After a very long break, I present chapter nine for your reading pleasure. Enjoy and as always, only the things out in the snow are my invention.
Something was wrong, and it brought him out of the peaceful slumber to full alertness in an instant. It took Hiccup a long moment to realize that what was bugging him was the absence of sound. Opening his eyes, he looked around and realized that the wind and snow were gone. It was not sunny, but the blizzard had halted. Now was as good a time as any to start Toothless shooting signals into the sky.
"Toothless, wake up." Watching his dragon come awake and tense up, Hiccup added a reassurance. "It's ok boy, the blizzard's stopped for now. Time to signal for help." He saw his dragon nod before a voice spoke up.
"It's stopped?" Astrid, awake once more was peering outside as well. Hiccup nodded in confirmation before realizing that they were holding hands. When had that happened again? Nothing had been said about it yet, and so he did not let go.
"Yeah, for now. In a moment we're going to move again so Toothless can signal for help- we got a little involved with something on our way here, and the tailfin broke. Hopefully the others will come looking and see the fireballs." He saw Astrid nod and turned to thinking about how to go about the move. He really didn't want her leaning against the rock again. Even he made a better cushion than that. Making up his mind with that thought, he spelling out the plan.
"Right, I'll scoot you forward a bit to allow Toothless to get up, and then we'll scoot back to the wall and you can use me as a cushion." He saw Astrid nod again, and focus-clearly not looking forward to any kind of moving. That said, the maneuver went off exactly as planned and Hiccup took a bit of pride in noting that Astrid never so much as to flinch with pain. Slow and steady was how the movement could be described, but when it was all said and done Astrid was safely resting against his chest.
"How's that?" The question was considered for a moment before the response-
"At least you're warm. Pull up the blankets." Hiccup let loose a small chuckle, caught a light elbow from Astrid's good arm in response, and did as requested. Blankets readjusted, he moved to put his arms around his friend, who just happened to be a girl- paused and thought better of it and started to drop them to his side when Astrid spoke up.
"It's ok, Hiccup." Not entirely sure how to process that, Hiccup gently wrapped his arms around the girls waist, making sure to keep well above the injured hip. The uncertainly of his action remained only until Astrid covered his arms with her good one, lightly squeezing his hand with hers. That acceptance- that most basic of gestures allowed him to relax. Now comfortable, Hiccup looked towards his dragon, who'd been observing the operation with equal parts concern and amusement.
"Whenever you're ready Toothless." He saw his dragon nod and turned towards the cave mouth. Several seconds after the Nightfury disappeared from view, Hiccup heard that distinctive sound and caught the flash of blue as it shot skyward, realizing it was a race against time. Who would win, the return of the snow, the things out in the snowy tundra, or his friends?
And so time passed. Toothless, the most active of the trapped party kept himself busy. Pacing his signal flames, he would always move away from the cave entrance before breathing- trying to convince himself that this tactic would prevent 'her' from relocating where they were hiding. In between bursts of flame he'd return to the cave to see his boy and his girl- for she was his girl now. There was no doubt in the dragon's mind that whatever had injured Astrid that badly had probably done in her Nadder. The dragon had his ideas, and chief among them was the guess that his friend's last conscious act had been to buck the girl off his back before he'd been attacked.
That assumed, Astrid was now his to protect as best he could. Gazing at the two, one resting against the other, neither speaking but a word or two now and again, Toothless couldn't help but approve. They were good for each other, that was as plain as the moon in the night sky. His Hiccup was a good counter to Astrid's rashness most days, and Astrid brought out courage in Hiccup that Toothless had seen time and time again since meeting the girl. The attempt to prove the Vikings wrong about dragons, the battle against the Queen, the taking charge of a new class of younger ones who might find dragon partners, and most recently the flight through the snow to find Astrid. Nodding to himself, Toothless resolved that if they got out of this cave, he'd see to it that his boy didn't do anything to stupid that would ruin what was starting to blossom.
Surmising it was time for yet another signal; the dragon rose to his feet and began trekking out of the cave again. Turning left, he padded silently through the snow and followed the cliff face for a short time before stopping and heading directly away from the cliff. Once an acceptable distance away, he looked skyward- still all cloud covered and shot off a bolt of flame. The blue turned to the more traditional bright orange and the Nightfury watched with idle interest as the flame dissipated just below the cloud cover. Waiting a few moments, Toothless sent a second bolt into the air with much the same effects as the first. Watching the second bolt dissipate, he noted the wind starting to pick up once more. Not good, that could only mean one thing in the short run- their reprieve from the snow was coming to a close.
His third bolt of the round contained more force than usual, and the dragon watched it shoot into the clouds. No one would've seen that one, he'd have to fire a fourth before returning to the cave for another brief break. This decided, much was his surprise when the blue turned to orange in the clouds and promptly revealed a two headed figure with two very distinctive Vikings along for the ride. That the two were most likely singed and perhaps a bit startled didn't bother him in the slightest.
Singed didn't even begin to describe how the twins were feeling. It'd been a freak wind gust that had tossed their Zippleback into the clouds and a freak flame that had sent them right back out. Thankfully, during the surprise, their collective heads hadn't gotten tangled up, and after a long moment Tuffnut mustered the wits to shout over the wind.
"What in the name of Odin was that?"
Ruffnut started to respond when another ball of flame shot past the two to detonate just above them.
"It's gotta be Toothless, you numbskull. Who else shoots blue flame?"
Peering down towards the ground, the Viking took a good deal of time in looking. She didn't trust her sibling to look alone. That said, she was surprised when both heads of their Zippleback let out a cheerful roar before going into a dive. As they lost altitude, two voices spoke as one.
"There he is! But where are the others?" The black figure that was Toothless began to move, towards the cliff face they'd been flying away from, and for lack of other options, they followed until Toothless disappeared into a little hole in the wall, almost invisible from the altitude they had been flying at. What followed thereafter was one very rough landing which took them some time to sort out and get untangled from. Finally, when brother and sister had stood up, they saw Hiccup leaning against the cave entrance, and the expression on his face put to rest any sarcastic jabs that'd been prepared.
"Ruff, Tuff. Odin am I glad to see you two. Listen and listen quick, because we're short on time. Toothless can't fly, Astrid's hurt bad and without her dragon. First off, how far off is home?" He watched as the twins shifted mental gears and answered.
"Little under an hour."
"We didn't fly straight so it could be less than that."
That was manageable, was doable. Putting his brain to work, Hiccup came up with a plan, one that had far too many 'if's' in it, but was the best he could do.
"Alright, I need you two to get back home, collect any of the others who've came back, and if Fishlegs is there, let him pick the best three dragons and best three students, based on flight and even-headedness. If he's not, you're the ones in charge of selecting them." A pause as he added, 'Never thought I'd say that' silently before going on. "Gather up one of the healers who can deal with heights, have someone good with rope put together a stretcher that two dragons can carry underneath them, and then get back here if the weather still looks ok." He started to end, and then realizing what he was forgetting added, "Oh, and have Gobber bring you the replacement tailfin that's in the shop. Got that all?"
"Healer, stretcher, tailfin…"
"Three of the dragons and students best able to fly."
The back and forth checklist completed, Hiccup nodded, satisfied as he could be with the plan that depended completely on the weather. Part of him wanted to have them carry Astrid back, but with her injuries, she wouldn't be able to ride, and he didn't trust the Zippleback enough to jury-rig something. Two heads were great at sometimes, but all too often, as the landing had demonstrated, could make things go horribly wrong.
"Right, get going then. And hurry. I'm not sure we can last through another blizzard out here." The twins, nodded and he was heartened to see how seriously they were taking things. They clambered up on their dragon, launched skyward, and soon were fading from sight. Back to the waiting game then, and time to go back inside. Toothless had swapped places with him, so Astrid would have someone with her at all times, and stepping out of the freshening wind and into the cave he saw the two. Toothless was acting as the cushion once again and Astrid was awake and looking towards the entrance.
"Well?" The tone was casual, but even so, the hopefulness leaked through.
"That was the twins. I've sent them back for some more help and supplies so we can go home. They should be back soon, we're not that far away from home if their guess was right." Silence fell for a moment, and even as he tried to smile reassuringly the sound of the wind whistling gently became audible. It wasn't blowing hard at all, but it was blowing again and they both knew it. The race was well and truly on.
The first time I wrote this chapter, this was the point where everyone flew away happily ever after. However, after helping treat someone who had a broken leg this winter, much less a hip, I realized it wasn't a practical option. So, you get at least one more chapter than the big picture called for originally.
No promises on when the next part will be out. Life is busy.