Broken

Chapter 28: Changing aspects

There was a sick feeling lodged in the back of Hiccup's throat. It had been there since he rose to the morning of the second day without Toothless.

Much of the morning before had been spent with Astrid and Folkvardr, riding around the island and looking for the Night Fury. He wasn't surprised that they couldn't find him. Toothless had full control of his tail fin now and could go as far as he wanted. When it became obvious that they wouldn't be able to locate him around Berk, Astrid mentioned that she had chores she had put off that morning. Hiccup had also been expected in the forge. She'd suggested he take to his work as a way to pass the day quickly while he waited for Toothless' return.

By noon they'd separated and he'd found Gobber in the smithy working on a handle for a stewpot. The master smith had greeted him cheerfully enough but also suggested that their work load would be reduced dramatically if Hiccup were to actually spend time at the forge. The young man had given him a distracted nod and set himself to straightening and sharpening a pair of sheep shears.

That entire afternoon had been a struggle. The work could only distract him so much. Then he would remember watching Toothless disappear into the night, becoming a silent shadow lost in the darkness. Three questions would then pose themselves again and again: why did he leave, where did he go, why wouldn't he take me?

The evening hadn't gone any better. His father said little to him at the table. Hiccup offered no conversation, his mind caught up in an endless cycle of those three questions. Heading to bed early, he could only hope sleep would take him and that his best friend would be there to greet him in the morning.

If he slept it wasn't for long and he wasn't aware of it. Mostly he had stared at the ceiling and listened for any sound that might tell of a dragon approaching the house. Astrid's words would come back to him, berating him for lacking trust in his friend. Hard after would come his father's questions and accusations. These were usually followed by the pointed teeth of his own fears gnawing at his belly.

Why did he leave, where did he go, why wouldn't he take me?

Hiccup rose before his father for the second morning in a row. He slipped out into the pre-dawn darkness despite knowing that if Toothless was not in or near the house it was unlikely he would find him out among the rest of Berk. Wandering the village during the day took concentration; he had to carefully watch the placement of his iron foot to prevent tripping or stumbling. Roaming the worn footpaths between houses in the dark was even more hazardous. Staying in the house and waiting would have been unbearable, though. He'd done all the waiting he could. Even if all he did was stagger around uselessly it was better than staying abed and being hounded by the three questions.

Hiccup ended up in the gathering circle at the center of the village. No one else was stirring that he could see. He stopped next to one of the central torch pillars. Looking up he could just make out the framework of the large brazier that had once held dry wood to light the sky during night-time dragon attacks. After the battle, the torches had been generously filled with fish as a peace offering to their old enemies. Many dragons had perched on them like enormous birds and happily eaten their fill.

No one filled them any more. Generosity had waned and attitudes had reverted to mistrust and suspicion. And if they had been filled with fish, would any dragons but the few that remained eat from them? He thought it very unlikely.

With the moon nearly hidden, the only light came from the stars. Hiccup stared up, one hand on the massive wooden pole to keep his balance as he tilted his head back and filled his gaze with starlight. He remembered using those stars to track the barely detectable movement of a black dragon across the night sky. Only the faint twinkling of those stars told of the Night Fury's passing above him.

He would have given anything to see them twinkle now.

"I trust you," he whispered to the empty sky. "I know you'll come back." It helped, a little. In spite of not being able to speak directly like a Norseman, Hiccup fully believed his friend had no desire to deceive him or mislead his father.

He'd wondered about this a few months ago. Trust was a conditional aspect of his life before Toothless. Those young people who'd become his class mates had seldom had his best interests at heart and therefore could only be marginally trusted. Adults were often looking for ways to mitigate whatever strange effects Hiccup might have had on their day so he rarely had reason to explicitly trust them, either. Even his father was usually trying to steer him away from whatever self-appointed objective he might have had. Aside from the occasional rough prank, no one sought to do Hiccup real harm. But neither did they inspire any real trust.

Toothless was the first to earn his full trust, long before he'd come to realize the dragon was a person in his own right. Hiccup had always believed that animals were incapable of spiteful deception. They could hide, lure unwary prey and use other simple 'tricks' to increase their odds of survival. But they weren't able to distort the truth simply to hurt him or cause him embarrassment.

Once he'd been reasonably sure that the Night Fury no longer saw him as a target of attack, Hiccup had been willing to extend his own trust as far as he physically could: specifically, to the end of his arm. His willingness to risk himself earned him a friend with whom he could trust his very life.

Learning Toothless was a person, as intelligent and complex as Hiccup was, put a strange burden on his ability to trust. It didn't consciously manifest itself until his father posed his single, cutting question: can dragons lie?

Hiccup had strongly resisted any such notion. He and Toothless had absolutely no reason to deceive one another. To even ask the question was insulting. But when the Fury asked to be fitted with his rig in the dead of night after a small raid and then refused to let Hiccup come with him...

Why did he leave, where did he go, why wouldn't he take me?

It wasn't betrayal, it wasn't deception and it wasn't permanent. Time would allow the answers to come out. Hiccup would have to be patient and lean on his trust. Toothless would return and the truth would follow him.

But he would have given almost anything to see those stars twinkle.

Eventually the stars began to fade as dawn tried once again to take Berk unaware. Hiccup slowly made his way to Gobber's smithy, certain the man would be pleased to see him at work so early. While the master blacksmith was surprised to see him stoking the forge when he arrived, he expressed doubts in his apprentice's ability to focus with the Night Fury still absent. These doubts were proven later that morning when the young man suddenly stopped in the middle of his work and stared blankly at the floor. When Gobber asked him what was wrong, he answered with quiet dread, "I just realized I forgot to check the control lines when I rigged him. What if he hasn't come back because he fell?"

Hiccup was fighting down the cold, worming fear that he may have accidentally caused Toothless harm but he still noticed Gobber's exasperated expression as he scrubbed at his jowly face with his good hand.

"I'm serious! What if I just got him kill-"

"I know!" Gobber interrupted. He was obviously somewhat sympathetic to Hiccup's concern. It was also plain he was annoyed with his inability to simply put his fears behind him and get on with the daily work. "Look lad, how many times did Stoick tell ye he would be gone for a week and not come back for two or three?"

"But he wasn't sailing on a ship I designed and built!"

The burly smith hesitated. "Alright, I'll grant ye that. But the point I'm making is that most any journey is a chancy thing. Just because yer dragon hasn't come back yet doesn't mean he's in trouble."

All Gobber's reassurance did was bring his thoughts back around to the three questions. "But I don't know why he even had to leave! Why wouldn't he..."

'Trust him,' said Astrid's voice. 'Can he lie,' asked his father's. His hand clenched around his hammer until he felt it being pulled forcibly out of his grip. Gobber laid it on the anvil and pointed to the door.

"Go on. Go look for him."

Hiccup closed his eyes in misery. "There's no point. He can fly alone now. He could be anywhere."

Gobber shrugged. "So borrow someone else's dragon. I'd put you on George but the bony lummox seems to have nipped off with the rest. I think you're a mite too big for Phil to carry."

That got through the turmoil of Hiccup's thoughts.

"George is gone?"

His mustache wobbled slightly as he nodded. "Couple of days now." He stared at Hiccup meaningfully.

"Gobber, I'm... I'm sorry. I didn't know."

The master smith stumped back to his work, putting the piece he'd been shaping back among the coals and pumping the bellows. "Eh, I'll have to wait until he comes back to try out my new forge but that's no problem. He'll be back when he's ready."

Hiccup was truly torn now. The only adult he'd ever counted as a real friend was in the same position as him and was refusing to let his concerns overwhelm him. Gobber saw his Boneknapper as a free being capable of taking care of himself and wouldn't let his absence hinder him.

But Gobber didn't know what Hiccup knew. George was a person, doubtless making decisions about where he spent his time the same way any Viking would. Suddenly he ached to tell the smith about the dragon's true nature. If there was anyone he hadn't yet told who might accept Hiccup's word on it, it was Gobber. Or maybe Fishlegs.

Something stopped him, though. Telling Gobber wasn't enough. The entire village needed to know. It couldn't... shouldn't remain a secret for much longer. But telling the village about dragons being equal to Vikings could easily go the wrong way; even Hiccup could see that.

Worse, the raid that had just happened put a bad light on the dragons. How could he justify his statements with such a disturbing event so fresh in everyone's mind? And how did the exodus of local dragons fit into the picture?

Two ideas came to Hiccup at the same time. He needed to talk to his father about the best way to reveal the truth about dragons to the rest of the village. And he suddenly realized he needed to talk to a dragon from outside Berk. He would have to ask Toothless to interpret for him, of course.

When he came back.

Hiccup needed to act. He made his plans on the fly and was determined to set them in motion. He looked up at Gobber, who had been watching him intently.

"Gobber, I need to go-"

"I know." His tong attachment waved at the door. "I've seen that look before."

Hiccup smiled. "Thanks." He moved quickly toward his house, wishing for an instant he could manage a run with his false leg.

His mind was going in several directions at once and none of them dwelt on his missing dragon. There were other things he could do that would help both the dragons and his village cope with one another. He wished he had thought to ask Toothless to help him talk to other dragons besides Folkvardr sooner. He might have learned the cause of the dragon's disappearance before it happened and saved himself and others the worry.

Without Toothless around to help with that, Hiccup decided he would take on the task of revealing the dragon's secret to Berk. He would need his father's help. And the chief's permission, he knew. He wasn't sure which would be harder to obtain.

Approaching the door to his house, he called out, "Dad?" He pushed his way inside to witness a heart-stopping tableau.

Toothless was there, his back to the door and his tail curled around his hindquarters. For an instant relief pulled the corners of his mouth upward and he hitched a breath to call out his friend's name.

Then a large form rose up just beyond Toothless. It was his father, Stoick the Vast, chief of the village of Berk and renowned dragon killer. He had his dagger in his hand, held low as though he had picked it up off the floor. His mind barely registered the blade and part of the exposed handle being covered in ash. Stoick was bringing the blade up and Toothless was right there, easily within striking distance.

Hiccup's gut clenched hard and he thrust out his hands, beseeching. His voice cracked out in a terrified shriek, "DAD, NO!"

The world froze. Toothless had turned his head and his father raised his gaze. Two sets of wide eyes regarded him with surprise.

When nothing happened for several seconds, Hiccup's brain began pulling apart the scene before him. There was something very wrong with what he saw.

Toothless didn't appear threatened. His father didn't look aggressive. The dagger, despite being held closer to his dragon than was acceptable, was actually being held wrong for a strike.

What was going on here?

Every question Hiccup had about what he was seeing tried to get past his lips at the same moment. They collided, tangled and ended up dribbling out as a breathless, "Whaaa..."

Toothless moved first. He turned back toward his father, his eyes flicking over the incorrectly held dagger, then up to Stoick's face. The Fury turned once more toward Hiccup, his pupils wide and his ears up. He then uttered a happy-sounding warbling growl and stepped to him, pushing the crown of his large, flat head directly into Hiccup's stomach.

Hiccup's arms automatically encircled the dragon's head, partly in protection and partly in a relieved embrace. But his eyes were still firmly fixed on the dusty blade. When Stoick cleared his throat and finished standing, his gaze lifted to a surprisingly embarrassed expression on the man's face. The dagger was tapped twice against the nearby table, shedding dusty ash, then wiped against a sleeve before being sheathed.

Loki was on the loose. Had to be.

His father made a small gesture toward the large black dragon nuzzling his stomach and said unnecessarily, "He came in while you were gone."

Hiccup looked down at said dragon just as the blunt muzzle came up. The tip of Toothless' snout smacked against the point of his chin and his teeth clacked with the impact. He grunted, unhurt but still confused. A warm, wide tongue slid from the opening of his tunic to the end of his nose, causing him to grunt again in agitation. His feelings for Toothless didn't make getting his lips covered in dragon saliva any more palatable.

As he looked down into the large green eyes that sought his, he heard his father sit on the bench before the table. Toothless gave him another long lick and he had to turn his head away to avoid being slobbered on. His ear and the side of his head got the affectionate treatment instead of his nose and mouth. His lips quirked upward despite himself.

"Easy, Toothless," he managed to say. The licking stopped but the top of the dragon's head resumed pressing into his chest and abdomen. A rough, rumbling purr sent vibrations through his ribs all the way into his spine. He felt his faint smile widen slightly. His stomach began to loosen up and he gratefully relaxed a bit.

When he looked again to his father he was once more stunned, this time by the words he heard. "We've been talking. There are some things we need to discuss."

Yeah, this was Loki's work. Definitely.

"Um..."

"Hiccup." It was his dragon's voice and it instantly pulled his attention away from his father. He looked down at Toothless' familiar face, then followed it up as the Fury sat. At that moment the last sticky shreds of confusion slipped away and a great feeling of relief spread through him. The dragon looked down at him, as plainly happy to be back in Hiccup's company as he was. Thoughtlessly he threw himself against the narrow chest and wrapped his arms as far around the muscled neck as he could get them. His cheek pressed hard against his friend's throat as the welcoming purr continued to rumble through the Fury's compact frame.

No words came to him. He simply wanted to be, letting the presence of his friend push away all his fears and doubts. For the moment the three questions were forgotten, both Astrid's voice and his father's were silenced. Warmth, understanding and protection were once again his, all bundled up beneath the dark scaly skin he embraced.

"Hiccup." His dragon spoke again. He looked up, pleased beyond measure to have that proof of his friend's true nature out in the open. But when he saw Toothless' eyes and head shift toward his father, his pleasure faltered a bit.

As well as Hiccup knew his father, the man was still capable of projecting a truly unreadable expression. That's what he saw now. Stoick watched his son embrace a Night Fury as though it was a long-lost relative and did not give a hint of how he felt about it. Hiccup knew it was deliberate; he'd seen it used as a tool when forcing a compromise between disputing families. He pulled away from Toothless' warm hide but kept one hand solidly on the dragon's neck.

"I need to call a council." His father's voice was quiet but firm. "As I said, we've been talking and there are things we need to discuss afterward."

The implications of Stoick's words came to him then. "Talking?" His voice climbed as much as his eyebrows did. "Really?"

The inscrutable expression melted into irritation. "Well I suppose I did the talking," was the brusque reply, "but he can make himself understood." The chief flicked a hand at the dragon in question. "When he feels like it."

As bizarre as the notion seemed to Hiccup, it occurred to him at that moment that his father might have gotten the answers to the three questions that had plagued him for nearly two days. That he had been able to get those answers before Hiccup, and gotten them directly from the Night Fury, felt so out of place that the young man had to take a moment to figure out how he felt about it.

As he stared at his father, letting his words soak in, he found he didn't like it. Some unmapped boundary had been crossed during his absence and it felt to him that he had somehow been left behind. The chief had wanted to know why dragons were once again raiding them, if Toothless was a leader among dragons and if dragons could tell lies. If the two of them were able to calmly occupy the same house after talking about such things, then the Night Fury must have somehow reassured Stoick. What could he have said?

He looked up into Toothless' face, looking for a hint of what might have passed between his father and his best friend. The only word Hiccup could think of to describe what he saw displayed on the dragon's wide face was 'somber.' He turned back to Stoick and opened his mouth to ask what had been discussed. Before he could, he realized what else had just been said.

"A cou- a council?" He glanced briefly at Toothless, trying to piece together a picture of what had happened. There was too much missing.

"Aye." Stoick's head lifted slightly, a gesture he'd used often when he'd worked out a solution and wanted others to figure it out for themselves. That annoyed him because most likely he hadn't worked out anything by himself. If his father had answers then he'd gained them from the Fury while the two of them were alone.

Hiccup eyed his father a moment, feeling as though whatever might be brought forth in such a meeting would lead to more discord. Perhaps he wasn't being fair to the man but when he considered the personal history of Berk's leader...

"To discuss... what?"

"The reason dragons are stealing our food again," he answered slowly.

Several things flickered through Hiccup's mind, like Thor's lightning bolts dancing on an angry sea.

Stoick's voice was calm. That meant whatever was going on with the dragons hadn't worked him up into a frothing fit of anger. That was good and Hiccup was vaguely pleased to hear it.

Then he noticed a subtle change in his father. The inscrutable look was gone. He didn't know what to make of his expression for a moment until he realized the massive Viking before him was touched by the same concern as the Night Fury. Whatever Hiccup had missed between the chief and the dragon had left his father somewhat disturbed.

Stoick and Toothless were worried and that couldn't be good. He looked again to his dragon but there was nothing forthcoming from that quarter. Turning once more to his father, he asked in an exasperated tone, "Which is?"

Without breaking eye contact, Stoick pointed down toward the hearth. "That."

So Toothless had been drawing for his father. He had expected that. He studied the swooping lines and twisting curves that laced the bed of ashes. It took several moments to decipher what had been drawn. They weren't Toothless' usual streamlined pictographs; they were more like his first experimental drawings in the fire-scoured dirt of their cove. He could make out two islands, both surrounded by flying dragons. One island had far more than the other. Near the more populated land mass, a patch of disturbed ash gave the impression that something had been drawn and then damaged. He turned his head a little, trying to determine what he was seeing.

He saw a club tail. He saw a snout. And he saw six eyes.

None of which made sense.

"The Red Death?" he muttered in confusion. He looked up. With a shrug he asked, "What about it? It's dead."

Stoick shook his head slightly. "That's not the one you killed."

Hiccup felt himself frown. His father's statement sounded ridiculous at first. How could he possibly confuse a drawing in the ashes for the monstrosity that had nearly killed them all? But Stoick's matching frown and the seriousness of his tone told him such crazy thoughts were entirely out of place. So what had he meant?

An impossible, unbelievable, utterly horrible idea formed in his mind and he rejected it immediately. But his father's words brought it back to life just as quickly. He tried again to banish the absurd notion that there was...

Another one.

There couldn't be. There couldn't possibly be.

Stoick's face and Stoick's voice killed any hope he had misunderstood. There was another one. Another Red Death.

There was a second gargantuan monster living on Red Death Island. Some small, analytical voice in the back of his head criticized him for not seeing it sooner. If the enormous beast they had bested in flight had enslaved the dragons and caused them to raid Berk, then new raids would have to mean a new Red Death.

His stomach clenched and his breath hitched at the realization of what it meant to both Berk and the dragons.

A low moan seemed to come up from the very bottom of his chest. He suddenly felt cold. He stepped backwards to Toothless and blindly pressed against the dark, warm bulk.

His breath rasped once, twice and then finally came out in a surprisingly shrill note. "Hhhhow can there be another one?" Stoick seemed not to have an answer, nor to much care about the question. In desperation he turned to Toothless. "How can there be another one?"

Toothless only nodded, his solemn expression darkening to something closer to pain.

It was all going back to the way it was; dragons somehow being held captive and forced to forage, Berk being attacked and raided mercilessly. They had all gone through so much misery, so much change and now it was going to be undone by-

By another pitiless beast.

Hiccup's line of thought abruptly halted. The notion of 'pitiless beast' jarred something askew in his head. He had a memory, from long ago, of his father using that phrase. As a small child he had struggled to understand the noisy, burning terror that visited their village. He'd asked a seemingly simple question. 'Why won't the dragons leave us alone?' Stoick's answer, as clear and cold as pure ice, had been, 'Because they are pitiless beasts.'

But they weren't. They knew that now. They had never been pitiless beasts, only unwilling servants to a ravenous behemoth. The dragons had wanted their freedom as much as Berk had.

Hiccup blinked. The Red Death had been a dragon, hadn't it? Reality seemed to bend around the edges.

What if-

"It doesn't matter how. It's here and we need to deal with it." Stoick glanced at the rumpled ash-dragon. "Somehow."

The image of his father holding a knife close to the Night Fury came back to him sharply and he remembered how the leader of the village had 'dealt with it' last time. Hiccup's brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed. Still pressed against the hard muscles of his friend's warm chest, he muttered, "Deal with it?"

To his credit, the man who had nearly led his village on the most disastrous hunt of their long history seemed to understand what his son was implying. He even had the decency to look a trifle embarrassed, for the second time in one afternoon no less. "Definitely not like last time," he amended. He glanced down at the oak and iron replacement for Hiccup's leg. "That goes for both of us."

"Yes," Toothless interjected, nodding. That Stoick only spared the dragon a brief look before meeting his son's eyes gave the boy a shiver of hope. It also renewed the line of thought that had brought him in search of his father in the first place.

"Dad, if we're going to..." He eyed the drawing once more. "... deal with this thing, shouldn't we let people know the truth about the dragons?"

Stoick looked truly perplexed. "What truth?"

There was another monster to fight and another epic battle to look forward to so of course any normal Viking would lose sight of the little details. Hiccup took a step forward, frustration putting an unusual edge to his voice. "That dragons are people." He heard Toothless shift slightly behind him followed by a soft crooning in his left ear. He raised his left hand and stroked the underside of the Fury's jaw without taking his gaze from Stoick.

His father leaned back, obviously ill at ease with the thought. A slight frown appeared and he shook his head slightly. "That's not a good idea, son."

Hiccup unknowingly matched his father's expression. "Telling the truth is not a good idea?"

Stoick dismissed the notion with a wave of his hand. "It will only muddy the water. We've a battle to prepare for and such ideas would only spread confusion and distrust."

"They need to know that they'll be fighting for more than themselves. They'll be fighting to save the dragons, too."

'Save the dragons' brought a deeper frown to the man's face, but a grunt from Toothless and a quick glance at the Fury's eyes diminished it. "Listen to me, Hiccup. This is about survival. This is about fighting against those-" His eyes darted over to the Fury's again. The large greenish yellow eyes that stared back at him gave him pause. "Look," he said, splitting his attention between the two of them. "This is hard for me, dealing with..." He hesitated, then gave a small nod toward the dragon. "...you. Knowing what you are. But the people aren't ready. They won't accept it." Hiccup drew a breath and opened his mouth but Stoick beat him to the punch. "Not yet, anyway." He pointed to the damaged drawing. "Not until we deal with that."

"You can't keep it hidden forever! It's not fair, to either side!" Hiccup wished he had spoken to Gobber before he'd come here. Then perhaps the idea would have had a chance to take hold on its own, spread as the master smith spoke to others about the revelation his dragon riding apprentice had. He wondered if his father would forbid him to mention it to others and force him to inform the village himself, without permission.

"I have no intention of trying to keep it hidden forever," Stoick replied, his face and voice expressing serious offense. "You don't understand. You're too close to th..." Another quick shift of the eyes to the dragon in the house. "To him. You've forgotten everything that's happened between Vikings and dragons before you met Toothless."

The tiny shock of hearing his father actually use his friend's name kept Hiccup from objecting immediately.

"We can only fight one battle at a time, son. The dragons are raiding again and we're sliding back toward a war we cannot win because of that." Another jab of a meaty finger toward their new collective tormentor emphasized the last word. It was followed by a tipping of his head toward the door. "Berk understands the danger it poses, or it will once we let them know. We've had half a year to see the difference. We know what we'll be losing if we don't take care of this now."

Hiccup stared at his father, an unexpected anger brewing in his chest. He could hear his own quickened breathing even over Toothless' deeper, louder gusts next to his head. "I haven't forgotten," he said, his voice brittle. "I know exactly how Berk deals with threats, whether it understands them or not. Glorious destruction." Even Hiccup was surprised by the amount of venom lacing his last two words. He saw the reaction on his father's face and knew he'd hit a nerve.

"What are you saying," Stoick demanded. "That we try and make friends with it?"

A strange thing happened in Hiccup's head. An idea blossomed in his mind, huge and crazy and impossible to understand in the single moment it had his attention. Then the heat of the anger he felt drove it away. He wasn't sure he would be able to get it back later, but at that moment he also wasn't sure he cared.

"I'm saying they'll see no difference between it and the dragons! They'll go back to killing them like before and not know they're killing people!"

Hiccup's anger was contagious and Stoick rose from the table, his face darkening. "And if those people start killing us, then what?"

Hiccup knew what. He knew many of the villagers would happily go back to living their lives the way they used to, slaughtering 'mindless beasts' and not knowing or caring that they were killing someone who could be their friend. They would never comprehend the terrible fate of all the dragons living under a Red Death, being forced to give their lives and freedom to a monster.

But Stoick's question was not wrong. If there was a fatality during a future raid, how could Hiccup argue for the rights of the dragons? How could he convince anyone that dragons were ever meant to be anything but servants to a monster and dangerous pests to Vikings?

He didn't know. And it felt like the time he had to figure out the answer was already too short. Too many dragons had left and too few villagers had formed that critical bond with one. Berk had been denied a chance to foster a widespread understanding of the importance of taking dragons into consideration. If the raids continued, the pressure would mount. Something would be done. But what would be the target; a huge monster that could easily wipe them all out or its unwilling minions which Berk killed as a matter of course?

Hiccup deflated. Anger was not an emotion he experienced often and it drained him. He could see no clear way to answer his father's question, but he still needed to know Berk's chief wasn't going to set them back.

"They'll have to know sometime. It's too important." His voice had dropped but he could still feel the tension pulling at his insides.

Stoick's expression softened somewhat. "I agree." He paused there, letting his words filter through the jumble of Hiccup's disturbed thoughts.

Hiccup looked up, blinked. A glimmer of hope surfaced and he tried to hold onto it.

"We need to attack the bigger problem first," Stoick continued. "Then, when peace has been restored again, we can show them where things really stand." He shifted his gaze to the Fury. He hesitated slightly before speaking, but forged ahead. "Let the people win a battle they can understand and will want. Then they'll be better able to adjust to a new way of thinking about you and your kind."

The chief's son wasn't pleased with the idea of letting the village remain ignorant of the truth. He had to admit, however, that Stoick's reasoning was sound. His own concerns about how much difficulty the average citizen of Berk would have accepting the notion of dragons as people helped sway him. But it was the man's willingness to address the problem once the new Red Death was gone that allowed him to go along with the idea.

Which immediately led him to ask his next question. "What will you tell the council?"

Stoick gave a tiny shake of his head. "I don't really know." The council was simply the most prominent members of the village, beyond Stoick and his second, Spitelout. "Mostly that there's a new Red death that must be stopped, I guess."

"How will you convince them it's out there? You gonna tell them Toothless told you about it?"

The unhappy frown that creased his face spoke of his displeasure at being shown an obvious flaw in his simple plan. He glanced again at the dragon in question and shook his head again. "No, but you understand Toothless better than anyone else. If they question it, I'll tell them it was your notion brought about by your... close association with a dragon."

Toothless 'humphed' in a most human way. His lids lowered and his ear fins dropped by half.

Stoick looked the Fury square on and said, "It's a small thing, a little twisting to get them going in the right direction."

The dragon was not impressed.

The chief planted his balled fists on his hips and said, "And which do you think is more important; telling the villagers you talk to us with doodles in the dirt or getting rid of that cursed thing?"

The large eyes, pupils narrowed and brows lowered, swept over the damaged picture. Toothless studied the wounded ash-dragon for several moments. His ear fins lay down completely. He grunted something; a word, perhaps. Hiccup couldn't tell. But the tipping of his broad head toward the drawing made his decision plain.

Stoick nodded. "All right then." He addressed Hiccup and the young man couldn't help feeling like his father was finally seeing him as an adult, worthy of consulting on important issues. "I'll be back later. We-" His eyes shifted again toward the Fury. "The three of us need to discuss this more. We need to start making plans." Toothless nodded and his father walked out.

Hiccup felt strangely out of sorts, trying to deal with opposite ends of his emotional range. He was gratified, for Toothless' sake, to see his father treating the Night Fury like a thinking being. Even more, he felt a noticeable amount of validation in his desire to accept dragons into Berk's fold. But to know they now faced another menace that could possibly ruin everything they'd gained made him want to put his head between his knees. He occasionally had bad dreams about losing Toothless or falling off him while flying. He didn't have bad dreams about their fight with the Red Death, though. They'd won that battle and he hadn't believed for even a moment they would ever face a challenge that dangerous again.

Hiccup remained still, unable to put his thoughts into order. He found himself staring at the misshapen dragon in the hearth. A voice in his mind kept saying, with quiet determination, 'we beat it before, we beat it before, it's dead and we won.' But another voice, smaller and frightened, kept objecting with, 'but we almost died!'

His eyes were drawn to Toothless. The dragon was staring at him, his solemn expression an unsettling thing to see. He wondered if the same voices were telling the dragon the same things.

He let his gaze rove over the Fury's form, looking for something he couldn't explain. The familiarity of the dragon's presence brought him the luxury of happiness but now there was a strain, a weak spot of some kind. Something had changed while he was away this morning and he still couldn't fully understand or identify it.

He opened his mouth, having no clear idea what he wanted to say. The words that came were simple, quiet and laid his soul bare between them. "I'm glad you made it back safe."

The reaction he got pushed aside everything that bothered him, again. A deliberate curling of those lips, never made to move that way naturally. A perking of the ear fins. The wide and friendly set of his pupils. Hiccup had to envelope him again. He staggered forward, his metal leg catching slightly on the leg of the table. His arms wide, he pressed himself onto the dark, pebble-skinned chest and let the troubles of Berk fall away. His cheek met the rumbling surface of Toothless' neck and pressed hard, his skin and his ears each responding to the purring growl. A sudden tightening in his throat kept him from making any sound of his own. He gripped hard, as if needing to compress what lay in the scope of his arms directly into his heart to keep it safe.

The dragon's head lowered, his chin and throat pressing gently into his shoulder and spine. Hiccup knew it for the hug it was meant to be and let it blanket his mind as long as he could. In this moment, in his house, all was right and good. He would treasure those precious seconds of safety and warmth and keep them as protection against what he knew was coming.

When he finally pulled back, he stared into those luminous yellow-green eyes. As much as he cared for Toothless, as much as he trusted the dragon, there was a question he very much wanted answered. It wasn't one of the three questions that had hounded him the last day and a half. Those had essentially been answered. It wasn't one of his father's questions. At this moment they were secondary.

There was a question that had bothered him since the subject of a new Red Death had come up. It had come to him as soon as he saw the Fury's expression in relation to the new threat to Berk.

"Toothless," he asked softly, "Are you afraid?"

The dragon seemed puzzled.

"Of it," he whispered.

His friend's eyes slid toward the drawing in the hearth. He stared at his own warning for several long moments, seeming to ponder the question. Hiccup had gotten fairly good at reading the dragon's facial expressions. He was convinced that the longer the dragon looked at the representation of the largest imaginable threat to Vikings and dragons the more disturbed he became.

Eventually Toothless tore his gaze away from the menace he'd warned them of and faced Hiccup.

"Yes."

There was another question that surfaced, equally important. Asking it went against his father's earlier statement, but it still had to be asked.

"Could... could we fight this one the same way... like we did-"

"No."

So. They wouldn't have to repeat that terrifying battle and risk their lives as before, despite having been successful the last time. With one grunted word from Toothless, Hiccup could let go of the notion that disobeying his father might help. But he also lost the only idea he had on how to fight against such a powerful enemy.

"Do you have any ideas?"

Toothless actually lowered his gaze, as though embarrassed or ashamed. "No."

Hiccup impulsively reached out and pushed up on the dragon's chin. The Fury looked at him, those huge, beautiful eyes seeking his automatically. "Hey, we'll figure this out." It felt strange to be reassuring such a powerful being when he truly had no idea of his own how they would succeed. It almost felt like a lie, but he supposed it was really more of a wish. Or a pledge.

Yes, a pledge. He felt it in his heart. It was an oath, to work as hard as he could to find the solution they needed. He drew a deeper breath. That was something at which he excelled; figuring out problems. And to solve a problem, the first step was to gain knowledge about it.

With a tilt of his head toward their enemy in the ashes, he asked, "Do you know much about those... things?"

Toothless picked up his metal pencil and made a single symbol in the gray dust. [small]

Hiccup nodded. "Better than nothing."


Smoketail was finally getting the support he needed to properly claim his new nest. Kin were bringing in more food and his hunger was easing. This would change before long, he knew. When the first of the eggs began to rupture and spill out their squealing occupants he would get less. The hatchlings would need feeding every bit as much as he. This would be his next challenge: keeping control of himself while Kin did all they could to feed both their offspring and their Gatherer. His dam had taught him that hunger was an enemy that required two weapons to defeat: a nest of healthy Kin and self control.

"We balance all on a wingtip," she'd said. "Too high, too thin. Too low, and we're grounded. The weight you put upon your nest must never exceed their lift."

And so Smoketail restrained himself, trying to learn what the limits of his nest were and holding back when he wanted to snap up some stray Kin or other.

There was the preytooth, of course.

But Iceblood was too unique and interesting to lose in a wasteful moment of mere consumption. Although it might taste good, it provided something beyond sustenance. It offered him amusement.

Crush Claw had kept his promise. The preytooth actually did bring offerings of food, although they always tasted of firescale flames. Smoketail had to assume the pitiful little creature could not hunt for itself and Crush Claw allowed it to have a portion of his kill. That the preytooth offered its portions to the nest's Gatherer was fitting and good, if more than a little strange. But that was ultimately its real value.

Smoketail had even allowed it to ride on his forefoot when he moved about the nest. He'd seen it riding on the firescale's shoulders as Crush Claw flew in and out of the nest. He'd watched with great amusement as it finally scraped up the courage to attempt to climb onto him. His own body was far too large, though. The preytooth had gotten no farther than the primary joint of his foreleg before he fell. Since then it had contented itself to sit upon the wide spread of his forefoot, holding on as best it could.

With a slow, languorous stretch, he roused himself and moved his growing frame from the warm, smoky depths of the nest to the high cave that opened onto the main nesting grounds. Many Kin sat beside their nests, occasionally heating their eggs or switching out with their mate to look for food. As he watched, two stonebellies and a brightscale flew overhead and dropped offerings. Smoketail opened his mouth and caught them easily.

He growled with pleasure as shortly thereafter Crush Claw appeared. His preytooth was on his back and he clutched a small slashback in his claws. The firescale hovered close, calling for permission to touch ground. It was unnecessary since he was of the nest, but Smoketail quietly growled his acceptance anyway. Crush Claw dropped the slashback to the ground and landed next to it. Iceblood slid off his shoulders and picked up the slashback. It was no easy burden for him.

To allow for the fact that the preytooth could not fly on its own, Smoketail had made a small adjustment for accepting food from Iceblood. He crouched down low and let his lower jaw touch the floor of the cave. He opened his mouth and awaited the offering.

As it often did, the preytooth made its strange mewling sounds before it heaved its burden onto his tongue. He could taste the slashback. He could taste the faint hint of skin fire from where Crush Claw's talons had held it. He could even detect the slight trace of oil and salt left behind by Iceblood's pathetic little foreclaws. Had any Gatherer before him tasted such an interesting morsel?

Smoketail turned his attention to Crush Claw, who had learned to relax (if only slightly) in his presence. "Are there any more of these preytooths near this nest?"

Crush Claw looked to his bond partner, who had once again clambered up onto Smoketail's forefoot. "There is a nest of them some distance away, toward where the sun rises."

"Are they all like this one?"

"No. They are as varied as Kin."

That interested Smoketail. "Bring another one here. I want to see how they vary."

Crush Claw suddenly scented of fear. He did not, he noticed, scent of deception. "I cannot. Only Iceblood will ride me."

Smoketail rumbled his displeasure. "How will I see these other preytooths if you do not bring them to me?"

The firescale moved back a step. "I do not know. They do not heed Kin unless they have bonded." He considered a moment. "You could fly to their nest." But almost immediately this idea soured in his liver. "They would not like it, though. They would almost certainly flee."

Smoketail had no intention of leaving his new nest. His wings were sturdy and strong but his place was there. Until his new nest was completely settled, he would not leave it. "I see no reason to go see their nest. I want only to see them." His eyes settled firmly on Crush Claw. "You should find a way to bring some new preytooths here." He turned his gaze back to the opening of the cave and to the nesting Kin outside. "I would find that very amusing."

The firescale said nothing but Smoketail knew his words had been heard. These preytooths might be useful in some way, if there were more of them in the nest. He wasn't certain what role they might fill, but it couldn't hurt to at least have them filling his mouth with food while Kin were feeding their hatchlings.

Perhaps preytooths could make his nest even more successful than he'd hoped. He could imagine it; the lands of his new nest teeming with preytooths working to support their Gatherer, bonding with Kin and providing even greater protection for all.

Perhaps, Smoketail mused, I might have the most successful nest of all Kin flying.


Toothless was getting much faster and better at drawing his pictographs. Many of the simpler words they now used had been reduced to a few lines that somewhat resembled runes. Hiccup noticed that many of the 'words' Toothless had created were made of curves where Nordic letters were mostly formed with straight lines.

He wished his comprehension of his dragon's intentions was as swift. Except for the occasional misinterpretation, Hiccup's biggest problem with reading the Fury's writing was understanding the meaning behind it. Some notions were easy to grasp, some were a bit tricky and some utterly baffled him. He felt certain that given enough time to talk it through, he could find the meaning of most of the confusing statements carefully scribed in the ashes.

His father's council had gone on for some time, allowing him to work his way through several difficult question and answer dialogues. Hiccup's head was starting to hurt and what he'd gleaned from their exchange was not promising.

"Ok, let me see if I've got it," he said, not for the first time. "This new Red Death is a very young one, and it's not as big."

"Yes."

"It will be strong, quick, a better flyer than the last one. It will also be harder to trick."

"Yes."

Hiccup sighed. "But that won't matter because it probably won't come out of its hiding place. To get to it, we'd have to go in after it."

"Yes."

"Which is a horrible idea because it's controlling all the dragons like the last one did. They would wipe us out before we could even find it." Hiccup threw down the kindling stick he'd been using to sketch in the hearth along with Toothless. "Well, that's just great," he muttered. He fumed silently a moment. "So, what happened last time?" He looked up at his friend. "Were we just lucky or something? Did we catch it on a bad day?"

[Red Death - lot time - small head]

Hiccup blinked. 'Red Death' had already been stripped down to an oval representing the monster's head and speckled with six dots for eyes. "Lot time, small head," he intoned, puzzling over the meaning of the words. 'Small head' almost sounded like an insult. "Lot time, lot time." He sat up straight. "A lot of time! It was old!"

"Yes." Toothless nodded.

Encouraged, Hiccup pointed to 'small head' and said, "So, it was old and had... a small... head?" He frowned. "Its head was bigger than three houses. Small he- small brain?" He glanced at his dragon again and pointed to his own forehead. "It wasn't very smart?"

"Yes, yes!"

His momentary satisfaction at solving another draconic sentence was quickly swept away by the realization of what the statement meant. "The only reason we beat it was because it was old and stupid?"

The dragon commiserated with a low moan.

Hiccup dropped his face into his hands, momentarily at a loss. "Great. And the new one isn't old or stupid. Wonderful. So we're right back at the beginning." He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to focus his thoughts. "This isn't... I need information. We're in the dark with this thing." He lifted his head, catching Toothless' eyes. "So." He took a breath. "I need to start... asking different questions."

Toothless simply tilted his head quizzically. He looked down at the words and drawings in the ashy sketchpad. He let the questions that were rolling around in his mind circle him, waiting for the right one to come forward. He stared and thought. Toothless said nothing, only watched.

Eventually a question that he'd had after coming out of the dragon nest at Red Death Island the first time came back to him.

"Toothless, how does a Red Death control other dragons?"

Oddly, the black dragon seemed to hesitate. He looked to the ash bed but made no move to draw anything. He then turned back to Hiccup, raised one forepaw and gently touched him on the nose.

"Huh? Nose?"

Toothless grumbled, then leaned closer and sniffed at him.

"Ummm, breathing? Sniffing? No?"

Frustrated, the dragon leaned even closer, paused and then belched directly into his face. Hiccup jerked backward, fanning the air.

"Augh, what was that for? Nothing personal but your breath is really... wait."

Toothless nodded.

"A Red Death controls other dragons... with its breath?"

The wide head pitched up toward the ceiling as a loudly barked, "NO!" rattled his eardrums.

"What then? I don't understand!" Hiccup gestured abruptly at the dragon's mouth. "With bad smells? That makes no sen-"

"Yes!"

Hiccup glared at his friend, wondering how in Midgard Tuffnut had ever managed to influence the Night Fury with his ridiculously crude sense of humor. "You're telling me a Red Death can control hundreds of other dragons with... bad smells?"

Toothless nodded. "Yes." Then he shook his head. "No."

This was the dragon's response when Hiccup was close to an answer but needed to look at it a different way to reach the truth. He considered that a moment.

"It doesn't control hundreds of dragons with bad smells," he said slowly, trying to twist the idea around in his mind to see where Toothless needed him to go. "But it does control them with... good smells?"

Now it was Toothless' turn to think hard, trying to figure out how to nudge his friend in just the right direction. He didn't answer Hiccup's last question, but he did move back to the hearth and begin carving lines in the ashes. They weren't pictographs, though. They were just lines. He looked at Hiccup, then down at the lines. He leaned close and sniffed at them.

Hiccup backed up quickly as Toothless suddenly flopped down and began rolling and purring, kicking his legs and thrashing his tail. His antics nearly knocked over the cooking tripod and tipped the water bucket onto its side. Distracted by the commotion and the new mess his friend had made, it took him a second to realize what his dragon was doing. Toothless was imitating his reaction to the meadow grass that had an intoxicating effect on the flying reptiles.

"Ok, yeah, you like the smell of meadow grass."

Just as quickly as it began, Toothless' happy convulsions ceased. He patted a clear spot in the ashes and began drawing pictures again. He drew two dragons with an egg between them. He looked up at Hiccup.

"Ah, I think you're losing me again."

Toothless' reached with his empty paw and flattened the egg. In its place he drew a very small dragon. Over the hatchling he drew the same lines he used for meadow grass. He glanced at his rider and then sniffed the drawing of the newly hatched dragon. A familiar grunt rattled from deep in his throat. His eyes rolled back slightly and he opened his mouth and made a sound like he was regurgitating a fish. That was a sound Hiccup would likely never forget.

Feeling more confused than ever, Hiccup muttered, "The smell of baby dragons makes you sick?"

Again Toothless growled, "No" in agitation. He thumped his rear to the floor and stared at his drawing. Outside they could hear a seabird calling. The dragon looked up at the ceiling and then applied himself to the ashes once more.

Next to the dragon family he'd drawn he created a pair of birds, also with an egg between them. Then he flattened the egg and replaced it with a small version of the parent birds. Over the baby bird he placed the meadow grass lines. And again he sniffed at the hatchling and reenacted vomiting up the contents of his stomach for its benefit. This time, however, Hiccup could see the point the Fury was trying to make.

"Oh. Ohhhhh! You guys feed your babies the same way birds do!"

"Yes. No."

"Ugh."

Toothless leaned close to his drawings once more, sniffing at the adult dragons. He looked up at Hiccup. He moved over the drawing of the newly hatched dragon and sniffed again. Then he pretended to retch up a meal for it.

Hiccup thought he now understood, but was highly skeptical. "Hatchlings have a smell that... makes adults want to feed it?"

"Yes! Yes!" Toothless nodded energetically.

"Really? Huh."

Now Toothless drew his pictograph for a Red Death. Above it he placed the meadow grass lines. He leaned over it and sniffed, then started gagging again. Hiccup's jaw dropped open as it finally came clear to him.

"The Red Death has a smell that makes other dragons want to feed it?"

Satisfied he had gotten his idea across, Toothless nodded. "Yes."

Hiccup stared, unable to believe what he'd been told. "That's its control? Making other dragons think it's a hatchling?" It hardly made any sense. If dragons were people, as smart as an average Viking living in Berk, how could they be deceived so easily? "How could any dragon confuse the Red Death for a tiny hatchling?"

Apparently Toothless had anticipated this question. He held up his drawing tool for a moment to claim Hiccup's attention, then applied himself to his dusty canvas. This time he drew a dragon with an obviously broken wing.

"An injured dragon?"

"Yes."

Lines were added, coming off the one-winged dragon.

Hiccup was silent for a moment. "An injured dragon makes the same smell as a hatchling," he murmured.

"Yes."

His eyes shifted between the dragon family and the wounded individual. "Its support," he whispered, the whole of it dawning on him. "Hatchlings can't speak, injured dragons might not be able. They make a smell that strongly influences others to feed them, take care of them."

"Yes!"

He looked up at the obviously pleased Night Fury. Some part of him was also pleased they had worked out another mystery concerning how dragons and their world worked. But there was something else, something larger slithering through his thoughts. It disturbed him despite the clarity it added to their situation.

"The Red Death was using... is using... a natural reaction that causes dragons to help each other. But it uses it to force them to bring it food, to protect it. It turns them into slaves."

Toothless just watched him as the realization worked its way through his guts.

"Red Death Island wasn't a nest. It was a... a prison!" He shook his head, more and more disturbed by the idea. The old one, the monster that had apparently driven the dragons to meet its enormous demands by going after any food source, had been the sole cause of the generations-long war. And now a successor was poised to drag both sides back into conflict, just so it could have enough to eat.

Hiccup felt certain the dragons wouldn't want such an arrangement. "The other dragons, on the island... they don't want the Red Death there?"

"NO!" The Fury turned his eyes immediately to the damaged Death hovering over his rendition of its island and roared his anger at it. He reared up and slammed both front paws down on it. The impact was powerful enough that ashes spewed out from under his claws in short streams and the ground beneath compressed noticeably. Gray dust billowed up and turned his forelegs the color of old iron. The smell of ashes and burned wood filled the house.

Toothless' answer was so loud, his outburst so violent that Hiccup recoiled, suddenly being forced to recall the unimaginable power contained within that sleek black body. For a single heartbeat he was absurdly grateful he'd never caused such hate within the Fury's heart. Then another insight came to him.

"That's why you were willing to fight it." His voice wavered and his heart still thumped at the shock he'd had. "That's why you wanted so much to kill another dragon."

"Yes." [hate Red Death]

So another puzzle was solved and his companion's actions during the battle made much more sense. Toothless and the other dragons from the training arena had been willing to attack the monster that had enslaved so many others in the hopes of freeing them. And now those others were once again threatened. Or already enslaved.

For a moment the similarity between Vikings and dragons became more disturbing than enlightening. There were old stories of other Viking tribes that had practiced slavery, raiding small villages and taking captives elsewhere for profit. Berk's people, from it's founding to the nearly constant state of siege under which it lived, had viewed such practices as dishonorable and counterproductive. Berk lived because every villager knew survival depended on solidarity and a certain amount of sacrifice. If other tribes had managed to contact them during their war they would have certainly been seen as potential allies, not potential slaves.

But the Red Death used that concept of forced servitude to support it. It was pressing hundreds of unwilling dragons into dangerous and wasteful efforts for nothing more than its benefit. Hiccup's new perspective on dragons now had him wondering how a Red Death could justify such selfish and ruinous behavior.

And that thought sparked the next question, one that had flickered through his mind earlier and been lost before he could act on it.

"Toothless, what if we tried talking to it? Could we ask it to leave?"

Hiccup didn't know what to expect of such a line of thought. He supposed the Fury might reject the idea, for various reasons. Perhaps he might think it worth taking the chance. He might be skeptical, as Hiccup felt himself to be. Something about the gargantuan creature that had chased them through the skies seemed to preclude intelligent conversation. But Toothless had said it was old and slow of mind. Perhaps a young one might be convinced.

One thing he'd never expected was to see stark fear on the black dragon's wide, expressive face.

He'd seen his friend express this kind of fear only once before, in the presence of an eel. If Toothless had felt any fear during their battle with the old Red Death, Hiccup hadn't seen it from his seat upon his shoulders. It was not a comfortable sight now, especially when all he'd asked to do was consider an attempt at communication. Surely it would be easier for the Fury to talk to the other dragon rather than fight it, especially if it was the size of a small hill.

"No."

Apparently not.

"Well, wouldn't it be worth a try?" Hiccup stepped closer to Toothless, reaching out. "If the two of us came to it-"

"NO!"

Hiccup cringed, shocked now that the outburst was aimed at him. Worse, there was some odd mix of desperation and anger in the Fury's eyes. He'd never wanted to cause such a reaction, to bring obvious dismay to the only individual who had ever placed unwavering trust in him. It felt disturbingly like the countless times he'd seen disappointment in his father.

"Isn't there any chance we could-"

"No." Toothless was resolute now. The fear seemed to have been pushed aside in favor of a grim determination to avoid possible risk.

He could see there was no changing the dragon's mind. As they stared at each other a different view of their relationship opened itself to Hiccup's eyes.

The Night Fury had become his emotional support; confidence and daring he'd never felt alone lit along his veins when he was with Toothless. They had worked together, failed and triumphed together. Each had shown a singular desire to help the other become better; to achieve in unison what was impossible separately.

There had only been one other source of such selfless support in Hiccup's life; his mother, gone these many years now. He could still remember her encouragement, her vigorous praise at his accomplishments and her quiet sympathy in his low moments.

But the look on Toothless' face now was plain to see; determination to prevent Hiccup from getting into a situation he might deeply regret. This was the mark of Stoick the Vast, forcefully etched into every day of Hiccup's life after his mother's death.

There was no way he could act upon his suspicion without his dragon's knowledge. He couldn't get to Red Death Island, couldn't try speaking to the new occupant. His idea could not be acted upon and so he had to abide by his friend's decision. He just wished there was a better answer than 'the old Viking fall back', even if it was endorsed by the Night Fury.

Hiccup took a deep breath, trying to ignore the new tightness in his stomach. "So," he whispered. "No choice but to fight it."

Toothless' eyes softened. He leaned forward and pressed his head into Hiccup's chest again, crooning gently. Hiccup placed one hand on the dragon's lower jaw, wishing he could win the dragon's acceptance as easily as he could give him pleasure by scratching one special spot.

The Fury backed up, looking more like his old self. He rumbled quietly a bit then made marks in the gray dust.

[bad much danger]

"Yeah, I guessed as much."

Danger, he thought. Protection. The Fury's goal hadn't changed. Toothless simply didn't believe exposing themselves, or at least not Hiccup, to the danger a new Red Death represented was worthwhile. There was nothing unusual or disappointing in that. It was a sign of their friendship. The dragon wanted Hiccup to stay safe.

For himself, Hiccup certainly didn't want to court destruction needlessly. Nor did he want to go against Toothless' firm insistence that they couldn't speak to the new threat on Red Death Island.

But honestly, shouldn't there be some other way of dealing with the new dragon besides the same old Viking way? Hadn't they learned that lesson firmly enough?

And hadn't Toothless claimed that only Terrible Terrors lacked the power of speech? Or had Red Deaths been excluded from that conversation entirely?

That thought led him directly back to his father's upsetting question: could Toothless lie? Could his best friend be misleading him in the belief it was for Hiccup's own good? It was difficult for them to hold a conversation; withholding certain facts would be easy. Toothless certainly was capable of having his own priorities and goals. What was he capable of if his priorities differed from Hiccup's?

As he stared at the pictograph of 'Red Death', he came upon another worrying question: were dragons able to feel prejudice?

One new dragon, a dozen new problems. Caught as he was between Toothless' and Stoick's firm belief in which problem was most dire, Hiccup knew he would have to focus on it alone. The other aspects, however, simply moved back in his mind, awaiting a chance to be revisited. There was still time, even if it was short.

"Well buddy, I guess we better start working on a plan."


(c)Wirewolf 2013

"How to train your dragon" and all attendant characters are copyright

Dreamworks Animation and used without permission

AN: It came to me early on that when Hiccup realized Toothless was a person, sooner or later it would affect how he viewed the dragon's actions. I could almost believe it might be similar to the learning process of a couple who are newly married. The change in the relationship forces a deeper understanding between both parties. Given how often marriages end in divorce, I assume these revelations don't always go well.

Apply that idea to the friendship between Viking and dragon and this is what you get: changing aspects.

There's a lot of Italics in this chapter, lots of emphasis and yelling. It hasn't been an easy day for anyone. You might notice I used bold characters for the first time in this chapter. For some reason, FFN will not allow more than one punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. So an emphasized question that should have both an exclamation mark and a question mark at the end will have one dropped, whether we like it or not. I've had that modification made without notice to previous chapters and decided to change the way I approached my formatting. I'm not fond of it, but we must use what's available.