9. Building Trust
Story Start: Village of Berk
It had been two weeks since Hiccup and Toothless' test runs. The two were now comfortable enough in sharing eyesight via the link to fly during the night without worrying about hitting anything. Their link with each other also grew, allowing them to communicate with each other even with the entire length of the island separating them.
On the dragon training front, Hiccup and Astrid continued to be leagues ahead of their classmates with the two constantly trading first and second places with each other. Hiccup had experience and outside of the box thinking going for him while Astrid had natural talent and extremely good combat instincts on her side. The two began growing closer as they continued to pair up during their lessons and it wasn't unusual now to see the two trading banter with one another during meal times or one of them showing the other some little trick that they knew.
However, it wasn't all a bed of roses. Two nights ago, there had been a dragon raid, and more than a couple of houses were damaged. Thankfully, the boa and net launchers that Hiccup had designed and helped install in the watch towers proved their worth and even with only half their numbers present, the Vikings had killed more dragons in that raid than in any other raid.
After the dragons had fled the scene, Hiccup was congratulated by practically the entire village on a job well done inventing the weapons that had kept the collateral damage a lot lower than it could have been. The village elder actually had to teach Astrid how to properly crack his back after all the slaps it endured had popped several of the vertebrae out of alignment forcing him to walk hunched forward like an elder himself for an hour. Which of course was the source of several jokes that night, not that Hiccup cared, since he had a bigger problem than back and elder jokes on his mind.
Before his first face to face encounter with Toothless, Hiccup would have taken the praise in stride along with the satisfaction of knowing that another invention of his had helped his village. But after getting the other side of the story from his dragon friend, the engineer now felt sick from being torn between two different points of view. On one hand, Berk was his home, and currently the only way to keep it safe from dragons was to use force. But most dragons so outclassed humans that the only way to do so most times was to fight with the intent to kill. However, the Vikings weren't the only side in this war, and the dragons had their own reasons for attacking the Vikings, chief among them the fact that if they don't put a big enough effort into their raids, the Green Death that had taken up residence in their nest would not only kill them, it'd completely wipe Berk off the map, not just the village, but possibly the entire island as well if it felt like it. There was actually precedence on that front, Atlantis being the most well-known case of such.
Hence Hiccup's sick feeling as he surveyed the carnage that his inventions had brought. He was jostled out of his degrading thoughts as Toothless sent over the link 'This isn't your fault Hiccup.'
Hiccup blinked at the sheer impossibility of a dragon telling him that the deaths of other dragons brought by his inventions were not his fault and he sent back 'Of course it's my fault! If I hadn't helped the others put those launchers on the towers, a lot less dragons would have died! How can you even stand talking with me, I just helped the village take down your comrades!'
'No Hiccup, you helped your village defend itself. If you want to blame someone for the fact that dragon and man is pitted against each other, blame that devil spawned Green Death. That THING is the source of all of this fighting, and only with its death can we put an end to this senseless conflict.' Toothless retorted.
Hiccup sighed and sent 'Even if I believe you Toothless, how can we kill something that big? I mean it took out half your nest when it first came, what chance to we have now with your numbers falling even more in these raids?'
Toothless sent the mental equivalent of a frown over the link before the dragon sent 'On our own, none. However, if we can get dragons and humans to work together, then we just might have a chance.'
'I hate to burst your bubble there Toothless, but the chances of that happening are less than a snowball's chances in a volcano.' Hiccup thought.
'And yet we have managed to do so Rider. We merely need to approach this problem in the proper manner. Start with a small group, and then enlarge the group at a controlled pace. All we need is one person who would be willing to listen to us and go from there.' Toothless calmly sent back.
'But who could we even approach for this?' Hiccup asked before an insane thought crossed his mind and he quietly thought 'Astrid.'
Not quietly enough apparently as Toothless sent the mental image of a cocked head and sent 'The girl who is matching you in training? I thought she lived for fighting dragons.'
Hiccup sent the mental image of a nod down the link and thought 'Think about it, over training, we have helped each other so she will take me seriously, and we've became friends as well so she should at least hear us out. The only other person who I can think of would be Gobber, but he's constantly claiming trolls are real and that they steal everyone's left socks. People are more likely to listen to Astrid than him.'
'Well, you know your people better than me. Either way, the sooner we begin, the sooner we can end this needless war. Regardless of the problem of who to approach, I need to show you the nest soon so you know what we have to work with. And the sooner the better so plan for a long day tomorrow.' Toothless said before Hiccup felt him withdrawing from his mind leaving the teen with his thoughts.
Time Skip: The Next Morning Scene Change: Dragon Training Arena
Hiccup flicked his right arm up catching a spine shot from the Nadder on his shield even as he caught the Terrible Terror that tried to latch onto his nose with the flat of his ax and flicked it away. Behind him Astrid grunted as her shield stopped a fireball launched by the Gronkle and she said "Am I the only one who thinks that just going from fighting just one dragon to three is unfair?"
"Nope, but you know Gobber, fair isn't in his vocabulary." Hiccup said before he tapped Astrid's left heel with his right ankle twice and the two rolled away from each other at an angle to the dragons they were facing before they came up and slammed a finger into pressure points in the dragons' necks that stopped all motor control and the two winged creatures slammed into the ground. The Terror tried its luck with Astrid only to be back handed into its gate. Seeing its bigger companions down, the little dragon decided that discretion was the better part of valor and quickly shot through the small flap that allowed it access leaving the other two dragons to their fate.
"Well done you two, you're dismissed for the day." Gobber said from where he and the other trainees were standing behind the gate leading into the arena. Pulling the gate open, Gobber walked past the two downed dragons and said "Snotlout, Tuffnut, the two of you are up next." Gobber reached the dragon gates and locked the Terror's before he turned around and made his way back to the gate with Hiccup and Astrid following. As they passed the two dragons Hiccup and Astrid struck the same pressure points from before and both dragons began trying to move their limbs. Gobber closed the gate just as the two managed to rise to their feet and the two winged menaces quickly locked onto the two trainees that were in the arena with them and proceeded to waste no time in showing their displeasure.
As Astrid and Hiccup began crossing the bridge leading to the rest of the village, Hiccup glanced over and thought 'Well, might as well get this over with.' Clearing his throat to get his friend's attention, he said "Astrid, if I told you a really big secret, would you be willing to keep it from everyone else until I said it was alright to tell somebody?"
Astrid cocked her head in curiosity and said "So long as it didn't put anyone else in trouble, then yeah, what is it?"
Hiccup shook his head and said "Not here, too public. Besides, this is something that needs to be shown at the same time as it's told." Hiccup's eyes drifted down to stare at the studded skirt that Astrid was wearing and said "We're going to have to do something about your clothes first though since you definitely don't want to be wearing a skirt where we're going. Come on, I've got some spare pants you can use in the smithy, and we need to swing by there anyway."
Hiccup took off at a half speed run leaving Astrid to stare at him in confusion for a moment before she shook her head and shot after him catching up to him in a few strides before the two picked up their pace to the running speed that they were both more familiar with.
As soon as they were in the smithy, Hiccup grabbed the spare pair of pants he kept in his personal space for the times when the pants he was wearing were damaged beyond reasonable repair and tossed them over to Astrid before gesturing over to a closed door and said "If you'll get changed in there, I'll grab what I need from in here."
"Hiccup, why do you want me to wear your pants?" Astrid asked in a calm but dangerous tone of voice. Hiccup looked up from where he was quickly but efficiently sewing leather loops into a premade leather vest as he heard the tone used and turned his head to face his friend and calmly said "Because I have never seen you in anything but skirts and those would not be a good thing to wear where we're going. If you've got a pair of your own though, you're more than welcome to go home and change and then come back here."
His spare pants landing on his desk beside the vest and the smithy door slamming shut was his answer and Hiccup chuckled as he put them away again before he finished putting the last leather loop on the vest and began working on attaching a leather strip onto a buckle. Threading it through the first row of two sets of loops, Hiccup gave his work so far a critical look before nodding and reached for a second set of leather strap and buckle. He had just placed a 'standard' knife in the sheath he had sewn onto the vest when the door to the smithy swung open and he heard Astrid say "Alright, I'm changed. Now are you going to show me what's so important that you can't tell me when we're already alone?"
Hiccup sighed and grabbed the finished vest before he got up from the desk and said "I know you're getting frustrated Astrid, but know that I have a very good reason for going a bit roundabout in this. As soon as I know that this fits you we'll be off, so shoulder guards off if you'll please."
The vest did in fact fit and the two were soon sprinting through the forest. Astrid wasn't happy with leaving her ax and shoulder guards at Hiccup's house but as soon as Hiccup made an offhand comment about worrying about too much weight, she instantly thought of the rope and hooks set that was currently clipped to her vest and immediately reached the conclusion that whatever Hiccup was going to show her involved climbing at some point and instantly dropped the subject. At least she had the knife that Hiccup had thoughtfully included with the vest.
Now though, she was wondering why Hiccup was stopping beside the entrance to a canyon. Hiccup meanwhile took in a deep breath before he turned around and said "Alright Astrid, you're about to see what all this secrecy is about. But before you do, I need you to swear on your father's soul that you will keep a calm head and allow me to explain everything to you before you ask questions and/or freak out. Can you do that for me?"
Astrid jerked back in surprise at the seriousness of the oath that her friend was asking for and thought 'Whoa, whatever this is, it must be huge.' Swallowing, Astrid raised her right hand and said "I, Astrid Hofferson, do swear on my father's soul that I will keep a calm head and allow Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third to explain his secret to me before I ask questions and/or freak out."
Hiccup took another deep breath and said "Alright then, come with me." Hiccup turned around and walked down the path leading into the canyon, and Astrid cautiously walked after him. When they reached the bottom, her eyes darted around taking in the large lake in the center and the rather large pile of boulders on the side of the entrance. She looked down in surprise as Hiccup grabbed her hand but easily followed as he pulled her to stand halfway to the lake and turned her to face the boulders before he gently pushed her down and she took the hint to sit.
Astrid's eyebrow rose as Hiccup positioned himself to sit directly behind her and the other joined it when Hiccup wrapped his arms around her shoulders and laid his head over her left shoulder. Hiccup took another deep breath and said "Aright. Astrid, do you remember that raid just about over a month ago where I said I shot down the Night Fury and it landed near Raven Point?"
"Yeah, you wanted to have a search party go out and find it. But your dad told you it would be too dark." Astrid said before she frowned and continued "I don't remember hearing about any parties going out the next day though."
"Yeah well, dad was pretty confident that wouldn't have been necessary, and in a way he was right." Hiccup said before taking yet another deep breath and Astrid was starting to become concerned with how many times her best friend seemed to need to fortify himself. Continuing, Hiccup said "The next morning, I found where the Night Fury had made landfall. There was this massive trench that it had dug up when it hit the ground. Following it, I found the Night Fury, and to my surprise, it was still alive."
Astrid tensed but relaxed when Hiccup squeezed her shoulders and said "It was all tangled up in the boa I had hit it with. Its left tail fin was also ripped off and nowhere to be seen, making it impossible for it to ever fly again under its own power. Seeing this, I had told myself that it would have been a mercy to kill it, but something happened when I got close enough to do the job."
Hiccup sighed and continued "Just as I had put the tip of my knife over its heart, the dragon opened its eyes and looked up at me, and I saw both fear and resignation. At that moment, I realized something." Astrid saw out of the corner of her eye Hiccup's own eyes closing as he continued "While I had no problem inventing weapons that could fight, and as we've seen from the launchers on our towers, kill dragons, when it came time to kill them with my own hands, I couldn't do it. I felt like such a hypocrite."
'He couldn't kill the Fury? But he has shown no problems with fighting dragons during training.' Astrid thought with wide eyes as she tried to understand what was going on.
Hiccup sighed again and said "I couldn't just leave him trapped in the bola either, since that would be worse, so I began cutting the ropes." He saw the Are you stupid? look Astrid gave him and chuckled as he said "Yeah, not my brightest moment. Anyway, as soon as the last rope was cut, the dragon had jumped up and pinned me to a nearby boulder. I thought that it was going to kill me, but before it did, something happened, I still don't know what, and the beginnings of a mental link formed between us before the dragon took off into the woods. When I finally got home that night, I told dad that I had found the Night Fury, but that it was already dead."
Astrid's eyes widened as Hiccup told her that he had basically committed treason with that statement. Before she could say something about that Hiccup continued "I told him that I wasn't sure if I could actually kill dragons when it came to crunch time, but dad said that I would in time. On that note, he had me start training with you guys. When Gobber told us that dragons always go for the kill, it made me wonder why the Fury didn't when it had me dead to rights. So I tracked him down to this canyon."
Astrid noted the change from it to him as Hiccup gestured to the entrance and said "That entrance over there, it wasn't so easy to get through when I first started coming here, so needless to say, he couldn't get out. When we made eye contact, we were able to sense each other's emotions. After that, I worked on gaining his trust, and helping him become able to get out of this canyon. You can see the results of our work there."
Hiccup nodded to the entrance and Astrid's eyes widened as she noticed for the first time how some of the rock surrounding it had charred black edges. Astrid's head snapped back to Hiccup's as she said "Are you telling me there's a Night Fury currently running loose around this island?!"
To Astrid's shock, Hiccup grinned at her and said "He's not running around loose, Astrid. He's in this canyon with us right now. You can come out now Toothless." Her eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as Toothless walked out from behind the pile of boulders. Astrid jerked as her hand moved for the knife in her vest only for Hiccup's hand to cover the handle as he said "Easy Astrid, he's not going to hurt you unless you give him a reason to. Remember, you said that you would let me explain everything, and I plan to."
Toothless swept his tail upwards in an imitation of a wave before he shot towards the bank of the lake and took a leaping glide and settled on the other side. Astrid relaxed as the dragon put the body of water between her and him before she took a deep breath and said "Alright Hiccup, I'm going to trust you on this, so please continue."
Hiccup nodded and said "After we had widened the entrance so that way he wouldn't have to rely on me bringing him food, we worked on getting him back in the air." Hiccup released Astrid and walked over to the pile of boulders and to Astrid's surprise revealed the cubbyhole inside before pulling out the saddle and tail fin and walked back over to Astrid and placed them down in front of her.
Astrid looked at the saddle incredulously and said "You actually ride him?!"
Hiccup grinned at her and said "It is like nothing I have ever experienced before Astrid." His grin fell as he continued "But it's not all just a basket of roses though. As our mental link grew to the point where we could use words to talk to each other, Toothless told me just why the dragons were attacking us. Astrid, what do you know about Green Deaths?"
"Only that they're biggest things known to man and that they have a penchant for wiping civilizations off the map." Astrid said before her eyes widened as the implications of Hiccup's question hit her like a charging Gronkle and she said "Are you telling me that there is a Green Death somewhere around this area?!"
"And it's forcing the other dragons to attack us under the threat of it killing all of them and wiping out this village." Hiccup said with a heavy frown on his face. Looking down, he continued "It wiped out half of the dragons' nest when it first arrived. Ever since then, it has forced them to attack us to feed it." Gesturing at Toothless, he said "Toothless thinks that we might have a chance to beat it, but only if dragons and Vikings can work together."
"Which is why you told me all this." Astrid said as she looked down at the vest Hiccup had made her, more specifically the rope that was still hanging from it and continued "You're hoping that if you can get me to trust a dragon, then the rest of the villagers could follow." Looking back up at Hiccup, she held the rope up and said "That's why you wanted me to wear this, so that way I could go for a ride on Toothless with you, if things worked out but do you think he'd really let me ride him?"
Hiccup grinned as Toothless shot back across the lake and said "Why don't we ask him?"
Toothless studied Astrid for a moment before he turned towards Hiccup and sent 'You chose well Hiccup, I cannot smell any terror from her, just a small amount of natural fear of something she is not sure of. I do not believe she will do anything rash if we were to include her in the next part of our plan.'
Hiccup blinked in surprise and mentally sent back 'You are already willing to show her the nest when we go there for recon?'
Toothless shrugged his front shoulders and sent 'Like I said before, you know your people better than I do Hiccup. If you think this one could be of help, then I have no problems with that.'
Hiccup turned his attention back to Astrid and gave a thoughtful hum as his head cocked to the side as he considered. Astrid saw this and said "What is it, what did he say?"
"He said that he wouldn't mind bringing you along when he shows me the nest today." Hiccup said and Astrid's eyes widened and she pointed at herself. This caused Toothless to start laughing even as he walked over to sit next to the saddle and tail fin. Getting the hint, Hiccup soon joined him and began attaching the fin as he said "That is of course, if you want to. I know I certainly wouldn't mind your company, and it'd be good to have another opinion." Turning his head to look over his shoulder as he tightened the last strap of the saddle, he said "So do you want to see what flying is like?"
Astrid bit her lip for a moment before she sighed and said "Ah, what the Hel? Yeah, I'll come."
Hiccup shot her a grin that threatened to split his face as he said "That's great! Trust me Astrid, you won't regret this."
Astrid sighed and muttered "I hope not." Before she walked over and mounted Toothless behind Hiccup who quickly hooked both of their ropes onto Toothless' saddle. As he did this, he said "Alright buddy, please take us above the cloud layer as quickly as possible. Astrid, you may want to hold on."
Astrid's eyes widened as Toothless' powerful wings rose as high as they could and she barely wrapped her arms around Hiccup's waist before they shot back down and Toothless launched himself into the sky in a rapid accent that had her screaming in both fear and excitement as the dragon devoured the distance between them and the cloud layer above them. Then they were suddenly shooting through a cloud and visibility dropped to nothing for a moment before they came out of the other side and Toothless leveled off into a glide.
Hiccup took his hands off the front of the saddle and wrung the moisture out of his hair before he calmly lessened Astrid's grip as he said "Sorry about that, but with it still being daylight out here we needed to get up high fast to narrow the possibility of anyone on this side of the island seeing us."
"Perfectly understandable." Astrid muttered as she tried to get her breathing under control. Then she looked down and gasped at the sight of the island as the cloud they burst through continued on its way revealing her home to her. Hiccup chuckled and said "Quite a sight isn't it?"
Astrid nodded before she yelped as Toothless adjusted his wings and they turned away from the island. Toothless gave the island one last look over his shoulder before he started flapping his wings and sent 'It's half an hour to the nest at sprinting speeds Hiccup, so I suggest you and your friend get comfortable.'
Hiccup nodded even as he leaned back forward to reduce air speed and said "Toothless says we've got half an hour before we reach the nest."
He felt Astrid's arms tighten around him as she too leaned forward and he grinned as she said "Great, I always wanted to visit a nest full of hundreds of fire breathing lizards, should be fun." Toothless laughed before he put on a burst of speed and the trio shot away from Berk, on their way to another settlement, this one inhabited by dragons.