atop her Stormcutter. Patting his side, she said, “Make yourselves comfortable. If you need anything, just look for me or Cloudjumper, here.”

Before they took off, I ran forwards. “Hey, wait!”

Cloudjumper cocked his head.

“Any chance there’s something cooked I can eat?”

Chapter Text

“Mmm . . . delicious! I didn’t realize until now just how hungry I was.”

Snotlout stared at me as I smacked my lips and licked my claws clean.

“That was as big as you! How did you eat that?”

I smiled. “Never underestimate the power of a dragon’s bottomless stomach.”

I rolled over. Boy, that had hit the spot. It had taken me a little while to get my point across to the stranger; Snotlout had to step in for me and explain. Even then, she had been skeptical, insisting that a dragon like me would much prefer the taste of raw meat. It was only after I absolutely refused to touch the stuff that she took us seriously.

“This is crazy,” Snotlout said. “Imagine what the others would say if they saw this.”

That opened my eyes. Berk. Dad. Astrid. Toothless. We had left them in a mess, and they had no idea what had happened to us. I jumped to my feet, squeaking curses and other unpleasant things.

“Relax, Hiccup.” Snotlout said. He was leaning against a rock, completely limp so that his head had rolled back to match its curve. “Whatever happened with that battle, your dad will take care of it. He’s dealt with worse.”

I looked at him and he shrugged. “A lot of stuff happened at those Gatherings you never went to; most of the people there spent the entire time drunk and . . . . Those were the days.”

Still, people must have been freaking out. I complained loudly until Snotlout said, “Fine, I’ll talk to her about bringing us back later.”

I studied him. He was on the brink of slumber; he could barely keep his eyes open. It was probably an exhaustion born of relief. He hadn’t slept much since that whole Eret ordeal began. But now wasn’t the time for sleeping. Now, before I forgot or something else happened to distract us, things needed to be done.

I scrawled in the dirt, We need to talk.

Snotlout groaned. He waved me away. “I told you, I’d talk to her later.”

Huffing, I wrote another word, and bugged him until he looked.

Eret.

He woke up. I was surprised he still had any adrenaline after the last few days, although I suppose that sometimes, even Snotlout can catch me off-guard.

“Why do we have to talk about this?” Snotlout said. “I already said I was sorry. It’s not going to happen again, so can’t we forget about it?”

I growled. “But it did happen, and that’s kind of a big deal!”

“I’m sorry, okay?” He rolled up to a sitting position. “There. I said it again. What else do you want from me?”

Honestly, I had no idea, but I knew that an offhanded apology wouldn’t cut it. This was a wound that cut too deep to be repaired with a simple bandage.

“That’s not enough,” I said. “Saying ‘I’m sorry!’ isn’t that hard! See: I’m sorry.”

“I can’t understand you!”

Argh!

It was so very hard to have an argument when one of you couldn’t speak Norse. “We’ll talk about this later,” I shot at him right before I stormed out.

Leaving him behind made me feel better. The air’s heat massaged my body, uncoiling my tight muscles and smoothing over other unpleasant feelings. It smelt earthy here, but even that strong scent was almost smothered by the pure amount of dragons hanging around. I could still taste the Bewilderbeast though; his scent overlaid everything. And when I wandered further, I detected the familiar scent of Cloudjumper and his rider.

Cloudjumper cradled the stranger in one of his giant wings. The stranger laid against the wing’s curve, one arm out and serving as a perch for a young Nadder. There were a couple of others fluttering around. They tried to land on her, too, but the already-seated Nadder snapped at them.

“Play nicely,” the stranger scolded, tickling the Nadder under the chin. Cloudjumper added his thoughts with a grunt.

I studied her gentle movements, the unbridled joy I could see even with that mask hiding her. I wondered: is this what people saw when they looked at me? Had I, in my years of study and practice, even approached the level of dragon-whispering that this stranger was at? It was both a humbling and exalting thought.

“Oh, look everyone. It’s Hiccup!” the stranger said, drawing all the dragons’ attention to me.

I chuffed.

She reached out her other arm. I wasn’t sure what she wanted at first, but when she twitched her wrist in the universal come here fashion, I understood. Shakily, I climbed up her arm to her shoulder, slipping afterwards in a spot next to her on Cloudjumper’s wing.

“Come to say hello?” she asked, running her hand over my back. I grumbled and pushed it away. Seriously, enough with the petting!

To herself, she murmured, “What happened to the rest of your kind?”

She took to examining me, running those feeler-like fingers over my scales, rubbing the thin membrane of my wings. She lifted my paw with a fingertip. I was on the verge of feeling violated; I knew it was only curiosity driving her, but this was a lot of touching . . . Did I act like this?

I finally drew the line when she tried to pry open my mouth. I jerked away, snapping at her hand with my – sheathed – teeth. Cloudjumper didn’t like that. He growled low in his throat, but the stranger silenced him.

“It’s alright. I’m sorry.”

She tucked her chin in against her chest, breaking eye contact. If I hadn’t seen the Nightmare do that earlier, I would have had no idea she was apologizing in dragon-speak. I still had no idea to tell her I accepted her apology, however. So, I stared at her until she realized I wasn’t going to do anything.

“You are a very particular dragon,” she said.

I puffed out my chest, and smiled.

. . . the wrong thing to do, apparently. Her head tilted to one side. She gripped my chin, wrenching it sideways to better see my quickly fading smile. “Where did you learn that?”

“What can I say? I’m a very particular dragon.”

I looked at her mask, seeing for the first time what it really was: the king. No wonder all the dragons loved her. But what was under there? I reached out and tugged at the bottom of her mask.

She laughed, and swatted gently at my paw. Not that it dissuaded me. She got to study me; it was only fair that I get a chance to do the same back.

“Okay, okay.” She quickly looked around. “It’s not like you can tell Snotlout what I look like.”

She raised her hands to her head, and took off her helmet.

A big part of me had expected scales, or slit for pupils, or some hybrid between human and dragon. But no, this was definitely 100% human. And for someone who knew Berk well, she didn’t look that much like them. There was a softness to her that wasn’t common among Vikings. Even Astrid, fair as she was, had a certain steel to her. The stranger lacked that, or else it melted in the face of an adorable Night Fury. Her hair was auburn, pulled back behind her in a loose braid, and dishevelled from being under a mask for so long. Her eyes were similar to mine though, although they did seem a bit too big for her face.

“Now we all know each other,” she said. “But shh! Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

But who was she? That’s what I really wanted to know. What kind of person was she to have figured out the secret of dragons?

The baby Nadders took off, making a beeline for an older Nadder. I wasn’t sure why - must have been my baby dragon instincts acting up there - but I took off after them. On foot. Still didn’t have the hang of the whole ‘taking off’ thing.

I skidded to a halt at the cliff ledge, watching enviously as the Nadders soared past it and through the air. I could always join them. Given a spot to jump off from, I knew how to glide and go up and down, although turning still gave me a bit of trouble. It was taking off from standing that stopped me.

Not today. Today, I was determined to finally master the art of flying . . . and this time I meant it! I backed away from the edge. Front legs pointed towards the sky, I jumped and beat my wings, and ended up tipping myself over. Okay. Not a good idea. Toothless took off from all fours anyways. I just didn’t know how. From feeling his body move in the saddle, I knew he always pushed off the ground with his legs just before his wings beat, but when I tried that, I couldn’t get enough height. My wings would start to flap, then smack into the ground too early and ruin any chance I had of flying.

Use your tail.

My tendrils flared when the king spoke to me. I turned my head to see his majesty watching me from his pool of water.

Your wings are very large. You will need extra height if you are to take flight, and your body lacks the strength to leap high, unless you wish to use a running start. Do as you did before, but push downward with your tail, also. That will give you the distance you need.

I’m not sure how to control my tail, I admitted.

If the king found that statement bizarre, he didn’t say anything. Your tail responds to your unspoken desires. So long as you know what you would like it to do, it shall.

Well, okay. I mean, this was the king, right? He had to know what he was talking about.

I pawed the ground, and fixed my gaze on a distant corner. Taking a deep breath, I crouched and bunched up my muscles as my tail lingered behind me.

Just as the king had predicted, as my paws left the ground and my wings snapped out, my tail thrust itself into the dirt, acting like a super-long third – well, fifth – leg and forced me higher. The tips of my wings still caught the ground, but they could move well enough. I was propelled higher, a feat so exciting and shocking that I forgot to beat my wings afterwards and fell back to the earth.

“Whoo!” I cheered, wings opened like raised arms.

The next time, I made it. I flew past the cliff edge and into the open sky. Well, as open as it could be when you were flying around in a crystal and ice fortress. I stretched my wings out and glided, letting my attention wander to the various dragons flying around me.

“Whoa!”

A Stormcutter had appeared out of nowhere, cutting me off. I banked hard to the right, turning sharply, holding my place in the sky for a few shaky moments. Then I felt it again: that feeling of hitting thin air as I banked too deep. Instinctively, I beat my wings, sending me rolling across the sky.

I recovered in time to avoid a crash-landing, and landed on a small stone that protruded out of the water. Panting, I regained my bearings –

And realized I was standing in front of the king.

His majesty lifted his chin a little, and the tip of his tusk broke through the surface right by me, almost like a hand being extended for a handshake. I didn’t do anything at first, not until it dawned on me what he wanted. Even then, I climbed onto the tusk slowly.

You are still very new to this, his majesty said.

I know. I looked away. I didn’t know if he was talking about flying, or being a dragon.

Open your wings, and relax your body.

“. . . What are you doing?” I had did as he had asked, but now the king was lowering his tusk – and me- into the water. He didn’t answer me, and I braced myself. Surely, the king knew what he was doing.

Even though the air was warm and humid, the water was cold. It definitely connected to the sea somehow. Wings still open, I tilted my chin up so I could breath.

What do your wings feel? asked the king.

Cold.

His eyes sparkled with laughter. He commanded, Close your eyes.

I did. Still had no idea what was going on.

The king was so big that every time he moved, I could hear his scales shifting and sliding along each other. That’s what I heard as the water grew choppy. I squirmed –

There is no need for that, the king said. Open your wings, keep them on the surface. Then, float.

It was harder than it looked. Every time a hint of water touched my snout, I wanted to open my eyes and struggle. But the king was here, and the king was calm and sure, and slowly, I began to adjust. I still kept my chin high, but the rest of me was limp, riding the waves the same way a cart’s wheel travelled over rocky ground.

What do your wings feel? his majesty asked again.

Water? I still didn’t know what he wanted . . .

But that was it. The king grunted in approval, and said, Yes, they feel the water. When you are in air, they must feel the air in the same way.

But water’s a liquid, I said, confused.

To the wing, air and water are the same. To truly master flight, your wings must learn to adjust to the sky around it, just as even now your body adjusts to the ebb and flow of my waves, until it becomes a matter of mere instinct.

Okay. I think I understand, I said.

We shall see.

And before I could protest, the king scooped me out of the water with his tusk, and tossed me high into the air.

That much I could deal with. At the top of my arc, I snapped my wings open, catching the air and slowing my descent. I glided as I did before, keeping an eye on the king, who watched me silently.

“Okay, feel the air . . .” I curled my wings, trying to feel the air, just as someone would close their hand around an object. But that disturbed my body’s harmony, making me wobble as if I had smacked into a rock.

From the king’s lake, my own glossy reflection shone back at me.

I closed my eyes.

It didn’t come right away. When I hit the first rough patch, l almost forgot how to fly right then and there. But, before I could even register the panic, it smoothed out. And as my wings tilted back and forth in response, I felt it. There was a small cushion of air under my wings, pushing against them like a solid thing. Once I noticed that, I noticed the rest. I mapped out the similar cushion under my tail fins, the small layer of air that pushed up against my body like little hands. I could feel the air I rode on, just as my feet could feel the ground.

The king was right. It was no different than floating on water. My eyes opened, and even I my brain adjusted itself to rely on my sight, and that intimate sense of touch faded into the background, I could still feel the air.

I set my jaw. Okay. Time to master that last move.

I turned. Hard. At once, the force slammed against me, threatening to send me tumbling. But I went further, tilted my body more until I reached that magical moment when my wings began to slip –

But they weren’t really slipping, but sliding. I felt that now. And with that knowledge, I didn’t need to fear. With an almost aloof indifference, I let my wings slide until they hit an invisible snag, and I adjusted them and gripped –

And I was stable. I flew in a tight circle, my wings nearly perpendicular to the ground, but I wasn’t falling.

That had been it. That was the secret. Air wasn’t intangible. It was solid.

“I can do it. I can fly!” I shouted, darting out of the valley that held the king. I skimmed over the grass, and passed over the head of Cloudjumper and the dragon lady, who cheered at my triumph. Sure, I wasn’t a true master. But now, it was only a matter of practice. Or maybe I should just get Toothless to take me through another rock death-maze.

I looked back at the king. Thank you.

He rumbled in acknowledgement, and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

“Dinnertime!”

I had eaten not very long ago, and yet, when I heard that one word, my ears immediately perked up and saliva pooled in my mouth. Guess I was a bit more dragon than I thought. The dragon lady rattled her staff, and tapped a dozing Snotlout on the head. Moaning, he rubbed his eyes and stared at her.

“I’m not hungry,” he complained.

“Oh, you don’t want to miss this.” Chuckling, she took a step back, ending up right in front of Cloudjumper when he touched down. She didn’t even turn to look at the dragon. All she needed to do was reach up, and the claw-point of Cloudjumper’s wing fit itself into her hand. He lifted her up, and onto his back.

“Here!” She waved, whistled sharply, and a Nadder landed before us, and lowered herself to the ground. “She’ll carry you. “

Even though I knew Snotlout had experience riding Stormfly, he didn’t seem very comfortable with the Nadder. He looked at me uncertainly. He didn’t seem to really want to talk to me, which was fine with me because I didn’t exactly want to talk to him either.

“Are you coming?” he asked.

Not with him. I took off and circled them both, barking at them to hurry up.

“When did you learn to do that?”

I ignored him.

The stranger said, “Let’s go!”

Night Furies were fast, but I was young. So, I don’t know if I honestly caught up with them, or if Cloudjumper and the Nadder had slowed down for me. We joined a crowded mass of dragons streaking for the exits. If I hadn’t figured out flying earlier, there was no way I would have been able to navigate this. Even still, I found my eyes drifting close from time to time, just so I could regain that intimacy with the air. There were so many dragons, so many flashes of colors, and scales passing in front of my nose, that navigating by sight alone was difficult. So, I let my eyes close, and instead saw the trails the others had left, and the rise and falls of the air currents.

My eyes were still closed when we left the crystal fortress, and I only knew we were outside by the feel of the sun on my back. Well, that and the smell. The air was much fresher outside where it wasn’t crammed with the scents of a thousand dragons. I opened my eyes, finding it easier to fly now that the space had increased and the dragons had spread out.

I dropped down to fly between the dragon lady and Snotlout. The latter clung to his dragon, head against the neck, and his hair fluttering behind him. On the other hand, the dragon lady was crouched on Cloudjumper, not even needing her hands to hang on.

“Where are we going?” Snotlout asked.

“You’ll see.”

The dragons stopped in what appeared to be the middle of the ocean, and started circling. We joined them, although I had no reason why . . .

What was that?

A huge, underwater shadow moved towards us. I thought it was a whale, or maybe a couple of them, until the first of his majesty’s spines broke through the surface. An involuntarily shiver went down my spine. Was this a hunt, led by the mighty king himself?

“Here we go!” the stranger said.

The king’s silhouette stopped below us. I watched him, and waited. Waited . . .

With a mighty splash, the king’s head appeared. A massive spout of water flew upwards, and with it, dozens of small, silver gleams shot towards us –

Fish! I knew that smell anywhere.

And it became a nuthouse as dragons swooped and dove everywhere, snapping up airborne fish in their hungry jaws. The dragon lady laughed, and held her hands out carelessly until a fish dropped into it. Snotlout’s Nadder ignored his command and began to catch fish of her own. Even I got one. I couldn’t help it – it had flown right at me.

“See,” the dragon lady said, “Hiccup likes fresh fish.”

“He’s not going to eat it,” Snotlout said.

He was right, of course. Instead, I glided towards him, and let go of it in such a way that momentum carried it straight into Snotlout’s face.

He peeled it off himself with a scowl. “Hilarious.”

“He is a very unique dragon,” the dragon lady said. “I’ve never met any like him before.”

“He’s special, alright,” Snotlout grumbled. He stiffened when I hissed at him.

She asked, “Is that why he’s named after your cousin?”

“I guess.”

The dragon lady seated herself on Cloudjumper’s back, but kept fidgeting like she was sitting on an ant nest. “How is he? Does he look like Stoick?”

“Not really,” Snotlout said.

“Oh. Well, he was a small baby.”

“You knew Hiccup?” we both said at the same time, although only one of us could be understood.

“. . . I saw him when I visited Berk and tried to talk them out of killing dragons. He was only a baby.”

With an small, kind of inappropriate bark of laughter, Snotlout said, “That would have been a bad time. That was around the time Stoick’s wife was killed by dragons.”

She took a long time to answer. “I suppose it is.”

Snotlout heard the pause, too. It seemed to stir his curiosity. With his eyes fixed on the dragon lady’s face, he asked, “Where did you come from? Is there a whole village of dragon riders?”

“No, I am the only . . . we are the only.”

“Other than the rest of Berk,” Snotlout pointed out. “You should check it out. They’d love to meet another dragon rider.”

“No!” She said that too quickly. “I’m not welcome there anymore.”

“Things have changed,” Snotlout said. “Even if Stoick still doesn’t like you, Hiccup could probably talk him into it.”

“It’s best if I stay away.”

An unseen weight settled over us. The feeding frenzy continued, but most of the energy seemed to have been lost, like we were only dreaming. Cloudjumper returned to the Nest first. Snotlout’s Nadder fed longer before following.

I left between those times. It’s not like I was hungry, and I didn’t really want to be left with Snotlout. The dragon lady seemed happy to see me when I approached. Well, happy-ish. Smelt fine, but her smile was brittle and felt like it would shatter if I poked her too hard.

“Hiccup . . . Hiccup. . .” She worked my name over, practically massaging it with her tongue.

“Wonderful name, I know.”

She ignored me. “You’d think nearly twenty years would have wiped his face from my mind, but it feels like it was just yesterday.”

I froze. My skin crawled.

“You have his eyes.” Her cupped hand traced the curve of my cheek, moving from that to the underside of my chin. “They’re different colors, but they have that same little spark. I suppose that’s why you’re named after him. That or your personality . . . but I wouldn’t know that.”

As the melancholy took her over, I wriggled away from her hand. This was weird. Weird to the point of being frightening. Who was this woman, what was her history with Berk, and why was I factoring in so much? Was it because I was the Chief’s son - she’d obviously tried to discuss dragons with a pre-Toothless Dad, so maybe she was hoping to have better luck when his heir came of age? These were all questions that begged to be answered, but there was no way for me to ask her without blowing my cover. However, there was someone I could ask.

It seemed like a lifetime later, but the king finally emerged. He must have entered through some underwater tunnel. He exhaled a cloud of hot air and seawater, which rose and condensed on the ice ceiling. I waited until he dragged himself back to his personal lake, and then landed on a rock before him.

I bowed. Your majesty.

He looked at me with one eye open. Hiccup.

I suddenly felt very, very awkward. Like I had been rummaging through someone’s room, only to realize that they were there with me. Sorry to bother you . . . I just wanted to ask a few questions , if you don’t mind.

His eye closed. Speak.

The . . . uh . . . the human, how did she find you?

I knew Cloudjumper was back with the stranger, but an image of him, faint and translucent, flashed in front of me. He brought her, the king said. He sensed a kinship with her, and brought her here.

And that’s it?

The king shifted, so that his chin rested on his front paws. If she had desired to return, I would have seen it done, but she wished to stay.

But where did she come from?

Faraway. From a human settlement. The rest I believe she wishes to be kept private.

I cringed like a dragon facing its yelling owner. Sorry, I was just curious.

Curiosity is a minor crime, but tread carefully. I doubt she realizes you understand as much as you do.

Understood. For all that the king laid in his lake, he seemed to know everything that was going on.

. . . I was proven wrong not a few seconds later when he asked, How do you communicate with Snotlout?

We grew up together, I said dismissively. So he generally has an idea of what I want. If not, there’s only so many ways you can interpret a growl, and when it’s really complicated, I can always write to him.

Write? The question was pushed forward carefully, like a hand being offered to a skittish dog.

Yes, writing . . . wait, you can’t read?  Genuinely stunned, I asked, How do you and the human communicate?

I have learned much of her speech over the years. Her desires and wants are straight-forward and simple; understanding them is not difficult. That which I cannot divine or my senses fail to detect is told to me by the others.

But you don’t have any way to directly communicate with her.

No, I do not. She is quite able to express herself to me through speech, but I cannot return the favour.

She might not be able to write anyways . . .

Show me.

I blinked. Uh, sure. I can do that.

I heard amusement in his tone. You need not demonstrate. You can send me words; send me an image.

The first piece of literature that came to mind was, of course, the Dragon Manual. I sent him a quick page of that, which may or may not have been about the species of yours truly.

She can write, the king said. She used to make similar symbols in the early days of her arrival.

I have time, I said. I could always show you how to write with your claw.

His head tilted slightly to one side, almost like Toothless when he was curious. He lifted one foreleg and . . . oh. Maybe this wasn’t going to work . . . No, it wasn’t. The king, he didn’t exactly have toes. Well, he did, but they were all webbed together like the ones on a seal’s flippers. The claws themselves seemed frail. I know, crazy – especially since each one was bigger than me. But proportion-wise, they seemed smaller than mine. Even if they weren’t, he wasn’t going to be able to separate one claw from the rest and use it to write.

“This isn’t going to work,” I mumbled.

He must have read my body language, because he lowered his paw again with a deep sigh. The king clearly thought this was a lost cause, but he had never dealt with a determined Viking before. And now that I actually had a dragon who wanted to learn (Because Toothless had been more interested in chasing my hand) . . .

I flashed back, and had an idea.

Are there any large, shipwrecked boats around?

There is, the king said, although he obviously didn’t know why I was asking. Translucent images, like the one I saw of Cloudjumper earlier, lit up our surroundings as the king passed on the knowledge of how to get there.

I’ll be back! I told the king. I took off, and zipped around the area until I found a group of suitably large dragons.

I squawked at them, drawing their interest. I didn’t know how to tell them to follow me, so I looped around instead, hoping curiosity would be enough. I don’t think it was, but the dragons suddenly perked up and glanced in the direction of the king. I’m betting he told them to follow me.

I led my merry group out into the wilderness. Even though I knew from the king’s visions that it was close, I didn’t think it was as close as it was. The ship was in a field of icebergs; not only that, but the ship had been partially encased in ice. The entire back half was frozen solid, leaving the front half sticking out like a thorn.

“Here we are.” I landed on the deck with the others. “Okay, what I need now is to cut down that mast.”

I illustrated this by clawing and gnawing at the mast’s base. It took them awhile, but eventually a couple of them started scratching at the mast. Then one Boulder class dragon had the bright idea to ram it, and things went a lot quicker.

“Timber!”

The severed mast toppled backwards, slamming into the iceberg and creating a small shower of ice flakes.

“And now to take this back.”

My entourage hurried the mast back to the nest, attracting a lot of stares. They dropped the mast in the water before the king, bowed, and then went their separate ways.

The king stared at it. Hiccup?

You can use that instead of your claws, I said – projected – in a rush. You can hold it in your mouth and write with that, as long as you don’t break it. It worked for Toothless, so it should work for you. We’re going to need a big space though.

He picked up the mast in his teeth. It looked like a toothpick. Hopefully, it wouldn’t snap on the first try.

I fluttered upward, scanning the area until I found area that might be big enough for an impromptu writing lesson. I signalled to the king, then stood back as he made his way over.

The more I watched him move, the more sense it made that he was an aquatic dragon, and the more sense it made that he spent most of his time stationary in his lake. As I’ve mentioned several times, the king was very, very big. But that also meant he was very, very heavy, and it must have taken an incredible amount of energy to move all that weight on land. He walked with slow, laborious steps. When he raised himself to see our canvas properly, he climbed up the cliff with his front paws, choosing not to simply rear up on his hind legs.

I’ve never taught anybody to write or read before, but here goes nothing.

It wasn’t long before we encountered the first problem. I was showing the king how certain symbols related to certain sounds, and had drawn some runes in the dirt when he told me, I cannot see. It is too small.

I can draw it bigger, I said, wondering just how big was big enough.

That is unnecessary, he said. With your permission, I can see it through your eyes.

. . . okay.

I didn’t know what to expect. When it happened though, all I felt was a pressure in my mind, like there was something trying to push its way out of my skull. I still had full control and it didn’t feel all that unnatural. In a way, it was soothing.

I don’t know if I was a great teacher, if the king was just that intelligent, or our connected minds somehow allowed him to inherit knowledge from me, but he picked up reading at a godly pace. There was definitely no human, alive or dead, that could match him. Writing was harder. Don’t blame him; experience had taught me that carving out letters with a stick in your mouth was painstakingly slow at best, and infuriating at worst. Doubly so when you were so big any sudden movement could snap it.

The strange activity had quickly attracted an audience. Numerous dragons popped by, curious to see what had captured their king’s attention. Most of them watched for a bit and then left. A few didn’t leave. These, I noticed, were mostly the elderly dragons.

It was inevitable that the rotating crowd of dragons and his majesty’s performance lured the one couple I was hoping would not take notice, the one couple that I really, really should have thought about before embarking on this whole endeavour. Cloudjumper landed to the side of our canvas, strutting forward as his rider slipped off to stand on her own feet.

“What’s going on here?” she asked. She stared at the mast being held by his majesty, and then at the furrows in the ground, not yet piecing together what those lines had created.

My heart dropped into my stomach. That’s it. We were busted. There was no way -

The king picked up his paw, dug his claws in and erased his writing with a swipe. The stranger stopped mid-step. For a long second, her eyes were locked on a spot where a furrow had been. She slowly looked up at the king, and in that hesitation, I could hear her thoughts clearly: Why are you keeping this from me? What did I do wrong?

The king blew a halo of snow at her, as a placating gesture. But his eyes were focused on me. You fear her discovering what you are capable of. You fear her discovering who you really are.

I . . .

I know you are not dragon.

My blood turned to ice. Before I could say anything, the king backed away, and settled on all fours. As he turned away to dive into the water, he said, Come outside. It is time you told me the truth.

Chapter Text

It was cold out. The sun was still around, but it had grown big and neared the horizon. The small, sickle-shaped slice of the moon floated far above in the clouds. If there were stars out, the light from the waning sun drowned them out.

I crawled out of one of the many exits to the Nest, hopping from crystal perch to crystal perch as I made my way downward. There was a beach at the base of the fortress, covered with snow and maybe about the length of two warships. Even though the interior of the fortress was packed to the brim, there were relatively few footprints outside.

The king rose from the water. Like the first time I met him, he loomed over me. Once again, I couldn’t meet his eyes, but this time, for an entirely different reason. He was silent, watching me with his steely eyes. Light gleamed off his mane of spines, exactly as it would off a metallic crown.

I’m sorry, I said. I didn’t think . . . I didn’t want to bother anyone –

Your reasons for lying do not concern me, the king said. It is the lie itself that requires my attention.

How long have you known?

Since you first spoke to me. Dragons, even of your species, speak often with senses and emotions, whereas you have only ever used words.

I dared to look up at him. Guess I’m not very good at this whole pretending thing.

You are not. Some of the other dragons have been asking questions about you, too, said the king. But that is not important. It is time for the truth.

Though the king made his desires clear, he wasn’t in a rush to get them. He waited as I stared into the distance and sorted through my thoughts, trying to arrange them in any way that made sense.

I haven’t been a dragon for very long, I finally said. We were fighting with a witch, and I got hit with some sort of spell . . . next thing I know, I was like this. We’ve been trying to find some kind of cure, but no one in my village is experienced with magic, so it hadn’t been going very well.

I took a deep breath. The next things I said would make or break this relationship.

I’m human, I said. A Viking. I’m not even a kid either; I’m nearly twenty. Guess a youth spell must have been mixed in with this turn-into-a-dragon spell.

A long silence followed. The king said, That was a possibility I had considered. But then, I had considered many things.

. . . Should we leave?

No, he said. You are no threat to our Nest. I do not believe Snotlout is either, regardless of what he has done in the past.

I squinted. You know what he did?

I do not. However, I smelt his unease and guilt when he first arrived.

I sniffed. Good to hear that he felt at least a little guilty.

I fear I cannot help you, his majesty said. It is true that my species possesses magic . . . but it is weak. Mostly, we use it to modify existing spells, or else redirect its flow. But to reverse a spell such as this, or to cast one of my own? It would require more than I can provide alone.

I nodded. Okay. Thank you. Maybe we’ll have more luck when we return to Berk.

Berk? He blinked, mouth parting slightly.

That’s the name of my village. It’s –

Viking territory. Neighbour to the Meatheads and Bog Burglars.

Yes, that’s right –

And you are Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. Heir to the Chiefdom of Berk. Son of Stoick the Vast.

I knew the king knew everything, but this seemed to be a bit too much. How do you know all that?

This time, it was his majesty that looked away. Through our mental connection, I could feel his great mind churning, as vast and mysterious as the sea. I fidgeted. The dragon-side of me didn’t like the idea that the king was uncertain about anything.

Because Hiccup, he said, and I didn’t know if his sigh was real or in my mind, for nearly twenty years, I have been living alongside your mother.


My wings were numb. I flew back into the Nest with the same shakiness and uncertainty I had displayed before the king helped me. My nose led me to her, and I landed. My wings folded back against my body.

She was teasing Cloudjumper with a fish, wriggling it in front of his nose, and pulling it away at the last moment. He didn’t really seem to mind. He played so gently with her. Like a proper dragon and rider. Like friends.

Family.

I was empty inside. I could go over there, but the air between us was thick and viscous, and I couldn’t do more than lean against it. The emptiness inside me begged to be filled, but everything I threw in there disappeared down a long, dark hole.

She glanced over. “Oh, hello, Hiccup.”

A shudder ran through my body, paralyzing my vocal chords. With effort, I worked them free, and croaked, “Hi.”

But by that time, she had returned to playing with Cloudjumper, and my words were heard by deaf ears.

I watched them. I didn’t like the nausea that swept over me, but I couldn’t wrench my eyes away. Every sweet sound that came out of her mouth was another knife in my chest, plunging over and over again into the same spot until it, too, went numb.

At least that let me turn away. I couldn’t stop myself from glancing over my shoulder, hoping that somehow, in the second I had looked away, the scene had changed.

It hadn’t. She continued to tussle with Cloudjumper, bonding with him in replacement of her family.

. . . or in spite of.

I didn’t want to linger on that thought, so I flew away. But it followed me, thick and oppressing. My next landing was a crash landing.

Hiccup?

I shook my head. I tucked my tendrils against my cheeks, blocking out the king. He could have still spoken to me if he really wanted, but he left me alone.

I wandered blindly, my eyes only seeing enough to stop me from walking into – or off – anything. The only thing I knew for certain was that I was avoiding the scent of the stranger. Her smell was a physical repellent –

No, no, no. She wasn’t a stranger anymore. She was Valka of Berk, wife to Chief Stoick the Vast, mother to his tiny little heir . . . my mother. My mother who had died before I could remember; killed defending me from a dragon that had broken into our house. Killed because she loved me so much.

. . . loved me so much she had hidden herself here for twenty years.

I stopped walking. I think my legs were tired. I couldn’t really tell. Everything was slow and hazy.

“Hiccup?”

I angled my head in Snotlout’s direction, but otherwise didn’t move.

“Uh, look.” I heard him drag a hand through his hair. “I know you’re still mad at me, but there’s something we’ve got to talk about. I haven’t asked her yet about taking us back to Berk, but . . .”

Her. There was only one her he could be talking about. She was back there somewhere, playing with Cloudjumper . . .

“ – Hiccup, are you listening?”

I jumped. I finally looked at him.

He was frowning. “Are you okay?”

His question echoed in my mind. Was I okay?

I shook my head.

“Oh.” Evidently, this was not a situation he had prepared for. “What’s wrong?”

I didn’t want to tell him, but my body seemed to be out of my control. My claw wrote in the dirt, carving each letter one shaky stroke at a time. The letters, as they were, made no sense to me, until I physically forced myself out of the haze and made the conscious decision to read.

Stranger. Mother.

I stared at the last word, reciting it in my head with cadences I had never used before. What a strange word.

“She had a kid? I didn’t see anyone . . .” Snotlout dropped his voice. “Is it dead?”

I shook my head.

“Okay . . .?”

I wrote, Me.

Snotlout stared. “I don’t get it.”

I growled, secretly glad to be feeling something, even if it was annoyance. I drew a line between mother and me.

He looked at me strangely. “Hiccup, your mother is dead.”

I shook my head. She wasn’t. Not anymore. Not ever.

“She left us,” I said hollowly. “She didn’t die protecting me from a dragon. For all I know, there hadn’t been a dragon in the first place.”

I wondered if Dad had lied to me. Maybe he made that story up because the truth was too terrible to bear.

Snotlout was gone. I looked back to see him coaxing a Gronckle forward in a rare demonstration of his dragon-taming ability. He climbed on top of the heavyset dragon, and they took off. Without really knowing why, I flew after them. They weren’t airborne for long. The Gronckle landed, Snotlout slid off, and marched with unmistakable intent.

Towards my mother.

“Snotlout,” I squeaked, “what are you doing?”

He cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted, “Hey, Valka!”

Valka, who must have spent years without anyone ever speaking her name, looked up with wide eyes, destroying any shred of doubt in one fateful instance.

“When were you going to tell me that you’re my aunt?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. But I could smell the lie, smell her fear.

Snotlout laughed humourlessly. “I wasn’t even a toddler yet, so maybe you forgot about me. But hey, so was Hiccup. Just a baby, you know?”

“I . . .”

Snotlout cut over her. “I know who you are. It doesn’t matter how, but I know.”

She planted her staff into the ground and slowly straightened up. Her quiet menace collided with Snotlout’s single-minded determination to create an invisible storm. I was caught in the middle. The numbness possessing my mind began to melt, leaving trickles of horror in its place.

“What do you want?” Valka hissed, sounding more like a dragon than human.

Snotlout shrugged. His lips curled at one end. “I don’t really care. It’ll be up to Berk to decide.”

“You will tell no one.” She took a threatening step forward, stoking the anger of her Stormcutter, who began to spread his wings. But, he glanced to the side suddenly, and lowered them again. I copied him to see the king there, silently observing.

“Why?” Snotlout sneered. “So everyone doesn’t know what a coward you are?”

“Coward? I left my home, my family, the only life I’d ever known to do what I thought was right. You have no idea how much pain I went through. Leaving Stoick and Hiccup behind was the same as cutting off my own hand. Staying away ripped my heart in two, but I had to do it. I couldn’t let them know why I left. I couldn’t put them at risk!” She swiped through the air, gesturing at the sanctuary surrounding her.

This . . .them . . . this was the reason. I scanned the Nest, which seemed to have lost much of its vibrant colours. I licked my lips, mouth dry. This was so important that she left us behind. They were more important . . .

“Yeah, yeah, Berk killed dragons. We get it. Did you forget who we were?” Snotlout asked, hand on his chest. “Don’t worry, we’re nobody important. Only living proof that you’re wrong. So why aren’t you jumping on Cloudjumper and running off to have a happy reunion - ?”

Snotlout, stop!

The scream ripped my throat apart. It burned when I breathed. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t sit here and hear the answer to that question. I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t . . . I couldn’t handle her excuse.

Cloudjumper nuzzled Valka, pushing her away from us. A Nightmare landed behind us, wings low to the ground in an invitation to board. Both dragons had their tendrils flared; the king had decided to step in.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Valka said. “You’ve never been torn in two the way I have been for all these years.”

“Let’s go. Please.” I begged, pushing at Snotlout’s heel. I couldn’t trust myself to fly right now.

He had one foot on the Nightmare, and I jumped on behind it. But Snotlout, he just couldn’t let it go.

“Hiccup is the only thing standing between me and the chiefdom,” he said. “Do you get that? He’s the only thing standing between me and my dreams. I could have gotten rid of him a few days ago, but I chickened out because I . . . you don’t abandon them. . . you don’t turn on family . . .”

He stammered, speech more disjointed and faltering as he reached some quiet revelation of his own. I could sense the storm clouds growing. She was going to explode, and I was going to be right in the middle. . .

My tendrils flared, and I begged of the king, Please.

The Nightmare suddenly grabbed Snotlout by his collar, dropped him on his back, and flew off before Valka could say anything. I sunk against his warmth. And pretty much fell off when he landed.

The Nightmare, smelling my distress, cooed. He licked my back, and nuzzled his snout into the crook of my neck. I closed my eyes. I wanted Toothless back. I wanted Dad.

I wanted to go home.

The very air, filled with the scent of Valka’s flock, was smothering me. I needed the crisp, clean air of Berk. I wanted to surround myself with the people and dragons that were my family. I didn’t want to be here anymore.

Hiccup?

The king’s shadow fell over us. The Nightmare bowed, and backed away.

I am sorry, his majesty said. My actions were impulsive and irresponsible. I should not have told you.

No, I said back. I needed to know. Thank you.

He studied me a long time. I truly am sorry.

His mind retreated back into itself, leaving me alone in my head.

Snotlout was nearby, sitting on a rock with his head in his hands. Despair rolled off him. The stench almost made my toes curl. Why was he upset? None of this had to do with him!

As I approached, his head turned. I caught a glimpse of an eye before he hid his face again.

“ . . . I was going to kill you.”

“ . . . What?” I said, stomach dropping.

“With Eret,” he clarified. “He was lying when he said they wouldn’t have hurt you, wasn’t he? I had thought . . . when I did think about what would have happened to you, I just assumed you would go find somewhere else to live. That was stupid. You wouldn’t have just been gone, you would have been gone. They would have killed you.

“I tried to kill my own cousin,” he whispered, rubbing a hand over his face. “And if you hadn’t been acting so you, I would have killed you.”

What was I supposed to do with that? Comfort him? Say: ‘Hey, I know you purposely almost got me killed earlier, but don’t feel bad about it’? How he felt about it wasn’t really my business anyways. I had enough to deal with.

I crawled into a small cranny in the fortress’s walls, curled up, and squeezed my eyes shut.

Which was better: to think you were responsible for your mom’s death, or to know she was alive but didn’t want you?


I don’t remember falling asleep. However long I slept though, it wasn’t enough. I had to pry my eyelids open, and afterwards I just let them shut, not really seeing a reason to get up now. Let me return to sleep. At least there I could get some peace.

Hiccup, where are you?”

I opened my eyes again when I heard the note of panic in Snotlout’s voice. What. Did he need to pick a fight with my mom in front of me again? Reluctantly, I stalked out of my hiding place.

“Hiccup!” Upon sighting me, he ran over. “Hiccup, the Bewilderbeast is out feeding, and your mom and Cloudjumper can’t handle him. You got to take care of this!”

Take care of what –?

A furious screech rang through the air. I straightened up, sniffing.

“Toothless?”

Chapter Text

His shrieks penetrated every inch of the Nest, leaving no doubt that there was a very angry Night Fury running amuck. Although I could tell by their muffled quality that Toothless was still outside, the Nest’s dragons had been whipped into a frenzy. They screeched and called to each other, flying in tight circles over the lake of the absent king or grouped around the Nest’s exits. There wasn’t a single one that was left unguarded, boding ill. Toothless wasn’t known for his friendliness to challengers, especially when I wasn’t there to mediate.

I heard Cloudjumper roar outside. For a moment, a portion of the icy roof reflected harsh light, telling us that one of the outside dragons had flamed the other. I couldn’t be certain, but judging by the shot’s briefness, it had been Toothless.

“This is bad,” I said.

Just when I finished saying that, the ceiling exploded.

Toothless dove through the hole, carving a tunnel through the flock of spooked dragons, who veered out of his way. He snapped at any who ventured too close, wrenching his body from side to side, and making something on his back gleam gold –

Cloudjumper emerged through Toothless’s hole. Valka was on his back, staff held, one hand gripping the Stormcutter. They cut Toothless off, with Cloudjumper spreading his wings wide and trying to intimate the smaller dragon with his mass. But Toothless had faced the Red Death, and size didn’t scare him. He stopped and hovered in place, and I knew from experience that he was planning something.

Valka urged Cloudjumper closer. She crawled up to his head, so that she could reach out towards Toothless. She held her hand out in the same gesture I used to bond with dragons. The difference was that she was dealing with an intelligent dragon who may or may not have picked up combat techniques from his Viking partners.

Toothless lurched forward, grabbed Valka’s staff in his teeth, and yanked her off Cloudjumper. The Stormcutter naturally chased after her, snatching her up with one foot. Toothless’s shot slammed into his back, and I winced as the two disappeared into the water below with a splash.

From above, Toothless laughed. The other dragons gave him a wide berth. With the space around him clear, I was able to see the golden gleam on his back stir, groaning as she rubbed her face and sat up-

“Astrid!” I didn’t even feel sorry for what happened to Valka and Cloudjumper anymore.

Toothless’s ears perked up and he barked, looking in my general direction. I think he spotted Snotlout, not me first, but either way, he raced towards us. At some point, he found me hidden among the moss and dove.

I don’t think he meant to do it, but when he landed, his body slammed into Snotlout and sent him tumbling. Toothless didn’t even notice. I was the sole focus of his attention. On the ground before me, he panted, wiggling his hindquarters playfully. He was too excited to wait for my response, and began to hop from side to side in an altered version of his Let’s go flying! dance. I couldn’t help but mimic him, hopping on my tiptoes in a dance that seemed to come from the innermost parts of my being. We skipped and pranced around each other, growing more in sync with every beat. I barely even felt the ground. If it hadn’t been for my rational brain, which anchored my mind no matter how much it felt like it was floating away, I would have thought I was flying.

On his back, Astrid moaned. “Toothless, you’re going to make me puke!”

“You’re both here!” I gasped, so excited I could barely get the words out.

“Hiccup!” Astrid automatically tried to jump down, the action making Toothless cut our dance short, but the ropes attaching her to Toothless prevented that. That’s all there was: ropes. She’d clearly been unable to find a saddle before they had embarked on their journey.

She put a hand on one of the knots, presumably to untie it, when Toothless lunged forwards, causing Astrid to pitch back. He went tongue-first, and the warm appendage stuck to me so that when he tried to lick, he actually pushed me onto my side. Not that I minded. He stuck his snout into my chest, and licked that.

“I missed you, bud.” My purr rumbled throughout my body. It vibrated in time with Toothless’s purr, and we fed off each other’s energy. When he licked all the way up to my neck, I whined. I had missed him. I really had. I buried my snout in his skin and breathed in the familiar scent that sung of happiness and family and home. I needed this. I needed to touch him, and smell him and know he was real.

Toothless laid down beside me, licking, sniffing, keeping me close so I wouldn’t disappear again. It gave Astrid a chance to finally start untying herself.

Snotlout groaned. “What hit me?”

Toothless tipped his head in his direction, as if considering whether he should greet the wayward Viking with the same enthusiasm he had greeted me. Evidently, he thought better of it.

“Finally!” Astrid slid off Toothless’s back, legs wobbly. There were red marks on her clothes and legs where the ropes had dug in. It didn’t look like it had been a comfortable ride for her.

“Hey, Astrid,” I whispered.

She smiled. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Only Toothless saw it as a threat to our brotherly bonding time, and he curled around me, chin on my head.

“Okay, fine!” she said good-naturedly. “I’ll say hi to him later.”

“Toothless, don’t be selfish,” I scolded, but there was no bite to my tone, and he knew it.

I love you, he told me. I rubbed against him, saying those same words back, and then – half of it instinct, half of it a conscious choice – I licked the underside of his chin. (“Aww!” went Astrid).

Toothless suddenly went still. I nudged him. What was wrong? I was here. We were together. What could have caught his attention? What could possibly be more important?

It wasn’t quite a growl that left Toothless’s throat, but a precursor to one. Astrid stood, taking her place at Toothless’s side at his silent command. She had one hand on her axe. Snotlout didn’t move, and Toothless didn’t seem too interested in moving towards him. But, he reached out with his tail and rested it on Snotlout’s foot, telling everyone that the Viking was under his protection. With that declaration, he stared down the massive dragon in front of us.

It only struck me now just how big Cloudjumper was. He dwarfed Toothless, probably could have eaten him in a couple of bites if he wanted to. Not that Toothless was a particularly big dragon – there were plenty of species that were larger than him. But those dragons tended to be big and long, like lizards or eels. Cloudjumper was big and wide.

“Who are you?” Astrid said to Valka, speaking for Toothless.

Snotlout said, “Oh, she’s. . .”

I knew what he wanted to say. I’m sure Valka had done her best to silently tell Snotlout to keep his mouth shut, but even if somehow that message had made it through his thick skull, he wouldn’t have listened. But for a moment, his eyes were on me. He must have seen something there, because he suddenly switched tracks and finished, “ . . . she’s our new best friend.”

“She’s a friend?” Astrid repeated, uncertain.

I wasn’t imagining the darkness in Snotlout’s voice when he said, “I guess so.”

Valka stepped off of Cloudjumper, hands open in a placating manner. Astrid held a hand out to Toothless, shushing him. Toothless didn’t listen and kept growling his growl-that-wasn’t-quite-a-growl.

“Snotlout is right,” Valka said. “If you are a friend of dragons, then we are on the same side.”

“. . . Okay.” I was a little surprised by how quickly Astrid accepted that, although the giant Nest full of dragons probably did a lot to convince her.

Toothless wasn’t so trusting. When Valka dropped down into a crouch and inched closer, he pulled me against his chest. Up to me, then. I snuggled against him, and purred, trying to lend him my calm.

Then, the Nest flew into a frenzy again. A solid cloud of dragons hovered over the king’s lake, barking and crying as his majesty surfaced. He looked hard at the crowd, blinked, and then stared in our direction.

He sighed. Things were much more peaceful before you arrived.


A minute later, and the king had calmed down both the Nest and Toothless. Not like that drew Toothless away from me. I was cocooned within his wings, only my head exposed. Every once in a while, he would sniff me again and lick my head. Snotlout and Valka were giving Astrid a heavily edited version of everything that had happened

The king was watching us. Who is he? he asked. Unlike Valka, he knew that Toothless and I were not related.

He’s my best friend, I said cheerfully. I stretched my lips into that toothless smile, and squirmed so Toothless would look at me.

I looked back at the king, an idea trickling through my mind. Could you . . . could you tell him I love him?

I believe he already knows that, said the king.

I know. I just want to make sure.

Very well.

As the king spoke to Toothless, his green eyes widened. He cooed, tilting his head from side to side, looking at me as if he had never seen me before. Very gently and deliberately, he licked me from the top of my chest, over my snout and all the way to my forehead.

The king said, He says he loves you more.

“Liar!” I said both aloud and in my mind. “That’s impossible! Nobody can love me more than I love him.”

When the king translated, Toothless growled playfully and mouthed my skull. It had all the suggestion of a challenge, and I flipped over and batted at his face with my paws.

“Okay, I think I understand,” Astrid was saying. “This place really is fantastic, but we have to get back to Berk.”

“Already? Don’t you want to relax and check out the place?” I asked. It wasn’t that long ago that I had been praying to go back home, but with Astrid and Toothless here, I had almost everything I could have wanted. With them behind me, acting as my silent support, I could deal with anything. Even a certain someone.

“You just got here,” Snotlout said.

“I know,” Astrid said sharply, “but we don’t have any time to waste. I shouldn’t even have stood here and listened to you two. We have to go now!”

Hearing the genuine distress in her words, I pushed away from Toothless and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Astrid said, “You two have no idea what happened after you disappeared. It was bad. Really bad.”

“Oh.” Snotlout rubbed his hands together. “What did happen?”

Astrid closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “The battle wasn’t very long. The Raiders and Bog Burglars came by and broke everything up. But then you two didn’t show up, and no one on the island had seen you, but Toothless must have smelt you were in danger, or scared, or something . . . it was a mess. Toothless and Stoick, they . . . they were furious and we decided to confront Dagur . . .”

She paused there, as if the memory was too much for her.

“ . . . Dagur’s dead.”

The aftermath of that tragic announcement was marked by Snotlout’s triumphant, “Ha! That’s a good thing, right?”

“No, it’s terrible!” Astrid said back. “We were there to convince them not to harm dragons, and then right in front of everyone, a dragon . . . if only Dagur had kept his mouth shut! Now the Bog Burglars are calling for a cull, the Louts are on the fence, and the Raiders are too interested. And the only reason we’re still alive is that Stoick played the blood feud card!”

My mouth fell open. A blood feud? Blood feuds, in the hands of someone with enough charisma, could quite possibly let you get away with murder, especially if you were as well-liked and trusted as Dad. But blood feuds could only be used as an excuse against someone who had killed or almost killed a family member without proper provocation. And like the name suggested, the victim had to share your blood. If Dad used that, then that meant . . .

“Yes, Hiccup,” Astrid said, “they all know who you really are.”

Valka snapped to attention, but Astrid was too focused on me to notice. She didn’t even flinch when Snotlout shouted, “You told them?”

“We had to! It was the only way to evoke the blood feud,” she said. “They didn’t believe us at first, but between what Mogadon and his tribe already knew about the witch, and what Fishlegs found in those journals – yes, he found something. It’s not a cure, so I’ll tell you later – we managed to convince the Vikings who matter. So, we’re only at war with the Berserks.”

War!” Everybody but Astrid shouted at the same time. She gave Valka a strange look, probably wondering why the weird dragon lady cared so much.

“Not officially,” Astrid said. “But the Berserks left in the middle of the night, and Stoick thinks they’re trying to get back before we do. That way, they can raise an army and attack Berk while it’s vulnerable. Which is why we have to leave now.”

“I’m convinced,” I said, jumping to my paws.

“Wait!” Valka grabbed Astrid’s shoulder. “What do you mean they all know who Hiccup really is?”

Astrid brushed her hand off. “It’s a long story, and it’s not important.”

But Valka wouldn’t be ignored so easily. To Snotlout, she said, “You’ve been keeping something from me ever since you arrived. There’s something off about Hiccup; I’ve known since I met him.”

“Yeah, what she said: it’s not important,” Snotlout echoed.

“I think I should be the judge of that.” I could picture Valka’s gentle face contorted into a scowl behind that mask. Exhaling, legs weak enough they felt like they would collapse, I put a paw on Snotlout’s foot and nodded, giving him the go-ahead. She had almost figured it out anyways and maybe . . . maybe it was better this way.

Snotlout raised his eyebrows, but he listened. “Fine. He’s the real Hiccup. Like actual-Hiccup, not a dragon. He got blasted by a witch’s spell.”

Valka was silent for a long while, stunned. Slowly, she knelt down and peered into my face. “H-Hiccup?”

I nodded.

“Why would you tell her that?” Astrid snarled. “Weren’t you just jumping down my throat for telling the other Vikings?”

“Yeah, but this is different. She’s Valka. You know, Hiccup’s ‘dead’ mom.”

“What.” The word should have been a question, but there was none of that in Astrid’s tone. She looked at Valka with astonishment and horror battling on her face, and as time passed, the latter seemed to win. Valka’s scent didn’t change – maybe she had learned how to hide that – but her body grew taller and stiffer.

“You’re Hiccup’s mother?” Astrid tiptoed closer, squinting as she tried to see behind Valka’s mask.

She breathed deeply. “I am.”

And she took the mask off.

Instantly I turned my head away. It had been fine seeing her before, before I knew who she really was, but things were different. If I looked now, I knew I would try to find parallels between us, find little bits of me in her face, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle that. I knew without looking that both Astrid and Snotlout were doing that right now.

Toothless’s paw hooked around my chest. He rubbed his head against mine, and then let it rest there on my skull. It’s okay. I love you.

I leaned back into him. Thank you.

“Stoick saw you die,” Astrid said.

“Stoick saw a dragon carry me away, but he never saw a dragon harm me,” Valka corrected. Cloudjumper, sensing he was the subject of their discussion, nuzzled his rider.

The casual tone with which she had said that hurt. Was it really that easy for her? My heart suddenly beat painfully as I heard the other thing she didn’t say: Dad didn’t know. He truly thought she was dead, same as I had.

“Hiccup, this is really you?” Calloused fingers brushed my jawline. I refused to look at her. Part of me wanted to close my eyes and pretend she was someone else; the rest of me still wanted to close my eyes, but savour the moment. I settled for something in-between.

She continued. “I didn’t know. How could I have known . . .? But you were such a strange dragon, and shared his name. I should have seen this coming. I should have recognized my own son.”

The same way I should have known she was my mother? That, at least, I didn’t hold against her.

Astrid said, “Guys, we don’t have time for this!”

“He’s my son! Waiting a few minutes won’t be the end of the world,” Valka said tightly. Even though I still felt light inside from Toothless’s arrival, my chest tightened in anger. A small part of me, a part which had its feet deep in my childhood, heard only another rejection of Berk and its troubles.

“So now he’s important to you,” Snotlout drawled.

The reaction was instantaneous. Even before I could snarl at Snotlout to shut up, Valka whipped around. Her arm flung out as if she was planning to bash his head in with her fist, but instead those fingers dug into his shirt. She pulled him in close, eyes narrowed so that they looked like slits.

“Don’t ever say that!”

Toothless and Cloudjumper both lunged, pulling the two apart. I knew it wasn’t solely their doing; sure enough, when I checked, the king was watching. I couldn’t tell if that was disappointment or exasperation I read on his face.

Valka was breathing heavily, as if the two had actually fought. Gripping her staff tight in one hand, other hand on Cloudjumper in a bid for silent support, she hissed, “I love him. I love both him and his father. Don’t you dare say there was a time I didn’t.”

Thankfully, Astrid knew Snotlout much better than Valka did. Which meant she knew there was no way he would take this lying down. So, before he could speak, she grabbed his upper arm, squeezing hard enough to leave bruises. Her expression was fierce; for the first time in a long while, I saw old dragon-fighting Astrid. Snotlout wisely kept his mouth shut.

In a quiet voice completely opposite of her expression, Astrid said, “Berk needs us. It’s time to go.”

“You can’t leave now!” Valka said. “I just . . . Hiccup . . . let him stay here. He’s only a baby. He could get killed!”

The wording was strange, and it took me a while to figure out why. Only a baby. Not ‘currently looks like a baby’, but a baby. I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Last time Valka had seen me, I was a helpless infant in a crib. She had no idea what I actually looked like. All she knew was the child she left behind.

That made it worse. How did I know her? I struggled to bring up those ancient memories, but I had only been a baby then . . . I couldn’t bring up a face, let alone a voice. It was like she had never existed in my life.

Like she was only a stranger.

With that admission came both sorrow and relief. It was a bittersweet feeling, at once making my chest ache but also soothing it so there was no lingering scars. I knew her, but did not know her, and in a way, it made everything easier to deal with. Like my mother hadn’t really abandoned us, and really was dead.

“Hiccup!” Valka speaking my name snapped me out of my trance. “You could stay. Just until everything settles down.”

Snotlout would have refused on my behalf; Dad might have, too. But not Astrid. She said nothing to Valka, put her hand on Snotlout’s arm, and looked at me and said my name softly. For the first time since she had taken off her mask, I looked Valka in the eye, letting the other features of her face blur. And I shook my head no. I may be stuck in a baby dragon’s body, but I was still Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. I was Berk’s heir, and that meant there was no other choice but to go.

“Why don’t you come along?” Astrid said. “You two could catch up on the way, and I’m sure Stoick . . .”

But Valka was already shaking her head and backing away. “No, I couldn’t return now. It’s been too long. Berk wouldn’t want to see me, and the Nest needs me.”

I shouldn’t have expected anything else. It still hurt. A hard stone dropped into my stomach as I swallowed my disappointment.

“Then you have to say goodbye to him,” Astrid said firmly.

Valka started protesting, or pleading, I’m not entirely sure which. I let Astrid deal with that. I had to. if I listened to her, I could be tempted, and if I were tempted . . . I couldn’t be. That wasn’t an option.

I’m the Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third. Berk is my responsibility. I repeated that mantra to myself. It flowed through my mind, driving out any contradictions or threats to that pledge. A odd tranquility fell over me. It was an apathetic state, but at the same time, I felt whole. I wondered if this was what the king felt like day to day. Speaking of which . . .

Your majesty?

The king dipped his head. You are leaving.

Sorry, I said. Valka can probably continue teaching you to write.

Yes, she can. For all the commotion you brought, I did enjoy having you around, Hiccup.

Thanks. I stared at the ground, feeling a little flushed.

The king had one more thing to say. Hiccup, are you sure about this?

I knew what he was asking. I looked back at my mother, studying her quietly.

Yes, I said. I’m sure. She’s my mom, but . . . I’m not the Hiccup she left behind, and she’s not the person I remember. . . None of that even matters. Berk needs us back .

. . . She has her Nest, and you have yours, the king finished.

I looked at him sadly. She’ll know where to find me, if she wants.

Then I bid you a safe journey.

Thank you. I’m glad we got to meet.

I broke off contact with the king and trotted over to my mother. After climbing onto Snotlout’s shoulder so many times, climbing her was easy. She froze as I clambered onto her shoulder, and we locked eyes, each unable to move.

I took a deep breath, letting her scent caress my mind. Then I leaned forward, touching my forehead to hers. There was no mistaking what I was saying.

“Hiccup . . .”

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, more to myself than anyone.

“I meant it, Hiccup. I’ve always loved you. If only I had known . . . we could have spent every day together. There is so much I could have taught you.”

I stayed there for a few seconds, struggling not to react as her fingers brushed my flank. Too quickly, much too quickly, it became too much. My tranquil mood shattered, my stomach flipped upside-down, and I had to leave. I leapt off her shoulder, and glided to my fellow Vikings.

“It’s time,” I said to Astrid with a nod.

With steady fingers, Astrid tied the ropes and secured herself and Snotlout to Toothless’s back. Valka moved forward, as if to stop me, but Cloudjumper raised her wing and held her back. I waited by Toothless’s side, Snotlout having reassured Astrid that I could fly on my own. Toothless, on the other hand . . . I didn’t know what he thought. Once Astrid and Snotlout were in place, she patted Toothless’s head and dug her heels in. His wings snapped open and moved up and down, testing the air.

They were waiting for me to make the first move, but before I did, I turned back to my mom.

“ . . . See you later,” I said.

We took off for Berk.

I didn’t look back.

Chapter Text

Clear skies, calm waters, cold with just a dash of warmth? Seemed like good flying ahead to me. I didn’t foresee any problems, not as long as things stayed this way.

Now somebody please tell Toothless that.

Toothless hadn’t been around to watch me learn flying from the king, and in his mind, my flying skills were still very raw. It was for that reason, or just because he had missed me so much, that he didn’t want me to fly. At all. Even though I was flying with perfect technique that would have made other dragons jealous. Nope. No flying for Hiccup.

He kept drifting above me, and then quickly diving and trying to grab me in his claws. Each time, I narrowly avoided him; I would hear wind whistling past his body and swerve out of the way. Thankfully, Toothless still hadn’t figured out how I knew he was coming after me. If he did, then there would be trouble. Astrid, despite her best efforts, wasn’t doing a very good job at dissuading Toothless, either.

“Toothless!” I flipped upside down, exposing my belly as Toothless retreated after yet another failed dragon-napping. “I’m fine. Knock it off!”

His big green eyes gleamed. Yep, he wasn’t thinking of stopping anytime soon.

Groaning, I focused on the distant horizon. If I was going to spend my entire journey dodging Toothless, then this was going to be a long trip.

The wind whistled. I swerved again. As I did, my gaze passed over the rolling waters. We were just about to pass over an island, and as I watched birds rise from between the trees, an idea struck me.

“Oh, Toothless . . . If you want to catch me, you better keep up!”

With a wild shout, I folded my wings and dove.

It took barely a second for Toothless to copy me. Barely an arm’s length away, he barked authoritatively. My guess is that he wanted me to stop, but that was not an option. I aimed for a gap in the treetops, large enough for Toothless to also fit, and my wake rustled the leaves on their branches. I pulled up, changing directions quickly and racing deeper into the forest. Toothless needed more time to stop his dive.

It wasn’t quite the same as flying in the Nest had been. There wasn’t a flock of dragons flying about to create air currents, and what ones naturally existed were broken into pieces by trees. It fell to my eyes then, but my body was ready. Adrenaline made the world pass by slower, giving my brain the time it needed to plot out my course. My tailfin did what it wanted, opening and closing as needed, while my wings sought out and moulded around those dips and rises in the air. Even my tendrils got in on the action. They felt around, judging when I passed too close to something, so that next time I knew not to turn so far.

Behind me, Toothless, with his wider body, wasn’t quite as agile. I knew without looking that he was leaving a trail of destruction. It probably didn’t bother him much, thanks to those scales, but his passengers . . .

“Ow! Toothless!”

“Ouch!”

“Watch out -!”

I sucked in a breath. “Sorry, guys.”

I wound my way around a tree trunk, so close to the bark that I could smelt the sap underneath. Toothless slammed into it, digging his claws in, and on my second time around the trunk, I passed just over him as well. That was all the encouragement he needed.

We raced each other through the woods until we hit shore. Panting, I landed and waited for Toothless, who was breathing heavily himself. Otherwise, he looked fine. The same couldn’t be said for Astrid and Snotlout, who were busy trying to clean dirt and leaves out of their hair (Snotlout was gagging; I think he swallowed a bug). Toothless sat next to me, entwining our tails together.

I looked up at him and drawled, “Now do you believe I can fly?”

He wasn’t trying to lift me up and drop me on his back, so I think he did.

So, just to really bug him, I chose that very moment to catch a ride.

I made myself comfortable in Astrid’s lap. My tail automatically curved to fit the contour of her legs. I looked up at her. Reached up and said, “Uh, Astrid, you got a little something there.”

Curling my paw downwards so my claws didn’t scratch her, I tried to rub the dirt off her chin. I had to go on my hind legs to get enough pressure, but I got it. She touched the spot afterwards, as if afraid the contact had made her sprout scales herself.

“Much better!” I said with a smile. I choose to ignore the assorted bits of debris she still hadn’t quite gotten rid of.

Behind us, Snotlout pitched sideways. A big glob of spit splashed to the ground.

“Ugh, gross,” he said, wiping his mouth with a shiver. “Never want to go through that again.”

All Astrid said was, “I warned you that you would catch flies if you didn’t keep your mouth shut.”

She dug her heels in and patted Toothless’s head, telling him it was okay to continue home. He took off. Without me to chase around, his flight was a lot smoother, and he quickly reached a speed he hadn’t achieved following me. I drank it all in. I nestled down past against Toothless, kneading his skin hard enough that there were shallow indentation around my paws. My tail came around, and my tailfin opened and draped itself over my snout, as if trying to block the outside so that all I could smell was him. I had missed this – him, flying – I really did. If one good thing had come out of that ordeal with the dragon trappers, it was that I had a new appreciation for the freedom of flight. I was going to memorize every sensation.

I sniffed again. I already knew Toothless’s natural scent by heart, but it had changed. I could smell his body’s stress. A decrease in fish-stink told me that he hadn’t been eating as much as he should. The ebb and sway of his body wasn’t as fluid as it normally was either. It was stiffer, probably due to tired muscles. He must have run himself ragged looking for me. At least, now that he had found me, he could probably find some time to rest.

Astrid’s fingers found the spot where my head and neck connected. They tickled me gently, and I purred.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she said.

I looked back at her. “We never did have our heartfelt reunion, did we?”

Well, that could be solved right now. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock, Romantic Extraordinaire was on the job! My go-to plan wasn’t really an option, since I didn’t have any flowers or knick-knacks on hand. Time for Plan B, then: cute baby dragon face.

I knew it was working, because she was trying really hard not to look at me. Every few seconds though, she couldn’t resist sneaking a peek. Every time she did, I made my eyes a little wider, moved a little closer. Until we were practically chest to chest, and she had leaned back out of reflex.

“Okay, Hiccup. What do you want?”

“Just spending time with my most favourite person in the world.” I snuggled against her, still doing my best to maintain that adorable face.

She laughed delicately. “Hiccup, you know that doesn’t work on me. I’ve seen it too many times on Toothless.”

Ah, but I wasn’t trying to manipulate her, so that part didn’t matter. I crawled up her body, until I was standing on my back legs with my snout touching her chin. I stared at the skin there, thinking, struggling with my own pride.

Tentatively, I braced myself, and licked.

I had no idea what to expect, so her reaction took me completely by surprise. Astrid was used to dragon-kisses, but she was not the least bit used to dragon-who-is-actually-a-human-kisses. She lurched backwards, slamming into Snotlout who squawked indignantly. Her fingers flew to her chin, tapping the spot, searching for the source of whatever had touched her. Going by her glassy, straight-ahead stare, this hadn’t been one of my better decisions.

Finally, she looked down. “Hiccup, was that you? Did you lick me?”

If I was still capable of blushing, then Snotlout’s exclamation would have turned my face bright red. With a cringe, I nodded. The heat of my embarrassment made me long for the ability to sweat.

She was silent for a bit, seemingly oblivious to Snotlout’s stream of questions. Then, she cupped my cheeks with both hands, leaned down, and as my heart pounded, kissed me.

It was on the tip of my snout, or the equivalent of my human nose. I tried not to think too much of it, seeing that my current form lacked a wide choice of kissable areas. Still, a kiss on the nose was not a normal something me and Astrid engaged in regularly. We went more for the cheeks. That was our little way of communicating with each other.

I rubbed my snout. Seeing that, Astrid said, “What? Were you expecting to lick you back?”

Before I could come up with an unintelligible, but witty, response, Snotlout groaned. “Can’t you two wait until we’re not stuck on a dragon together before you start making out?”

Astrid snapped, “Well, excuse me if I had been worried when he was kidnapped! I think we’re entitled to be happy about finding each other again.”

Just to drive her point home, she picked me up and clutched me to her chest. One arm was around my abdomen, supporting my lower body. The other was around my chest, squeezing me tight, like a child with a toy. I didn’t mind that much.

I breathed in through my mouth, and tasted her scent. Like Toothless, her scent was stressed. Not the same kind of stress though. Toothless’s scent had been thicker and held a lot of extra heat, the products of physical stress. Not to say Toothless hadn’t smelt of emotional stress, but it was all emotional stress with Astrid and much more noticeable with her. I’m sure she wasn’t frightened and worried now, but she had been for such a long time that I was still detecting echoes of it in her scent. It lurked underneath her natural, sweet scent, like a shark hiding underneath the ocean’s surface.

I nuzzled her neck, fighting back the urge to lick her again. She held me tighter, and stroked my back. It was like an owner and pet, but I’d take what I could get.

Toothless twitched. At first, I thought the bugger was being jealous again. Then, he twitched again. Violently. Astrid shouted in surprise, and the hard bone of her arm dug into my flesh. Toothless shook his head, tendrils splayed oddly as he tilted to the side, almost like a strong wind was forcing him to roll over. But I didn’t feel anything.

“Toothless?” Astrid said.

With a snort, Toothless beat his wings hard, forcing us away from the direction he had tilted towards. He levelled out after, wings spread for a steady glide.

I blinked suddenly. Only now did I realize that a small pressure, one that I hadn’t even noticed before, had been lifted from my mind.

Things seemed okay. Toothless seemed okay. His tendrils lay flat against his cheeks again, even as his ears lifted, listening for something. Maybe it had been a pocket of rough air. I considered that, until Toothless glanced to the side, and growled.

“What’s with him?” Snotlout asked.

“I’m not sure.” Biting her lip, Astrid reached into her vest, pulling out a spyglass. I dropped onto her lap as she looked into the distance.

“I see a few ships,” she finally said. “They don’t look Viking-made. I’m not sure why they would set him off. Other than that, there’s a couple of islands.”

Weird. Whatever it was, though, it didn’t seem to be bothering Toothless anymore.

We must have flown for at least a couple of hours before finding an island to settle on. Toothless stretched his wings after we got off, and then curled up on rock in the sunlight. Astrid was quick to ask – well, order – Snotlout to gather wood. Which he did after trying no less than two times to talk her into doing it instead.

With me watching, Astrid shuffled through her meagre belongings before admitting, “I should have stocked up on food while we were with your mother. We don’t have much left, especially for four of us.”

Sniffing, I verified that. “So, what’s the plan.”

She unclipped her axe from her belt, and swung it up. “I want Toothless to get some rest, so looks like we’re going hunting.”

I perched on her shoulder like a hunting bird as she picked her way through the forest. A minute passed of her pushing aside branches before I had an absolutely brilliant idea. Tapping my snout with one paw, I poked Astrid and hissed her name.

She stared at me. Squinted. After a few seconds, she caught on. “You can smell prey!”

I nodded and from there on, led the way.

A good ten minutes or so passed before I found anything worth catching. You could guess the size of a scent-source by the amount of space the main body of scent took up. This one wasn’t particularly big, but big enough that someone other than me might get a few mouthfuls, unlike the many mice I had detected earlier. I led Astrid towards it, trading my trot for a quieter approach. Hopefully, she would pick up on that.

I stopped. This entire time, my mind had instinctively been using smell to map out the surrounding area. Now this map was telling me that my prey was close, very close. And still . . . there! I saw it. Watching us. Ready to flee the second Astrid moved.

I saw it stir. My dragon instincts told me it was about to run, and in that crucial second, I made a quick choice.

Screek!

Astrid stared at the smoking mass. “Well, that makes things easier.”

Hunting actually went very well. I flew over the forest, found a glade, and we travelled there. Then, I had a fun game of spying prey from above, and flaming them, upon which Astrid would rush over to collect the spoils – and put out the little fires I had created. We got about five rabbits before the rest refused to come out of their burrows again.

“Clearly, I was worried for nothing,” Astrid said, a spring in her step. “Didn’t need to borrow food from your mother after all.”

I grunted, trying hard not to linger on that last sentence.

“ . . . It must have been a shock,” Astrid said. “I really thought she was . . . you know. Stoick always talked about her like she was.”

Because he honestly thought that, just like I had. Astrid didn’t know that, of course. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell her. It was bad enough that Snotlout knew. Yet at the same time, I really wanted to tell her.

“Your dad will be happy to know where she is. We are going to tell him, right?”

I swallowed. It was a question that had haunted my mind, despite my best efforts. I nodded without looking at her. He deserved to know. He deserved to know, just as I had . . .

“Hiccup, are you okay?”

Was I?

“She was happy to see you, wasn’t she? She acted like she was . . . did I miss something? There’s no way she’s that good of an actor.”

“You didn’t miss anything,” I said hollowly. “She was happy to see me. And explaining further is useless since you can’t understand me.”

“I’m sorry I brought her up.”

I patted her neck. “It’s fine. You didn’t know.”

We returned to Snotlout and Toothless. Snotlout had enough wood by now, and was bent over, desperately trying to coax a fire into being. I rolled my eyes and flamed the pile.

“Amateur,” I huffed good-naturedly.

We dined. We rested. We cuddled – not with Snotlout. Soon, the day was fading and although we needed to get back quickly, I didn’t want to interrupt what was probably Toothless’s first good sleep for a while. So, wordlessly, the rest of us agreed to make camp. Astrid and Snotlout actually stopped arguing long enough to build a small lean-to. It would provide protection from the elements, but not much else.

They crawled inside, positioning themselves at the very edges of the shelter to fruitlessly avoid touching each other. I hopped inside, and Astrid pulled me in.

“You’re the closest you’re going to get to a blanket,” she mumbled.

Only a few minutes passed before the not-quite sleeping Toothless wandered over. He stuck his head inside, and sniffed.

“I’m over here,” I sighed.

Toothless tried to force his way inside with the intent of removing me, but paused when my teeth clacked together.

“No, Toothless,” I said. “I’m keeping Astrid company.”

Toothless grumbled. Eventually, he simply collapsed, and laid his chin across Snotlout’s and Astrid’s legs. They mumbled and squirmed, but Toothless was the only real source of heat around here, so I don’t think they really minded.

Either way, at least their feet would be warm.

Chapter Text

“Land, ho!”

That’s what I heard as I roused myself from an uneasy sleep. We must have been travelling for nearly a week now, so you would think I would be used to waking up on the back of a dragon with my snout smashed against an arm. Still made me jump. At least the smell was nice.

I stretched. Bones creaked as I put my wings through the same motions that a waking human would put their arms through. My tail put itself through its own routine.

“Almost there, Hiccup,” Astrid said. She leaned forward slightly, eyes focused on some distant sight.

I sat up. In the distance, Berk beckoned me. Even without the shadows of dragons orbiting the village, I knew it was my home. The snow-tipped rock spires towered over the village like steadfast guardians. Ships laid in the harbour, flags fluttering. One had its nets stuffed with fish, and small Viking-forms scurried back and forth on the docks, unloading it. Most of them had the heavyset form of my father, but none of them had that distinct hair colour.

Toothless brought us down, so that we were about the same height above the water as the docks. We passed through twin, stone statues of Vikings with fire in their mouths, and as we zipped past them and towards Berk, we finally ceased to be invisible to Berk. At least Snotlout and Astrid did. Toothless and I were probably still hard to notice. I couldn’t hear anyone, but some of the children were running along the island’s edge, no doubt shouting news of our arrival.

I’ll assume that’s why Dad exited the Great Hall just as we landed in the village square. Villagers gathered around, but there was a clear line of sight between us and him. Others left the Great Hall after him. The heavy oak doors slammed shut with a thud, the only sound for miles.

His footsteps were eerily silent. Dark circles marred the skin under his eyes. Despite that, there was a nobility and readiness in the way he carried himself, like he had just woken from a deep sleep, fresh in the morning. His expression had been tight, but as if all the strings holding it there had been cut, it relaxed all at once. His smile was not one of shock or even relief, but more like expectation.

“You’re alright.” Dad’s weight nearly collapsed onto Toothless as he bent to grab me, making the dragon shy away. I squirmed on instinct – not to run away, but to get closer. It felt like I hadn’t seen him in years.

“Everyone’s accounted for, Chief,” Astrid said. She untied her homemade saddle, and said, “Now, I’m going to take a nice long nap in my bed.”

Dad chuckled, patting her on the back as she trudged past. He turned to Snotlout. Smile and tone teeming with warmth, he said, “I’m glad you see back safe, too.”

“. . . Yeah,” Snotlout said, eyes fixed on his lap.

“Okay, everyone!” Dad spoke to the crowd now, voice carrying over the roofs and far away. “It’s been a long journey for these four, so give them some space.”

To the Vikings who had followed him out of the Great Hall, he said, “We’ll discuss more tomorrow.”

After spending so long sitting in Astrid’s arms and lap, Dad felt weird by comparison. His arms were thicker than hers, stronger than hers were. His skin didn’t give as much when I pushed my paws against it. And there was a lot of hair. I couldn’t really feel it, but it changed the friction between us. He held me differently too. Astrid always went for cradling, or otherwise supporting me from underneath. Dad had one hand underneath, and the other on top of me. His hands were big enough that it worked.

On the brink of jogging, he headed towards our house. Not fast enough though to evade Gobber, who appeared out of absolutely nowhere and latched onto Dad’s shoulder. “Ah, so the wayward heir has found his way home. Did a cute lady dragon catch your eye?”

Dad growled, “We both know perfectly well what happened.”

“Sure, sure, but that’s all in the past. Let’s lighten up the mood a little!”

“Later,” Dad said. “I still need to hear what happened from Hiccup himself.”

I swallowed. That was something I had to do, wasn’t it?

“If you say so.”

Dad gestured backwards. “If you don’t mind, could you find him something to eat? He must have been flying for a long time.”

I crawled up to Dad’s shoulder so I could see who he was referring to . . . and immediately felt ashamed that I had forgotten about Toothless.

“Whatever you say, Stoick!”

Dad waved off the Fishlegs and the twins as they crept up on us. Some of the resident dragons kept an eye on us, too, watching from roofs or peeking from behind barrels. Back in the square with Astrid and Snotlout, Stormfly was clucking loudly, wings flapping in excitement. She was too excited to truly land, and kept dancing around her rider on her tiptoes.

“Not the face! Not the face!

Looks like Snotlout had remembered how to walk. Not that he had much choice, since a flaming, angry Hookfang was chasing him around.

Dad took us into the house. Toothless didn’t follow us, since he was too busy enjoying a delicious, smelly meal, but Dad pulled up the shutters on one window for when he decided to make his dramatic entrance. I was dropped unceremoniously on a table. Dad walked away and started shifting through a pile of random things. Rude.

“Are you okay, Hiccup? Is there anything I can get you? Did you need anything to eat, or drink?”

“I’m not going to say no . . .”

Dad turned around. He held a clay mug in each hand. He stared at me, brow furrowing. Then, he shuffled away towards the water barrel, muttering, “Right, water.”

He poured himself a mugful of ale. The table shook as he set the mug down, and pushed the water-filled one towards me. Not that I was ungrateful or anything . . . but a drink sounded pretty good right now. Dad wouldn’t mind if a stole a few tongue-fulls, right?

Turns out, he found it pretty funny. I swallowed down the bitter liquid, washing down the rest of the taste with saliva. It tasted odd on a dragon’s tongue. If I hadn’t known what it really was, I would have drank more, just out of curiosity.

“Here.” Dad set some parchment and a quill down in front of me. “You’ll be able to write down what happened on this. Take your time. I know you must be exhausted.”

I scrawled some words, but not what he was expecting. What are the Berserks planning?

He sighed heavily, and took a big swig of his ale. “Still figuring that out. I’ll assume Astrid filled you in on what happened with Dagur. Nobody’s blaming you. I can’t say that I’m upset to see Oswald’s son go, either. Just wish it didn’t happen like this. We got back here before the Berserks could retaliate, but we don’t know what they’re thinking. We’re drawing up defense plans, just in case.

“Now that the tribes know what happened to you, we’ve lost the support of the Bog Burglars and the Lava Louts, as well. The Burglars are scared of the beasts, and the Louts seem to fear that you caught some sickness from the dragons, and that’s why you transformed.”

The mug fell back on the table with a sharp sound. “We’d also gotten some information out of the rest of the Berserks. They say Dagur was encouraged to attack you by some outsider named Eret. That much true?”

I nodded.

A faint scowl crossed his face, so faint that if we hadn’t been family, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. “Am I correct in saying he’s the one that took you?”

I nodded again.

“And Snotlout was just in the wrong place at the wrong time . . . I’m glad you had someone with you, though.”

If I were still capable of human expressions, I would have been given away right there. Snotlout. Nobody, not even Astrid, knew about what he had done. Except me.

“You take your time with writing that,” Stoick said. “I doubt it will sway the Berserks either way.”

As he walked away, I stared down at the parchment. This was going to take a long time. I know he wanted to get the story straight from me, but it’d be a lot easier if he just talked to Snotlout.

“Hey, Dad?”

Even though he heard me, Dad couldn’t understand enough to know I was trying to talk to him. He kept his back to me, bent over the fire pit, and coaxed it alight. He must have gotten it into his head that I needed food after that journey. Which I certainly didn’t mind. Some fresh fish would be nice after all the rabbit I’d eaten.

“I’ll be back soon,” Dad said. “Just need to get some fresh meat.”

“Dad, I . . .”

But Dad assumed my squeaks were an acknowledgement, and swiftly left the house. I stared after him, and then down at my paw. I lifted it, and tried to turn it over at the wrist, although that didn’t work very well. Focusing on my toes, I grit my teeth and tried to open them the way human fingers opened.

It was an utter failure. I sighed, and continued to stare.


“Hiccup?”

“Shh, he’s sleeping.”

I had to blink several times to clear the gunk out of my eyes. My memory came back to me slowly. I had been writing down my side of the story and gotten pretty far, but it had been a boring, thankless task. Especially since I was forced to write much slower than I normally was capable of. I scanned my chicken-scratch letters, noting the area at the end where my lines went on longer than they should and in odd directions. Must have dozed off around there.

“I’m awake,” I said, extending my wings to make sure they noticed.

Dad was sitting at the head of the table, Toothless beside him. He had his head in Dad’s lap, and one of Dad’s hands were right behind his ear. I almost wanted to kick myself for missing what had probably been a cute scene.

Back in the corner, close to the fire pit, Skullcrusher dozed. In the opposite direction, Fishlegs peeked in the front door. He held a small book close to his face, so that it blocked the sight of his jaw. In his other hand, he had . . .

The sack swung as he pushed it forward. “Uh, I thought you might be hungry.”

Yes. Yes. I may have ate not that long ago, but eating something that was more than charred in a fire was music to my ears. Saliva pooled in my mouth as my tail whipped in excitement.

Dad laughed as the sack flew through the air, and landed with a thud. He had to hold Toothless back as I dashed forward, and gulped the first fish down. Ah, this was great. I can’t remember anything that had tasted this good.

Fishlegs walked over. His knuckles had turned a mottled colour from his grip on the book. “Astrid said that I should show you what I found.”

I instantly stopped savouring my meal. “That’s a good idea.”

Even though Dad must have already known what it was, he leaned forward in his chair as Fishlegs put the witch’s journal on the tabletop. He opened it up to the first page, and slipped out a loose piece of paper.

“Everything I wrote on here is straight from the journal,” he said. He pushed it at me. “You should read it yourself.”

So I did. And the further down the page I went, the further my heart dropped into my stomach. All of these quotes were sinister, but not too concerning by themselves, but placed in one area like this, where you could see there had been an arching theme throughout the witch’s journal, there was only one real conclusion that could be drawn.

“War,” I breathed. “She wanted to use this for war. Someone wanted her to find a way to create an army that could turn into dragons.”

I grabbed my quill and wrote two words. Who?

Dad said, “I don’t believe it’s any of us. Of the two Chiefs that I would have thought possible of such an underhanded plot, one is dead and the other is our sworn ally. The only other I could suspect is Chief Ranvir, but this seems too devious even for him.”

“So, nothing.”

Dad turned his head and looked into the depths of the smouldering fire pit. Orange light danced in his eyes. “There is one other man. It has been a very long time since we last crossed paths, but he is the only other person I can think of. He claimed to be able to control dragons, and there must have been some truth to it because when we turned him away, he turned our Great Hall into an inferno.

“His name . . . is Drago Bludvist.”

Fishlegs and I froze. I had only been a kid back then, so the ancient memories should have been hazy, if I was able to recall them at all. But they weren’t. They were crystal clear. I remembered the massacre. I remembered screaming, held back by Gobber as fire razed the building that held my father and the other chiefs. He had been the only one to make it out alive.

Fishlegs swallowed hard. “ . . . That was the guy who wasn’t a Viking, right?”

Dad nodded. He picked up the journal, studying it with disgust. “Aye. I wouldn’t put it past a madman like him to create a plan like this.”

The journal slammed back onto the table like a gavel.

“What do we do now?” Fishlegs asked in the ensuring silence.

“Nothing we can do,” Dad said. “Nobody knows where Drago went afterwards. We’ll prepare for a possible attack by the Berserks, then wait and see.”

I didn’t like that. It felt like there was a target drawn on my back.

As Fishlegs and Dad talked to each other, I scanned over the incriminatory page again. Nope. Nothing about a cure. I knew Astrid had already told me that, but still, I had hoped . . .

I shook my head. Better not to dwell on that. Focus now on the problems we already have. The Berserks were violent. That much was fact. Even if they weren’t actually upset over Dagur’s death, they might attack us anyways just for fun. But if they were, there was a chance we could talk them down. We at least knew something about them. Drago, as far as I was concerned, was a complete mystery. I’d bet that he would have been happy to see me though, and know that the witch had discovered half the puzzle –

At once, the words flashed back to me:

Drago will murder us if the Night Fury drowns!”

It . . . it couldn’t be the same person, could it?

But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became.

Drago knows, I wrote. Eret works for him.

“ . . . That’s not good,” Fishlegs said.

“So be it.” Dad rubbed his brow. After, he read through what I had written so far about Snotlout and mine’s little adventure. “This dragon rider you found, you say she lives in the Northern country, within the area that the dragon trappers were travelling through. Does she know anything else about them, or their master?”

I cocked my head. Don’t know. Didn’t ask.

“She might be our best bet,” Dad said. His wooden chair creaked as he pushed away from the table. “If Drago Bludvist is truly looking to create an army of dragons and has his sights set on you, then we can’t stumble about blindly. We need to know everything we can.”

I knew what was in his mind, and dreaded it. Although I had only written up to the part where we arrived at the Dragon Nest, there were two key details I carefully avoided: Snotlout’s role in the plot, and the dragon rider’s identity. If Dad insisted on visiting the rider for himself . . . well, it would be better if he knew ahead of time, right? I had no idea how he was going to react, but at least we might be able to avoid a berserker fury in the Nest.

. . .And it was only right he knew the truth.

“Thank you, Fishlegs,” Dad said. “Could you find Gobber and Spitelout, and send them over here. If we are going on a journey, then I will need to discuss it with them.”

“But what about the Berserks?” Fishlegs asked.

Dad breathed deeply. “That’s why I need to speak with them.”

“Got it, sir!”

Fishlegs lurched out of our house, leaving me and Dad – and the dragons. Toothless leaned back on his haunches, stood, and then sniffed the journal suspiciously. It was too boring for his tastes, and he quickly decided his time was better spent chewing on the tabletop.

Dad slapped his snout. “Just because you rescued my son doesn’t mean you get to eat that.”

Toothless grumbled. He gave me a look that just screamed, Can you believe this guy?

Dad said, “Hiccup, you finish up writing that story. I’d like Gobber and Spitelout to have a clear picture of our situation.”

“Got it. I’m on it.”

I couldn’t help but skim through what I had already written. It wasn’t what was there on the page that hit me, but what wasn’t. My omissions lurked in the back of my mind, like hungry wolves shadowing a herd of sheep. I fixed my eyes on the page’s blank space.

Do I tell the truth?

Chapter Text

“ . . . Best we keep the animals inside for the time being. We don’t want to be wrangling a stampede when the Berserks are on our shore.”

I listened diligently as Dad spoke to the other two Vikings. Even if some of the things he said were a little boring. Just because I listened didn’t mean I paid attention. What I did take time to pay attention to, however, were the defense plans. Unlike many of our other opponents, the Berserks were unpredictable. Any sensible enemy would want the element of surprise, like say, a raid at night, or an ambush from the woods. The Berserks might go with that, or they just might launch a full-scale attack in the middle of the day for thrills. We would need guards posted every hour (thankfully, we had territorial dragons to ease that burden).

“Alright,” Gobber said. “And what about this unknown rider?”

All eyes turned to my father. Spitelout’s eyebrows grew closer together, but that was the only sign of emotion on his face.

With what seemed to be great reluctance, Dad said, “We will have to deal with Bludvist’s scheme, but the Berserks are the immediate threat. We will give them a week. If that time passes and there is no sign that they are going to attack us, then we will send a couple of Vikings to see to this rider; Astrid knows the way, so I suggest we send her, and perhaps one of the adults.”

“Eh? She just got back, and we’re going to send her off again?” Gobber chewed on a toothpick, unconcerned. We all knew what the answer would be.

“She won’t mind.”

“What about Hiccup?” Gobber jerked his thumb at me. “You going to send him along, too?”

“No. I’d rather he stay here where we can keep an eye on him.”

They spoke some more. I tuned them out. In my head, I was listening to half-formed conversations, glimpses of the future. Gobber and Spitelout knew nothing of Valka and Snotlout – I had left that out of the report. But once they were gone, Dad . . .

I swallowed. As painful as it was to think about my mother, it was his right to know.

“That’s all for now,” Dad said. “Spitelout, tell the other warriors about our defense plans. Gobber, you take the first watch.”

“Alrighty, Stoick!”

And they were gone. Just me, Dad and the dragons now, and the dragons had curled up together for a nap. Dad grabbed a bucket of water, walked over to the fire pit, and emptied it over the hot coals. The room plunged into darkness with a vicious hiss, until Dad pulled the shutters from the windows. Cool, sun-kissed air mixed with the scent of charcoal.

“Dad?” I ran my claws down his elbow.

“Hmm?”

The quill was lying by the edge of the table. The tip had gone dry, but there were a couple of black dots from where it had dripped earlier. I picked it up, dipped it, grabbed another piece of paper, and wrote.

When I was done, he looked at it. He was silent for a long time.

I said, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you right away.”

Then, Dad did something weird. Really weird. He laughed. It wasn’t a real laugh, but one of those short, hacking sounds that you could tell was just an attempt to cover up how he really felt. “Haven’t met another person with that name for a long time. She liked that one because it was unusual . . . but it was only a matter of time.”

“Dad, that’s not what I meant!” I didn’t meant to, but I flared my wings.

“Hiccup?”

I ripped the paper out of his hands, and went to work clarifying.

I had thought Dad had been silent for a long time before, but that was nothing compared to now.

“This . . . this can’t be.”

I swear that the entire house shook when he collapsed into a chair.

“I saw it, Hiccup. It happened in front of me, right there.” He pointed up at the ceiling, at the second floor. “The dragon killed her. It . . . Valka alive? I don’t understand . . . are you certain?”

I couldn’t meet his eyes as I nodded.

“Valka’s alive.” His voice was airy, like a soft sigh. “My wife’s alive.”

The laughter came straight from his core. It was too much for him to handle; he put his head in his hands as if trying to contain it. When he looked up again, his eyes were glassy with tears.

“Hiccup, she’s alive.”

Fat tears rolled down his cheeks, breaking apart when they hit the scraggy mess of his beard. One hand hovered over his mouth, and his fingertips rested on flushed cheeks. His shoulders shook; he had to whip out a handkerchief to blow his nose. I hadn’t seen him like this for ages.

“Dad . . .”

It happened so suddenly that I nearly bit him. One moment I was chirping at him. The next, I was being crushed against a massive chest. The arm locking me in place was like a boulder sitting on my back; my ribs actually hurt. I could feel every one of his sobs, every hiccupping laugh that struggled to be heard. I kneaded his skin, needing to feel something under my claws.

“Your mother’s coming back.” Dad wiped his eyes. “I doubt she’ll recognize the place. It was burnt down and rebuilt so many times over the years. Oh, but the Arena is still around! She’ll love what you’ve done with it. She always had a soft spot for dragons.”

What I felt at that moment was something close to pity. Dad didn’t get it. He was expecting a teary reunion with his wife, and then a rewind back to the early days. But I had already tried that, and look where it got me. He didn’t get that Valka had changed. She didn’t want to be here anymore. She had her Nest to take care of.

I blinked, and pulled my claws away before they drew blood. There was a bitter taste in the back of my throat.

“We’ll have to clean up a bit. Get a new bed. Mine’s barely big enough for me.” He was halfway out the door when he paused mid-step. “The Berserks . . . Alright. I’ve waited a long time. I can wait another week.”

“You really think it’s going to be that easy,” I muttered to myself.

“There will have to be a change of plans, then,” he said, stepping back into the house. “Astrid will have to stay here and help Gobber and Spitelout, and you and me will have a family reunion. You know the way, right?”

I didn’t understand. Dad was acting like it was his first Snoggletog. His voice bounced off the walls like it was a physical thing. The tears had dried from his face. His face was still red, but it was more the warm flush of overexertion or too many drinks. How could he just accept it? I would have expected him to act like this if she had just been missing for a few days, but we were talking about years here. That didn’t even seem to occur to him. How could he stand there and be so . . . happy?

The thought hit me like a bucket of ice water: that was the proper response, wasn’t it? I should have been happy to learn my mom was alive. I definitely hadn’t been though. Was something wrong with me?

My aura was pungent enough that even Dad picked up on it. “It’ll be fine, Hiccup. You’ll see. It’ll be like the old days, if you can remember them. She’ll get a shock because of your little dragon problem, but she’ll come around! Don’t you worry.”

My eyes burned. Even though I knew no tears could fall from them, I wrenched them shut, pushed away and leapt back onto the table. He didn’t understand. He hadn’t been there. He didn’t understand.

Dad bent over so that we are at eye-level. “Hiccup, is this about your helmet? Are you worried that she’ll find out what it’s made from? She won’t be mad. She’ll think it’s sweet -”

No! It’s not that!”

Even if I had my voice, I don’t think I would have been able to put my feelings into words. My body didn’t really know how to express them either. I wanted . . . I needed . . . I needed to cry. But my body didn’t know how, and the pressure built up behind my eyes until my head ached. I tried to press my hands against my temple, hoping to ease the pain. I ended up falling chin-first.

“Hiccup!”

“I’m fine.” I ignored his outstretched hand. The sharp pain of bone hitting wood had dulled the pain in my mind.

Dad swallowed. He wasn’t happy anymore. I could smell the sweat trickling into his scent as he fretted. Great job, Hiccup. Way to kill the mood.

Toothless whined. My fall had woken him and Skullcrusher. Dad’s partner was already curling back into a ball, but Toothless had wandered over. He balanced on his hind legs with his front paws on the table, watching me with attentive green eyes. He probably didn’t need scent to guess what I was feeling. His teeth shot back into their sockets as he leaned over, and closed his mouth over me. With only my head sticking out, he gently lifted me off the table and settled back onto the floor.

“I’ll let you two be,” Dad said quietly. He walked over to the window overlooking the village, and stood there. He didn’t stir as Toothless carried me out of the room.

When he finally dropped me, it was right on the middle of my bed. I laid there, half-dazed as he curled around me. A rough tongue ran over my head and neck.

What’s wrong? he was asking. You’re sad.

I leaned back into him, taking comfort from his solid presence. “He doesn’t understand. He thinks . . . well, I have no idea what he’s thinking, but whatever it is, it isn’t right. The dragons didn’t kidnap her. Okay, maybe at first, but it was her choice. She . . . Toothless, she wanted it. She wanted to leave us. I don’t understand how he . . . I don’t understand why it doesn’t matter to him!”

I couldn’t breathe. There wasn’t enough air. Toothless whined again, and furiously licked my heaving flanks.

“She left us. And I can’t even talk about it with him because I’m a dragon.”

I curled up into a ball, speaking into my own tail.

“All they hear is this babbling, and everyone thinks I’m happy because Hiccup the Dragon Lover is a cute baby dragon and how could he be upset with that? I can’t talk to anyone, because nobody can understand me. It takes me a full minute just to tell them I’m hungry. It’s like I’m living by myself on an island!”

My chest tightened. I tried to shout, but spat a fireball right into Toothless’s side. He growled, but curled around me tighter, unwilling to abandon his post.

“Toothless! Hey, I’m sorry, bud.” I took a deep breath. I couldn’t smell any injury . . . No, I wasn’t going to lick it. Stupid instincts.

Exhausted, I collapsed into him. “I’m sorry, Toothless. I know you’re trying, but you can’t understand me either. Only the king could, and even he wouldn’t get it. He’s supposed to be a dragon. I’m not. He’s not stuck in a body with senses that he doesn’t understand, and bits and pieces of him that he can’t control. I shouldn’t be like this.

“I just want to be me again.”

I finally ran out of words. That allowed my lungs to catch up with my body’s demand for air. In. Out. I focused on the pause in-between, savouring the silence.

“Toothless, I don’t want to be a dragon anymore.”


I didn’t cry myself out. Dragons couldn’t do that. But eventually I finished hyperventilating or whatever the dragon equivalent of crying was. When it was over, the room we were in – the house – was too small and suffocating. Toothless shadowed me protectively as I shuffled outside, even going so far as to stand between me and Dad. I wasn’t too upset about that; he was the last person I wanted to talk to.

It didn’t feel very warm, even though the sky was clear and the sun was shining. There was a light fog hanging over the ocean, reflecting the sunlight. None of the dragons flying through it seemed to notice, however. A group of them were following a fishing boat as it pulled into harbour, no doubt hoping they could snatch a fish or two when the villagers weren’t looking. I never understood that. It wasn’t like there was a lack of fish laying around the village.

The stone steps were slick with rainwater. The ground was saturated with it. Mud oozed out of the cracks between each step, spilling onto the stone. Within those spots, bits of shoes and paw-prints had been preserved. My own were easily told apart from the rest; they were the smallest. That said, they were hard to find, since Toothless had a tendency to step on the same spots.

I straightened up, and looked over my village. It didn’t look much different than from when I had first left, but there was a noticeable lack of animals in the fields. The guard-towers were dark, but come tonight, they would be lit for the first time in months. I noticed, too, that the adults seemed to be carrying around more weaponry.

“Let’s head out to the woods, bud,” I said to Toothless. “I really don’t want to face everybody right now.”

It was a good plan. The only problem was that everyone else didn’t know about it.

Halfway to the forest, our path was cut off. Not on purpose. I’m not even sure if they had seen us there. But Snotlout, tailed closely by his dragon and the twins, ran across our path. Well, Snotlout ran, and the other three stalked him.

“Quit it!” Snotlout barked, and it was hard to tell whom exactly he was speaking to. The twins were following him, pointing and laughing, the usual stuff. But Hookfang, glad to see his rider, probably more than a little pissed off at being abandoned for so long, was doggedly chasing him and gnawing on his head. Snotlout’s helmet was the only thing that had saved his hair from looking like he had jumped in a lake. I couldn’t tell if this was the helmet he had originally taken to the Raiders’ island, or an entirely new one. It shone like a new one, but that might have been because it was covered in strands of dragon saliva.

“Come on, Snotlout,” Tuffnut jeered, to the approval of his sister. “You can’t take down one puny dragon? I thought you took on an entire warship!”

“I did!” Snotlout claimed. “But – Not the ear! – Hookfang’s my dragon. I can’t go beating him up like I did the trappers.”

The voice got fainter and fainter as they ran further away, but I had heard enough. I didn’t know how to react. No, wait. I did.

“I can’t believe him!” If what I had just heard was any indication, Snotlout was using the entire incident to brag. And he wasn’t even saying what really happened! You know, I hadn’t expected much from him. Maybe a little remorse, or empathy – something to indicate there was a human being under all that. I should have known better. Snotlout would be a stupid, blockheaded Viking until the day he died. He’d thrown me to the wolves, then turned around and used it to make himself look better.

“Unbelievable,” I hissed. I didn’t even get a thank you . . . “Hey, Toothless? Where are you?”

He hadn’t gone far. He just went to greet Astrid. Loud purrs rolled through the air as he rubbed up against Astrid’s legs.

“Hey, Astrid.”

“I’m surprise you’re not with your father,” she said.

I turned my head automatically to hide a scowl that never came. Should have worried about the growl coming from my chest.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

I shook my head. “It’s not him. It’s just . . . there’s no point in telling you, is there?”

There was a plop. I stared at a stack of parchment. And the quill that had fallen on top of it.

She said, “I thought it might be a smart idea to start carrying those around. So, are you going to tell me what’s bothering you.”

I didn’t think about it long. Seeing Snotlout so carefree had broken a dam inside my mind. I wrote messily and furiously, letting all my resent and frustration seep into my words.

By the time I calmed down enough to really think about what I was doing, I had already wrote too much.


Late afternoon found me in better spirits. I had never been one to hold much of a grudge, so my anger at Snotlout didn’t last long - that didn’t mean I wasn’t angry at him anymore, just that I wasn’t currently dwelling on it. It helped, too, that Astrid was now in the know. Even if we couldn’t really talk about it, at least she had some idea what was bothering me.

The air above my half-baked rock shimmered in the sun. I’d claimed the entire lower half of it, leaving Toothless with a half that he had to drape himself across like a cloth; his limbs dangled midair. It was his way of being nice after my emotional breakdown earlier. I’m betting it wouldn’t last long, however.

“I used to think you guys were just lazy,” I said. “But this is actually really comfortable.”

It helped, too, that the resident birds were chirping a bright melody against a distant background of crashing waves. They were unhampered; the fishing fleets had returned, complaining that a large whale or something had scared away the fish. In fact, Berk itself seemed to have settled down to listen to the music . . .

Wait. Where was everyone?

I couldn’t see anyone. The scents were fresh enough that I knew they hadn’t abandoned the village this morning, but wherever they were, it wasn’t outside. But I heard a crowd of voices . . .

What were they doing in the Great Hall?

Toothless followed me to the ancient building. The oak doors had been left open just a crack; that’s why I had heard them. A deluge of mixed scents poured out of the opening, making the air around it seem thick and hazy.

I walked inside. Dad was seated at the Head Table, face grim, tall and scary-looking. Gobber sat to his right, brow furrowed, hook digging into the wood tabletop. To Dad’s left was Gothi, eyes wide as an owl’s. It seemed like the rest of the village was seated at the various tables, all facing the Head Table. Everyone but two people. Snotlout, who was standing in front of the Head Table, his back to me. And just in front of him, Astrid.

“What’s going on?” I asked loudly.

In his seat, Fishlegs half-turned. “Hey, I found Hiccup!”

Astrid twitched. Just a little. Just enough to let me know she wasn’t pleased with this turn of events.

Dad lifted up a piece of paper and spoke. “Hiccup, did you write this?”

It was the confession I had written to Astrid just a couple of hours ago.

“I . . . No, wait! This –”

“He’s hesitating!” Her words pierced the air. “You know what that means. It’s true, but he’s trying to protect Snotlout.”

“Oh, no . . . No!” I scrambled forward as Snotlout stumbled away from the Head Table. “Astrid, what are you doing?”

“Is all of this true, Snotlout?” Dad asked.

“I ended up changing my mind!” Snotlout cried. His helmet wobbled unsteadily on his head. “I tried to help him. Look, I kept him safe, didn’t I? He came back alright.”

“He wouldn’t have been in danger if it wasn’t for you!” Astrid spat.

“That’s enough, Astrid,” Dad said firmly, but gently. “You may sit down.”

With a stiff, respectful dip of her head, Astrid retreated and sat down next to the twins. She only glanced at me.

I spoke. “Okay, I know this looks really bad . . .”

“Snotlout,” Dad said, “is everything Astrid said true?”

“No, it’s not!” Snotlout said.

But Dad was unyielding. “Did you tell Dagur the Deranged about Hiccup’s situation?”

“Uh, yeah, but . . .”

“Did you plot to kidnap Hiccup with him?”

“I told you, I changed my mind -!”

“But you did.”

“Will everyone just listen to me!” I shouted. Behind me, at the threshold, Toothless added his own bark to make sure everyone was paying attention. “Yes, it’s true. But he’s telling the truth, he changed his mind! He’s not the bad guy-”

“It’s okay, Hiccup,” Dad said. He held a hand up in a ‘stop’ position. “Astrid’s already told me everything.”

“No, no! You’re not listening. He’s not evil!”

“You have betrayed our tribe, Snotlout Jorgenson.”

A screech of wood. Spitelout rose to his feet, speaking with frantic tones. “Stoick, please . . .”

Dad didn’t even look at his half-brother. “This can’t be ignored, Spitelout. Snotlout is partially responsible for the events that led to the kidnapping of one heir, and the death of a Chief. If word was to spread that we overlooked these crimes, the entire archipelago could turn against us.”

Spitelout had one arm stuck out, hand pressing against the table. He needed that as he lowered himself slowly into his seat, and then covered his face.

“Dad, please!” I cried. “At least give us a chance to explain.”

Dad turned to the Elder. “Gothi, your judgement?”

Gothi stood slowly. Though she was short enough that it was hard to notice. She looked hard at Snotlout, and then nodded at Dad.

Dad closed his eyes. “Snotlout Jorgenson. For your betrayal of the Hooligan Tribe and the Barbarian Archipelago, there is no penance. From this day forth . . .”

He faced my cousin fully.

“You are banished.”

Chapter Text

It had been a long time since Berk had seen a banishment. Not since the days of Alvin the Treacherous. Add to that the stress of a looming attack, and the villagers seemed absolutely ravenous for this punishment. They glided along after Snotlout, haunting his footsteps. There was very little speaking, even from the children. Despite their inability to grasp the seriousness of the situation, even the youngest one could tell that something very, very bad was happening. All they needed to figure that out was to take a peek at Spitelout, shuffling along like a creature half-dead. Or Fishlegs and the twins, still struggling to come to terms. Astrid though . . . Astrid stared after Snotlout with stony eyes. The corner of her lip twitched . . .

No . . . there was no way that was satisfaction.

The Great Hall’s doors opened. We were blinded by a curtain of light. Snotlout, closest to the exit, recovered first. He tiptoed toward the open, stopping at the doorway. That small division between wood and stone was like a physical barrier to him. He slid one foot forward, stopping when his toe touched that line. His throat clenched.

“Get a move on!” Snotlout yelped as an older Viking came up and shoved him from behind. He stepped forward instinctively to keep his balance, and crossed over the threshold with what seemed to be an echoing crack.

That broke the spell. Someone thrust a short sword into the air, shouting, and then the rest started to bellow and chant. It was like the howls of a pack of hunting dogs, and even Snotlout was intimidated enough that he didn’t dare stand his ground and argue. Back at the Head Table, all three Vikings had stood up. Gobber marched forward, pushing his way through the crowd. Dad hung back, keeping pace with Gothi.

The vengeful crowd seemed to grow. They were gathering around the entrance, herding Snotlout outside, and cutting me off from him. It took until that very moment, when the flash of his black hair could no longer be seen, that I could make myself move.

“Snotlout!”

I bounced off the nearest Viking. A wall of legs and bodies kept me from reaching him. They were packed together, and moving so frequently and randomly that any path I saw was quickly swallowed up.

Then, the crowd surged out of the Hall. The wall broke down swiftly, and I squeezed between the legs of two large-bellied Vikings and darted to the front. Snotlout was on the stone steps, descending quickly. He was hunched, as if afraid someone would throw something at him.

“Snotlout!”

I lunged, but something closed on my tail. Pain erupted at the base, strong enough that for a fleeting second, I thought it would rip off. I didn’t need to look. I could smell the heat coming off Astrid’s hand.

“Just leave it alone, Hiccup,” Astrid said. “It’s done. The Elder’s made her decision.”

“Astrid, what have you done?”

The crowd and commotion had attracted many of the village’s dragons. None of them were bold enough to stand directly in their path, so they hung out on rooftops instead. They couldn’t understand what was going on, but a few of them picked up on their owners’ aggression and started to hiss and bare their teeth.

Until Hookfang charged them. He, too, had no idea what was going on. All he understood was that there were other dragons hissing at his partner, so he dive-bombed them, stopping right before he hit them and lighting himself on fire. His large size was enough to convince most of the dragons to back off, and it didn’t hurt that the other teens’ dragons were right behind him. Hookfang barked at Snotlout, tilting his head when he was ignored. Not for long though. He was already sizing up Snotlout.

Gobber whistled sharply. “Oi, Grump! Take care of that for us, would ya?”

Before Hookfang could spring, Grump the Hotburple drifted towards him. The very heavy, very lazy dragon landed on top of the Nightmare, effectively pinning him. Hookfang growled and thrashed, but couldn’t work his way free.

Stormfly, channelling her rider’s decisive personality, directed the others to Snotlout’s aid. But, to her bewilderment, she was quickly called off by Astrid, and Meatlug and Barf and Belch seemed uncertain in her absence. Toothless was next to me.

The crowd made it all the way to the docks. Astrid was holding me tight, and I couldn’t squirm free. I could barely see Snotlout (I think that was his helmet’s horn between those heads?).

“This isn’t real,” I muttered. “I’m just imagining this, right?”

But the heat of Astrid’s body against mine, and the icy pinpricks of fear couldn’t be anything but real.

I finally broke free, just as Dad and Gothi caught up with the crowd. Astrid tried to grab me, but on instinct, I opened my wings and soared high. Finally, I could see. A half-circle had been etched out around Snotlout, who stood with the open water to his back. He had nothing, not even a weapon on his person. The same couldn’t be said for those surrounding him. For a few seconds, I actually feared for his safety, until Dad finally broke through the crowd.

He and Snotlout stared each other down.

Then, Dad said, “Bring him a boat.”

“No!” I slammed down between them, teeth unsheathed. My small size made it much less intimidating than I had hoped for.

Dad sighed. “Stand aside, Hiccup.”

“No, I won’t! You’re all over reacting. There are bigger enemies here, and -”

“I know he’s your cousin, Hiccup, but this is out of your hands.”

“That’s not even what I’m saying! Just give me some time, and I’ll write you an explanation . . .”

“Astrid’s right. He may have changed his mind, but that doesn’t mean he’ll change it next time.”

My words wedged themselves into my throat. Snotlout wouldn’t . . . I mean, he learned his lesson, didn’t he? He wouldn’t . . . not again.

But I hadn’t seen the first time coming, either.

Bang. The boat was set down. I don’t even know if you could call it a boat. It was a small dinghy, barely big enough for two people. Well, one person now since supplies had been stacked inside. Snotlout stared at it. Blood drained from his face as the reality of the situation dawned on him.

“Take it,” Dad said.

“Dad, please!” I dug my claws into his leg, not hard enough to draw blood, but enough that he couldn’t ignore it.

Quietly, he said, “Our tribe is in a very dangerous situation, Hiccup. We need to be able to trust everyone.”

Helpless, I couldn’t do anything but watch as Snotlout pushed his craft into the ocean. It wobbled dangerously, threatening to send some of his stock into the water. Someone booed, and then I had to flatten my ears as others joined in.

“That’s enough!” Dad barked. His order sliced through the din like a sword.

The silence was a dangerous one. The crowd was on a knife’s edge. With just a nudge in the right direction, they could fall upon Snotlout and tear him to pieces. How Dad was able to manage such a situation so effortlessly was something I couldn’t understand. But he did. He held one hand up for silence, and walked forward fearlessly, as if unaware that violence could erupt at any moment. The sun made his hair and beard burn bright. His cape rippled behind him. He looked nothing short of a god.

“You have betrayed us,” he said to Snotlout. “Your actions could have destroyed this tribe if it hadn’t been for quick thinking. Now, you must answer for those crimes. Go, now, and do not trouble us again.”

The god had spoken.

The dinghy rocked ominously when Snotlout’s foot touched it. Snotlout still had his weight on the dock, but one leg hung in loose air, hovering just above the dinghy’s hull. He seemed stuck there, torn between the safety of land, and the inevitable.

“No . . .”

I don’t know if Dad’s foot bumped me by accident, or if it was meant to be comforting.

As reluctant as Snotlout was, the presence of the crowd seemed to act like a physical force. He nearly leapt into the dinghy, wobbling so much that his helmet teetered to the side.

“Come on, Hiccup.” Dad scooped me up from underneath. “You don’t need to see this.”

He didn’t take me far. Just away from the front, and a few steps away from the crowd. I slipped limply from his hand to the ground. Snotlout was going, and there was nothing I could do.

Dad said, “I don’t know what happened between you and Snotlout after you disappeared, but you got to understand, Hiccup. Snotlout led an attack on our ship. He might not have been there, but he and Eret were the ones to talk Dagur into it. That kind of thinking, it’s not good. Even if you’re right, you’re the only one who saw it. I believe you, but the rest of them, they’re rather stubborn about these things. Without you to vouch for him, and Astrid going after him, I can’t go against the Elder. A Chief’s got to do what’s best for his tribe.”

The crowd was thinning. Snotlout must have started rowing out.

A long, serpentine shape flew over us. Hookfang, freed from Grump’s mass, seeing his rider taking off in yet another boat without him, pumped his wings hard to catch up. He flew past the docks, slowing, and his flight became rather leisurely. He carved out a rough circle, orbiting the area where Snotlout must have been, not realizing that his rider had no plans to return.

“Someone capable of creating that kind of plan is not a good person inside, Hiccup, despite what you may think.”

“Like Alvin?”

Alvin the Treacherous had been the last Viking to be exiled from Berk, and look at him now: one of our most stalwart allies. Words, let alone names, didn’t translate well to dragon-speak though, and my point flew over his head.

Only a few people remained at the docks. Spitelout, of course, with another man rubbing his back as he watched Snotlout steadily row further and further away. Gobber was leaving, supporting the Elder on his arm. The other riders were there, too. But while Fishlegs and the twins were bunched together so close that their shoulders touched, there was space between them and Astrid. Her hair blew across her shoulders. She stood ready, axe at her side, like an avatar of war.

She was the first of them to turn away.

I shied away. Dad seemed to understand, and didn’t stop me. Astrid didn’t take the hint so quickly. She marched down the docks, strong and steady.

She stopped before my father. “Chief.”

“It’s done, Astrid.” Although I knew Dad fully supported what had just happened, he seemed reluctant to look her in the eye. “If either of you need me, I’ll be in the Great Hall.”

“Don’t . . .” I said. I wasn’t ready to be alone with her.

And then it was just me and Astrid. She glanced back at the ocean, as if afraid Snotlout had turned around to come back. At least she knew enough not to smile. But she didn’t look upset, either. She looked as though she had just washed the dishes, or ripped a vest, or done something else that was unpleasant, but not worth getting emotional about. I told myself that it was just the self-righteousness and payback speaking, and that the repercussions of what she had done would hit her later.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.

Like what? I didn’t have a mirror. But then I traced my muscles and found that while my teeth were unsheathed, my lips had curled back into a precursor of a snarl. I shook my head to wipe it away.

“None of this was my fault!” She stepped forward, so that I was staring at her ankle. “Why are you mad at me?”

“I trusted you,” I whispered. A cold stone settled in my stomach. Another betrayal. “I thought you understood. I didn’t want you to tell anyone. It was just between us.”

She tried to address what she thought my problem was. “People have to be held accountable for their actions. Snotlout made a dumb choice. He betrayed us, and now he’s paying for it.”

“No, no. You don’t understand!” A bolt of energy made me stomp around in a circle. “You only listened to the bad stuff, and none of the good.”

“I only told them the truth.”

“It wasn’t your story to tell!”

We faced off. It felt like I was looking at some ghost of her, a side of her I had never encountered before. Her fists lay tight at her side, but that was her only reaction to my response. Her shadow was thick, overtaking and mingling with mine.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “What do you want me to say?”

What did I want? What I wanted was something she needed to figure out on her own, or else there would be no point. Something I couldn’t give her any clues about. What I wanted her to say was that this was just about the good of the tribe, about protecting me. That her reasons had been pure. I wanted her to say that this had nothing to do with any personal vendetta.

“Don’t follow me,” I said.

She did the exact opposite. “Hiccup -!”

But that’s what wings were for.

It wasn’t long until Toothless joined me in the air. Maybe he suspected that I was planning on running off like he thought Snotlout had. Either way, he shadowed me closely, snout at my tail-tip when I flew straight.

I landed on my own roof, reasonably sure that no one would bother me there.

“This is a nightmare,” I whispered as Toothless washed my back. “It’s done. They’re just sending him away.”

I stared out across the ocean. I could see the black dots of Snotlout and his dragon as they rowed away toward the horizon. “Even if I tried to explain, by the time I wrote everything down, he’ll be in the territory of the Romans. And that’s assuming the others don’t argue with what I write. But even if I had my voice back . . .”

I looked up at Toothless and admitted, “I don’t know if I could fix this.”

I curled up, and laid my chin on my tail.

A Chief had to do what was best for their people. The more I dwelled on that, the more I questioned. Was the best decision what Dad claimed, to sacrifice one to appease the tribes but possibly turn him against us forever? Or was it to do what I wanted, and ignore the demand to punish someone who didn’t really deserve it, but foster hostility? Which was right?

“Sometimes, I wish I also had the mind of a dragon. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about all this stuff. Isn’t that right, you lazy bum?”

Toothless chuffed as I swatted at his neck. He grabbed my ear in his mouth, and shook gently.

“Hey, quit that!” I rolled over and battered him with my free paws. He swallowed one whole.

My leg came out with a wet smack. Toothless had released it suddenly, and turned his attention to the ocean. I had no idea why –

I felt it. It was like a tap on my shoulder, but no one was there. I stared out at the water. What -?

I stood. In the distance, not in the direction that Snotlout was heading, I could see black shadows.

“Toothless, are those ships?”

Chapter Text

It was chaos. Organized chaos, but still chaos. Gobber was inside the forge, virtually shoving weapons out the window and into the greedy hands of the awaiting crowd. Somehow, even though they were all reaching and pushing against each other, nobody got cut. Some were even organized enough to look around and trade others for weapons they liked better. Those who were satisfied were polishing helmets, down at the docks pulling boats to safer ground, or slamming their fists into shields to test for weakness. Typical Viking things.

Berk’s children had disappeared, hidden inside homes or their designated hidey-holes. A Viking couple stood upon the village walls where they could see out across the water. One peered through his spyglass, and earlier he had whispered something to his partner, who had blasted a small horn in response. Around ten seconds later, Berk’s taller-than-any-man, spiralling horn – our real warning horn – bellowed. The distant ships probably heard it, and would have known that we were preparing for them, but their crew didn’t seem to be having second thoughts.

The dragons were in an uproar. They weren’t stupid. They knew what drawn weapons meant. The question was whether they could tell where the threat was. Many of them obviously couldn’t and were zipping through the village, or shadowing their owners. The calmer dragons were either perched on the walls and their associated guard towers, or on rooftops near the front of the village. They must have sensed the direction of the danger, but not all of them were facing the right way.

Dad climbed up the stairs to the top of the wall with a couple of senior Vikings. I landed next to him as he approached the spyglass-wielding man.

“That would be the Berserk’s flag, all right,” the man said.

Dad growled under his breath. “Ready the catapults. We want to scatter the fleet if we can.”

“Why don’t we just burn them?”

Everyone turned. We were surprised, but not really surprised to see the twins. They had a talent for sneaking about unnoticed.

“Their ships are made of wood,” Tuffnut continued. “Our dragons breathe fire. Fire beats wood. Doesn’t seem like much to worry about to me.”

“We could just ask Toothless, or Hiccup, to blast them from here,” Ruffnut said. “Sn-. . . We heard from someone that he had a pretty good shot.”

No on commented on her little ‘slip’.

“If these were the Romans, I would agree,” Dad said. “The tribes wouldn’t care about what we did to them. But if we were to destroy an entire army before they even came within reach . . . even if it was self-defense, the Chiefs are leery after what happened with Dagur. We would be too dangerous, and the other tribes would unite to cut us down. The Berserks must be allowed to approach Berk.”

He hadn’t summoned them, but at the sight of their Chief standing upon the walls, it seemed like every warrior had gathered below, awaiting his orders. My nose had told me they were there, but Dad knew either by instinct or experience. He turned, not betraying even the slightest hint of shock, and launched into his speech.

“We keep them outside the walls,” he said. “Not a single one of them will be permitted inside. Dragon riders, you have permission to burn the docks, but you and your dragons keep the fight outside the walls. I don’t want any fires in the village.”

“Aren’t we using our own warships?” someone asked.

Dad answered, “No. Our advantage is our dragons and their fire. I’d rather keep wood away from our side.

“We man the catapults, and force them to break formation and scatter their landings . Riders, once they are close enough that you can see the gender of their crew, burn the ships. Make them swim. They’ll shed their heavy weapons and armour if you do. If those ships make it past you, we overwhelm the landers with fire and numbers. Force them back onto the ships or into the water. We’ll break their spirit before the fighting even begins.

“And take off your helmets if they have horns. It’s not dragons we’re fighting anymore.”

The orders had been given. Men and women scurried off to do his bidding. Astrid and Stormfly were the first of the dragon riders to take off, followed by the twins and their Zippleback, and then the slow Meatlug and Fishlegs. I could hear Grump rumbling, but I wasn’t sure if Gobber whether would take the fat, lazy dragon into battle or he would prefer to fight on his two (err, one!) feet.

“Hiccup.” When Dad said my name, I snapped to attention. “You stay with Toothless.”

Easy. Toothless wasn’t about to leave my side anyways.

Dad raised his hand and shouted, and the thunderous bark of his Rumblehorn answered. Skullcrusher hurdled up the wall’s stairs, nearly shoving off a few unfortunate people. The dragon already had his saddle on – Gobber’s doing, I bet – and there was even a helmet for his head, the fruits of Dad and Gobber’s efforts to make it even more painful when he rammed things.

Unlike the other riders, he and Dad didn’t stay in the air. They flew just enough to get past the walls, and then slammed down. They paced behind their army, Skullcrusher’s height giving Dad room to see everything. With the incoming fleet still a ways off, the grounded Vikings took the time to psych themselves up. They joked, and laughed, and hit each other hard enough that the Romans would have thought that we knocked a few of our own out of commission. But these were Vikings. They were tougher than that. The dragon riders, with the teens in the forefront, made tight orbits near the shoreline. Every one of them had a spyglass handy.

And the dragons without riders? They were still pretty confused.

Time passed, and Dad shouted at the riders to land. By this point, the boats were close enough that the people on them resembled black splotches. Not nearly close enough for the dragons to attack.

But that wasn’t the point.

It was like a tree falling. That’s how loud and creaky the wood was when the ill-used catapults came to life. Only a couple of them were in regular use, and for sports instead of war. But Gobber was good at what he did and unlike mine would have (once upon a time), none of the ancient machines exploded. A lot of the rider-less dragons still fled as if they had.

The whistle the flung boulders made was eerily similar to a Night Fury, and a few people ducked on reflex. The first stone hit the water. A white plume rose higher than the gunwale of the nearest ship, splashing those inside. The second hit water. Then the third. Then all the rest seemingly at once. A wall of water blocked the fleet from sight.

Then, a wooden dragon head broke through the wall. The rest of the fleet followed, popping out at various times and positions. Not a single one had been hit, but that wasn’t the point. We didn’t need to hit them, just scatter them so they were easier to deal with. Besides, aiming catapults at a moving target was hard. I would know.

“Load them again! Fire together!” Dad shouted. His cry was taken up by Vikings closer to the catapults, informing their operators of the Chief’s orders.

I caught a scent. Whipping around, l glared at the children who had snuck outside to watch, and snarled, “Get back inside!”

They didn’t understand me. Nor was I big enough to command them. But Toothless bared his teeth and growled, and the children scurried back to safety.

A second wave of boulders came. This time, one punched straight through a longboat’s sail, snapping the mast. It tipped sideways into the ocean, bringing the longboat’s momentum to a complete halt. It had oars, but unless they cut loose that massive sail dragging in the water, it would take some time to reach shore.

The third wave was the most successful. One longboat had its serpent figurehead beheaded, and the impact damaged the front part of the hull enough for water to start seeping in. Another boulder had crashed into the middle of a longboat, and its crew was already abandoning ship.

A light whisper drifted on the air.

The riders took off. They converged on the closest ship, Stormfly swooping in close –

Suddenly, the Nadder pulled back. A faint gleam of silver flew through the air next to her.

“Don’t tell me . . .”

The Viking from earlier had left his spyglass on the wall. I snatched it up, leapt onto Toothless’s head, and held it still with my paws so I could look through.

It was true. The Berserks hadn’t come completely unprepared. They had machines rolling about the deck; if I were to guess, they were crude bola shooters, and crossbows. Designed specifically to deal with dragons.

“Guys!” I knew they couldn’t hear me, but I couldn’t stop myself. “They’re ready for you. Watch out!”

But when the bola shooters fired at Barf and Belch and missed, I realized something else. These were no dragon trappers. They weren’t even me. They weren’t experienced with using these things.

The riders still had a chance.

And they knew it, too. Astrid brought Stormfly around again, and the twins urged their dragon on recklessly. Many of the other, less experienced riders closed in, as well. Only a few of them, Fishlegs included hung back. They either didn’t trust their flying skills, or – as in Fishlegs’s case – the speed of their dragon. With the bola shooters guarding them, and Vikings running back and forth with barrels of water, the ship took longer than expected to catch. Finally, though, it did, and the threat disappeared in a show of collapsing wood and orange light.

It wasn’t so easy after that. That one ship had been ahead of the pack, but the rest were in small groups. I don’t think there was any particular strategy to how the riders split up to go after the ships. It was probably based on whichever their predatory instincts told them was the most vulnerable.

Another two ships went down. But the third one in their group made it through. It sheared a pier nearly in two, before falling back into the water with a slosh. The Vikings readied their weapons.

“Make way!” Dad shouted. Skullcrusher thundered toward the invading ship. “No need for missiles right now, Skullcrusher. Regular fire will do.”

The remaining Vikings dove out of the way, and Skullcrusher parked himself on the edge of the pier. He planted his paws, took a deep breath, and when the first invader leapt onto the wood, exhaled a massive cloud of flames.

The warriors cheered. The invader’s silhouette disappeared from sight. A couple of bold, rider-less Nightmares, spurred on by pack instinct or just plain aggression , joined in on the attack. Even from here, I could hear the crackling of the water-soaked wood.

“Toothless, I think this might actually work!”

I should have known better than to tempt the gods like that.

Nobody expected it, least of all the dragons. A orange-wreathed figure exploded out of the flames. Perhaps thinking he had missed, Dad readjusted Skullcrusher’s shot, centering it on the Viking. The Viking . . . did something. I couldn’t tell from here. But Skullcrusher’s fire wasn’t working, and the Viking was running straight through the flames.

When he got close enough, Skullcrusher shut off his fire and bared his teeth instead. But the Viking flung out his red-hot shield and slammed his hammer against its center-

The sound stunned Skullcrusher and the two Nightmares. The next strike would have broken the Rumblehorn’s skull if Dad hadn’t leapt. He sprung across his dragon’s head, driving the flat of his blade into the invader’s armoured forehead. He swung his blade as Skullcrusher shook his head, trying to recover himself.

And then Dad fell back.

Others were running out of the flames with drawn weapons. They tripped in those places where the fire had weakened the wood, but otherwise seemed unaffected by the flames and heat.

“What’s going on?”

Berk’s warriors fell upon the invading party. Maybe they were immune to fire, but they weren’t to steel. They were quickly forced back down the burning dock. But after seeing Skullcrusher’s failure to stem their advance and realizing something had gone terribly wrong, many of the riders – Astrid and Fishlegs included – had fallen back to help. Only a few riders, primarily the twins (who for once may have been doing the smartest instead of the most distributive thing) continued to attack the ships. That meant that many of them got through, and they rolled into shore. It was when one of those ships landed, and its unhampered crew leapt ashore that I saw it: the glimmering, leathery material that made up their armour.

Dragon skin.

These weren’t the Berserks.

These were the Lava Louts.

How . . .? That flaming sail definitely bore the Skrill emblem of the Berserk clan. But none of these attackers seemed to belong to that tribe. They couldn’t have . . . No . . . they wouldn’t . . .

My skin crawled. If I had fur, it would be on edge. So many of the enemy ships had been set on fire, but the Lava Louts barely seemed to care. As if they knew it didn’t matter, that they had another escape route . . .

That they weren’t alone.

They were both here . . .

A Berserk flag, charred black along the bottom, fluttered in the breeze.

They were downwind.

They were in the forest.

“Toothless!”

I didn’t wait for him. I took off, landing before the dark pines that bordered the village’s east side. I didn’t see anyone, and I didn’t smell much beyond mulch and pine needles. But where else could they be? Where else could they have hidden long enough for this? They could have been camped out here for days, for all we knew.

My first instinct was to run to Dad, but the odds of me getting across my point in the middle of a raging battle weren’t very high. That was assuming, of course, that Dad let me speak and didn’t throw me into the house or something. Same went for all the other Vikings. They wouldn’t know until Berk was besieged on both sides.

“We need dragons. Toothless, I need more dragons!”

I blew a ring of smoke, barking and hopping. Toothless cocked his head one way, then the other.

“Dragons, like us!” I pointed to myself, then laid my paw on his snout.

Toothless backed up a few steps.

And he howled.

It was similar to that low-frequency echolocation he used, only this one crawled under your skin. It gave me a feeling I didn’t quite understand and actually made me a little . . . scared. Toothless snorted, scanning the village with a self-satisfied growl.

The first dragon appeared.

They were Terrors, Gothi’s, I expected. They crawled out of a chimney, blinking with those wide, mischievous eyes. As more and more of them crawled out, they jostled for space, until a couple of them tumbled off and down the roof.

Gradually, more and more dragons appeared. Dragons of all species and sizes. They watched Toothless like a pack of dogs watching their master. Toothless stared at me, chin lifted smugly as if to ask, ‘Is this what you meant?

“Let’s go.”

They followed Toothless, and Toothless followed me; a hundred dragons took flight, all in pursuit of a common goal. We darkened the skies, and frightened birds with the sounds of our wingbeats.

It was harder than I thought. The forest canopy made searching for even an army difficult. I don’t think any of us actually saw them, but a Rumblehorn picked up a scent and sounded the alarm; it had. Now that I knew where to look, if I squinted hard, I could see movement through the trees on the ground.

I looked back, telling Toothless with my eyes to follow my lead.

It wasn’t like shooting rabbits. The rabbit didn’t move until my flame flung them into the air. These Vikings moved; these Vikings knew what a dragon’s shot sounded like. My shot burst against a tree trunk, showering the ground with motes.

But it was just the beginning.

The dragons around me fired into the woods and they, in turn, inspired the dragons around them to fire, so that a wave radiated outward, with me at the center. Toothless’s shot hit first (almost before mine), lighting up the canopy from below with purple and white light. Solid, fire missiles left smoky trails as they ripped through the trees and pounded the forest floor. If the shouts were anything to go by, at least a few met their marks.

But the forest was doing a good job at hiding the Berserks, and the dense foliage blocked the more conventional fire of dragons like the Nadder. Several of them, under the cover of the long-ranged dragons, tore through the canopy to get at the Vikings underneath. I’d rather we had all stayed up here in the safety of the clouds, but they were right. We needed to stop the Berserks from reaching he village.

“Okay, everyone!” I squawked. “Follow my lead!”

I tilted myself downward –

“Whoa!”

I stopped short as something whizzed past me, close enough that my air under my wings wobbled. Whatever it was, it flew past me, growing slower each second, until a Nadder snatched it up.

An arrow.

That wasn’t good.

“Hey, look at me!” This time, I aimed my squawk directly at a group of Zipplebacks. “Cover us.”

I lit my mouth up, as if I was going to flame something. They mimicked me, and noxious gas leaked from their jaws. I needed to direct them, but I couldn’t speak to them, and I don’t know if they understood pointing with a paw . . .

Ears. I had ears.

I flicked my ears at the trees.

The Zipplebacks spewed their gas. It descended on the forest, covering it with a thick blanket. More arrows flew at us. Some dragons cried out, but I’m not sure if anyone was hit; I didn’t dare check.

“Here we go . . .”

I fired into the gas cloud.

The rolling waves of gas became rolling waves of fire. It roared into life, flowing over the treetops and dripping through them like water. There was no way that anyone could see us through that. More importantly, there was no way that any arrows could pass through that intact.

This was our chance.

I plunged through the flames. The forest was thick with smoke from the Zippleback gas, and the dragons who had gotten here before us. Things were even more chaotic under here than they were at Berk. Fire fell from the sky; trees, bushes, moss, even mushrooms were on fire in random places, and it was that light that illuminated the battlefield, not the sun. Vikings were screaming. Dragons were screaming. With my dragon-enhanced hearing, I heard every one.

Toothless barrelled past me and into a Viking. He grabbed her by the arm, and shook almost playfully. Her axe fell from her hand, but she had a shield in her other one, and tried to bang it against Toothless’s head. Toothless, seeing this, spat her out and fired into her armoured chest, slamming her up against a tree. Her head snapped back, hit the trunk and she fell unconscious.

I hovered, and stared at the thrashing shadows around me. They were everywhere. Every living thing in this forest was fighting except for me and Toothless, who was underneath me, arching his back and just daring anything to get near. He’d even lash out at a dragon if he thought it could be a threat.

“We can’t stand here. Let’s go!”

With my colour and size, it was easy to keep out of the Bersek’s sight. Toothless was bigger, but he was dark too, and he had pure speed on his side. He ran behind me, snapping out wings and tail to whip whomever we passed, and fired a few shots at Vikings he couldn’t quite reach.

“Hey!” I stopped before a Nightmare. “Over there! Help him!”

I pointed with my ears, and the Nightmare listened and lunged at a Viking about to execute a fallen Thunderdrum. The axe impaled the ground just shy of the Thunderdrum’s neck. Whimpering, it fled with a clearly injured wing.

Toothless helped the Nightmare take the Viking down. I looked around. There was another dragon in trouble. I squawked at Toothless and the Nightmare, and directed them to the dragon’s aid.

I don’t know whether it was adrenaline, instinct or if my unconsciousness had finally put the pieces together, but directing the dragons was easy. Squawk to get their attention. Flick the ears to guide them. Blow smoke to get them to breathe fire. They listened, too. Whether it was because they were thankful for the guidance or because they remembered I wasn’t like them, I didn’t care.

But it wasn’t enough. I had dragons and fire, but the Berserks had their minds. They grouped together naturally while the dragons worked alone unless guided, and I couldn’t be everywhere at once. And the Berserks had their experience. Fighting dragons wasn’t new to these people, and their success and bloodlust intimidated the dragons. We were slowing them down greatly, but we weren’t stopping them.

I saw an axe swing in the corner of my eye. Toothless knocked me aside and grappled with my would-be attacker. I pushed myself up to my feet. Okay, Hiccup, time for a clever plan. We were too far for the battle to be heard. Berk still didn’t know the Berserks were here. Assuming any remaining dragons weren’t distracted by the fight with the Lava Louts, they wouldn’t smell the Berserks either because they were downwind –

They were downwind.

I had a plan.

Chapter Text

“Toothless, call the dragons again,” I said to him as we hovered above the forest. It took a bit of gesturing to get my point across, but then Toothless roared that low roar again, and the dragons seemed all too eager to abandon the battle and jump to his summons. They emerged from the trees in a stream. I did my best not to look too hard at them, and to block the scent of blood from my nose.

“Follow me,” I squawked.

We flew back in the direction of Berk. I knew we had some time; the Berserkers would be regrouping and celebrating their perceived victory. Maybe they were even rethinking their ambush now that the element of surprise was gone . . . who was I kidding? These were the Berserkers. A setback like this wouldn’t stop them.

When we were a few miles ahead of the Berserkers, I stopped. I stared down at the forest, then at the circling, curious dragons.

“Alright, here’s the plan,” I whispered to myself. Toothless crooned and inched closer.

“Burn everything.”

I swooped down. This time, I didn’t use my plasma blast, but my softer, regular flame. It wasn’t big enough to light anything more than a bundle of leaves, but they began to smoulder. The other dragons were confused; they didn’t understand why I was flaming something that wasn’t alive. But Toothless trusted me, and though he was hesitant, he flamed a tree himself.

That got them going. We lit every tree in front of us, making a barrier at least a mile long. By the end, we couldn’t even fly over the line because the smoke was so thick. The noise was deafening, like standing next to a roaring dragon. Huge trees, older than even the village itself, toppled. The impact tossed black rubble and embers into the air. One landed on my head, but my scales protected me from the burn.

We roosted a safe distance away. It looked like storm clouds were rolling towards us. I couldn’t even see the light of the flames anymore, but I knew the wind would catch them, and take them downwind. Straight to the Berserkers. They wouldn’t attack us now. Not even the Lava Louts could wade their way through this much fire.

We watched for a while. This firestorm was fuelled by the fury of the gods themselves. Although the wind led away from us, it appeared that the sky in that direction wasn’t enough to contain all the smoke. Some came back our way, shrouding the sun, and making it seem like dusk had fallen early. The sun did its best to shine through, and painted the smoke-clouds a grim orange.

“We need to head back,” I said. It had occurred to my subdued brain that the Louts were still a threat. “There’s nothing more we can do.”

The battle in Berk was still ongoing, but thankfully between two tribes, not three. Even if Dad’s chase-everyone-into-the-water plan had been a bust, he’d still scattered the Louts and that worked in our favour. A few of the invader’s ships had been left standing. Many ruined ones were wrecked on shore, having been set on fire accidentally during the brawl. Another had stuck on a reef, and its flaming sail looked like it would light the protruding figurehead at any moment.

The Louts hadn’t gotten close to the village walls. They had grouped together, covering each other with the water at their backs, waiting for the Berserkers to help them. They must have been wearing metal under the dragon skin, because a few of them had their dragon-skin armour frayed from blades, but were still healthy enough to fight. Still, our fire was mostly useless against them. The dragon riders knew this, and had either switched to projectiles (such as Stormfly’s spikes), or were directing their dragons to dive at the Louts and attack with their weight. It was messy work because the Louts and the defending Berkians were entangled so tightly.

I looked back at the forest. The smoke was easily visible from here, but it was hard from this angle to tell that it was an inferno, and not just a bunch of very heavy, very low storm clouds. The Louts wouldn’t clue in any time soon.

“Okay, so I know you guys like shiny things . . . which one of you stole a Berserker helmet?”

I turned. Most of the dragons immediately quailed under my scrutinizing gaze.

Scent led me to a Gronckle near the back. It was gnawing on a helmet that I knew had to belong to the Berserk tribe. Their helmets tended to look thin and plain, with spiralled, goat-like horns that reached higher than the ones me and Dad wore.

“Perfect. Give it to me!”

I grabbed one horn, and pulled. The Gronckle resisted, and tried to suck the helmet into his mouth, until Toothless cuffed him. The helmet popped out with a smack.

“You guys can stay,” I told Toothless. “If this works, the battle will be ending pretty soon.”

Now . . . where was Chief Ranvir?

I spied him on one of the intact ships. With one foot on the gunwale, he was at the bow, chin in his hand, elbow on his knee as he watched the battle. His dragon skin cloak had parted in the front, revealing his chest plate armour, and the golden snake emblem engraved upon it. His braided beard hid the snake’s head, but I could still catch a glint of red from its ruby eye.

I took off. Sneaking up on the chief was easy. Dropping the helmet so that it clattered to the deck behind him was almost easier. The noise instantly grabbed the attention of the Lout Chief, and he whirled around, drawing a dagger that had been hidden under his cloak.

He picked up the helmet. He studied it for a long moment, then looked to see me circling.

His face paled with realization.

“Retreat!” His first shout wasn’t loud enough. Ranvir cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed, “I said retreat!

It was as much a surprise to the Berkians as it was to the Louts. Like the ground underneath them had fallen away, the Louts suddenly surged back towards their ships. They leapt onboard, grabbed oars and planks, and began to push off from shore even before all of them made it on. The Louts were no fool; if the Chief was calling for a retreat, they knew something had gone terribly wrong.

“Stoick, what now?” Gobber asked. “You want us to go after them?”

From atop his hulking dragon, Dad watched the Louts escape. I saw what he saw; if we wanted to, we could chase them. The dragons weren’t spent yet. And although their ships had been equipped to fight dragons, so many Vikings were packed on so few ships that there was no way they could manoeuver those weapons properly. Just running around too much might have been enough to capsize a couple of those top-heavy ships. The Lava Louts were like sitting ducks; kindling near an open flame. Prey.

But Dad wasn’t that kind of person. He wasn’t like Dagur the Deranged; he never enjoyed the kill. Not even being face-to-face with Berk’s worst enemy was enough to change that part of him.

“Let them go,” Dad said. “Our people live; it wouldn’t be worth it.”

A couple of villagers groaned, but most sheathed their weapons without complaint. The Lava Lout’s battered fleet sailed away, becoming more speck-like with every passing second.

Dad turned Skullcrusher towards the village. He called out, “Take care of our wounded, dragons included. Gobber, I want a list of all the damages. We start repairs first thing tomorrow morning.”

Toothless greeted him as he approached the walls. Skullcrusher stopped short, responding to his master’s unspoken command. Dad was staring; I knew what he was thinking . . .

I landed on the Rumblehorn’s back, and tapped him.

When he saw me, Dad exhaled a quick, shuddering breath. “You should know better than to do that to me, Hiccup. Wait with Toothless next time.”

I smiled toothily.

But the smile slipped quickly from my face. I looked back at our warriors, many of whom kept watch on the retreating enemy.

“There are injuries,” Dad said. “Some serious. No deaths that I’ve heard of, however.”

I relaxed. Good.

“Quite a white-knuckled battle though.” Dad said that with a chuckle that suggested he didn’t actually think it was at all funny. “I can still taste the smoke.”

Me too . . . only I don’t think memory was responsible. It did still smell and taste like smoke everywhere, and I wasn’t convinced all of it was from the burning Berserk ships.

I wound around Dad so I was in front of him. Then I grabbed his chin and turned it towards the forest. Well, I tried to. But he happened to be a little stronger than me.

“What is that?” Dad asked. He slapped Skullcrusher’s side, and the Rumblehorn rose into the air. We didn’t go over, or in the forest, thank goodness. We circled instead over the village, high enough that everyone could see orange light brightening up the smoky curls from underneath.

“Is that fire?” Dad leaned forward so much that he was barely sitting on Skullcrusher anymore. “That’s too much for any stray dragon.”

I know, I know. I rubbed against him, and spoke with squawks and warbles.

“Hiccup . . .” Of course, he didn’t know what had happened, or why, but he could tell I was responsible.

I sighed. “Let’s land.”

Explaining turned out to be fairly simple. Berserkers in woods. Chased them away with fire, was all I had to write. The implications hit him immediately. He looked over his shoulder, as if afraid some stray Berserker was coming up behind him. “I knew there was more behind this,” he said. “The Louts never tried to breach the village. That also would explain the flags.”

What did they want? I wrote next.

“My guess is it was about the dragons,” Dad said without emotion. “After the incident with Dagur, the Louts made it clear they didn’t trust the beasts. We’re just lucky the Bog Burglars didn’t get involved in this. Yet.”

Swallowing, I glanced at Toothless. I think I understood. Say I hadn’t realized what was happening. Say the Berserkers did sneak up on Berk and get into the village. They wouldn’t have found Vikings there, none worth fighting anyways, and I don’t think even the Berserkers were vicious enough to do more than terrorize them (especially without Dagur breathing down their backs). So what would they have found? Dragons. Rider-less dragons waiting for their human friends to return from battle. And the Berserkers were experts in fighting dragons . . .

They had aimed for a slaughter.

“I will have to speak with Mogadon and see if we can draft up some sort of alliance,” Dad said. “At least we can even the numbers.”

He trudged off, going straight through my dirt-letters. They had been pretty while they lasted.

Toothless trotted behind me as I followed my nose. The first familiar scent I caught was Gothi, but I was 99.99% certain she hadn’t been fighting. I checked in the forge, but Gobber wasn’t there. I had seen him earlier though, and he seemed okay. Astrid’s father nursed a deep cut that spanned the length of his upper arm, but his daughter was nowhere to be seen.

I tracked Fishlegs and the twins to the Great Hall. Fishlegs sat at a table with a mug in front of him, and Meatlug under the table. I could hear the twins nearby, although I didn’t see them. I hopped onto the table. Toothless discreetly began chewing on a corner.

“Oh, hey, Hiccup.”

He had one hand on the mug’s handle, and I sniffed that and his connected wrist. Sweaty, as expected. Tired, too. I saw no sign he was injured, however.

Fishlegs pulled his hand away. “I’m fine. Meatlug’s dizzy, though. She took some hard hits, and Tuff got knocked on the head.”

I gave him a look.

“Astrid and Stormfly were okay when I saw them.”

I released a breath I didn’t know I had been holding.

It was both strange not seeing Astrid here, and not strange. Weird because these were her friends, and not weird because she had taken up my responsibilities in my absence. Maybe that was related to why Fishlegs was so down. Even though we had won, he slumped in his seat and drank as if he had come back from a funeral.

When I poked him, he said, “It’s weird. Every time I look over there, I expect to see Snotlout hitting on Ruffnut. I guess it really hasn’t sunk in yet that he’s gone. We didn’t get along all the time, but he was still my friend.”

We jumped when Tuffnut spoke behind us. “I can’t believe Astrid did that to him! If you ask me, I think power’s made her a little crazy.”

My growl wasn’t complete, and sounded more like I was hungry. My instincts had thrummed and demanded that I defend Astrid’s honour, but I wasn’t sure if I could.

“It wasn’t Astrid’s fault,” Fishlegs said. “Gothi made the judgement.”

“She started it,” Tuffnut said dismissively.

“I thought Astrid was supposed to be his friend.” Ruffnut sank into the seat next to Fishlegs. She stole a mouthful of his drink. “Guess you can’t tell who some people really are.”

I didn’t answer. Fishlegs gave her a long look before asking, “Are you talking about Astrid, or Snotlout?”

“Both, I guess.” She shrugged. “I didn’t expect either of them to turn on us like that. I always thought that if someone was going to muck up, it would be me or Tuff.”

“It’s not Astrid’s fault,” I said, giving in to my instincts. “If Snotlout hadn’t made that deal with Eret, everything would have been fine.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Tuffnut yawned in an exaggerated fashion. “Let me guess: Astrid is perfect. Astrid didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Technically, she didn’t,” Fishlegs admitted. “All she did was tell the truth.”

“She could have warned us!” Tuffnut said. “She could have at least told us she had proof at the beginning! We looked like a bunch of idiots trying to defend him.”

“She didn’t have to drag it out in front of the entire village, either,” Ruffnut said.

A pause. Fishlegs quietly looked around the Great Hall. Most of the seats were empty. My guess was that people were at home resting or recovering. There would probably be a feast tonight, though. I could already see some villagers at the other end of the hall preparing for that. But the important thing was that no one was listening to us.

“I think . . .” Fishlegs cleared his throat, and lowered his voice. “I think Astrid knew what she was doing. If everyone knew, then Snotlout had to leave.”

“That’s –”

Tuffnut stopped mid-sentence. He stared at me. Yes, I know. Astrid’s boyfriend was here. But Astrid’s boyfriend wasn’t entirely pleased with her either.

It’s fine. I waved him off. Honestly, there was a grain of truth of what Fishlegs was saying. I had no doubt that Astrid had wanted the entire village to know, but not for those reasons. I don’t think it was about making sure Snotlout received a due punishment, but making sure that everyone knew of the possible (in her mind) threat lurking around our people. That’s just what Astrid did. If she saw a fire, Astrid wasn’t the type of person to throw a wet blanket over it, cross her fingers and pray for the best. She would throw the blanket, but she’d do it while shouting and ordering people to bring her a dozen barrels filled with water.

They still didn’t seem very comfortable talking with me around. It didn’t bother me too much. I understood. So, I gave them a break and hopped back onto the floor.

On my way out, Fishlegs ran after me. “Hey, Hiccup. You never got dinner because of that fight. I’ll go make you something now.”

“Uh, thanks,” I said, confused. What he said was true, but it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Turns out there was an ulterior motive. I could sense it from the sounds of his nervous footsteps. When we were less than a metre away from his house, he turned and looked at me.

“Uh, Hiccup,” he stammered, fiddling with his hands, “I know Snotlout was your cousin, and I’m not trying to accuse you of anything, but did you ask Astrid to do that for you?”

That stung. I shook my head.

“Oh, okay. I didn’t think you did. I was just curious. You understand, right? I’ll go make you dinner now!”

I stuck my very small leg in front of him, stopping him. He acted like he had been about to run shin-first into an iron bar.

I wrote in the dirt. Fishlegs read my words, silently mouthing them to himself.

Color drained from his face.

“Hiccup, you want to . . . are you serious? I don’t think your Dad would approve.”

Oh, yes. I most certainly was serious, and I didn’t expect Dad to understand what I wanted to do. But I had been on a roll with my plans today, so I didn’t plan to tell him about this excursion.

“If you’re sure, I’ll get the others,” Fishlegs said.

I stopped him again. Once more, I wrote in the dirt.

After a moment, Fishlegs said, “Okay, I won’t tell Astrid.”

Chapter Text

“This is stupid,” Ruffnut said. “Why are you making us do this?”

I ignored her, and soared onwards. Ruffnut and her twin muttered to each other, probably agreeing about what she said. Their dragon seemed torn on whether to be frustrated that they were picking on me, or happy that they were getting along. Either way, me and Toothless didn’t care. He rose and fell in lazy swoops, diving in front of and teasing Meatlug, who shambled along with her rider. There were also a couple of dragons that weren’t ours joining us, but they were known to be very friendly – I’d specifically chosen them for that.

“There they are,” I said. I focused my far-sight on the limping ships. It looked like the Louts had gone ahead and torn off the Berserk flags. Maybe their failure to show up had angered Chief Ranvir. “Follow the plan.”

That meant the twins and Toothless (reluctantly) hanging back while me and Fishlegs closed in, with Fishlegs wildly waving a white flag of peace. He waved it so fast you could barely tell what it was. That’s probably why the Louts yelled and armed themselves.

“No, wait!” Fishlegs cried as a half-dozen crossbows aimed in our direction. “We come in peace.”

He waved the white flag higher. Luckily, a breeze caught it at that moment, and unfurled its full length, leaving no doubt what it stood for. The crossbows didn’t lower, but nobody fired. Even Vikings respected this decree. Usually.

Chief Ranvir shouldered his way to the front. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Peace!” Fishlegs shouted again, holding his flag above his head. “We, uh . . . we want . . .”

I hovered at his side patiently. In my absence, Astrid normally took on these diplomatic duties. She was pretty good at them, especially since she understood the typical Viking mindset more than me. But after that incident with Snotlout . . . it’s not that I didn’t trust her anymore, but my eyes had been opened to a part of her that I had ignored. Astrid was a vengeful person. I’d seen it long ago in a cove, after someone who was supposed to be a nobody bested her in a field that was supposed to be hers. I couldn’t have any of that nature seeping through in a situation as delicate as this one was. Or during my next stops.

Besides, Fishlegs was less intimidating.

“We, well, Hiccup thought that we could give a few of you a ride back to your island. Then you could bring more boats back and things wouldn’t be so crowded on these ships.”

The Louts muttered. They were tempted, I could tell. Being stuck shoulder-to-shoulder with people on a ship was not the least bit fun. But then Ranvir asked, “How do we know you’re not planning to dump us in the middle of the ocean?”

“Uh . . .”

My turn. I landed on the rail, and sought out one of the armed Vikings.

I aimed her crossbow directly at my chest.

Ranvir grinned. “So you double-cross us, we get to put an arrow through your heart? Seems like a fair trade to me. How many can you carry?”

Fishlegs scanned the group. “Uh, the Night Fury can carry a couple. I could probably fit someone else on Meatlug. The Zippleback can’t take more, but those two dragons could carry two each . . .”

“There’ll just be one on the Night Fury,” Ranvir said, eyes gleaming. (Gee, I wonder who that one person would be?)

The Louts sorted themselves out fast. A couple of them tussled –whether it was for the honour to ride the dragons or to not ride them remained unknown – but the fight didn’t last very long on the crowded ship. Chief Ranvir was first, grabbing Toothless’s scruff as he boarded, as if he expected Toothless to have a collar. Toothless curled his lip, but didn’t show teeth. I cooed at him and told him things were going to be okay. A woman who I think was Ranvir’s wife joined Fishlegs, making it one crowded ride. Two more pairs of men and women took the riderless Nadders.

“Well, are we going?” Chief Ranvir snapped the very moment the last person’s toe left the deck. “Move it! Giddy-up!”

Ranvir slapped Toothless’s side. Toothless’s glare told me that I would have to spend a long time making this up to him.

Even though Toothless was accustomed to bearing my rather modest weight, he had no problems with a heavyset Viking like Ranvir the Cruel. Not that I had expected him to. I had seen Toothless carry around my dad in his claws, after all. The only dragon that seemed to have any problems at all was Meatlug, but I think that was because of the weight distribution . . . or she could have just been slow.

Yep. Definitely slow.

“You know where you’re going, boy?” Ranvir shouted to Fishlegs, even though they were barely a few feet apart.

“Yes, I brought a map with me.” Fishlegs opened a large sheet of parchment. “Uh huh, we just keep going this way . . .” He flipped over a sheet that had been attached to the parchment’s edges, expanding the map. “ . . .then we turned twenty degrees north when we see that . . .” He flipped over another sheet. “Okay, and it should be just a few minutes . . .”

By the time he flipped over the fifth piece, Ranvir was squinting at him through one eye.

“Sorry!” Fishlegs stuffed it back into his shirt. He didn’t even fold it back together properly. “Hiccup keeps very detailed maps.”

“What for?” Ranvir grunted. “Regular maps work just fine.”

“Yeah, but he’s . . .” Fishlegs glanced at me. I did my best to roll my eyes and give him the go-ahead. “He’s recording what dragon species live in each area.”

“I see,” Ranvir said, and the way he said that made me tense. He pointed a meaty finger straight at me, as if he were about to run me through with a sword. “And that wee dragon is Berk’s heir?”

“He is. It’s a long story . . . but you’ve already heard it, right? I mean all the Chiefs did, didn’t they?”

“Stoick mentioned something about that,” Ranvir said. “You, Hiccup, prove you’re not some dumb dragon.”

I unsheathed my teeth and smiled at him.

Ranvir jerked back. “That’s disturbing.”

About ten minutes passed. By the five-minute mark, Fishlegs kept glancing at me, becoming more and more obvious each time. Ranvir, at the head of the flock, didn’t notice. But his wife did, and unlike Fishlegs, I noticed that her hand rested on her dagger’s sheath. I knew the twins saw that – being troublemakers tended to teach you how to tell how close others were to pulling weapons on you – but if they weren’t raising an alarm, it’s okay to say we were safe.

Fishlegs met my gaze once more, and I nodded.

“So, are you having fun?” he asked Ranvir.

Without moving, the Lout Chief answered, “Faster than sailing.”

Fishlegs laughed nervously. “I know it doesn’t seem that exciting, but it’s really cool! You’re just gliding with him, but there’s so much more you can be doing.”

“That so?” Ranvir still didn’t sound that interested.

“That’s a Night Fury!” Fishlegs exclaimed, breathless. “It’s the fastest dragon in the entire world! He can’t do too many fancy things without Hiccup to work his tailfin, but he’s still super-fast.”

That intrigued the Chief. His stare dropped to the back of Toothless’s head and he tugged at his beard, thinking. I knew what would happen next. I landed in front of Ranvir on the saddle, dug my claws in and clung.

Ranvir said, “Be nice to get back faster. Alright. Show me what you got!”

Over the sound of Ranvir’s slap, Fishlegs called, “Okay, Toothless. Give him the Astrid Special.”

I swear Toothless literally thrummed with malice.

Nothing compared to a Night Fury’s acceleration and before Ranvir’s pals realized what was going on, we were nothing but a black streak to them. Wind roared in our ears and threw pressure against our faces just as water did when you first entered it from a dive. Toothless’s wings swallowed the sky every time he extended them, and the pure strength in his wingbeats made our bodies vibrate.

“Now this is more like it!” Ranvir howled as if he was at the head of a warship leading an invasion. His beard’s braids flapped in the wind like a pennant. Already, he was doing better than Astrid had. But I didn’t think it would last. Not if Toothless had anything to say about it.

And he did.

He tilted upward. We climbed higher, higher and Ranvir didn’t notice until he looked down by accident. Then, his hooting puttered out. The one hand that had been raised in celebration dropped to shoulder-level. Vikings, even the great and mighty Viking Chiefs, were people of the land and water. Not people of the sky. With their typical heavy bodies, tree-climbing wasn’t a common pastime either. No, the closest these people got to dealing with heights was standing at the edge of a cliff. Toothless knew this, and he slowed down once we were high enough, just to rub it in.

I flattened my body against the saddle, and prepared for the fall.

Toothless didn’t disappoint. If anyone had been watching, they would have wondered if Toothless’s body stopped working. The overgrown lizard had folded his wings in, and simply let himself fall. I couldn’t see Toothless’s expression, but I imagine it was hilariously bored and unconcerned. A stark contrast to Ranvir, whose terror directly correlated to the speed of our descent. The churning sea awaited us below, dark and forbidding, as if we plunged into the void itself.

I couldn’t hear the Chief over the wind, but I think I can guess what he was saying from the way he battered Toothless with his fists. The dark sea reflected in his eyes, making his face that much paler in comparison.

This time, Toothless decided against taking a swim. He waited until the last possible moment before thrusting his wings out and levelling out. He was so close to the water’s surface that he could touch it – which was exactly what he did. He reached forward and sunk his paws in, so that water climbed his forelegs before erupting into a white geyser. I didn’t mind; dragon scales were pretty waterproof. Ranvir did. He spluttered and coughed as water flung into his face and body.

By the time Toothless stopped, the Lout Chief’s beard was soaked. The rest of him was okay, as droplets rolled off his dragon-skin cloak.

“I’ll skin you alive!” Ranvir was bellowing. “I’ll stuff your corpses and mount them on my wall . . .”

“Toothless,” I bopped his head, “time to skip to the end.”

I could tell Toothless was disappointed.

He took us up once more. It wasn’t nearly as fast or wild as last time, but Ranvir still clung to Toothless’s saddle as if it was. The glittering sea below grew distant, until we could no longer see the waves and it looked like a flat plain. The sky, on the other hand, and its white curling clouds grew ever closer. I felt the air grow colder as the moisture thickened.

We broke through the bottom cloud layer. Tuffs of various hues and shapes wrapped around us, as if we were in a tunnel. Only the walls of this tunnel weren’t solid, and disappeared when you got too close. The sky, dyed orange and pink from the setting sun, was faintly visible where the cloud walls were thin, and painted our shadows on the ones behind us. Drops of water frosted the ridges of Toothless’s scales, and pooled upon Ranvir’s armoured shoulders. Ranvir loosened his grip; his muscles almost seemed to creak.

There wasn’t enough time for events to really dawn on him before we were through the clouds completely. We levelled out again, leaving the puffy, clumped cloud floor in its proper place beneath us. Ranvir and I both had to cover our eyes; a blinding streak of light had cut through the sky, slicing through the half-circle of the sun. The sunlight hugged the peaks of the rolling clouds, so that they resembled a field of snow. There weren’t any northern lights for me to show him today, but I think this was enough.

“What is this?” Ranvir asked me.

I merely glanced at him, and then stared back at the sunset. I just needed to wait. Sooner or later, Chief Ranvir would realize there was no ulterior motive here. I just wanted him to see this.

The Lout Chief’s leery gaze scanned everything; it was like he expected a flock of dragons to burst out of the clouds and eat him. He sat slightly hunched, gripping the saddle’s cantle tight with one hand. The other rested on the spot just above Toothless’s shoulder, where it wouldn’t be bumped off by his wingbeats. It wasn’t quite the reaction I was hoping for; Ranvir was not like Astrid. But he wasn’t threatening to stuff my heart down my throat anymore, so I think things were going well.

I waited until I felt Ranvir shift his weight back, no longer interested or afraid. To Toothless, I said, “Okay, take us down.”

The dive was controlled this time. Chief Ranvir, soothed by our time above the clouds, realized this after the first few moments. He seemed determined to bear this one like a true Viking – solemn faced, one-handed, staring directly into the wind. The black specks of our companions waited directly below us.

“We’re back . . . what’s going on?”

Fishlegs squeaked. His passenger glared at me . . . with her dagger flush against Fishleg’s throat. Meatlug was whining, craning her neck in an attempt to view her passengers, while the twins hovered nearby. The offending Lout was dead in their sights, but they couldn’t move fast enough to rescue Fishlegs without getting his throat cut.

“Hey!” I barked louder. Toothless huffed and hissed underneath me. “What happened -?”

A strong hand rested on my back.

“From what I’ve heard, you were supposed to be some sort of genius,” Ranvir said. “Seems like you’re more of a fool to me.”

My eyes widened. This couldn’t be . . .

“But . . .” Ranvir continued, “you did come to us under a flag of peace, and I ain’t Treacherous or Deranged. Odin himself would damn us if we took advantage of this. Put the dagger away.”

His wife slid her dagger back into its sheath, her manner suggesting that she was doing nothing more interesting than cutting a loaf of bread. Fishlegs sagged in relief; his Adam’s apple bobbed as he took deep breaths.

The twins looked to me. I tried to tell them that it was all right. We would keep going.

There was an unspoken tension in the group. The Louts acted like everything was perfectly normal, but we couldn’t shake the image of that dagger against Fishlegs’s throat. Fishlegs had done his best to curl into a ball, hiding his vulnerable parts. Actually, now that I thought about it, maybe not all the Louts were okay. Chief Ranvir was shifting around a lot. Maybe it was because of the dagger. Or maybe it was some kind of post-flying trauma. Toothless had shown him how easy it was to lose control over your dragon, to fall . . .

“Hiccup,” Ranvir said quietly, “how do I make it go faster?”

I let him think he was directing Toothless for the rest of the way (of course, it was actually me at the helm). By the time we reached Lava Lout island, dawn had broken and made the place easy to see. It was . . . interesting. Berk may have been inhabitable to anyone lesser than Vikings, but the Lava Lout home looked inhabitable. Period. It was a single, smoking volcano topped with a jagged crown of protruding shards like a pot that had been broken in half. Where there wasn’t unforgiving cliffs, there was snow. A bubble of lava jumped out of the volcano’s heart and tricked down its peak, sizzling and leaving a trail of melted snow in its path.

Great. Let me have Berk back with its ice and rain, please.

“There.” Ranvir pointed. Unlike Berk’s wooden houses, the buildings of the Lout village were carved from stone. They stuck up out of the ground, bare and grey, like we were looking upon a graveyard. Not what you would call homey.

Not many people were around to see us land. A lot of them had been in that raiding party. Those that were present were mostly old folks. They stared open-mouthed at their Chief’s strange companions; I don’t think any of them had never seen a Night Fury in the flesh before.

“Prisoners?” An elder with a nasty sneer asked.

“No.” Ranvir slung his leg off the saddle, and dropped onto solid ground. In that instant he landed, his knees buckled. There was a confused look to his eyes, as if the very idea of ground perplexed him. But his voice was strong as he mustered his people. “Prep the fleet. We lost most of the Berserk ships and we need transport.”

One of the listening Vikings glanced at me and my crew. Ranvir saw that, and barked, “Ignore them. They’re not important.”

By this time, the rest of Ranvir’s companions had dismounted. The woman I guessed to be his wife approached him, laying her hand on his shoulder. She whispered, “Will the Berserks be seeking revenge?”

“Not on us. Not our fault they couldn’t get their act together.”

His wife looked like she was going to say something more, but suddenly remembered they weren’t alone. “What are you still doing here?” she snapped at us. “Go!”

“A thank you would have been nice,” Tuffnut muttered. He and Ruffnut obediently pulled their dragon away though. Fishlegs was just ecstatic to get out of here.

I locked eyes with the Lout Chief. A hollowness haunted them, but deep within them, there was a gleam. He wrenched his face away quickly, but I still saw all that I needed to. I recognized that look. It was the hollowness of one trying to keep a big secret, and the gleam of one who had been enlightened. Whether he liked it or not, Toothless had taken him up into the sky and shown him what it meant to ally yourself with dragons. That’s why I could see the secret he was trying to hide:

Chief Ranvir wanted to be a dragon rider, too.

I purred. Three down, four to go.

Everyone was glad to see the end of this mission, especially Toothless. He kept flexing and stretching his muscles, as if he could still sense the touch of the despised Lout Chief. The twins and Fishlegs flew next to each other so that Fishlegs and Ruffnut could speak. They had the map out, and were arguing about the best place to let the dragons (and us!) have a rest.

I ended that argument by veering away.

“Hey, where are you going?”

I couldn’t answer them, but I knew that in lieu of Snotlout and Astrid, they would follow me. There was one more stop we had to make, and it was close by any ways.


“I’ll keep an eye out for your cousin, Hiccup,” Alvin the Treacherous told me. “If he doesn’t come this way though, there’s not much I can do.”

Thank you. I dipped my head. I hoped Snotlout did. The Outcasts were a clan of exiled Vikings. Snotlout was an exiled Viking. The pieces fit together perfectly. Plus, it would be a weight off my back to know Snotlout was somewhere I’d be able to keep track of him. Not to mention it didn’t hurt that the Outcasts were unofficially allied with Berk.

I trotted over to Fishlegs, and cuffed him awake. Before I had spoken to Alvin about Snotlout, he had agreed to take us in for the day. Which meant lots of food and napping. By the time we finished talking, the sun had dipped, but the dragons looked well-rested.

“Uh, thanks again,” Fishlegs said to the Outcast Chief.

Alvin half-shrugged. “Take care of yourselves.”

Right before I took off, I happened to catch a glimpse of a herd of sheep . . . only one of them wasn’t a sheep. There was a fat Gronckle laying on his side and with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

Alvin noticed where my attention laid. “Oh, that. There’s a few of those. They don’t have a taste for mutton and they go after the wolves, so we toss them fish to keep them around.”

I blinked. Well, that was a start.

We returned to Berk at mid-day. From dragon-back, it was impossible not to notice that the island had lost a huge chunk of its trees. Fishlegs and the twins discussed that, but none of them came close to hitting upon the right answer. How could they? I’m not even sure they knew the Berserkers had been on our island.

The forest wasn’t the only thing that had changed. When I first saw it, I thought it was a trick of my eyes. I had to land on the flagpole and paw the two, intertwined flags to be sure. That was unusual. Very unusual, because one of the flags wasn’t ours, but that of the Meatheads. Two intertwined flags represented an alliance, and not just any. This wasn’t a treaty signed on paper, or a partnership put together by friendship. This was a genuine military alliance. It was no longer possible to only attack Berk; until those flags went down, any violence against Berk would be met with violence from the Meatheads, and vice-versa.

Staring up at the intertwined flags, Ruffnut said, “What the hell happened?”

Hiccup!

Oh. That was Dad’s You’re in Trouble voice.

I ended up getting an earful for leaving that close to the end of a battle. And then another when he realized I went after Chief Ranvir (I swear, he was on the verge of an apocalyptic fit when I told him that). Even Gobber, who had been listening in, looked quite concerned. At last, Dad shouted himself out, and face purple, fell backwards to lean against a house.

“If it makes you feel better, it worked,” I said.

“You’re not having a heart attack, are you?” Gobber asked him.

“I’m fine,” Dad muttered.

“Dad, I’m really sorry.” I scratched those last three words into the dirt. “But I couldn’t turn down a chance like that. And I was being serious. It worked! The Louts are on our side!”

Of course, he didn’t understand me, so instead I pointed at the intertwined flags.

Dad took a deep breath, and began to explain. “If we’re going to see this mysterious dragon lady, then somebody needs to keep our village safe – especially if the Berserkers come again. So long as there’s no trophy at stake, Chief Mogadon has always been trustworthy. He’s promised to protect Berk.”

Price? I wrote. I wasn’t a fool. Even Dad would be ill-deposed to take on this kind of responsibility unless there was some benefit for Berk.

Dad cleared his throat. “Well, if Berk were to be attacked, ships alone might not be fast enough. They’d need . . . dragons.”

I gaped. I followed Dad’s eyes, and shot towards the alleyway.

At the other side, I stopped in the alley’s mouth. What greeted me was the back of a fair figure, with hair brighter than any star. Astrid was like a storybook princess facing down a dragon, although the intenseness of that image suffered under the fact that her dragon looked sleepy enough to keel over at any moment. But that was Gobber’s Hotburple for you. It wasn’t just Grump in front of her, either. On his back sat a very familiar Meathead.

“You’re doing great!” Astrid called out to Chief Mogadon. “Now bring him left again . . .”

Watching them, I couldn’t help but smile.

Toothless snuck up on me and nipped my tail.

“Can’t leave you alone for even a second, huh?” I said to my panting, wriggling dragon. “Okay, I’m up for a game of tag-”

There was a feather-light touch on my mind, like someone had peeked in the window to say hello.

I froze. So did Toothless.

It swept over me in a wave. A feeling. A good feeling. I felt in the very marrow of my bones. It was . . .he was . . . no way.

Toothless and I joined the throng of dragons heading toward the docks. I ignored the Vikings shouting at us. They’d see. Everyone would see . . .

The dragons barked and chittered among themselves, perched as close as they could get to the water. Toothless shoved his way to the front of the crowd, with me sitting on his back. We got there just as the dragons fell silent, as a huge shadow rose from the depths –

The docked boats rolled with the waves. A deafening deluge of sound overtook the village. Just above the sea, blue eyes blinked, wise and curious.

So this is Berk, said his majesty, the Bewilderbeast.

Chapter Text

Your majesty. I’m not sure at what point I decided to bow, but I did. My wings spread, bumping the nose of the dragon next to me. Toothless was next to dip his head, turning his so that there was no way he could be mistaken for looking directly at the king. Group by group, the dragons around us bowed as well.

The king sighed a cloud of icy fog. There is no need for that. This is your kingdom, not mine.

I was the only one who listened to him. Straightening up, I asked, It’s not that I’m unhappy to see you, but what are you doing here?

Valka was concerned by your friend’s words about the Berserk Vikings. I agreed to check up on your Nest on her behalf.

Oh. Thank you. She was right: they did attack, but we took care of it. I side-eyed the forest I had ravaged. I don’t think they’ll be coming back any time soon. Did . . . did she come with you?

No. She feared your cousin would have revealed her true nature. Another circle of waves – probably ripples to the king’s eye – radiated outward as the king began to turn. I will give her your regards. It was good to see you.

Wait! I whined both in my mind and physically. Are you going already?

Your Nest is safe. There is no need for my presence.

But you just got here! I knew I didn’t sound much like a chief’s heir right now, but he just got here! You have to meet our Chief – err, Alpha – at least. Think of it as a diplomatic visit. Your Nest isn’t going to self-destruct anytime soon, right?

. . . Valka has agreed to avoid getting herself into precarious situations until my return. However, I must doubt her ability to keep that promise.

I felt an odd, bitter pride at that. Looks like I took after my mom.

Hiccup, the king said, are you sure that they would wish to meet me?

Why wouldn’t they? They all bowed when they saw you . . . And we’re not talking about the dragons right now.

Truth be told, I’d forgotten about the Berkians. They . . . hmm . . . it was hard to figure out what they thought of the king when every single face was divided into 100% shock. This had come out of nowhere, after all.

They will, I said confidently. Give them time. The last alpha dragon we met tried to kill us, so they’re probably a little nervous.

The king tilted his head a little in surprise. From what I’ve seen of your kin, I would not believe your clan capable of provoking such a response from my kind.

Wasn’t you guys, I told him. This one could breathe fire. And fly. It wasn’t a fun time.

Was it one of these dragons?

An image flashed in my mind. A colossal dragon equipped with thick scales, and spear-like thorns; a bony plate on its nose and jaws big enough to snap a boat in half. Yep. That was a Red Death, all right. From the king’s memories, six cruel eyes locked straight on me, and a spray of fire spurted from the depths of her throat. It made me think of another time I had faced that fire. Actually, the more I thought about it, the more these two pictures seemed the same. . .

That’s her, I said, stunned. That’s not just her kind, I think that’s actually her! When did you meet her?

For a brief second, the king growled low in his throat. She was the monarch of my Nest before I arrived. I ousted her from her throne. I was not aware she had survived her injuries.

He fought that thing? I could only imagine what it had been like. Toothless and I had defeated her through evasion and cunning, and while I’m sure the king could be cunning, I had to question how fast that huge body could move. If the picture he had shown me was anything to go by, the clash between those two giants had been up close and personal.

I caught a bitter scent. Right. Not just me and dragons. There was also a village of frightened Vikings to deal with. The king’s growl, although not directed at them, had spooked them. They had backpedalled so they were up against the village wall, or else had ducked behind it. Most of them had weapons drawn, though none aimed them at the king; wild guess here, but they probably knew that antagonizing a dragon this gigantic was a terrible idea – especially in light of how last time had gone. The king, his own nostrils flaring, retreated deeper into the water. He sucked in air, and blew.

The icy stream was more concentrated than usual. The king aimed directly at the water, creating ice floes that popped above the surface like cork. The display met with mixed awe and fear from the crowd, and many dragons moved away, not enjoying the drop in temperature. Toothless didn’t seem to mind, but I jumped into the sky, taking flight –

Oh.

Up here, I could see it. This wasn’t a mere demonstration of strength. The ice floes had a pattern to them, a meaning. In blocky, but unmistakeable letters, they spelled out: Hello.

“Wow. Wow! Toothless, did you . . . what I am saying? You wouldn’t understand. Skullcrusher! Hey, Skullcrusher! Get my dad up here!”

I squawked at the Rumblehorn, and flicked my ears at Berk’s chief. Skullcrusher lumbered over, and nosed his rider’s side. Dad, still keeping his eyes on the king, climbed aboard his dragon who swiftly joined me.

 “Hiccup, what is . . .?” He trailed off. His mouth opened in a perfect ‘O’ of astonishment as he beheld the king’s work. “It speaks our language.”

I took Dad and Skullcrusher to one of the piers, growling at the other dragons gathered there. Toothless caught on and charged them, arching his wings as he ordered them to vacate. The king drifted closer, waiting patiently at the pier’s very end. We landed in the middle, and Dad slung his leg from over his dragon, and dropped onto the hollow-sounding wood.

Your majesty, I said as Dad took a few cautious steps. This is Stoick the Vast, Chief of Berk.

He is your sire. That remark needed no confirmation.

“I take it he’s friendly,” Dad whispered to me.

I nodded. I pointed at him. I pointed at Chief Mogadon, still saddled on Grump. I pointed back at Dad, and then at the king.

Dad swallowed. He puffed his chest out, holding his chin high as he took those last steps to the edge of the pier, where the king lowered himself so that Berk’s chief stood centered between his tusks. The two studied each other, reading each other as only chieftains could do. Dad’s cape rippled in the wind of the king’s exhales.

He held out his hand, palm facing the great dragon. The king sniffed, extracting from the offer what information he could. There was a moment’s pause as he digested his newly found knowledge, and examined the Viking Chief with red-shadowed eyes.

The king leaned forward, and let his scales rest against Dad’s palm.

He smiled. In a voice that seemed to carry through the entire region, Dad boomed, “Welcome, oh Great King of Dragons.”

The king rumbled. It was higher-pitched than his previous growl and even the most paranoid Viking knew that this was not a threatening sound, but one of acknowledgement.

“Mogadon, come here!” Dad waved his rival chief over.

The Meathead Chief stalked up the pier. “Dragons don’t have kings,” he insisted, but his voice was weak and unsure.

“Explain that to them,” Dad said, speaking of the observing dragons, many of which still had their heads bowed in reverence.

Chief Mogadon took one good look around, and surrendered. “Uh, hello, Dragon King.”

He gave the king a short, uncertain wave. His majesty watched, and then lifted his own forepaw out of the water. His stubby, webbed toes waggled as he mimicked the Chief’s wave. The two Viking Chiefs appeared torn between being impressed, and disturbed.

“I am Stoick, Chief of this island. Mogadon is Chief of the island to the east.”

The king rumbled. He set his paw back into the water –

Only he did it too fast, and the wave it created threatened to topple the nearest ship. The king swung his tusks around, hooking the capsizing ship under the mast before it could fall. He tried to nudge it back up straight, but pushed too strong, and it tipped the other way. He caught it again, and when it looked like he had shoved it too hard a second time, quickly froze the water around it so that the ship stayed upright.

Silence.

I apologize, he said, and I swear it was a deadpan.


There was absolutely no way the king would ever be able to set foot in the village. But the pastures nearby were a perfectly viable option. The king climbed up Berk’s cliffs – wrecking quite a few of them along the way – and collapsed in the grass. The big thump set off a round of bleating from the sheep nearby, but they settled down quickly. If living on Berk had taught them anything, it was how to adapt.

The alien noise caught the king’s attention, however. For the first time, he noticed the small animals that shared his field. He crept closer to them, almost like a cat. The herd waddled away at first, but when it became clear the king didn’t intend to give up (and he made no move to eat them), they stopped running. One of them even had the gall to wander closer, making the king take an alarmed step back. He sniffed that individual hard enough that I thought the poor thing might be sucked up into his lungs.

Those are sheep, I told him. They don’t do much.

Sheep, the king repeated. Do they live here?

More or less. They’re part of our village. We let them out in the morning so they can graze, and take them in at night so that predators don’t get them.

Predators? The king stared at the herd in concern. Where do they come from?

The woods mostly . . . Uh, what . . .?

As I spoke, the king had lumbered over to the nearby trees. He breathed in, and then created an icy cloud that rapidly froze every tree it touched. When he finished, a wall of solid ice separated the fields from the forest.

There will be no predators tonight. He laid down with the exact same satisfaction as a sheepdog guarding its herd.

. . . Thanks.

The king’s seemingly random actions had been seen by much of Berk. At least half the village crowded together on the top of the walls, gawking. Little kids peeked out from the sides of the wall entrance; a couple of bold children even crept to the edge of the pasture, before darting back to safety. The king ignored them all; he was long used to being the star of a mass audience.

Apart from me, the two he did pay attention to were the approaching Chiefs. They walked side-by-side, moving as a pack, already prepared on some unconscious level to defend each other against this giant. Toothless followed them, chuffing at his majesty.

After a thoughtful silence, Chief Mogadon spoke first. “Can you really understand us?”

I didn’t need for the king to ask. I automatically translated the words and sent them into his mind. The king glanced at the ground. Hiccup, is there . . .?

One of our enemy’s boats was wrecked on some rocks by shore. You should have seen it when you came here.

His majesty projected a general request then, and immediately, at least a dozen large dragons flew out of Berk and toward the stranded Berserk ship. The king watched then, redirecting the attention of the two chiefs. They didn’t know what to make of the small flock ripping the mast off the shipwreck and giving it to the king.

At least until the king picked it up, and wrote: Yes.

“Oh. Well.” Mogadon turned to Dad. “Did you know he was coming?”

“I knew as much as you did.”

I warbled, and hopped onto the king’s tusk, purring. I don’t think the king was capable himself of purring, but he made a pleased sound. Toothless, never to be ignored, pounced on the tusk’s tip. The king frosted his face in a light reprimand.

“This must be whom my son told me about,” Dad said. “He said he was rescued by a dragon king after that mess at the Raiders’ island.”

“Then his kingdom isn’t near here.” When the king nodded in agreement, the deep lines of Mogadon’s face sagged with relief. “I’m not sure if I should envy your tribe and all its exciting adventures, Stoick.” He looked at his majesty. “May I ask why are you visiting?”

The king gestured at me with a foreclaw. I preened; guess who was the most well-connected person in Berk!

No, Toothless. It’s not you. Stop prancing.

The three monarchs spoke for a long time. Quite a bit of that time was consumed by waiting for the king’s slow writing. Yet the two Viking Chiefs were patient with him, and when they answered his questions or asked their own, gave no sign that there had been a lapse in the speaking. The three of them had connected deeply as only people of their status could.

“And you say there will be no dragons raids,” Chief Mogadon said at the conclusion of a lengthy discussion about the Barbaric Archipelago’s time under the Red Death’s rein.

The king wrote, Not from us.

“Well, that’s convincing enough for me.” Mogadon admitted, “Guess there’s no reason to keep fighting them. Least until another evil queen shows up.”

I rode on Dad’s shoulder as the two Chiefs returned to their kind. The king turned back to the flock of sheep, blowing snow onto the back of the closest one. Said sheep shivered, and moved away. The king appeared saddened by that.

I spoke to him. When you return to your Nest, Stoick’s going to want to come along. He wants to ask Valka about Drago Bludvist. I . . . I told him the truth about her. Will that be okay?

Yes, the king said. Despite what she might think, I believe this would be good for her.

I just had cut off conversation with the king, when Mogadon mumbled to Dad. “So . . . that dragon king can talk.”

“It would appear so.”

“He’s sentient, then.” Mogadon took off his helmet. He stared directly at his own reflection in the metal, and tilted it so he could study the horns. “That means the things he rules over . . . they must be, as well.”

Dad took a moment. “I wouldn’t say their minds are the same as you and me –”

“But they are at least a little sentient. There’s something going on in those brains of theirs.”

“. . . Yes.”

I didn’t see Mogadon outside after that. He had almost immediately retreated to his guest home. The one time I checked on him, I peered through the window and saw him talking to his heir. Both of them looked pale.


“ . . . What happened here?”

Gobber’s question echoed. There seemed to be no life in this charred wasteland to answer him. Nothing green remained on the trees anymore – what was left of the trees, that is. Mostly, it was only the lower halves of tree trunks, as if a Timberjack had come by and levelled the entire area. Debris in the form of black branches lay in haphazard patterns, dusted with a grey coat of soot. It almost felt like we were in a winter wonderland.

“Fire. Big one.” Dad’s boots were covered in the same grey soot. “Hiccup scared away the Berserkers with it. Going to take a few years before the trees recover.”

“Well, that’s going to hurt production. We should think about building some quarries.”

They kept walking. I don’t know what, or if they were looking for anything. Maybe they were just stunned. With its healthy dragon population, Berk always had its fair share of forest fires, but I think they could tell something was different. Might have been the vibe I was giving off.

Above us, Terrors played. They tumbled wildly in the air, spiralling toward the ground like falling leaves, just to open their wings and ascend so they could do it again. It looked fun, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I didn’t have time to join them anyway, because one of them spotted something, and dove toward it with a shriek.

The others followed. They surrounded something on the ground, climbing over it and refusing to budge even when Dad nudged them with his foot. When he reached down and picked the shiny object up, it came attached to one Terror.

“This . . .” He rubbed his thumb over the helmet’s center, revealing a silver image of a Skrill. “This is a Berserker helmet.”

Gobber’s lips parted in surprise. “So you weren’t joking.”

“Hiccup,” Dad said sharply. “Go back to Berk.”

“Why?” I asked, landing on his shoulder. It was just a helmet –

No. It wasn’t.

“You don’t need to see this.” Dad dropped the helmet so that it covered the broken skull. “Go home.”

After a few stunned beats, I did.

I forced myself to think only about the flight. But once I had landed on my front step, nothing else existed to distract me. I knew Toothless was curled up inside, taking a nap. I didn’t want to wake him. I still wasn’t sure where me and Astrid stood. And after seeing that . . . I didn’t want to face any of my others friends.

I licked my dry lips. It was necessary. I knew it. Yet the world was spinning around me. How many . . . ? Had I managed to kill more than the entire village? It was necessary, my brain reminded me. I remembered Toothless knocking a female Viking unconscious; she wouldn’t have been able to run. Was that her helmet Dad had handled?

I felt sick.

Fire-breathing helped settle down my stomach. I breathed a soft, white flame that vanished into thin air before it hit anything. Little wisps clung to life for as long as possible before the wind put them out. Their tails curled skyward, directing my gaze away from my house. Over the village, the king was easily visible.

He’d understand, wouldn’t he? He must.

Somehow, the king had corralled the sheep so that they grazed in the pasture directly in front of him. He watched them with a lazy satisfaction, reaching a paw out to catch a straggler. Even the curious, admiring dragons hovering around him didn’t draw as much attention as those sheep.

You majesty, may I ask you something personal.

You may, the king said.

Have you ever killed someone?

Many times. The king turned a knowing eye on me. Haven’t you?

I have. There was the Red Death, and . . . I guess it’s just the scale of it bothering me. When Berk was attacked by the Berserkers, I lit the woods on fire and . . . I let them burn. I have no idea how many got away, or didn’t. I couldn’t let them get into the village. Before he could respond, I answered what I thought would be his point. A life’s a life, isn’t it?

The king shifted. Not for us, Hiccup. Our duty is to our kin foremost. It is our responsibility to strive for their protection and welfare, even at the cost of others. That is why our burden cannot be borne by anybody. We must do what is best for our own, not what is right.

I was silent for a while, digesting that. I . . . I don’t think I can agree.

I will not try to convince you. The king turned back to his adoptive herd. Human ways are different than ours. But if I may ask you a question, where is your cousin? I thought that he would have come to see me.

My body tensed. I told him everything that had happened. Then, when he didn’t say anything, I asked, What do you think?

It is not my place to judge, although I see you are displeased with the outcome.

She shouldn’t have told, I said. It wasn’t –

Hiccup, the king interrupted, I must ask: is it for Berk’s sake that you disapprove of your friend’s actions, or your own?

All I could do was stare.

Chapter Text

The door wasn’t opened so much as it exploded inward. Astrid, bristling, stood in her house’s threshold, eyes darting from side to side as they sought to find the knocker. It took her a while to look down and find me.

“Hey.”

“Hiccup.” Astrid ran her fingers through her hair. “I wasn’t expecting you to come by.”

I pointed past her. Her head turned quickly, as if she expected to see a snarling bear. “Uh, yeah,” she said. “You can come in.”

I walked inside. Stormfly tracked me with watchful eyes. While she hadn’t done anything to me yet, I was getting the impression that the Nadder was in a particularly bad mood. She was huffing and puffing her chest out, and her spines were exposed.

Astrid closed the front door. Facing away from me, she said, “This is about Snotlout, isn’t it?”

More or less.

“Hiccup, he nearly killed you!” She whirled around; her foot came down so hard the plates on the nearby table rattled. “That wasn’t some dumb prank. That wasn’t something where he could say he didn’t mean it and everything would be okay! He sold you out; he sold us out. He betrayed everyone! Why are you still protecting him?”

Her voice cracked. Through her impromptu speech, her pitch had grown higher and higher, wobbling with unsteady lilts. There were red rims around her eyes, like she had been crying earlier. The face I saw now wasn’t entirely composed; the mask had cracked. Acting on suspicion, I inhaled –

Yep. The twins had been here.

I hopped onto her table top. After dipping my claw in some gravy, I began to write. Astrid walked over, mumbling, “I have ink, you know.”

I understand why you did It, I wrote.

I’d bet it was the opposite of what she had heard from the twins. The mask cracked a little further. In a clear attempt to hide her slip, Astrid forced herself to take on more of that Strong Viking persona that Berk was accustomed to. Shoulders squared, her spine snapped straight, and she said, “So you get it. We’re okay, then?”

Not looking at her, I shook my head.

“But I . . . what else is there? Has this been about something else the whole time?”

I wrote, Not yours to tell.

Under her breath, she repeated the words to herself. The gears of her mind grinded to a temporary stop as she struggled to understand. “What do you mean?”

My story. I tell.

“You were going to tell them,” she said disbelievingly. When I hesitated, she snapped, ‘’No, you weren’t.”

My story. I put my paw in the space between those two words.

“But you weren’t going to say anything! That meant it was my job to tell them.”

I slammed my paw down and growled. My story.

“No, it isn’t!” she shrieked. It was shrill, and Stormfly starting hissing from her corner. “That’s not your call, Hiccup. You don’t get to decide who is and isn’t guilty!”

I stared her down. Neither do you.

Her composure splintered under my glower. “He’s a traitor. He betrayed us! Why doesn’t anyone understand that!”

She stomped around the room pulling at her hair, and grinding her teeth together in an attempt not to scream. Stormfly clucked, concerned. I didn’t like this. It was one thing to upset Astrid like this; it was another to do it when I wasn’t really in a place to comfort her or communicate properly.

She screeched to a stop by the window, standing there as she looked outside. Now that things were beginning to calm, I felt uneasy. It was easier when she was visibly upset, because then I had the ‘responsibility’ to keep things calm and orderly. Without that buffer, my nerves pulled tight.

“Would you be doing this if it had been Mildew?” Astrid asked quietly.

Huh? I cocked my head.

Astrid turned to face me. “Can you honestly tell me that this has nothing to do with him being your cousin?”

It was eerily similar to what the king had asked me. Just as it had then, my heart stuttered.

“Hiccup.”

A beat. I looked away. But without looking at her or the table, I wrote something else:

You too.

When she saw that, her face paled. Red-rimmed eyes desperately tried to meet mine.

“Fine. It’s true!” She kicked Stormfly’s water bowl across the room, painting the wall with a plume of water. “I was mad. Part of it was personal; I thought he was getting what he deserved. But that’s not the only reason I did it! I didn’t do it just because I hated him. I did because he was a traitor. He turned on us first!”

Her mask broke. Angry tears dripped from her eyes and when she noticed, it just upset her further. “I did it because I’m loyal to Berk. Not because of some stupid feud. How can anyone think I’m that kind of person?”

I was supposed to be angry right now, or righteous. At the least, I was supposed to be listening to her as a judge would - with a cool head. But how could I? I knew for sure now what had occurred between her and the twins, and whether she had been crying earlier.

I crawled up to the other end of the table where Astrid was a mere foot away, wiping her eyes. She took a step back so she didn’t have to look down at me.

“I thought I was helping,” she said, mutely begging for support. “I thought it was the right thing to do. But it’s like all I did was make everything worse.”

“Astrid . . .” With one beat of my wings, I propelled myself into her chest. She caught me, grip unsure. Then it tightened, and I had to spread my wings a bit just to keep her arms from crushing my lungs. Stormfly nuzzled her from behind, cooing.

“Ruff and Tuff hate me.” She sobbed. Salty tears dripped onto my back. “Fishlegs is avoiding me. Even your dad wouldn’t look me in the eye when I told everyone the truth. And after Gothi made her judgement, he looked so disappointed . . . I don’t understand what I did wrong.”

I buried my snout in her neck. “It’s not you,” I croaked. “It’s not you he’s disappointed with. It’s Snotlout. Maybe me. I shouldn’t have given you that burden to begin with. Not until I knew what I wanted done with it.”

I closed my eyes, and breathed in her scent. Her body shook against mine. I regretted this: everything that had happened between us since we returned. I had messed up with how I handled things, that was for sure. And if I were honest with myself, after listening to her and that private conversation with the king, I doubted myself. Maybe . . . maybe she had been in the right. Or at least, not as wrong as I thought before.

I curled my tail around her arm, and waited until she cried herself out. It took a few minutes. When it was over, she took a couple more to collect herself. Her skin grew hot during that time as she blushed. Yet despite her embarrassment, she didn’t seem ready to let me go.

She finally hiccupped, “Are you still mad at me?”

I wriggled out of her arms. The moment I was free, her face twisted. She feared this was more than just a breaking of physical contact. I hopped onto the table, and underlined two words I had wrote prior.

I understand


The king only spent a night or two in Berk, mostly so he could rest. He and Dad spent quite a bit of time together, even if it was just in silence. On the other hand. Mogadon avoided him like the plague. I did spot Thuggory peeking at the great dragon a few times, however.

But eventually, it became time for us to go. Dad passed control of Berk off to Gobber and Mogadon, and then we made our goodbyes. Astrid was the most reluctant. Although I had spoken to them, things were still tense between her and the other teens. I had told her about my impending journey after those confessions at her house though, so she had been given a few days to prepare for my absence.

(“Is this your way of breaking up with me?” she had asked.

I had snuggled up close, and licked her cheek. Never.)

I had offered to let the king take a sheep back with him. He declined when I couldn’t say for sure if they were able to live off ferns.

It took us longer to reach the Nest with the king than it had without him. While his majesty was a fast swimmer, he wasn’t faster than us. And, I was learning, the king was old. He could eat along the way and even toss Toothless and Skullcrusher some fish here and there, but he couldn’t swim for a half day without needing to rest. During those times, he lingered near the water’s surface. Toothless, Skullcrusher and I often landed on his back to conserve our strength.

At least a week later, we arrived. Grinning, I looked back at Dad. Nothing too impressive yet. Just a fortress constructed from ice. But Dad had dug his heels into the stirrup so that he was able to stand and see it better. Oh, boy. Just wait until we got inside.

The king disappeared below the waves. Toothless guided us inside, this time without creating his own entrance. I plunged after him, Skullcrusher following me closely.

All the icy walls still held thanks to their crystal supports, but without the king’s maintenance, they had begun to melt. More light than I remembered poured through the tunnels that would take us to the Nest’s core. Pools of water had spread across the rocky ground, rippling as our passage disturbed them.

“These . . . this can’t be real, can it?” Dad said. “Nothing like this could occur naturally.”

I grinned wider.

We were almost inside. I could taste the plants within. Toothless slowed down. Maybe he was prolonging the moment – that joker. . .

He showed teeth.

“Toothless?”

He kept going, but his wingbeats were no longer carefree. They were purposeful. No sound came from him, but my body seemed to vibrate as if he were growling. I had no idea what was setting him off. Maybe his memories of this place weren’t that great? In his eyes, they had kind of kidnapped me, after all.

No. That wasn’t it. As we approached the last turn, it finally dawned on me. It was really quiet. Really, really quiet. And while I could smell dragons, the smells weren’t right.

They were stale.

Something was wrong.

We burst into the main chamber. The pure greenness of life hurt our eyes until they adjusted. The same warm air, the same ferns and lichens, greeted me with a wafty hello. Waterfalls and pools sloshed. It was as rich and welcoming as I remembered.

But there were no dragons.

Toothless and I touched down on the ledge overlooking the king’s pool. We didn’t speak, or look at each other. We only looked at the empty Nest in horror.

Having dismounted, Dad took slow steps across the moss-covered rocks. “This is magnificent!”

No. No. It wasn’t! A bubble of pressure made me want to scream at him. This wasn’t at all magnificent. This was all wrong! Couldn’t he tell?

Then, I smelt dragons. Dragons that were actually here. My whole body sagged. If the king had told them to play a joke on us, that had not been funny –

A baby Scuttleclaw peeked out from under a fern. Soon, we were surrounded by at least two dozen pairs of eyes.

My heart completely stopped when I realized they all belonged to baby dragons.

They rushed out, completely ignoring me and Dad, and making a beeline for the two adult dragons. They swarmed our dragons, whining and keening, licking and rubbing their snouts against the adults’ necks.

Begging for food.

Toothless and Skullcrusher spat up their catch. We hadn’t eaten recently though and the fish that came out were half-digested and stunk. But the babies didn’t seem to mind, and they snarled and fought over it as if it was fresh from the oven.

“They’re cute,” Dad offered, but his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.

I heard the king surfacing. I ran back over to the ledge where I could see his spines poking out of the water. I didn’t wait for him to fully emerge before I demanded, Your majesty, where is everyone?

. . . I don’t know. My tendrils flared as the king sent out a mental pulse. And another. But the only living things that answered him was the horde of babies that poured out of their hiding places.

Stop, the king ordered, I cannot hear all of you at once.

I couldn’t hear the conversations going on between him and the children. I intended to wait until he saw it fit to inform me, but Toothless came crawling up. His back was hunched; his chin dripped so low it almost grazed his paws, which were positioned next to each other so that they touched. His eyes were big and wide. This was his Something Very Bad Has Happened face.

“What is it?” I asked him.

Toothless led me to a tunnel that took us out of the main chamber. We ran across Skullcrusher before long, who was snorting and pacing. Nearby, was an alcove in the crystal walls. Inside, there was a large, horned shadow – Dad. He was on his knees, cradling something that even in this low light, I could tell he handled as gently as he could. The thing he held had reached out in turn, and laid a hand upon his cheek –

MOM!

Sharp crystals dug into my paws. I pounded my way into the alcove, and skidded to a stop. Dad glanced at me, tears in his eyes, and squeezed the small hand in his tighter. There was no response from Valka who continued to stare at him, her breathing shallow. I propped myself up on her hip with one paw, gaping. I . . . what was happening? I touched her, just to prove this was real.

“Wh-what happened? Dad, what happened?!”

“Hiccup . . . you came, too.” Valka smiled, but her mouth opened too wide. Like she lacked the strength to keep it closed. “This must be my last happy dream.”

“Stop. Stop!” She needed to stop talking. Didn’t she know how much energy that took? I tried to bunch up her clothes. They crackled with dried blood. I grabbed Dad’s cape instead and pulled it over her. She needed to stay warm. Gobber always said that. Keep them warm in case of shock. Then go look for the medical supplies –

Stupid! There wasn’t any. This wasn’t Berk. Maybe if I scavenged. . . she must have kept something around. There must have been something.

“Don’t leave me.” Her whimper froze my paws to the ground. “Don’t leave me again.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Dad said, his own voice warped and high.

She sobbed. “He took them. He took all of them, Stoick!”

“Who?”

“Drago Bludvist.” She wailed, choking out another sob at the end. “It’s my fault! The king was right. I should have been the one to go. It’s my fault the Nest was unprotected. I let him take them all. I’ve lost everyone!”

“Shh. No you haven’t. You still have us.” Dad stroked her cheek. He rubbed their noses together. “Hiccup and I are here now.”

He waved me over. No. No, no, no. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t get closer. I . . . I had to get help. I had to find the supplies.

“Hiccup . . .”

I backed away. It was too crowded in here. There wasn’t enough air. I needed to breathe. I couldn’t breathe in here.

“Hiccup, don’t.”

I stopped. I waddled forward. My legs jerked and trembled. Dad radiated strength and courage. In my mind’s eye, he was like a sun. I needed that. Maybe the warmth would make me stop feeling so numb.

“Hiccup . . .” Valka touched my cheek. Her fingers sparked. “I’m sorry I was such a coward.”

Dad said something to her, but I didn’t listen. I brushed her with my claws. I sniffed her. I pushed my head into her hand. She was still warm. She was still alive.

I crawled onto her chest. Despite the circumstances in which we had last seen each other, she was delighted to see me. It felt like someone had reached inside, and pulled out all my organs so that I was hollow. She was so happy to see me. How could she be so happy when she was bleeding on the ground like this? I know, I know. I hadn’t been the most grateful when we had found each other again, but . . . she was my mother. And I had just met her again.

“Don’t do this,” I murmured. “I’ve barely even known you . . . please don’t do this to me now.”

I’d hardly gotten out that last word before the entire Nest shook.

Crystals rattled, and ice shards fell and scattered on the floor. Dad hunched over Mom and me protectively, swirling his cape to cover us both. Toothless and Skullcrusher cringed, pressing themselves flat against the crystal walls in fear.

I squirmed out from under the cape. The king was bellowing. It was violent and ferocious and made my blood roar in my ears. Was he in trouble? Was he challenging something?

Had he found the one who did this?

I ignored Dad’s cries as I hurdled toward the main chamber. Toothless screeched and charged after me. I ignored him, too. He . . . she . . . Drago Bludvist. He needed to be taken down.

I burst into the main chamber. Your majesty! What -?

He screamed. The king swung his head around . . . and rammed his tusks straight into the Nest’s wall. The entire island shook. The king pitched forward, slamming his tusks again and again into the wall until it gave way. He tore at the hole, flinging Nightmare-sized chunks into the pools around him, until too much of his weight lay upon the wall and an entire section gave way. The king fell through, landing on his feet, and he screamed again in pain and grief.

It deafened the world. There was no more sound. None except the king’s breathing as he panted for breath. His heaving chest swelled and contracted, so extreme in the latter stages that I could count his ribs.

Food, the old king’s voice said. They need food.

I shivered. Even taking that one step forward felt like I was getting too close to him. We could help –

NO !

I leapt backward, burrowing into Toothless’s side. He curled around me, ears flat against his head.

The king took a few deep breaths. No. Stay. Protect the children.

He trudged out of the Nest, and slipped into the water.

Chapter Text

“Easy does it. Good boy.” With a last tug, Dad untied the ropes around Skullcrusher’s side. Bundles of wood clattered to the ground. He picked up some and threw them into the smouldering fire.

“How is she?” he asked as he approached us by the fire.

I lifted my wings in a shrug. She was sleeping. Had spent most of the day like that. Not a good sleep, though. It was fitful, and full of mumbles and whimpers. She woke up from time to time, but never seemed fully conscious when she did.

Dad knelt by her head. His shadow passed over me and Toothless who were curled up beside her; Toothless gave her back something to lean against, while I had curled up in the space between her arm and armpit. Dad took a bit of his cape, and used to wipe her pale forehead.

“We passed by a couple of marooned ships,” Dad said, “but when the crew jumped ship, they must have taken their medical supplies with them. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

We waited there in the quiet. The fire shone green in Toothless’s eyes. Dad had shifted Valka’s head so that it rested on his legs. He combed her hair gently, softly humming a song from times gone by. She looked so small; Dad had removed her armour so that we could see her wounds, and ripped apart her cape to make bandages. We’d recovered her staff and mask, and placed it by her head. I had found the shield, too, or what was left of it.

“She’ll be alright, Hiccup.” His hand curled into a fist. “It’s not too bad. There’s been plenty of people who have survived worse.”

I almost bought it.

The shadows thickened. Toothless slept. Mom and Dad were wreathed in ethereal firelight. Dad had been worried about us inhaling smoke, so he had painstakingly moved her out of the alcove and into the main tunnel. Now, the alcove lurked behind them, gaping like a giant mouth and swallowing the light.

At some point, Dad started to snore. Mom’s head was still in his lap, and one of his hands still entangled in her hair. Skullcrusher acted as a hard pillow for him. Without Dad to maintain it, the fire began to die. With each bit of light it lost, more of him was thrown into darkness.

I stood up. I didn’t make it more than a foot away before Toothless’s eyes snapped open.

“Want to walk with me?”

Our claws clicked. They were sharp noises that broke up the otherwise throaty cloud of Dad and Skullcrusher’s snoring. Here in the dark, enough moonlight passed through the icy celling that I could see in shades of silver. In a circle around me, the ground was the color of slate; outside that, almost black. The ceiling was almost white. Pools gleamed the colour of polished steel, while falling droplets seemed to glow like fireflies. The only exception to this silver rule was Toothless, whose eyes still flashed green whenever he looked upward.

The main chamber was asleep. Rubble from the king’s rampage lay all over the ground. He, himself, slept in his signature pool with baby dragons covering every inch of his back. He’d fed them earlier, and even gone overboard in doing so; there were still fish lying around on land and in the water. Some of the latter were still alive.

“I still can’t believe this,” I whispered. “I know Eret’s crew worked for Drago, but how could they have taken down a whole Nest like this? What is he?”

Toothless groaned his rarely-heard echolocation roar. He swept over the Nest with it, as if still unable to believe that almost everyone was gone. Without the king’s rambunctious flock, the Nest felt more like a prison than a home. The air was cold and sterile. The walls seemed to fold in so that even with all the empty space, the chamber appeared smaller than it had during our first visit. Even the steady sound of the king’s breathing was no longer comforting, but like the shifting of a building about to collapse.

“It’s no use. There’s nothing here.”

Toothless nuzzled my back. His paw hooked over my shoulder and pulled me into his chest. He cooed lightly. Our heartbeats aligned. I knew he wasn’t trying to comfort me over the Nest’s missing inhabitants.

I broke.

“I don’t want her to die!” I curled into him and squashed my cheek against his strong muscles. “It’s not fair. Why do I have to lose her again?”

Toothless leaned his weight on me, bringing us down to the ground, but not quite pinning me. He shifted so that my head was between his paws, and one of his legs passed over my body. His tail swung around, boxing me in further.

“I was so stupid. If I hadn’t let myself be kidnapped, or hadn’t spent so much time fooling around here before, they wouldn’t have found out about the Berserks. The king would have been here to protect them. I wish I never found this place!”

Toothless patiently waited my rant out. His sad scent was all around me. He licked me from my tail all the way up to the back of my head. And did it again, and again; smooth and steady, like a caress. Each time, the lick said something else:

Not your fault. It’s okay. I’m here. I love you.

I’ll always be here.


Despite Dad’s best efforts, we had arrived too late. Mom passed on in the early morning. I didn’t realize anything was wrong at first, until Dad’s mournful wail filled the tunnel. Then the silence coming from the body struck me along with the chilling scent of death, and I wondered how I could have missed it.

She didn’t have much in the way of clothes. Dad replaced those he could, and thoroughly washed the rest. He couldn’t get all the blood out, but at least her clothes no longer looked like they had been dyed in blood. He carefully strapped on her armour after that (“A Viking should be laid to rest in nothing less,” he said), and while he didn’t put the mask on her face, he placed it on her chest along with her staff. The babies watched us; they sniffed and a few even darted forward to nudge her hand, but otherwise accepted it quickly. The king said nothing to me, but he stared at her a long time before returning to his lonely pool.

As Dad folded her hand over the staff, Toothless came up behind me. I expected to feel his heat against me, but didn’t quite get that. Toothless prodded me with his snout, huffing and flicking his ears in a different direction. Come with me. I want to show you something.

“Not now.” I hissed. When Toothless insisted, I snapped at him and snarled.

“Shh.” Dad’s fingers ran down my back. With the back of his hand, he nudged Toothless away. “It’s alright. Save it for the one who’s responsible.”

With a shudder, I did my best to smother my anger. Dad’s demeanour was so calm and loving even as everything about his wife screamed Dead! I envied that. I wish I could be like him. But how do you even begin to become someone that great?

Dad stood slowly. “Those ships I found early are too damaged to carry her, but there was a pinnace on one of them. It should be seaworthy.”

He whistled for and saddled Skullcrusher quickly. The babies, realizing two of the three adults were about to leave, squeaked and whistled in alarm. The king didn’t stir. Back facing all of us, he stayed in his pool.

Then, just as I was about to take off and join the others, the king spoke. Where are you going?

We’re going to grab something from one of the shipwrecks. It’s for her.

. . . I will come with you.

As promised, the king shadowed us to the wreck. He surfaced as Dad tugged at the pinnace, trying to wrestle it free. Ice had caught most of the back half, anchoring the pinnace securely. At least, it was secure until Skullcrusher rammed it. The first time, deep, jagged cracks appeared. After a second go, it broke completely.

“We got a bit of extra ice here,” Dad muttered. “So long as it floats. We need to figure out how to carry it now –”

The boat rocked. The king had rubbed it against it. He lowered himself so that his back was level with the deck.

Dad and I glanced at each other. Then, with the dragons’ help, we dragged the pinnace toward the waiting king. Even with his spines, it was rather easy to find a place to put it. Afterwards, we tore planks from the deck for fuel later, and piled them onto the king’s back.

By the time we dropped the supplies on the beach and returned to the Nest, I’m sure the babies all had a chance to sniff Mom. Very few of them still studied her, but they hadn’t ventured far away. Either way, they all shrieked and swarmed us when we entered. The king rumbled and endured the clinging babies patiently. I’m sure he must have told them he’d return soon, but they all acted like he’d been away for a year.

“I’ll carry her,” Dad said. “You three wait outside.”

Once again, the king joined us. He remained on shore, with the babies cluttered on his back. Toothless sat by me, but Skullcrusher was sniffing at something by a cluster of rocks. Whatever. I wasn’t going to ruin this just to yell at him.

Dad walked through the hole his majesty had created yesterday. He held Mom in his arms, his upper arm cradling her head so it didn’t flop back. The mask rested safely in her lap, but he held the staff in one hand. It dragged against the ground, carving a deep groove into the earth.

He stopped as his feet met sand, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the outside light. He murmured, “It’s a beautiful day. The kind you love.”

The pinnace was waiting. It was nothing fancy, but at least we had been able to pile those boards to make a crude pyre for her. Dad laid her on top, arranging her so that her hand was folded over her staff and mask again.

“Skullcrusher.” At the sound of his rider’s call, the dragon came thundering over. Dad reached into one of his saddlebags, and pulled out a baby-sized axe. He chuckled, but it sounded forced. “You remember this, don’t you, Valka? You nearly took Gobber’s other hand when Hiccup got this for his first birthday. I wanted Hiccup to come in swinging it. Thought you might get a kick out of that.”

He tilted the axe so that his eye looked back at him from the head. Then he placed it back into the saddlebag, and pulled out a small knife. “We don’t have much to send you off with. I didn’t expect . . . I pilfered some of your things when we went looking for nicer clothes. Nothing fit for any wife of mine, but . . . better than nothing, I suppose.”

He placed the knife by her side. Wordlessly, arm jerky and pale like he was sick, he removed several other things from the saddlebag and placed them next to her. Most were things we had found in her “room” inside the Nest. Others were knickknacks brought from home that must have meant something to them. I stalked over from where I had been watching with Toothless, and jumped onto the saddlebag. Dad said nothing as I removed that baby-sized axe and added it to her pile. With tears in his eyes, Dad looked at me and nodded, approving.

Then, he took off his helmet.

This time, the tears fell. He smiled and said, “Got to make sure they know she’s one of us.”

He placed it on her chest right next to the mask.

The pinnace set sail. It drifted away slowly, like it didn’t want to leave. The sail, rolled up tight, shivered as a cold wind caught it. The oars – four on one side, three-and-a-half on the other – made ripples that marked their journey.

“Dad . . .” I drew a triangle in the sand, and a line that attached to the bottom edge. “We don’t have any arrows.”

He looked at the drawing. “It might be best we don’t have those. Her life was all about the dragons, wasn’t it?”

I understood immediately. I took some time to steel myself; this was just another duty. It had to be done. And it was for her . It was . . . it was the least I could do after everything. Toothless tried to follow me, but I barked and growled until he understood to stay.

She looked so peaceful. In death, her lips had parted a little, just like Dad’s did when he began snoring. He’d torn off the ragged edges of her cape so that while it was shorter, she looked more regal. Like a queen. That cape fanned out from under her body, but Dad had rolled up the sides so that they enclosed the grave goods we’d sent her off with. The arm not over her chest lay delicately by her side. Near the hand was a jade necklace, the chain strewn in her direction, as if she had tried to pull it to her one last time.

“I’m so sorry, Mom.” I wish I could cry; if not for myself, then at least for her.

With my nose I found the driest part of the ship. I set it alight.

It was slow going. Little grey curls danced along the ship’s deck like low-lying fog. The remaining ice glistened as the hungry flames grew. Drops of water fell upon the wood, only to immediately evaporate with a sizzle. I hovered above the boat, following along as the current took it further from shore. Dad grew smaller and smaller in the background.

As the fire grew and coughed up dark smoke, it became harder to see her. I held onto what patches I could spot, and they dragged me along like an iron chain. But the time came eventually. The wood around her glowed red as her face disappeared under the smoke for the last time. And with that, it struck me. It was done. She was gone. Really gone.

This time, she wouldn’t come back.

I returned to shore, still tasting smoke. Dad waited there, eyes closed, head bowed, and hands clasped pressed together in prayer. He opened his eyes as I hovered in front of him. His hands turned so that they were palm-up and I could land. His beard was thick with tears.

“The only thing worse than losing someone is losing them again,” he said. Yet even through his grief, he found the strength to smile. “I’m glad I could be there with her in the end. That I could know that she died surrounded by those who loved her. I think that’s why the gods let us find her again: so that we could make sure she reached her proper place in the afterlife. I just hope we gave her some peace before she died.”

I pressed my forehead against his, and whimpered. I don’t think I was capable of speech. I felt rank and greasy inside, like my heart was rotting between my ribs.

He held me close, crying silently to himself. His hand rubbed up and down on my back, as he had done long ago when I was young. I lay limp. I didn’t want to move anymore.

Hiccup, said the king as he retreated back into the Nest, when you are ready, come find me. We must discuss what happened here.

I didn’t respond.

In the distance, Mom’s pyre burned. It was like a far-off lantern guiding us home. Dad whistled under his breath. I turned and stared at the ship, unable to take my eyes off it.

“I’ll swim and sail on savage seas . . .”

Pressed up against his neck, I could feel his throat vibrate as he sung softly.

“. . . with ne’er a fear of drowning.”

The tones were low and melodic, like a lullaby.

“And gladly ride the waves of life . . .”

His grip slackened. Before I fell, I scrambled onto his shoulder.

“ . . . if you would marry me.”

He dropped onto his knees, and sobbed. I pressed against him, ears tucked against my skull so I didn’t have to hear. It was . . . this was the end. She wasn’t coming back.

Toothless came up. He huffed and flicked his ears. I want to show you something.

“Go away!” I snapped.

But he insisted. Finally, to avoid him bothering Dad, I listened. Toothless led me to where Skullcrusher was waiting. The Rumblehorn had returned to that cluster of rocks, sniffing at something in the sand. Whatever it was, it was crumbled and scaly –

A cloak. I sniffed it.

It hadn’t belonged to her.

I had to take a second to calm myself down. “Skullcrusher, can you track it?”

Skullcrusher cocked his head.

“Track it. Skullcrusher, track it!” My tendrils flared as I slammed my paws onto the cloak. I inhaled; it hadn’t been touched for a couple of days, but there was enough scent to memorize it. Male. Older male, about Dad’s age. A warrior. The cloak reeked of spilt blood. I doubted much of it was his.

Skullcrusher glanced at Dad. His shoulders shook as he sobbed into his hands.

I shook my head. “No. Give him time to grieve.”

As for me, I would grieve later. I was going to find Drago Bludvist. I didn’t know what I would do when I found him, but I would find him.

I had to find him.

I took a rock and slashed a quick message in the sand to Dad in huge letters. The message was right behind him so he wouldn’t miss it. Then, we took off. Skullcrusher should have led but once we had the general direction, I pulled ahead of him. I had to. He was flying too slow. It felt like my wings weren’t catching enough air and I would fall, even though I had flown at much more leisurely speeds before.

Perhaps a few minutes later, my tendrils flared.

Hiccup, said the king’s sharp voice, where are you going?

It took longer than usual to understand him. Despite the harshness of his tone, he was much quieter than I was used to. We must have been close to leaving his telepathy range.

We have Drago Bludvist’s scent, I told his majesty. We’re tracking him.

. . . We? Who else is with you? Hiccup, you must return to the Nest!

I bared my teeth. No. Not until I find him.

Hiccup! Even with the diminished volume, I could tell he was yelling. You are leading them into a trap!

An image flashed in front of my eyes. I forced myself not to look at it, to see through it to our destination. From the scene I caught however, it seemed to be some muddied-up vision of the king.

We’re not going to fight him, I said back. I just need to find him. Then you and I can take Drago on together.

Hiccup -!

I can’t stand around here and do nothing!

Return at once! bellowed the king. It is not Drago Bludvist that we must fight against. There is –

I tucked in my tendrils and shut him out. He was wrong. Drago Bludvist did this. Mom told me so. I was going to find him for Dad and the king, and then we . . . I . . .

We would end him.

I could still hear the king shouting at me, but with my tendrils tucked in, his voice was a buzz and easily ignored. Toothless barked; his tendrils were flared and his eyes didn’t seem to be right. He and Skullcrusher had slowed to a near-stop.

“Come on.” I barked at them. When they hesitated, I repeated myself. “Come on!”

They did.

Chapter Text

We flew well into the night. At some point indistinguishable from the others, I saw the fleet. It was at least two dozen strong; definitely an army. All of them were the big ships that Eret and his crew had manned. There was no sign of the missing dragons; I bet they were being kept prisoner below deck.

I got as close as I dared. “Okay guys, time to turn back . . . Guys?”

Toothless and Skullcrusher shot past me.

“Guys!”

They headed straight for the ships. I cursed; they didn’t intend to fight, did they? Toothless could be bold, but he wasn’t usually that bold. Either way, I had no choice but to follow as they descended on one ship that appeared to be the flagship

They landed right on the deck.

“Are you guys crazy?” I hissed. “What if someone had seen you -?”

“Well,” said a deep, dangerous voice, “look who decided to drop in. I’ve been waiting to meet you for a while, Hiccup.”

I didn’t need to ask. I knew this was him. Every inch of my body shivered, ready for the showdown.

I turned.

Drago Bludvist looked like a madman. While we Vikings weren’t exactly known for our hygiene, at least we knew how to groom. Drago had tied his dark hair off into dreadlocks, but it didn’t stop anyone from seeing how matted it looked - like the wool of a sheep that had never been sheared. The braids fell around a gaunt, leather-hewn face with eye sockets that sunk too deep and a sharp nose dividing it down the center. His bottom lip was much thicker than the upper one, casting the illusion that his lower jaw stuck out. Long scars – like claw-marks – littered his face; they struck across his forehead, slashed down his temple and through his lip, and underlined his eyes. Each one rose from his skin like a bulging vein.

Like the Lava Louts, Drago had a cloak made from what smelt like dragon-skin. He held it in front of him, so that it covered his left arm. In his other hand, he held what appeared to be a metal bullhook that also had a spear-like tip. Under his cloak, almost all of the rest of his clothes were made of dragon-skin. The scales flickered every time he moved, like I was viewing a field of stars in a rippling pool.

“Hiccup Horrendous Haddock.” Drago licked his lips. “Berk’s great Dragon Master.”

He smelt like blood. My head swam. In my dizziness, I thought I smelt her. Had I? Was it her? Was it her blood that clung to him like a shroud?

“When you escaped from my best trapper, I thought I’d have to go to Berk myself. But here you are.” He grinned nastily, exposing gap-riddled teeth. “Within my grasp.”

“You destroyed the Nest,” I whispered. “You’re the man behind everything that happened to me. And you . . . you . . .”

Fire boiled in my belly.

“You killed her. You killed my mother.”

My claws dug into the deck. My back arched.

“I’m taking you down!”

My tail shoved against the ground with my paws, propelling me forward. My mouth opened in a silent roar, and the boiling fire bubbled up my throat –

Something big grabbed me by the tail. I stopped short in mid-air, and then flew backwards. The wooden deck slammed into my side, and I rolled from the momentum. Drago was sneering; his left lip had lifted while the right side remained in its permanent frown. How had he . . .? He hadn’t even moved! But I didn’t smell any other humans on the deck.

I found my footing, and growled. I wouldn’t make the same mistake. This time, I’d fry him where he stood –

Something big tackled me. The deck crushed my chest and forced out my breath in a whoosh. Before I could move, a great weight came down on the spot between my shoulder blades, pinning me. My teeth slid out. I turned my head, ready to bite –

I froze.

“T-Toothless?”

His paw didn’t move. His teeth flashed between his jaws as he growled. At me. But most terrifying of all were his eyes. His pupils had contracted to mere slits, black cracks in the otherwise luminescent green. If they thinned any further, they would disappear completely. They were the eyes of a dragon that was not themself.

The eyes of a dragon operating under another’s will.

I tore my gaze away and looked across the ship. Skullcrusher teetered on his feet, the same vague look in his eyes. Drago passed between us suddenly, and he seemed to swell until he filled my vision. His cloak moved and beneath it, was more metal – his arm. Just like my human-self’s leg, his left arm wasn’t made of flesh.

“Do you see?” Drago asked me. “I have all the power here.”

“Toothless, snap out of it! Toothless, it’s me!” As Drago’s heavy footsteps came closer, I scratched at the deck. “What did you do to him?”

Drago held up his bullhook. I flinched. But he only spun it over his head and screamed like a crazy person.

Behind him, a shadow rose from the water.

“No . . .”

The same majestic crown of spines; the same blue eyes; the same size. But this couldn’t be the king. Because the king was calm and wise, but this Bewilderbeast looked as vicious as Drago. Needle-like teeth peppered the dragon’s mouth in a ghoulish scowl. This Bewilderbeast was not white like his majesty, but a muddy brown. Its tusks curved out and up, and each one was adorned with a manacle and chain that fell somewhere below the waves.

“Do you know what this is, Hiccup?” Drago asked.

As he ranted on about how this was the alpha of dragons, I tuned him out. I met the Bewilderbeast’s shadowed eyes. Who are you?

He spoke to me. You are the one we have been searching for? A hatchling?

What -?

I could . . . I could feel him inside my head. Nothing like the king’s gentle presence. The stranger’s mental claws tore into my mind, burning like ice. My brain pounded as if a series of explosions had gone off inside my skull.

What is your true form? the Bewilderbeast demanded.

My train of thought automatically turned to the answers to those questions. The Bewilderbeast snatched up each image, scanning it before throwing it aside. I couldn’t stop him. He grabbed each one by the tail, and dragged the main body out into the open.

You’re just a crippled human, the Bewilderbeast sneered. And now a frail hatchling. Pathetic.

What are you? I said. You’re not an alpha.

I am. The Bewilderbeast’s eyes widened, making him look further deranged.

No! You’re nothing like the king. You’re a tyrant!

I am power, spoke the tyrant. I am strength. I am alpha.

Those three words awoke a rage inside me that wasn’t human. I don’t follow you! dragon-me screeched.

Toothless bounced my head off the deck.

“Careful!” Drago barked. “He might not be any good to us damaged.”

The tyrant huffed in irritation. To me, he said, Your ruler isn’t here. Your companions obey me. And if your dear king does appear, I will slay him.

“I win, Hiccup,” Drago said. He pointed his bullhook at me. “Now, submit.”

My tail lashed. Never.

Drago’s face twisted into an ugly expression. Still pointing that bullhook, he roared at the tyrant. “Make him bow!”

The king’s pupils seemed to glint; they grew and contracted rapidly. An intense pressure settled on my mind, threatening to smother it into unconsciousness. I blinked, shook my head. Colours leaked and mixed as the world swirled and swam.

Bow.

No way.

Bow !

Shut up!”

As the tyrant stared at the little, bristling dragon who had defied his wishes, he looked nothing less than stunned. Drago waited, unable to hear us speaking. Time ticked by. Sailors – Drago’s men – gathered in the trapdoor that led below deck. None of them ventured above; they seemed more frightened of their master than me. Drago shifted, finally realizing that I wasn’t ever about to bow to someone like him.

“Like the hatchlings at the Nest,” he said, disgusted. “It doesn’t matter. You understand my words. You will obey me.”

He closed in. His boot rose; its shadow fell over me –

I spat fire. Drago jerked sideways, and the fireball careened past him and harmlessly into the open sky.

“Very well.” He marched over to the trap door, where his sailors nearly tripped over themselves getting away. He held his hand out, gesturing at someone, and a sheathed sword was passed between hands until it reached Drago. He pulled out the blade, letting its tip clack against the ground. “Consider this a warning, Hiccup.”

He walked up to Skullcrusher. He grabbed the dragon’s horn with his free hand.

I said, “Wait, what are you doing? . . . No! NO, STOP-!”

Snck.

“Make sure you understand,” Drago said. “You’re mine, now.”

He let go. Dad’s dragon crashed to the floor. The Rumblehorn’s eyes were directly on me, but they saw nothing.

“You . . . you. . . Skullcrusher . . .”

Drago’s leering shadow blocked out the light. I shook. This was the face of a killer. This was the kind of monster that shouldn’t exist outside nightmares and stories. Dad was right. Drago Bludvist was a madman. I shouldn’t have come here.

“No tricks, Hiccup,” Drago said. With each sentence, he took another step toward me. “No funny business or any of the like. You obey me. You do what I tell you.”

My paws left red streaks on the wood. They hurt; blood oozed from the skin wrapped around my claws’ base. Toothless held me in place. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t get away. Oh, Skullcrusher, I’m so sorry . . .

Drago continued. “And if you dare try to flee . . .”

When he grabbed Toothless’s snout, it moved him enough for me to squirm free. I stumbled right into the ship’s rail, collapsing in a heap. My pulse was so fast that it hurt. My gaze was locked on Toothless’s blank eyes. Toothless . . . Toothless, look at me. Please, see me . . .

Drago wrenched Toothless’s head back and pressed the blood-stained blade against his throat.

NO! No, please! Don’t hurt him! I’ll do anything!”

I threw myself at his feet. The wind howled, picking up little red droplets from Skullcrusher’s limp body and rolling them over the deck. I couldn’t look anymore. I kept picturing Toothless on the ground with the same dead eyes as Skullcrusher. Please! Pleasepleaseplease don’t hurt him!

Thump.

My heart stopped.

Don’t look. Don’t look. I hid my face under my wing. I couldn’t. If I looked up and saw blood, I couldn’t handle it. If I could turn back time and swap places with him, I would.

“You care for it?” I expected smugness from Drago; I got surprise.

I lifted my wing.

He was okay. He was alive. Without Drago holding his head up, it had fallen against the deck, but Toothless was alive. The only blood on him was that which had been passed on by the sword.

“I think we understand each other,” Drago said. “You disappear, the dragon dies. Now, bow.”

I had to focus to move each leg; the joints moved like they were clogged with sand. None of this felt real. Was that really my body moving? Was that me controlling it? I seemed to be somewhere else, watching as some invisible being manipulated my limbs. I could feel my body’s position, but in the vague, instinctive way that you knew which way your hair fell.

“Good.”

The sword touched the back of my neck. It was warm and slippery. I tried to ignore the wetness sliding down my neck, but the more I told myself not to think about it, the more I inevitably did. The ship rocked violently under me as I swallowed.

You are weak, the tyrant taunted me. You lost long before this moment.

“Where’s Ragnok?” I flinched so violently at Drago’s shout that I nearly cut myself, but he wasn’t talking to me. “Someone wake him!”

Time passed. I don’t know how long, but my muscles shook and I thought I might pass out.

A scrawny man, with arms and legs too long for his body, appeared on deck. His huge blue eyes blinked rapidly, and the thing that was supposed to be his beard looked more like a tuff. When he walked, it was with an odd stiffness, like he had been stretched on a rack and never quite recovered.

“There’s your changeling.” Drago moved too quickly for me to see, and kicked me toward the strange man. “Take him. I want to know what spell this is.”

“Err, right. Certainly.” Ragnok picked me up by the scruff. He held me far away from him like I was a piece of disgusting trash. “This situation isn’t the least bit strange.”

“Save the commentary. And don’t worry. I’m sure Hiccup will gladly cooperate.”

I didn’t meet his eyes. I just wanted to curl up in a ball, open my eyes and realize this was all a nightmare.

As Ragnok carried me below deck, I tried one last time. “Toothless? Bud?

He didn’t look at me.


I expected it to hurt. I waited for it to hurt. I had no idea what this Ragnok planned to do to me, but this magic was infused into the core of my being, so playing around with it would probably hurt. It barely did, though. Probably the most painful part was when Ragnok drew things on my back with foul-smelling liquid and forced potions down my throat. Lots of numbness followed; lots of numbness, dizziness and tingling, but not much pain. I saw colours that I don’t think actually existed in real life, and heard things that no way were part of the ambient noise. It was almost like I spent most the time high on Dragon Nip (maybe there was some in the potions – who knew?).

At last, Ragnok gave up. With me lying on a table (tongue in a pool of drool), he slammed his quill and parchment down and threw his hands up. I glanced at it. In my bizarre sense of reality, the sentences were written in all directions: across the top of the page, up the sides, weaving through others . . . No, wait. I think that might actually be how Ragnok wrote it.

My high, stupor, whatever, wore off eventually. I sucked my bone-dry tongue back into my mouth. It felt thick and puffy. Using my reflection, I tried to see what had been scribbled on my back, but could only catch edges and tips of runes. Ragnok wasn’t much help (nor did I want to ask him); the scrawny man was standing in a corner, rubbing his goatee between two fingers.

Then the door slammed open. My ears flattened, and my tail curled against my side.

“Well?” Drago demanded.

“I d-don’t know!” Ragnok jumped so much, he nearly landed on his tiptoes. “I work with runes and potions, nothing fancy. This . . . this is real magic. Pure magic! This stuff is so rare. It takes years –”

“I don’t care about what you can and cannot do,” Drago said. He marched up to Ragnok, so that they stood nose-to-nose. “I need to know what kind of spell this is.”

I blinked blearily. Yes, Drago wanted to know that so he could create his army. But what if I could convince him otherwise? What if he realized this wasn’t the spell he was looking for. I stumbled over to a mortar filled with the same brown paste that appeared to be on my back. It was oily, and made it feel like my paw was covered in scurrying spiders.

Can’t change back, I wrote. Drago continued to threaten Ragnok until I barked.

Drago stomped over. As his shadow grazed me, I leapt back, as if we had physically touched.

The man studied my warning emotionlessly. “You’re stuck in this form? Good.”

Good? No, not good! Didn’t he see? Unless Drago could find someone with the know-how to modify this spell, it was useless for his plans! Not unless we had been wrong all along and he had something else in mind (maybe he wanted to become a dragon. He wouldn’t . . . he wouldn’t change into a Bewilderbeast, would he?).

“Keep looking,” Drago said, and the door slammed behind him.

“Couldn’t even say please,” Ragnok grumbled. “Ah, well. Back to work, it is.”


Whatever he was looking for, he didn’t find it. At least that much was on my side. It must have been early morning when Ragnok finished, because he kept yawning and rubbing his eyes. He carried me by my scruff, took me down to what must have been the lowest level, and tossed me in to what I imagine was a cargo hold.

I barely felt the impact. It ran through my body in a wave of tingling before dissipating. I laid there in the pitch-darkness; were my eyes even open? There were smells but too many, too strong to make sense of them. My nose played with separating one and identifying it, but it always slipped through my fingers before I got a name.

I drifted in and out of unconsciousness. The scenery never changed. There was no light. Could have been midday for all I knew. At least the fuzziness was going away; when I flexed my paw, I could move and feel each individual toe.

And I could smell.

Dragons.

I forced myself to stagger through the dark. My mouth hung open so I could taste those scents better. So many scents . . . but I only cared about one (Maybe two? Maybe I had jumped to conclusions and Skullcrusher was waiting for me to find him. . .). But in all the smells I found, none of them had the icy coldness of a Night Fury.

I ran straight into a dragon. Typhoomerang? Yes, must have been. I mapped her flank out with my wings and paws, then climbed onto her back. She didn’t move or acknowledge me. Up there, I could sense the space was less crowded; the other dragons must have been lying down, too.

“Toothless?” I called. “Toothless? Skullcrusher?”

I expected my voice to echo. It did, but not nearly as much as expected. How many of us were down here?

My neck tensed. I didn’t know how to use the echo-location roar, but I was hoping that dropping my pitch would be enough to trigger it.

And so, I roared.

It didn’t work at first, but I kept deepening my roar until I sensed something. My tendrils and ears stuck out, catching the returning sound and painting a silver image in my mind. The image’s depth was . . . limited. The roar traced out curves and stuff close to me, but anything more than half the room away appeared as flat.

The room was stuffed with dragons. It wasn’t as bad where I had been dropped off near the entrance, but the further you got, the more crowded it became until there didn’t seem to be any room. There –

Toothless!”

I must have leapt at least five times my body length. Landing smack-dab in the center of his back, I buried my snout –

Not him.

I sniffed some more, and more, hoping that the initial smell had been a fluke. It wasn’t. It wasn’t him.

My stomach dropped. I leaned my weight into the stranger, and closed my eyes. All these dragons . . . and not a single one was him. I’d lost him. Toothless was gone.

Chapter Text

The door opened. I wrinkled my nose at the smell of not-dragon. I curled my lip and nudged the dragon closest to me. Intruder. There was an intruder in the den. When the other dragon did nothing, I growled an alarm. The intruders stood still in the mouth of the den; I hoped I had scared them so much that they froze.

Splat. They dumped things onto the ground. Fish. Dead fish. Didn’t smell rotten or poisoned . . . the scent made my stomach growl, and I woke up completely. I’d just grasped what was going on when the door started to close.

No! I sprung. My tail slipped through the crack right before the heavy door would have broken it. I froze, half-expecting Drago’s men to realize I was there right away. But they had already turned their back to the door, and were laughing as they sauntered down the halls.

Okay, I was out. I already knew I was in the bowels of the ship, and the smell and sound of seawater just confirmed that. I ran down the dimly lit halls, staying close to the walls so that I could blend in with the shadows. Drago’s stink permeated the ship and more than once, I detected a sudden spike of fear when his smell mixed with another’s. No surprise there. He was a monster wearing a human skin. But we’d find a way to fight him. I just had to find Toothless –

I slowed to a stop. And then what? I didn’t know how to get rid of the tyrant’s control over my best friend. And if I tried something, and it didn’t work . . .

Drago would kill him.

Leaving that room had made no difference. I – we all – were still prisoners. All my plans were already thwarted. I’d never been in this situation before, and my brain didn’t seem to understand how to proceed past it. It screeched to a stop, until I heard footsteps behind me.

“Hey, you!”

I almost ran. Then I realized Drago would probably see that as an escape attempt. So I crouched down, shrinking in size, and bit my tongue when a rough hand seized my neck.

“We’d better see Drago about this.”

Horrible visions swam in front of my eyes. What if Drago didn’t believe me? Would he even listen to me before calling Toothless down and . . . and . . . . He wouldn’t hesitate. That I knew. He’d just taken his sword, and grabbed Skullcrusher –

“Drago!” The man carrying me cried. “We found it in the halls.”

Drago glanced at me with disinterest. “Did he run?”

“No . . .”

“Then it doesn’t matter. You’re not going to leave, are you, Hiccup?”

His smile was like a crack in a building: jagged, and just screaming that he wasn’t nearly as stable as he claimed to be. His rough palm ran over my head in mockery of a pat, and it took strength I didn’t know I had to hold myself back. I wanted to bite him. I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to rip that smile off his face and tear that throne from under him. I could no longer tell if these emotions I felt were human, or those of a feral animal. I didn’t care either.

Drago’s bullhook tapped as he made his way above deck. The man holding me let me fall, cringing afterwards as if afraid Drago would whip around and tear his throat out. Without anything else to do, I followed the monster.

Sailors were on deck this time. It looked like any ordinary ship, but when I inhaled deeply, I smelt – no, don’t think about that. There was a group of sailors near the front of the ship where Drago was heading. They surrounded a giant, dull-eyed creature.

“Cloudjumper,” I breathed.

My mother’s dragon kept his head slumped as the sailors wound rope and leather around his body. Each passing breeze made him teeter dangerously, threatening to knock him over. He had no reaction when his rider’s killer approached him. Drago fit Cloudjumper’s chin in the curve of his bullhook, and propped it up. The dragon stared at nothing.

Do not interfere, the tyrant said to me.

I jumped. Cold fingers slithered down my back. Behind me, the tyrant loomed. His glare was like a sword that struck me through and kept me pinned.

What are they doing? I asked.

Don’t you know, Dragon Master? The title dripped with scorn.

The crowd backed off. Now, I did see. They had outfitted Cloudjumper with a saddle. Drago easily climbed aboard.

“Go!”

Cloudjumper took off. I watched. If they were going to take these enslaved dragons and use them, then we were all –

Oh.

Apparently, they’d forgotten that leather is flammable. Drago (or the tyrant) had forced Cloudjumper to belch flames, and Drago had foolishly flown through them. Now, the leather saddle was alight, and although the flames weren’t big, it was enough to force them to land early. Several men rushed forward to smother the fire.

“Stupid dragon!” Drago spun around. Cloudjumper yelped as the bullhook caught one of his fins –

Stop!”

For a moment, Drago didn’t move. Then he turned slowly, frowning. He finally realized I was the one who made that sound, and he smiled once more.

“Something wrong?” he asked, making it obvious he knew exactly what it was. “You feel bad for it? It’s just a dumb dragon. They don’t care what I do to them, as long as I’m the alpha. Isn’t that right, you ugly beast?”

He grabbed Cloudjumper’s chin, and forced the Stormcutter to meet his eyes. Drago’s smile was the grin of a wolf. Cloudjumper snorted. For a few seconds, he seemed to struggle against the tyrant’s control. But then, the tyrant took him over once more, and the once-proud dragon whimpered and did his best to flatten himself against the ground.

“See? They don’t care. As long as I have power, I can do whatever I want.”

“You can’t do that!” I shouted at him. “Dragons aren’t slaves! You’ve turned them into something they’re not!”

My words came out as a growl. It only served to amuse Drago. He snapped his fingers. “You. Show Hiccup how much you appreciate his concern.”

Cloudjumper’s head swung over to look at me. His pupils were narrowed into slits.

I gulped. “Cloudjumper- “

It happened so fast. I slammed into the mast. My belly still tickled from Cloudjumper’s fire. Drago’s cruel laughter echoed over the water. Or maybe it was the tyrant’s. He was laughing, too.

“See? It doesn’t matter what you think of them,” Drago said, turning away and dismissing me. “All that matters is who has the power.”

I flexed my legs carefully. I was fine. I’d taken worse hits.

Submit, the tyrant hissed. There is no point resisting.

I shut my eyes. Why are you doing this? Why are you letting him do this? You’re the alpha; you’re supposed to protect them!

Did your king tell you that? the tyrant asked, and I could feel the hate in those thoughts. He is a fool. There is no such thing as friendship and loyalty, only dominance and submission.

That’s not true! Me and my friends have worked alongside our dragons for years. They’re our best friends.

Is that so?

I didn’t like the way he said that. But before I could respond, I heard wings. Toothless swooped down, landing delicately on the tip of the tyrant’s tusk. Hunched, he stared at me the way he would at a barrel full of fish.

This is your friend? the tyrant said.

My best friend, I corrected.

Are you so certain? Have you ever asked him how he feels about you?

I don’t need to. We don’t keep secrets from each other, I answered cautiously. I could sense the trap shutting around me.

No? the tyrant said. I knew of you before we met: the human child who tamed a Night Fury. Did you think that I hadn’t heard the rest? That the Night Fury you tamed was the one you brought down? Tell me, what happened to his tailfin?

For a second, I froze. He was going there. I couldn’t believe he would strike me there. I know I hurt him. I know it was my fault. But he’s never held it against me.

The tyrant said, He doesn’t know, does he?

The tyrant suddenly glanced at Toothless. Toothless shook himself. His eyes almost rolled into his skull before suddenly snapping forward. He looked all around, mouth open so that he could smell better, finally turning to face the tyrant.

He screeched. The sound drew Drago and his men’s attention, and they stared as Toothless sprung away from the tyrant, nearly somersaulting in his haste to flee. Then, he was behind me, curled around his body with his abdomen pressed against my back. He growled at the tyrant, teeth bared, wings held aloft to look bigger.

A silent conversation passed between them. Toothless snorted. He suddenly lurched forward, slamming his paws on the ground. I knew what the tyrant was saying to him, and as Toothless got angrier and angrier, I became more certain of what he was saying back.

Liar. Liar! You LIE!

Dragons, especially Bewilderbeasts, were not meant to smirk. But what else could you call that curl to the tyrant’s lips? Tell him, Hiccup.

Toothless was still growling. The first time, I spoke too quietly to draw his attention. The second time found success.

“It’s true.” My dry throat itched. “I shot you down. I’m the reason your tailfin was ruined. I took away your ability to fly.”

Toothless took a step back. His tail swept over the deck, twisting so that the tailfins rested between me and him. He cocked his head. It’s true?

I looked away. “Yes, it was me! I’m sorry, I didn’t know what it would do to you. I’ve tried my best to make it up to you and I know that doesn’t change anything, but I’m sorry! I wish I could take it back! If I could . . . if I could give up an arm just so you could be whole again, I would. I’m so sorry, Toothless.”

I finally found the courage to meet his eyes. What I found was emptiness, and pupils narrowed to slits.

“Toothless?” I waved a paw in front of his face. When there was no response, I glared at the tyrant. “Give him back.”

Now he knows, the tyrant said.

I don’t care! Just give him back! GIVE HIM BACK TO ME!

Toothless smacked me into the rail. I laid there. My cheek throbbed.

The tyrant said, He may be your friend, Hiccup, but you were never his friend. Only his jailer.

Stop saying that! My mental voice cracked and rose in pitch. You don’t know anything! I love him, and –

Yet you led him here, the tyrant said. He would not be under my power if you had not led him to me.

I didn’t know! I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near here if I had known . . .

Then this is the result of your worthless friendship. Your dragon is mine . . .

I arched my back. Don’t talk about him like that!

. . . and the other is dead.

That stole the breath out of my lungs. Skullcrusher’s dead eyes stared into mine again. What had I done?

“It’s not true, right, Toothless?” I blubbered, even as his empty gaze went through me. “Me and you, we’re best friends, right? We’re friends. Just . . . just give me a sign. Okay, bud? Just a nod, or a sound, please just let me know it’s not true!”

Toothless opened his wings.

“No!”

It was too late. He was gone.

Do you see? Power will always triumph over any bond. But I admire you, spoke the tyrant. Not every human hatching could force a Night Fury to yield. You have potential.

Shut up! I’m not like you! That’s not what it’s like! He’s my friend.

Even if that was true, it no longer matters. You don’t exist to him anymore. With that last statement, the tyrant retreated into the water.

“No, no . . .” I wanted to break the ship in half with my fists. “He’s wrong. He’s wrong. Toothless . . . Toothless, please . . . Toothless . . .

“. . . please come back.”


The boat rocked gently from side to side. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine I was in a cradle being rocked by my mother. But that was stupid to even think about. Mom was dead. So was Skullcrusher, and Toothless wasn’t much better off. He was over on another ship. The distance tugged at me like a taut string. This was my fault. I’d handed him over with his hands tied, basically given a sheep to the butcher. Last I’d saw of him, he had been gliding stiffly, like someone had tied a metal rod to his wings. But I still remembered those fleeting seconds where he had freed from the tyrant’s control; I remembered the terror I saw there.

A boot stepped in front of my face. Had it shifted even an inch over, it would have landed on me. I didn’t flinch. I wouldn’t have flinched if it had found my head. Who cared? It didn’t matter anymore. What was the point? I was just a stupid, stupid kid who had gotten himself in way over his head.

And everyone else was paying for it.

A fish landed in front of me. I stared at it.

“Hey, dinnertime,” some sailor said.

It was still writhing. The cold, dead eyes looked skyward, like it didn’t even care. My blood suddenly burned; I wanted to smash its stupid skull in so I didn’t have to look at it.

“You want it or not?” The sailor nudged the fish with his boot.

“Leave me alone!” I hissed. It was enough to make him jump back. The sailor scampered off, and I faded into the background.

I shoved the fish away. It felt like I hadn’t moved in such a long time that the muscles in my legs had shrivelled up and died. I still wanted to kill that fish but . . . what was wrong with me? It was just a stupid fish. It didn’t matter if it lived or died.

I folded my wing over my head to block out the sun. I couldn’t really feel my body anymore. It wasn’t numb, but it no longer felt like mine, as if I was nothing more than a disembodied mind. Hard to keep my eyes open. Couldn’t do so for more than a few seconds at a time. Why did it matter? It’s not like I could do anything else.

I blinked in and out of reality, never quite asleep, but with time passing much quicker than it should have. In those trance-like times, my head was full with visions of Berk. More than once, I dreamily wriggled my toes, expecting to feel fingers instead.

“Having fun?”

I didn’t realize it until then, but seeing red was a real thing. As I glowered up at Drago Bludfist, a thin film of crimson fell over my vision. The monster smiled with that half-paralyzed mouth. What I would give to rip it off. I wanted him dead. I really did. And I don’t . . . I almost wanted to be the one to do it.

"Your situation is giving Ragnok quite the challenge," Drago said. He stepped on my head, squashing my face against the ground. I clenched the muscles in my chest, holding my growl back.

"But at least you understand where you stand now," he said.

He walked away. Invigorated by anger, I prowled the boundaries of the deck . . . what was that? I sniffed – Oh. They . . . they must have dragged him along here. Cleaned up the blood. Then dumped . . . over the rail . . .

Are you looking for your friend? I can show you what happened.

My eyes widened. I shoved my tendrils against my cheek with my paws. NO!

Blessed silence. I stayed like that, savouring it. The tyrant watched me for a while, and then went back under the water. I kept my paws on my tendrils for a while longer, then removed them –

I’ve seen your island before.

I spun around, but the tyrant was nowhere to be seen. He must be underwater.

I did not visit it myself, but I saw it through the eyes of my servants. We burned them, the alphas gathered there. Did they ever tell you that?

I swallowed. I knew what he was talking about. Again, the sight of the burning Great Hall flashed before me. I felt the tyrant seize the image and study it.

Ah, so you were a witness. Did you see him, too? He was looking for any recollection of Drago now. He –

I don’t care. Just leave me alone!

He stopped speaking. I didn’t think that would work. I stayed alert, half-expecting something to pounce on me from behind. But as that imminent sense of danger passed, it took my strength with it. I slumped over to a dark corner, and curled up into a ball –

And cursed as the tyrant started speaking again.

Tell me, Hiccup. What will you do now? Surely, you understand that it is pointless to fight us.

I’ll find a way, I vowed. There’s no way I’m going to let you hold all these dragons prisoner. And I’m done talking to you.

You cannot stop –

Leave me alone. My tail swung around my body. I buried my head under my wing, as if the tyrant had been speaking to me physically and not –

I will decide when this conversation ends, Hiccup. You –

Go away.

Although he was underwater, when the tyrant growled, I swear the ship shook. I am alpha! You will listen to me!

You can’t control me, remember? For the first time since I had landed on this ship, I had some sense of victory.

But I control him! No need to ask who that ‘him’ was. If I willed it, I could make him drown himself. I could make the Night Fury throw himself onto a sword. I . . .

Just because I won’t talk to you?!

I am alpha, said the tyrant. I can do as I please.

If you do anything him, I’ll . . . I’ll kill myself.

I had expected that to work even less than I had expected telling him to shut up to work. Yet when the tyrant denied my claim, he definitely did so uncertainly. Why would he . . . oh. That’s right. For whatever reason, Drago needed me. Apparently alive. Groggily, my mind’s gears turned. There had to be a way to use that.

You would kill yourself to make a point? the tyrant asked.

I would kill myself to protect my best friend! I answered hotly. And you can tell Drago that, too!

This silence was different from the rest. I could feel the tyrant’s immense consciousness pressed up against mine. The pressure in my head swelled and ebbed every time he thought of something to say, and then discarded it.

Finally, he settled on something. I don’t understand.

Of course not. Why would you? You don’t care about them. You don’t understand what it means to care about someone! (The ship jolted. One of the sailors lost hold of his dinner). You want to understand? Fine! Feel what I feel.

I took my anger, my grief and worry for Toothless, and thrust it at the tyrant’s mind like a spear. He retreated immediately, as if I had held a red-hot iron to his soul. Furious, I leapt to my paws and tried to stare through the ship and find the cowardly Bewilderbeast below.

“There you are!” This time, Ragnok picked me up by the tail. I kept my eyes locked on that same spot on the deck. “Just have a few more tests to run . . .”

I whispered to the tyrant. I didn’t expect a great alpha like you to run away so quickly. What’s wrong? Don’t have anything to say? I didn’t know that was all it took to get some peace around here.

I landed on a tabletop, still waiting for the tyrant to respond. Ragnok stepped around it and set to fiddling with some things at the side of the room.

You are a fool, the tyrant finally said.

And you’re a monster. And apparently a coward, too.

The ship lurched. The table jumped a few inches, and Ragnok squealed as he tumbled across the room. From outside the room and down the hall came Drago’s indignant shout. He stomped through the ship and even through the walls separating us, I could sense he was going to go yell at the tyrant. Odin knew how successful that would be. But hey, at least I’d rattled the tyrant. Chalk up a small victory for me.

Chapter Text

Night snuck up on the ship. By which I mean you got bored waiting for it, so when it did arrive, it came as a complete shock. In that time, a thick fog had settled over the water; it felt like I was flying into the Red Death’s nest all over again. Even without a breeze to jiggle the sail, Drago’s flagship kept gliding forward, pulled from below by the tyrant. The rest of the fleet struggled to keep up, but Drago – apparently in a hurry – gave the order to keep sailing and let the fog swallow us up.

The fog was everywhere. It hid most of the ocean, and the top of the mast from view. The sky was pure white; if it hadn’t been for my body telling me it was time to sleep, I would have doubted my assertion that it was night. It was like we were in our own little world, and nothing at all existed outside this ship.

I staggered to the center of the deck, sniffing, searching for friends I knew wouldn’t be there. Just me, tonight. Drago and his men were sleeping. There wasn’t even anyone at the wheel, although with the Bewilderbeast steering the ship, I knew that wasn’t anything to be concerned about.

Hiccup?

Oh, joy. Another message from my favourite dragon in the world.

I know you are awake, the tyrant said.

What is it? I tried – tried – to keep civil. I may be untouchable, but as the tyrant had reminded me earlier, Toothless was not. I didn’t think that Drago would be so keen to carelessly discard what may have been the world’s last Night Fury, but he was crazy. They both were crazy. No telling what they would do if I pushed them far enough.

What is it you intend to do right now?

Nothing. Stare into space, I guess. See for yourself. I’m not planning anything, so you can stop threatening me. I sent him a picture of my exhilarating view of the damp mast.

I got something akin to a chuckle from him. I am not threatening you.

Not yet. You sure like to.

Because you keep fighting me! I felt the great weight of his mind press down on mine again as he tried to force me into submission. If you would cease this meaningless struggle, there would be no need.

Fine. Whatever. You win! I get that. Can’t you just let Toothless go? I won’t run. I swear it. Please! None of this has anything to do with him. Just let him go, and I promise I’ll cooperate!

No.

Should have expected that. Still had to bite down on my tongue so I didn’t scream. My tail wrapped around a coil of rope on the deck and squeezed, trying to crush it.

. . . We don’t have to be enemies, Hiccup. I don’t wish to destroy you. Not a child who brought a Night Fury to its knees. How could I, when you have such potential?

My stomach flipped over itself, as if trying to run away. I brought my wings and tails close, shivering. What are you talking about?

I sense it in you, Hiccup. The blood of alphas runs in your veins. You are not like the other rabble. Don’t you understand? You are not one of them. You are one of us – like Drago and I. You could join us and have this world within your control. I can feel that potential within you. You could be great!

His voice was a roar within my head, like a rushing river. The ship jolted to a sudden stop and mere feet away from the bowsprit, a huge shadow rose from the water. Chains rattled as a torrent of saltwater ran down their length. The tyrant sprouted up like a mountain, the tips of those curved tusks piercing through the wall of fog. There was no colour, just a clump of black where his body laid, and a glimmer of light from his eyes.

I can make you great, the tyrant hissed.

You’re crazy. You’ve got to be if you think I would ever be like you!

You cannot deny your destiny. A swish of his tail, and the tyrant was close enough that his leering face protruded out of the fog. You are meant to rule.

That doesn’t mean I have to be like you.

Like your king, then? And his voice was full of rage and scorn (was that jealously?). Then you are both fools!

I’d rather be a fool than a monster.

It is our right! The tyrant thrashed from side to side in his ranting; waves slopped over the rail. We are alpha! We are the strongest! It is our right to rule!

I don’t know how else to put it. He sounded like a child. He was like a little kid throwing a tantrum because he wasn’t allowed to take another kid’s toy. There was no thought behind his words, just blind greed and stubbornness.

And with that line of thinking, I couldn’t help but slip. Grow up.

In a split second, my instincts took over. I hurtled backwards, and dove behind the mast. Ice bloomed on either side of the wood, jagged, cracking with horrible shrieks. It rolled up the rails and grasped at the sky. The chains snapped tight; the ship jumped as the tyrant cut off his icy breath, tossed his head skyward and roared.

Come out, Hiccup. Stand against me! I command you!

The tyrant howled, and it was like a beast had ascended from Hel to devour us all.

Hey!”

Somehow, even though he wasn’t on the deck yet, Drago’s shout was easily heard over the tyrant’s tantrum. He couldn’t get through the first time, but the second time Drago threw himself against the door, the ice blocking it shattered. He swiped his unkempt braids out of his face and took one massive step forward, scowling at the ice under his foot. I pressed myself against the mast, trying to be invisible.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Drago hollered at the tyrant. He drove the point of his bullhook into the ice covering the deck, as if to steady himself. “You idiot! What’s the matter with you?”

The tyrant roared in frustration. He tossed his head like an angry bull; one of his tusks threatened to impale the sail. His growl shook the earth –

“That’s ENOUGH!”

Drago suddenly jabbed his bullhook forward. I stared at him. The smallest trickle of disbelief found its way into my mind. Drago was insane. There was no way –

The tyrant flinched and fell silent. Drago took menacing steps, jabbing his bullhook forward each time. Every time, the tyrant retreated more and more, until he had slid under the water completely. Mere moments later, the ship started to move again.

No way. There was no way that had just happened.

Drago didn’t even looked surprised. Or relieved, or even smug. He just looked irritated, like he had swatted a fly buzzing around his head. It didn’t make sense. None of this made sense! How could a . . . a humongous creature like that be scared of Drago? It was unbelievable.

With a disdainful snort, Drago left the way he came. The door slammed shut behind him. The tyrant didn’t surface again.

I pried myself off the mast. Swatted myself in the face. What I had seen . . . did that really just happen? Was it even possible? The king wouldn’t have quailed under any human, even my mother. It just wouldn’t happen.

I scampered over to the side of the ship, put my front paws on the rail, and peered downward at the ocean. A cushion of fog greeted me.

Hello? My mental voice seemed to echo within the chamber of my mind. Hey, are you there?

There was no response. My tendrils stuck out like whiskers, even wiggling up and down as I searched for the tyrant’s presence. I must have been missing something. This wasn’t right.

I felt him then. There were no words, just a twitch like a beast stirring in its sleep. Not a lot to go on, but I followed the tendril as best as I could. I hit a solid wall quickly. It was made of hidden emotions, radiating cold that hurt if I got too close. But what I did taste . . . it gave me the image of a small boy huddled in a corner.

I looked at my paws. My claws had dug into the ship. I pulled them loose, and landed back on all fours. I didn’t know what to think anymore.


We reached land. The craggy, frosted island loomed before me menacingly. The whole island seemed to be covered in rock arches and caves with tunnels big enough that even a Bewilderbeast could walk through. But those arches weren’t the main feature of the island; that would be all the wooden constructions. Guard towers haunted the shoreline (although who would want to attack this place was beyond me), with shuttered windows, and dark figures patrolling the top. They were connected by wooden walkways stacked with weaponry and assorted junk. From some of these walkway extended giant piers. I couldn’t remember just how big the fleet I had seen had been, but if the pure space allotted to the ships was anything to go by . . . it was much bigger than any fleet Berk had to offer.

The chains connecting the ship and the tyrant went taut, and the ship stopped next to a pier. Men scuttled down the dock, holding spears and bullhooks of their own. They were all dressed for the cold with thick, heavy jackets. Most of them wore regular hats, but some of them wore a butchered polar bear head instead. The bottom jaws had been removed from these so that there was space for their face, but otherwise were mostly intact.

Someone carried a plank to the ship and bridged the gap between it and the pier. Drago, followed by a nervous-looking Ragnok, took their leave. A moment later, the tyrant surfaced and laid his tusks on the pier, demanding that the chains be removed. Several of Drago’s men set to work on those as more scurried up the plank and onto the ship.

The ship’s trapdoor opened. The first of the sailors scrambled above deck, shouting and tugging at something –

Although it was uphill, the dragon seemed to tumble and roll onto the deck. She was a blazing red Hobblegrunt with a rope leash around her neck, but her skin swiftly turned grey when some of the new arrivals poked at her with their bullhooks. She practically had to be lifted onto her feet, and then she followed along quietly as they led her off-ship. One by one, more dragons were released from the hold. I watched from the corner as the procession of prisoners marched deeper into the island.

There was a sudden delay in the proceedings. Drago’s men struggled and shouted. Finally, they managed to fit Cloudjumper through the doorway. The Stormcutter couldn’t resist growling at them, even as he obediently followed the rope’s tugging.

Wait. He shouldn’t be able to do that.

“Cloudjumper? Hey, it’s me!”

Cloudjumper turned his head and looked at me. There was no other way to describe him other than defeated, and he knew it. His pupils weren’t slits; the tyrant wasn’t controlling him anymore. But it didn’t matter. The tyrant didn’t need to, because we all knew that any of us could have our minds taken over in an instance. Except me, but it’s not like I was any help.

Cloudjumper hooted goodbye, and then set his eyes forward, accepting his fate. I couldn’t do anything but watch.

Toothless, my mind whispered. Where was Toothless?

I called out for him. He hadn’t been led out. Actually, I don’t recall ever smelling him in the interior of the ship. Where was - ? My heart pounded once, and stopped working. The tyrant wouldn’t have done anything to him, right? He knew what I would do. Toothless was okay. He had to be okay –

Okay, calm down. Just calm down. Breathe. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and was immediately assaulted by a miasma of confusion and terror. Using every bit of my strength, I shoved it aside. None of it mattered. I needed Toothless’s scent.

And I found it. I tilted my chin skyward. Toothless was there, in the crow’s nest. The moment our eyes met, he ducked inside it.

“Toothless? Hey, buddy. You see me, right?” I flew up to the sail’s boom and perched there. “Look, we need to stay together, okay? I kn-know you’re mad, but please. Just until we get out of this, and then . . .”

In a flutter of black, Toothless leapt out of the crow’s nest and soared inland.

“Toothless!” I opened my own wings, and crouched –

I wouldn’t do that, if I were you. The tyrant didn’t even look at me when he spoke. Freed from his chains, he shook himself in relief, nearly impaling a few hapless souls who had been too close.

Yeah, I get it. I’m a prisoner, too, right?

You are the one who is insisting that. This is an opportunity, Hiccup.

Not for me.

I wasn’t stupid. I flew inland, but I didn’t seek out Toothless (if I had caught his scent and instantly turned myself in that direction, that was just my wishful thinking speaking). I circled one of the guard towers instead, dug my claws in and hung just beneath the lip where Drago’s men stood. The view was great from here. That’s what I needed. I needed to find out what was going on, and then . . . and then what? I didn’t know. But maybe, just maybe, I would be able to pass my knowledge onto somebody or discover something that could help me.

This settlement, war camp – whatever it was – was a busy one. Dragon-drawn wagons hauled supplies back and forth. From the docks came mostly raw supplies - fish, wood, ore - that were ferried deeper into the island to be processed. From the island came weaponry, which were either stockpiled and stored near the docks, or were given to others to test. Fishlegs had said Drago wanted to build an army; this in front of me was proof that Fishlegs was correct.

What are you planning? I asked the tyrant.

Can’t you tell? The tyrant stepped over the pier to get closer to me. With my dark scales and the shadow of the guard tower covering, I should have been invisible. Yet the tyrant’s eyes were fixed on me. Soon, we will rule all.

Why? Why do you even want this?

It is my right, the tyrant said. There is no one who can stop us.

Don’t think, don’t think! I knew he was baiting me because he wanted to see. . . Yep. Couldn’t help myself. Just showed him Berk’s dragon riders. Of course, he knew just as well as I that they would be helpless against his mind-control. Lifting his chin to the sky, the tyrant purred in fierce victory. A cloud of hot air rose from his nostrils.

Then, I remembered.

The king will stop you.

In a flash, the tyrant’s chin snapped down. He will not! He cannot! If he tries, I will strike him down. I am alpha. I am the only alpha! They will follow me!

You’re –

I am superior! the tyrant snarled. I am stronger. I am alpha!

Yeah, this was reminding too much of how our last conversation ended. In a split second, I dropped from the guard tower and navigated the tight corners of the settlement. Hopefully, the tyrant was too big to follow me here. I could see him in the distance, stomping about in the water.

There was a flash of black in the corner of my vision. I stared at the spot I saw it so long that I flew straight into a pole. I ignored the pain. That had been real; I knew what had I seen.

“Toothless? Bud, you there?”

But if Toothless was listening, he didn’t reveal himself. I sulked for a while. Then I had to leap out of the way, or be crushed by a wheel. I followed the wagon aimlessly.

I encountered a clump of the Nest’s dragons. They pressed against each other, fearfully eyeing any who even glanced in their direction. Cloudjumper was at the fore, wings spread open to hide those behind him. His tail ran over the paws of the others, almost as if he wanted to hold their hands. Yet for all his efforts, the Stormcutter could do naught when the men came forward and dragged a fellow dragon out from his protection. He stared after his flock mate, literally vibrating with frustration. Then, he seemed to expel all his emotions with one great sigh, and bowed his head.

Suddenly feeling very small, I tiptoed up to him.

Cloudjumper didn’t notice me right away, but a Nadder did and pointed him my way. He cocked his head, as if surprised to see me again. I moved slowly, trained my eyes on the ground; humbled myself before him. He barked, and curled in one of his forewings. Come here.

I stumbled toward him like a newborn, nearly collapsing against his body. Cloudjumper’s croon was like parent singing to their child, and his wing fell over me in imitation of a comforting arm. I closed my eyes, and breathed in his scent. Anxious, yes. Frightened, of course, but a muted scent that told me he was doing his best to stay strong for the others. I should have helped him, I know. That was my job, too. But even if it was just pretend, it felt so good to be protected for once. It felt so good to be a child, and not me.

I buried my face in his scales, and cried.

Chapter Text

Drago’s settlement was busier than a hive of bees, yet two weeks in, I still barely knew anything. The men and women who served under Drago knew as little of their leader’s plans as the dragons they enslaved. All they – and I, by extension – knew was that they were gearing up for a war. My bet was it would be against the Barbaric Archipelago. I might have been able to learn more if I had trailed Drago, as I had for a while, but there was only so long I could watch the man before I felt ill.

Hanging upside-down by my tail, I studied the world around me. The only thing I could say that I had accomplished was mapping out the settlement’s interior. Near the docks was most of the storage buildings, and the numerous armouries. Inland was where their industry lay, full of smoke, and charcoal, and soot-coloured dirt. Scattered around the edges of these workshops were clusters of temporary and permanent homes. Most of them were leather tents or stone huts; it appeared they reserved their wood for other uses. The buildings looked cold; it was hard to see any individuality among them. Expect for Drago’s home. His was positioned at the very rear of the settlement, where stone-carved pillars rose into the air and held up a building that was way too big for one man. It was a shadow of a palace; a throne for a false king. It was the closest anyone ever wanted for Drago to wear a crown.

I detached from my perch, and soared inland. Orange and red pools of fire smouldered under me, tended to by sweaty, singed men. A grey haze filled the air. So many carts and people scuttled about that the ground itself seemed to be moving. The great cogs of the war machine were turning with clangs and shouts that would make anyone half-deaf. With my superior dragon ears, I was forced to focus my hearing towards the heavens where it was quieter.

I landed next to a harnessed Nightmare. She lay limply on the ground, breathing heavy and wearied, noticing me only when I chirped at her. Her eyes widened in shock. I sniffed; yep, haven’t met this one yet. I understood her surprise. Baby dragons were nonexistent here; they didn’t follow the tyrant, and none of these dragons would ever feel safe enough to lay eggs. Plus, I don’t think Drago saw any value in tiny babies. Even Terrible Terrors were hard to find.

The Nightmare chittered at me. Danger. Danger.

Huffing, I arched my wings and hopped closer. Stay, I. Fight, I.

The chittering grew louder. Danger! Go!

I sighed. There was no way to tell her that I wasn’t a real dragon hatchling, but an unfortunate human caught up in a terrible accident. She tried to turn to face me, probably to try to chase me off the island the same way a disproportionate number of dragons had already tried. But with the heavy cart attached to her, it was rather simple to outmanoeuvre her. I came face-to-face with her flank. Her ribs were starting to show; Drago’s soldiers didn’t feed these dragons enough for the work they did.

I backed up just beyond her reach. The muscles in my abdomen and throat tightened as I prepared myself. To her surprise, I spat up an entire fish in front of her snout. Yes, it was unpleasant. I knew my stomach would ache for at least the next three minutes. However, it was bearable, and the discomfort didn’t last too long.

I nosed the fish toward her. Eat.

She looked at the fish uncertainly. I found that a lot of dragons refused to take anything while I was around . . . but they all ate once I was gone. So, I left. I heard her slurp it up the moment I rounded the corner. I wished I could do more for her. I wish that I could more for everyone, even if it was to bring them all enough food. But it wasn’t like I could stuff fish into a bag and hand them out like it was Snoggletog. Even dragging fish around in my mouth attracted a lot of unwanted attention. Nope, I was limited to what I could carry in my stomach, and how many times I could fly to the fisheries and back before I collapsed from exhaustion.

I was lost in thought, and so didn’t notice the fish until I stepped on it. I blinked. That was odd. What was a fish doing in the middle of . . . oh. Toothless. I could smell him all over it. I ate it to placate him (I knew he was watching from somewhere), but really, it was pointless. I’d probably end up regurgitating it for the next dragon I saw. I just . . . I just wish it would be him. I have no idea what was up with my best friend, but he was clearly keeping an eye on me, even though he refused to come out of hiding. We were just lucky that Toothless got some favouritism from Drago for being the only Night Fury; when Toothless had chewed through his harness the first night, Drago hadn’t ordered him chained like he would order Cloudjumper to be. Drago didn’t seem to care what Toothless did so long as he didn’t cause problems.

I continued to sneak fish to those I could, until my wings ached and I needed to rest. I crawled over to the pier, and sidled up to a bracket. I stared out at the ocean. Looked so peaceful out there.

Someone hooted behind me, and I rose with a mix of relief and resignation. “Hello, Cloudjumper.”

Cloudjumper hooted again. His forewings curled in. Come here.

Accepting comfort from him that one time had been a mistake. Now, Cloudjumper seemed to view it as his divine duty to comfort me – regardless of whether I needed it or not. I walked over, checking out his shoulders as I did . . . yep. Burnt through his traces again. This would probably be the last time I saw him walking around free for a while.

“You need to stop doing that!” I hissed at the much larger dragon. Cloudjumper puffed out his chest, taking offense. That was him. Defiant until the end. I leapt onto his shoulder, and sniffed around the burnt edges.

Wait. That dark bit there wasn’t ashes. I reached out with a claw, and gently touched a whip mark on his hide. Cloudjumper jerked, and snapped at me. Stop that!

“Cloudjumper . . .” I swallowed hard. Clearly, his latest escape hadn’t been nearly as clean as he wanted me to believe.

With a calculated flick from his wing-claw, he knocked me off and carefully pinned me with his foot. Air rushed past my cheeks as he sniffed. Afterwards, the Stormcutter set to grooming my scales.

“ . . . Is this making you feel better,” I asked quietly. “If that’s all it is, then you just needed to ask. But if it isn’t . . . you shouldn’t be worrying about me. I’m not the one suffering here.”

Satisfied that I was no longer running away, Cloudjumper removed his foot, and lay down. His wing fell over me like a cave.

“I get it,” I said to him. “It’s tough. It sucks. All we can do is sit around and watch when we know we should be doing something. That’s supposed to be our job, isn’t it? To fix this. I can’t remember ever being this helpless before. Sometimes, this doesn’t even feel real. I don’t know about you, but it’s easier to pretend it isn’t sometimes, and to pretend that I’m the hero of some epic sage. Keeps me from going crazy. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m crazy.”

Cloudjumper heard the lifting tone in my last sentence, and rumbled in agreement.

“Hey! You shouldn’t say that. You’re supposed to love me no matter how crazy I am!” I rolled onto my back and raised my paws, ready to exchange blows –

Cloudjumper didn’t have forelegs.

Right. Not Toothless.

“It’s not your fault,” I said as the Stormcutter grew alarmed at my sudden depression. “I just wish I knew what he’s thinking.”


Night. My favourite time of the day. It was the time that most of the humans I disliked went to bed, when most of the dragons were allowed to rest, and when all the miners and their haggard dragons return from deep within the island’s bowels. And the best thing of all? No Drago Bludvist!

There was only one downside to night. Night was when the tyrant was at his most active.

I could see his spines sticking out of the water as he cruised around, doing . . . Bewilderbeast stuff. I perched within sight, keeping an eye on him. He could be quite destructive when he was in the mood, and the last thing I wanted was for any wayward dragons to be caught in the middle.

Today, however, he seemed to be in a playful mood. Oh, Hiccup. I know you’re there.

So? It’s not like that’s a surprise. I can’t go anywhere.

There is an entire school of them here today. Fools! Did they think they were fast enough to outrun me?

Gleefully, the tyrant breached. With his forceful exhale, a geyser of stunned fish flew into the air, falling around the tyrant in a slimy deluge. The tyrant chuckled to himself before diving under, presumably to do it again.

Why don’t you toss some this way? I asked.

Are your own skills lacking? I expected better, Hiccup.

Darn. I was hoping he’d fall for it, and some of the nearby dragons could have a good meal for once. I expected just asking him to feed his ‘flock’ wouldn’t go over well.

The tyrant tossed the fish a few more times. Then, either he grew bored or the fish had gotten out of there. He then made a game of meticulously creating an ice floe with his breath, and then slamming it against an arch and tearing it to pieces with his tusks. It was ugly and brutal, and hard to tear my eyes away from.

The tyrant saw me watching. This will be your king when I am through with him.

Must not rise to bait. Must not rise to bait . . .

Are you honestly looking forward to that?

Mark that as yet another time Hiccup Horrendous Haddock failed to control himself.

Yes! the tyrant said. His lips stretched in that creepy imitation of a smile. I will destroy him, and all shall bow to me.

What makes you so sure you’d win? I pressed. He’s not like me, or Toothless. You can’t control him! He’ll fight you. He wants to fight you after everything you and Drago have done.

I look forward to it, the tyrant said, and it sounded like he was completely serious.

I couldn’t help it. I roared in frustration. Are you even listening to me? The king isn’t going to roll over and let you have your way. Why are you so obsessed with fighting him? Why would you want to put your life on the line like that?

The tyrant turned away. He almost looked like he was sulking. You don’t understand.

You’re right. I don’t. I marched down the pier, getting as close as I dared. I don’t understand either of you. How did you even find each other? You’re crazy enough, but for you to run into someone as evil as Drago –

Enough!

I shook my head, taken aback. He hadn’t even blinked when I insulted him. But now, upon hearing me insult Drago, the tyrant’s tail lashed through the water, making a wave big enough to seriously endanger a ship.

What is he to you? I asked.

The tyrant drifted closer. I looked directly into his eyes, which were flickering –

The eggshell cracked. I reached forward with a foreleg that wasn’t mine, and leaned my full weight onto the splintering shell. It gave way. Bright light poured into the damp, sticky space. In the middle of that light stood a human. Not a boy, but not the weathered man I knew. A scar lay across his left eye, but the other scars I had expected were missing –

“He hatched you. He raised you,” I whispered to myself, horrified. Suddenly, everything about the tyrant made a chilling amount of sense.

I almost felt bad for him.

The tyrant said, It would be accurate to say our bond is longer and deeper than that of you and your precious Night Fury.

That struck a nerve. Gone was any idea of sympathy. How dare he? How dare he compare us to them, to this mockery of everything the dragon riders stood for? My teeth grit together, itching to have flesh between them.

I glared straight into the tyrant’s eyes. You think my friendship with Toothless is fake, but that you and Drago have something real? You can’t be serious. All I see when I look at you two is a madman and his attack dog.

Drago made me strong! the tyrant snarled. The world vibrated with his words. Drago gave me power. Drago showed me what it meant to be alpha! He made me into what I am!

And what is that? I screamed at him. A monster? A rabid, bloodthirsty machine? You’re not even a dragon anymore! You’re a sword: just this thing he uses to hurt people. Is that who you wanted to be? Is that what you want?

You do not understand.

I don’t understand? You’re telling me that I’m the one who doesn’t understand? You don’t understand! I’ve tried to tell you again and again that everything you’re saying is wrong, and you keep refusing to listen!

The tyrant cocked his head. And you are different? You keep speaking of this grand bond between you and the Night Fury. Where is he now?

If I could cry, I would be tearing up with frustration. I don’t know. But he’s around. He always is. He hasn’t given up on me.

I could feel his sneer. Of course the tyrant would take that as a sign that he was right. But he wasn’t. I knew he wasn’t. So I struck before he could.

If you’re so confident, then don’t ask me. Don’t ask Toothless. Ask Cloudjumper what he thought of my mother. Ask any of the king’s dragons. Go on. Do it!

What are you saying? the tyrant repeated uncertainly. I think he backed up a step.

I’m telling you to ask them about Valka. To look at their memories, or do whatever it is you do. I closed the remaining distance between me and the edge of the pier, flinging my words at the tyrant like a sling as I did. But ask them what they thought about my mother. Ask them what a friendship between a dragon and human is supposed to be like.

The tyrant still hesitated. Losing my patience, I hissed, Don’t chicken out. Ask them!

I knew dragons were listening. I had heard them arrive a while ago. I whirled around now to point them out and drive in my words, but then my mental voice spluttered into silence. Pairs of moonlight-reflecting eyes stared at us, a line of them that seemed to extend for the entire shoreline. The tyrant, too, noticed them for the first time. I heard his breath catch for an instant.

For a long time, the world stayed like that. Silent. Observing.

Go, the tyrant said to everyone.

Silence.

The tyrant snorted. He stamped his foot. Then he slammed both forepaws down, bellowing, and ice flew from between his teeth and froze the docks. I said LEAVE!

The shoreline burst into a mass of bustling wings. Carts wheels screeched and groaned as the dragons attached to them fled for their lives. It was so noisy, it almost sounded like the workshops were up and running again. The buzz of flapping wings went on longer than I had expected and with an unsettling chill, I realized that there had been more dragons watching us than I had thought.

I heard a humongous splash behind me. By the time I turned around, the tyrant was gone. I was left alone in the moonlight.

Chapter Text

It was no surprise that the area around Drago’s home was abandoned. Not when the man had a permanent look in his eyes that said he wanted to tear your throat out – whether you be human or dragon. I probably didn’t even have to wait for night to sneak in.

From the outside, Drago’s home hadn’t looked like it was carved by experts, and the inside wasn’t much better. The main foyer was a big, hollow space with Drago’s belongings scattered about. It was like he’d grown bored after building the outside, and just let the inside develop as it would. Or maybe he’d known that few would ever look inside the doors. At the end of the day, if I needed one word to describe it, I guess it would be practical. Everything in here looked like it had some kind of use; Drago hadn’t wasted time displaying things whose sole purpose would have been to be pretty.

I slunk inside. The lantern-lit room provided many shadows to hide in, and little to hide behind. The scent-trails of rodents darted across the stone floor, but I smelt little food so I doubt they stayed long. From beneath the square tiles came the aroma of earth, slopping up the sides of the walls until it stuck. Three doors branched from this main room. Behind one of them, I could hear Drago talking to someone.

Just the sound of that monster’s voice made my skin crawl. I could almost feel him breathing down my neck. But enough was enough. In those days since I had learned Drago had raised the tyrant, I had been restless. It took me a while to figure out why, but I understood now. I was tired of fumbling around in the dark. Lurking around the settlement and eavesdropping was getting me nowhere, and too much time had passed. I would find out what he was up to, and if things worked out, it would be today.

The first room I checked was a storage room. Lots of things in there – alcohol, armour . . . Maybe I’d come back later, but right now, it would take too much time to investigate each object separately. I shied away from the center room where Drago was, and approached the one on the right.

Bedroom? This looked promising.

Drago’s stench filled the air around me, not letting me forget for a second where I was. His bed, topped with a polar bear pelt, looked too small for his massive frame. Indeed, his discarded dragon-skin cloak fell over the side and touched the floor. It was dark in here, like a muggy cave. Fitting.

I didn’t waste time with his clothes, or the knick-knacks sitting upon the table in the corner, or the curved knife by his pillow, but went right for the chest at the foot of his bed. I mean if something important was here, it would have to be in there, right? Thankfully, the decorative lock on it seemed to be for show. Even if it hadn’t been, the wood around it seemed rotten enough that . . . well, maybe not me, but Dad or even Astrid would have been able to rip it open. What I found inside was a bit of gold; not much. I don’t think he needed much. There was also some letters that had nothing to do with Berk, a couple of journals which suspiciously resembled the one we had picked out of the witch’s house, and . . . oh. This was different.

I extended a claw, and poked the small box. It appeared to be made of some kind of black stone. Fancy-looking runes had been etched over its surface; they seemed to gleam if you looked at it just right. I couldn’t smell what was inside. But that didn’t matter. My attention had been caught.

I worked my claw into the groove between the two halves, and carefully pried it open. A splotch of brown caught my eye. It appeared that inside this stone container, was another stone. Perhaps there would be another stone inside that . . .

The air thrummed. It felt like something wet and cold was slithering across my back. This wasn’t a stone. This wasn’t natural. I tried to smell it, but it was like inhaling a mouthful of static. I didn’t want to get too close, but something inside me seemed drawn to it. I could almost feel myself being pulled forward.

I was snapped out of my daze by the sound of a door opening. I spun around, following the sounds of those footsteps as they left the center room and came . . . towards the bedroom (of course). I lunged for the top of the chest, letting the strange stone box close by itself as I closed the chest as quickly and quietly as I could. Just as the door began to open, I bolted under the overhanging cloack on Drago’s bed.

He didn’t spare a glance. Nor had he appeared to have heard anything; maybe he simply assumed that no one would dare venture in here. From my hidey-hole, I watched as he opened the chest, and took out the exact same box I had just been examining.

In a split second, I made my decision. As the door began to close behind him, I rushed out through the crack.

Drago returned to that center room, and I shadowed him. I didn’t enter, but before the door shut, I saw enough: this appeared to be some sort of study. Maps and diagrams littered the wall, and the Barbaric Archipelago had been at the very center. Lines and words had been scribbled all over the familiar map, and a big X marked the island of Berk. In the middle of the room there was a large, pine table and standing there (didn’t see any chairs) was Ragnok, the man who I had grown to loathe the way you hated a particularly dumb or annoying animal. I pressed my ear against the door, and listened.

“Is this it?” I heard Drago put the black box on the table, and snapped it open.

“Yes, yes! That would certainly do. Err, why do you have that anyways?”

“Painkiller,” Drago grunted. “She cast a spell on my arm to dull the pain. Sometimes, it wasn’t enough.”

“Why would your arm . . .?”

Metal scraped against the wooden tabletop.

“. . . oh. Right.”

Drago spoke again. “We give this to Hiccup, what happens?”

“Well, this rune is meant to feed spells, so it would normally make the spell on him stronger . . . of course, I don’t think it could change his body into more of a dragon. He’s quite dragon already. If I’m correct – uh, I might not be. Don’t be mad if I’m not – it won’t do anything to him, just build up a lot of pressure. Enough pressure and . . . well . . . he might explode.”

“ . . . Meaning?”

“In a magical way, of course! And possibly physically. I won’t know without testing it out, but it’ll probably kill him either way, and then we would be short one magically transformed Viking, and I don’t think you’d like that –”

“Get to the point. If he ‘explodes’, then what?”

“It would be the same as an exploding waterskin. All the magic would fly everywhere and everything nearby would get . . . wet.”

A tense pause. The table creaked as someone leaned on it.

“These people who get ‘wet’,” Drago said, “would they turn into dragons?”

“. . . I think so. I can’t be certain without an experiment –”

“And you’ll get one,” Drago hissed. “I’m sure Berk will be happy to have their heir returned, no questions asked.”


I could barely think. The ground flew under my paws as I ran. I hadn’t stayed for the full conversation, but I had heard enough. I knew what they were planning. I was the bait. A trap. They were going to use me to destroy Berk, and with the tyrant on his side . . . they’d all be Drago’s slaves. I had to go. This wasn’t about me, or Drago, or even the dozens of dragons under his rule. This was about saving Berk. Maybe the entire Archipelago. Even the thought of Toothless didn’t make me freeze as it usually did. I couldn’t leave him, but I couldn’t wait for this to happen either. I couldn’t . . .

“Toothless? Toothless!” I roared. The nearby dragons jumped.

He didn’t come out. I was on the cusp of being angry with him. I took a deep breath . . . there he was. He flinched as I flamed the spot next to him, letting that frustrating, overgrown lizard know that I had found him. As usual, he inched away, ready to flee and begin another round of this unnecessary game.

“Toothless, that’s enough!” I barked.

He continued to back away, staring at the ground. It was almost like his guilty face.

“I mean it, bud. We’re getting out of here, now. Toothless . . .” Just as his wings began to open, I slammed my paws down, and snarled. STAY!

He blinked. He crouched low, making high-pitched chittering noises I couldn’t understand. I squawked, and curled my wings inward the same way Cloudjumper did when he saw me. Follow me.

I went straight for shore. Toothless didn’t want to follow, but I snarled at him a couple of times and he listened. Until we got to the docks. It was like he’d run into an invisible fence; he hovered in midair, whining, ears flat against his skull.

“Toothless, come on!”

He whined long and deep, casting frightened glances at the water – of course. It’d been silly of me to forget that –

Right there in the air, Toothless seemed to curl into a little ball. I didn’t need to look for the confirmation, but I did anyways. Dread trickled down my throat as I turned and saw the tyrant discarding a coat of starry seawater.

What are you doing? he growled.

My wings wanted to flare, making them stiff and hard to fly with. So I landed, and I growled back. Toothless’s heat pressed against my back; his chin nearly flattened me against the ground. He whimpered, trying and failing to keep eye contact with the tyrant. The whimpers were frantic, pleading.

It hit me.

You’ve been talking to him. What have you been saying to him? I snarled.

The tyrant looked down at me, emotionless. I let him know the limits of my patience.

I looked up at Toothless, who was trying to nudge me away from the water. Everything fell into place. This was why he was avoiding me! It wasn’t about the tailfin, it was the stupid tyrant meddling in our business!

I will ask once more, Hiccup. What are you doing?

The air crackled. The last time I had seen the tyrant was days ago when he fled while my back was turned. Between then and now, he seemed to have grown even larger. Hateful eyes kept me in place, and the tips of his tusks gleamed like knives in the moonlight.

I planted my paws. We’re leaving.

The tyrant took a big, affronted breath. You will not.

Yes, we will! Do you even know what Drago is planning?

I told him. I told him everything I knew. The tyrant listened, the faintest glint of surprise in his eyes. I don’t think he knew about the extent of Drago’s evil, either.

Finally, the water churned as he appeared to settle back on his haunches. There will be more like you?

Yes.

I realized too late that the tyrant hadn’t asked that out of shock or even benign confusion. He sounded interested. Like he was actually looking forward to this.

“I don’t believe this,” I whispered aloud. You’re okay with this. You’re just going to let it happen.

The tyrant tilted his chin skyward, lost in thought. Will they all be children? That would be . . . frustrating.

That’s it? That’s all you have to say? Don’t you understand what this means! You’re kidnapping these people; you’re going to enslave them and –

It is only right, the tyrant said. It must happen, one way or another.

You –

Isn’t that what you wanted? The tyrant shook himself like a giant dog; his shoulders popped and creaked. For dragons and Vikings to become one people? Then it shall be. And it is only proper that they are led by the strongest.

Toothless growled nervously, unable to hear our conversation, but able to tell by my body language that it wasn’t good.

I have seen your Chief in your memories, the tyrant said. He is nothing compared to me. There are no Vikings like me! Even you – you who are alpha by blood – you refuse to claim your birthright. Then that makes me the true alpha. It is my right to rule!

Do you think any of us would follow you over our Chief? I hissed.

They will have no choice! The tyrant lurched forward, coming close enough to land that Toothless leapt back. I didn’t. I couldn’t. This had to end today, and the only reason I was wasting time talking to the tyrant was that he had Toothless in his grasp. They cannot resist the true alpha. They will bow before me. They will obey me. If they do not . . . I will break them.

Because you’ve done such a good job with me.

I realized a moment afterwards what I had said. That meant I had approximately half a second to panic before the tyrant digested my words.

A hurricane of ice engulfed the beach. Somewhere behind me, Toothless shrieked. I couldn’t see him; I couldn’t see anything but white. I wrenched my eyes shut as icy crystals poked at my pupils. Water crashed, but I couldn’t hear where the tyrant was because wind was howling in my ears –

The whole world shook. My chest was tight and coiled, like my organs were huddling together for warmth. I tried to take deep breaths, but the ice hurt and was cold and pricky as it went down my throat.

And he was there. Front paws on the sand, back half in the water. Monstrous. He blocked out the moon so that my eyes were left seeing without colours. In the corner of my vision, I saw Toothless mindlessly watching; his pupils were drawn to slits.

You dare? he asked.

For the first time, I was too scared to talk back.

You DENY ME? he roared. His rage crashed down on me like a physical thing; suffocating and heavy. I have been patient. I have been kind. And you deny me?

I couldn’t move. My legs shook. I could . . . I could feel his will. I could feel it trickling down my bones and wrapping around my limbs. He was trying to control me. He was really trying to control me. He was right above me. One slash of his paws, one swipe of his tusks, even if he tripped . . . I would be dead. He was so, so much bigger than I had thought.

If you will not see sense, I will make you, the tyrant said. I am alpha. I am power. This island is ruled by me, and none will touch my crown until I am dead! I am the true alpha!

I had no idea if it was desperation, or pure fear that drove my next words. Then why are you taking orders from a human?

The tyrant drew back. He seemed to shrink in size. What are you saying?

I’m talking about Drago! Just like that, the pressure of his rage abated. As it did, my chest loosened. I’ve seen how you act around him.

The tyrant didn’t respond. If anything, the mere mention of his master seemed to unnerve him.

All you do is follow his orders! You don’t think for yourself, you just follow him blindly. You don’t argue, you don’t refuse . . . you just do it.

. . . Enough. It was so quiet, I wasn’t sure I had heard it.

Don’t you get it? Do you think a ‘true’ alpha would let a human push him around like that?

I -!

SHUT UP!

Silence. The tyrant stared at me, eyes wide with shock. At that moment, he seemed to be no bigger than Cloudjumper.

You’ve never had power, I said. It’s always been him. You’ve always been his mindless servant. You wouldn’t have any of this if he didn’t let you.

Silence.

I bared my teeth. No. I won’t be. Why should I? There’s no reason for me to listen to you.

I am alpha -

You’re not alpha, Drago is!

I sensed it a split second before it happened. The tyrant’s claws impaled the spot I had been, burying themselves so deep they hit rock.

I SAID SILENCE!

He roared, and the world screamed with him. He stomped, and the beach’s entire layer of sand seemed to fly upward. I could barely breathe. It was like being buried alive. The tyrant’s paws hammered the ground, each one shaking the distant buildings and dangerously rocking the boats in the harbour.

I couldn’t see it, but I could sense his paw coming down upon me.

Someone slammed into my side. We tumbled through the dust cloud in a ball of teeth and claws. There was no time to think, no time to act. I hissed and snarled, ready to fight, and Toothless pinned me with his wings and held me against the ground. There was only us lost in the storm, hiding and praying furiously that the tyrant wouldn’t find us . . .

But he was no longer interested. He howled at the moon like an angry wolf, and then turned those blazing eyes on the wobbling ships. He screamed at them, and then sprung, claws extended like some grotesque cat. In one punch, he ripped through a ship’s hull, and the ship shrieked in death before he tore it to pieces.

I am alpha. I AM ALPHA!

It was terrifying. Toothless and I huddled together in the dark as the tyrant picked ships up like toys and tossed them about. They dashed to pieces against the rocks – he threw one so far inland it rolled up against a guard tower – and then the tyrant set upon their bodies, snarling, clawing, biting. Chunks of wood fell from his jaws like saliva. One half of a ship stuck so far on his tusk that he seemed unable to get it off.

It wasn’t just him screaming. Lanterns had been lit all over the settlement, and now Drago’s men were rushing towards the rampaging dragon. The tyrant took one look at them, and bellowed. His icy breath swept over the sand once more. Toothless pulled me in close, trying to shield me. The ice gathered, frosted over what was already there until a crude wall had been constructed between the tyrant and most of the men. But that hadn’t been his intention. I heard the tyrant huff in annoyance, and then his tusk pierced through the ice. It creaked ominously, with spider-webs of cracks forming along its surface, until it gave way to the tyrant’s will and a chunk balanced precariously on his tusks. The tyrant stared at a cluster of Drago’s men.

He tossed the chunk right at them.

There was shouting everywhere. Rocks whizzed through the air. The tyrant ignored them all and blasted his assailants. His tail lashed out at any who came too close, even decapitating a guard tower that the men had been trying to set up a catapult on. His tail slammed back down, and he went with the momentum, rearing on his hind legs and bellowing –

“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?”

The bellow stopped abruptly. The tyrant quickly looked sideways, his expression like that of a boy caught holding the broken pieces of his father’s favourite weapon. Standing in the mouth of the settlement was the one and only Drago Bludvist. He glared at the tyrant, teeth clenched in a disturbing mockery of an animal’s snarl.

“Well?”

The tyrant lowered himself to all fours, giving Drago a hard look. For a second there, I thought . . . I thought he might actually growl at Drago.

“You idiot!” Drago screeched, almost as loud as the tyrant had been. “We were going to leave tomorrow! Thanks to you, it will take weeks to repair that fleet.”

The tyrant mumbled something. It was almost like an apology.

“You useless animal!” Drago howled. “Why can’t you do anything right? Haven’t you learned anything?”

Eyes fixed not quite on Drago’s face, but a spot nearby, the tyrant slumped backwards toward the water. His paws dragged through the sand.

“Well?” Drago said. “What’s your excuse this time?”

The tyrant stopped moving and bowed his head. He whined deep and long in his throat. Sorry.

“Pathetic.” He spat out the world. “And supposed to be the king of dragons . . . You! Give me that!”

Drago ripped a sword out of someone’s hand. He gripped his bullhook in his other hand as he advanced on the tyrant. It looked like the tyrant would back away, but Drago hooked his bullhook on the tyrant’s tusk, and that seemed to hold him in place.

“Maybe this will teach you something!” Drago shouted.

The blade flashed. He brought it down.

The tyrant yelped. I couldn’t see exactly what was happening, but I smelt the blood moments later. The tyrant pulled his left leg close, whimpering, and made to scramble back towards the sea. But then Drago’s bullhook found its way into his other leg and the tyrant froze as if he had been wrapped in chains.

“Did you think it was funny? Did you?” Each sentence was punctuated with a swing. “Or were you just stupid enough to think you could get away with it?”

The tyrant suddenly keened in pain. This was wrong. This was all wrong! I didn’t like him, but that didn’t mean I was okay with this! It shouldn’t be happening. He was a Bewillderbeast, and Drago was just . . . just a man.

Toothless grabbed my tail, and began pulling me inland away from the scene and crowds. I went with him . . . and then I heard the tyrant cry out.

Drago stepped backward, into a beam of moonlight. The sword’s blade was dark.

I couldn’t.

Toothless shrieked as I bolted out from his cover. I darted between feet, too small, too fast, too invisible to be stopped. Drago raised the sword high, and he seemed to tower over the Bewilderbeast, who had flattened himself against the ground in submission. The massive dragon screwed his eyes shut, and waited.

ARGH!

Even Drago’s blood tasted inhuman.

I expected it, so I was ready for the sick, painful jolt as Drago ripped me off his shoulder and slammed me against the ground. It was just sand, but I landed with a wet thud. Drago’s thick hand clasped over his wound. Dark red blood oozed through his fingers. Everyone, not just Drago’s men, but even the tyrant, Toothless and Drago himself seemed to be struck dumb. All you could hear was Drago’s heavy pants as he struggled to grip what had just happened.

The wait was agonizing. Slowly, Drago pried his hand off his shoulder, and raised it in front of his face. He spread his fingers, staring in disbelief at the strings of blood between them.

He turned. “You.”

This was bad.

“Grab it! Why are you standing there? Grab it!”

Very bad.

A wall of people ran towards me. I knew it was hopeless, but the sheer mass of them made me growl and spread my wings anyway. I could have bit, I could have flamed, but there was no point. At least this way, if I didn’t deliberately aggravate them, maybe they would be a little gentle. And I guess they kind of were. I mean they didn’t kick me or anything, but one of them did throw himself on me, and he was heavy.

I could hear Toothless screeching. He’d get himself killed.

Stop him! I rolled as much as I could, and looked at the tyrant. Stop him! Please, get Toothless out of here.

The screech died suddenly. I strained to look in Toothless’s direction, looking back just in time to see the tyrant close his eyes again.

“Bring me a rope!” Drago said. “I want it muzzled!”

Someone listened and rough twine dug into my snout as they wound it tight. I couldn’t open it anymore, but I could still pull back my lips and growl. That seemed to only enrage Drago, and he advanced with murder in his eyes.

We held each other’s gaze.

His face twisted, and he brought his bullhook up –

The tyrant barked.

Drago stopped. The harsh lines of rage on his face warped to those of confusion. He looked over his shoulder at his stiff legged, shuddering dragon, who nonetheless, was looking straight back at him.

And Drago lowered his arm.

“Cage it,” he spat. “I don’t want to see it free ever again.”

Chapter Text

I paced and tossed my head in my claustrophobic cage, shutting my eyes tight when the door opened and sunlight spilled into the dark room. It appeared in front of my face as hot, white streaks that burned to look at - at least until my eyes adjusted and remembered how to see in daylight. Even with the twine digging into my snout, I could still show my teeth. It was more out of instinct and frustration than any true ill will toward the person in front of me.

The man ignored me. The door slowly creaked shut behind him, stopping only when it hit a rock that had been wedged into the base. The man set down a bucket I could hear was nearly slopping over with fish. Even the promise of food wasn’t enough to make me play nice. I dug in my claws and set my shoulders, glaring in the direction my nose told me the intruder laid.

There was a long silence between us. It was hard to see him; I could only make out the slope and angles of his face. He had no hat – he had probably heard about how I had stolen a hat off the last person to visit me (it was now functioning as a very comfortable bed). No coat either.

“ . . . That was a dumb thing you did,” the man suddenly said. I cocked my head. He sounded familiar. “Biting Drago Bludvist. I can’t believe he didn’t kill you.”

With that, I suddenly recognized Eret. I hissed at him.

“This isn’t my fault!” he snapped. “You’re the one who couldn’t keep his teeth to himself. You could have just played along nicely and . . . Do you have any idea what he did to me when I came back empty-handed?”

I said nothing. He lashed out sharply, and the bucket toppled over with a metallic clang, spilling its contents all over the floor. I could hear his shoe squelch in the wreckage. Nearly vibrating with supressed anger, he bent over, and then flung a fish in my general direction. It smacked against the bars, and nearly tumbled off the table before I reached through and grabbed it.

He turned to leave. I huffed.

“What?” His glare only grew harder when I lifted a claw and tugged at the twine holding my snout shut. As much as I wanted him to leave, I didn’t want to starve because some idiot forgot I couldn’t open my mouth. He looked around sullenly, like a misbehaving child looking for his parents. “You better not try anything.”

He reached for me . . .

The door slammed open. “Hey, Eret!”

“What is it?” He pulled away from me, swinging his entire body around to face the newcomer.

“There’s another one acting up,” the newcomer said. He sounded worn and exhausted; it was like his voice had taken up a layer of grime and rust.

“Another?” I could hear Eret’s teeth grinding together. He started to leave, and then stopped suddenly. With a snap of his fingers, he said, “I know. Let’s take Hiccup with us.”

“Are you sure?” the other person said.

“It’ll be fine,” Eret said. “He’ll stay in the cage. We’re just going to use him as an example. That’s what they do with human prisoners, isn’t it? And it’s not like Hiccup will complain about getting fresh air.”

It didn’t take them long to find a cart big enough to push my cage around in. At the first touch of sunlight, I flinched. It felt unnatural after being cooped up like this. My tail poked through the bars, wrapped around one, and squeezed as I was wheeled about. Eret and his companion said nothing, but the dragons noticed me anyways. They stared at us as we went by, often requiring a shout or lash from their handlers before they returned to work.

We finally reached the “misbehaving” dragon. It was a Nightmare – honestly, I had expected it to be Cloudjumper again. They had half a dozen men pinning her down with weighted, metal lines, which were draped over her hide like a blanket, and one man specifically assigned to hold tight a rope binding her muzzle. For her part, the Nightmare looked she had given up on her rebellion. Her chin was flat against the ground, and she made no effort to rise. It almost looked like she was pouting.

“Good, you took it down,” Eret said. He stopping my rolling cart with his foot, and leaned his weight onto my cage. He snapped his fingers, drawing the Nightmare’s attention. “Now, see here. This is what happens to dragons who misbehave. I know you don’t want to end up like poor Hiccup here . . . Do you even understand me?”

The Nightmare’s eyes flickered to me. She gave no indication she was even listening to Eret. I did my best to smile.

“Do you think it’s working?” Eret asked. “I can’t tell anything with these creatures.”

His hand slipped. One finger hooked inside my cage. Should I . . .? Sure, why not? It’s not like I had anything else to do.

Eret yelped as my claw tore into his skin. The wound was no bigger than a paper cut, but I hope that meant it stung like one.

“You . . .! Argh! Do you have any idea how frustrating you are?” Eret complained. He opened his mouth to berate me some more, and froze. From behind him, came a sound like a creak.

The metal ropes strained and bulged as the Nightmare tried to rise.

“You, stop that!” Eret cried. In the end, it didn’t matter what he said, since the Nightmare couldn’t throw off the men holding her. But the blazing anger in her eyes left nothing to the imagination when it came to what she would do had she gotten free.

Eret took a step back, seeming surprised . . . And from what seemed to be out of nowhere, a Snagglefang lunged for his exposed back, stopped only by the metal harness digging into its side. Apparently oblivious to the chains holding it back, it clawed at the ground, nearly frothing at the mouth in its attempts to get at the man.

“Hey!” In one smooth, yet slightly shaky movement, Eret drew his sword. Just as his master, Drago did, he waved it above his head. “Back off!”

It only seemed to make the Snagglefang angry. Straining at the end of its tether, it barked furiously at Eret. The cry was taken up by the Nightmare, and was echoed further by dragons we couldn’t see. As the barks grew louder, Eret and his men looked around with an expression of growing nervousness.

The Nightmare suddenly shook off her attackers. Wasting no time, she set herself alight and spewed a slopping jet of flame at her nearest opponents; the liquid-like fire rolled across the ground. Tail lashing, head turning from side to side as she tried to keep track of everyone, she seemed to naturally gravitate toward Eret and rose up like a rearing horse in front of him.

“What is this?” growled a very unwelcome voice.

Both human and dragon froze in place. Drago Bludvist trudged onto the scene (hadn’t appeared to have noticed me yet, thank goodness). He fit himself easily into the space between Eret and the Nightmare, and the non-paralysed side of his lip dipped downward. He thrust his bullhook forward, with a short, punctuated shout. The Nightmare lowered itself back onto all fours, and stepped back. Yet, something wasn’t right. The way she was looking at him, it wasn’t what I had expected.

The Nightmare cocked her head, pausing for one, calculating moment. Then, she flared her wings and hissed.

Drago blinked, stunned. He roared, and the Nightmare gave ground, but it wasn’t giving in. As he stopped to digest this knowledge, the same Snafflefang lunged at his exposed back.

“They’ve been going nuts!” Eret said as Drago gave him a look. “We get one to yield, and then there’s another growling and snapping at us.”

Drago grunted. He suddenly hoisted his bullhook up and swung it around, bellowing. That did what nothing else before had, and both the Nightmare and Snafflefang backed off, turning their eyes toward the ground. Drago kept bellowing, until the echoes smothered the rallying barks of the dragons in the distance.

In the ensuring silence, a thought hit me. Where in the world was the tyrant?

Satisfied, Drago turned back to Eret. “How long has this been going on?”

“A few days,” Eret said. “Ever since . . .”

He glanced my way. Drago followed his eyes.

“What is that doing here?” Drago roared. He advanced on Eret like a cat cornering a rat.

“I thought it would help!” Eret held his hands up in a placating gesture. It didn’t do much, and Drago quickly had their faces almost smashed together. “You know, let the others see what happens if they misbehave.”

“And how has that gone?”

“. . . Not so well.”

“Get rid of it.” Drago sneered. He turned his back and I bared my teeth at him in retaliation –

And once again, the Snafflefang lunged for his back. The Nightmare, too, appeared to have regrouped. In the ensuring commotion, a shiver ran down my spine. I had realized what Drago and Eret had not: it was me. These dragons, these two at the least, were taking their cues off me. I was the reason they were acting out like this.

“Enough of this.” Drago stomped away from the dragons, and toward the water. He cupped his hands around his mouth, and unleashed that bellow we all knew too well.

The tyrant was slow to rise. When he did, he never looked in our direction. Still, all it took was a mental flick from him, and the rebelling dragons submitted to his power. He tried to leave then, but Drago held up his hand and gave a quick order to stay.

“Do you have an explanation for this?” he asked of the giant dragon. The tyrant purposefully avoided his eyes. “Keeping them in line is supposed to be your job!”

The tyrant made a grumbling noise not unlike that of a child. The cords on Drago’s neck tightened. He suddenly whirled around to face me. “You. Ever since you appeared, there’s been nothing but trouble.”

Well, if I’m that much of a problem, you could just let me go, I said in my mind, since I was muzzled and all.

Drago turned away again, and smacked his bullhook against the ground. “Don’t just sit there. Get these dragons under control!”

The tyrant stepped forth from the waters, walking forward until he reached the edge of the village. His rumble pulsed through the air like a calming wave, bringing everyone capable of hearing it under his spell. I saw the Nightmare’s pupils narrow, going distant and blurred as she instantly moulded herself into the perfect prisoner. One of Eret’s men tugged on her horn, and she went without a struggle.

“Now,” Drago was saying to Eret, “put it back.” (No points for guessing who ‘it’ was) “The next time I see him in the daylight, I’ll cut off the hands of whoever hauled him there!”

The tyrant’s rumble continued to wash over the island in thick, suffocating waves.

“From now on, I alone deal with Hiccup!” Drago commanded. He paced in a small circle, holding his bullhook out so that it pointed at each and every man in turn. “None of you will enter that shack. None of you will speak to him. You even think about him, and I’ll let the dragons have a turn at you.”

The rumble was in my bones now, and growing stronger.

Drago grabbed Eret by the lapels, holding him up so that his toes just brushed the rocky ground. “Understand?”

The rumble seemed to be part of the world now, and below it all was a quieter, but powerful hum.

“U-understand!” Eret choked out.

Drago opened his mouth -

The tyrant roared.

“What is it?” With a flick of his arm, Drago tossed Eret aside. The tyrant was still roaring in the direction of the beach. The humming in my head abruptly exploded into a deafening sound that drowned out everything else –

Yet I still heard Cloudjumper when he made his move. He was a big, powerful dragon, so it was no surprise that when he wanted to break free, he did so effectively. I saw none of it, but I heard the shouts and splintering wood. And then Cloudjumper was in the sky, hooting as he soared above us, making a beeline for the open water. Drago tried to say something, but to everyone’s shock, Cloudjumper snapped his head around and doused him in flame.

The so-called Dragon Master quickly peeked out from behind the cloak he had used as a shield. He stared long and hard at the fleeing Cloudjumper. Finally, he gathered his wits. “Stop it!”

The tyrant turned, noticing Cloudjumper for the first time. His eyes flickered as he asserted his will. The humming exploded again –

Cloudjumper flew right past him.

“. . . What?” Drago took one step forward. Even the tyrant fell silent, and that gave us the chance to hear the booms coming from deep within the fog. But as the Stormcutter flew in tight circle around the edge of the fogbank, I couldn’t think about those familiar sounds, but only the dragon. How? No grown dragon could resist the call of a Bewilderbeast. I was a first-hand witness to Cloudjumper falling under the tyrant’s control several times already. We watched as Cloudjumper made one last circle, then tucked his wings in and dove. About halfway to the ocean’s surface, his wings snapped open. His legs swung forward, long talons reaching out and grasping –

And he delicately landed upon the wooden, serpent’s head that poked out of the fog.

The serpent’s neck grew longer. A pair of oars reached out toward us, and then plunged into the inky waves. They pulled back in time with the booming, propelling the ship onward. The dark, rectangular shadow of a sail appeared behind the serpent’s head. Not a minute later, on both sides, the ship was joined by others.

“It can’t be.” For someone denying what lay in front of his eyes, Drago was quick to backpedal and bark orders. “Sound the alarm! Prepare for battle!”

I could see nothing of the people aboard the lead ship, but what I did see was the mast. A flag limply fluttered at the top, but it was impossible to tell whose flag it was because it was intertwined with another – no, no. There was more. It wasn’t just one other, but two, three . . .

Eight. Eight flags.

One for each tribe.

The lead ship sailed gracefully out of the fog. Somebody, someone big and solid, approached the ship’s bow where Cloudjumper waited, and Cloudjumper reached for him with a cautious, but steady claw. A hand rose in response, and I watched as the shadow of claw and hand met -

But I was distracted by what came behind the ships. He was as majestic and frightening as he had been in the aftermath of the Nest’s destruction. His mouth was set in a hard, straight line, bottom jaw pushed out a bit so that his lower teeth stuck out. His stare did not waver once, but remained fixed on the settlement that his silent aura screamed he wanted to destroy. Not even the tyrant’s enraged howls distracted him from his goal.

The hum crackled in my head once more, and the great dragon threw his head back and roared.

The king had arrived.

Come! his majesty cried. Come to me!

It was instant. It was without hesitation. Suddenly, everywhere, dragons were attacking their captors and smashing their chains. Those that worked themselves free leapt into the air, still dragging straps of leather, wood, and metal with them. The tyrant didn’t even seem to notice, so focused he was on his older likeness. Even if he had, with the king’s telepathy countering his own, I doubt he could have done much. The dragons were like a raging river: noisy, swift, unable to be stopped as they poured out of the settlement in droves toward the rightful king.

Your Majesty! I couldn’t stop my mental voice from sounding like a child falling over himself in his eagerness. How did you . . .? I’m here! Over here - !

The tyrant barked. It was a different sound than the rest, short and direct. I looked over, and could see him squaring up the king. He held his head low, tusks almost grazing the ground as his tail slowly swished from side to side. The tyrant’s chest thrust out, and his weight leaned forward as his intentions became clear.

No! My protest was surprising enough to give the tyrant pause. Please, don’t do this.

The tyrant stared at me.

Listen to me, please! You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to fight him.

The tyrant growled. I must.

No, you don’t! That’s what Drago wants! You don’t have to listen to him. Please! I pressed myself against the cage, trying to get as close to him as possible. Please, just listen to me.

For a long second, we looked each other in the eye.

I must.

The tyrant roared once more, and charged.

Chapter Text

The ground shook. The ocean seemed to part before the tyrant as his weight slammed into it. I saw no more of him though, as Drago’s men scrambled about in front of my cage like a disturbed nest of ants, blocking my view. But for an instant, there was a gap in the mass, and I saw the face I had grown to despise. Drago was coming straight for me. Someone almost made the mistake of walking in front of him, so Drago grabbed him by the shirt and threw him aside. Oh, yes. He was angry. The silver tips of his metal, claw-like fingers gleamed as he reached for my cage –

He barely had time to react to the screk! And then the world transformed into a raging dust storm. Also, uh, I think I was airborne . . .

Oww. Seriously. Ow. I get why Toothless  had to do it, but oww. Smacking your skull into a metal bar after flying through the air for a few feet really hurt. I could see the hole that Toothless had blasted in the cage, but . . . ugh. Too much throbbing.

And he was there, green eyes nearly glowing in the shadows the dust cloud had created. The hole wasn’t big enough for his head, so Toothless reached inside with his paw instead. I reached for him – I think I did – it was all rather hazy. Our claws locked together. Toothless cooed, smiling.

Argh!

Toothless couldn’t get his paw out before Drago hurtled into him from the side. Leg stuck in the cage, Drago on top and the bars on the bottom, he could barely move enough to squirm free, let alone fight. His teeth closed on thin air, and Drago managed to get the spur of his bullhook inside Toothless’s mouth. With that, Drago shoved him aside and slammed his head against the ground easily. I blinked. A huge hand clamped down on my wings.

“Get out of my way, dragon!” As Toothless lunged, Drago brought up his bullhook in a swipe, opening up a gash between Toothless’s eyes. I growled. I twisted, trying to bite . . . wasn’t working. Wasn’t . . . Right. Still muzzled. Blurry specks danced in my eyes as my head pounded again.

Vikings, friends, the king was telling his subjects. Fight. Fight now!

“Ragnok?” At the same time, Drago called for his resident witch-doctor. He ran away from the beaches, crossing to the back of a guard tower. “Ragnok -!”

Some fighter’s instinct must have told him to look up, because I certainly hadn’t heard Toothless. He fell on Drago from above, claws spitting out sparks as they raked against his metal arm. The blood from Toothless’s wound ran in a rivet down the slope of his nose and followed the curve of his eye socket, giving that eye a distinctly feral, red-ringed appearance. He clamped down on Drago’s metal arm and shook with his whole body, trying to use his weight to off-balance his larger foe. Drago stumbled, but managed to plant his foot and stand his ground.

A group of his fighters stopped to stare, and Drago shouted at them. “Shoot it, shoot it!”

Toothless looked in time to see the crossbows levelled at him. I glanced between him and them. Drago wouldn’t . . . He wouldn’t want them to kill Toothless, would he? Not when Toothless may have been the last Night Fury in existence. He couldn’t. I mean, no warlord would possibly want to squander an opportunity like him. They wouldn’t kill him, right?

With a flap of his wings, Toothless leapt skyward, attaching himself to the guard tower’s side. Bolts whizzed past below him and embedded themselves in the tower, one a hair’s-breadth away from his leg. A quick huff from him conjured a fireball that scattered the crossbowmen. He tried to get Drago next. Drago swept up his dragon-skin cloak and shielded himself, but the force still knocked him over. As the heat rolled down his cloak, Drago and I met each other’s eyes.

Heh. I must have looked like a satisfied cat.

He swept the cloak back, and we were treated to bright green eyes as Toothless smashed into Drago’s chest. I flew through the air again, thankfully landing on sand this time. After I shook grains out of my eyes , I spied Drago struggling against Toothless, who had climbed on top of him. Drago had one hand on Toothless’s chin, keeping the dragon from biting him. The other was pulling on Toothless’s ear.

Drago’s men grabbed Toothless from behind, yanking at his tail. I took a step forward. Stopped, and hesitated. I had no teeth this time; no flames either. Only claws.

Before I could spring, they pried Toothless off Drago. The man had some new scars on his cheek to add to his collection, but they didn’t slow him down. Drago lurched forward, falling upon Toothless’s skull and pinning him. Like a sheep with its head stuck in a hole, Toothless tried to push backwards, but there were too many others, and too little time.

He barked, one eye squinting in my direction. Run!

I whined.

Toothless rolled his eyes, and his bark took on an irritated tone. Run, stupid!

I didn’t want to, but there wasn’t much I could do to help him. I backed away, holding his stare for as long as I could, and then I ran. I ran out of the guard tower’s shelter and onto the open beach, where the first of the Viking ships had run aground. Warriors leapt off their decks, most in solely human parties, but some with dragons following closely or upon the beasts themselves. There had been enough time for Drago’s men to set up, so even the charging, battle-eager Vikings couldn’t simply run over them.  The battle lines quickly established themselves, growing more chaotic each second as more and more combatants leapt into the fray. Behind the throng, war machines rolled up to their places. They were meant for dragons, but I bet they could give Vikings a nasty scar.

“Keep that Night Fury down!” I looked behind me. Drago had left his men holding Toothless. He charged at me, not unlike a raging bull would.

Time to move!  I darted forward, imagining I could hear Drago’s footfalls behind me. Maybe there was a gap in the line – wait, I still had wings, didn’t I? I could . . .

The king breached. He swam backwards into the shallower part of the water, so that he could stand with his head above water. The tyrant burst out of the water a couple of seconds later, and my heart twisted when his explosive appearance caught a couple of longboats– no idea if they were empty or not-  and they flew head-over-heels. The tyrant’s tusks met the king’s with a sickening crack that sounded like a bone being snapped in half. Their muscles rolled and heaved under their scales, and as it became apparent the tyrant intended to push the king onto land, the combatants anywhere remotely near that area ran. In the glimpse I caught of the king’s eyes, he was watching those retreating figures. Only when most of them were well out of reach, did he give ground.

Right. Not running in that direction. The settlement may have been deep in enemy territory, but at least there were plenty of places to hide.

Assuming, of course, that I lost Drago.

Despite my short legs, I was fast, but it was hard to breathe with your snout muzzled. The air I could draw in through my nostrils and between my teeth wasn’t enough; my lungs were burning. I fell against a cart’s wheel, and then slithered under it to rest. It wasn’t my leg muscles that ached, but those in my chest. I needed to breathe so much that I had barely time to exhale between gulps.  The ground was still shaking from the king’s fight with the tyrant far away.

“Got you!” With one hand, Drago flung the cart away. I ducked into the alleyway next door, which was littered with chunks of wood that Drago carelessly kicked aside.

And suddenly, Toothless was between us again. He had additional cuts and scrapes to add to the one on his head, but was still raring to go. The alleyway was narrow; Toothless couldn’t do much with his wings – couldn’t even fly away if he wanted to. There was little more than half a foot of space on either side of Drago’s shoulders, and he had to tuck his elbow in when bringing his bullhook in front of him. Toothless hissed. His tail swept the alley’s floor, patting me a few times to verify my position.

Argh!” Drago barrelled forward, bullhook set like a spear. Toothless dodged sideways, bounced off the stone wall and planted his front paws against Drago’s broad shoulders. His back claws dug into the ground as he fought to halt Drago’s advance. Drago laid his free arm over Toothless’s front legs, grabbed the opposing paw, and twisted the Night Fury off him, throwing him into the stones. Toothless kicked out just in time for his back paw to meet the shaft of Drago’s bullhook and send the point into the wall.

As another fireball broke upon Drago’s cloak, I ignored Toothless’s hisses for me to flee, and leapt. My claws couldn’t penetrate his leggings, so I jumped off that and onto Drago’s exposed arm where they could. He spared a second to rip me off – took a chunk of flesh with me, I did – giving Toothless time to roll back onto his feet and leap onto his foe’s back. His claws clicked against the scales of Drago’s cloak. He tried to climb up Drago’s back, mouth wide-open as if to follow the man’s head whole. Drago pitched backwards, crushing Toothless between his body and the alley wall.

As Toothless fought for freedom, I rubbed my snout against the wall, trying to hook the twine binding my snout. I needed to be un-muzzled. My body was boiling with fire I couldn’t use, jumping up my throat every time I focused on Drago; it was so desperate to burn him that when I pulled my lips back, soft, violet light shone from between my teeth.

By some cruel twist of fate, Drago managed to trap Toothless’s neck in the space between the bullhook’s point and its spur. He used that to hold Toothless up against the alley and turned to face him. Hind legs dangling in mid-air, Toothless clawed at the bullhook and tried to release the vice around his throat. But he was still breathing, I could hear him. I tried to dig my claws under the twine; I needed freedom now. And Drago, what was he doing -?

His metal hand snapped open. He brought it up over his head, and then down. The metal digits tore through the thick, black scales on Toothless’s shoulder, spraying the ground with blood.

My vision went red around the edges. My skull crashed into Drago’s thigh; claws ripped at Drago’s clothes like they were digging. My teeth unsheathed, and my jaw muscles went through the motion of biting, even though it was hopeless. The twine stung and cut into my skin as my snout struggled to open and snap it with pure force.

Drago’s metal hand closed around my midsection.

Then, the shaking intensified. Toothless and Drago both stilled. Suddenly, with me in his grasp, Drago tore away, letting Toothless drop as he ran out of the alley. I squirmed. I twisted around enough to see Toothless running, too. One of the walls seemed to bulge . . . and it was reduced to a shower of debris and dust as the tyrant’s tail punched through it.

Toothless!” The sound that escaped me was a garbled mess. He was okay. He had to be okay. I saw him move. He had to have gotten out of the way.

The two Bewilderbeasts were very close, and easy to see as they towered over the surrounding buildings. There was another deafening crack as the king slammed into the tyrant. Their tusks locked. An uneducated person would have thought they went still after that, but the truth couldn’t be more different. I knew both of them were using every bit of their strength to try to push the other back. The king pulled back abruptly, making the tyrant stumble forward. His majesty reared up, and then fell upon the tyrant like a tidal wave. The tyrant stood on his hind legs too a few seconds before impact, and the two locked tusks again, and staggered about in a fight for balance and control. A guard tower broke over the king’s back but he didn’t seem to notice. The tyrant trampled the alleyway until there was nothing left.

“Toothless! TOOTHLESS!” I wrestled with Drago’s hand, unable to tear my eyes away from the pile of rubble where I had last seen him.

And I heard it. Or maybe it was my imagination . . . no, no, no. That was real. A quiet squawk in the middle of the chaos. Toothless was okay.

But he was either injured, or he had lost us in the commotion. He didn’t appear again as Drago made his way toward a hut and barged inside. With his bullhook, he speared a bedframe and pulled it out from the wall, revealing . . . Ragnok curled up in a fetal position.

“Oh. Hello,” Ragnok said, cringing. His fingers twitched in a small wave.

“It’s time.” Drago threw me at Ragnok’s feet. “Do it now!”

“Alright, hold him down.”

Before I could flee, Drago’s boot stomped on my back. The twine around my muzzle loosened. Metal fingers crawled under my lips, tasting of blood. A muscle in my jaw jumped. I tossed and turned; the fingers followed, prying at my jaws. My teeth cracked apart. My heart fluttered painfully as I fought.

But that one bit of give had opened the floodgates. The fingers curled under my teeth, and then Drago wrenched my mouth wide-open. Ragnok was shuffling through a chest in the corner, and his hand emerged with the small, black case that held my doom. He opened it, and I could feel the rune’s power from here.

“Don’t just stand there,” Drago barked as somewhere, the battling Bewildebeasts broke some more buildings. “Get it done before they knock this place down, too!”

It was in my mouth. I closed my trachea, letting my overflowing fire dribble up into the open. Almost burnt Ragnok’s hand off, but he moved too quick. I –

Crack.

Head hurt. Think my brain is bruised. Ears ringing. Something tangy on my tongue –

 I choked. Something hard pressed into the back of my throat. Swallow, or suffocate.

Before I could register what it was, I swallowed.

The stone seemed to be icy cold as it slid down my throat. There was a moment where it hadn’t hit me, and I wondered why I felt impossibly clammy all over. Then I felt it deep within my stomach, smouldering. Oh no. No, no, no! I sucked my abdomen in, heaving, trying to vomit.

“Muzzle him again. I don’t want him biting,” Drago ordered.

I fought. I really did. But the binds found their way around my snout.

Drago sneered. “Hope you’re ready to go home.”

With me under his arm, he walked out of the hut. In the background, the two Bewilderbeasts devastated the settlement; neither seem to care about what they stepped on. By the beaches, the air was thick with dragons. Most of them were the king’s, but Drago’s men had a few –strangers to his majesty, obviously - that were too cowed by the tyrant and fought against their brethren. Distant booms and snaps rang through the air as, perhaps on both sides, war machines shot at their targets.

“Time to return to your people.” Drago chuckled. He squeezed.

But as he walked the stone path between two buildings, a sickly, green cloud blocked his way. The sun shone through it for a moment, and I saw a double-headed silhouette before the cloud burst into orange flame. The heat forced him back; he turned slightly, and then pitched sideways as a molten rock impaled the ground where he had been standing.

“Don’t worry, Hiccup, we’re here to save you!” My eyes widened at the sound of Fishleg’s voice.

Above the path that Drago had walked down, Meatlug wobbled in midair, smacking her lips in preparation for another attack. On the other side of Drago where the cloud had been,  Barf and Belch studied their opponent.

“Got you.” Drago didn’t hear the quiet voice, but I did. I looked up at one of the building’s roofs to see Astrid astride Stormfly’s back.

“Ruff, Tuff!” Stormfly bounded off the roof and onto the ground as Astrid called to our friends. “We got this. Go tell him we found Drago.”

The Zippleback took off. Stormfly squawked at Drago, bristling.

“Put Hiccup down,” Astrid said, pointing at me as fiercely as she could..

Drago snorted. “Or else what, little girl?”

Astrid clenched her fists. “Go!”

Stormfly swung her tail. The resulting projectiles were narrowly deflected by Drago’s metal arm. He didn’t wait for Meatlug to fire before he ran into the nearest building. Her wings buzzed outside as she and Fishlegs peeked through the window, looking for a clear shot. I found myself kicked into a corner as Astrid and Stormfly barged in, door shutting behind them.

Stormfly couldn’t fly here, and Drago knew that; that’s why he’d entered in the first place. What little light existed was clumped around the window, but I could see fine. Drago showed his teeth and began to shout; Stormfly cowered, only Astrid’s pats and whispers kept the Nadder from backing down.

He moved. Stormfly thrust her head forward, preparing to flame, but Drago was no slouch at fighting dragons. It was almost terrifying how decisive he dealt with Stormfly. He caught her neck in the crook of the bullhook and forced her chin up; her fire rolled across the ceiling, giving the room an eerie glow. Then, when he was close to her, he twisted the bullhook, leaning his full weight upon it as he slammed Stormfly head-first into the ground. He brought the bullhook up again, and that would have been Stormfly’s end if it wasn’t for Astrid and her axe. She deflected Drago’s strike off to the side, staggering sideways afterwards from the force.

“Hiccup . . . Hiccup, jump out!” Fishlegs hovered outside the window, beckoning me. I took one look at where Astrid was wrestling with Drago, and shook my head.

There was hardly any room. Stormfly whipped her tail, and it rebounded off the wall. Drago swung his arm, and Astrid flew into a wooden shelf.  Drago swung again; my breath hitched as Astrid barely brought her axe up in time, holding it horizontally to catch Drago’s bullhook at the spur and keep it from gouging out her eye. I tried to shout her name, but all I could manage was a muffled sound.

Stormfly leapt into action, head-butting Drago and trying to push the heavyset man away. Astrid had one foot on his stomach, too. The combination of strength was too much for Drago and he backed away. Stormfly’s fire uselessly broke over his cloak as he did. The Nadder’s tail lashed behind her, spikes bared and ready to be fired.

The plan hit me.

I jumped on the Nadder’s tail; she didn’t seem to notice. As Astrid went after Drago, I rubbed my cheek against one of Stormfly’s tail-spikes . . .  I rubbed harder, deeper, until I felt the lock around my jaws loosen. Once it was loose enough, I strained my muscles, opened my mouth –

The binds snapped.

Just in time.  I unceremoniously  fell off Stormfly’s tail as she swung it and shot her spikes. One of them caught Drago’s forearm, and he bit back a shout of pain. Astrid was quick to press her advantage. She stayed on the offensive, always trying to get close and within the bullhook’s blind spot. And me? I opened my mouth, and felt the heat dribble up my throat. Oh yes. I had a lot of fire just dying to be used, and guess who was going to be the first to discover that.

I waited. Even when Drago hit Astrid across the face, I somehow held back the instantaneous rage and waited. Stormfly kept darting in, trying to take bites out of Drago’s hind or else getting in my way. Now that Astrid had closed in on him, I knew the Nadder was unwilling to risk using her spikes or fire. I waited until Drago was squarely between Astrid and I, and Stormfly had retreated after attempting yet another bite.

I took my shot.

In the small space, the sound was unmistakable. Even if he were deaf, the sudden flash of purple light would have been enough of a clue. But if Night Furies were anything, we were fast. Taken completely by surprise, Drago didn’t even drape half his body with his cloak before my shot slammed into him. If his armour hadn’t contained dragon-skin, I bet I would have burned straight through the skin on his chest. Drago was flung backwards into the door, and his weight nearly caused it to snap off its hinges. Wow. That had been stronger than I expected.

Drago glared at his opponents as they regrouped. I gave Astrid a quick nod to ease her concern. We watched as he drew himself up high, face contorting into a grotesque mask –

And a huge set of claws broke through the splintered door, seizing him from behind. Drago was pulled out of the hut without a word and by the sounds of it, he had been tossed afterwards rather than set down lightly. Astrid and I glanced at each other. Then, with Stormfly on our heels, we ran out the door, too.

We skipped to a halt before the dragon that blocked our way. Cloudjumper didn’t even notice our presence. He growled low in his throat as the man upon him dismounted.

“Hello, Drago,” growled the voice of the mighty chieftain of Berk, Stoick the Vast.

Chapter Text

“Chief . . .”

“It’s okay, Astrid. Take Hiccup and go help the others.” Dad said that without even turning his head. No, his attention was fully fixed upon the sweaty, bruised man before him. Drago was on his hands and knees, breathing heavily. A rut in the ground marked where he landed and skidded to a stop. The grooves between the dragon scales on his cloak and leggings were brown; dirt fell from them every time the man shifted.

Fishlegs and Meatlug took off for the beach, but Astrid’s eyes darted between the two men. She scooped me up, hopped on her dragon, but said, “With all due respect, I don’t think leaving you two alone is a good idea.”

“. . . Keep Hiccup out of the way.” Dad trudged forward. He lifted his axe; the sunlight caught its edge and blinded us. Drago had gotten to his feet now  and as his foe advanced, he bared his teeth and snarled like a cornered animal.

The snarl suddenly faded around the edges. Drago blinked once, and then his eyes widened with shock. “I recognize your face. You were one of those foolish Chiefs that rejected my offer! I didn’t think that any of you survived -”

With a war cry, Dad charged. Despite how everyone liked to make fun of his ‘vastness’, the gods had clearly modeled him after a bear (a big chunk of muscle with a nice layer of fat to keep him warm in the winter). He was fast for his size, faster than anyone would expect at first glance, and I don’t think Drago realized that until Dad moved. There must have been ten feet between them, but Dad cleared it in a second. Metal met metal as the two crossed arms.

“Do you regret refusing me, now?” Drago asked, leering at Dad over the top of their interlocked weapons.

Just then, Dad twisted his axe just enough to slide it up and over Drago’s bullhook. He brought the axe down, then used the heavy momentum of the drop to bring his axe back up and swing at Drago again and again. Drago clumsily stumbled back each time; the slender shaft of his bullhook didn’t look like it would be able to survive one of those blows. When Dad’s momentum began to die, he brought the axe up one more time, and shouted. Cloudjumper bounded forward, bathing his enemy in hot flame.

Before Cloudjumper even stopped, Dad advanced. Embers floated through the air; he reached up and pinched one that had tried to nest in his beard. Drago swept his cloak back, recoiling when he saw how close the Viking Chief had gotten. He stepped off to the side, holding his bullhook like a pikeman waiting for a cavalry charge. Dad stood still, watching as Drago circled him.

“You could have been part of this,” Drago said. “I gave Berk a chance. You –”

“Don’t waste my time,” Dad commanded. “I have no interest in what you have to say.”

Drago scowled. “I see Hiccup takes after you.”

Dad smiled crookedly. “That he does.”

I preened.

Behind Drago and off to the side, Cloudjumper stalked closer. The Stormcutter clearly was aiming to get behind him. With sharp eyes, Astrid was watching the two men from Stormfly’s back. A ripple went down the Nadder’s tail, making the spines there rise and flatten in turn. I knew they were waiting for the right time to spring.

Drago thrust the bullhook forward. Quickly, it was deflected down and to the side, and then Dad swung upward along the bullhook’s shaft. But there had been a slight delay between the two movements, and Drago had been able to use that to twist the bullhook and bring its spur directly into the axe’s path. The blade sunk into the metal spur, sticking until Dad yanked it free.

They both took a step back. Dad scanned his axe for damage, and then advanced again with a slow, steady walk. Drago walked backwards, keeping a safe distance between them.

My breath hitched.

For the first time in memory, Drago Bludvist’s scent contained something like fear.

Dad attacked. Drago held the bullhook steady, but he was dealing with a man, not a dragon. Dad bashed the bullhook off to the side with his axe’s head, and continued to move into Drago’s blind spot. In one, fluid movement, he brought his axe up in an overhead strike and if Drago had possessed a beard, it would have been shaved off from the narrowness of the miss. Drago moved backwards again – but that was perfect. Dad needed that room for his weapon. He swung diagonally from shoulder to hip, catching the bullhook’s shaft. Drago, mouth slightly open in what may have been a silent shout, turned his bullhook so that the spur was facing Dad, and tried to slash him with that. It drove the Viking Chief off temporarily.

“Stay back!” Dad held his hand up in Cloudjumper’s direction. The Stormcutter had crouched, ready to pounce. “You’ll only get in my way.”

I whined and looked up at Astrid.

“It’s okay, Hiccup. Stoick knows what he’s doing,” Astrid said that in a breathless whisper, as if the sight of her Chief’s fight had sapped away her voice. “And if something does go wrong, we’ll be here.”

I nodded, more for myself than her. Astrid was right. Dad was a Viking Chief, a seasoned warrior, a man courageous enough to look a Bewilderbeast in the eye and face down the Red Death to buy his tribe time to flee. And like she said, if things did get sticky, I – and Astrid and Stormfly and Cloudjumper – would be right here to assist him. That felt . . . odd. The situation itself felt odd; seeing Cloudjumper ready to jump in, watching Stormfly track the fight, having Astrid’s comforting warmth at my back . . . I’d grown so used to knowing I could only rely on myself as the tyrant’s prisoner that it was almost weird to realize I had others backing me up again. Others that couldn’t be forced to attack me by a whim of the tyrant.

I leaned back, snuggled up against Astrid, and inhaled her scent. By Odin, I had missed her so much.

Drago and Dad stalked each other. The madman had learned, and he was careful to keep space between them now. It made me giddy to see him so cautious, especially when Dad’s body language screamed the Chief was hunting the other man. I wanted to ask Drago if he had always been so afraid of a fair fight.

“Something wrong, Drago?” Dad asked.

I don’t know how to describe it. Drago made some strangled sound, barked at him or something. He spat onto the ground, not taking his eyes off Dad’s face. Dad chuckled a little and with his fingers strangely splayed, lifted his hand in mockery of Stop.

Some memory stirred in the back of my mind, but I didn’t take the bait. I wanted to concentrate on what was before me. Plus, my headache was starting to come back. I think my mistreatment in general was catching up to me, because my muscles were aching.

They continued to watch each other, but Dad was doing something weird. He held his axe with only one hand. The other rested on his thigh, and he was holding his fingers oddly. As they changed from one form to another, I finally remembered. Those were the hand signals we had taught our dragons! But Cloudjumper wouldn’t know them, would he? Also, Dad knew better  than to try and command Stormfly when Astrid was literally sitting on her back. Maybe he was using those signals to try to communicate something to Astrid –

Then, I knew. I looked at the rooftops behind Drago. It took me a while to make it out, but then I saw it: a big, black dragon with bright green eyes. Dad steadily moved forward, forcing Drago to move closer to Toothless. Then, his fingers formed the signal to fire.

Toothless did.

Naturally, the shot hit the cloak draped against Drago’s back, but it wasn’t so much damage Dad had wanted, but shock. Drago had been so focused on his opponent that the blast took him completely by surprise. It knocked him off his feet, and Dad took the opportunity. He rushed forward as Toothless swooped down from the rooftops, calling to me –

Crack.

Drago had gotten up to one knee, and had tried to use the shaft of his bullhook to deflect Dad’s axe. While he did succeed in not getting his skull cracked, the axe had sheared through the bullhook’s shaft, splitting it into two. Drago stared at the pieces with disbelief . . . and Dad bashed him in the side of the face with his axe’s head. With a cry that echoed through the island and a gush of blood from his shattered nose, Drago fell onto his side.

“Yes!” Astrid lurched forward, as if about to jump off her dragon. Cloudjumper was barking in triumph, delighted to see his best friend’s murderer defeated. Even the earth seemed to be rumbling in approval.

Dad kicked the top half of Drago’s bullhook away, and just stared, catching his breath. Drago didn’t move. His hand was pressed up against his nose, trying to stem the blood flow.

Toothless landed next to Stormfly, panting. He refused to let his right, front paw touch the ground and the wing on that side was being held funny, but he was wriggling his hindquarters and licking his lips since he didn’t have me to lick.

I squirmed in Astrid’s hands even as she lowered me. I never touched ground; I sprung straight from her arms into the dirty, dusty Night Fury and he rolled over with the force, clutching me close to his chest. He sniffed my snout, and then furiously began licking the small cut there.

“Not the time for this!” I complained.

Then, Dad spoke.

“Did you know who she was?” he said, making everyone freeze and fall silent.

“Huh?” Drago’s voice came out garbled.

“That woman you killed in the Dragon Sanctuary. Did you know who she was . . .? Answer me!” He kicked Drago over onto his back. His axe shook along with the one hand that held it.

Being forced onto his back had let some of the blood from his nose fall into his mouth, and Drago coughed that up now. “Some vigilante.”

Dad went perfectly still. Drago tried to sit up.

That was a mistake.

One hand snapped out. It locked around Drago’s throat, and squeezed. With impossible strength, Dad forced him up onto his feet. Then, Drago was up on his tiptoes, and then his toes weren’t touching ground at all after Dad slammed him against a wall and slid him up higher.

Something dark and terrifying passed over his face. “That was my wife!

The dragons and I stared, shocked by the uncharacteristic viciousness. Astrid gasped. He heard that. I saw the moment Dad remembered he had an audience. The shadow fell off his face as he glanced at us, and visibly tried to calm himself. Things were quiet. If you didn’t count the furious rumbling and the destruction in the background –

Oh, no. Oh, no.

Stormfly shrieked. Toothless rolled back to his feet, and grabbed me in his mouth before I could do anything. I poked my head out to see Cloudjumper flare his wings, staring in the same direction the other two were. Grains of dirt were bouncing up and down all around us.

“Stormfly-!” Astrid held that last syllable as her Nadder took off without her command. Toothless followed. Cloudjumper lunged at Dad. The dragons and I had realized the same thing. When Drago went down, his shout had been loud enough that any nearby person would have heard it.

Or any nearby dragon.

The tyrant smashed through the buildings. He would have killed Dad if it wasn’t for Cloudjumper; the Stormcutter snatched him up and away before the tyrant’s claws found him.  In our minds, the tyrant howled in rage, and then his ice overcame us. Cloudjumper spun around and unleashed a huge pillar of flame, keeping the ice off us with pure heat. Stormfly added her flame to his. The air quickly became muggy and hot as water evaporated at a silly rate. The ice kept its distance, forming a cavern above and below until we were encased. But I blasted through it and the three dragons quickly flew through the tunnel.

Toothless turned back to look, allowing me to see, too. Thankfully, the tyrant no longer seemed interested in us. He was staring down at the spot where Drago must have been, making soft, quiet noises not unlike the ones Toothless made to me. He didn’t even notice the king heading toward him, not until the king tackled him from the side. His tusks slid under the tyrant’s belly. The tyrant roared, barely keeping his footing as the king tried to flip him.

“Yeah, let’s stay far away from there.” Astrid urged Stormfly to fly away, which she gladly did.

We landed nearby. Astrid looked over at Dad, and said, “If we fly high, we could stay out of the Bewilderbeasts’ way and we might find Drago again.”

Dad clenched his fists. With effort, it seemed, he tore his gaze away from where the two alphas were fighting. “No. We got Hiccup. Now, we need to help the others. We can find Drago once the fighting ends.”

Astrid nodded.

I poked Toothless. “Uh, could you let me down now?”

He had to think about it.  But he did.

Together, we flew toward the pandemonium that was the beaches. The alphas, in their transition from sea to land, had punched a huge hole in the defenses that the Vikings had been quick to take advantage of. There no longer was a defensive line, just groups of defenders and Vikings running amuck. The Vikings generally stuck to their own tribes. Berk was easiest to find; they had paired up with their dragons, or else partnered with the king’s, and were targeting Drago’s war machines. Actually, I thought I saw an Outcast or two riding a dragon. The Hysterics, ever so wary, never forgetting their alleged, disastrous fight with the skraelings, remained near the ships, fending off those who would wish to destroy our way off the island. The Raiders had pushed through to the top of the beach, and were gleefully torching the nearby structures. The tribes engrossed in the thickest of the fighting appeared to be the Outcasts, the Louts and – surprising, considering our history – the Berserks. They were literally targeting the places where Drago’s forces appeared to be strongest, unlike the Bog Burglars and Meatheads, who were going after stragglers or groups that had been split from the crowd.

“What’s the plan, Chief?” Astrid asked.

“Take down his dragons.” Dad pointed ahead at a Nightmare grappling with an armour-plated Hotburple. “They’re the ones the rest of the tribes will have trouble reaching.”

“Got it!” She immediately directed Stormfly to where Meatlug was struggling to fight an agile Typhoomerang.

“Keep him out of trouble,” Dad said to Toothless. Then, he slapped Cloudjumper’s side. “Let’s go!”

As the two glided off, Toothless gave me a glare that said, Just try to get in trouble. I dare you.

I eyed his stiff wing. “You okay to fight?”

Toothless looked from me to the wing, grumbled in annoyance, and did a loop just to prove he could.

“Well, good for you. As for me, I’m pretty sore. And I still haven’t cooled down from you guys blasting the ice.” It almost felt like I had a fever, but there was no way I could have gotten sick that fast.

It was closest, so we aimed for a bola-shooter first. Toothless destroyed the mechanisms as I followed behind him. The machine collapsed on itself as we soared past, and I could hear Gobber cheering at my appearance. I chuffed in his general direction, and kept my eyes on Toothless. Good thing I did, because he turned sharply, and caught the stare of one of Drago’s Thunderclaws. The two squared off, hovering, growling.

Thunderclaws were big dragons, so that meant it was hard for this one to avoid Toothless’s lightning-fast strikes. Toothless strafed it – ducked in close to the other dragon’s side, and then blasted it as he soared past. But the Thunderclaw’s hide was tough, and it had armour protecting its more vulnerable head. The dragon wavered, but shook off the blow, roaring after Toothless as he moved out of range. I, on the other hand, circled the two, doing nothing useful. I had my reasons: firstly, I doubted I could do damage and secondly, Toothless would probably find a cage of his own to put me in if I kept throwing myself into danger.

Toothless strafed it a couple more times, twisting out of the way of the Thunderclaw’s retaliatory flame. Thick drops of metal started to roll down its helmet as the heat took effect. The Thunderclaw roared, but this time it was facing me and I fired – not even Toothless could get mad at me for jumping in now – into its open mouth. My fire hit its target with a muffled boom, and the Thunderclaw started to slowly descend in dizzying circles.

Toothless helpfully sped up its descent by body-slamming it from above.

“You don’t need to look so smug,” I told him.

Toothless snorted. He suddenly veered toward the settlement, and to my surprise, landed on one of the buildings that the Raiders weren’t burning. I looked at him questioningly, then saw that while his left wing was tucked in against his side, his right wing remained open.

“Hey, take it easy, bud.” I slunk around to his front, and stared at the gashes in his shoulder. “You’ve been through a lot. You don’t have to fight if it hurts.”

But the sight of the battle was agitating him. He suddenly started licking my snout again.

I shied away. We could worry about that small cut later. This was too important. True, I didn’t want Toothless to fight as we normally did . . . but it’s not like we actually needed to get close. Night Furies were part of the Strike Class, after all, and I was more than ready to take advantage of that. Fire was boiling in my chest again, spreading through my veins in waves of heat and drowning out the soreness of my body.

I flicked my ears at an enemy with his back to us, and spat out a mouthful of air. Fire, there.

Toothless shot the ground behind the man, and we watched with cruel amusement as he cartwheeled through the air. I scratched a line into the wood in front of Toothless.

Toothless glanced down at the line, then at the man he had taken down, and made the connection. He warbled. I like this game!

He stole my next target. And the next. Toothless was literally waiting for me to shoot, so that he could shoot right after at the same person and steal the point (technically, we seemed to hit at the same time, but the power of the strike indicated that it was Toothless’s shot that actually mattered). In-between targets, he’d sidle close and lick my cut. He’d stolen five of my points by the time I finally faked him out and got one.

My first thought upon seeing the ground explode was that somehow, that devious dragon had still managed to get there before me; that explosion couldn’t have been mine. It was too big, too powerful. At the least, it had been on par with any of Toothless’s regular shots. Yet Toothless seemed as stunned as me.

Toothless cocked his head. You, fire, how?

I shook my head. I didn’t know. If anything, I would have thought my fire had weakened from disuse. I mean sure, my chest was boiling and churning and it felt like pins were sticking into my legs, but over the weeks, I hadn’t noticed any increase in firepower. Not until today when I –

. . .

I’m such an idiot!

Toothless squawked in concern as I gagged and coughed. I pushed his snout away with my paw, concentrating on the unpleasant task that needed to be done. Come on! If I could spit up fish on command, how hard could it be to cough up a rock? Apparently though, my stomach liked the dangerous foreign object, because it was holding on tight. Finally, something hard wedged in my throat. I gagged once more, and the rune slid onto my tongue. I spat it out.

With it done, the heat coursing through my veins weakened. Toothless sniffed at the rune, and growled.

“It’s alright. It’s over. We won. We just have to clean up-”

Toothless screeched and dove on top of me as the building buckled. What -? Oh. It wasn’t even our building the alphas had crashed into, but an armoury a block away. The aftershocks were so great that the building next to the armoury had collapsed, too. Men and women alike, upon seeing the alphas close to the beach again, took off for the other side. They didn’t even care if it was friend or foe they ran next to.

The king and the tyrant took a moment to rest. Together, they sucked in enough air to make one worry that there wouldn’t be enough for the rest of us. Two long gashes, similar to the ones that now laid on Drago’s cheeks, stretched along the tyrant’s abdomen from where the king had struck him earlier. Although the bleeding was shallow, it filled the air with its coppery stench. His majesty seemed okay, despite the snapped spines along his brow.

The tyrant stood first. He swung his head sideways to slash with his tusks. The king tilted his chin up, meeting the tyrant’s tusks with his own. It bought his majesty time to stand as well, and with a jolt of worry, I realized that it had taken him effort to do so. Once on his feet, the king seemed steadier, so maybe it was just the transition he had trouble with. The dragons went forehead-to-forehead, pushing, until it became apparent the king was winning. The tyrant quickly retreated, but his majesty did not pursue. They stared at each. I thought I could see the air shimmering from the intensity of their mental conversation.

And the tyrant bellowed. He slammed into the king. His claws kicked up dirt as he pushed. We could see it. It like the shifting of a mountain before a landslide as the king’s weight was forced back . . . but then with his weight now fully on his back legs, the king shoved back, forcing the tyrant off and to the side, where his back collided with the rock arch that separated beach from camp. The tyrant hit it hard, and we could hear something in the arch break. Some debris fell from the section above his head, but the structure remained standing.

I thought – I hoped – this would be it. But as the king wheeled about for another blow, the tyrant rolled up with speed born of anger and fear, and it was his tusks that slammed into the king’s neck.

Your majesty! every dragon must have cried.

The king staggered. The tyrant head-butted the king’s shoulder, forcing him to turn until the king could break away. Now, the king had the arch to his back. The tyrant knew enough not to charge him head on, and opted to rear up instead. The king met him up high, their tusks locked with the tyrant’s tusks on the bottom, and their comparatively pathetic claws tried to scratch at each other.

There was no warning. The tyrant dropped down, tearing his tusks away. Without the tyrant to push against for support, the king began to fall, too. The tyrant tilted his chin so that his tusks curved upwards, like Drago would hold his bullhook when fighting a dragon, and thrust up –

The king howled in agony.

He’d fallen straight on the tyrant’s tusks, and they had punctuated his chest. The tyrant jerked his head up, once, twice, driving them in deeper. The tyrant dug down low, heaved, and then lifted the king up onto his back legs. They buckled beneath the king as the tyrant drove him back and smashed him into the rock arch. The tyrant stepped back a little, dragging the king with him, and then forced him into the arch again.

Again.

And again.

And again.

The tyrant’s tusks slid out, covered in blood.

The king fell. He was on the ground, two gaping holes in his chest. His breathing was heavy and fast, and one of his lungs must have been punctuated because there was a trickle of blood coming out from the corner of his lip . . . more like a river – no, no! That’s just because of his size. He was fine, he would be fine and –

Go. Run!

The king’s mental voice boomed in every dragon’s head. Almost his entire flock immediately took flight, dumping Vikings off their backs before they headed out to sea in an attempt to get out of the Bewilderbeasts’ telepathic range. The king’s head hit the ground as he laid there on his side, panting.

Cloudjumper screamed. The flames that escaped from his mouth would have vaporized any human in its way. The tyrant didn’t even notice; they broke over his scales uselessly. He stepped backwards, giving himself room to attack again.

Stop! STOP! I didn’t know who I was screaming at. Maybe the tyrant, maybe the king, maybe everyone. You won, okay? You did it. You’re stronger than him. You don’t need to keep going. Please, please just leave him -!

Hiccup . . . I’m sorry, the king whispered.

Don’t say that! I hissed. I knew what he was really saying. I knew why he said. But it would be okay –

The tyrant charged. Time slowed.

The king stood and turned, bringing his tusks around for one last, desperate blow. But he didn’t aim for the tyrant.

His majesty’s tusks slammed into the cracked arch a second before the tyrant’s tusks found his heart. The tyrant pulled his tusks free –

Just as the arch fell.

On both of them.

Chapter Text

The dust settled. The arch hadn’t been that high above their heads, but it was rock, and there had been a lot of it. It had fallen in pieces that now laid around them like a crude attempt at an above-ground burial. There plenty of gaps that we could see the Bewilderbeasts through. And what we saw was that neither dragon was moving. One of the tyrant’s tusks stuck out of the pile like a tooth from a gum. His tail, beyond the wreckage, lay limp. Between him and the rocks, I couldn’t get a good look at the king. But there was a red pool rapidly spreading outward from the place I had last seen him.

Of the king’s loyal subjects, Cloudjumper alone had remained to bear witness to his majesty’s passing. His howls were filled with grief. I think Toothless was in shock. He kept staring blankly in that direction, mouth wide-open. I didn’t know what I was feeling . . . no, I did. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry; I wanted to cuddle with Toothless and forget how to think; I wanted Dad to hold me and tell it was all going to be okay . . .

The rubble shifted.

I had no idea how to feel about that.

It took him a couple of minutes, but the tyrant finally freed himself. He threw his head up and gasped like a drowning man breaking the water’s surface. Blood coated the upper half of his tusks, and was smeared across his chest and chin from where he had laid in the king’s blood.  Most of it, I think, wasn’t his. But there were definitely some scrapes and wounds from the avalanche. He moaned, and a voice rose to answer him.

You had to be kidding me.

Pale, sweating, cloth held up to his broken nose, Drago had returned. He had a simple, wooden staff that was much less impressive than his old bullhook. He called out to the tyrant who limped . . . no . . . he wasn’t even doing that. He was . . . he was crawling and . . . legs shouldn’t bend that way. It was broken. That front leg was definitely broken a little above the elbow. Drago and the tyrant reached each other, and the tyrant collapsed in a heap. He whimpered, raising his head weakly –

“Come on,” Drago demanded. “It’s time to finish this.”

Silence. The tyrant worked himself up into a sitting position. He lifted his broken leg; the bottom half flopped sickeningly –

“Later,” Drago said. “Let’s finish this.”

No one moved. Even my heart stilled. The tyrant took a moment, and then raised his broken leg higher, as if he thought Drago hadn’t seen it.

“We’ll deal with that later!” Drago repeated. He pointed his staff to the cluster of Vikings by the ships. “Get them!”

“Retreat!” I heard Dad and Chief Hagan cry. The tyrant took a deep breath, and then his ice encased the beach. It started at the edges of the beach, and grew inward, slow enough that nobody froze to death. The Vikings were herded toward the Hysterics, who were leaping upon ships and desperately preparing them for launch. Drago’s men all ran behind the tyrant, relieved.

“Hiccup! Hiccup!” That was Astrid. I looked in her direction. Didn’t see her, but spotted Stormfly flying alone –

“NO!” I cried. I spun around and reached for Toothless, but he was already gone, having joined the dragons flying around the tyrant’s head. The king had bought time for his flock to flee – and it looked like Drago’s dragons had slipped away during the fight after all - so only Cloudjumper and Berk’s dragons had fallen under the tyrant’s thrall. It looked like only Berk’s teens had brought their dragons, and I was willing to bet that the king had arranged that just in case this happened. He’d probably tried to persuade the teens to leave their dragons, too, but their bonds had been too strong to be denied.

Toothless swooped to the forefront of the tiny flock. I should have known better, but I reached out for him with my mind. Night Furies didn’t have telepathy, but we were all connected by the same Bewilderbeast, and there must have been, had to be a way . . .

I grazed the tyrant’s mind instead. Hiccup.

You killed him! My mental voice was shrill and choked with tears. You did it. You killed him.

. . . I am alpha.

Oh, CONGRATULATIONS! Never in my life had any of my words dripped with so much sarcasm. Was it worth it? Did that make you happy?!

A odd shudder went through the tyrant’s body.

Leave me alone.

He shut off our mental connection.

“No . . .” I whispered. It was over. Drago had won. There was nothing anyone could do. No Viking weapon could slay a Bewilderbeast. No dragon could resist its will. No one could stand up to the tyrant. No one except me, but I couldn’t do anything. I was so young and small, and he was so big, and I wasn’t strong enough –

But . . .

But what if . . .

What if . . .

What if I could be?

What if I could make myself strong?

I turned my head.

There was no choice.

I closed my eyes. “I’m so sorry, everyone.”

On the roof’s edge, still warm from when it had been in my stomach, Drago’s rune stared back at me. It was dangerous. Drago wanted me to consume that. But it had increased my firepower. Somehow, that rune had interacted with the magic inside me and made me stronger.

As the tyrant trudged toward the boxed-in Vikings, I approached the rune. I took a moment to ease my racing heart, and then I swallowed it whole.

Step One, check. Now, I needed time. I had no idea how much or when things would start getting risky, but I certainly needed to give the stone space to work. Until then, I had to stop the tyrant from crushing the huddled Vikings.

I planted my feet, and roared.

Drago turned. The tyrant did not. The tyrant was busy freezing the water behind the Vikings, leaving them with nowhere to go but towards him. Drago’s eyes scanned  the roofs for me. I don’t know if he found me, but he smiled as he side-eyed the trapped members of the Barbaric Archipelago.

“Perfect.” Drago shouted at the tyrant to grab his attention. “Get him! Find Hiccup!”

The tyrant turned slowly. His mental fingers brushed over the island until he located me. Then, he faced me fully. The dragons around him stopped in mid-air and hovered, also facing me.

You’re going to do this.

I . . . I am familiar with that magic, the tyrant said. I will ensure your survival. That, I promise.

But you’re still going through with it. I stared into the tyrant’s dull eyes. Do you really hate me that much?

A moment of silence.

. . . Even now, you don’t understand.

The dragons came after me.

I ran. I ran back into the ruins of the camp. Toothless would reach me first – I didn’t have much time. Then Stormfly, then Barf and Belch, and then Meatlug. Cloudjumper would be somewhere in the middle. I only had one advantage:

I was small.

And he was there. Toothless slammed down on the rooftop I had vacated and less than a second later, the ground in front of me exploded. I ducked sideways, and wriggled underneath a rafter that opened up a small tunnel in the rubble. Toothless’s paw caught my tail, but I whipped it free. He snarled. His claws carved deep grooves into the wood nearby as he reached for me.

I crawled further. The rubble shifted as someone landed on top of it. I flattened myself to the ground as pebbles fell around me. Toothless’s scratching seemed to be coming from right behind me. Okay. I was okay. Nothing had fallen on me yet. The way ahead was dark, and I used my wings and tail as feelers. There was a small passage at one point that had fresh air passing through it, and I followed that through to the end.

I listened. Part of me had hoped that Toothless and the others had given up, but I could still hear him trying to dig through that tunnel. He wouldn’t give up. He couldn’t. The tyrant had given him a direct order, and that made it impossible for him to think of anything else. As far as his world was concerned, catching me was all that mattered.

I checked in front of me. Didn’t sound like anyone was waiting for me there. Here went nothing.

I blasted my way out. It took a couple of seconds for Stormfly to see me and for the rest to give chase. I turned sharply, vertical as I veered into a small alleyway, tilting diagonally to ride the air currents through it. The other dragons had to fly up; the alley wasn’t big enough for their wingspans. Meatlug didn’t bother. She tucked her wings in and ran down the alley; she’d always been faster on four legs than none. I flew out of the alleyway, turned – no, not there! Cloudjumper was – that was Barf and Belch’s gas. Toothless was too close – alright, use the gas to hide, avoid the heads . . . the window!

I dove inside.

Crash.

I pressed myself against the opposite wall as Meatlug snapped and struggled in front of me. Foam-flecked drool dripped from her mouth. I shook myself; I was feeling dizzy, all of a sudden. Meatlug growled. Her paws flailed. Her hips were firmly caught by the window pane I had leapt through. If she had calmed down, if she had thought for a second, she would been able to free herself.

But she couldn’t. She – not the time to be dizzy! The tyrant had made it so none of them could think.

“Sorry, Meatlug,” I said as I crossed her off my mental list.

There was no time to say anything more. Cloudjumper was ramming the door. I went up, blasted a hole in the rooftop, and slipped through it just as the door broke into splinters. I scrambled down the roof and peered over the edge. Stormfly’s tail was just disappearing inside; Cloudjumper and Toothless must have already been in. Barf and Belch were waiting their turn. I don’t think any of them noticed Meatlug struggling a metre away.

I opened my mouth, and the fire built up. They couldn’t think. They couldn’t think of anything beyond catching me, and while they all wanted the same thing, they weren’t working together. They wouldn’t coordinate. They wouldn’t communicate. They wouldn’t warn each other.

As I opened my wings and leapt off the roof, I flamed Barf.

The Zippleback took off after me. It was only a matter of time before the other dragons followed my scent, but for now, it was just us. I stayed low, and watched the shadows on the scenery around us to keep track of him.

I turned. I caught a glimpse of Toothless rocketing toward us. Cloudjumper and Stormfly lingered behind. Not good. Not good -!

I tucked my wings in, hit the ground, and rolled across it. Barf and Belched swooped low. They trailed me with necks extended, even as my roll took me under a heavy cart.

The Zippleback, half under the cart, snapped to a stop as his wings hit the cart’s wheels. I flamed it – once, twice – burned each wheel until the cart’s body fell on top of the dragon.

That should hold him.

Shaking off another bout of dizziness, I ran into another alleyway. Toothless hit the wall nearby, and landed on all fours. He charged. Teeth slid out and he was jumping, claws extended.

Dragons were fireproof on the outside, but that didn’t mean a plasma blast couldn’t stun them. Heat blazed through my body as I fired. Toothless shut his eyes naturally; I dodged his paws and he hit the ground chin-first. The heat stayed with me, making my skin itch.

I went up. He leapt after me, hitting a nearby wall with a fleshy thunk. I popped up on top . . . where Stormfly and Cloudjumper waited for me. In their enthusiasm, they both launched at the same time and smacked their heads together.

They cut off my escape into the island, and forced me back toward the beach. Toothless swiftly caught up with the other two; if I was any dragon other than a Night Fury, I would have been unable to dodge his flame. I turned sharp – Toothless couldn’t do sharp, but with my size, it wasn’t too bad for me. There was a tower, half-destroyed. The roof, and one side of the upper half was down, but the lower half was still standing. I passed through a hole in that wall, making the too-large Cloudjumper back up.

It was dark. I could hear Stormfly tracking my scent. I bounded through the rooms, and down the stairs, looking for anything useful . . .

I paused, studying what was before me. This would work.

I jumped up, and clung to the ceiling like a spider. I waited until Stormfly  tromped down the stairs. She immediately searched the place, and I waited until she was in the right spot . . .

 I swooped down. I flamed the cell door, and the force pushed it closed. As I had hoped, the door was designed to lock automatically, and the loud click gave me such a rush of relief. Stormfly ran right into the door. She didn’t even seem to register the pain as she got right back up and tried to squeeze through the bars.

“I’ll come back for you,” I told her, even though I knew she couldn’t hear me.

Someone was making a racket upstairs. Toothless. I don’t think Cloudjumper was small enough to get in here. I was about to run upstairs when my stomach lurched. I gagged. I hunched over, expecting to spit something up. But what I did spit up . . . it wasn’t normal. Near-liquid fire leaked out of my throat and sizzled on the ground. I spat up more of it. More. This time deliberately to try to get rid of the inferno in my body. I felt hot all over, hot enough that my brain was misinterpreting the pinpricks along my limbs being painfully cold.

Not the time. My stomach complained once, but I forced myself to move onward. I pictured Toothless; I pictured Astrid, Dad, I pictured all the others that were counting on me. With the pressure came adrenaline, and it beat my body into submission.

I went up  the stairs. I flamed Toothless, and it threw him back. I knew I shouldn’t have been able to do that to him, and that I should have run out of shots by now, but I still felt okay. If anything, there was too much fire in my body. I swear smoke was coming out of my nostrils.

I broke my way outside. Cloudjumper was waiting. We skimmed over Drago’s army, who leapt out of the way of the big Stormcutter. I needed to get rid of him, and then it would just be me and Toothless.

Cloudjumper was close behind me. I wouldn’t have much time.

I set my course.

The metal trap was essentially a modified mousetrap. Right now, it lay in an innocent circle on the beach, with a small tongue reaching into the air. But should that tongue be touched, the metal would snap up and encage whatever had disturbed it. That’s what I aimed toward. At the calculated moment, I folded my wings in, dropping into the space between tongue and ground. I emerged on the other side, snapped my wings open as Cloudjumper grazed the tongue, and pumped –

SNAP!

Cloudjumper’s head slammed into the metal. I looked back. The Stormcutter was throwing himself against his new cage, but it wasn’t budging. Another down, one to go –

Screk!

This time, he hit true.

“Hiccup!”

Sand poured into my nose. Something cold lay against my forehead, and whatever it was, it was leaving my skin damp. I looked up. I had crashed into the thick, icy wall that trapped the Vikings. Dad stood on the other side, open hand on the wall.

“Go! Finish this!” Drago was crying. He seemed to be leaning on his staff, but was still upright.

I growled at his voice. Toothless’s shadow passed over me.

With how much I was overheating, it was easy to burn a tunnel into the ice and hide inside. I used my soft, orange flames – didn’t want to break through the entire thing and hit Dad on the other side. His clear shot gone, Toothless landed where I had been and brought his paws down on the wall. Spider-web cracks grew outward from them, but the ice didn’t give.

“Hey! Get out of there!” The ice vibrated as Drago banged his fists against it, glowering at me.

“Uh, are you crazy?”

“Leave him alone!” Dad was shouting.

 “Then we’ll make you come out.” Drago took a step back. He swung the staff over his head, shouting.

He pointed straight at Dad.

The tyrant didn’t move, but Toothless did. He backed away from the ice, pupils like pinpricks. I stiffened, realizing what Drago had planned.

“You don’t work with us, then I get rid of them one by one,” Drago said.

No!”

My gut twisted. I burst out of the tunnel, but Drago didn’t call off the attack. Toothless ignored my shout and took off. His neck rolled like it was boneless, until his eyes came to a rest on Dad. He was watching Toothless, shield raised. I could hear the Viking preparing themselves, but it would be no use. Night Furies never missed.

“Toothless . . .”

He began to level out. His tail straightened to catch the air, and the tailfins opened . . .

I did the only thing I could.

I flamed it.

The resulting burst of light and fire clouded his view. Toothless shook his head, hovering in place as he blinked embers out of his eyes. His gaze locked onto Dad again –

And his tail slipped through the air. He had less than a second to prepare before everything gave way. Snarling, wings beating furiously, Toothless tumbled through the sky. Not far away, the scorched, black scraps of his artificial tailfin fluttered to the ground. It had been designed to survive heat, rough treatment, and water, but not a super-charged plasma blast from a Night Fury. Toothless snarled once more, and then hit the ground and stopped moving.

Toothless!” He was all I could think about. The sound of him hitting the ground played in my mind over and over. What had I done? Stupid! How could I have done that? There must have been another way to save them. I ran as fast as I could; my blood howled in my ears –

Toothless roared. He rose in an eruption of black fury, and before I could remember that this was not my Toothless, his claws were in my flesh and drawing blood. I shrieked. He bowled me over onto my back. His paws pinned my wings. His mouth was open to display his teeth.

“Good. Now hold him.” Drago was coming closer. Drago was coming closer, and I still had that stupid rune inside me. I could spit it up – I could – but that good would that be? I wasn’t strong enough yet. Something in my blood was telling me I could still become more. Become what I needed to be. I needed more time.

I swallowed hard. I would have to ask Toothless for his forgiveness yet again.

I flamed inside his mouth. It was my biggest fireball yet, and the light left white spots dancing in my vision. The fireball knocked Toothless up and over onto his back, freeing me. More liquid fire threatened to bubble up into my mouth; I forced it down with pure will. Toothless jumped up. His claws flashed and scored deep in the sand by my head before he brought his weight down on me. I fought. I squirmed. My claws couldn’t break his grip, or his scales.

Toothless shifted, and I saw the three gashes left by Drago.

Toothless  . . . I’m so sorry.

I reached inside one of the gashes, and sunk my claws in. The flesh there jumped; might have been muscle. I pulled; but wasn’t enough. So I lurched forward and bit the inside of the wound until fresh blood splattered my snout. Finally, between his previous wounds and the ones I was adding, Toothless’s injured shoulder caved. He toppled over onto his side, reaching for me even as I rolled out of reach.

It hurt to see him like acting this. Like a mindless beast. He tried multiple times to stand, but seemed unable to comprehend that his right leg could no longer support his weight. His eyes never left me the entire time. Nor did he stop snarling.

“Toothless.” I choked back a whine.

“Impressive,” Drago said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of dragons the rest of your Vikings become.”

I turned. Slowly. Put myself between him and Toothless. I . . . I couldn’t do anything else; my legs were shaking. “Stay away from them. All of them.”

Drago understood what I was saying well enough. He laughed. “There’s no point, Hiccup. I own him. Soon, I’ll own all of them. No dragon can resist the alpha.”

The alpha. My eyes were drawn to the tyrant. He was lying on his side, eyes turned downward. His broken leg lay at an impossible angle. I knew that was his majesty’s blood soaking his body, but with how slow and laboured his breathing was, I could be fooled into thinking it was his own. He . . . he didn’t look anything like an alpha at the moment. Hardly even looked like a threat.

I looked up at Drago. “I don’t accept that.”

I turned to Toothless. My back was to Drago, but the slow, purposeful way I approached Toothless gave him pause. I flicked my ears forward, narrowed my focus. I erased Drago, the tyrant, everything else from the world. This was about me and Toothless, nothing else.

“Toothless, bud? Hey, it’s me: Hiccup.”

Toothless growled. His claws were an inch from my nose.

“Shh . . . It’s okay. It’s just me. Just me.”

Toothless suddenly found his footing. He lunged, and I fought not to scream as his teeth dug in. Drago was laughing, Toothless’s teeth had broken through my scales, and the violence made everything hurt worse and I felt like my chest was going to explode . . .

I dug all my claws in, and clung close to him. Not to hurt, but to bring him close. Toothless didn’t shake, but his teeth sunk deeper. I kept a tight hold, and whispered into his ears.

“It’s okay. It’s alright, Toothless. It’s not your fault. They’re making you do this. You wouldn’t –” I whined. “Toothless, please.”

I closed my eyes from the pain.

“It’s okay. I forgive you. You know you’re my best friend, right? I’m not giving up on you. I’m not letting them take you from me again.”

Blood fell from both of us. The gash on Toothless’s head had stopped bleeding, but not those on his shoulders. The scales around them were caked with dry blood, but there was plenty of fresh blood to go around. My shoulder was bleeding too; that’s where he’d caught me. However, the pressure of the bite kept most of my blood inside me.

“Toothless . . . Toothless, please . . .”

I buried my snout into his body, and forced out a raspy purr.

I love you.

A gush of blood washed over my shoulder. Drago wasn’t laughing anymore. I could smell him, and he smelled tense. The pressure loosened even more, until I was unceremoniously dropped from Toothless’s jaws.

Hiccup . . . what are you doing? asked the tyrant. I could feel his attention upon us, but ignored him.

“Toothless, bud?”

“What . . .?” asked Drago. He turned back to the tyrant, and shouted at him. “You! The Night Fury, take control of it!”

“Toothless . . .” His eyes were flashing. His pupils dilated and narrowed in turn, completely unfocused. I approached fearlessly. “Toothless, I’m here. I’m not leaving you. You got to resist him, okay, bud?”

I reared up, and put my paw on his snout. He shied away, but did not break contact.

“You know me. You got to fight it, Toothless. Don’t let him control you anymore.”

Toothless whimpered. He shook his head as if to say ‘no’, but again, he never broke contact.

“Toothless , just calm down. Listen to me. You’re my best friend in the entire world. Toothless, plea se . . . just look at me.” I put my other paw on his cheek, as if I could hold his head in place, and looked straight into his eyes.

Slowly, ever so slowly, they dilated into their natural shape.

“That’s not . . . How? That’s not possible!” Drago shouted. He picked up his staff, and charged –

 I spun around, wings flared. “Stay back!

Drago stopped cold.

He took a step back.

“. . . What is this?” he demanded. But my attention wasn’t on his strange reaction, but the tyrant’s.

No . . . no no no . . . You can’t. Not now. No no no NOT NOW!

“What . . .?” I looked back. Even Toothless had taken a step away from me. I didn’t understand. What -?

I stared at my reflection in the ice. It wasn’t just glossy black scales I saw. It wasn’t even blood-splattered scales. A bright blue light lit up my back, branching out in irregular forks like lightning. And I knew – I choked up the rune and spat it out – this was what I had been waiting for.

I met the tyrant’s petrified stare. I am alpha here.

Drago got over his shock. He rushed me. Toothless screeched, but it wasn’t necessary. My flame was stronger than his now. I blasted Drago, and he hit the ice. The tyrant struggled to his feet, but he didn’t even spare his master a glance. His eyes were on me, wide and frightened and desperately avoiding my stare.

You can’t you can’t you can’t –

Stand down. My mental voice was as sharp and cold as a blade.

I flicked my ears in Cloudjumper’s direction. Toothless immediately flamed  the trap and set the Stormcutter free. Not long after, I heard Barf and Belch call on the wind. They flew up over the rooftops, accompanied by Meatlug. Unfortunately, Stormfly wouldn’t appear without a Viking’s help.

A wave of pressure rolled through the air as the tyrant tried to enforce his will. I am your alpha. I am the alpha!

I roared. The tyrant flinched. Meatlug, Cloudjumper, Barf and Belch shook themselves free of the tyrant’s influence again.

They won’t follow you. Not anymore, I told the tyrant.

I am alpha! I AM! His voice rattled my mind.

No, you’re not, I told him. You will never be, because you don’t understand how to earn a dragon’s loyalty. You don’t understand what it means to be an alpha.

No no no no no no no . . .

I walked forward. The tyrant, in his haste to keep the same distance between us, stumbled. He fell onto his stomach and stayed there, shaking his head.

A true alpha doesn’t need to rule through fear. They rule with compassion, and wisdom. Not like you. Why do you think they left you when the king appeared? Why do you think they choose me now? You’re no alpha. You never were.

The tyrant continued shaking his head. I felt a pang of pity. If the tyrant had been human, he would have been crying. I glanced at Drago, who was watching his trained killer with nothing less than pure disbelief, and reminded myself who was really at fault.

Let me show you, I said to the tyrant. If this is truly what you want, if you really think this is your destiny. . . then let me show you. Let me show what it means to be an alpha.

I reached out with my memories; with all those memories of me and Toothless; memories of Berk and our symbiotic relationship with our once-greatest foes. I felt his trembling, mental fingers extend, and I gave him everything. Every triumph and hardship; every failure and dream. I gave him visions of a Chief who fought endlessly to protect his home; of an outcast that gave up everything for what she knew to be right; of a king who made the ultimate sacrifice to save his own. I gave him everything.

The tyrant stilled. His eyes were glassy as he absorbed my gift. Toothless nuzzled me, nervous. Meatlug, Cloudjumper and Barf and Belch chittered to each other behind us. I looked back and all three turned their eyes away and dipped their heads in reverence.

Their words were clear. Alpha, you.

The tyrant gasped. A cloud of hot air rose from his open mouth like smoke. Eyes closed, chin pointed toward the heavens, he breathed heavy and slow. Bit by bit, those eyelids opened. In one long, miserable moan, all the fight drained from his body. The sound’s pitch jumped a few times, as if the tyrant had been fighting back sobs. He lowered his chin. With one, good look at his face, I knew.

I had finally reached him.

But all Drago saw was that his Bewilderbeast was no longer cowering. He staggered over to his dragon, skin smeared with blood from his nose, face alit with pure fury.

“You’ve caused enough trouble, Hiccup.” Drago’s voice was like teeth grinding together. “I’m tired of you. Nothing is worth this.”

I extended my wings, making myself big as the dragons gathered behind me. I coughed up some of that excess fire too, but successfully passed it off as being on purpose.

Drago laid a hand on the tyrant’s tusk, catching his attention. “There’s been a change in plans. We don’t need Hiccup anymore. Kill him!

The tyrant looked from Drago to me, then back to Drago. He rumbled, confused.

“He’s done too much damage,” Drago said. “I don’t want him around anymore. He needs to die . . why are you shaking your head?

And he was. The tyrant answered every sound that came out of Drago’s mouth with a shake of his head. His eyes darted from me to Drago so quickly I wondered if he was dizzy.

“Fight him! I said fight!” Drago was shouting right in the tyrant’s face, and the tyrant was trying to crawl away backwards. “What’s the matter with you? Kill him! FIGHT!”

In his rage, Drago slammed the staff into the tyrant’s broken leg. He yelped.

“Don’t just sit there. Kill him! He’s a stupid dragon. How hard can it be?” With every word, he rammed the butt of his into that same leg. The tyrant whined, trying to shield it. “Stop complaining! I don’t care! Do as I say, and kill him! I order you to kill Hiccup-!”

Drago nearly fell over as he threw his weight into the strike, and missed. The leg had been moved above his reach. Very above his reach. Everyone, absolutely everyone present watched in horror-struck amazement as the tyrant reared up to his full height and roared –

And just like that, it was over. It happened that fast.

Drago Bludvist was dead.                       

The tyrant shakily nosed at what remained of his former master. He seemed to be in shock from his actions. But whatever trance he was in was broke when the first of Drago’s men tried to get a closer look. The tyrant’s head snapped up. Ice spewed from his mouth freely, and the soldiers scattered. The tyrant chased them. The rest of us watched fearfully as his shadow haunted the crooked ruins, hunting down who knows how many. Finally, he disappeared from view, and there was a humongous splash. The tyrant had fled to the sea, and this time, I don’t think he was planning to return.

I checked the tower where I had locked up Stormfly. Good. Still standing.

“Hiccup!”

I found myself in Astrid’s arms, and squirmed until I was facing her. I didn’t waste any time; I rubbed my head against whatever part of her face I could reach, and couldn’t resist the urge to lick her cheek. She laughed, taking it all in stride as the others swarmed us. Dad had teared up from relief, and Gobber was sniffling openly.

“It’s over,” Dad said. “I don’t know how, but you did it, Hiccup.”

“Yeah. I seem to be good at that.” I think I deserved to stroke my ego a little.

As Astrid held me and Vikings jostled for a closer look, I let my thoughts drift. It was over, but I didn’t feel so great about how it ended. I knew that Drago had to die, and it had been . . . it had been optimistic to think that I could have reformed the tyrant. But his majesty was dead, and Dad still didn’t know about Skullcrusher  . . .

“Hiccup, where’s Stormfly?” Astrid asked.

. . . Mom was dead, too.

My stomach lurched. I pushed away from Astrid, and landed on the ground. Red-orange liquid spewed out of my throat, sizzling.

There was a circle around me now. Small flames rose from the surface of the liquid, until the puddle burned itself up.

“Hiccup?” Dad said.

It was over. We had won. And I felt awful.

“Hiccup, are you hurt?” Dad said. He tried to crouch down and meet my eyes, but I stumbled backward into Astrid’s legs.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

 My heart hammered. I had spat the rune up, hadn’t I? It was done. It was over.

Unless it wasn’t. Could it have been too late? What had just happened. . . was it a warning? A crack in the foundation before it all gave way? Was I still playing right into Drago’s hands? And what about the dragons? If it . . .  if it was too late for me and I did explode with magic, would the spell hurt them, too?

My legs shook. It felt like there was a hard ball in my chest. And it was growing, expanding outwards and pushing on my body –

I gasped. I opened my wings and flew over the crowd. My friends called after me.

Cloudjumper barked.

I whirled around and growled, ending with a snap. STAY!

I heard Astrid screaming my name. Dad had jumped on Cloudjumper and was urging the Stormcutter to follow me, but he wouldn’t dare disobey his alpha. The other dragons watched me uncertainly, cringing as  their owners took up Dad’s cry. None of them ignored my order, however.

None but Toothless.

He ran after me as best as he could, nearly tripping here and  there due to his injured shoulder. His barks were sharp and frantic. Demanding. Had he acted like that toward any other alpha, they would have smacked him. I did my best to ignore him, but he spoke at a pitch seemingly designed to drill through to my brain.

Then, there was no more land and nothing but the open sea. Toothless didn’t slow down. He ran, and leapt. His wings sliced through the air, a blur as he grew close enough to touch –

His tail slipped through the sky. With a cry, Toothless fell sideways into the sea. He surfaced. Water droplets flew from his wings as he took off again.

It was no use. He fell back into the water. When I looked, he was trying to swim after me.

He cried for me. I hardened my heart and shouldered onward.


It was a beautiful day. Clouds were drifting in the wind, hiding the sun behind them. It was . . . cold? I couldn’t tell anymore. My body obeyed, but it no longer felt like a part of me. Pins and needles ran down my bones. The blue lights on my back tingled. Something too hard and big was inside my chest, and it was almost like I could feel my skin rupturing from the pressure.

I closed my eyes. I wanted to sleep. Sleep would be nice . . . I shook my head. There . . . there was an island up ahead. I had to make it there first. I should be safe there. Everyone should be safe when I was there.

Where . . . where did the island go? Oh. There it was. Right ahead of me. I flapped my wings. No, that wasn’t right . . . I hadn’t moved the way I should. I flapped them again to correct my path. But I . . . I couldn’t tell if my wings were reaching in the right direction.

It was a beautiful day.There was an island up ahead. I could rest there. It would be nice to take things easy for a bit. They’d be upset if I didn’t take care of myself. I hope Toothless wouldn’t be too mad about this. We should go flying. Him and me. It would be fun. It would be good . . .

. . .

. . .

good . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I told my wings to start beating again. There was an island up ahead. I needed to go there. I . . . I . . .

Gravity flipped directions. The ground slipped out from under me. There wasn’t supposed to be ground. I looked up. The sun peeked out at me. It was shrinking.

It was . . . it was a beau-

 . . . beautiful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It . . .

It was . . .

The sun was small.

Dark.

I-!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . . So cold.

Chapter Text

It was dark.

My neck lay at an uncomfortable angle, leaving a crick in my spine. It was cold everywhere and my skin felt wet and slippery, as if it were melting. My toes flexed as if to make a fist, but gave up halfway.

Something was wrong. Sharp pains ran up my front legs. I twitched. The twitch cracked my eyelids open and I finally regained control. Unsteadily, I raised my paw to my face. That was . . . that wasn’t right. The colour was off. The texture was different.

As I watched, a pulse ran through my leg. And in its wake, the scales shivered and curled up. They folded into themselves, becoming soft and smooth, brightening in color and filling the grooves between them until they couldn’t be told apart. I blinked, unable to understand. I turned my paw over just as the claws seemed to evaporate. I sniffed it.

The ground below me moved. I dug my claws – nails – into it, but whatever lay under me was hard and wouldn’t give. I blinked blearily. Water lapped at my skin. I blinked again, and my surroundings swam into focus.

I stared into the blue-red eyes of the tyrant.

For a long time, we watched each other without words. I drew my legs into my chest, cold. His expression was tired, pained, and yet accepting. For the first time, I saw something in him that reminded me of the king.

I should be dead,  I said to him.

Yes, you should be, the tyrant said back.

I don’t understand.

The magic had grown too powerful, and your body was rejecting it, the tyrant said. It would have left you all at once, and the energy of its departure would have shredded your body, if not your soul. I . . . I have experience tempering that same rune and its effects on Drago. I’ve slowed its flow out of your body so that you would survive it.

“. . . You saved me,” I said hoarsely.

Yes.

I leaned back on my haunches  - on my knees – nearly falling off his tusk when I forgot my human-self’s disability. The tyrant held his tusks above the water, and I sat at the bottom of the curve, on top the manacle. I didn’t see any blood present on him, and I couldn’t smell any either. But, I realized, I could barely smell anything. The cold had clogged my nostrils, and what little I did smell was salty seawater.

How’s your leg? I asked.

It . . . hurts, the tyrant admitted. The cold is good for it.

Oh. You’ll still need to immobilize it. I turned at the waist and looked upward. I almost flexed my shoulders  to move my nonexistent wings. What are you going to do now?

The tyrant was silent.

Then, I felt him jump. His pupils widened as he took a sharp breath.

I asked, What’s wrong . . .?

I was submerged. The tyrant had taken off into the depths of the water, leaving me to drift. I kicked for the surface. I wasn’t moving fast enough – my leg. I’d forgotten again I didn’t have one of them in this form. I needed to compensate –

Something dark broke through the surface and seized me. It lifted me out of the water and into the light. I found myself suddenly pressed up against something warm.

“Hiccup!” my father gasped.

“Dad . . .” I croaked out. I wrapped my arms around him, curling in my fingers so my claws didn’t scratch him.

We were crying. It felt so oddly freeing to be able to cry again. Cloudjumper patiently hovered over the waves.

“I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again,” Dad said between sobs. “We lost track of you with the spyglass, and the dragons were refusing to fly.”

“I told them not to. Don’t be mad at them for that.”

Dad sniffed. “I haven’t heard your voice for months. If I weren’t seeing you speak with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have recognized your voice.”

“ . . . Seriously?

“Well, umm . . .”

Really? A few months is all it takes for you to forget the cherished voice of your only child?”

“I had a lot on my mind during that time! Your situation came with quite the bit of drama.”

“Which should have made you think even more about your wonderful son’s wise and comforting voice.”

“You just sounded different in my memories, that’s all!”

We looked at each other. Slowly, we both began to smile.

“Same old Stoick,” I said.

Dad wiped his eyes. “Same old Hiccup. Now, wrap this around yourself.”

“Huh?” I stared as he took off his fur cape and gave it to me. “Why do I . . .?”

I looked down at myself.

“Oh.”

A beat.

ThankyouverymuchI’llbetakingthat!”

“Good thing we spied you before Astrid did,” Dad said with a chuckle. “I told her to stay put and cover her eyes.”

I’m pretty sure my entire body flushed red.

Dad patted Cloudjumper, and the Stormcutter flew off over the sea. We found Astrid and Stormfly before long, and I became an even brighter shade of red as the world suddenly seemed to be giggling about my lack of clothing.

“Hiccup!” She said. She looked like she was ready to jump from Stormfly to us.

Dad chuckled. “Give him some space, Astrid. He’s not quite ready for you.”

I couldn’t look her in the eye. Dad, please stop talking.

We flew back to Drago’s island. Smoke rose from its surface, like a smouldering volcano. I could see the dots of Vikings scavenging in the ruins, but how much they would find in that disaster scene, who knew? Other Vikings were preparing and repairing their ships for the long journey home, or else bandaging wounds or resting after the hard battle.

But Berk was waiting for us. Meatlug soared above the ground, and her rider had a spyglass pressed against his eyes. We heard him shout, saw him wave at the crowd, and Berk surged forward. I watched them intensely, searching for that one face . . .

There he was.

Gobber had grabbed Toothless around the neck to hold him back . . . only to end up dragged along the ground like a child. Toothless ran until he was knee-deep in the water, then balanced on his hind legs, screeching like an over-excited Terrible Terror. Here, here! I’m here! I’m here!

I smiled. “Hey, bud.”

Gobber managed to get control of Toothless as we landed before a crowd of excited Berkians. Dad lifted his hands, and demanded they give us room. l leaned on him, hopping on my only foot as he firmly led me towards a small hut that had survived the battle, while loudly asking Gobber to find me some real clothes (ARGH! Dad, stop it!).

“Whoa!

Toothless had freed himself from Gobber, and Dad barely managed to stop Toothless from knocking me over. One arm was slung under the dragon’s armpits, holding Toothless in place as he wriggled and slobbered. He laughed, telling Toothless to wait until I was inside. Sure enough, the second right before he closed the door on me, Dad let the Night Fury go.

I expected the hard hit. Luckily, the floor was made of dirt. I swear, I nearly drowned as Toothless licked my face over and over. I couldn’t even touch his face to it push away, because it seemed to have morphed into one big tongue. Toothless barked, high-pitched and excited, and ran around the perimeter of the room.

I grinned and beckoned him closer. “I’m over here, Toothless!”

Toothless leapt into my lap. I laughed, and laughed and couldn’t stop as I rubbed my face against his. Toothless couldn’t sit still, and rolled over in my lap.

I stoked the underside of his chin. It appeared that someone had already bandaged his wounds. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”

Toothless wriggled in place. His tail swung from side to side.

I froze.

Sensing the change in atmosphere, Toothless rolled back to his feet. He chirped in my face, questioning.

“Toothless, I’m . . . I’m so sorry. You know I didn’t mean it right?”

He cocked his head.

“Your tailfin. It’s all my fault. I . . . I never meant to hurt you like that. I’m so sorry.”

Toothless stared at his tailfin, as if he’d forgotten he’d had one. He looked back at me, and very deliberately laid his paw on my stump and licked my face.

Your leg, my tailfin. I forgive you.

“Toothless . . .”

He backed away abruptly. Before I could say anything, he bowed.

Alpha, you.


We left the island the day after. For all this appeared to have wrapped up for Berk’s sole benefit, the other tribes seemed pleased with their lot. Causalities and serious injuries had been minimal and although the two Bewilderbeasts basically trampled the settlement, there had been plenty of loot for the Vikings to pick through – even some of Drago’s ships had been left intact. Drago’s battered army stayed well away during the night, and when we left, it was without knowing what had become of them.

On our way home, the Berkian ships made a stop at the king’s old Nest. Both the king’s dragons, and the dragons that had fled the tyrant’s rule were there. I hadn’t expected much,  but when they all saw Cloudjumper bowing to me, they were only too eager to join my admiring crowd. And that is how Berk’s dragon population doubled overnight.

Between that and the original transformation, everyone wanted to talk to me. Fun, but also exhausting. A couple of days before landfall, I finally found some alone time. For like two seconds. Astrid found me on the ship’s deck basking in the light of the full moon. She weaved her way around Toothless, and walked up to me.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey, yourself. We haven’t really had a chance to talk since I turned back human, have we? Not alone.”

She was giving me a weird look. I touched my cheek. “Is there something on my face.”

“No. It’s just . . . you sound different.”

I shrugged. “Side-effect, I guess. My Dad said something about not recognizing my voice when he first heard me, too.”

“Your voices is a lot rougher,” she agreed. “But side-effect of what?”

I grinned. “Listen.”

I showed her. She held a hand up to her mouth.

“Hiccup, was that -?”

“A chuff? Yes, Astrid. Yes, it was.”

Plenty of people had heard me try to imitate Toothless’s sounds before. What was shocking about this occasion was  that my chuff hadn’t been a well-meaning, but poor human imitation. It had been real.

“How did you do that?” she asked.

“I guess not all of me is fully human again,” I answered. It made sense. I had been able to speak to the tyrant until the very end, after all. I wondered if he had did that on purpose.

I played with a lock of her hair. “Your scent’s still the same as I remember. It’s like those wildflowers in the meadow behind my house; flowery, sweet, with a touch of dew . . .” 

She burst out laughing.

“ . . . In my defense, that would have very romantic if we were dragons.”

She tried, and failed to stop giggling. “Well, thank you for trying. It’s very sweet that you remember my scent. And creepy.”

“Hey.” I tapped my nose. “It was very hard not to notice while I was a dragon. Not my fault.”

“Well, don’t let the kids back at Berk hear you say any of that. They’ll be convinced you’re some kind of dragon-human hybrid.”

“There are worse fates. By the way, where’s Dad?”

“Flying with Cloudjumper. They really like each other.”

“Yeah, well they did have a very important interest in common.”

Even alluding to her made my mood drop. Astrid reached over, and squeezed my shoulder. “You did everything you could. You can’t blame yourself for what Drago did.”

“I know. I just . . .” I whispered, “I wish it hadn’t ended so bad.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I leaned on the deck’s rail, and looked toward the horizon. “Can I take a raincheck on that until we get back home.”

“Of course,” she said. “We can save it until the picnic.”

“ . . . Uh, could you go into a bit more detail on that?”

“If I’m remembering correctly, before you went and got yourself turned into a dragon, we were going to have a picnic.” Her eyes sparkled. “ It was your idea.”

Catching her eye, I grinned like a fox. “Why, yes, it was. How about in that meadow with all the flowers  that smell like you?”

“Still creepy, but acceptable. Count me in.”