Hello, everyone! It hasn't been as long as normal, so hooray! The double-updates are over now.

As always, I would like to thank all anonymous guests, charlesguy, denis.d2505, Dplover13, ArronGeneratorRex, warorpeace, Hitori2707, CarnileN, LorreVarguhl, justawanderingdragon, MudkipStar, kitty.0, Rang3r, CAN07, chillinflute, ChibiFelicia, saphira and shruikan, The Thoughtful, PianoGirl24389, laurenbrightwing, hiccupandtoothless294, acatarjk137, Wilson, SuperSaiyanTreemo, Dazja, Dragonninja-fan, johnnyfireballs, buggy1997123, SnowCat21, Every1's Beta, WingedRock, Alex Elvan, xXNightFlightVerselxX, SidheWolf5, rosiea184, Tortisewarrior, ketren, Eisnap33, markoantc, Breyyania, Ausar Dagr, dammyd, GoldenGriffiness, Asaki the wolf, Saberpoint, Wolffury, the70boss302, Thor-Born, Bluebird42, and The Grey Dragon for all of your wonderful reviews! I'm so sorry I haven't gotten to replying them. You all know how life gets in the way.

I don't think the next update will come very soon, mostly due to finals coming up at a rather…uncomfortable pace. I will try to update as fast as I can, but most nights I don't have time to open up Word unless I'm writing an essay. So, while I may seem dead, I am not!

Also, sorry if the pagebreaks don't show up. I still haven't figured out how to get those darn things to stay.

That's enough rambling for now. Enjoy!


Toothless dove like a sparrow pierced by arrow mid-flight, wings limp against his body and legs clutched to his chest.

Beyond the terrible sound of the wind rushing at me, my heartbeat hammered in my ears. My muscles and head ached, I was still soaking wet from crash landing in the roiling lake of the cove, and I couldn't seem to catch my breath. Yet the only thing that seemed to matter was the rapid acceleration of my heart as my best friend shot towards me with teeth and claws bared, his intentions bringing to his face an expression that I had once feared with all my heart.

I leaned down on my legs and held my tail and wings out, counting the heartbeats. One, and he was close enough to make out the sound of wind whistling through his wings. Two, and his outraged snarl echoed throughout the cove.

Three, and he was upon me.

"Wait!" I cried, as useless as it was.

I leaped out of the way just in time, forcing him into a rough landing that brought forth a huge dustcloud. The creature standing in front of me was not Toothless; he was too disappointed in his failed attempt on my life and he was overreacting for something that I knew from past experience would have only given me a fierce scolding. No… any semblance of him —and I knew that there had to be some—was swept away as that monster turned my best friend into a puppet, a tool of murder.

Just as she had done to me.

He didn't even speak, instead hissing at me as if I were an eel and lurching at my neck. I skidded away with too much of a delay and gasped as the magic-sharpened claws tore through my shoulder like soaked paper. As irrational as his anger was making him, the Queen seemed to be making up for it in her total control of his body. His eyes bore desperation, cloaked in a foggy film, and without pausing to even catch his breath he leaped into the air and dropped, aiming to take me down with his greater weight.

I opened my own channels and jolted out of the way. The magic seemed to flow more freely, as if it were a stream that had been blocked but then had the dam removed. The wound on my shoulder stung a much higher intensity, drawing a pained yelp out of me and forcing me to halt my power in its tracks. Alright, time to only use magic in dire need.

Judging on how the puppet before me we using all of his magic, I had a sinking feeling that I would be in "dire need" for most of this fight.

"Toothless! Please!" I shouted, crouching low with wings wide open. "Just listen to me!"

He paused for just a second before shaking his head in a blur. "Silence!" He howled, flinging a very unexpected plasma blast at my chest. I only had time to launch myself diagonally, pulling myself into a hover, and he again he shot a magic-aided fireball at me, the flames a brilliant white with power. I rolled with enough clearage to watch it skirt right past my chest and wing, smack into a wall of the cove with a tremendous roar, and send a rock-avalanche into the lake.

Okay, being above him definitely did not give me the advantage I thought it would. "I'm not going to fight back!" I said, tucking my wings in and returning to the ground. Inching towards him, I begged, "Please, Toothless! You know this isn't right! It's me, Hiccup!"

The Shadow-Blender hissed, crouching low and tail swinging. There was no recognition, no acknowledgement of the name. I couldn't understand; the same had done the trick for me! Why wasn't it working?!

We paced around each other, forming a circle in the loose dirt below us. He was looking at me the way he would sneer down at humans in disgust. I'm sure I looked like I was about to have an anxiety attack. It would be only moments away before he struck out again, and judging by the accuracy of each assault, it would only be a matter of time before I got seriously hurt. A very teensy, itty-bitty matter of time.

"Toothless, please!" I tried again. "I don't want to hurt you!"

He dropped his guard just to throw his head back and laugh at me.

…Wow, okay. Too caught up in my annoyance and surprise, I straightened my posture and lowered my eyelids at him. "Toothless, I'm seri—aagh!"

The charge was too swift to see, too powerful to avoid. He'd used the signature Shadow-Blender magic right when I'd least expected it. One second, there was a seriously pissed-off puppet in front of me, and the next, all four of my legs were pinned underneath him. The moon sat directly above him, casting his entire body save for his sickly-green irises in blackened shadow. A soft, remorseful chuckle escaped his lips and he leaned down close to me, eyes boring into mine. I couldn't look away, even as his teeth sheathed, even as I saw the gas build up in his throat.

Never let yourself get pinned. That's what happens right before the bottom of your throat gets ripped out.

The memory from long ago sure was an ironic last thought, all things considering. Here we were, in the same exact positions…except this time, I was actually in danger of being killed in the way that I'd just brushed off as a nasty mental image before.

The only difference was that this time, I was a lot more experienced.

"Toothless," I said, "I'm really sorry about this."

He had just enough time to halt the gas flowing in his throat, tipping his head to the side. I opened the gates to my magic and let it flood through my entire upper body, hissing as my shoulder flared up again. I let it build and then released it, forcing it to give me the strength to rip my front paws from his grasp. In his surprise he let me lift myself off the ground, and that was all that I needed. I twisted enough to bring my uninjured shoulder level with his head and threw the elbow of my wing into his temple with a resolute CRACK!

While he was still stunned I grabbed his neck and threw him off of me, where he lay on the ground, eyes dazed. His head wasn't bleeding—thank the Dragoness of the Moon—but the magic-powered blow to the head certainly wasn't a gentle nudge.

"Huh…?" He mumbled, rubbing his head. He struggled to rise but fell halfway, swaying. "What…?"

My ears stood straight up and I ran to him. "Toothless!" I called, leaning down to his eye level as he lay there. He turned away. "Come on, just look at me!"

He managed to get up this time, shaking his head and grimacing. I wasn't even given a glance as he began to twist his head around, apparently surprised to find himself here. When I again said his name again, this time much more warily, he took far longer than was normal to turn to me. His eyes met mine, and they were clouded and confused and fearful.

I threw the link up, and watched in horror as the shadow that had molested my mind sprung up from the shadows at the end of it. It was like looking down a barely-lit path and seeing the blue-green glint of light in a beast's eyes, dangerous and unknown. It snapped at the link with furious, desperate strikes, but I held fast! I pushed more energy into it, tearing the slimy leech away faster than it could recover. All I had to do was make it to the "other side", and I could get rid of it forever!

The shadow suddenly withdrew, and his legs gave out right underneath him like I'd struck him. With no eye contact maintained anymore, the link crumbled like an old bridge. The impact jolted my body in its entirety, making every last scale buzz as if struck by lightning. I hissed and crouched low to the ground, squinting through the pain to see him stumbling away.

Alright, now I was just angry. Stomping my foot, I raised my wings high and shrieked, "Why won't you let him go?! Why is it so horrible that you have to kill the only one who fights back?!"

The vessel gave me a wide-eyed look. I saw it in there—confusion as something within tried to figure out the meaning behind my words. Then he shuddered, turned his back to me, and launched into the air.

Teeth unsheathing, I took wing not a moment later. "Oh, no! You're not taking him away!" I snarled, gaining ground on him too fast for him to avoid. He had just looked over his shoulder when I grabbed the tip of his tail and wrapped my paws around his tailfins, forcing them shut!

Immediately his wings began hammering to try and make up for the loss, but we both knew that it was useless. With a roar he plummeted, taking me with him as we both smacked into the ground! Ears pinned back, I ducked my head and sprinted at him with all my speed, making contact with his chest just as he was getting to his feet and flinging him onto his back. Without wasting a second I was on top of him, pressing down on his upper arms with all my weight as he blinked rapidly and shook his head.

I looked down at him, and stared straight into the Queen. Closing my eyes, I leaned in and pressed our foreheads together, praying that it wouldn't hurt him as much as it had for me.

"No…" he said. I pushed my magic into his mind, a dim light in a world cast in blackness. "NO!"

He tried to thrash out of my hold, but I wouldn't let him! Head pounding, I let my magic become a beacon and ripped at the darkness, tearing it from the depths and shredding it apart. It at first fought back with an equal ferocity as it had previously, but I was prepared—and now, I had a whole lot more that I was fighting for. It didn't matter how much it hurt, how it exhausted all of my reserves. It was crushed under my resolve! Its life was torn away, and it would die!

It changed tactics, springing forth onto the link that I had formed my magic and clawing its way up it, aiming to consume me once more! I all but turned every last bit of my energy around just to drag it back where it could be destroyed, dissipating it into nothingness once it got its vile claws off of our bond and sending what felt like hammer strikes upon my head. With nothing left to do it retreated deep into the center of my friend's mind—where his core must reside.

I swept through the outskirts first, taking out any reinforcements, and then plunged my mental dagger right into its heart. The place it had thought would be the most well-defended only trapped it, and its puppet howled as its clutches stripped away.

"HOW COULD YOU?!" He screamed in agony, voice choked with despair. "YOU WERE LOVED! YOU WERE PROTECTED! YOU WERE ONE OF THE NEST!"

A weak, new light began to emerge from the core as the shadow was torn away. It held still, then began to pulse like a rapid heartbeat.

"Please…my child…"

With a final blow the shadow melted away and the screaming subsided. I let the link go immediately, stepping off of him and nearly toppling over from the slowly-subsiding migraine and sudden weakness that came with overuse of magic.

Toothless' eyes flickered, the cataract-like fogginess fading away. Then, moaning, his head rolled to the side and his eyes slid shut.

I sat down next to him, pressed my head into his neck, and held back tears of relief.


Warmth.

It was the first sensation that came to me when I clawed my way out of the choking hold of unconsciousness. It was as if I'd spent an entire lifetime fighting through a blizzard only to come across a cavern full of flames, and I was experiencing the gift of the Dragon of the Sun for the first time. Was that how the first dragon discovered fire? There are too many legends that try to explain it.

Pain was second. Pain in my limbs, sore from overworking. Pain in my head, both inside and outside. The right side of my head felt as though a mountain had fallen on top of it. The headache within was…what was the right word for it? Agonizing? No. Excruciating? Close, but not quite. Mind-numbing? Ah, that sounds a lot more appropriate. My headache was not painful, but mind-numbing! There we go. How it could be one but not the other, I had no knowledge of why, but that was the simple, hard fact.

But…why was it like that? The last thing I remember was shouting to my flare an order to wait while I dealt with…

…the other Shadow-Blender…

Something's wrong with that, I thought through the muddled hush that was my mind. Something important.

I tried to analyze the situation fully from where I was. We were not in the nest, judging by the absence of sound and stone beneath me. In fact, we were out in the open, if the wind was to have a say. Sunlight was not piercing through my eyelids, and leaves rustled from all directions. The warmth besides me was breathing, and—oh, of course, it must be the other Shadow-Blender. Some leftover feelings of betrayal came from before, although I wasn't quite sure why I was upset with him. He was extraordinarily reckless, though, so I'm sure he'd done something stupid again.

I remember…telling the others to wait. So that I could deal with him. Now he was beside me as I lie on the earth, and my flare was nowhere to be heard.

Had we been ambushed? Why were we alone? Something nagged at me, that loathsome feeling of knowing that you've forgotten something vital, but I had other things to worry about. I exhaled in a weak attempt at a moan and tried to look around, but I couldn't seem to open my eyes.

The shadows before me were almost too strong to break. They wanted to keep me in darkness, but my supremely irritating headache and lack of information helped me fight it off. Still I struggled, and two bursts of light came to my aid to help me find the strength to lift my eyelids. It was like carrying a weight twice my size, and the pride that filled me soon after was more than a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, my eyes were now wide open, giving me a nice view of the cove that we were in.

Again I felt that familiarity. This time I concentrated on it as I swept my eyes from the walls to the trees to the lake. Eventually it became necessary to lift my head—a monumental effort considering the spikes it drove through my skull—and I managed to glance over at the Shadow-Blender.

He almost looked asleep. His head was pressed into the side of my neck, and from what I could see of his tightly-squeezed eyes, pinned ears and side-frills, and heavy frown, something had upset him to a measurable extent.

Well, whatever it was, it wasn't important anymore. I had a flare to find, and probably a scolding to prepare for him. We needed to get back to the Queen and report...

"Stay out of sight. I need to deal with the Shadow-Blender. When we return home, we must tell the Queen that his mind has become infected, and that it was necessary to insure that he stays on this island to protect the nest. I'll be back in a moment."

I blinked up at the moon several times, and then back to the Shadow-Blender. He didn't even smell sick. What had driven me to such a conclusion? I tore through my recent memories, faintly surprised at how easily they bore their fruits; memories had always been hard to dig through, sometimes even impossible. I remembered him diving into the island without permission and then take his sweet time wandering close to the human nest—ah, so that was why I was annoyed. Then I'd lost sight of him in the forest, only to watch him reveal himself to a human and panic.

I vividly recalled deciding that he was "sick" at that moment. He'd reacted like any normal dragon, though. Even for such a puny, unworthy opponent, that Viking had been armed.

A creeping, lurking suspicion rose in my heart. I remembered something else, too. Something that I had forgotten for a long time. It was just like it had happened yesterday where I had taken flight in the nest, only to suddenly faint above the pit.

The Queen…she loved us. So why…why would she…

I squeezed my eyes shut. Then I whispered, "What a fool I've been."

The dragon besides me lifted his head. "Huh?"

I sighed. "I can see now that we've all be deceived." I raised my head. "I am sorry, Shadow-Blend—"

His eyes met mine. A connection, one only possible from magic, swept between us. In it everything washed away—the confusion, the disorientation, any doubts of if what I had discovered was true.

I sat up abruptly, unable to break away. There was pain and understanding and sorrow. Even so, there was happiness and excitement, relief and joy. The clashing of emotions would have been impossible to decipher if I wasn't already wing-deep in it myself.

"Hiccup," I said, as if needing to confirm that he was actually standing there in front of me, that I knew who he was. He gave me an uneasy smile, and that was the last thing I saw before I flung myself at him.

"Ah! Toothless!" Hiccup gasped, laughing despite himself as I rubbed my cheek against his and gave him a good lick. He pushed me off so that he could sit up and wrapped his paws around my neck, resting his head on my shoulder and holding tight. In an effort to shield him from the wind I lifted my wings around, even though it had calmed enough for the lake to still.

Oh, Dragon of the Sun! How could this have happened? Why did this happen? Memories burst forth, long cloaked in shadow, and I grit my teeth and clutched him fiercely.

"Hiccup," I choked. I promised you that we would be safe.

Although it was only brief, that moment lasted an eternity.


Hiccup and I finally broke apart and blurted, "I'm sorry! What?"

My ears flattened and I narrowed my eyes, and my friend reflected me like a smooth lake. "It's not your fault!" We both said with equal resolve.

We stared at each other for a second longer, and then Hiccup ducked his head and snorted. I sighed, hunching over a bit.

"Well, now that that's out of the way," I mumbled to myself, and then brought my eyes to Hiccup's. "What exactly did you do? I remember all of the last seasons but they're so…distant. Like I was merely watching myself act." I squeezed my eyes shut and moaned, "I attacked you. Oh, Hiccup—"

"I'm fine," he interjected, butting his forehead against mine. I stared at the deep claw marks on his shoulder. "I knew it wasn't you." He gave me a fake smile that I'm sure a fish could see through and said, "I think that her hold on me wasn't as strong as other dragons. When I saw Snotlout, everything just clicked, and I was able to fight her off with my magic." He rubbed his head as he spoke, most likely experiencing the same headache as myself. "Once I managed to pin you, all I had to do was do that same thing."

I nodded slowly. Hiccup did have very odd magic—even in the choking haze of the Queen's control, I'd been able to identify that. "That makes sense. There has always been something different about your magic…perhaps that made you less vulnerable to her."

Hiccup shrugged, and the conversation faded, leaving us to our own thoughts.

I grit my teeth, lips raising into a snarl. For a full turning of the seasons, that eel had not only taken control of myself, but of Hiccup, too, and…oh, great Dragoness of the Moon, Hiccup. He'd been the organizer of so many victories for the nest, he'd been so bloodthirsty when given the chance to prove himself. On every raid we'd been on, he had been the main source of Viking injury and death, while I had been more eager to find a good food source.

"Hiccup," I said carefully, turning to face him. When his ears shot up, head tilted to the side, I stammered, "Are…are you alright?"

He gave me a blank look for less than a second, then turned away. "Y-Yeah," he said. At the look I gave him, he sighed and whispered, "I'm trying not to think about it."

"You were the one who told me that you can't hold onto your emotions without them crushing you," I pointed out as I trotted over to his side, lifting his chin with my tail to meet his eyes. Drooping, I said, "I…can see how it's a lot harder on you than it would be for me. I'm sorry, Hiccup."

He said nothing. Unfortunately for him, I wasn't about to let a repeat of last time happen. This time was different; I had been put through it, too. To expect him to simply "get over it" with a conversation was ludicrous, but I knew that it would at least put him on the right path.

"Hiccup, you remember just as well as I do…"

Lowering his head, Hiccup said, "Please, Toothless. Let me have some time to think. I mean, we just got out of it, and I just—I need a second."

I glanced up the moon—a little lower than its highest point. We had plenty of time before the sun rose, but—

Wait, did I just see a dragon fly overhead?

I got to my feet, training my eyes on the sky. Yes, it was a dragon; I could see its shadow and the faint illumination given by the Dragoness of the Moon. In fact, I could see the entire flare overhead! How were they still here, though? Wouldn't the Queen have tried to send them back to the nest, as she'd almost done to me?

My flare hovered above, hesitant to come down after witnessing what must have looked like nothing but insanity. Even I was unsure of whether to motion them over or not; was the Queen still in control of them? Or had the magic Hiccup used had a stronger effect than we had previously thought?

The dragons above made the decision for me. The third-in-command, an elder Hum-Wing that had been on Hiccup's direct right, swooped down into the cove. The remaining members following her. I backed up to stand beside a very startled Hiccup as she thumped onto the ground, taking notice of the slight milkiness of her eyes. As the others landed onto the grass, I could see that it was a characteristic that all of them bore.

Oh, Dragoness of the Moon, are they going to attack us? I realized. I widened my stance ever-so-slightly, attention trained on the Hum-Wing. If she did not attack, the others would follow her example.

"Shadow-Blenders, what's taking so long?" She said. To me, she continued, "It seems as if you have taken care of the problem. We should return to the nest."

"No!" Hiccup commanded, making her eyes widen an ears stand up. "We can't go back to the nest."

"Did you find food?!" The very young Flame-Skin who had flown on the back left gasped, perking up at the opportunity.

The Hum-Wing answered for us. "No. But they did find a human." She turned her clouded eyes onto Hiccup, the film becoming stronger by the second. "I saw that incident. You chose not to kill it, and now it has probably alerted its nest that we are on the island. Our mission to find the rogue dragons has failed. We must return to the nest." She took a step forward, unsheathed claws glinting and baring her teeth just enough to let them be seen. "Let us cast rankings of species aside. I am your elder. You will respect my orders."

I stepped up to the challenge even as Hiccup tried to put a wing on my chest. "I led this flare," I hissed, "and you flew third. I very well have the right not to. We aren't in danger."

"I saw the human, too!" A Two-Walker piped up. "The Shadow-Blender was right in front of him!" Fluttering to the front, he demanded of Hiccup, "Why didn't you kill him?"

Hiccup shrunk away, pupils slim. "I—I—"

"The Shadow-Blender I know would have had no trouble doing it!" The Two-Walker accused. "You almost do it as sport! But you let that human know that we were here!" He rose over the ever-shrinking hybrid, wings opening wide. "You have endangered us all with your foolish actions!"

I let loose a long snarl, jumping in between the two. "Enough!" I snapped. Looking over my shoulder, I said, "Don't listen to him—Hiccup?"

The group gasped at the use of a name, the elder squawking something about felony. I turned my back on them, keeping my wings open to block their view, and stepped carefully over to my trembling companion. Hiccup was staring into something far away, ears and frills pinned and shrunken against the ground. I spoke his name again, giving him a gentle nudge. I might as well have not been there.

Oh, gods, I take it all back. Let him think it over later! Not with an angry flare on our wings!

"I—" Hiccup swallowed and sucked in a deep, ragged breath. He craned his neck up at me and breathed, "I killed people."

"Yes, but—" I began, but was largely ignored.

"I killed people," Hiccup repeated. "I—I hurt and killed people. And I liked it. I loved it! I—I—oh gods!" He flew to his feet and stumbled away. Then he stood still as stone, swayed, and vomited. His body shook as if a great beast had taken him in its jaws and swung him round by his neck. When it was over he limped heaving towards the lake on stiff legs, crumpling at the shore and peering blankly into water.

My jaw worked up and down. Regaining my senses precious seconds too late, I was at his side at an instant. "Hiccup? Listen to me." His ear twitched, but that was all. Placing a paw on the back of his neck, I soothed, "Come on, drink some water. There you go, good. Everything's going to be alright, okay?" He made no efforts to acknowledge me, and I said, "Say it. Say that everything's going to be alright."

"Since when are you an optimist?" Hiccup said, almost too quiet to hear.

"Is he alright?" The elder shouted. I shushed her with a deep scowl, and the ignorant dragon still went on, "The Queen needs to be alerted of any severe illnesses. He needs medical attention as well. Look at his shoulder."

Something unrecognizable crossed Hiccup's face. "The Queen," he growled. He stopped staring at his reflection and got to his feet, facing the group. "The Queen did this." He stalked towards the others, unsheathed teeth and claws creating something almost sinister. His limp was so pronounced, he looked like he was bouncing up and down.

He was unrecognizable.

"She's the one who made this happen. I thought…no…she was like a mother…" His head lowered, ears and frills flattened.

"Hiccup?" I said, eyes wide. More urgently, I caught up with him and whispered, "What are you doing? Hiccup!"

He didn't take his eyes off of the confused dragons standing before him. "I'm fixing this." He squared himself directly in front of them and closed his eyes, his entire face blackened with rage.

The flare members exchanged glances with their glossy eyes. The elder tipped her head, and a few of the younger members hissed and rubbed at their temples.

Then every damn one of them collapsed.

It was as if the ground itself had fallen away, they hit the soil so hard. I rushed to Hiccup's side just before he suffered the same fate, where he leaned on my shoulder as dead weight. His eyes were scrunched, and he was biting into his jaw so firmly that blood was drawn. He groaned, and the dragons on the ground echoed his pain with shrieks and howls, clutching at their heads and writhing in the dirt.

"Hiccup! Stop!" I cried. "You're hurting them!"

He ducked his head and shook, his entire body taking an invisible blow. His breathing sped up almost to hyperventilation, and I could feel his body temperature rising to the deathly warmth of high fever. My heart froze solid at the infamous warning signs of severe magic drainage—just a brief step before lethal forever-sleep.

I all but screamed, "STOP RIGHT NOW!"

The entire cove seemed to follow my command. The wind stopped blowing, the surrounding forest hushed, and—thank the Dragon of the Sun—the shrieking stopped. Hiccup slid to the ground where he raked in air, and the flare lied where they were in various states of consciousness.

I nudged at Hiccup frantically, almost dropping next to him in relief when he opened his eyes. My own must have been deceiving me, because his pupils looked circular instead of slit as they properly should be.

Still, I couldn't control myself and lectured, "Hiccup, you idiot! You almost killed yourself! Have I not told you about forever-sleep?! I know that you know what it is!"

A weak smile cracked across his lips. "Totally worth it," he said, his voice hoarse.

"What?" I looked over at the others. All of them were out cold, but the elder seemed to be coming to.

Hiccup's eyes slid shut. "I saved them," he murmured, the wind catching on his voice. His limbs went limp and his breathing evened out.

I swung back towards the flare, locking gazes with the elder.

Her eyes no longer held the clouds that had obscured them, and in their place was a look of horror that sent adrenaline bursting through my blood.


The induced unconsciousness only lasted for a few minutes, as it had for me. The fact that Hiccup was the last to wake did nothing to help my stress.

Similar to myself, all of the dragons awoke still "under" the spell after thinking in its strict confines for so long. Most notable was the young Flame-Skin that Hiccup had foolishly let into his flare, who was the first after the elder to realize what had happened to him. I hypothesized that his age was key to this, seeing as he had been under that eel's control for only a little longer than myself and Hiccup, but it was still jarring to see him come out of it before the second-most powerful dragon down from the elder. That dragon, a Two-Head, made a huge effort to show just how much his pride wasn't hurt from that.

Then we all basically sat there and mumbled obscure phrases about what we were feeling. I was eager to get us all moving because:

One, 'Snotlout' saw and recognized Hiccup and knew where the cove was.

Two, that meant I had to think about what had happened as well.

Before I had been too busy pushing the focus on Hiccup. Now, though…

Hiccup was agonized by this past year—I would even go as far as to say traumatized. I, on the other wing, was nothing but outraged. The cowardly demon didn't even have the courage to force us into submission. No—instead she applied foreign magic on us and erased who we were so that it would be easier on her. She used that magic to control a dragon's soul, to make them her loving servant so that she could feel important. Every word from her was a manipulation, every appearance an act to further the lie that the nest was the one and only home for us.

Even that was still secondary to the worst part. That monstrosity had done something far worse: she had all but erased Hiccup and mine's friendship. I knew that we had been close, only for invasive thoughts to suddenly appear and dissuade me from contacting him further. The Queen had been remarkably subtle. Then again, I suppose after decades of ruining lives, she could do it in exactly the way she wanted without ever being suspect.

The simple fact was: she knew Hiccup and I were a threat, that our bond was something she couldn't hope to gain control over. So she broke it.

That was unforgiveable.

We had to kill her. And when we did, I would personally ensure that she suffered.

The others reacted more or less as I did, disgusted by the way the Queen had used them as tools to her own desires and desperate to make it right. Which led to one of the younger members, a Two-Walker, taking off and declaring on the spot that she was going back to the nest.

"No!" Hiccup, the elder, and I all shouted at once.

The elder looked over at us and bowed deep in respect. "Allow me," she said. She rose to a hover to address every dragon, making sure to lock eyes with each of them before stating, "We must be tactful, young ones. The Queen has used magic that can not only control us, but supervise us. She may have lost her grip on us, but she knows where we last were and what has happened to us. She will be expecting our return, and we cannot fight the entire nest." To Hiccup, she went on, "You are the one whose magic has been different, and only you were capable of breaking the curse. If I may ask, are you the human who was morphed?"

Hiccup and I shared a glance. For the most part, he did a good job at hiding his surprise, but it was still obvious.

"Yeah, I am," Hiccup said.

There was a small uptake, but the elder remained calm and nodded once. "I see. I believe you would be the most knowledgeable on how to approach this, then. Forgive me if I am putting too large of a burden on you."

"He won't have to carry it alone," I said, raising my head high. "All of us will. Hicc—the Shadow-Blender is the only one who has the power to free us, but that doesn't mean we can't all fight back, too."

"We'll need more help than the fourteen of us," another Hum-Wing pointed out. "Our tiny group up against the nest and the Queen, if we fight enough to force her to act. Those odds are not ones I want to put my life on."

"Hey, no pressure," Hiccup mumbled.

The young Flame-Skin stepped forward and bowed low. "How're we going to beat her, Shadow-Blenders?"

Again Hiccup and I exchanged a look. The link burst to life, carrying over from Hiccup some semblance of an idea that might as well get us killed. The basis was crazy…but then again, crazy was his thing. I felt pieces click together in my head, like some sort of puzzle, and "sent" them back over to him.

I thought back to when I used to think of him as worthless, stupid, and incapable of being nothing but a vile human. Once we'd actually gotten to know each other, though…it was like flipping the world upside-down.

Hiccup caught on and smiled, nodding once. I turned to the others.

"I think it's time to make amends," I said.


"I changed my mind. This plan is terrible."

"This was your idea, Toothless."

"No it wasn't! It was yours."

"I'm pretty sure it was yours. Anyways, most of our plans work out well, so…" Hiccup's shoulder caught the moonlight, showcasing a wicked scar grazing over it. The elder Hum-Wing had been kind enough to deplete her own magic to heal it, thank gods. It still looked awful, and it took considerable effort to keep from staring.

I rolled my eyes. "I see being under control for a full turn of the seasons has done nothing to keep the crazy away."

"I see several dozens of years of being under control doesn't keep the pessimistic away," Hiccup said distractedly, peeking around a tree before stalking out into an open field breaching the forest.

Wait, what? I gave up being sneaky and bounded up to him, certain he'd done his math wrong. I had a faint idea of what a 'year' was, and the amount he'd just said definitely didn't match up with what had happened. Maybe he hit his head really hard. But I was fairly certain he was good at math. I think. "What do you mean, 'several dozens'?"

Hiccup stopped short, eyes widening, and gave me his "oops" look. "Because…you don't know?" He whispered.

"Don't know what?" A cold stone began to crystalize on my heart. I found myself wishing that I hadn't spoken up.

My friend straightened out, checking our surroundings once before sitting down. "Toothless," he said, "this might come as a shock to you, but I want you to know right now that it doesn't have anything to do with us. Okay?" I nodded for him to go on. "Alright…well…" He took a deep breath and burst, "The Queen told me you were under control the entire time she's been at the nest."

I raised an eyebrow. Well, that made zero sense. Must've been one big blow to the head. "No I wasn't. I acted on my own will the entire time."

Hiccup's ears drooped. "I know, and that's why it doesn't mean anything. But…she did say she'd always had a handle on you. She said she let you stay less under control because she needed someone smart enough to take care of dragons in raids. And they were getting pretty big before we came back to the nest, too, and you know how many dragons want to stay go in your raids."

"No," I said. "That's impossible. If I were cursed by her then, then I wouldn't have hated her so much. I wouldn't have been able to tell you about her."

He wasn't convinced. "That doesn't explain why you kept on wanting to go back to the nest the second we could get off Berk."

"We needed—"

"—help, I know," Hiccup interrupted. "But you even tried to keep me from thinking about fighting her, even if you changed your mind later. But right after that you got really sick, and I'm pretty sure that she had a part in that if she always gave me migraines."

I was silent, but still shook my head. No, that was ludicrous. No matter what Hiccup said, that would make our friendship…false. Something that was forced and not formed.

"I know it hurts," Hiccup said, grabbing my paw, "but I just thought you should know—"

I jerked away. "No! No. That's preposterous, Hiccup." I looked up at the moon to see that it was cast in clouds, shielded from our eyes. "Come on, we're losing moonlight. If the sun rises before we finish this, it's all over."

Hiccup trotted after me, fixing me with the look. "A dragon once told me that holding all your emotions in will only hurt you."

"Wise dragons can be hypocrites," I stated. "Besides, there's no emotions to hold in because it's clearly a lie to break you down."

Of course that's what it was. There was no way that…no, Hiccup was just misinformed.

Sighing, he said, "Alright. But this isn't the last of this!"

I knew he was right, but didn't want to—no, refused—to think about it.

On that, we melted into the forest once more and crept away. The edge was close enough to halt all conversation, leaving us with nothing to listen to but our own footsteps. Luckily, the others had opted to wait in the cove, which meant that our approach would be all but unnoticed. A group of fourteen dragons clustered together would have been very easy to spot, sun down or not.

We breached the edge, looking out onto the empty pathway illuminated by the moon. A little ways down was the little storage construction that Hiccup used to frequent.

Remembering all too well his past with it, I whispered, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

Hiccup nodded. "That's the whole point," he whispered back. "That hill up there gives a perfect view of the bottom. And having everything here means that we can make a bad place a good place."

I honestly didn't think that the symbolism would be noticed. Most Vikings are…dense. Still, I nodded and stepped out into the open, standing up on my hind legs and perking my ears. Hiccup jogged out to the center of the large hill's base and looked down at the dirt a few winglengths away from the human-built nest. With a sigh, he swept his tail on the ground, shooting up a cloud of dirt, and then got to work.

I was so focused on the direction towards his old nest that it took me a few seconds to hear the approach from the other side. I dropped down and hissed, "Hiccup! Get back here!"

"I need more time!"

"I don't care! There are Vikings approaching!" I glanced up at the opposite hill hurriedly, the sound of pounding feet growing too loud far too fast. "Now! Or I'll get you out of there myself!"

Hiccup stared desperately at his handiwork. "But…"

Cursing the gods for making him so boneheaded, I rushed out of the cover of the forest. Grabbing his scruff before he could move out of the way, I gave him a good push back towards the forest and placed myself behind him to make sure he actually did as he was told.

He didn't. Instead, he looked up at the source of the sound and froze like a deer spotting a dragon. I unsheathed my teeth and claws, lowered myself into a battle stance, and braced myself for the horde of humans that was sure to be on the crest of the hill.

There were only two. Two humans that I knew.

'Astrid' and 'Snotlout' stood on the hill, heavy weapons grasped in their paws. They had mixtures of shock and anger on their faces, each one staring down at us like we were the most unpleasant surprise they could have imagined.

"That's it. We have to try something else," I said, giving Hiccup a push towards the forest.

"This is the best way to explain everything without anyone getting hurt!" He gasped, pointing at the clawmarks he'd made on the ground. "Just wait, okay? I think I can fix this." He spun and trotted back over to his incomplete work, patting the ground for emphasis and then pointing at it was a paw. I stayed low, moving limb by limb over to Hiccup, wings held high and head low to the ground. Not once did they waver from my sight.

'Astrid' didn't so much as glance at the message. She let loose a howl and charged down the hill, prompting 'Snotlout' to run after her. I snarled, raising my wings higher and tightening my muscles, waiting for the moment the damn thing got into my striking range.

"I'll take her! You handle the other one!" I shouted. The human was halfway down the hill now. Any moment, and I would finally redeem myself from that unfinished battle so long ago.

There was a thunk next to me. I broke my deadlock on the Viking and jolted as if an eel had flopped right in front of me.

Hiccup rolled over onto his back like he was taking a casual sunbath, stretching his neck to expose every vein. He locked his solemn eyes on 'Astrid'.

The two Vikings skidded to a stop a stride away from the markings he'd made in the ground. 'Astrid' narrowed her eyes, while 'Snotlout' actually used his brain and looked down at the unspoken language before him. His eyebrows scrunched together as his eyes rapidly flew back and forth, and he raised his weapon up at Hiccup.

"What are you playing at?" 'Snotlout' growled, stepping right on top of Hiccup's hard work. I gave a deep snarl, prompting him to take his foot off of the markings.

'Astrid' must have taken a moment to look at the message, too. "You can't seriously expect us to believe this. It's too convenient." She flicked the fur on her head back and said, "We all know you're just trying to get us to trust you before you strike, you monster."

Hiccup stayed perfectly still. His stern gaze never left his two 'friends'.

'Astrid' stepped forward, ignoring my warning hiss, but was stopped by 'Snotlout' raising his arm. He trampled right over the message, kicking it away, and got so close to my best friend that he could have kicked him in the nose. I arched my back and bared all of my teeth, roaring for all I was worth!

Hiccup's wing sprung out and smacked me right in the face. His eyes never left those of his relative. 'Snotlout' placed his weapon on Hiccup's neck, putting enough pressure on it to dent his scales.

And Hiccup, still holding me back with his wing, closed his eyes. For a second, despair crossed through his features.

'Snotlout' tilted his head just far enough to glance over his shoulder at 'Astrid', whose axe was held directly at me. She couldn't seem to decide on being furious or doubtful. He took a deep breath and asked in a tired, wary voice, "Hiccup?"

Hiccup opened his eyes, a warm smile creeping onto his face. He nodded once.

"Impossible," 'Astrid' said, crouching low. "Get it together, Snotlout. You know what he's done. This has to be a lie."

Like hell it was! I hissed at her, loosening my stance to raise my head. With her full attention on me, I shook my head in the most deliberate way possible: nice and slow.

The two humans both gasped and recoiled as if I were a venomous snake.

Smirking at their flabbergasted reactions, I ducked my head and put my own skills to use, drawing a slightly-okayish picture of the stone forest in the dirt. Besides it, I added a crude representation of the volcano that we lived in, although it looked more like a steep curve than anything else. To expect them to identify a picture of the Queen was idiotic, but the iconic stone forest was just as recognizable to the Vikings as it was to the dragons it protected.

'Astrid' and 'Snotlout' clearly had no idea how to respond to the dreaded Shadow-Blender making a picture for them. The weapon's grip on Hiccup loosened, and the axe lowered ever-so-slightly. I held my nose high, a proud smile on my lip, and looked to Hiccup.

He looked just as confused as them. What, was it not good enough? I was great at this, considering it was only my second time doing it…right?

'Astrid' gasped. "The nest," she said. Turning to Hiccup, she demanded, "So you know how to get to it?"

Again he nodded, allowing the sharp thing to dig deeper into his neck.

"Why would you show it to us?" 'Snotlout' said, glancing over at me and then back to Hiccup. His kin looked pointedly at what was left of his message, drawing a frown from him. "I mean…that's totally insane. You keep ships from getting even halfway through that for a year and now you want take us there?"

Hiccup jerked his head to the side, bringing his paws up and twisting his shoulders to the side. 'Snotlout' paused before lifting his weapon to his side, much to his companion's displeasure. 'Astrid' hissed a word I didn't recognize and tightened her stance, determined to stay as threatening as possible, while Hiccup carefully rolled to his feet.

He was a little taller than 'Snotlout' at his normal height, but still made the massive mistake of apologizing…by butting his head into 'Snotlout's chest. To a dragon, it was warm and heartfelt. To a human, it might as well have been an assault. The human's paws flew up to the sides of Hiccup's head but did no more. On the complete opposite spectrum, Astrid all but flung her axe into his neck that very instant, and it took all I had not to leap right over Hiccup and crush her to bits!

Pulling back with a small, saddened grin, Hiccup began clawing a different message into the ground. 'Snotlout' placed his free paw over the spot Hiccup had just touched, claws twitching, and 'Astrid' stalked her way over with her weapon never straying from its ready-to-strike position. I also admit that I was guilty of crowding, even though it all looked like squiggles and lines to me.

"What's it say?" I whispered to Hiccup before he even finished.

"'First I said sorry. Then 'The Queen dragon uses magic to control all dragons that go to the nest. If she is gone, dragons and humans won't have to fight. The Night Fury is free of her spell and won't hurt you'," Hiccup translated. He scratched for a little bit longer and stepped back. "Now can you please, uh, stop growling at them? It's hard to argue that dragons not under her control can be nice to humans when you're sitting there ready to kill them at any moment."

I huffed. This, again? "They were ready to kill you at any moment, too."

'Astrid' looked over, her eyes trained on me. I returned the stare at once. Although I didn't bare my teeth this time, I did allow my eyes to narrow.

The axe moved almost too fast to see, the curve digging right into Hiccup's neck by the time I could react. Hiccup's eyes widened as he flinched away, but it held firm against his scales. 'Astrid' returned her eyes to me, the challenge easily crossing over to me. Go on, she was saying. Prove him wrong. Give me an excuse to kill him.

I stood my ground. The little wretch pushed the axe deeper into Hiccup's throat, giving rise to little streams of blood cracking from beneath his scales and running down like little rivulets. His pupils shrunk, a hint of fear emerging, but still stayed completely still.

"Back away," she ordered. I almost recoiled at the sheer absurdity of it; a human telling a Shadow-Blender what to do?! Absolutely not!

Hiccup definitely thought otherwise. He flicked his ear at me and managed to pull a somewhat believable calmness onto his face. I hesitated for a moment.

Damn it, Hiccup, I hope you're right, I thought. With movements almost too slow to be reasonable, I dropped my defensive position and slid backwards. When I was a full winglength away I stopped and sat down, wrapping my tail around my paws and keeping my head high. "You have no control over me, human," I informed her. "I do this by my own."

"Woah…it totally listened to you." 'Snotlout' appeared almost impressed. "Now roll over!" He said, thrusting his weapon into the air. I snarled with extra teeth. Down it went.

"Toothless," Hiccup chastised at a near whisper. 'Astrid' took notice, finally tearing her attention away from me and back to him. She loosened her hold on him, allowing him to drop his head back down, but still kept the axe firm on his neck.

"I remember telling you that I would kill you if you ever betrayed us," 'Astrid' said briskly. I bristled and Hiccup's eyes took on the size of the moon, but she acted as though she were having casual conversation. "So-called nest location or not, you need better proof than a convenient alibi. You killed dozens of people!"

Hiccup squeezed his eyes shut, hanging his head and sucking in a deep, rattling breath. I wanted to roar at them that it wasn't his fault, but they wouldn't listen! The 'proof' that the humans wanted was too impossible, too unreasonable! What did they expect? Have us take them to the nest and show them the Queen? Would that finally convince them that we were trying to put an end to this?

I blinked and shot to my feet just as 'Astrid' pursed her lips and began to shift the axe far too close to Hiccup's soft spot for comfort. 'Snotlout', who had never taken his eyes off of me, crouched low. "Hey!" Getting to my feet and nodding towards the forest, I waved a wing in an even more obvious "follow me" fashion. Hiccup looked up with half-lidded eyes, tipping his head to the side. I grunted and nodded again to the forest.

"No." 'Snotlout' said, bearing an unimpressed look that resembled Hiccup so much that it made me uncomfortable.

Hiccup slipped away from 'Astrid', jerking back when she spun towards him. He leaned in close, staring deep into her eyes. Then, as if jolted from a dream, he skirted around her with frantic, flustered steps, making sure to lean down and nose 'Snotlout' gently in the shoulder and give him a weak smile. The human wore the same horrified expression he'd had when Hiccup had apologized to him, back when the pod of humans had come down into our cove.

Hiccup returned to my side, and I leaned into him in an offer of support. The two humans turned to each other and started a hushed conversation that they were stupid enough to think we couldn't hear, with 'Snotlout' even going as far as shielding his mouth with the stretched claws at the end of his paw.

"You said yourself that he wasn't Hiccup anymore," 'Astrid' said. "We need to tell the Chief! We are not making this mistake again!"

"I know!" 'Snotlout' hissed back. "But…just…"

"But nothing! One of us has to keep them here and make sure they don't just fly off again. Just talking to Hiccup should do that. The other has to go the Chief's and…"

She was cut off when 'Snotlout' blurted, "It's just that he seems a lot like how he used to be! You just called him 'Hiccup'!" 'Astrid' was unable to come up with any "explanation" for this, and he said, "What if he's not lying and we can change him back?!" This last sentence was said with such earnest that Hiccup sighed and ducked his head, ears drooping. I was a bit taken aback myself.

This seemed to give 'Astrid' pause. "How could we even do that? And you still know what he's done. We can't just forgive that."

"Astrid, can't we just try? What if we can get him back?"

I sighed as she shot back a rephrase of why she couldn't trust Hiccup: he hurt a bunch of Vikings, he lied, bla bla bla. The dumb girl could only see things from her point of view and had never taken any explanation without keeping some gas her throat; why would she start now? This was wasting precious time going back and forth.

Finally having enough of it, I nudged Hiccup and said, "I think we might need a little bit of help."

He turned to me, brows raised high and ears sticking up. "That's crazy! What if something happens?"

"I'll be able to handle them," I said. "Besides, you're a lot more convincing than I am. We need to hurry before they decide to pull something."

Hiccup pawed at the ground nervously, eyes flickering over to the humans.

"Hiccup, you've done all you can. We're going to need to do a lot more if we ever want to get their help." I couldn't help but glance up at the sky. My stomach dropped when I realized how low the moon was setting.

He checked the time as well and frowned. "…Alright. I'll be back in a minute!" He crouched low and took off on the spot, his shadow encompassing the humans before disappearing into the night sky. Their conversation came to a halt.

"What the—?! Where is he going?" 'Snotlout' shouted in disbelief, holding his paws out wide.

Oh, gods, was 'Astrid' furious. I could just see her little "one stall here and the other get the elders" plan falling apart right in front of her. It was beautiful, really. "Are you kidding me?! He just sat there and tried to—ugh!" She raised her weapon at me and demanded, "Stay right where you are!"

I got up and moved a couple of meters over.

Gods, I didn't know humans could get the red! She looked like a Flame-Skin! I would have rolled on my back laughing if I could have. Maybe I would have if the two weren't sending scalding glares my way. Instead I sat down neat and tidy, keeping a calm eye on the two of them. They would never be on my level, and they were going to know it.

Turns out, I probably shouldn't have let my guard down. It only took a second, and suddenly the female human was dashing off into the woods through the opening that I'd just given her. I jumped in surprise, watching her go.

…well, I didn't like her anyways.

'Snotlout' gasped at the sudden abandonment and made to chase after her, only to backpedal away when I leaped in front of him. I lowered my head and squared my front feet, tail swishing behind me. We needed at least one of these idiots here when Hiccup got back. Besides, this one seemed a lot more ready to accept the truth than the other. She could trip and break her leg in that forest, for all I cared.

'Snotlout' feinted running in a different direction and then tried to go in the opposite, grunting in frustration when I easily intercepted. He held his thing at me and said in a somewhat shaky voice, "Move out of the way, Night Fury!" I raised an eyebrow at him. "I-I'm serious! You can't keep me here forever!"

"I can arrange that," I said, keeping my wings half-open. I was not above pinning him until Hiccup got back. Although that probably wouldn't make a good impression.

Thus, a stare-down was commenced. Both of us knew that 'Snotlout' wasn't going to get past me, which meant that he was just going to defiantly maintain eye contact to show me how independent he was. I was unimpressed, to be honest, but it was a good effort.

It wasn't too long later that the sound of rushing feet began to emerge from within the forest. I shifted my posture to have an ear facing the edge of the path, never letting my eyes leave the human's. A few seconds later, 'Astrid' burst through the trees, her skin paler than snow.

Damn it! Why couldn't she have gotten lost?

"Snotlout, there's more, we have to go—!" She rushed to warn, only to stop when the moon blinked out as something overhead blocked it.

Hiccup curved and fell into a neat landing at my side, the elder Hum-Wing and the young Flame-Skin in tow. I blinked at the latter; why would Hiccup bring the most vulnerable dragon in our team with him?

The newcomers landed on my other side, eyeing the battle-ready humans before them.

"Are these the ones that're gonna help us kill the Queen?!" The Flame-Skin asked excitedly.

"We're hoping," I said. "We just need to show them that it's possible to have an alliance. They're really stubborn." Hiccup gave me a look, to which I grinned somewhat sheepishly at.

The elder harrumphed. She took several slow paces forward, paying no mind to 'Astrid' and 'Snotlout' as they reeled their weapons back. She paused a stride away from them and dipped her head low, lowering her body to the dirt and spreading her wings out in a formal bow that had once been reserved for the Queen only. "Greetings, humans. I beg your understanding—we have not been ourselves."

The Flame-Skin took this as a model and rushed to her side, bowing so enthusiastically that he nearly smacked his jaw on the way down. "Please help us!" He cried. "We really, really need it!"

The humans couldn't respond. I couldn't respond. To bow to a human—what a horrible, treacherous, dangerous act! So caught off guard, even 'Astrid' lowered her weapon at the dragons openly submitting to her in her strike range.

"Should we do that, too?" Hiccup whispered.

"I'm not bowing!" I said.

Unfortunately, that apparently wasn't the right answer. Hiccup trotted to the Flame-Skin's side and adopted the same stance, wings spread wide and front legs bent. It was only a few seconds later that he rose, signaling the others to get back to their feet, but it was nearly impossible not to scoff as I stepped over to stand beside him.

Hiccup's paw swept across the ground as he clawed out a message again. He spoke the message for our sake, "We desperately need your help. Almost all dragons are under her control and will continue to raid. Without the Queen, there can be peace."

'Astrid' glanced over at me, and I nodded at her. Her bewildered, confused gaze turned to the Flame-Skin and elder. The young Flame-Skin rushed to bow again, which only served to make her lean away.

"This…this is crazy," 'Snotlout' whispered.

"This is impossible," 'Astrid' said just as quietly, her full attention on the Flame-Skin lowering himself to her alone.

Hiccup chuckled. "Don't I know that," he said. He lifted his paw and held it out, claws sheathed. "Truce?" Both humans still looked reluctant. "Please…Snotlout, Astrid."

The two shared a look and then swung back to the rest of us as if making sure that we weren't trying some elaborate plot to kill them just as they got their guards down.

"The other dragons would end up like this?" 'Astrid' asked nobody in particular. The Flame-Skin rose and cocked his head.

Hiccup's head bobbed up and down. The Flame-Skin, keen to live up to his idol, mimicked him with enough enthusiasm to power a thunderstorm. At least 'Astrid' didn't know that he probably hadn't understood a word she'd just said, which only served us the better.

'Snotlout' seemed to come to a resolution, the anxiety melting away from his expression. He lifted his paw and wrapped it around Hiccup's, shaking it once. "Alright. I'm all for being a hero!" He said with a weak grin. Hiccup returned it and the elder bowed thankfully to him, muttering a prayer to the Dragon of the Sun.

And the Flame-Skin reared up and licked his entire torso, overcome with excitement. 'Snotlout' yelped in disgust, backing up and swiping the saliva off of his fake fur to the best of his ability. The elder, Hiccup, and I all shot scolding glares and hisses at the hyperactive fletchling, the elder making a point of pushing a paw down on the tip of his wing to keep him in place. Dragoness of the Moon, did he want to get us all killed?

"Astrid? What about you?" Hiccup asked after making sure the Flame-Skin wouldn't try to cuddle again, extending his paw out to her.

She lifted her axe to stare down at it, then to the writing Hiccup had originally written into the ground. Her eyes dragged across to Hiccup's plea for help, and then to the two new dragons in front of her—the only dragons besides myself and Hiccup that had ever been so close to her without trying to kill her.

We've moved mountains for you, I thought. Just trust us already!

'Astrid' lowered her axe and returned the gesture, her movements jolty and hesitant. "To stop the raids," she clarified.

Hiccup smiled and shook his head, a low purr rising from his chest. He clawed into the soft earth once more.

"To stop the war."


Everything afterwards flew by in a blur. Hiccup and I got to work dusting the ground off with our tails so that he could redo his message. 'Snotlout' mentioned something about his father probably wondering why he was so late, and 'Astrid' told Hiccup that she wanted to try and explain to the King what had happened. At first he declined the offer, and she'd stated, "Look at what this writing idea did for us. If all of this is going to be stopped, it's going to take a lot more than just that."

The Flame-Skin offered to be an escort to them, which sounded like an awful idea until I thought about it. If something went wrong, the observing dragon could fly ahead and warn the others before they were attacked.

I volunteered that instant. The two humans definitely were not comfortable with the idea of me following them, but they would just have to deal with it. After a quick conversation (and hug from me) with Hiccup we left, leaving him with the elder and Flame-Skin to complete his message and hope.

'Astrid' and 'Snotlout' walked in the center of the pathway while I clung to the cover of the trees. Being a master of stealth, they had no idea where I was. They occasionally looked into the forest that I was currently stalking through, still uneasy with what had happened.

Eventually they reached the extremely small nest that had apparently once been Hiccup's home. I thought it didn't suit him—it was so claustrophobic and overbearing—and crept up around the jagged corner so that I could listen better. I poked my head around just to see the humans pound on it, for whatever reason. Why would they try to break the nest? Were they really that stupid?

'Snotlout' noticed me looking and wildly waved his paw at me, and I ducked away just as I heard something click.

"Snotlout! What took you so long?! And why is Astrid with you?"

"Uh...well—"

'Astrid' said, "Spitelout, something's happened."

There was a very long pause. Then another click, and the voices became muffled.

"Snotlout! We sent you out almost an hour ago! And Astrid, why are you awake at such a time?" Came the voice of the King. I was surprised that he didn't have as much disappointment in his voice that Hiccup always said he would. He just sounded worried to me.

Then again, he was a monster, so it's not like it made him any better.

"Uncle Stoick, uh…you see…this is kinda hard to explain…So, uh, I was walking back from getting the map, and, ah—"

"Hiccup's returned to the island." 'Astrid' cut off the aggravating stuttering.

For a second, the two elders absorbed this new information. My chest tightened. As unbearable as the previous approach was, she could have at least kindled the embers a little bit more! Learn some rhetoric, you stupid human!

"How do you know?" The King demanded.

"I ran into him on the way back. He wrote 'I'm so sorry' into the dirt and took off," 'Snotlout' said, regaining his confidence. "I went to get Astrid after that."

"Why didn't you come tell us?! Ugh—never mind, is that it?" The second elder asked. They must have gestured in some way, because he growled, "Then explain it!"

"We were running back to get you guys when we saw him again. He was with the other Night Fury and writing something, but I went ahead and attacked him. He made a big deal of not fighting back," 'Astrid' said.

Then Hiccup's gods-damned father said, "And why didn't you kill him?"

"Because dragons always go for the kill," 'Astrid'said, her answer swift enough for her to have memorized the information beforehand. "There was no reason for why a normal dragon would have done that. The Night Fury stood aside and let Snotlout and myself bring our weapons to his neck."

"It was a trick," the King snarled. There was a commotion, the sound of several objects being knocked over.

"That's what we thought," 'Snotlout' said. "But then Hiccup flew off, and he came back with a Gronckle and Nightmare."

"There are more dragons on the island?!" The other adult gasped. "Wait—a Nightmare?" This time he sounded horrified, concerned. "How did you two get out of there?"

'Astrid' and 'Snotlout' paused. The extra noises stopped as if waiting for them.

"The dragons…bowed to us," 'Astrid' said, disbelief still in her tone. "All of them but the Night Fury. The Nightmare especially. When I looked at it, it basically put its face in the dirt."

"They were really close to us, too," 'Snotlout' said. "The Gronckle was close enough to bite an arm off. It was so weird."

"I still don't believe it," 'Astrid' muttered. "In his message, Hiccup kept on bringing up a dragon he calls the 'Queen' that apparently controls the dragons. He said that he and the others had just gotten freed of her, and that if she were killed, the dragons would stop attacking us. According to him, that's why he's here: to take us to the nest to help fight her."

"The nest?" The King whispered in wonder, as if having finally found something he'd been searching a long for. "Are they still there?!"

"Yeah—wait, where are you…?"

There was a slam, and the sound of footsteps became brisk and clean. I risked a peek around the edge and saw the King stalking down the path. Another human followed after him, with 'Snotlout' and 'Astrid' on their tails.

Oh, great. This was not helping. He didn't believe them! He was a Viking; of course he'd need it to slap him in the face multiple times before he even considered it.

I opened my wings and caught the wind, flying directly above the group and landing in front of them. The King withdrew a sword without hesitation, and the human that I had once faced in their tournament picked up a weapon from his belt.

"So it's true," the King said. He took a step forward.

I nodded my head as deliberately as I had before. It seemed to work on humans well enough, anyways. Then I barked and motioned to the pathway with my head, stepping down it and looking back over my shoulder. Without giving them time to think, I trotted down the path like it was a pleasant, sunny day.

The sound of rushing feet was my only warning. I turned around in time to see the sword slicing the air towards me. Ducking away, I backed up and growled, pounding the ground with my front feet. "Enough!" I screamed so loud my voice bounced off the trees! "Enough with this already!"

The King held his weapon up, staring directly into my eyes. He brought the sword to the tip of my chin, the fine point digging in like a tiny, glowing-hot stone. His other hand reached to his midsection, where a somewhat familiar object was attached. It wasn't a weapon, but that didn't make me like it any more.

This wasn't working. I needed to convince them to at least not attack us on sight. How could I do that?!

The answer was obvious. I hated it.

A lot.

Oh, Dragon of the Sun, this was going to be humiliating…

I loosened my battle stance and stooped over, spreading my wide wingspan out across the pathway and raising my tail so it was only a clawlength off the ground. Bending my front paws in, I let myself drop further, nose so close to the ground that I could smell the wetness of the last rainfall. My entire body burned in shame, it was so awful! The fact that he was a King was no comfort!

Tilting my head up enough to meet his eyes, I held perfectly still. The King was just as shocked as any other human, but his sword was held ready.

"Great Odin above…" The King's relative whispered.

His superior looked over at him. "Go wake up the warriors and tell them to finish readying the ships. Then come back here if I haven't returned." He turned to me and said, "Show me how to get to the nest, devil."

I nodded and did my best to keep my scowl from being too obvious. Rising from my previous disgraceful position, I backed aside to let the other human pass. For some reason he took off into the forest instead, which I suppose made sense if he wanted to get to the village faster. From what I'd seen from above, we were on the outskirts, and the trail we were on now skirted around it first before leading directly into it.

Oh, well. One less human to worry about.

Much less reluctant to turn my back on him, I opened my wings a bit and gestured down the trail again.

"That one didn't do that to us," 'Astrid' whispered, perplexed. "I guess it respects you?"

"Lucky," 'Snotlout' grumbled. I sighed. I was never going to outlive that.

The King didn't respond, but did hold his sword up to me. I spun and glided to the crest of the next hill; there was no way I was going to risk turning my back on him again!

The human broke out into a sprint, his inferiors following close behind. I waited for him to be a winglength away and did the same thing, bouncing from hilltop to hilltop. The cold determination on the monster before me was almost chilling, and it didn't take long for me to wonder if I'd made a terrible mistake.

Well, what's done is done, I thought to myself as I reached the last hill. I looked down upon the markings decorating the hill before me. Hiccup and the other two poked their heads out of the forest cover, and I glided down to them.

"Did it work?" Hiccup gasped as rushed into the open.

"As well as it could have," I said. "He wants to know where the nest is."

Hiccup smiled. "I know." He rubbed his cheek against mine and said, "Thanks, Toothless."

I returned it. "Of course. He should be here any moment now." I spun to face the hill, perking my ears.

"Him and Spitelout?"

Who the hell is 'Spitelout'? "No, just him and your friends. He sent the other away. Something about ships."

This seemed to concern Hiccup, but he had no time to ponder. He perked up, pupils shrinking, and froze.

I took in a deep breath. Here we go…

This time would be different. We weren't going to end in failure.

I would make sure of it.


Dad's expression was…unbearable. I had thought Snotlout had looked distraught to see me. But this—this was far worse. Even from our distance, I could see the sword nearly slip from his iron grip.

"Dad," I whispered, taking a few steps towards the hill. Suddenly I couldn't breathe, my heart jolting in panicky beats. I lowered myself into a bow, ears and side-frills pinned and wings held parallel to the ground. I held still and counted to three before I rose, pointing with a paw at the message on the hillside.

"Who's that?!" The Flame-Skin yelped from within the forest. The elder and Toothless shushed him.

My father glanced over at the writing—and ignored it. My heart sunk as he stalked towards us, fury slowly building. "You," he hissed. "You take my son away, you claim to be him only to try to take my life, you put his name to infamy and kill hundreds." He stopped a few meters away, holding the sword up.

Each word like a dagger, I felt myself sinking lower and lower to the earth. No….no, stop it! Please! I crumpled, squeezing my eyes shut and gritting my teeth. Please, it wasn't me…it wasn't me…oh, gods…

"And now, you and your friend want to take me to your nest. You expect me to believe this?"

I rose my head up, mouth slightly open in despair. Then, knowing full well how useless it was, I began clawing into the dirt. It gave way easily, bringing forth crisp and clear writing.

The Queen controlled all of us.

Dad narrowed his eyes. "And were you 'controlled' when you were in the Ring?"

I couldn't meet his eyes and shook my head. Swiping at the ground to clear it, I wrote in it again.

I was scared. Dad's eyebrows rose at this, and I added sullenly: I didn't mean to. I thought you were going to kill me.

His eyes held no warmth or empathy. "And why shouldn't I?"

Because I'm your son! I wanted to shriek. Because I never meant to hurt you! Because all of these terrible things have all been the Queen's fault!

because you're supposed to love me…

Just like the Queen did, a traitorous part of my mind whispered. My heart dropped, and I put all my strength into pushing it away. She hadn't loved me. She hadn't.

…hadn't she?

Stop it! I squeezed my eyes shut and sucked in as much air as I could. I had to focus. I had to convince Dad right here and now that we weren't enemies, or it would all be over.

I glanced up at him and wrote the only thing I didn'twant to say:

Because you need me to get to the nest.

Dad's face remained…well, stoic. "Other Vikings tried, and all of them have been attacked." He glared. "Many have lost their lives because of you. The same will happen to us."

I grimaced and wrote, That's why we need your help. With us, we can make it to the island and take down the Queen.

"Us? And how many dragons are here?" He demanded.

Fourteen.

Oh, man, that did not make him happy. Dad glanced up at a completely lost Toothless, probably wondering where the other twelve were.

I cleared the ground again. We'll lead the ships to the nest and also protect it from any dragons.

Toothless jolted beside me, looking over his shoulder and then back to me, eyes huge. His ears swiveled towards the other side of the path. Dad and I largely ignored him.

Hidden in the underbrush, the Flame-Skin whispered, "What's going on?" The elder growled at him to silence him, her voice barely audible as she began to explain.

"It sounds like you'll turn on us once you get there," Dad observed, bringing my attention back to him. My stomach dropped and I shook my head wildly. Toothless gave a soft hiss, still concentrating on what was behind us.

I swept away the last message and raised my paw again, throat tightening. Oh, gods, it wasn't working. What was I going to do?!

The answer was not something I wanted or expected. From the darkness the Flame-Skin shrieked, "Well, we have to help him!" and burst from the forest. I tried to jump in front of him to stop him, and Toothless spun back to face everyone, but there was no time! Before we could do anything the young dragon had stopped in front of my father and bowed low to the ground, crying, "Please help us!"

Years of fighting dragons were showcased in a single movement as Dad jumped to the Nightmare's side and raised his sword, seconds from bringing it down onto his exposed neck.

"NO!" I screamed, sprinting in front of the fletchling opening my wings wide. Snapping a paw out, I knocked Dad's hand away, sending his sword clattering into the shadows. Toothless was just as fast, grabbing the Nightmare's scruff in his teeth and literally dragging him away. The elder flew out to his aid, standing in between myself and the other two, eyes narrowed. I backed up as fast as I could, crouching low and breathing heavily. "Oh…oh no…"

Dad looked over where his weapon had gone and back to me. "How dare you!" He snarled. "You bring these…these dangerous beasts to my village and try to tell me they're tame?" His hand flew to his belt, where something was hanging off of it.

The Flame-Skin gasped and warned, "Fly away! There's more and they're angry!" A flurry of wingbeats and a rush of air, and he was gone.

I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder. I caught a glimpse of the elder zipping away, and a party of at least seven Vikings standing atop the hill. Toothless was in the process of turning away from them to look at me, his pupils thin in panic and wings held straight up.

Then a great force railed into my head. I yelped, stars filling my vision, and the world turned black. I came to a second later, lying on the ground. Something course and spiky was wrapped around me and holding tight—a net!?

A foot came down on my neck, hard. "One more step and I crush him," Dad snapped. I managed to look up to see a hammer the size of my head inches away.

"Dad," I whispered, my voice rough with disorientation. "He wasn't gonna hurt you…"

"Leave that one be," Dad said to someone. His voice was steel. "You will lead us to the nest. In return, I won't kill your friend."

"Rot in the Prebirth," Toothless cursed. He opened his wings and rose onto his hindlegs, the moon blinking out behind him. "Release him now!"

"No—Toothless—" I said. Squinting through the pain, I shifted just enough to see Toothless surrounded by Vikings, completely outnumbered. There was no way he'd be able to win a battle against them if all he could focus on was freeing me. "Do what he says."

My friend jerked away. "What?! No! I'm not letting this monster—"

"Toothless!" I rasped. "This is our chance. If we go with this, we can get them to the nest."

He shook his head, eyebrows lowered. "No! We just got back together! I won't leave you!"

"You aren't going to," I said. "Just get the others and go to the docks. Make yourself be seen or they might…" I cut the sentence off. "Dad knows how close we are. He knows you'd do anything. I promise, he isn't gonna hurt me. Just go."

He didn't say anything. His legs rattled and he shook his head again, eyes darting to Dad and the others. He knew we were outmatched.

"Go!" I said again.

Toothless lowered his head, his entire body rattling. He slammed his paw on the ground hard enough to send cracks running through it and howled, "DAMN IT!" Swinging his head up, he set my father a glower filled with enough loathing to burn an ocean away. Then, jaw set, he crouched low and swept away into the night, angling himself towards the cove.

Spitelout was among the Vikings who had returned. He watched Toothless go and then looked to Dad. "Sir?"

I stared up at my father. He observed me for a moment, his eyes ripping away at me. "Help me tie this one up."

"No!"

I blinked at the familiar voice. There was the sound of someone's feet pounding the ground, and then Snotlout was standing in front of me.

"No!" He repeated, holding his hands out. He turned to his father and then mine, begging, "Can't you see?! If we help them get rid of that royal dragon or whatever, we can get Hiccup back!"

"Snotlout!" Spitelout scolded.

"We can still save him!" Snotlout said. "We can stop the raids! We don't have to do this!"

"He's right," came Astrid's voice from nearby. "The dragons seem to need us more than we think they do. If we help them, the raids will stop."

"You don't know that for sure!" A woman in the crowd said. "Now, young lady, you get over here right this instant!"

"Uncle Stoick, come on!" Snotlout said. "Look at him! He wants to help! And it makes sense why he did all those things if that dragon was making him!"

Dad wasn't having any of it. "You've been fooled. It's an alibi."

"And what if it isn't?" Astrid said quietly. I shivered when I felt every single eye land on me. Speaking as if shocked, like she was just now realizing this herself, she went on, "What if he really was being controlled all this time, and just wants to stop the war? Or make up for it by betraying the dragons?" It was quiet, and she whispered, "He sure isn't fighting back."

The road became as silent as the flares the Queen sent out.

"That's enough, Astrid!" Her mother was the first to speak, furious. "I'm sorry, Stoick. I don't know what's gotten into her."

Spitelout went over and grabbed his son, dragging him away. Snotlout peered over his shoulder and looked me in the eyes. He mumbled an apology that only I could hear, and I lost sight of him as the crowd closed in like the ocean swirling around a drowned man.


They ended up wrapping me up like a show pony.

I was muzzled so firmly that I couldn't open my jaw, and my wings bound tight enough to send pain lacing down my spine of I so much as twitched. My paws were tied together with just enough room to let me walk at a snail's pace, but nothing more. Several strands of rope were connected to my muzzle and neck, giving them a sturdy—and painful—way to lead me. In fact, there were several ropes branching off of the ones holding me captive, and every Viking circled around me was holding onto something connected to me.

Oh, and they'd also tied my base-fins and tailfins together. Even if I were to free my wings, there was no escape. So I've got that going on too.

I honestly had no idea if this was better or worse than the cart they'd rolled me around in last time. It was much less endearing, to say the least.

Dad took the main lead, the one directly tied to my muzzle, and yanked me forward. I grunted and stumbled, hissing when I tried to hold my wings out for balance and sent the rope digging in more. It seriously didn't help that the surrounding Vikings were all leaning back with all of their weight, pulling me in every direction at once and tightening the binds second by second.

I hung my head. I deserved this, in some way. It didn't matter how much the Queen "loved" me. It didn't matter how much she was like a foster mother to me. It didn't matter that, for once in my life, I hadn't been an outsider. Dragoness of the Moon, it just didn't matter.

I had killed people. I deserved punishment. The Queen may have been behind it, but the facts were that I had come close to breaking free multiple times. In a part, it was me. I didn't want to walk away from that without so much as a slap on the paw. I had hurt people. I had ruined lives.

So I walked along like an obedient little dog, picking up the pace whenever my father snapped the ropes forward in an attempt to get a move on. The moon had all but set and the sun was starting to rise. The sky was blood-red, and the forest hushed.

We reached a hill to see a respectable swath of Berk. If I tried hard enough, I could just barely see dragons circling what looked like miles away.

Thank gods, I thought. Dad took notice of them as well, glancing down at me. I raised my ears hopefully, imagining him cutting me some slack once he'd realized that Toothless had done as he'd been told.

Dad's eyebrows lowered. He gave a deep sigh and turned away, taking us down into the village. There was a fairly large amount of people milling around, and every single one of them stopped at once when they saw the infamous Shadow-Blender being led by their leader. I kept my eyes downcast, too ashamed to meet their hateful, accusatory gazes. If they had wanted my death before, when all I'd done was exist…

…well, in short, I wasn't expecting any tea parties.

It was only when I heard a loud gasp, followed by someone shouting, "Hiccup?!" that I eventually raised my head enough to look around.

I locked eyes with Fishlegs. His jaw was slack and eyes bugging. Ruffnut and Tuffnut, who were standing at his sides, looked equally aghast at the sight of me.

Astrid and Snotlout both broke away from the crowd, and my childhood friend rushed over to them. "What happened?!" He hissed. "Is this why everyone's preparing the ships?"

"He don't look too good," Tuffnut observed, raising an eyebrow in my direction.

"Yeah, he's, like, limping," his twin added.

Dad pulled on the rope, and I realized too late that I had stopped as I stumbled to the ground. "Come along," he mumbled. I struggled to get my paws underneath me, and when I finally did, he repeated the earlier treatment. The Vikings at his immediate sides also pulled, forcing the rope around my neck to tighten more than was safe, even for a dragon.

I couldn't breathe, couldn't see as my eyes filled with black spots. I took a couple of unsteady steps forward and my left hindleg gave out. What little air I had left me in a tiny breath, and I heard more than felt myself hit the ground.

"Get up," came a harsh command from above. I obeyed, wheezing for air and trying to bring a paw up to my neck, but the constraints on them held me back. "You there, quit pulling on that so hard."

The clamp on my throat loosened significantly. I pulled in the sweet, sweet air and shook my head, trying to clear it. This seemed to be good enough for my enslaver; he dragged my head forward with the lead the second I seemed "better". Shooting a glare in the general direction of those who held ropes connected to my neck, I did my best to follow along without any more embarrassing screw-ups.

A crowd formed behind us as we went, following with wary footsteps. If I concentrated enough, I could hear Snotlout and Astrid exchanging whispers with the others, explaining what had happened. What they were saying was muffled by the other small conversations the kicked up in our dust.

Figures of dragons hovering overhead became more and more pronounced the closer we got to the dock. Several of them, Toothless amongst them, were hovering at a great height. I wondered if they could see me. The more prideful part of me hoped that they wouldn't. Dad noticed them, too, and seemed to get more agitated with each street that brought us closer to the ships.

The shaking of the ropes continued from all ends, most noticeably from my father's. I resumed my bowed-head position, taking it as it went and keeping pace as best as I could. I was just so exhausted. The sudden breakage of the Queen's hold, followed by freeing thirteen other dragons and then running all around Berk's forest and roads…it was tiring stuff. My head still hurt, and all I really wanted to do was lie down in the sunlight and get some sleep.

We reached the center of town, right outside Town Hall. I risked a peek around and flinched at the mass of people. It was so concentrated that, for a second, Dad was forced to a stop as the crowd pulled in like a choppy ocean.

Standing behind him and chained up, a wave of bitterness swooped onto me. He was treating me like a pet. A dangerous one, yes, but still! He knew I could understand him—we had a conversation, for the gods' sakes!—but he still insisted on treating me like the mindless demon he so desperately wanted me to be. My nose wrinkled and my claws dug into the ground.

It wasn't fair. I knew it was a foolish thing to ask for, after everything that had happened, but it still stung.

He pulled the lead. I followed him, keeping my head low for an altogether different purpose.

Now I was positive: I really hoped the others couldn't see me. Toothless especially. If he did…oh, man, that would not be pretty. The giant crowd was hard not to notice, though; it was only a matter of time. Hopefully he wouldn't dive in headfirst and stick to the plan.

Finally we reached the wooden staircases that dropped straight down the cliffside that had protected Berk from invaders for such a long time. I could see straight down, all the way to the ships.

They were so far away. I sighed, wishing that this could all just be over. At first I'd thought this was bearable, but now…

I hated being treated like an animal. I wanted them to respect me! To at least treat me as a prisoner of war instead of a rabid dog!

It occurred to me that I desired the treatment I had been given in the nest, but it only served to make me all the more irritated and stressed.

Any semblance of family and familiarity had been ripped away from me with a single word. I had regained myself, only to wake up to a world where I had done terrible things, where I was willing to be treated with such distrust and violence and shame at the hands of my own father. I had lost my high ranking, my support from that monster, my sense of security that she had cloaked over me.

And, Dragon of the Sun above, I regretted it. Now everything was so screwed up. I had gained my best friend—which made up for all of it! But in addition I'd realized memories that would haunt me until the day I died. I could no longer tell which language was the "right" language, whether I should use Shadow-Blender or Night Fury to describe myself.

I glanced up at the rising sun. I'd gained that, too. My stomach dropped in despair at something that I had never thought I'd have to deal with. What should I believe in? Before, I hadn't believed in the Dragon of the Sun and Dragoness of the Moon. I'd written them off as Toothless' fairytales. Now…

…were the humans wrong? What was to come of me, now that the immersion into the culture had taken hold of me so tight? What was I supposed to think? Even if the Queen were gone…what then? An image of Snotlout, disappointed and heartbroken, filled my mind's eye. He wanted his Hiccup back so badly.

How much of "me" was left to give, though?

I looked away, swallowing a heavy lump in my throat and squeezing my eyes shut as everything cascaded over me in a great wave. I didn't know.

I just didn't know anymore.


We reached the main part of the docks, where all the boarding was taking place. My father stopped to talk to someone about the progress of the ship preparations.

I watched the sails for a long time.

Eventually I was drawn out of my uplifting musings by my father taking me along. The team held onto me tight as I stepped on a board leading to a vessel. Wouldn't want me to fall into the water, after all! I'd be a goner. What a shame.

The boat was unsteady, bringing with it a seasickness that I knew wouldn't subside for the rest of the trip. He led me to the center and onto—oh, so that's where the cage cart went. I hesitated where I stood, mind flying back to the last time I had been inside that thing. It was well-repaired: a wooden base with wheels and two metal rings that would fit tight against my body, preventing escape.

An addition was the heavy wooden ring attached to a chain. It had a metal clasp on one end and seemed to be capable of opening and closing around something. It didn't take much to guess what it would be going on.

A sharp tug sent me stumbling forth, and I stepped into the constricting cage and allowed myself to be closed in. All of my bindings but the ones holding my feet, wings, and tailfins together were removed, and I sent a prayer of relief up for that small mercy. Any thankfulness fell away when the wooden ring went SNAP on my night, clutching my throat and nearly making my head smack right into the bottom of the cart. The chain was short, making sure that I would not be able to move my neck around much.

For a second panic took hold and I swung my head back and forth, desperate to catch sight of something that would help. Everyone was boarding the ships—including Astrid and Snotlout and the others…?

Snotlout was practically on his knees, speaking passionately to his father. Astrid and Fishlegs were interrupting him every so often. Eventually Snotlout ran a hand over his head, exasperated, and gave a tired wave. The five of them leapt onto a ship so fast, anyone would have thought that the entire island was set aflame and that that was their last chance to get off it.

The ropes still present gripped unbearably hard at my scales and groaned under their own strength. Dad finished double-checking my contraption and gazed down at it. Then turned to me.

I didn't have the energy anymore to smile, or look hopeful and obedient, or do anything, really. I just stared back emotionlessly, eyes half-lidded. My father stared into me, a mirror of myself.

"All I wanted was my son back," he said.

I took a moment to consider this. I am your son, I wanted to say, but the muzzle wouldn't allow me to speak. The ring weighed heavy as a burden on my neck and shoulders.

Tied up like this and caged, the words felt fake. It was hard for it to feel real after everything.

He didn't say anything, long enough for me to consider the conversation over. "I can see it in your eyes, you know," he finally spoke. "You don't look at me the same anymore. Before…I could see just a bit of Hiccup," he took in a deep breath, seeming to choke up. "But that's gone now."

My ears drooped. I looked away and hung my head.

I'm sorry, Dad.

It surprised me, to be honest. He was my father; of course I'd be sorry. It was more that I had never realized it until now that had taken me off-guard.

I rose my head again, eyebrows lowering, and met his eyes. A low, apologetic croon was all I could manage, and I wasn't sure if he was able to decipher its meaning. I tried to lean forward to bump my forehead to his chest, but the cart held me back centimeters away.

He held his hand out, but pulled it away before it could reach me. Turning away, he said over his shoulder, "Tell your friend to lead the way."

It was almost a relief to see him go, but there was still that part of me that wanted him to stay. He went to the ship and started giving orders, and more and more passengers filled the deck and the other ships within my view. I took immediate notice of the catapults that sat ready on each vessel. They probably hadn't had the time to put them on this morning…was my father planning on a nest search soon?

There was a sharp whistling of air followed by several surprised gasps. I craned my neck to the sky to the best of my ability, flinching as the ropes dug in. Uh oh.

Toothless was pissed.

He hovered just above the sails, shaking in anger and claws and teeth unsheathed. I met his eyes, and the bond came to life in a roar of thunderous rage, disbelief, and shock.

I shook my head very slowly at him, sending up as much comfort and calm to him as I could. Of course, this turned to annoyance when I literally felt Toothless brush it aside as blasphemy.

"Hiccup, I won't allow you to be treated that way!" He began weaving around the ship, taking in all possible approaches for attack.

Again I shook my head, this time more violently. Toothless came around again and I forced the link up.

This is our best shot. They won't hurt their hostage.

Toothless snarled. "Those cowards are using you like a plaything!"

I sighed through my nose, and motioned out towards the ocean with the sternest look I could muster.

My friend hovered, uncertain. Then, with a disgusted grunt, he said, "The second we get to the nest, I'm cutting you free. They have no right to do this to a Shadow-Blender!"

He took off above, giving a leading call. The rest of our posse emerged from the clouds or from nearby pillars, circling just at the mouth of the bay.

"Set sail!" Dad ordered.

The ship rattled, the sails burst with air. At first it felt like nothing was happening. Inch by inch, the ship crawled through the water, until it eventually sped up and caught up with the others. Toothless made extra sure to send a dirty look Dad's way and held his wings wide, catching an updraft and drifting along above. The others branched out behind him in formation, casting sidelong looks to the ships that they used to crush and set aflame.

I closed my eyes and took in a long breath, trying to keep the tightness out of my chest and my legs from trembling. Everything was all right. It was, for the most part, going according to plan.

We were going to fight the Queen. And now, we had the backup to win.


The flight from the nest to Berk took an hour or two. The voyage was not so efficient.

We were about an hour in when I realized that I had developed a whole new hatred for sailing. It was just so slow. We would have been halfway there already if all of us were flying! The rocking ship only agitated my nerves, making my stomach roil like I'd eaten rotten carrion. My wings were numbed and pinprickly from the tight rope, and I couldn't control a slight twitching every few seconds as my body screamed for me to leap into the air and get off this stupid boat. The binds on my tailfins only made the need to leap into the sky all the more prevalent; once something was taken away, it was hard not to desire it more than ever before.

I was given a wide birth after some time—I guess even the Vikings could tell that I wasn't a happy camper. All I had to do was keep reminding myself that soon, it would be over…

…and that would be when we were at the nest. Which meant that would be when we fought the Queen.

Not too keen on mulling over that, I focused my energy on staring straight ahead, watching the ocean and its islands as it become more and more familiar after my long treks over it. It was almost off-putting, seeing it like this. Before I had been enslaved, yet I was acting very much on my own will. Now that I was finally free, I was moving in reverse and imprisoned.

Being on the lead ship, I couldn't see any others around us. But I could listen.

Eyes still locked on the distant horizon, I lowered my head and held my ears straight up, keeping them honed to whatever was behind me. If anything went wrong, if something happened on this ship or the others…if Dad decided that I was no longer useful…I would know.

It was unusually quiet. Dad and Gobber were having a hushed conversation about the nest and what they expected of it; Gobber had somehow learned of what I'd said of the Queen, and was trying to have some light banter over who got to kill her. Dad wasn't partaking in the conversation much, remaining almost as quiet as I was.

I focused out behind me, closing my eyes in concentration. There was idle chatter in all directions, but the fleet was very much like the Queen's flares: quiet, subdued, threatened. Many of the conversations were centered on the fact that there was a group of thirteen dragons led by a Shadow-Blender that were gliding overhead like it was no big deal. Couldn't blame them, really.

If I tried just hard enough, I could recognize a few voices. Gobber's and Dad's were the easiest. In one direction I could make out Snotlout and the others—more specifically, the twins, whom apparently had not gotten the memo that it was quiet time—and even Belch. Out of curiosity alone I tried to pick up what he was saying, and caught very faint crumbs of whispered conversation:

"…dragons…doubt how reasonable he…so many…catapults…ready to fight!"

Snotlout said something right afterwards—was he talking to Belch? That would explain why they sounded so close together.

I branched out to the other half of the ships, tilting my ears to catch any wayward sounds.

Someone much closer than Belch and the others was much easier to hear. Also much more apprehensive. "I just don't think this is smart," she said. "The Night Furies coming back to Berk, of all places? They had every right to stay away—they were scared. They knew we could overpower 'em. Now we've got one being walked around without so much as a yip and the other supposedly leadin' us to their home."

"Whaddya think, then, Freyunn? 'Parently this is the best way to the nest. 'Sides, they woulda attacked us by now anyways."

"It's a trap, and we're all sailin' to our deaths. That Night Fury has no reason for forgiveness, and I doubt he's really as vulnerable as he looks."

"I think he's tryin' to make amends."

"I think he wants revenge."

I shuddered, recalling that moment on the bridge when I'd nearly tried to tip it—and everyone on it—over. The fact that the nameless man talking to Freyunn was on my side was a small comfort, but at least it meant that someone other than Astrid or Snotlout had found a reason to trust me. Judging by what I'd been hearing so far, every person counted.

The sun was starting to rise in its highest point in the sky. Even so, when I opened my eyes, I could see the moon rolling across the sky to meet it.


We were almost there.

I closed my eyes and focused. If I searched hard enough…there. The ball of light at my forehead was not nearly as strong as I had hoped, but still I nudged it awake again and watched it increase in size.

Wider and wider it grew, a shockwave that pulsed in all directions like a pool of magma. There was a strong resistance trying to push it back—a choking shadow that encompassed everything around us. The second I had my influence large enough to notice, it swooped onto me and tore at my magic, splitting my head and forcing a hasty retreat.

My eyes snapped open. My legs were shaking and it was difficult to breath. The ring had forced my head and neck into what could be perceived as a wildly uncomfortable sleeping position.

I ground my teeth together, baring my teeth at the deck. Then I closed my eyes, found the small orb of light, and thrust it out into the open again.

I got just a fraction further before the shadow sent me fleeing.


"Hiccup!"

I hesitated, not quite sure if I was really hearing something or not. My sphere of magic, large enough to reach the flock above, finally gave way under the struggling assault of the shadow. Taking in a deep breath to try and calm my racing heart, I craned my head.

Toothless' eyes were wide. I drew the link forth, and through it an image of faint gray blurs sitting on the ocean's surface flew into my mind.

Trying to ignore the worry and concern for my safety, I nodded at my best friend and twisted around as far as I could. If I strained my neck and eyes enough, I could see my father sailing the ship out of the corner of my eye.

Giving the loudest bark I could with a muzzle on, I strained my entire body against the ropes and cart, swinging my tethered tail and stomping a paw. The Vikings on the ship gave a start and gave me suspicious, slightly-creeped-out stares, but stayed right where they were. Groaning to myself, I slammed my front paws on the deck and reared my entire torso as far back as the chain on the wooden ring would allow. The ropes connecting my paws gave tiny little cries as they tore apart strand by strand.

"Eh, maybe he's hungry?" Gobber said.

Maybe I'm trying to tell you something! I thought back, yanking a paw back so hard it sent a rope holding my legs close flying, no longer able to handle the solo tug-o-war. It granted my just a little more flexibility that I used to my full extent, gouging deep clawmarks into the soft wood of the cart and leaning back and forth, pulling my head back and straining my wings to open! The ropes began to split, thinning out by the second. The muzzle loosened as I tried to open my jaw wide—if I could just get a paw up, I could rip it off!

The hint of freedom was too enticing—I wanted out! We were going to face the Queen and I was standing here trapped inside a cage, when I should be up in the skies with the others!

The ropes attached to my neck and muzzle went taught, pulling me back down to reality—literally. I backed up, swinging my tail and holding my head back as I fought to get my wits about me. Dad gave another good pull, and finally I stopped.

Uh…whoops. I gave what I hoped looked like a sheepish grin. Dad slowly loosened his hold on the ropes, a hard stare settled on his features and—yep, there was the disappointment. I could just barely see it.

I set my eyes on the distant horizon and nodded at it, pointing with my nose. A soft growl lifted from my throat. Then I looked back to my father and repeated myself, pawing at the cart as I did so.

Dad's eyebrows scrunched together and he turned away, producing a telescope from his belt and looking off into the distance. I still couldn't find anything out of the ordinary; being much higher than us, Toothless probably had been able to see it first.

My father's posture went rigid. "Helhiem's Gate," he said. He lowered the telescope and looked to me.

Up and down my head went in a slow nod. I strained my neck as much as I could, digging my eyes into his.

Dad broke away the stare. "Prepare for battle!" He shouted, making his way back to his previous post. "Ready the catapults! We're approaching Helhiem's Gate!" He stopped at my side, hesitating. I looked up to him, ears perking up a bit, and he mumbled, "Don't cause any more trouble." Then he was gone, lost in a sudden cacophony as all Vikings readied themselves.

I looked forward again, narrowing my eyes and lowering my head. My legs bent as much as they could into a battle stance. I breathed in through my nose and slowly released it, pulling my magic out with my breath. It held steadfast, reaching all the way to Toothless and the others. I could feel their anxiety and fear, the adrenaline and breathlessness. Faint whispers came into my mind, each of them their own familiar voice.

An urge to help them lifted from my heart. It was almost tempting to dig deeper in their minds to listen, so that I could comfort them…

No! I shook my head fiercely, banishing the notion from my mind. I was not the Queen!

The pressure on my little sphere of safety was stronger than I expected, but oddly enough, it wasn't trying to dissolve it as it had done before. I could sense the shadow staring in; it was observing me now. In it I saw the harsh whip of betrayal, the sorrow.

Your time is up, you so-called Queen, I said to it.

I could faintly hear a sad little chuckle. The shadow responded not with arrogance, not with rage…but with a whisper of compassion, of love.

The shadow came down on my confusion, almost nuzzling against the barrier I had wedged against it. It sang a song of loss, its 'voice' filled with understanding and remorse. It begged for my forgiveness.

No! I said.

The shadow pressed up against its own bindings. It pierced deep, pinpoint claws into them. It didn't break my hold against it—but it was enough to send a message across.

Memories sprang into my mind. Emotions I had never predicted to experience again. Voices I did not recognize, but still knew regardless. Pain beyond imagining, pain I was too familiar with.

My heart dropped to my stomach. I couldn't breathe. My eyes were wide open, yet I couldn't see. The sounds of the humans behind me fell away to soft rain patter, as if someone had pulled wool over my ears to muffle all sound.

Oh…oh, Dragon of the Sun...!

The exposed shadow gave a gentle nudge against the shield. It cracked, wavering in strength.

How could I have not have seen it? It was so obvious—oh, gods, what was I going to do?

Even through the blockage, I managed to hear a single voice cry out to me. I lifted my head to find it. Toothless' expression hardened in determination. He pulled his wings in and came down in a silent dive, landing in front of me and looking deep into my eyes.

Toothless, the Queen—she—she—

He bumped his forehead against mine. "It's going to be okay," he whispered. "She's no match for us."

He's right, I thought. The real world faded away again, and I turned to the shadow. It wavered, flickering in wariness. With a burst of magic I sent it flying back, roaring, You will never hurt anyone ever again!

The shadow back-pedalled and stumbled. It couldn't fight back, it was so aghast. For a moment it hovered, unable to respond. Then, exploding with vehemence, it drew its wrath upon me.

With Toothless beside me, I wasn't going to let it through. I held steadfast, drawing strength from him, as the shadow howled and fought to find a way in.

Stay away! I flung my magic forward and ripped at it! It was in my claws for only a moment before darting away, all of its remnants lifting like fog.

My vision returned, filling with the ship and the ocean and Toothless. I blinked at him, and he slumped in relief.

"Thank the Dragoness of the Moon," he gasped. "I felt…something. And you were so still. What happened?"

Behind me, Gobber asked nobody in particular, "So are we just gonna ignorethat Night Fury or…?"

"Get it off the ship!" Dad yelled.

Toothless glanced behind me at him, worry crossing his features. He opened his wings, scowling, and rose to his hind legs—

"Shadow-Blenders!" A dragon shrieked from above. All commotion stopped as both humans and dragons looked up to them. "Look!"

Toothless fell to his paws, whipping around. I stood as tall as I could and managed to peek over his shoulder. The stone forest was now in sight, such a familiar sight that a wave of homesickness gnawed away at me.

What looked like a cloud of red, yellow, and blue was lifting from it in a spiral, thousands of tiny movements blurred into a single cluster. The shadow returned, and I could almost feel it smirking as it tried to tear against my barrier.

Everything went dead quiet.

"They're coming!" Both a dragon and human shrieked in unison. Dad began shouting orders, in the chaos Toothless spun and began clawing and biting at the metal rings of the cage in an attempt to get them loose. I pulled against those attached to my paws, stretching out further, and with ear-popping snaps they lost their grip.

I ducked down and pulled the muzzle off with my freed paws. Inhaling deeply, I sent flames down onto the cart—the wooden cart. As faithful to my design as it was, they had forgotten to replace all hints of flammable material inside it. The flames burned—especially at my shoulder—but caught onto the remaining ropes, freeing my wings and tail at last! The wooden ring caught fire as well, slowly eating at the enormous hunk of wood.

With a furious snarl Toothless away from the metal rings and grabbed the top of the wooden ring, right where the clasp was. The metal began to creak and groan and the ring shook wildly as he dug his claws in and pulled with all his might!

"Stop them!" My father demanded, but he was too late. The ring snapped clean in two, falling as two pieces of shredded wood to the cart, and I became a blur as I flung myself to freedom. With precious seconds to spare I spun to face him and the others, spreading my wings and tailfins wide and letting loose a roar!

For a second, the crackle of the slowly-burning cart was all that could be heard.

I met my father's gaze, crouching low, and then nodded towards the wave of death before us. His eyebrows rose high before setting firm over his eyes. He stalked over, ignoring Toothless' warning growl, and stopped before me.

I set him with a determined look and turned away, hissing at the rapidly-approaching dragons. I could feel the Queen among them. She was determined to have every one of them target Toothless and myself, letting the other dragons and humans be nothing more than a secondary thought.

Looking to the sky, I saw the moon and sun besides each other, each as clear as the other. The last time I had seen such an event, it had filled me with fear. Now I closed my eyes and concentrated, finding the ball of light at my forehead and reaching it out to them.

A wave of power like nothing I had felt before swept through me. I gathered it, enclosing it around me into a single, concentrated mass. Allowing myself a moment to take in a deep, long breath, I sent a silent prayer up to them.

My eyes snapped open, and I shot my gods-aided magic towards the Queen's flare like an arrow.

Toothless flinched and the dragons above me fluttered midair. The shadow screamed as it was pushed back, back, back! The arrow swept forward, destroying the curse as it went and leaving a wake of safety in its path. The unsuspecting puppets had no defense against it, no way to turn around and avoid it.

The arrow struck, and I felt it slice deep into every dragon's heart. All at once emotions, thoughts, and memories flooded into me. They all began to fall at once, but I wasn't alone this time; I had the strength from Toothless and the gods to keep both myself and them awake. I kept the unconsciousness at bay, helping each and every single one of them lift into the air before they hit the ocean.

All around, Vikings gasped. Toothless turned to me, eyes wide and mouth agape.

"…Hiccup?" He breathed.

"You're free now!" I screamed both with my voice and mind, lifting my head high underneath the sun and moon. "Help us fight the Queen! Make sure her tyranny doesn't last a second longer!"

The flock hovered midway between the ships and the stone forest, having stopped in their approach. A good chunk broke away and flew off in random directions, abandoning their brethren from fear. The second any of them left the sphere I had created, I could do nothing but watch as the shadow lurched onto them, taking them once more.

A great thundering filled the air, permeating from deep within the stone forest. The freed dragons flew away from it; the unlucky few who had been recaptured bolted to it like desperate night insects to a lamp. A sound that made a roar sound quiet split the entire earth in two, filled with pain and rage. Toothless and I ducked our heads and swayed, fighting off the nausea that came with loud noises.

Another tremendous boom shook the ships, sending the wood rattling. A dustcloud black as the night sly exploded to the heavens, dwarfing the stone forest. I had to crane my neck to see the top of it.

Toothless growled. He leaped to the edge of the ship and shouted, "Everyone! Prepare for the fight of your lives!"

Another roar wrenched into the open. The shadow flew to life, redoubling its strength and sending a spike through my head. I squinted through the pain, lowering myself into a takeoff position.

The dustcloud soundlessly began to part, bulging around a mass almost as big as itself. Lights began to emerge from within, flickering stars in the blackish-gray smoke. The flock of dragons all flung themselves towards the ships to regroup, fear and outrage and the need for revenge all merging into a single cry of heartbreak.

The Queen emerged without even the slightest sound. Her scales still smoking and bright orange in places from her home in the lava, her mountain-sized form cut through and carried the smoke behind her. She raised her massive wings and flung them down, so fast they became a brownish blur. There was an impact, and the ocean directly below her came up in a foamy white spray that reached the tips of her claws.

thhhhWOOOM!

I gasped as the blast of air ripped at me, nearly sending me tumbling head over tail. The sails of the ships rattled violently, and several dragons in flight gave screams as they were knocked out of the sky. A millisecond later, a massive wave smacked into the fleet, knocking every ship off-course and even causing a collision between two near the front.

"Hiccup!" Toothless growled. "It's time to get a move on!"

Nodding, I said, "Just a second!"

I twisted around to face my father. His face was white, lips slightly parted and green eyes bulging.

"Dad?"

He looked down at me, comprehension seeming to dawn on him. Shock was replaced with horror. "...son?"

I choked, my voice suddenly catching in my throat. "Yes!" I managed to squeak out, nodding my head up and down so hard the world became a blur.

Dad grabbed my cheekbones and held my chin up in a gentle grip. He looked as agonized as he had that first day, when Toothless had disappeared into the forest and left him to conclude that I had been killed by the magic. His hands shook, sweaty against my scales.

We looked into each other's eyes, and nobody dared to interrupt.

"I-I'm so sorry," he whispered. His eyes were glassy.

I gave a sad little smile and rose a little on my hind legs, pressing my forehead into his chest. I forgive you.

I held still for a second and dropped back down, twisting back to face Toothless. His eyes were wide, ears standing straight up. "Okay," I said. "Okay."

"Are you sure?" Toothless breathed.

I looked up at my father. He was holding his hand at the nape of his neck, as if he were planning on grabbing me and forcing me to stay.

He gave a tiny, small smile, dropping his hand to his side to withdraw a sword. "We'll speak again."

I nodded firmly, holding my wings and tailfins out. Toothless jumped off the ship, and I launched myself after him. We flew side-by-side, the wind rushing past us, our group taking their positions behind us, and the flock of dragons before us spinning around with teeth bared and claws unsheathed to face the Queen. She was surrounded by a small flare of dragons, the shadow pounding against my shield.

Dad's faint voice caught on the wind, "Ready the catapults!"

"Hiccup," Toothless said over the wind. "There's something I want you to know!" He looked over at me, eyes wide by still electrified with determination. "You are like a brother to me. I'll never regret having met you, no matter what has happened or will happen!"

"Nothing bad is going to happen!" I said. "We're going to end this once and for all!"

The link came to life. Love and concern shot between the two of us, and my sore myself and pounding head became nothing but inconveniences, as if my entire body had been revitalized.

It felt as though all but the innermost puzzle pieces had finally found their place, and all we had to do was put in that last, central connection.

We faced towards the Queen, the stone forest behind her covered with the blackened cloud that reached out in all directions before her. Her wings took up what seemed like the entire sky, bringing with her a dark mist with each stroke. The ocean roiled beneath her, flickering with movement just beneath.

She set six death-red eyes onto us in a predatory stare, glowing with malice and betrayal, stark against the blackness.

The Queen bared her teeth and roared. We braced ourselves, and dove.


Aaand that's it. I hope you all enjoyed this! Once again, lots of thanks goes to my beta. Wouldn't be able to get through this without you!

Make sure to check my bio for fanart, and if I don't have you listed, please PM me to get it up there! Thank you so much to everyone who has drawn some!

Feel free to leave criticisms and comments in a review! See you all next time.

Have a wonderful day,

~Rift-Raft