The In Nomine Solus accelerated out of orbit, a small ship with a heavy weight aboard – for it was the private vessel of an Imperial Inquisitor.
Hiccup, Ordo Malleus, turned from his contemplation of the surface of Europa. "Any luck, Fishlegs?"
"Indeed." Fishlegs replied. The burly Viking was a tech-priest in this particular reality, though not particularly augmented yet. "Almost all records on the incident were eliminated – but I found a clean copy, in Titan archives themselves."
"Did they detect you?"
"Nope!" Fishlegs grinned. "Our dragons being proper AIs here made it easy for me to sneak in. And there's the proof."
"Actually, isn't that heresy?" Astrid asked. "Not that I care, but aren't AIs anathema to this place?"
"If anyone asks, she's a really vivacious Machine Spirit." Fishlegs said. "The kind that smites the foes of the Imperium with insulting comments as well as the blessed weapons of her carriage. Anyway, that record?"
"Forward it to the High Lords under my seal. Toothless and I have business."
Hiccup, encased in Artificer power armour, floated in space a-dragonback. Toothless' time on Pern had given him the capacity to survive for about twenty minutes in space without air supply, but Hiccup was somewhat more fragile.
Once more, he scrutinized the printout before him. It was a mere fragment, a pict-capture from over fifteen millennia ago. From the Dark Age of Technology. It had taken Fishlegs and his dragon/AI a month to dig it out of the archives of Mars.
But it was a time-stamped real image of a spacecraft lifting off. It was a suitable jump coordinate.
Well, time to go.
Man and dragon vanished.
Hiccup's warband – composed entirely of reality-displaced Vikings – watched silently as the Exorcist strike cruiser Absolution bombarded Titan.
"That's going to change things." Astrid said finally, as the cyclone torpedo took flight.
"It's not the only thing." Fishlegs muttered. "When are they getting back?"
"Five minutes ago."
They whirled from the viewscreen, which meant that the vast detonation that scoured the surface of all life went unseen.
Hiccup carefully lifted down a large metal crate from Toothless' saddle. "Here it is. One complete Standard Template Construct, from the third wave diaspora. Uncorrupted."
Fishlegs practically pounced. "At last! Now we see what the Baneblade was built as an escort tank for!"
Hiccup scratched his head. "What element are you, actually?"
"Fire's taken. Natsu and Dragoneel."
What about Lightning?
"Not sure. Is Lightning taken?"
"Yeah, Laxus is the Lightning dragonslayer." Natsu said, shrugging. "Sorry."
Hm. Dragonslayers are based off what you eat, right?
"I think they are."
Does that make me the Herring dragon?
"How would that even work?" Hiccup asked, before Happy overrode him.
"Wow! So I'm the Herring dragonslayer! I never knew we were so connected, mister Toothless!"
Bazhell heard the hoofbeats before he saw the other rider. He and Walsharno rode with the flowing speed of a Wind Rider and his courser, and nothing else on the face of the earth could catch them.
But the hoofbeats he heard were indeed closing in. So, as the two champions reached a rise, they halted to gaze back along their trail.
That's the shortest Wind Rider I've ever seen. Walsharno said suddenly.
Bazhell grimaced. "Ah, saw him first, did you? Well, I'm after thinking that we've no grounds to comment on another's height – what with me being the tallest Wind Rider there's ever been, and all."
You might not. I feel entirely justified. The Courser shook himself. His mount makes up for it, though.
"Aye." The Hradani said. "Great black brute, by the looks of him."
"This is very discomforting." Hiccup muttered, steadying himself. "You feel a lot different like this."
I can hardly help it, Hiccup. Toothless replied, climbing the hill in a great flowing surge of strength. I miss my tail, though.
"Ah, well." Hiccup checked his bow and sword, and made doubly certain that his new rank-mark was displayed across his breast. "There they are. I doubt there's another Hradani Wind Rider."
Hail, Walsharno. Toothless projected out, strangely formal.
"Hail, Bazhell Banahkson." Hiccup echoed, raising a hand in greeting as Toothless slowed. "Nice day for it."
Bazhell sniggered, then looked slightly embarrassed. "Aye, it seems the Wind plain has blessed us for now."
"Shall we keep going, Wind Brother?" Hiccup said, wobbling slightly. "It's a goodly way to the capital – and I'm bound there, same as you."
"Oh?" Bazhell said, ears twitching. "What kind of business might you have in Sothofalas?" Both coursers accelerated smoothly back up to their ground-eating canter as he spoke.
"My master, Wencit, sent me there in case I might be of assistance – to yourself, in fact. He sends his regards, and I have letters from such as he and Zarantha, your kinswoman."
"By adoption, of course." Bazhell reminded. "Alright, I'll look over them when we next stop. But if my ears don't deceive me-"
"And they certainly seem large enough not to." Hiccup said quickly.
The Hradani rolled his eyes. "Tomanak preserve me, you sound as bad as Brandark."
"I can't play the Balalaika, so you're safe from the Lay of Bazhell Bloody-Hand." Hiccup laughed.
"Thank the gods for small mercies. Now, as I was saying before you so cunningly diverted me, I seem to recall hearing you refer to Wencit as your master. Am I aright with that?"
"Yes." Hiccup looked nervous, and Toothless edged a little away from his fellow courser. "He took me on as an apprentice. I'm in training as a white wizard – he seems to think that my bond with Toothless will allow me to draw power without the decades of building finesse."
Walsharno laughed, keeping step throughout. Did you just call your companion "Toothless"?
"Yeah, blame me." Hiccup said, deadpan. "It's the translation of his name, and he prefers it – gods help me."
"Why's he even after being called Toothless in the first place?" Bazhell asked. "It's hardly in line with normal courser names, at all, at all."
The young Wind Rider shrugged helplessly. "Maybe his sire and dam were playing an elaborate joke? He certainly has a good sense of humour."
"Something's not right." Bazhell mused, as they set up camp for the night. Both coursers and the Hradani could likely have made it clear to Sothofalas before needing a rest – but Hiccup, being merely human, could not. Since things were hardly urgent, they had decided on twelve hours of riding a day.
"I don't know. It reminds me of… ah, something."
A twig cracked, and then armed men seemed to spring from the very ground. Bazhell instantly summoned the Rage, his enormous sword singing through the air as he attacked into the teeth of the ambush. Walsharno was at his side within a second, and he swung himself astride between one stroke and the next.
Hiccup too had taken to his mount, but broke for distance rather than close in for hand to hand. Bazhell heard the receding hoofbeats and quashed any suspicion. Hiccup was a Wind Brother, and wouldn't abandon another courser – no matter if he was prejudiced against Hradani.
Then, a sizzling bolt of fire split the night and erupted on one of the attackers, blowing them apart.
Bazhell grinned savagely, and pressed forward into the suddenly much less confident bandits.
"What was that after being?" he asked a few minutes later.
"Oh, the bowfire. Well," Hiccup lifted his horsebow from the sheath. "It's one of the strictures that wizardry is only to be used against other wizards. This is sort of a loophole. Framherja here has enchantments that make her shots bolts of lightning. When I fuel her, I'm only using my own energy and that of Toothless – and all I'm doing is fuelling her. She creates the actual lightning."
"It sounds to me like quite a fine line."
"It is, actually." Hiccup rubbed the back of his head. "But the deciding factor, really, is that she's still a bow. If I hit someone with her they're likely to be out of the fight one way or another. And I have to nock, draw, aim and loose just as a normal bow – all the bow does is, well, remove the need for a quiver."
"Forgive me for still being a mite suspicious." Bazhell said, examining Frahmerja.
"I'm not surprised you are. But Wencit tells me that she was originally created by Sorbus for Khalifrio, so…"
"Aye, the ways of the Gods are confusing. Tomanak knows Himself's been like that a time or two."
"What can we do?" Goofy asked. "They've got thirteen Darknesses, and they're all the same kinda person!"
Hiccup grinned. "I have a plan." He cleared his throat. "I hereby surrender my position as one of the Seven Lights, in favour of Toothless."
"Why'd you do that?" Riku asked.
"Well…" twenty black dragons materialized overhead. "All of those are Toothless."
"That's got to be cheating."
"Not my problem, our enemies are using time travel." Hiccup withdrew a book. "Call me when this is over."
"Come on, Toothless… enough is enough."
This is a self repairing cake! Toothless replied, still munching. I'll join you once I've caused enough financial damage to Eggman's organization that he goes bankrupt.
"You know…" Hiccup said, speculatively. "I hear that the last form of Wisp is one that focuses on eating."
Then what are we waiting for? The black dragon erupted from the ground, crouched, and shot off at about mach 0.9.
"I still don't know how he does that…" Hiccup muttered. "Oh, right, I'm supposed to be hacking computers or making a translator or something."
When are you going to actually start doing things, boss?
Shut up, Toothless. Hiccup finished disarming the Dzurlord he was fighting. "There. That's the flaw in your style – you're much too big a target."
The Dzur tensed, but then slumped. "As you say. I can't believe a Jhereg beat me, let alone an Easterner…"
Hiccup's familiar chose that moment to land on his shoulder.
With a crash, the Jhereg minor noble collapsed to the floor. "Get… off…"
What, I too much for you?
You wouldn't be if you stayed in the form you Awoke in this loop, now get off me!
What? Toothless whined. I want to transform and eat the Jenoine.
I said no, and I mean no. Hiccup took the Morganti dagger from the Jenoine, while still carrying on the conversation with his familiar. You heard Vlad when he turned up on Berk, the last Dragon Rumble loop. If I follow the original loop to the letter, I get a godslaying weapon.
Toothless projected an image of a begging dragon. And then?
Yes, then you get to eat the Jenoine.
Stoic the Vast rushed over to his wounded son, as the debris from his last invention settled – and stopped, taken aback.
Through a tear in Hiccup's tunic, he could see scales.
The boy saw where he was looking, and flinched – and the scales melded back into skin once more. But Stoic knew what he'd seen.
"What are you?"
"Hey, come on, dad, no need for-" Hiccup waved his hands frantically, walking away from Stoic.
"What. Are. You. You're not my son."
Hiccup laughed, a hissing thing, as he backed away, and the voice that spoke next was not his own. "Finally figured it out?" The tunic, then the rest of Hiccup's clothes, tore as his body slowly transformed. Bones creaked, wings erupted from his back, and within a minute what stood there was a Changewing.
"The boy left years ago, Stoic! He was never suited for your tribe."
"Monster." Stoic raised his hammer, and the Changewing took off to hover above the village.
"You'll never find the rest of us!" The dragon said as a parting shot, and flew off.
Did it work?
Hiccup focused as he landed, and demorphed. Wings disappeared, bones and muscles shrank, and shortly he was human again. "I think so. Remind me to thank Tobias for letting me take one iteration of the Morphing Cube."
Will do. Right, get that scrying pool set up, I want to see what's going on.
"You heard what the dragon said, Gobber. There's more than one of them!"
"Aye, aye. It's something we'll have to handle before you set off on that raid you're planning." Gobber's face then became speculative. "Though, come to think of it, setting off on a raid would be a good way for a Changewing infiltrator to lead us all into danger."
Several Vikings exchanged suspicious looks.
"For that matter…" Gobber continued musing, oblivious to the effect of his words. "I don't know whether saying an investigation would be a waste of time might not be what a Changewing would do… or if insisting on an investigation would be a better cover, because nobody would believe the one who was saying that was an-"
Someone punched him in the face. "Begone, Changewing!"
The brawl spread within seconds.
"Yeah, it is happening pretty quick." Hiccup said, chuckling. "Now, Astrid said she'd…"
"Fools!" Astrid Hofferson shouted, loud enough to be heard over the crowd. "I have you all tricked, for I am secretly a double infiltrator!"
Snotlout shoved her. "Shows what you know. I'm a triple infiltrator. I infiltrated my own spy ring."
"I infiltrated the pantry last month." Fishlegs murmured, looking downcast.
Everyone looked at the twins. Ruff rolled her eyes. "We are not saying we infiltrate each other, that's just disturbing."
The Legend of Spyro
"This makes me feel frankly useless." Hiccup muttered, floating through the air on buzzing insectile wings. "I mean, what did Sparx even do in this world normally?"
"I understand he made sarcastic comments and pointed out which way to go." Toothless replied, as the young black dragon hopped from log to log. "In other words, you should feel right at home."
"Yeah, thanks." Hiccup the Dragonfly facepalmed. "That is really not helping."
"You could try learning protective magic." Toothless pointed out. "I mean, that's what the other Sparx does."
"True…" Hiccup lay back in mid-air. "But that sounds like too much effort. I think I'll just try introducing high technology and see if that helps."
"Legends tell of a purple dragon, who will change the world."
Toothless looked up at the great red Elder, Ignitus, with dull eyes. Hiccup said what both of them were thinking.
"Uh… this guy is black? Don't know how your colour vision is, old man, but last I checked, purple was made up of blue and red, not no light and less light."
"You're slightly purple." Ignitus said, after looking Toothless over carefully. "In the right light."
"Yeah, that's called reflection?" Hiccup said. "You're red, the sky is blue… hey, watch this! I can make 'im a gold dragon."
"Look." Ignitus said, shaking his head. "Your egg was purple, you're the only other dragon left on the planet who isn't evil or captured, and I have arthritis."
"Dragons don't get arthritis." Hiccup said flatly.
"And how would you know?"
"You're flying creatures, which means that your bones are honeycomb and low density. Hence, the pads that when worn away cause arthritis through their lack are in fact not present at all, since instead the joints are directly associated with a smooth interface surface and grow throughout your lives, outstripping the erosion of the smooth surface."
"What?" Hiccup asked. "I watch House."
"You don't, Hiccup." Toothless said. "That was another one of your crazy schemes."
"Aw, come on!" Hiccup said. "We need to create actual good TV next time we're in a nuclear tech level world, and it's either a modified form of House using Mayuri Kurotsuchi or you and I solve crimes by time travel."
"…I have to admit, I'd watch that first one." Toothless said, nodding.
Ignitus winced. Apparently the legendary purple-if-you-squint-in-the-right-light dragon was just a little off his rocker.
"Right, let's go." Toothless said, flaring his wings. "Hiccup, time me please."
"On it." Hiccup started a miniature stopwatch.
Toothless took off to about an inch clearance from the ground, and vanished.
"What just happened?" Ignitus asked, shocked.
"Well, Toothless is a master of four elements. Fire, More Fire, Void and Apathy." Hiccup said earnestly. "The Void element lets him teleport, and the Apathy element means he doesn't much care for an epic quest when something much more prosaic will do the job."
Toothless rematerialized. "Time?"
"Twenty-eight seconds." Hiccup announced, over the thuds of Volteer, Cyril, Terrador and a rather bruised Cynder hitting the floor outside.
"Better than last time."
Hiccup nodded. "What did you do this time?"
"Conservation of angular momentum." Toothless belied his name and grinned, as a portal into Convexity yawned in the distance behind him – and a comet four hundred metres across screamed into it and vanished.
He snapped his tail absently, and only the first wisps of the colossal explosion made it through before the portal shut with a crack.
"Right." Hiccup said, ignoring the dumbfounded Ignitus. "Where did I put those cultural uplift files… I'll have tanks before the end of the Loop if I have anything to say about it…"
"You do that." Toothless said. "Meanwhile, I'm going to go ask Cynder if she fell out of heaven. She's clearly an angel."
"Despite the black leathery wings."
"Pretty familiar to me."
"The terrible size disparity."
"I like the larger ladies."
"And how you beat her up nine ways in as many seconds."
"Girls respect strength. It said so in that magazine I picked up."
"For goodness' sake, leave me alone!" Cynder said, shaking her head at Toothless.
"Why?" Toothless asked. "You're the same size as me and I'm the only male dragon for whom that's remotely true in a hundred miles."
"That's not the point!" Cynder sighed. "Besides, you're stalking me. It's creepy."
"I don't think it can really be counted as stalking." Hiccup commented from overhead. "On account of how he's really not even bothering to try to hide. At this point it's just generically pathetic."
"Quiet you." Toothless said. "And please, my angel of pulchritude, wilt thou not consider mine request… she's gone. Hiccup, you distracted me."
"When you come to your senses, you'll thank me." Hiccup shrugged.
Hiccup Awoke in the loop, and ducked immediately as a punch from some kind of goblin nearly took his head off.
Calculating in his head, he judged the exact point to attack, and punched back-
And the goblin went flying into the distance at close to the speed of sound.
This world is broken. Fix it.
Hiccup blinked, as a second set of memories flooded into him.
The first age. The Unconquered Sun. Primordials. Giant robots made of magic. Awesomeness.
The great curse. The dragon-blooded rebellion. Death.
Hmmm. Came the voice of what Hiccup, Twilight caste Solar Exalt, now knew to be the Unconquered Sun. This is new. You're not native to Creation, are you?
"Nope." Hiccup answered, as he fought off the rest of the band of attackers with ridiculously over the top martial arts. "Time Looper, this is my first time here."
Well, you're very bright. That's why you got a Twilight caste Exaltation. And I suspect that the multiple other Exaltations that just took place are your… does 'retinue' work?
"Yeah, it'll do." Hiccup finished the last goblin off by punching it through a mountain. "I could get to like this place."
Wait till you see the enemy.
Hey, Hiccup! A more familiar voice spoke in his mind. Toothless in da Reality.
Hiccup sighed. Never say that again.
Sorry. Toothless sent a sense of abashment. I just cut a castle in half with my wing, I'm feeling kind of keyed up at this point. Look, send me coordinates and I'll join you.
Who was that? the Unconquered Sun asked. I don't usually hang around this long, but you're really interesting.
"That was Toothless. He's my partner in our base world. Basically, I shot him down, he nearly killed me, we were friends ever since." Hiccup rattled off.
Right. Okay, here's the basic Guide to Creation as it currently stands.
Hiccup listened, waving as a thirty foot long black dragon with a Dawn caste mark flashed into existence overhead.
By the time Toothless landed, the Sun had finished.
Hiccup was quiet for a moment.
"Right, I think I have my agenda. Step one, beat up the Deathlords. Step two, reverse the great curse. Step three, pull the plugs on those damn Games of Divinity!"
Aww. But I like the Games of Divinity.
"I could understand escapism if the world were boring or mundane, but seriously!" Hiccup said. A flash of light caught his eye, as a rather familiar looking Full Moon caste exalt arrived on the back of a Changing Moon caste Nadder. "Oh, and that reminds me. Also turn the Solar controls over Lunars off, that's just wrong."
You just don't want Astrid to be angry at you when we Loop out of this reality again.
"Can you blame me?"
Nope. Stormfly's quills sting.
"Huh." Hiccup said, frowning. "She went back to that name?"
Yeah. Said 'Bluebell' was a phase. I think the others gave up their silly names too.
"Anyway." Hiccup thought. "We've got basically three options for this. Option one is that we just use our Looping experience and powers to hit Essence 10 straight off and punch problems until they no longer exist, and option two is basically that I get building giant robots and never stop."
"Hey, guys!" Fishlegs shouted from overhead. "Took me a while to find you."
"Hey, Fish – wait, is that caste mark what I think it is?" Hiccup shouted back.
"If you think it's Chosen of Battles, you're right!" Meatlug landed and Fishlegs slid off her back. "Good thing Meat here was Chosen of Journeys, or it could have taken forever to get here. Hey, where are Snotlout and the twins?"
"Not sure." Hiccup shrugged. "I suspect the twins were Terrestrially exalted and that Snotlout is causing havoc in the underworld. But more importantly, do you know Grandmother Spider Mastery?"
"Yeah." Fishlegs said.
"Good. Now, let's see…" Hiccup's hands flew between his subspace pocket and the air in front of him, shaping an orb out of nothingness in moments. "Here we go. This is an omniscifier."
"What does it do?"
"It shows all of Creation, above and below ground, and the whole underworld – as well as every manse interior and so on. Basically, everything that exists."
"Cool. But why… oh. I like how you think, Hiccup!" Fishlegs said, making the connection. Taking a stance, he exhaled sharply. "Form of the Charcoal march of spiders. Grandmother spider mastery. Pattern spider touch!"
He struck at thin air, which rippled. The world seemed to shake slightly.
"So, what did you do?" Astrid asked.
Fishlegs shrugged. "I punched everything in the universe that wasn't benevolent, and turned it into a duck."
I like this reality! Stormfly said. Let's not leave till we learn how to do more of this stuff.
What are you doing?
"Hacking stuff." Hiccup replied, steadying the laptop. "You're going to love this."
"I finally found out where we are."
This better be good. Toothless muttered, though his irritation clearly wasn't full-bodied. He was stretched out on the top of their small plateau in Arizona, soaking up the heat of the sun.
"Well, the key is actually how close to Phoenix we appeared this Loop. Turns out, that's a place mentioned a lot in the fictional version of this Loop – you know, from that stash we picked up in the Trek Loop."
"Look." Hiccup turned the screen so his friend could see.
…that is the cover of a Twilight book.
"Yes. Yes, it is." Hiccup said flatly. "Want to see which traditional vampire hunting techniques work on them?"
I rather thought the point was that they were immune to most vampire hunting techniques.
"Well, most vampire hunting techniques aren't developed by Hellsing." Hiccup reached into his subspace pocket, and pulled out an anti-materiel rifle. "Two shots of this, and then we move up to the Hammerhead Gunship."
Toothless rolled upright. I call airstrike.
"Actually, we have government backing on this one. You would not believe how many laws even those 'good' vampires break on a yearly basis. Forget you doing airstrikes, we're going to have Warthog top cover."
I'm hurt. Really hurt.
"Well, your attacks are too precise. We need to hose the entire site down with Avenger autocannon fire. It's the only way to be sure."
There's been a little confusion about what I meant in that last Loop. To clarify, when I mention a Warthog in there, it's not the Haloverse one. Haloverse Warthogs, being four-wheeled ground vehicles, cannot provide top cover (a term meaning orbiting aircraft ready to give support).
No, the Warthog that Hiccup is talking about is a real world one. The Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, for which "Warthog" is the colloquialism. It's a ridiculously rugged ground attack aircraft whose main gun (a GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon) is just crazy. It fires 30x173 mm rounds with a muzzle velocity of mach three. At a rate of seventy per second. It's made to kill tanks with, and is the most powerful aircraft mounted "gun" type weapon in the US military. (Hilarious statistic - it is such a powerful weapon that it recoils 25 percent harder than one of the two jet engines the aircraft has can deliver thrust.)