The Only Good Fight
The rain falls in big fat drops around us, slowly and steadily, as if it knows it has time to wear us down. I put my hand out to catch some of the water in my palm. Only two drops meet my skin before I pull my arm back under the makeshift awning.
"We're going to have to think of a more permanent solution," I tell Fishlegs.
He sighs as he glances down at his Gronckle, who is curled up, comfortable and dry, over her nest. Then he shifts the pole from his left hand to his right hand. "Thanks for helping me and Horrorcow," he finally says.
"Of course," I say. "We can't just let her and her eggs get rained on." I glance up at the set-up we've got for the moment. It's pretty much just a blanket nailed to the wall and suspended on two wooden poles. "I think I've got a few ideas that might work. For now, let's get these poles standing on their own."
"Okay. How do we do that?"
"I'll find some more wood to use as supports," I say. "Can you handle this while I find someone to help out?"
"Sure," he says as I lean the pole against the wall, "I just hope the wind doesn't pick up."
Of course, right at that moment, it does.
We both shiver. I tug my vest closed over my chest. "Someone will be along to help you," I tell him as I hurry into the rain.
"What are you doing out here?" a man demands as I pass through the market. He points at me over the counter of his stall. "Hiccup's out again!"
"Get back inside!" a woman calls out, sticking her head out of a window.
"Does your father know you're out?" another man yells, peering at me from behind the pile of bread loaves in his basket.
I stop and grimace. He does now. How does he always find me? "Yes Dad?" I ask as he charges at me.
"What are you doing outside?" he demands. "Are you actually trying to catch the coughing sickness again?"
"Fishlegs and his Gronckle need help," I say. "I'll be back under cover as soon as I find some wood to use for its shelter."
"You're risking your health for a-?" He stops. "Don't look at me like that!"
"You promised to make an effort," I remind him.
"There's a difference between a Gronckle who chooses to sit in the rain," he gestures to the sky, then to me, "and the boy who risks his health for that Gronckle."
"It won't take long, I promise," I tell him. "Just let me get Fishlegs set up and he should be able to handle the rest."
Parts of Dad's face twitch. His left eyebrow, the right corner of his mouth, both of his eyes. I can tell he's trying not to scowl. "Here, take this," he says finally. He tugs the pelt off his back and drapes it over my shoulders. I almost fall over from the weight of it.
"Thanks, Dad." I smile. "See? Caring about dragons isn't so hard, is it?"
He shakes his head. "Hurry up so you can get inside to a fire."
"I'll be back at the house in no time," I assure him as I hurry to the weapons stall.
Just before I reach my destination, I see a familiar blonde head coming my way. "Astrid!" I wave at her.
She glances up and walks toward me, tossing her axe from hand to hand. "Hiccup?" she asks. "What are you wearing? And how many of them do you have on?"
"My dad lent it do me," I tell her.
"What are you doing outside, anyway?" she says, expression melting into a frown. "You just recovered."
"I'm just giving Fishlegs a hand. Speaking of, would you mind helping us out? Are you busy?"
She rubs the side of her nose with her finger. "What do I have to do?"
"Just help him hold the cover we've set up for Horrorcow."
"I guess I can do it for a little while."
Astrid gasps. "Hiccup," she says quickly, in a shouting whisper, smacking my arm every time she says my name, "Hiccup. Hiccup!"
"Remember that man you talked about before, during the Helheim thing? The one with no right hand?"
"Is that him?" she asks, grabbing my arm and turning me around.
"I think so," I say, my voice just as urgent as hers now. "You can see him? Wait-Do you know who he is?"
Astrid squeezes my arm, hard. "He's coming this way!"
"Uh," I raise my hands and look around, "Uh. Act normal!" I cross my arms and lean my shoulder against the building next to me.
Astrid grips her axe with both hands and stares at me with wide eyes.
"Astrid!" I hiss, "Normal!"
"Hi!" Tyr says.
Astrid drops to her knees. "Hail thee god!" she says, bowing her head low.
"Oh good, that saves me some explanation," Tyr says. "You can get up now."
Astrid stands and brushes the dirt off her knees.
I uncross my arms and step toward Tyr. "So when were you planning to tell me you're a god?"
"Uh. Now," he says.
"You're supposed to be leaving me alone, by the way," I tell him.
"I'm not talking to you," Tyr says, holding up his left palm at me. He gestures to Astrid with the same hand. "I'm talking to this lovely lady here."
Astrid squints her eyes at him. "What do you want?"
"Whoa, don't go skeptical on me," Tyr says.
"Hiccup's the one who's touched by the gods," Astrid says, "I'm not going to let you bug him through me."
"Do you think I would come out in broad daylight-"
"It's raining," Astrid and I both say.
"In broad-well, it's day, okay? Do you think I would expose myself just to annoy the kid?"
"Then why are you here?" Astrid asks.
Tyr turns to me. "May I?"
I exhale. "Fine. You can talk to me."
"Good," Tyr says. "So, Hiccup, how are you feeling?"
I blink. "I'm... all... right."
"All rested up after your coughing sickness?"
"How do you-What's your point here?"
Tyr presses his lips together and glances up at the sky.
Someone walks through him like he isn't there at all.
"Whoa!" I say.
The person just keeps on walking. I turn to Tyr.
Tyr nods. "Yeah, that happens."
"Expose yourself, huh?" I reply.
"This is risky for a god!"
"Okay, uh," I run my fingers through my hair, "talking to nothing in the rain, not my strong suit. And I'm sure Astrid has better things to do."
"I do," Astrid says.
"So if you could just say whatever you need to say-"
"Well," Tyr says, "I just have a little, tiny, mild," he holds his index finger and thumb up so that they're hardly apart, "kind of really important quest to ask for help."
"Help," I repeat. "From... me?"
Tyr shrugs. "That's the idea."
"What exactly do you need me to do?"
"What kind of complicated?" Astrid asks.
"Oh, we don't need you anymore," Tyr says to her, waving his hand as if to shoo her off.
"Yes we do," I counter, stepping between him and Astrid, "She saved my life. She stays if she wants to." I glance at her as I say this, and she gives me a quick, small smile.
"I want to," Astrid says.
Tyr's shoulders sag. "Oh, aren't you darling," he says flatly.
"Back to the matter at hand," I say.
He lets out a long breath. "Forseti is missing."
"Baldur and Nanna's son," Astrid breathes.
"I'm sorry to hear that," I say slowly, "But I'm not sure how I can help."
"You have access to Helheim," Tyr explains, "You can talk to his parents, try to find out if they know a secret place he might be."
"And this is urgent?"
"Since his parents... We've always been concerned about him. And someone needs to be the keeper of justice."
"Hm." I scratch my head. "Are you sure he didn't just... go on vacation or something?"
Tyr crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow.
"Okay, I guess I'm going back to Helheim," I say. "As a messenger. This doesn't sound like the hero stuff Hel told me about."
"You want big hero stuff?" Tyr asks.
"Well, not exactly-"
"You asked for it."
"I wasn't complain-"
"Get a move on, Hero."
I blink and Tyr's gone. "Great."
"Wow," Astrid says behind me. I turn to her.
"Sorry about... him," I say.
"That was... Tyr," Astrid says, still in awe. "Hiccup, you just talked to Tyr."
"You talked to him too."
"But you're on friendly terms with him."
"I wouldn't call it friendly," I say. "Oh," I press my palm against my forehead, "my Dad is going to explode when he finds out I'm going diving in this weather."
"I don't like it either," Astrid says.
I brush my fingers over the back of her hand. "Well, first I've got to help Fishlegs. Still interested?"
After I get some scrap pieces of wood from the weapons stall, and Gobber tells me to get inside, I tell Fishlegs and Astrid how to set up the poles so they'll stand on their own. Then I make my way to the Elder's hut. Just before I touch the door, I take a deep breath. Please let this go well.
I raise my hand to knock and the door opens.
"Hello?" I ask, stepping in. "Please don't hit me!" I quickly turn around and catch the staff with my palm.
"Hm," the Elder says, tugging her staff out of my hand. "What do you need?"
"Well, I'm going back to Helheim," I inform her.
"Special request from the gods," I say, "I made an oath and all. Not much choice in the matter."
"You always have a choice," she says.
"I don't really want to think about what might happen if I say no."
She nods. "Probably best. By whose request is this?"
"Tyr," I answer. "Forseti's missing."
"Baldur and Nanna," she says with wide eyes.
"Yeah. I'm not sure how happy they're going to be to hear the news."
"Hmmmm." The Elder holds her fist to her mouth.
I lean forward, waiting for some morsel of wisdom to come from her mouth.
"Oh!" she says, waving it away, "That's lunch."
I open my mouth, unsure what to say. "... So, just wanted to tell you about my, uh, my mission? Is that what it's called?"
"Or a quest," she suggests.
"Quest. Okay. I guess that's it, then." I wait for her to say something more.
"Good luck," she says.
"Just a quick question," I say. "Do you do anything with this information? Like, is there a reason I'm supposed to go to you before I do these things?"
"Child," she says gently, patting my hand, "I pray for you. Especially you. You need the help."
"I've got connections," she whispers loudly.
"I could use those-ah!"
She tugs on my vest so I have to lean over her.
"What are you-"
"Come here," she says, "Let me see you." She raises her other hand to move my hair off my forehead. Then she presses her thumb into the space between my eyes.
"What are you doing?" I ask her as she ruffles my hair. She makes an effort to move every hair out of place.
"Doesn't look like you'll die today," she says, satisfied. She releases my vest, then pushes at my back with her staff.
"Good to know."
"Embark on your quest, Hero."
The door slams shut behind me.
Well, at least it went well. Now, to tell my dad.
"What?-Dad, you can't just say no to the gods!"
"I'm doing it right now," Dad says, holding his hands behind his back. "No."
"Dad, I made an oath, we kind of don't want to break that." I chase him around the huge fire pit in the Hall as he walks away. "This isn't my choice-"
"You always have a choice," he says, turning back to me.
"It's really simple: I go in the water, someone pulls me out without waking me and puts me back in the house."
"You're already wet from the rain. And you're shivering under that pelt."
"I'll be fine," I say, pressing my hands to my chest, "The Elder said I won't die today."
"You asked her if you would die?" he asks, his voice low.
I drop my hands. "She brought it up. I guess she was trying to be helpful. But you're missing the point: I won't die."
"Maybe not today. What about tomorrow?"
"The gods know what they're doing. They won't just let me die of coughing sickness."
"How do you know?"
"They have... They have plans for me."
Dad tilts his head. "How do you know this?"
"A... dream I had. And," I sigh, "And remember what Mom said when I saw her in Helheim."
"What about this dream?" he says, squinting.
"I just saw Modgud and Tyr talking-"
He rolls his eyes.
"It happened, okay? Tyr was saying that they had the hero they needed. They need me, Dad. It's in my fate to help them."
Dad looks at the floor.
"Would you rather incur the gods' wrath?" I ask him.
"You could have gone without talking to me about it," he says.
"I... I know you don't want anyone to know, but... I know you worry, Dad."
He looks up. "... I'll send someone to fish you out."
"Thank you," I say. I step forward. I want to hug him, but he catches my hand and we grip each other's palms instead. More like he grips my whole hand and I kind of make a fist that fits in it. Anyway, it's the thought that counts.
"None of that almost dying, either," he warns me with his index finger in my face, "No dawdling in the realm of the dead. Be back by dinner."
"I'll do my best," I say, smirking.
"I'm serious," he warns me.
"I know." I can't help but smile.
"Touched by the gods," Dad mutters, "Touched in the head is more like it."
"Hiccup!" Astrid calls into the Hall. She and Fishlegs are standing at the doorway.
"Yes?' I reply, making my way toward them.
"Toothless is going crazy," Astrid says.
"What?" I stop. "What do you mean by 'crazy'? And I thought we talked about using the c-word."
"I have a really good reason," Astrid replies.
"What is it?"
"You've got to see it for yourself," Fishlegs says.
"Where is Toothless?"
"At the nest," Astrid says.
"What is he doing at the-"
"Just look," they both say. I can hear Dad's footsteps behind me as we walk through the village.
"We were setting up the poles like you said," Fishlegs explains, "Then Toothless came and he-he just-"
"Whoa," I say it as I stop walking.
The blanket is in burnt pieces, singed thoroughly through the middle. What's left of it has fallen around Horrorcow and her nest. Toothless stands between us and the nest, his eyes thin and his teeth bared.
"Did he do that?" I whisper.
"Yes!" they both say.
"He won't let us get close," Fishlegs goes on.
"That dragon," Dad starts.
"Dad, I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for this," I say.
"As in?" Dad asks.
"Working on that," I reply. I step forward.
"Hiccup," Dad warns.
"Hiccup," Astrid whispers, "Be careful."
"It's Toothless," I say as I edge forward, "It's fine, guys. Right, buddy? We're fine." I keep moving slowly toward him.
Toothless keeps growling. He tilts his head as he watches me.
"Easy now," I say in a calm voice as I hold my hands up. "Easy, Toothless." I stop and reach my hand out to him. "It's fine, right?" I say gently.
Toothless stops growling and looks at my hand. Then he looks at my face.
He pushes his snout into my palm.
"We have to go to Helheim," I whisper to him as I rub his head. "You have to leave the nest."
Toothless pushes past me and growls at Astrid, Fishlegs, and my dad.
"Whoa," I say, "Whoa, buddy. It's okay." I rub his neck with my hand.
"What is wrong with him?" Astrid demands. "What is wrong with you, Toothless?"
I look at the nest. Horrorcow watches us lazily with half-lidded eyes.
"Stay away from the nest," I say. "Tell him you'll stay away."
"I won't go near the nest," Fishlegs offers quickly.
"I have no reason to go near it," Astrid says, "Other than to help. Which I was doing."
Toothless looks at my father.
"Dad," I say. "Do you mind?"
"I have no business here," Dad obliges.
Toothless stops growling. He lets out a short, harsh bark at Horrorcow.
Horrorcow sort of purrs in response.
Toothless snuffles and tosses his head before looking back at me.
"Ready to go?" I ask him.
Toothless circles around the nest, spitting out fire to singe the ground around its circumference. Then he looks at me, expectant.
Thanks to Silver-ShadowSpark, Sunbitten, Duchess Delanie, and Teshy for reading and commenting on the last part of Helheim's Gate!
Hopefully this new fic will please those of you who wanted a sequel. It's longer, it's got more of the gods, Hiccup and Astrid, and Fishlegs (yay!), and there are dragon babies! Woohoo!
Mucho thanks to Backroads for beta reading!
This world and these characters are pretty much not mine. I just like to play with them.