Twenty One: Hunting Fury
It was complete insanity but as Astrid felt Hiccup's lips meet hers, all she could do was kiss him back. He was the most remarkable man she knew and once she had gotten past his whip-smart sarcasm and hard exterior, he was sassy, funny, brave and brilliant. He was her match and she didn't want him to go to jail…but she knew she didn't want to lie to him either. So she had revealed that she knew his name and made him a very simple bargain in return: find her middle name. And since she was officially a civil servant, her name was listed on the Archipelago website as working in waste management and disposal.
His warm hands slid up her sides and a shiver ran through her: she was ticklish, though she had carefully never revealed that to her colleagues. Hiccup filled her senses, his warmth and closeness making her feel safe and wanted and her heart was galloping in her chest when she finally pulled back, gasping. She blinked, seeing his eyes slowly open and a smile lifting his lips.
"Whatever happened to a simple handshake?" she asked him breathlessly. He chuckled.
"You wanted me just to have shaken your hand?" he asked sassily and she shook her head urgently.
"Thor, no…" she replied urgently. "But you should have waited for me to ask…"
"Then why didn't you ask?" he teased her.
They looked up-to see the tall shape of a powerfully built and very tall man with short red hair, cool hazel eyes and a scowl. His name badge read 'Hello, my name is THROK' and the pair leapt apart.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, his deep voice suspicious.
"Honestly?" Hiccup asked him, weighing him up. "We're here…"
"…to see the Eruptodon!" Astrid cut in and Hiccup stared at her.
"Hey! Was about to be really genuinely honest!" he protested…but Throk walked briskly to the desk and dialled a number.
"Could you come to the Oasis urgently? We need the Great Protector!" he said and hung up, then looked back at Astrid. "Take a seat," he added, gesturing to the waiting area. Hiccup stared at him.
"You are aware that the Secret Service is trying to kill us?" he asked incredulously. The man nodded curtly.
"You will be safe here," he assured the pair and vanished round the back as Hiccup stared after him as he sat down.
"Care to explain?" he asked pointedly but Astrid gave a small smirk.
"Hey-you don't like me being the one with a mystery?" she teased him and he scowled.
"I have no problem with you having a mystery-as long as I know what it is," he said perfectly reasonably and she sniggered.
"Jealous," she muttered.
"Am too!" she retorted and the pair suddenly broke out laughing. "Gods, we sound like the twins," she added and he caught her hand.
"However this turns out, I am grateful for everything that you've done," he told her honestly. "Really-I couldn't have done this without you…and if we do get out of this alive, I will ask you out." She gave a wide smile, squeezing his hand.
"While of course, I shouldn't go out with a wanted criminal, if you guess my name, you'll have a clean slate so I will be able to say yes…" she suggested to him. He huffed.
"You know…you got to know what my middle name started with," he reminded her.
"And your middle name was utterly weird," she riposted.
"Fine old Viking family name," he deadpanned. She glared at him.
"Mine is pretty normal. So you can guess away, Mr Night Fury-and I know I won't have a fraction of the amusement you got from my efforts!"
"You know, you really did put in a lot of effort," he complimented her and sighed. "I think you trawled the names starting with H in pretty much every culture! Lemme think…you've got a classic and traditional name, your family was a service family and you are a brave and ferocious Valkyrie and an amazing woman…Freya?"
Her eyes widened and she punched him hard in the shoulder.
"OWW!" he yelped, clutching at the point of impact. "Why-why would you do that?"
"You sneaky worm!" she snapped. "You knew all along! You must have seen my service ID or drivers license or…" He started to laugh.
"Oh my Thor…one guess was all it took!" he realised. "Freya? Really? Oh Gods, that is just perfect!" She punched his shoulder again and he whined.
"Ow! This is Hiccup abuse!" he protested.
"You deserve it-Horrendous!" she snapped. He laughed and caught her fist, pulling her close and pressing a quick kiss on her mouth.
"Mmm…no I don't…Freya…" he murmured.
"I was under the impression your name was Special Agent Astrid Hofferson," a calm, clear voice said and the started and looked up-into Mala Queen's cool green eyes. They hastily pulled away from one another and tried to look as if they hadn't been flirting.
"It is," Astrid said, jumping to her feet. "We're here to see the Eruptodon."
"I am the Great Protector," Mala confirmed. "But-forgive me-you don't look like AIS."
"I'm Homeland Security," Astrid confessed. "But my father and uncle were both in AIS and they told me the code in case I ended up in desperate need of help-from the group designed as Defenders of the Wing and Protectors of the Innocent." The tall woman inclined her head.
"Why would you require our assistance?" she asked coolly.
"Because the President is an amoral criminal who was supporting and helping the terrorist Dagur the Deranged so he could use the threat of the terrorist to push through his repressive reforms to consolidate his power and turn the Archipelago into a police state."
"And we uncovered it," Hiccup added. "Yeah, I'm the hitman Night Fury. I never miss. But before, I was the sniper who killed Dagur's father on the President's Orders…and who was betrayed to Dagur by the President. Dagur killed my parents, wife and child and shot me in the back, burying me in a shallow grave, left for dead. Drago Bludvist is as responsible for their deaths and for the deaths of Dagur's victims as Dagur was."
"And where is Dagur now?" Mala asked.
"Helheim," Astrid said flatly. "He took me hostage and buried me alive. Hiccup caught him and executed him…and then rescued me. He's a hero…and we need to remove Drago from office." Mala looked over at Throk.
"We would need some proof for this wild allegation," she told the blonde agent and Astrid sighed, then touched her com.
"Fish? Toothless? Could you forward the data on Dagur to console…" She peered over. "6132. As soon as you can please?"
"On it," Toothless assured her. "You okay, my friend?"
"Better than okay," Hiccup smiled. "I actually feel slightly human. Of course, people are trying to kill me which is nice…but at least they're trying to kill me with Astrid so…"
There was a pause and a small chuckle.
"Fury has a girlfriend!" Ruff sniggered.
"Oh Gods…" Hiccup muttered.
There was a beep and a document appeared on Throk's screen. He opened it and scanned the data, his thick red brows knotting with perplexity.
"There are incontrovertible links between the gangster and terrorist Dagur Oswaldson and Drago Bludvist," he read. "He supported the man, provided intelligence about all moves against him…and even ordered his Secret Service Agents to assassinate witnesses against Dagur and offer him protection. It's a brutally corrupt relationship that can have only one purpose: to consolidate Bludvist's hold over the people." Mala glanced over at Hiccup and Astrid and reached behind the counter, lifting a Nadder submachine gun.
"There are Quad bikes behind the Spa," she said. "Take them to the Greek Temple at the crest of the hill. Below that, there is a tunnel direct to the Central Lobby-which opens onto the Blue Dining Room…which is where the Cabinet are meeting. We will deter the Secret Service from following you…" Throk popped up with a mobile rocket launcher from behind the towel store.
"Vigorously!" he confirmed with a stern nod.
"I really really wanna join this gym," Hiccup commented.
"We will ensure our staff are at your disposal…especially when you emerge from the Whispering Death Tunnel," Mala said seriously and Astrid gaped.
"Highly probably," Throk confirmed, checking the surveillance cameras. "But the Secret Service are on their way…" He gestured to the screens and Hiccup headed for the door. Mala paused and then smiled at Astrid.
"We have your back, Agent-now go finish your mission!" she said as the blonde finally turned and ran after Hiccup. He was already sitting on a Quad bike and checking the controls.
"Have you ever ridden one of these before?" he asked and she shook her head.
"Prefer two wheels, not four," she admitted as she switched on the engine.
"Well, we all got our little problems," he sighed as he shifted into gear. The sounds of a car closing fast grew louder. "And I suspect another of ours will be the gardener being after our asses…"
"And why's that?' she asked as she shot off after him.
"Because we're going to ruin his perfect lawn!" Hiccup yelled as the roared across the grass…with two ASS sedans in hot pursuit…
"Sir! Sir! Sir!" Fishlegs panted up to where Spitelout Jorgensen and three other rather miffed BHS agents were drinking coffee and eating Danish pastries. The Director looked up with a roll of his pallid blue eyes.
"What is it, Ingerman?" he asked in a bored voice.
"President Bludvist is in league with Dagur Oswaldson and has been perverting ASS to protect the terrorist in order to drive through his hard line policies on crime and restrict the freedoms of our citizens," Fishlegs managed without taking a breath. Shaking his head, Spitelout took another bite of his apple cinnamon swirl.
"Preposterous!" he decided and sipped his espresso, still chewing. "The President just takes a personal interest in how we have progressed in tackling the greatest threat to security in the Archipelago…"
"Which you wanted to veto," Snotlout piped up. His father scowled.
"Now listen here, boyo…" he began. "I ran the operation past the President as his standing orders required and he vetoed the plan as unworkable and illegal…"
"And is he a lawyer?" Fishlegs asked softly. "Because BHS doesn't have to stick to the letter of the law in dealing with threats to national security! Everything Snotlout reported to you during the mission went to the President…" The Director nodded.
"As he commanded," he confirmed. "He is my President and I obey his commands."
"But everything you told him…went straight to Dagur," Fishlegs told him. "We set a test-that Fury was vulnerable and injured. And amazingly, Dagur's men arrived less than an hour later mob-handed and tried to kill Fury and Astrid." Spitelout opened his mouth…and then snapped it shut again.
"He betrayed my agent?" he asked dangerously. Snotlout nodded.
"He betrayed us all, Dad," he confirmed. There was a pause-and then Spitelout banged his fist on the table.
"Son of a half-troll!" he spat.
"Sir-we need to get to the Cabinet," Fishlegs said urgently. "I believe that you, the Vice President and any one of the other senior ministers can declare the President unfit and impeach him. And you have the power to arrest him as well…" Spitelout drained his cup and stood.
"Right! This traitor won't arrest himself, will he?" he asked. "Come on-let's go!" He turned to the door-as three ASS agents entered and covered them with their guns.
"Oh crap," said Snotlout.
Racing across the manicured lawn, their wheels ripping up the billiard-table smooth grass, Astrid wondered how come a simple mission just taking their 'prisoner' to speak to the President could go so horribly wrong. Bullets zinged around them and she saw Hiccup glance over his shoulder and snap off a couple of shots, one smashing the windscreen as they dinked and headed through a neat oval bed of roses. The car barrelled after them, smashing a statue of a cherub as they headed for an ornamental copse.
"Head for the Greek temple…" Astrid muttered. "I mean-why would you build a Greek Temple? This is Berk! We're Vikings through and through!" She ducked under a branch as they shot through the other side, the car slewing across the lawn, leaving ugly brown gashes.
"Maybe-that?" Hiccup suggested from just ahead. On the rise ahead, there was a small circular stone building, surrounded by a curtain of stone columns supporting a simple domed green stone roof. "Looks Greek to me…"
"Well, it'll do!" she smirked as they shot up the hill and jumped from the Quad bikes, then approached the building. There was a simple archway into the cool stone space and they found themselves in a circular room with a beautiful mosaic floor. Astrid stared around. "But where's the entrance?" Hiccup scanned around and smiled, his fingers trailing over the images of the Greek Gods.
"I may not have a classical education but I picked up a bit at school," he pointed out. He pointed to a magnificent male with lightning bolts in his fist. "That one is Zeus, King of the Gods…Athena, Goddess of Wisdom…" Astrid peered at a serious looking woman with an owl perched on her shoulder and nodded as Hiccup gestured to a man with a three-headed dog standing at his back. "…and Hades, God of the Underworld…" And he pressed the image. There was a click and the floor split and retracted, revealing a steep set of stairs down into a perfectly round tunnel just over two metres high. Astrid automatically pulled a small, high-powered light from her belt and clicked it on.
"That will do," she said and headed down.
"Good work, Hiccup, Nicely done," he added sarcastically and followed her. There was a grinding noise and the floor slid back, closing them in. "Did I mention I hate enclosed spaces?" She stopped and stared at him.
"What? And you couldn't say, have mentioned it when Mala suggested we come down the tunnel?" she asked him sharply and he gave a self-conscious smile and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Um…never really came up…and it's not like we've sat down and had a chat about likes and dislikes or phobias or…" he said defensively. Astrid shook her head and continued walking down the tunnel. The walls were smooth and it seemed relatively dry…though the damp smell of earth permeated the place and they could hear the vibration of the cars overhead.
"But you're a sniper!" she protested. He trotted to catch up with her and sighed.
"Yeah…the thing about being a sniper is that it involves a lot of waiting around outside…in open spaces…like on the side of a hill…on a roof…up a tree…not in a small dark tunnel!" he protested. "I mean, if you think about it, small dark spaces and long-range sniper shooting are pretty much mutually exclusive…"
"Semantics…" she shot back, though she glanced over at him. He looked pale and tense and she realised, despite his brave front, he really wasn't enjoying the experience. Then she reached out and took his hand. "I'm not really enjoying this myself," she added quietly. "I keep seeing Dagur, shoving me down into the gulley and leaning over the edge. And telling me that no one would ever find me. And then…he collapsed the edge of the gully over me. And I screamed and tried to thrash and make some room…but the weight pressed me down and I couldn't move because my hands were cuffed behind my back. And I just felt completely trapped…helpless…and though I tried to struggle, it all started to fade…"
His hand squeezed hers warmly.
"I know how you feel," he murmured as they walked along, eyes locked on the little puddle of light ahead of them. "I woke in the ground, lying over the bodies of Cami and Sam. My back hurt and I felt like shit and frankly, I thought I was dying…and the only thing that made me fight on was the hope I could get them a decent burial and avenge them." She fell silent for a moment.
"The graves are beautiful," she said quietly. "I think Bertha did a good job." He cast her a glance.
"You know Bertha?" he asked warily. She nodded.
"She helped my sister," she said. "Your wife helped my sister. She went through the refuge. When we took the women we rescued from Dagur there, I saw a photo of Bertha's daughter-and I recognised you. It gave me my clue." She paused. "She knows you're alive, doesn't she?" He nodded.
"She blames me," he said tonelessly. "She thinks I didn't protect them. And she's right. It was all my fault. I…"
"STOP THAT!" she snapped. "It wasn't true then and it isn't true now. You were a soldier and you followed the orders given to you. You had exceptional aim. You were decorated and honoured. Gods, you were a Lieutenant at twenty one! And you were in the Heimdallr Division…whatever that is…though it's clearly something pretty awesome. You did everything you were asked to do-and you had every right to expect the protection of your comrades against Dagur-not being betrayed as part of a bargain. It was not your fault! Dagur, Drago, Alvin and whoever else was involved own that blame…not you!" She was facing him now, the lights casting strange shadows on her face. He gently lifted a hand to stroke her cheek and he sighed.
"I'll get you killed," he sighed. She smiled.
"I've saved you before-and you've saved me, Hiccup," she reminded him. "We're Hiccup and Astrid and I think we make a kick-ass team. And whether we are just friends or anything more…there should always be a Hiccup and Astrid. Always."
"You're stubborn," he admitted.
"So are you-though obsessive is more like it…" she added. "Trust me, Hiccup. We'll get him." She leaned forward and kissed him and he stiffened, before he kissed her back.
"Well, when you put it like this…can we please get out of this tunnel?" he asked plaintively. She grinned.
"As you wish, Mr Night Fury," she said and turned back to the dark way ahead.
The twins were gently spreading chaos by innocently directing ASS agents the wrong way, accidentally trapping them in elevators and in one case, stunning then dropping two of them down the laundry chute. All the while, they were searching the hotel for their friends…until they ran into Special Agent Eretson. The agent stared at them and then his face filled with realisation.
"My men have been muttering about two useless hotel workers who have been sending them in circles…it's you two!" The twins shared a look and Ruff shoved the ordnance she was hauling along into her brother's arms.
"Go help H!" she said urgently and threw herself onto Eret, clamping her mouth onto his face like a leech and winding her lanky limbs around his buff shape. Tuff stared in utter horror-then scurried away, slamming the heavy door and snapping the handle as he went. Eret gave a desperate groan and fought for air before he finally managed to prise Ruffnut off him, ejecting her onto the floor in a heap.
"Oh my Gods," he groaned, frantically wiping his mouth. "Bleurgh!"
"Hey! Me likey!" she grinned madly as the other ASS officers covered her warily with their guns in case she tried to jump them. Not that she was armed but she was eyeing them all up like pastries in a window and none of them wanted to be her next course. Agent Eretson waved at the door.
"Go after him, you idiots!" he snapped, glaring at Ruff as his men ran to the door-and found themselves unable to open the lock. Frantically, they began to throw themselves against it. But it was eight feet high, three inches thick and solid oak: it wasn't budging.
"Sorry sir-we appear to be locked in!" the first man said, his eyes apologetic. He was a short man with a big nose. Eretson glared at the grinning Ruff.
"Then climb out of the window!" he snapped and his men ran across the room to start wrestling with the sash windows, which had been painted closed. There were the horrible sounds of creaking and screeching as they tried to prise them open. Ruff got up and winked at him.
"So while they're busy, Mr Hunk…how about you tell me about yourself?" she said.
Snotlout was polishing off the Danish pastries as he and the other agents were held prisoner by the ASS agents. A thin-faced man had come in, inspected his prisoners and relieved them of weapons…though he hadn't bothered to remove their coms. As far as he was concerned, they were all jammed. Then the door had closed and they were all left there, though there were two men outside guarding the door, the only way in and out of the interior room.
In an instant, Spitelout and the others were up, trying to find a way out but Snotlout had calmly hoped himself to a raspberry custard kite and then refilled his coffee. After a moment, his father had turned to him in exasperation.
"Aren't you joining us, boyo?" he asked sarcastically. Snotlout finished his pastry.
"Not much point," he said. "We need to find out what's happening outside." And he looked over at Fishlegs.
"And how are you supposed to do that?" Spitelout asked pointedly. "Chicken feet? Fish entrails?" The husky agent blushed, then touched his hand to his ear.
"Toothless? What's the sitrep?" he asked warily.
"Well, that's going to work…or hadn't you realised they're jamming…" Spitelout began before the distinct voice of Toothless replied.
"H and Astrid are coming in from outside, Ruff has been captured by Agent Eretson, Tuff is on the loose and I believe he has just set fire to the Orangery. The President remains in the Ballroom and has a designed deputy, Agent Krogan..who, interestingly, doesn't seem to actually be qualified to be an agent and has a rap sheet from Trapper Bay as long as my arm. Half of the agents are just doing grunt duties but Krogan and his cabal are the ones who are shooting at people."
"Ah," Fishlegs said as the Director stared at him in shock, tapping his earpiece in irritation. "Any chance of a hand getting out of here?" There was a pause and Toothless sighed.
"Did anyone actually look at the plans of the place that I obtained for you before the meeting?" he asked in a slightly exasperated voice.
"Plans? What plans?" Snotlout asked irritably, scouting the room for any more food. Fishlegs gulped.
"Sorry-I was kind of binge-watching 'Viking Raiders' on Netflix and I meant to read them last night and then I fell asleep and kind of forgot and…" he rambled and Spitelout stared at him.
"How did you get the plans to this place?" he demanded. "Details about Caldera Cay are classified beyond anyone except Odin-level clearance…"
"Or covert intel and IT experts who can cut through the frankly pathetic systems you have," Toothless growled. "Okay. Because no one has bothered to do their homework, I will suggest you maybe go through the concealed passage to the kitchens?"
"OOOH! There's a secret passage?" Fishlegs squeaked as both Snotlout and Spitelout slapped their hands over his mouth.
"Shh!" the stocky agent hissed.
"Couldn't have said it better myself," Toothless commented and sighed. "The wood panels behind the table with the pastries on. I've hacked the CCTV, Fish. I'd move. Now?" Snotlout looked to the camera and flipped him the finger then moved the table and stared at the wood-panelled wall. With admirable focus, he ran his hands down the side and found the catch: the door swung open. "Now get out of there and to the Cabinet. I'll talk you through the house. But I would move because they're coming back and it's Krogan. He may decide you're surplus to requirements…" Spitelout jammed a heavy chair under the door handle as the other agents-Hoark, Ack and Sven-moved the table against an adjacent wall to look natural then sprinted down the passage after his men, dragging the door closed. He grinned.
"Okay…so where do we go now?" he asked.
Vice President Viggo Grimborn had heard the shots, he had heard the sounds of running feet and he had observed what appeared to be a car chase between the President's Secret Service men and two figures of Quad bikes who had vanished over the rise into the manicured grounds. And he knew that Bludvist was making his move-almost certainly because he feared that the hitman who had been brought to speak to him knew something of his involvement in the Dagur Business.
Grimborn was a cold man, a man who had a mind of laser precision and complete ruthlessness-but he couldn't abide sloppiness or stupidity...and in his opinion, Bludvist was showing both. He was allowing personal feelings to interfere with the conduct of politics and with his performance as a leader. And while Grimborn would freely admit that Bludvist was a hard line right winger with only limited respect for democracy and even less for fundamental rights and freedoms, he respected the man for his drive and determination. That was why he had accepted the invitation to be the man's Vice President and had served him with loyalty and efficiency.
But the death of Dagur had affected Drago...probably because Dagur was a convenient excuse for Bludvist's more draconian policies. Without a live terrorist, the President would find it much harder to drive through his more extreme policies that would cement his position as despotic ruler of the Archipelago...and, if his sudden change in affect was any clue, that may not be a bad thing. Grimborn had his own plans and those didn't involve remaining the sidekick to a tyrant.
But even he was shocked when a panel in the wall opened and Director Jorgensen, his dim witted son, the husky blond nervous-looking agent and three older men all erupted into the room, disturbing the Cabinet Meeting. The Director was grinning, his big face lit with a slightly manic smile.
"Vice President," he said. "I think we have a problem with President Bludvist."
"So I had surmised," Grimborn said, his smooth voice betraying a hint of his irritation. "His men are prowling around, shooting at people and I note they are guarding our door.. .to keep us safe or keep us out of the way, I wonder?"
"I suspect the latter, sir," the husky blond agent said, casting a worried look at the door. "BHS is here to protect you and the Cabinet, sir...in case you need to take action against the President."
"Action?" the Foreign Secretary asked. Grimborn cast a wry look at the man: Ryker Grimborn was his older brother, a much more direct and brutal man who would have been ideal for the Security brief had the Cabinet and Assembly not insisted that Atali Winger be appointed. The red-haired woman was cool, determined and dispassionate-a perfect choice for the role and probably a perfect foil for Bludvist.
"Provision 47-the removal of a President unfit for duty or who is deemed to be acted dangerously against the security of the Archipelago," Atali interjected, her smooth voice mildly scathing. "I believe that all the requisite personnel are here: Vice President, Senior Ministers and a senior civil servant."
"And Drago Bludvist knows that as well," Viggo Grimborn reminded them, his eyes calculating. "Ryker-can you use the passage to get into the main body of the house and find out what is happening?" His brother nodded curtly: he always carried a weapon and was unafraid to use it.
"It would be my pleasure," he growled and vanished into he secret passage, the panel slamming closed behind him. Viggo sat back and steepled his fingers.
"Now, I guess I should ask on what grounds you think we can remove the President," he asked.
The television clicked on and the image of President Bludvist appeared, his eyes glittering with anger and fist clenched. Beside him was the shape of Agent Eretson and in his grip, a struggling Ruffnut. And beside him, a slender raven-haired shape was smirking at the camera.
"I wish to introduce my new Special Adviser," he said, his rough voice echoing through the room. Heather nodded and folded her arms, her green eyes merciless.
"Fury," she said clearly. "I'm going to make this easy and unambiguous for you. Hand yourself over to us or I will order Agent Eretson here to execute your friend."