The Thorston twins stood side by side, both slouched, both watching in silence as their father moved back and forth, packing and unpacking. He seemed unable to decide between two different spears. One had a longer blade, the other a better grip.
He chose the long-blade.
Tuffnut the Elder was one of Stoick's greatest warriors—he attended every hunt and his participation was never in question. Ruffnut hated it. She hated that uneasy pit in her stomach that said this was the one her father wouldn't come home from.
"You just got back," Ruffnut said helplessly. That was supposed to be the last hunt of the season. Her father had promised her. The chief had promised the village.
Her father sighed and shouldered his wicker sack.
"I know, pigeon. But this time there'll be no campin', I promise. In 'n' out. Real quick. This time we have a plan."
Ah, yes. The Plan—and not one that involved squirrel hunting. Everyone whispered about this Plan and yet no one knew what it was. Just that, by an unspoken and unanimous acknowledgement, very recent events played into its initiation.
On some fundamental level Ruffnut knew that Hiccup was responsible for this and it made her mad. She didn't care that he had tricked the village—she had already suspected nothing he did in the ring was traditionally heroic long before he admitted it. She didn't care that he coaxed a Night Fury into Berk—she actually found that pretty cool.
She cared that he just endangered her father's life.
"Whelp..." Tuffnut the Elder cleared his throat. He was dreadful at goodbyes. Always had been. "Ship's are about to set sail soon enough—"
"Oh!" Tuffnut yelped. "Wait! Hold up!"
He ran to the other side of the room, stumbled over Ruffnut's outstretched foot, and fell to his knees before a small chest. He emerged after some desperate rummaging and thudded back with his hands cupped out before him.
"Bring these! Tell me how they work."
Their father stared at the four lumpy, wet balls oozing on Tuffnut's palm.
"They're his smelly balls," Ruffnut inflected. Really, Hiccup was the inventor of their age—Tuffnut should just stick to his mediocre weaponry and his admittedly fair grappling.
"Stink balls," Tuffnut corrected with a mean look sent her way. "And they antagonize dragons, as you've pointed out before."
"If you're referring to how they always attack you—"
"They're a great distraction!"
Tuffnut waved his arm in her direction and one of the balls slipped between his fingers. It hit the ground with a disgusting 'squelch' and the goop of pounded insect released a gut-churning odor.
Ruffnut swallowed back the reflexive bile. "Ugh! You...you...!"
She couldn't even think of a good name. Gods, these smelled! Now she smelled!
Her father began laughing, breathing in fouled air without so much as a grimace. It must be a guy thing.
"Well, with any luck the stench will clear us a path straight tae their nest!"
The mirth in the man's face faded and the Thorston patriarch placed a heavy hand on Ruffnut's shoulder.
"Watch after your brother," he said, his voice soft and heavy.
"I will," Ruffnut promised. Tuffnut the Elder smiled, patted her cheek, and straightened.
"Behave," he ordered. He had gone back to his deep, gruff voice. "Both of yeh. I'll be back."
He nodded once to Tuffnut, adjusted his helmet, and walked out the door.
For a moment neither twin spoke. They took in the fading aura of their father, burned the image of his retreating figure into their minds, and prayed to Odin that it would not be their last memory of him.
"You're not watching after me," Tuffnut told her when the silence became too much.
"Someone has to."
"Someone has to watch after you."
"Everyone already watches me. No one cares about you."
"It's 'cus you're uglier. They laugh at you."
Another stretch of silence passed. Tuffnut stepped toward the door.
"Ready to find the others?"
Their father had long disappeared into the muddle of Vikings boarding the ships. Ruffnut wouldn't have to worry about seeing him again. It was bad luck to say two farewells.
Ruffnut gathered her own gruff voice, "Yeah."
They found Snotlout and Fishlegs on the steps of the Mead hall. It was their group's go-to hangout when no one was around to yell at them for being underfoot.
Ruffnut tried not to think about where Astrid might be, but the image of her holding Hiccup back—looking so pained for Hiccup—returned that annoying stomach sickness again. It wasn't like that faint, burning sickness she felt when Astrid bested her in spars; it was a sickness that chilled. It was worse.
"Hey," Snotlout said in a miserable greeting.
"Hey," the twins repeated in unison. No one quite knew what to say.
Tuffnut laid himself vertical across several steps. Ruffnut chose to stand.
Her brother laid a forearm over his eyes and muttered, "Who'd have thought..."
The two boys to his left hummed in agreement.
"Do you think it was the one he shot?" Fishlegs asked. "The Night Fury, I mean. The one in the Ring—"
"We know which one you mean," Snotlout drawled. But he shared the same contemplative look the rest bore.
"Maybe it was," Ruffnut conceded, trying to recall Hiccup's ridiculous claims of downing a Night Fury. "Maybe he was telling the truth."
She looked up the stone staircase and counted thirteen steps to the exact spot where she kissed Hiccup. She felt so confident then; she knew of his false confidence and his implied trickery and she felt special. Never would she have guessed that he had a loyal Night Fury watching over him. Never would she have considered that as his greatest secret. The reason why he was so nervous, why he was so introverted and skittish amidst all the praise.
She had seen the guilt. She had guessed wrong.
Had Astrid known?
The questioned fizzled in her mind quite quickly. Yes, she did. That would explain how she could remain so focused on Hiccup when the two most dangerous dragons in their region were in the same enclosed space as her. Astrid had known Hiccup's big secret, even after she scorned him worse than usual for an entire two weeks beforehand. She had his confidence—just like that. It felt so sudden. So bizarre. So unnatural.
The sound of Astrid Hofferson's voice so near, breaking into her thoughts, caused Ruffnut to visibly gasp. She turned to see the girl in mind running up Huge Hill towards them.
Ruffnut didn't know what to feel anymore. Astrid had clearly known about the Night Fury and yet she couldn't muster the jealousy she thought should be appropriate. Ruffnut also didn't feel particularly possessive about Hiccup. She felt numbed. Disappointed. Disappointed in Hiccup for trusting Astrid over her, disappointed in Astrid for not holding true to her nature, disappointed in their chief, disappointed in herself...
"Our parents are in trouble," Astrid announced as she skidded to a halt in front of them. She was more breathless from desperation than from the run. "Hiccup has a plan to rescue them."
A beat passed and no one said anything. Ruffnut would do it; she knew that, whatever it was, she would do it for Hiccup and for her father and for the village.
"Hel yeah!" Tuffnut crowed pumping a fist in the air. He pushed off from the steps.
Snotlout leapt up as well. "We're going to save the adults? Now this is going to be good!"
Fishlegs pushed himself up with an audible exhale.
"We're going to die," he stated. The other two boys rolled their eyes. Cautiously, Fishlegs added, "But...if it's with Hiccup's plan we might have fun doing it."
Tuffnut and Snotlout stared at him. The girls shared a look in their silence just before the boys started laughing, slapping Fishlegs on the back with heavy fists. Fishlegs gave a shaky smile.
Astrid grinned at them, pleased with their cooperation.
"Come on, he's in the Kill Ring—"
The three boys took that as enough information and immediately began running towards the disaster area.
Astrid looked back at Ruffnut, who had yet to stand from the steps. "Are you coming?"
It was a little awkward between them; this was the first moment they stood face to face since Ruffnut lost her temper the night before.
"Yeah," Ruffnut sighed. Hiccup needed them. She wasn't quite ready to throw in the towel yet, even when her heart wasn't in it.
Astrid wrinkled her nose. "What is that smell?"
They arrived in the Kill Ring to see Hiccup standing before the lever to the Nightmare's cage, one hand on his chin in thought.
Ruffnut had to admire the size difference between Hiccup and his surroundings. He really didn't look like much. But it was this boy who had inadvertently set their parents on a death trip, who caused the greatest commotion in the Kill Ring since Madguts the Murderous challenged a young Stoick the Vast to hólmganga. This singular, short, destructive boy who had the respect of a Night fury.
They came to a stop in the middle of the Ring.
Fishlegs stepped forward with arms akimbo, exuding a new confidence after his recent approval with the other males of their group.
"If you're planning on getting eaten, I'd definitely go with the Gronkle."
Hiccup whirled. Ruffnut could tell by the look on his face that he had not anticipated Astrid bringing all of the trainees. Or even Astrid herself.
Tuffnut knocked Ruffnut on the shoulder as he broke formation and strode right up to Hiccup's face.
"You were wise to seek help from the world's most deadly weapon," he showcased dramatically.
Hiccup stared. "Ah—"
Oh Frigga. He was making adorable faces again.
"It's me," Tuffnut added for his benefit. A large hand smushed Tuffnut's nose as Snotlout shoved him backward.
"I love this plan!"
Ruffnut stomped forward—they didn't even know what the plan was!
Hiccup clearly thought Snotlout's declaration was just as nonsensical.
Ruffnut shouldered Snotlout out of the way, catching the side of his face with her helmet horn.
"You're crazy—I like that."
But you already knew that, didn't you?
Ruffnut had been this close to Hiccup before...but never smelling like skunk cabbage. Hiccup caught one whiff if it and cringed. Ruffnut had less than a blink to curse her brother's name into oblivion before she felt a tug on her braid. She followed it, knowing there was no point in ensnaring Hiccup when she couldn't pull off allure.
Instead, Ruffnut chose to focus on how big Hiccup's eyes looked in his bewilderment.
She liked that look of bewilderment. It looked submissive.
"So...what is the plan?" Astrid asked.
Hiccup looked at her, he looked at all of them and, seeing that they would seriously follow him into battle, he smiled.
"The plan is to follow them to the nest," he stated, still wearing his big grin.
"Uh..." Snotlout had his 'are you serious' face on. "They took all the ships."
Miraculously, Hiccup had one of those faces too. It must be heritable.
"I wasn't referring to sailing," he said patiently. He returned to the massive cage lever. "'Legs, help me with this."
"You want to release the Nightmare?" Snotlout yelped.
Hiccup grinned and Ruffnut felt all her lingering anger with him melt away. It was his crazy grin.
"I want to release all the dragons."
"Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods—"
"I don't think dragons have gods," Tuffnut said to Snotlout, grinning.
Snotlout didn't seem to hear him, too occupied with keeping a brave front in the face of an obvious discomfort around dragons. Ruffnut was sure Snotlout wouldn't mind flying soon enough—he was just a bit more stubborn than most kids their age, an early bloomer in that department, and the transition from touching dragons to riding dragons happened a little fast for him.
"We are flying!" Ruffnut hollered over the wind, more than happy to remind him. She was flying. It was amazing.
Hiccup flew with the most ease atop the Nadder. It told Ruffnut that he had flown dragons before. Well, that and his defensive Night Fury had a saddle on back during the Ring incident. But it was here and now that Ruffnut got to witness. Hiccup had a confidence in the air that they all lacked, a poise he couldn't quite master on land. If Hiccup was a walking disaster in their village, he was the Hotshot of the skies. This was where his prowess was. No one thought to look this high.
No one but him.
Ruffnut would have loved to admire this confident, alluring aura Hiccup exuded in the air, but seeing Astrid seated behind him, her arms wrapped around his torso, brought back that annoying sourness.
Now there were two women who had felt the boniest body in the Barbaric Archipelagoes.
"Yeah...haha..." Snotlout still nervousness with being atop the Nightmare, even if it had taken a liking to him rather quickly.
"You're doing fine," Hiccup coaxed. "Just keep your grip on the base of its horn."
Ruffnut was thankful that a Zippleback had horns. She thought grabbing horns was a lot easier than using rope like the Nadder and Gronkle required, not to mention more stable.
"Hiccup...is this right?" Ruffnut asked. Her dragon kept dipping its head up and down so that she and her brother continually seesawed. She felt like she covered more air vertically than horizontally.
"It's fine," Hiccup began only for Tuffnut to cut in.
"Is mine the alpha head? Because I think it's bigger—"
"Will you shut up? They're equal!" Ruffnut flared. Under her breath she added, "Mine is the alpha head."
Fishlegs raised his hand. "Um...I feel like I have no control over mine. His back half swings from side to side..."
Huh. Fishlegs had the opposite problem as her.
"Your dragons should be in control," Hiccup reminded not just Fishlegs, but everyone. "I never rode a Gronkle but I would trust it to know how to fly in its own way. They're each different."
The little details were starting to emerge as they closed in on the Hooligan ships. The sheer awe and vertigo of flying atop dragons was still as strong as ever, simply less mind-consuming.
"Is that the nest?"
No one had to wonder what he referred to. A giant wall of cloud had presented itself to them, so large it might have been a landmark. The air had an unnatural feel about it—like a barrier to another world.
"We're at the nest!" Snotlout announced. He smiled widely.
"It's not something to celebrate," Hiccup said darkly. Astrid nodded at his back.
Ruffnut felt a shadow pass over her as they came upon the pillowed darkness.
"Here we go..." she muttered. She felt the need to hold her breath with the first plunge into the mist. It was cold, stingingly so. The clouds were thick, but they could still see one another.
"Listen," she heard Astrid say from somewhere above her.
A primordial roar called to them from the bowels of the nest. Ruffnut felt her dragon-head shudder.
"Let's go," Hiccup commanded. He pressed forward on the Nadder and the dragon responded with sharper weaves between sea stacks.
Ruffnut mimicked him—they all did—and soon her surroundings became a blur of brown and grey. No one spoke, too concentrated on flying. The closer they got, the louder and deeper the roars became. Dread began to crawl up their backs and sent a pounding reminder to the base of their minds that this was reality, not a game.
Their surroundings changed all too suddenly. The mists cleared, the sea stacks thinned, and a mess of ships and Vikings and something became all they could focus on.
"Gods...is that it?" Snotlout was the first to utter.
"Yep," Astrid deadpanned.
It was gargantuan, visible even through the haze of clouds. Taller than any tree Ruffnut had climbed and wider than any hill on her island, teeth too big and eyes too small.
Hiccup swooped the Nadder in closer to their cluster of dragons at a sharp, sideways dive. Ruffnut didn't yet know how to do that; his command over the dragon looked effortless.
"Okay, here's the deal," Hiccup said, "I've only encountered this thing once—"
"We've," Astrid corrected.
"Yes, we've," Hiccup fixed without paying her much mind. "So I—we—don't know much about it. We need to get in there, distract it from our parents long enough for them to escape, and I need to get to Toothless."
The screams of Vikings were tragically audible now. Ruffnut saw the beast streamed a jet of fire that could have rivaled the Summer Current in its strength. It's gullet wobble with the expulsion.
"Oh—!" Ruffnut heard Hiccup released a swear she hadn't even heard from Gobber the Belch. She saw Astrid leaning back, just as shocked.
Hiccup pressed forward and, as though responding to an invisible cue, the Nadder tucked its wings in and rocketed at the monster.
"Hiccup!" Fishlegs began, "—what—?"
"Let's follow them!" Snotlout ordered. He was technically ranking as second in this mission so Ruffnut didn't argue.
They pursued Hiccup at a distance to perfectly view the Nadder's flame strike the monster's head. Hiccup and Astrid were out of the danger zone before the beast had recovered from its stun.
In and out, loud and hard—it happened so fast. Only in the aftermath did Ruffnut realize the monster was going to fire at their chief.
Screams met their ears—different from before, full of surprise and disbelief. It was a far more welcomed sound than the earlier cries ones of despair.
Well, that was one way to make an entrance.
"There's dad!" Ruffnut shrieked. Her finger pointed out her father among dozens of others, staring up at them dumbfounded. She felt a thousand times lighter, even in the fire path of the most deranged creature she had ever seen.
Hiccup directed the Nadder back to their ragtag team.
"Ruff, Tuff, watch your backs—move Fishlegs!"
Tuffnut was not watching his back. He was too enthralled with the attention they were getting.
"Look at us! We're on a dragon!" he called, releasing one of the horns to wave his arm around in the air. "We're on dragons, all of us!"
Ruffnut felt the thrill of the awareness as well. She laughed—her father was alive!—and threw her own hand into the air. If they survived this, they would be legends.
"Up! Let's move it!" Hiccup snapped for their attention. Not even Snotlout felt compelled to argue. They followed him to an elevation just above the Death's head. "Fishlegs—break it down."
Fishlegs was too wired to hesitate.
"Okay! Heavily armored skull and tail made for bashing and crushing. Steer clear of both. Small eyes, large nostrils. Relies on hearing and smell."
Damn, even the nerd was all business. He hadn't stuttered once.
Hiccup flicked his tongue over his lips, probably while he processed the information, and immediately began delegating positions.
"Okay. Lout, Legs, hang in its blind spot. Make some noise, keep it confused. Ruff, Tuff, find out if it has a shot limit. Make it mad."
Ruffnut puffed out her chest. "That's my specialty!"
She would impress him. She would impress the village.
"Since when? Everyone knows I'm more irritating, see?" And to prove his claim right, Tuffnut turned his dragon head so that he hung upside-down.
Ruffnut clamped down on the urge to kick his face in. It was at the perfect level.
"Just do what I told you!" Hiccup snapped, exasperated. Great, now he was disappointed in her too. Stupid Tuffnut. "I'll be back as soon as I can!"
They swung out of range with Hiccup focused on the ships and Astrid throwing them a good-luck salute.
Don't think about them, Ruffnut demanded of herself. Think about now.
"Let's do this," she said. She was getting pumped. She was on top of a Zippleback, tasked with antagonizing the largest dragon ever seen. She was making history and doing suicidal, crazy, borderline-stupid things.
Ruffnut bit her lip and grinned.
She had to admire Hiccup's forethought of assigning them the Zippleback; it was a smart match. Two heads with one body, two bodies with one head. Tuffnut and Ruffnut knew exactly which way to swing into the monster's vision. They knew when to call their insults so that one never overlapped the other.
"Bride of Grendel!"
Ruffnut could hear the monster intake its flame. A moment later and it fired—and having the streaming jet of flame just miss them by an arm's reach was an entirely new experience compared to seeing it from afar.
Ruffnut felt her skin burn even when nothing touched her. Never had she felt so alive.
"One more time!" Tuffnut hooted.
Ruffnut thrust her fist in the air. "Yeah! Come on you warty lardass!"
"Snot guzzling shrimp!"
It snarled and fired again. The Zippleback was forced to arch backwards to avoid it. Both twins gripped their respective necks with their thighs and thrust both hands in the air at the peak of momentum.
"Whoo!" Ruffnut screamed into the cold. The air bit the inside of her lungs in a way she didn't know was possible.
They righted again.
"You okay?" Tuffnut hollered from his side.
"Oh yeah!" Ruffnut cackled. "Never been better. How about you Zip?"
The head beneath her glanced up and Ruffnut swore to Odin it smiled.
She grinned. "That's what I'm talking about."
"I don't think it can have many more left," Tuffnut mused in an odd moment of contemplation. "It's just two so far but there's so much fire each time."
"Three," Ruffnut corrected. "The one when we got here, remember?"
"There could have been even more before that," Tuffnut said over her.
"Well, I think we don't have to worry about it anyway," said Ruffnut pointing back at the monster. Apparently it was too distracted to fire at them anymore.
"Woah!" Tuffnut roared. "How did Lout get up there?"
Snotlout was on his hands and knees, bashing the monster in the eye repeatedly with his hammer.
"How did Fish get down there?" Ruffnut countered. Fishlegs was on the ground by the monster's feet, scrambling under the weight of his Gronkle.
"Yeah! You the Viking!" Astrid's cheer took their attention back up to the monster's head.
Snotlout looked up, shocked and delighted with Astrid's positive attention. He had the same dopey look Hiccup had when he looked at Astrid. There was something seriously, seriously wrong with those Horrendous Haddocks.
The twins each startled when Snotlout was knocked free of his footing and sighed when he managed to grab a jutting bone from the monster's skull.
"Not the time Astrid," Ruffnut muttered.
Wait a minute...
"Where did Hiccup go?" Tuffnut wondered aloud, voicing the very question that came to Ruffnut.
"Hey!" Astrid hollered. She swung the Nadder by them. "Get Snotlout out of there!"
Ruffnut wanted to ask where Hiccup was but knew the heat of battle called for something a little more prudent.
"I'm on it!" Tuffnut announced at a shout.
Ruffnut's competitive mind pulled to attention immediately, a feeling augmented when Tuffnut swept his dragon head into hers.
"Hey!" she snapped. "I'm on it first!"
Ruffnut risked lifting herself from her seat to kick Tuffnut in the stomach.
"I'm ahead of you!"
She was trying to keep one eye on the dangerous face they quickly approached but sometimes her brother annoyed her at the worst of times.
"Hey let me drive—!"
The Zippleback took complete control. Sometime while Ruffnut pushed her brother's helmet and he tugged at a fisted braid, the dragon had steered them downward so that they sheered over the monster's maw. Snotlout took a dangerous leap from its nose at just the right moment.
Ruffnut and her brother stared at each other in stunned silence. Snotlout clung to the junction of the Zippleback's neck.
"I can't believe that actually worked!" Tuffnut exclaimed.
"Yes! It worked! Now let's get own!" Snotlout grunted. His grip slipped against the scales.
"Going down!" Tuffnut announced before his smile faltered. "Right—he didn't give us landing lessons..."
"Zip, you know how to land, right?" Ruffnut asked her head. She felt slightly stupid for the content of the question.
The Zippleback heads each shared a look as thought to say, "We know how to land without Vikings hanging off of us."
"Why are you calling him Zip?" Tuffnut asked her.
"I'm calling them both Zip!"
"You can't call both heads Zip," Tuffnut sneered. "They'll get confused."
Ruffnut griped the horns tighter as she felt the dragon rear before touch down.
"But it's one dragon—oof!"
The landing was a little rough for her tastes. The crown of the dragon's head struck her sternum, knocking the wind from her. Tuffnut had been thrown from his head altogether.
Snotlout slid onto the ground in a boneless heap.
"Well...I'm not doing that again," he grunted into the gravel.
An explosion bloomed in the sky and all three of them looked up in time to see the Night Fury rocket overhead, Hiccup atop.
Snotlout's panicked cry took their attention from Hiccup to the girl spinning through the air.
"What happened?" Ruffnut gasped. How was what she meant to ask, but she hardly had the time to feel horrified let alone ask the right questions. They'd been so preoccupied with landing and getting Snotlout away from the dragon that...how did...? She was just... Why were all these things happening so quickly?
Was this battle? This mess of noise and scattered altercation in a singularly focused state of mind?
Fishlegs stumbled up to them; his face and arms were scraped from a rough landing.
"It was going to eat her," he huffed as they watched, frozen, while Astrid's figure cart-wheeled down, "and then Hiccup—Night Fury—shot! And she fell—"
A black blur swooped in and snatch Astrid by the foot just above the water, swinging her upright and dropping her safely on the ground. It happened just as fast and suddenly as Astrid's fall.
"OH YES!" Tuffnut cheered, both fists in the air. "Did you see that?"
Cheers flourished from all around them.
"Hahaha..." Snotlout gave a flat laugh. "Yeah—almost killed her. Cool. But yeah, she's safe."
"Hiccup was all the way up in the sky and he managed to make it back down and catch her before she hit," Fishlegs gushed. "That's a Night Fury, for you!"
Ruffnut ignored them, she kept one hand over her eyes and watched as Hiccup continued to climb and climb.
"Hey guys!" Astrid was sprinting towards them. Her hair was a mess and her face as wildly flushed as the night Ruffnut caught her sneaking back into the village.
Something identified in the recesses of her mind and Ruffnut felt cautiously relieved.
"Astrid!" the guys chorused.
"What as it like?" Fishlegs asked breathlessly. Snotlout shoved him back.
"Are you okay?"
Astrid came sliding to a stop and immediately took to scanning the skies.
"I'm fine," she said shortly. "Where is he?"
"He was heading up," Ruffnut answered and she too resumed her searching.
Vikings began to gather around them, attracted by the dragon riders and a relatively safe distance from the monster. The chief and Gobber jogged past Ruffnut to stand a few steps before her.
Fishlegs began pointed enthusiastically.
"There! He's reaching an altitude that could be dangerous..." Fishlegs voice dropped to a murmur. "It's harder to breath the higher you climb—we didn't get half that height before. I noticed on the way over—"
"He's coming back," Ruffnut cut in. Hiccup and the Night Fury pulled off a clean reversal and now followed the same path they just flew at a dangerously fast speed.
"What's he doin?" Stoick asked. His face was stark white beneath the red of his beard.
"Watch," Astrid said.
The piercing wail of a Night Fury's fire told of their intention and the tribe witnessed Hiccup and the dragon release an attack in the scoop of their dive. The combined force of speed and power had the effect of Thor's hammer itself.
The beast went down in a scream of rage. The Vikings began cheering like an event at Thorsday Thursday.
"Did yeh see that?"
"Knocked the thing clean off its feet!"
Ruffnut hadn't yet begun to voice her support when the downed creature roused. It was like something out of a nightmare. Ragged, bat-like wings stretched out, shaking crushed rock from the stretched leather.
A thrill of terror ran through her stomach. Ruffnut had thought the monster looked big from the skies, but even then she felt the slightest measure of control with the safety of flight. She had no such comfort on the ground.
How helpless must her father have felt? Spears and axes would be useless against this. No amount of training or study could prepare anyone for survival. Their parents must have looked at this creature and known that they were going to die.
"There he is!" a Viking from the back cried out, and, sure enough, suddenly Hiccup was back, darting between sea stacks.
"Yeah! Hiccup, go!"
Tuffnut threw himself to his knees and thrust his hands in the air.
The beast followed, gargantuan and appalling, plowing through the very sea stacks Hiccup had to weave.
The cheers ceased immediately. It was amazing how quickly dread could overtake the excited heart but Ruffnut felt the plunging sensation when they took to the open skies with jormungand himself in pursuit.
He was so little—they both were—what hope did he have?
Hiccup and the dragon flew up and up until the clouds swallowed both and the beast. Ruffnut hadn't the sense to wonder at how big clouds actually were to conceal a behemoth.
"He's dead," Snotlout deadpanned.
"Shut up," Ruffnut snapped. She was shocked to find her voice dual and looked over to see Astrid giving her the same startled look.
Booms and flashes Thor had no claim over took the skies. The clouds lit up from within, the silhouette of the monster contorted into a different position every time. Ruffnut grit her teeth harder with every flicker of light, drew her breath deeper for every rumble of contact. She waited for a body to fall from the sky; she waited for fire and death. It killed her, strained her heart, but she couldn't so much as blink.
Hiccup and the Night Fury had burst forth from the clouds.
Ruffnut opened her mouth, her cheer already on the tip of her tongue, when the clouds darkened and broke and the monster barreled downward.
It was enraged.
Ruffnut found herself gripping someone's arm. She couldn't possibly look away from the skies but she felt the slender arm slide under her grip until Astrid's hand clutched hers.
She held onto the other girl like the last five years meant nothing. This was the hand she held when Gobber told scary stories, and when their mothers left them in the same house during dragon raids, and when the boys made one of them cry.
This was the hand she needed to hold now, because one boy was about to make them both cry.
"What is he doing?" Astrid whispered. Her grip had become so uncomfortably tight that Ruffnut had to look at her. She had never seen such white fear on Astrid's face before. "What is he doing?"
Hiccup was flying straight down, the monster much too close. He was making no effort to escape its path.
"He...no, he'll be fine," Ruffnut whispered so that only Astrid could hear.
But they weren't pulling up—why weren't they pulling up? The beast was behind them, its jaws gaping and grabbing with certain obliteration radiating from beyond the mammoth teeth.
Their hands tightened around each other. Astrid shook her head.
"They're going to hit—" she started to say when Hiccup and the Night Fury turned on their backs and fired a single, blue flame into the inviting mouth of the monster.
Then they pulled up.
It happened so fast, with the confusing speed Ruffnut should have expected in battle by now. She didn't know where Hiccup and Toothless went—they disappeared almost as soon as they fired—and almost as soon as they fired the monster struck the ground.
An indescribable explosion swallowed everything within her vision. Every Viking was blown off his feet. Astrid and Ruffnut were thrown away from each other, their faces pelted with debris and heat. From the ground Ruffnut squinted at the skyward inferno. It went on forever, in time and in height. A buzzing nagged her left ear and she resigned herself to the possibility that her hearing had been damaged.
She waited and waited for Hiccup to rise up out of the fire.
The flames began to die down. Smoke overtook, billowing and black, then wisping into the thick air.
Hiccup and the Night Fury never emerged. Neither did the monster.
It wasn't until the very last resonation of the eruption died did Stoick the Vast dare run into its stilled core.
Ruffnut pulled herself to her feet, spurred by the movements of those around her. Ash fell around her like snow. A pall of smoke lingered over the grounds, so thick it was impossible to breath without feeling like she would choke. But she was a Viking and no Viking would complain about unbreathable conditions.
The Hooligans followed after their chief.
"Hiccup!" Stoick called with his hands cupped around his mouth. "Son!"
Ruffnut moved at a slower pace, keeping in line with the other Vikings. She wanted desperately to run forward and find Hiccup and, at the same time, was too scared to search in earnest. Too scared of what she may find.
She didn't care how fast Fishlegs said a Night Fury was—it couldn't escape that blast.
Ruffnut almost lost sight of Stoick in the wafting smog. He could be seen kneeling before a dark heap with stooped shoulders that bode ill omens. Her legs weakened as she realized it was the Night Fury.
Just the Night Fury.
Ruffnut slowed and stopped by the Vikings closest. No one broke the line. Not her, not Astrid, not Gobber. It was something more than respect that stopped them. Something tragic. The answer to the question no one dared to ask.
More than smoke saturated the air. Guilt and shame and disbelief bowed so many heads that Ruffnut thought she would never see a smile within the village again.
The dragon moaned and moved. It's wings unfurled.
Ruffnut's breath caught in her throat—there was Hiccup! Her glimpse was brief; Stoick had staggered forward almost immediately and blocked most of her view with his legendary broadness. She could still see the top of Hiccup's head tipped back over his father's arm as Stoick pressed an ear to his chest.
Ruffnut bit the inside of her cheek.
Stoick sat back.
The words shot through Ruffnut like one of Thor's thunderbolts.
Stoick still sang praises but none of it could be heard. Too many people were cheering, and clapping, and sighing in tearful relief.
"He alive!" Tuffnut repeated. He shook her shoulder as if sensing she was caught in some state of shock.
"He's alive," Ruffnut mumbled. Then again, louder, "He's alive!"
Her cheers mingled with the uproar behind them.
A large arm wrapped around her. Ruffnut looked up to see her father, his eyes wet and his arms encircling both of his children.
"I'm proud o' yeh. Both o' yeh."
Ruffnut thought she would never see a frown in the village again.
Ruffnut raked the whetting stone against her blade. The sound made a scraping sound that had long since become a comfort to her.
She sat outside her family home, her spear across her lap and her skin soaking up a lucky day of sun. This was one of the few moments Ruffnut got to herself. The entire village had been put to work to help accommodate their new residents, and in times that she wasn't assigned to labor Ruffnut had villagers—older and younger—approaching her for flying tips. She was one of the Soaring Six. She already had more to her name than she ever thought she would achieve.
But Ruffnut had not forgotten her first intended claim to fame, nor did she plan on abandoning that particular ambition. She just had some more competition than before.
Ruffnut proceeded to sharpen her spear, trying to let the sound of stone against metal chase the negative thoughts from her head—but her thoughts were now on Hiccup.
They took his leg. It was an awesome wound, and the way he got it was awesome, but some part of Ruffnut felt very, very sorry for Hiccup because he wouldn't see it as awesome. Even when he would pretend to. He was too weird. Of anyone in the village, Hiccup would be the Viking to find no pride in bearing a missing leg.
She would stop by the chief's house every now and then to visit Hiccup. The night before she even had the guts to breech the subject of marriage with her father.
Sadly, the grating screech of her brother's voice would always override that of a whetting stone. Tuffnut bolted up the footpath to their house. Ruffnut remained focused on her filing. If she got a little more impressive with her spear handling she might get the attention of the chief.
"What?" she asked when he came near enough to hear.
Why was he even here? He and Snotlout were supposed to be giving a lesson to a couple Vikings—one on a Nadder and one on a Gronkle.
"He's up!" Tuffnut declared when he came to a stop.
Ruffnut looked up from her work. "Huh?"
Tuffnut rolled his eyes. "Hiccup, melon head. He's awake."
Ruffnut threw her weapon to the ground and bolted passed her brother, making sure to knock him hard in the shoulder by way of thanks.
The chief's house wasn't exactly close to the Thorston residence, but Berk was a small enough island that Ruffnut closed in on the Haddock grounds in no time. A crowd had already gathered at the front of the chief's home...but did not press at the door.
Ruffnut frowned, her run slowing.
Was he outside already? He shouldn't be outside!
Wait...why should she care if he was outside? What a weird concern to have. She wasn't his mother.
Ruffnut picked up speed again, choosing to focus on what mattered.
Yes he was outside—she could see him now. The crowed had broken for a moment and from her place on the neighboring hill Ruffnut could see he was smiling.
He was awake—he was alive and he was awake. Fever had not taken him.
Ruffnut smiled as well.
Then she saw Astrid grab Hiccup's shirt and kiss him.
The crowed 'ooh'-ed and laughed. Hiccup had that goofy smile on his face. His father's hand was on his shoulder, a saddle was handed to him and everything in that moment seemed right.
Ruffnut was not a part of it. She was just a witness from afar.
Oh no, it was that nasty sickness again—the heavy, cold squeezing thing—but it was higher. It was in her chest and she really couldn't breath. She didn't know when she stopped and she didn't know how to start again.
She didn't even notice when she had stopped running.
Her eyes stared ahead as the Night Fury bounced around on top of Vikings like an excitable puppy. People were still laughing—why were they so happy? How could people so close to her exude this kind of merriment while she felt nothing?
Nothing she wanted to feel.
Almost as though feeling her gaze on him, Hiccup's eyes were drawn to where Ruffnut stood. His smile waned and she could only imagine the look on her face to make his happiness fall like that. He didn't look away in shame, nor did his face fill with pity the way Astrid's had weeks ago. He turned toward her, his lips parted and his chest moved with an intake of air; he looked as though he planned to mouth something at her.
Stoick jostled Hiccup's shoulder and began to herd his son inside, damning Ruffnut to suffer unsatisfied curiosity.
Ruffnut winced at his wince. It was too early for him to be moving around so much!
Some of the crowd followed the men into their home—the village laeknir was pushing through, demanding to see his patient. Others moved away with smiles, looking forward to spreading the news to anyone who hadn't heard of the young hero's awakening.
Only one hadn't moved with the masses, choosing instead to remain stationary. Someone who had followed Hiccup's line of sight and now stared at Ruffnut from across the hill.
Astrid had seen the look shared between Ruffnut and Hiccup. She knew something had transpired between the two of them, just as Ruffnut had sensed the night Astrid and Hiccup disappeared. Astrid didn't let anger or suspicion overtake her feathers. She didn't storm after Hiccup and demand an explanation.
She met Ruffnut's eyes and she nodded.
For the first time in their lives, Ruffnut felt Astrid acknowledge her as a rival. And, oddly enough, she found more satisfaction from that than the first time she kissed Hiccup.
Ruffnut nodded back. Her smile returned.
The End. Yay!
There was one thing I changed from the movie in this entire chapter: it was where Astrid and Ruffnut stood when they were watching the skies for Hiccup. That is all. The rest is all on-screen accuracy. I wanted this all to be perfectly plausible to coincide with the movie.
I think HTTYD was a movie about friendship first, family second, and romance tagged on the end, and I wanted to salute that priority at the end here. I would much rather think this movie could have been about two different friendships rather than two possible romances.
Thanks for reviewing you guys! Keep your eyes open for more stuff from me; it's bound to pop up sooner or later. :)