Hey, guys! I want to wish you a happy new year and I hope that everyone will have a great time this year. I also want to thank you all for your support in 2017 and I can't wait for all the new chapters in 2018! Enjoy the chapter!
Astrid, Heather, and Taramis were being held captive by a band of mercenaries. Defeating their leader, Arvid, is their only way out.
"I can't let you fight for me. It goes against everything I believe in!" Taramis protested while he paced in front of two women.
"Well, I can't let you fight for me. It goes against what I need to become." Astrid said. She looked at her sword and then at Taramis. "So, what is it going to be, Taramis? I fight and become the Empress, again, you have trained me to be..." She saw that Taramis was already in her palm. "Or you fight and, no matter the outcome, I never amount to anything, ever again."
"Hel. You are not going to bend are you?" Taramis groaned and looked at her. Astrid just shook her head and said no. Taramis sighed. "Then let's get you fight-ready."
Taramis then walks her through a training exercise while they discussed her upcoming duel.
"Okay, Astrid, quick question," Taramis said. "What have you noticed about Arvid that will help in this fight?"
"He fights dirty," Astrid answered without thinking. "He knocked you down by tripping you when the two of you weren't even fighting."
"Very good," Taramis said with a smile. "Fighting him won't be like sparring against the monks at the monastery or against Alvin's soldiers. Not only will he fight dirty, but he will fight to kill."
Hiccup and Risa are in Hiccup's room reviewing the rescue plan.
"You are sure you can incapacitate the guards?" Hiccup asked and she nodded. "They are always demanding a wine with their dinner. It will hardly be suspicious for me to give it to them."
"And you said you have got a few casks of particularly flavorful wine?" Hiccup again asked. "Yes. They will never taste the sleeping powder. And with the way those two drink, they will be out before nightfall."
"How flavorful is this wine?" Hiccup asked in bewilderment. Risa smiled and pulled out the bottle. "I brought some of the wine with me. Would you like a taste? I promise, there is no sleeping powder in it yet."
Hiccup, however, shook his head. "No, thanks. I need to stay sharp." Risa smiled again and put a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. "Always so responsible. That is what I like about you." Suddenly a terrible terror screeched and Risa laughed. "Oh, Starky, are we not paying enough attention to you?" She asked and strokes Starky's scales and he preens under the attention, nipping affectionately at her fingertips.
"You know that I knew about you long before you showed up in that damn castle?" Risa spoke, breaking up the silence. "Yes. Maybe? NO." Hiccup sarcastically said. He was in no mood for this kind of talks. He needed to get that monk out of dungeons. Risa blushed at his tone but she continued. "I knew there was something special about you then. You are so strong, yet also so gentle. And while others are cruel, you are like a star between them."
"Risa..." Hiccup said with a warning tone.
"I... I love you, Hiccup. If I am being honest, I have been in love with you, since I first met you in the hall." Risa said blushing and Hiccup sighed finally looking at her.
"It is but a shadow and a thought that you love. I cannot give you what you seek, Risa. Besides that, my heart belongs to someone else. And you know that." Hiccup said looking directly into her eyes. In that moment, the door leading into his room opened and Terek walks into an awkward silence.
"Sorry, I am late..." Terek said but he stopped as he noticed that silence. "What is going on?" Risa was blushing furiously and then she runs past her brother, out of the room.
"What happened?" Terek asked, shocked but Hiccup just shooked his head. "Forget about it."
It was the night before the duel.
"Taramis, Astrid, Heather... Are you awake in there?" Fishlegs silently said and peeked his head inside the tent.
"Even if I weren't fighting a trained killer in the morning, I doubt I would get any sleep on this rock-hard slab." Astrid huffed and both Taramis and Heather chuckled.
Fishlegs entered the tent, his face down. "I... I had to see you."
"We don't have much use for words right now, Fishlegs. You have already made it very clear where you stand." Taramis said crossing his arms.
"That is just it. What happened after that castle. How the war ended. It is also my fault." Fishlegs said looking down. "I think that I also can for the death of Ruff and Tuff. I couldn't save them..." The trio looked at him in bewilderment. Were the twins dead? No, that could not be happening. Fishlegs face then hardened as he looked at them. "And I don't want to see Astrid die too. At least I can prevent that. At least I can save grandaughter of Finn Hofferson."
"What are you saying?" Astrid asked.
"I don't care if they find out and string me up. I have come to free you." Fishlegs said. "The guards on the watch are loyal to me. Now get out of here and don't look back!"
"You think that I am going to run?" Astrid asked in bewilderment.
"You need to!" Fishlegs insisted. "You can't beat Arvid. He is too good! Go now, and live!"
Astrid sighed and looked at him. "Fishlegs, too much is at stake for the entire kingdom. This is bigger than this one duel. The realm needs its rightful ruler. We have suffered under Agnar's tyranny for too long. I aim to lead an army against Prince Asger. If I run from some mercenary, who will follow me?" Her face hardened as she said last words. "I am not running!"
Fishlegs's face faded. "There is no convincing you, is there?"
"Not a chance," Astrid said with determination on her face.
"You remind me you grandfather a lot. I always loved to read his books which you gave me." Fishlegs said sitting down on the chair. "He was a cunning strategist and as determined as any warrior. Did you read his notes about the Battle of Endersforge? The uprising against him?"
Everyone looked at him in shock. Clearly, no one knew about any uprising, anyone except Astrid. Fishlegs then started the story.
"Well, after the battle with the Blood Empire, some were not happy about it. When Finn made Hiccup a lord a lot of people disagreed. And he had to decide what to do about them. The nobles of Endersforge have rallied a fighting force against him. Finn was at first surprised. He thought that they were all talk. His generals wanted to ride out and put them down once and for all. But Finn refused that. When his Generals asked him why, he said that they want war, and he is not going to give it to them. His generals were also surprised that he wanted to let them come to the walls, they knew that they were impenetrable, but still. But Finn, in his head, had a great plan. With their entire army in front of Voxaston's walls, their homeland was completely undefended. Finn sent his army there with only one objective. Provide the families of the soldiers with everything they needed. And when the men learned that, they refused to fight. Just how Finn expected. The soldiers refused to fight someone who could easily kill their families but instead provided them everything they needed." Fishlegs finished his story and trio were looking at him. He let a small smile creep to his face. He missed this. He missed his friends. "And that is how the Endersforge nobility lost their land." He smiled more and looked at Astrid.
"Your grandfather handled it quietly. He parcelled out the land to the knights and soldiers who served him most loyally. He even forgave the rebels and let them live. Most people in the empire never even knew there was a rebellion. Especially, Hiccup the First and his family."
Astrid scratched her chin. "I know why he kept it a secret..." She got Fishlegs excitement and she wanted to do just that. She almost smiled that her plan was working.
"Yes, so please, enlighten me," Fishlegs said with the same excitement, they saw in the castle.
"He kept it a secret because she didn't want to fuel the rebellion," Astrid said with a small smile. "This was words from his diary, 'Rebellion incites further rebellion. If we made martyrs of them, there would only be more rebels.'"
"But anyway, if you are refusing to leave, I should go and let you all rest," Fihlegs said and made his way out. But then he halted and turned back to Astrid. "Astrid... I..." Fishlegs started but then he sighed and closed his eyes. "Tomorrow, against Arvid... I have seen him fight dozens of duels. I know how he kills. I don't want to see you end up dead. Your greatest advantage will be that he is overconfident. He thinks you will be an easy kill. Use that against him."
"What do you mean?" Astrid asked as she sensed an ulterior motive from Fishlegs. "He won't be as cautious against you as he would be against another opponent, like Taramis. Let him think he has won, and he will forget to keep his guard up."
An amused smile went to Astrid's face. "So let him get as close to killing me as I can without actually letting him do it? Yeah, why not that should be easy."
"You were not with Hiccup for two years, yet still his sass is rubbing off on you," Taramis said with a smile and they laughed. When Fishlegs stopped laughing he looked back at Astrid. "Anyway, unfortunately, yes, you need to do just that."
"And here I thought this might be a little difficult..." Astrid said as she shook her head.
"Good luck tomorrow, Astrid," Fishlegs said before quickly leaving the tent. "Sounds like I will need it." Astrid sighed but she smiled when Heather put her hand on her shoulder.
Back at Voxaston empire, Hiccup is preparing to break the captive monk out of his cell.
"I will go down first and give the guards their meal," Risa said to Hiccup and Terek. "Once they have had the wine, we should be ready to act."
"Agreed." Hiccup said, nodding. Risa travels down the stairs and in that moment Terek spoke up. "You know, Risa told me what happened. That you turned her down." Hiccup looked at him and raised his eyebrow. "I am kind of glad that you turned her down. Because, well, you don't go after your best friend's sister."
"Terek, listen, we have got more important problems right now." Hiccup said and Terek's face went red. "You... You are right." In that moment, Hiccup sees Risa wave them forward.
"It is now or never." Hiccup said and went after Risa.
"They are out, but I can't say how long they will sleep. Just hurry." Risa said and Hiccup with Terek runs to the monk's cell while Risa stands watch.
"You came... I didn't think you would." The monk said as he saw them. Hiccup grabs the keys off one of the slumbering guards. "I told you... we are going to save you."
Suddenly, Terek spoke up. "Which one of these keys is the right one? They all look the same!" Hiccup looked at the keys and he saw five keys. He tried the first key but it didn't work. He knew that the time was running out, so he told a quick prayer as he tried random key, and it works! The cell door swings open and Hiccup with Terek rush in and gesture to the monk. "Come on, up you go!" Terek said as they helped him stand up.
"Can you walk?" Hiccup asked and monk shakily nodded. "I...I think so." Looping the monk's good arm around Hiccup's shoulders, Hiccup helps him hobble forward.
Suddenly, they heard Risa. "Baril is coming! Hurry!"
"Go, Risa! Get out of here!" Terek told her and she flees. Hiccup and Terek hobble with the monk as quickly as they can.
"We are not going to make it," Terek said, his face down. Hiccup could hear Baril's footsteps pad towards hem from up the stairs.
"What is this? What the hel has happened to these guards?!" Suddenly, Baril shouted. He throws the door to the dungeon open and Hiccup feels panic... and anger.
"Gods! We are doomed! We need a miracle." Terek said looking at Hiccup with despair in his eyes. Fire and rage burn inside Hiccup. Hiccup focuses the fire and let it go. A torch by the stairway explodes into a wall of flame, completely blocking the doorway off and on the other side, Beril screams. "What is this!" He screamed, shocked and afraid.
"Quick, the other way!" Terek said, taking the opportunity. While Baril beats the flames out of his robes, Hiccup, the monk, and Terek escape through the dungeon's back door. They don't stop until they reach the castle's far wall, helping the monk towards the exit.
"There. You are free." Hiccup said out of breath.
"Thank you. Thank you. You have my eternal gratitude. I owe you my life!" The monk said, shaking Hiccup's hand.
"It was the least we could do." Hiccup said with a smile.
"You could have let me die. You did a great deal more than that." The monk said back with a smile. "A seed planted today provides fruit tomorrow. You use your strength and bravery for justice. I pray that your courage will be rewarded. I saw the markings on you the first time we met. And then tonight..."
"Tonight? You mean with the fire?" Hiccup asked and the monk nodded. "Now I am certain. Please take this as a token of my gratitude. It will help you." The monk reaches into his tunic and takes out a small amulet. It was fang-shaped amulet which emitted a red light but when Hiccup took the amulet into his palm, it started to glow with violet colour.
"As I thought..." The monk said and Hiccup looked at him in bewilderment. "What's this?"
"It will help you in desperate times. Hopefully, you will never need it. Goodbye, my young friends." The monk said and leaves. Hiccup looks at the amulet in his hand... and remembered the fire. "That was... strange," Hiccup muttered and then he saw that Terek stares at him like he doesn't recognize him.
"What... what was that, Hiccup? Your hands... the fire..." Terek said and Hiccup could see that he was a bit scared. "I don't know what is happening to me." Hiccup said truthfully.
"That was just like in those books Ma used to read to me," Terek said and now Hiccup could see something different. Was that, excitement? "There were stories of an ancient people who could do all kinds of magical things with fire. They could even control dragons! I never believed in them but now... well, looks like I am friends with one."
"Whatever this is, no one can know about it, Terek. We are already suspicious. I have feeling that my father is starting to recognize me, even though my eyepatch and different colour of my hair. And also if anybody found out how different I am from them, I would be their escape goat." When he saw Terek's surprised look he continued. "Everyone is not as accepting as you. Most would want me dead for this."
When Hiccup finished, Terek smiled. "Hey, you can trust me to keep this secret."
"That means a lot to me, brother," Hiccup said with a smile. But then Terek frowned. "Does Risa know?"
"Not yet and please don't tell her." Hiccup said and Terek sighed. "I won't, but you will have to, especially considering how she feels about you."
"Terek as I have already said to her. It is but a shadow and a thought that she loves and I cannot give her what she is looking for. I already gave that to someone else." Hiccup said and Terek shook his head. "I know and she is my only sister. The least you can do is be honest with her about who you are."
Hiccup nodded. "I will. I am just not sure how to do that when I barely understand what is happening myself."
"I don't care how you do it... as long as you do it soon."
Later, in Hiccup's room, Terek, Risa and Hiccup are talking.
"What is that you have there, Hiccup?" Risa asked as she noticed the amulet.
"It is some kind of amulet..." Hiccup said as he looked at his neck. "A parting gift from the monk."
"So, what happens now?" Risa asked as she looked at two boys.
"We don't stop." Hiccup said determinedly. "We don't give up. No one is safe as long as Prince Asger runs this castle."
"Then it is time to end his reign!" Terek said and they nodded.
The next morning at sunrise, in mercenary camp, all the mercenaries and ex-soldiers gather around for the duel.
"Remember your training," Taramis said to Astrid and she looked at him. "Thank you, Taramis. I hope that I was a good student and I won't let you down."
"When I look at the woman you have grown into..." Taramis said with a soft smile. "My Empress, you couldn't possibly let me down. Only if you would let that brute kill you. So be careful." Taramis joked and it worked, Astrid chuckled a little.
"You babies done blubbering?" Arvid shouted at them with a big smirk. "Because I am itching to find out what it feels like to kill an Empress. I bet you still bleed red."
Suddenly, Amelia went towards Astrid, Heather and Taramis, her head down, rubbing her arm.
"Too bad it had to come to this, Astrid. I was actually starting to like you... but no one beats Arvid."
Astrid suddenly laughed and Amelia looks at her. "You can buy me a drink after I win," Astrid said with smile and Amelia smiled back. "Cocky." But then her face faded. "You are starting to make me regret betting against you."
And now Astrid was one, whose smile faded. "You bet against me?"
"No offence..." Amelia said, rubbing her arm even more. "It's easy money. I mean that you have no idea, how hard it is to be a mercenary. Even if the odds are stacked against you. And I mean really, against you."
"That is enough of that talk." Suddenly, Taramis steps in.
"Astrid, are you ready?" Fishlegs asked as he came to them.
"I am ready, as I will ever be," Astrid said, her face cold.
"The rules are simple. The first to surrender or became incapacitated is the loser, and his or her life is forfeit." Fishlegs explained to everyone.
"If Astrid wins, she, Heather and Taramis are free to go," Fishlegs said and Arvid snorted but Fishlegs just continued. "If Arvid wins, he gets to hand her over to Prince Asger and collect the price on her head on behalf of the company."
Astrid and Arvid entered the duel ring. "And now, let the duel... begin," Fishlegs said. The mercenaries cheer and shout as Astrid and Arvid circle each other.
Arvid taunts her, a pair of massive battle axes in his hands. "Don't worry, little girl. I will make this quick."
When Taramis saw his battle axes he knew that Astrid's sword will be no match for them. As if Astrid read his mind, she said. "I can do it. I have to. For Hiccup." And as she mentioned his name, her expression turned into a cold one. She then smirks and whirled her sword in the air. "I see you picked the largest axes in the realm. One wonders what you must be compensating for."
As Astrid expected, it pissed Arvid off. "I will start by cutting out your tongue!" He shouted and lunges at her in reckless anger. Astrid deftly sidestep, letting Arvid stumble past her, off-balance. Laughter ripples through the crowd.
Arvid was red from the anger as he turned to Astrid. "I am going to enjoy killing you." He bellows and storms at her, axes high over his head but Astrid was ready. She throws herself backwards out of range, rolling over her shoulder just as Arvid's axe buries in the earth where she had stood. He growls and tries to pull his axe free, but it's stuck. Astrid takes the opportunity to bring her sword down on him, battering his armor. She moves to swing again, but Arvid parries her with his other axe. He finally pulls free from the ground. Astrid dodge in a circle, Arvid pursues her, but stumbles.
Off-balance, he awkwardly lands on his knee, facing away from Astrid. She close in to strike at his back while he is down, but then in a flash, Taramis's warning echoes in her memory...
She recalls Taramis's warning about Arvid fighting dirty and brings up her arm to cover her face, just as Arvid spins and throws a handful of dust at her. Her arm keeps it from blinding her.
"No!" Arvid shouted while Astrid with clear vision, slash her sword at his outstretched hand, hacking off two of his fingers. Arvid shouted from pain and she could see the crowd wincing. It didn't take long for him to launch to his feet, charging at her, and ignoring the pain. He lashes at her again, his full strength behind the blow. His massive axe knocks the sword from her hand.
"No..." Astrid said as he gets between her and her sword. The noise from the crowd builds to a roar.
"You put up a good fight, Astrid," Amelia said as she saw that this was the end of the young Empress.
"Time to die, little girl!" Arvid said as he slowly went to her. Astrid suddenly runs to the side and dive for her sword. Arvid swings at her head, but she rolls to the side, dodging Arvid's blow. Arvid heaves his axes up, getting ready for another attack, but she has a split of a second to act. Astrid dives for the sword and her hand closes around the hilt just as Arvid turns to her.
"So you got your sword back. But you are still no match for me!" Arvid said as he twirled his axes. "You fight like a noble. I fight like an animal."
"Two can fight dirty..." Astrid growls at him. Arvid swings hard, his axes humming through the air, but Astrid ducks the blade and pops back up. With lightning quickness, she shoots her head forward, jabbing him in the eyes. He stumbles back, clutching at his face. While he is stunned, Astrid hammers him with three quick strikes and he grunts in pain.
"Gch... In another life, you would have made a good mercenary."Arvid growled and glared at her.
"If there is one thing I have learned in this life, it is that honor is dead," Astrid said and in corner of her eye she saw that Taramis winced and Heather clutched his hand. She knew that it hit Taramis more then Arvid in front of her.
"On that, we agree. Now it is time for you to join honor in the grave." Arvid said and glares at her, bleeding heavily from the wounds she opened. "You think you have won, but you don't know anything about being in a real fight. Your fairy tale ends here." He summons the last of his strength and unleashes a final onslaught. Astrid weather the storm until Arvid howls and slams a massive boot into her chest. She falls backwards, tumbling to the ground. The crowd grows excited, sensing the fight's end drawing near. Taramis suddenly calls to Astrid. "Make his weakness your strength!"
Arvid grins with arrogance as she struggles to push herself up on all fours. "And so the legend of the little empress comes to a bloody end."
Unbeknown to him, Astrid was smirking. She didn't move, staying on all fours, making a show of her exhaustion. Arvid saunters towards her. His colossal boots come to a stop right before her. "This is goodbye, little girl."
"You are right about that." Astrid in that moment snatch her sword and stab upward, slipping it just under Arvid's breastplate. He teeters backwards, stunned. "I don't believe it."
He drops to his knees, while Astrid stands up, brushing her hair from her face. "Give up, Arvid. You have lost."
"Astrid, what will you do with him? His fate is in your hands." Fishlegs said, coming to stand next to her.
Astrid thought about killing him. It would be the easiest and most satisfying thing to do. But then she remembered at Hiccup and she smiled. "Join me, Arvid, and live." She said and everyone was surprised by that.
"You are not going to kill me?" Arvid asked, clearly shocked as rest of the mercenaries. "You are not my enemy. King Agnar of Berk is. And if I am going to attack the most powerful warlord in the Kingdoms, I will need a man like you at my side. One man once told me that what we see first is not always true. While I was looking at you, I saw that beyond everything, you care for your mercenaries, you wanted to leave them like kings so they don't need to fight for their lives. If you would visit the Outcast kingdom after I defeated Alvin, you would see that I gave his men a second chance. And now I am giving it to you. Will you fight for me? Kill for me? Die for me?"
Arvid was looking at her, clutching his wounds and after a moment he finally breath out. "I... I will. My Empress. If my future is mine, then I pledge it to you. My axes are yours." He then smirked and added. "About time we had a real battle worth fighting for."
"What do you mean?" Astrid asked surprised. "Taking that bastard Agnar down will be a story worth telling."
"I never would have believed it." Fishlegs said surprised and overjoyed Heather and Taramis runs to her. Heather hugged her and when she releases her, Taramis clasps her hand. "Astrid, I am as proud as any brother could be. You have won our freedom and our lives."
"Which is obviously better than the alternative, but what we need now is an army," Astrid said and she raised her hand, calling for silence from the crowd.
"Mercenaries... Former soldiers... head me!" Astrid shouted on top of her lungs and her voice was carried away by the wind. Everyone suddenly fell silent and listened to her.
"I know you have a saying, the strong lead. I have proven my strength. Let me lead you! I know you fight for money... but now I am asking you to fight for something greater. Fight for a ruler who fights alongside you! Put a ruler on the throne who will lead the charge. A ruler who knows what it means to bleed besides you. I am unlike any Empress who has ever sat on a throne. I will win my throne in blood and battle. Former Voxaston soldiers, tell them the stories ho I fought alongside you when we liberated the Outcasts. Also now is the time to regain your honor. Fulfill your promises. Defeat the enemy you have hidden from for so long."
"We are with you!" Voxaston soldiers shouted. "Down with Berkians tyrants!"
"Hear! Hear!" Hoark shouted.
"You have our swords. But the mercenaries who follow Arvid won't be as easy to convince." Fishlegs said with a smile. "Thank you, Fishlegs," Astrid said back with a smile and then she continued. "Mercenaries... help me take the crown back from my enemies, and I promise you glory and honor. We will write history together. When children hear tales, this is the one they will beg for. We will be the heroes who freed this land from Agnar's oppression and cruelty. We will be the ones who restored glory and justice to our people."
"Heroes, eh? Sounds good to me! They always have free drinks!" Arvid said and turned to his men. "Who is with me?" The mercenaries cheer and Taramis looked at Heather. "It looks like the entire mercenary force will join us."
"Thank you to those who pledge to fight at my side," Astrid said. "Together, we will save this empire. I know it."
The former Voxaston soldiers applaud, Fishlegs, Heather and Taramis join them.
"Taking down Arvid, rallying the troops... not bad for a fallen Empress," Fishlegs said a moment later.
"She is not a fallen empress anymore, Fishlegs. She is our rightful Empress." Taramis said with smile and Astrid smiled back. Nothing will going to stop them now.
Meanwhile, back at the Voxaston...
"The scouts that spotted Astrid are following her as we speak, Prince Asger," Stoick said, his helmet in his arm. "They have confirmed that she is with a group of mercenaries in the grassland. They also confirmed that Hiccup is nowhere close to her."
"Good. Very good." Asger said with a smirk, his hands beneath his chin.
"Should I send word for them to apprehend her?" Stoick asked and he shook his head. "No. Not yet. I have got something special in mind for her this time."
"As for Hiccup?" Stoick asked and Asger just waved his hand. "As for Hiccup, he is probably somewhere lying dead and if not, well, if we will catch his Empress, he will show up."