Alright we're getting a little bit closer to the end of part 2. There's about 4-5 more chapters in this part (depending on how things turn out as I have 2 chapters that might be short enough to combine into one long chapter but then I have another really long chapter than I might have to split in two).
Either way, there's a lot of different character connections starting now between pretty much everyone so if you like character dynamics then you're probably going to love the rest of part 2.
Part Two: We are Searching for Significance
Chapter Twenty-Three: Alike and Agile, Part 4
"Albar, I'm pretty sure your dragon is broken." Cami said dryly as they all did their best to dig a big enough burial hole despite their lack of shovels.
"What makes you think Toothless is broken?" Hiccup teased at asking, even though he knew what her answer would be.
"Oh, I don't know, maybe because he maimed a whole bunch of enemy soldiers instead of killing them." She shoved some dirt in his face as she jabbed her fingers into the ground.
"Toothless prefers not to kill people anymore." Hiccup said, shrugging. The night fury had made that very clear between the final events they had on Berk and the incident with Lizbeth. He didn't exactly understand the rationale since Toothless could flattened pretty much any obstacle whenever he wanted, but he simply figured that the heavy burden that came alongside constant killing most likely outweighed the convenience of power. Hiccup's chest swelled a little at the thought, humbled and proud to have such a dragon walk beside him.
"So he leaves them almost dead instead?" Cami looked over that the guards that they were going to bury but instead were going to be forced to leave tied up in the flats. Some of them were badly bruised, others had major body parts cleanly bitten off. But none of them were dead. Some were probably in more than enough pain to wish they were dead, and Cami made it clear that she had no interest in tending to any of their wounds.
Camicazi turned to Toothless who was lazily lounging beside the digging group instead of helping. "You're worse than Albar. Either finish the job cleanly or don't start it."
"He doesn't understand you." Hiccup said, smiling a little.
"Yes he does, I can tell by the way his eyes moves when he hears humans speaking. He understands at least the general idea of what we're saying."
::Is that true?:: Hiccup looked over at Toothless, trying to be discrete enough so that it didn't seem like he was communicating with the dragon. Though his question was a doubled whammy. If Toothless simply answered yes or no without further explanation than at least he would know that he did understand other humans since he knew what Hiccup was even asking about. On the other hand, if Toothless didn't than he'd know for sure that dragons really didn't understand human speech as much.
::It's not that simple.:: Toothless shook his head a little, shaking off a few bugs from the grass that had made a home on Toothless's skin.
Hiccup's eyes clicked up. He had at least understood what Cami had said.
::Once I'm around anything long enough I can pick up on their speech patterns and what certain sounds mean. I can understand you perfectly but with other humans it's more observational than anything else. Also, if you haven't noticed, I can read your thoughts, and whether you realize it or not you react and think about what people say to you, that comes in handy a lot when trying to interpret what people around you are saying.::
That was a lengthier explanation than Hiccup every expected to get from the night fury and he stopped his digging, blinking multiple times, simply to show how utterly shocked he was.
::I, uh, I guess I never thought of it that way.::
::Well it would be the same if you were surrounded by lots of dragons and had to use me as a means to understand them.::
Hiccup shivered at the thought, though he wasn't sure if the wave that ran up his spine was excited or nervous at the thought of being surrounded by dragons he'd have to learn to communicate with.
He'd kind of hoped for the conversation to keep going but Toothless seemed uninterested again and laid his head back down to rest some more.
"You should teach your dragon not to be so noble. Especially not in this kill or be killed atmosphere around the Saxons." Cami said suddenly, still digging and not looking up.
Hiccup chewed on his lip, wondering if the gnawing was angry or nervous. Nobility wasn't something he had to teach Toothless, and it wasn't something he was actively going to tell him to leave behind. His hands balled in the dirt. His gnawing turning angry for sure.
"Yeah well what do you kn—!" Hiccup began to yell but Cami silenced him with her own words. Her oddly calm yet firm words.
"I know more than you." She said before looking over at Hiccup, her eyes glazed over and hollowed. "How stained are your hands with the blood of others?"
Hiccup gulped. The question alone enough to make him falter but coupled with the look in Camicazi's eyes his digging stopped completely. Though not for the scared reasons he had originally thought, no, this was because he could actually answer the question in a way he never thought he would.
"I've killed people before…" He said, wondering why the words came out proud when just saying them made his stomach churn. He looked up for Camicazi's reaction, hoping to catch her off guard just once, but she just had her eyes closed.
"And yet you still smell of your mother's milk." She sighed. "You're so young, don't sound proud of killing people. It's not like we're competing in some blood hunt."
"I-I'm not." Hiccup stuttered. "I just thought you should at least know that I'm not as helpless as you think." The words tasted like a lie when they left his tongue and floating into the air. He smacked his lips, lapping up the bad taste.
"Why'd you do it?" Cami asked.
"They were…they were going to kill Alastair. So I killed two guards that were in my way."
"Two guards, huh?" Hiccup thought he almost saw a smile graze her lips, but it was a sad one at the most. "So you snuck into prison to get your brother?"
Hiccup gulped again, almost—and not for the first time while talking to Camicazi—his made-up back story. Alastair was his older brother, and he was most definitely not the Viking Prince. Camicazi already knew he was a Viking, so what was his new back story going to be? Alastair would probably smack him for not thinking that through when he admitted to Cami being correct of him being a Viking.
"Yeah…" was all Hiccup offered. "I'd do anything for my brother, since he's done so much for me."
"That's very noble of you." Cami continued digging, and another smile flickered on her face, but this time it was most definitely a happier one. "Like rider, like dragon."
Hiccup smiled to himself before turning his head over to Camicazi who was invested in digging, moving quickly despite the arrow-shot injury to her arm, but she certainly didn't look like she was going to talk much anymore. He let out a sign and scanned the circle of diggers instead.
Asha was in her own thoughts as per the usual, though it didn't escape Hiccup's thoughts of how pale she consistently kept looking. He left himself a mental note to ask her if she was getting sick at a more convenient time. Hookfang and Lashmed were over the right preparing the bodies to be buried, though not before making sure they stripped the guards of anything valuable that wasn't too heavy to carry on their trip back to the dragon slavery.
All of the other prisoners had chosen to leave besides Alastair's friend Ruffnut and her two companions whose names escaped Hiccup. He had been briefly introduced to them but nothing beyond that. Plus it seemed as if Alastair was having a little fun talking with someone from her home island. He smiled at the thought, liking to see her so normal, even if the situation wasn't normal at all as they were digging a grave for guards they had all killed.
If anything, Hiccup felt an odd contentment wash over him even in a lull between one rescue mission and another. Something about Camicazi offering to teach him how to be a better protector left him feeling hopeful, Alastair being safe made him feel secure, and—he looked over the sleeping night fury beside him and smiled—Toothless being so friendly and familiar with him lately made him feel special.
Hiccup actually felt good for the first time in a while it seemed. Even if his leg still throbbed from his injury and they still had another mission where he would essentially be useless—only reduced to watching Camicazi and following her lead which he promised himself he would actually do this time—he felt good knowing he had things to look forward to.
Astrid was actually glad for the time they spent digging, even if it was for a grave. The light breeze outside left a biting chill but even so having air running through her left her blood feel renewed. Much better than being drenched in her own nervous sweat on her way to a Roman prison.
That, and it was great to speak to Ruffnut again.
Her two traveling companions, however, were a different story.
"I'm tired of digging." Furfoot sighed, picking the dirt from under his fingernails with a pout. "I thought we had a plan that we were sticking to."
"We are this is just a little unexpected detour." Ruffnut rolled her eyes at the younger boy's childishness but looked affectionate nonetheless. Astrid blinked at the exchange, not remember Ruffnut ever giving such an affectionate look, especially after Tuffnut left to be a warrior.
"Ugh, I always feel like you and Thuggory are on top of things and you never tell me anything." Furfoot let out another sigh, flicking a large collection of dirt he picked from his nails into the distance.
"I'm just about as lost as you are, Furfoot." Thuggory shrugged. "But you know Ruffnut, always three steps ahead." He tossed dome dirt at her head playfully "Or at least she's good at faking like she's on top of things."
Ruffnut not-so-lightly punched his arm before tossing her dirt filled hair behind her ear.
"I'm glad to see that you've made some good companions." Astrid smiled, her thoughts more inwardly noted even though she spoke them aloud.
"You too." Ruffnut shared he grin, "though the Viking Prince and a night fury were the last people I would've guessed for you to team up with."
"I'm kind of relieved that you're not freaking out more about it." Astrid looked down a little, still letting out sighs of relief in how easily Ruffnut accepted her dragon association despite her entire reason for leaving Merkskof in the first place.
"After all I've been through around here, I can accept just about anything. Besides, you've got it worst than I do."
"Oh yeah, how do you figure?" Astrid asked, not really denying it, but curious to know Ruffnut's reasoning.
"You're taking sides."
Astrid didn't expect that to be her answer and she blinked a few times.
"I could care less about these Sanctuary people, Emperor Dagur's dream for a better future, Ragnarok, or whether or not dragons are free or slaves. I know it sound awful but I don't really care about any of that stuff." Ruffnut continued to explain. "I just…I just want my brother back. But you—" she looked over at Astrid "—you gave up everything you left to do for this 'save the world' cause. I'm not sure if I admire you or think you're stupid."
They both laughed at that.
"I'd be fine if you thought I was stupid." Astrid scratched her cheeks, smudging dirt over pale cheeks, rosy from the cold. "Odin knows I've made some stupid calls so far."
"Like waiting so long to tell Prince Hiccup that you're a girl…and he still doesn't know your real name!" Ruffnut lightened the mood and threw some dirt in her face. "Get it together, Astrid!"
"Keep it down!" Astrid bit. "Keep everything down. No one here knows that Hiccup's a prince. As far as you're concerned I'm Alastair, he's Albar and we're brothers, got it?"
"Ugh, this is so complicated." Ruffnut scratched her head. "But I still can't see the harm in at least telling Princ-Albar your name."
"It's really not that simple to explain…" Astrid took her hands out of the dirt, fists balling on the knees of her pants, not minding the dirt stains.
"Try me, we've got time."
Astrid let out a sigh. "O-okay then…have you ever felt like you were born in the wrong body?" Astrid knew she was treading in dangerous waters when she saw Ruffnut give her a peculiar look. The kind of look Ruffnut only gave once in a blue moon. A mix of concern, confusion, and slight fear. Almost close to the face she made when she hear Tuffnut was missing.
Still, she continued speaking. "Almost like who you are isn't who you were meant to be."
"I…don't follow you." Ruffnut sighed.
"I know…I almost don't follow me either." Astrid laughed, a pitiful, confused laugh. She clutched at her chest, it was bound down as usual, she was almost used to it. Almost used to a lot of things that she never thought she would.
"Astrid…" Ruffnut said softly, and Astrid reacted slowly to her own name being called. If she had heard 'Alastair' her head would've popped up immediately. Never did Astrid think she'd be so unused to her own name. That her own name would disgust her so much. Astrid Hofferson, a sheltered, spineless girl living a wasted life. And for the few moments—the last moments—she was Astrid again was when she was in the middle of the burnt remains of her home, her neighbor telling her she was a horrible person for leaving.
Astrid Hofferson was a horrible person.
Alastair Ackerman was something different, though. Someone different. Being a boy, traveling with a banished prince, running from rules, from everyone and basically on a mission to save the world. Alastair was a phoenix that rose from Astrid's ashes and gave new life to a withered body.
She only wished Alastair was completely real, and not just a fake body and a fake person. No matter how much she called herself Alastair, bound her chest, made Hiccup call her his brother. She was still a girl, she was still Astrid. And it made her feel uncomfortable. Like Alastair was constantly scratching underneath her skin, begging to come out but her skin was too taught and wouldn't burst. The feeling was itchy, irritating…uncomfortable.
She didn't even realize she was crying when she felt Ruffnut's hand on her shoulder, and felt the gentle rivers of tears going down her cheeks.
"You know, you always used to tell Atlas that you wish you were a boy like him." Ruffnut said, a sentimental smile on her face, though sad nonetheless. "And—"
"And he'd say that I didn't have to think like that because I could be like him and still be a girl. I know…" Astrid finished for her, sharing the same smile. "Thing is, I actually believed him back then." She sighed "But now…"
"You don't?" Ruffnut finished this time.
"Yeah…" She held her arms up, they smelled of dirt and sweat, and wrapped them around herself, a miserable hug. "I don't want to be Astrid anymore…I don't want to be reminded of anything but the life I've had for the past few months. It's been hell but it's the only time I've ever felt truly alive."
There was silence after that, not from lack of concern one Ruffnut's part, Astrid knew that. She just didn't know what to say. So they both just sat in silence. Eyes darting, fingers fidgeting, and minds racing.
"Even after I found out about what happened to Merkskof," Ruffnut finally spoke. "I honestly can't say that I regret that life. I don't regret being me, my name, my gender, myself."
More silence, though it only lingered for a few moments before Astrid jerked up, feeling Ruffnut's hand run through her hair for a moment, little blonde tuffs curling around Ruffnut's fingers. Ever since Astrid had cut it much shorter than she had on Berk the feeling was a little freer.
"Your hair looks way nicer short than mine did." Ruffnut laughed. "I was glad when I could grow it out again," she shook her hair. It was shoulder length and still much shorter than Astrid knew Ruffnut was used to.
"I'm sure." Astrid laughed, it was a bit forced, but still felt reliving.
"So," Ruffnut sat back, giving up on the digging for the moment and putting her arms behind her head as she lay on the grass. "Do you really feel like a boy now?"
"I-I—" Astrid stuttered, blushing. "I mean, it's certainly more convenient to be one. There a few things that I could do without, like these stupid bindings, and…" She looked up at Hiccup, her intense gaze making her think back to when she was in the prison on Berk…when she kissed him and she sighed. "A few other things…" she landed on. "But to be honest, I don't think I ever really felt like a girl to begin with, now I feel like I'm just allowed to be whoever I want."
"As long as you're happy, or at least as happy as you can get given the situation of you being banished with a prince and all." Ruffnut smiled and Astrid shared it.
"It's better than living the way I was."Astrid shrugged simply, deciding not to dwell on the casual nature of her own words. "Besides, he's a large reason as to why I'm even as happy as I am now." At that—as if knowing he wasn't mentioned—Nimfir crawled up Astrid's arm, perching himself on her shoulder and licking her cheek. "You all are." Astrid corrected herself quickly though meaning it nonetheless.
She flicked her gaze over to Hiccup who was over near Camicazi, though he didn't look like he was all there. He was spacing out so much more lately and it was starting to worry Astrid. She regretted the short time they had been apart only because it seemed like she had missed something. A lot of somethings. A lot of important somethings that she wasn't too sure she liked Camicazi knowing before her. Not really because of any conventional reason, and Thor forbid she was jealous, but it was something stranger, that she couldn't pinpoint, but it left the space between her and Hiccup starting to feel greater and greater, and just the feeling gave her skin chills.
She ran a dirty hand over her arm to quell her quaking and stood.
"I'll be back," She told Ruffnut.
"Hey." Astrid greeted, raising a hand almost awkwardly when Hiccup peaked his gaze up, a quiet and content look catches her's from under his lashes.
"Hey," he immediately perked up, smiling widely. Toothless raised an ear to the perk, and gave a smile of his own noticing that Astrid had joined them.
"How are you doing?" Astrid reached over, just barely touching his leg but not yet brushing the skin.
"Eh, the scratches I got during the raid on Berk were worse." He winced a little, trying to laugh it off. "But it at least with those it didn't hurt to walk."
"Well we should put some ice on it when we can." She said.
"That's probably not going to happen. We're roughing it out here with the Bogs, I'm pretty sure ice isn't going to be as readily accessible as it was back on Berk or even on Johann's ship."
Astrid gave a nod, not even thinking of that. She wanted to slap herself for getting a little too comfortable with living easily. Just the few months she spent in the palace had softened her standards, and even though her, Hiccup, and Toothless were on their own for a little while the creature comforts of Johann's ship far outweighed the little time they spent running through the outskirts of the Archipelago.
"Still, we need to treat this somehow or else—"
"Alastair, I'm fine, really, no need to go all mommy-mode on me." He slapped his chest a little. "I'm a big boy."
Astrid almost laughed at the gesture, but not the statement itself. She could see it, Hiccup's growth. He was getting stronger, getting more attached to goals that were reachable. It had worried her when all he wanted was Berk's respect, and even more so when all he wanted was to 'save the world'. She'd rather him go after the more reachable goals first, and hopefully they'd all add up to achieving the bigger ones.
Still, it was a little sad, seeing him grow more and realizing that the more he figured out who he was, the less she knew anything about herself.
She took a moment while Hiccup was occupied to just look at him, his features the way his hands moves, his nose wrinkled cause he had a bit of a sniffle but refused to bring up his neck sash. His hair was getting a little longer, his skin rosier from being out in the crisp winter breeze with the Bogs for so long.
All at once, she realized again all the things she truly liked about him, but somehow it was different. So much more different than when she'd fumble and blush back at the palace, yet no word she knew in either of the two languages she now spoke could pinpoint it.
"Alastair." Hiccup's voice suddenly broke her thoughts and she perked up, realizing she had just been sitting there, her gaze down in the hole everyone was digging at that point.
"Hmm?" She hummed, as casually as she could muster.
She wasn't exactly expecting an apology.
"I said I'm sorry."
"No, I got that, I just don't get why you're apologizing."
"Because I feel like I haven't been living up to what I said."
Astrid blinked, almost about to say how she still wasn't following him when Hiccup continued to speak.
"I promised you back at Merkskof that I'd protect you, and I haven't been doing that." He looked at her, dead in the eye, that look that always made her gulp. "I swear, I'm going to do better," Hiccup said firmly. "I'm going to be taking lessons with Camicazi so I can get better at protecting all of you."
"Y-you…" Astrid began, almost saying that Hiccup didn't need to do that. Almost wanting him to stay the way he was simply because it would mean that he needed her. But she swallowed back all of those things because of that gaze. It always made her swallow back anything she had in mind to say but, this time, it was also…different. Before it was because she was subjected to such an intense gaze, but now, she felt like he wasn't really looking at her. It was almost like he was looking at something unreachable to her but all the more real to him, and it left her feeling distant and torn through.
"Alright" was all Astrid could say, a nod in her words as she began to turn away. "But—"
"We're just about ready to bury these deadbeats."Astrid heard Camicazi speak loudly before she could finish the sentence, or even finish the thought pattern of where she wanted that sentence to go. But given the wash of relief that flooded over her when she realized the mission was going to start back up was enough to made her feel content with leaving the thought and, whatever words that would come after it, unsaid.
Lashmed and Hookfang dragged over some of the guards from the heap Cami had left them in, some of Toothless's non-kills looking up at Cami as she gave them a triumphant look that was not a smile but certainly not void of pride.
"As always, I will honor the fallen, even the fallen of the opposite side. Any death means a life was taken and must be rendered judgment past the branches of Midgard, I can't say that I feel sorry for you, though, I'm not decent enough to pity you." She stepped over to the guards. "I know Sanctuary's cause can be considered noble to some, but to be honest…I don't really care about any of that."
"Cami…" Asha interjected, crossing her arms in almost a warning, but Camicazi didn't seemed phased, the whole burial speech—if it was—seeming more like a vent than a real service. Astrid still gulped at the words, finding it almost scary how she had heard the same things from Ruffnut just a little while ago.
"I'm going to go to Yggdrasil and get back what was taken from me." Camicazi stepped and looked right into the eyes of a dying man, her expression almost undefined. "You can try and stop me but you can't…because I'm going to survive…"
"D-Dagur will…" One of the guards tried to choke out, but Camicazi kicked him down, stepping on his neck and not even flinching when he let out moans of agony. Though no one moved, Astrid noticed, Asha closed her eyes in disappointment, Lashmed and Hookfang in submission, and Astrid knew it was not her place to interfere with these people but she wasn't too surprised when Hiccup hobbled up to her and kicked her leg off the man's throat, not even thinking as he used his bad leg and gave a loud hiss afterwards.
"I keep telling you to toughen up, Albar." Camicazi gave a hiss of her own.
"I know you're merciless but try to have a heart." Hiccup told Cami, softly, gently, looking amazed and scared of her all at the same time.
Camicazi laughed at that, and Astrid half expected the reply the bog gave.
"Can't have what I was never born with."
Hiccup could only blink at that, but that glimmer in his eyes still remained. Astrid knew that look all too well. Camicazi was too dazzling for Hiccup to comprehend. Too impressive, too scary, too ahead of his own reach. The fun and thrill that came in chasing after the unattainable, trying to match her power, her skill, her cunning. It was a goal for Hiccup and Astrid could smell the blood of his trail now.
Camicazi sparkled at a distance that Hiccup strove to reach towards, and yet…Astrid felt left in the dark. Confused, bound down, and losing her inner light.
It was a little degrading for Hiccup, riding on Toothless with Camicazi while the others ran behind. The glided low to the ground, something Toothless didn't particularly enjoy because it took more strength to stay elevated but Cami demanded they stay low so she could readily make calls when she needed.
Hiccup would've argued that she could've just ran in front if that's how she felt but he knew she was recovering—whether she knew it or not—from her injury. Hiccup almost laughed at the thought if he hadn't felt so put down that Camicazi didn't hesitate to tell him that he was going to fly because of his 'tender leg' (so she called it) but couldn't admit that she wanted to fly because her arm was just as tender.
Nightfall was already cresting over the horizon and Hiccup looked behind him to see that everyone was keeping up a lot better than he thought despite the fact that they had been running for at least three hours. Even Alastair's friends were keeping up. He sighed, wondering and doubting that he would be able to keep up with them if he had been giving the option to run.
"Alright everyone." Cami turned her head, keeping a steady arm on Hiccup's shoulder as she half stood on Toothless's back while she spoke. "We're going to be coming back up on enemy controlled portions of the flats so look alive and keep in the taller areas of the grass. If we keep at this pace we should be getting to the slavery in at least another two to three hours."
Hiccup's eyes widened at that, and he looked behind him again, at Alastair in particular. She didn't look especially winded by running so much, and he wondered when exactly she had gained such stamina.
"Lashmed you, Asha, and Alastair go in first and take out the major obstacles. Hookfang, you and I will go in and go wild to go get Stormfly."
"Ah yeah!" Hookfang grinned, swinging her sword even as she ran.
"Alastair your friends um…"
"Ruffnut, Thuggory, and Furfoot." Ruffnut corrected her, her breath a little labored as she spoke.
"Right, right, you three, since I don't really know you or your abilities I'm going to put you on outside guard, make sure no one gets in or out. Can you do that?"
"Psh, don't insult us." Furfoot said, his childish voice and toothy grin not matching his snide comment.
"Fine, I'm putting a lot of trust in you guys, so I only pray you don't piss me off and disappoint me."
"Oh scary."Ruffnut muttered to herself.
"Um, Cami?" Hiccup said when he realized he had no place in the plan. He wasn't too surprised, as he assumed he'd just go with Camicazi, but he would at least like to be humored like Cami respected him and be included when she was giving out orders.
"Yeah what?" turned to him, not exactly sitting down just yet.
"What about me?"
"Ah, yeah…almost forgot." Cami said, so nonchalantly that it made Hiccup grip his bottom lip hard with his teeth. "Um, you know what, you go with Asha's group."
"Really?" Hiccup frowned, wondering why he wasn't with Cami.
"Yeah, you said you wanted to protect your brother right? Well do just as you said. Think smart, stay alert, and make sure Alastair is safe. You are going to be the first ones going in after all." She gave him a grin, like it was all according to place and it made Hiccup swallow. He wasn't sure what would be easier. Being at a watchful eye of Camicazi's actions or actually being thrown in the lion's pit and expected to perform up to her standards.
Hiccup looked back at Alastair and sighed. He wanted to had to do better when he came to making sure she was safe. Lion's pit or not, he had to do this. And do it well.
He turned back around, gripping onto the reigns with new intent. Everything was rather silent for the remaining time, even as the sun disappeared and nightfall has fallen a norm to their eyes all Hiccup heard was a gentle wisp of the night chill, the light crack of everyone's quick but light footsteps, and Toothless's wings flapping everyone once in a while.
Even the dragon's thoughts we're, once again, closed off to him, and any attempt to get his attention was thwarted with him being ignored. Hiccup huffed, hating being left to his own silence as he knew he'd just go back to worrying about facing the dragon slavery again without Cami's guidance.
"Look alive!" Cami hissed from behind him, loud enough that only people close enough could hear. She hopped off of Toothless's saddle at that point, landing into a run as she held her injured arm close like it was no problem. "Dragon slavery is about 20 minutes ahead." She pointed with her sword as she ran and rolling atop the grassy horizon was, in fact, the slavery. "Asha you make the calls in your group, so you pick how you want to utilize the fact that Albar and Toothless are with you." She looked up at him. "Remember what I told you, okay?" She said, almost gently if Hiccup had to put on a word to the tone of her voice. He nodded firmly nonetheless.
"Ruffnut you be in charge of your group." Cami continued to order. "Asha your group should start running ahead, send back the usual call noise when everything clear for me and Hookfang."
"Right." Asha nodded. "Don't lose your head too much, though." Asha warned, though it was soured a bit but the chuckle deep in her words.
"As if I could control that" Camicazi shared her laugh before everyone began to widen out. Camicazi and Ruffut's group fell back a bit, allowing the four in Asha's group to get the lead. Hiccup gulped and with shaky hands touched the side of Toothless's face, trying one last time to get his closed off attention.
This time he felt the dragon's awareness open up and all at once the channel for communication was open again.
::Had a nice sleep?:: Hiccup tried to joke but he knew his mind was racing.
::I was hardly sleeping,:: Toothless scoffed. ::Though I would thank your friend for making me fly so low the whole time, that takes so much more control than gliding higher above.::
::Sorry, I tried to-::
::It doesn't matter now.:: Toothless cut him off. ::What are the orders now to retrieve the other female's dragon?::
::Just make sure things are safe for her to steal, I guess.::
"Albar!" Hiccup heard Asha call to him and he turned. "Have Alastair get on with you while Lashmed and I start checking the interior. Don't get picky just have Toothless take out anyone who might be in the way."
Toothless extended an arm down and Alastair grabbed on, swinging upwards and landing almost perfectly on the saddle. Hiccup grabbed her side just to make sure she was on properly but the surprises in how agile Alastair was continued to impress Hiccup now that they were outside the confines of the palace.
"You okay?" Alastair asked immediately.
"Alastair! You're the one who ran for almost six hours after being captured, not me."
"Okay, okay, just making sure. How about you Toothless?" Alastair leaned forward, every heavy breath that puffed against Hiccup's skin just reminding him that she was coming off running for so long and still expecting to perform at top shape, and here he was worrying he couldn't do it when he had been sitting on his butt the whole time.
Toothless, as well, having flown at an exhausting elevation, and now being expected to attack humans.
::Tell her that I'm fine despite being a little annoyed at how many humans I have to deal with in such a short amount of time.:: Toothless retorted, puffing out some smoke from his nostrils
"He's—" Hiccup began but Alastair was already chiming in.
"He looks annoyed." Alastair cocked her head to the side and Hiccup smiled. Alastair hadn't heard what Toothless had said, but she was getting better at reading him. She pet Toothless's side gently before tucking Nimfir's peaking head back into her tunic. "Everything will be fine, we just have to get through one more night of insanity and we should be good."
"Easier said than done." Hiccup muttered to himself but it didn't matter all the same when he looked below and saw the slavery's entrance swooping below them.
A horn sounded as soon as they past the gates, and Hiccup's injured leg began to twinge as they passed over the dragon cages to the field's fences where he had been stabbed.
::Human from last night is back::
::New human is back!::
Hiccup heard the other enslaved dragons as they flew and he squeezed his eyes shut. Don't do anything that's not part of the plan, he told himself.
Don't do anything that's not part of the plan, he said again, chanted it.
::Excuse me, I'm over here.:: Hiccup and Toothless both heard and jolted up, Hiccup had only heard Stormfly speak once but he knew that no one else had as snippy a tone as her. He and Toothless pulled up and flapped above the fences, looking around.
"What are you doing?" Alastair pulled at his shirt. "We're gonna get shot down if we stay in one place."
"I heard Stormfly." Hiccup said.
::Where are you?:: He asked.
::In these filthy cages behind you.:: She replied.
"Hiccup, Camicazi's job is to get Stormfly, ours is to take out the obstacles outside." Alastair tugged at him again and pointed to the general direction the horn blowing was coming from. More torches were ignited in around the courtyards of the main estate and Hiccup snapped out of his daze.
::Camicazi is coming for you, hang tight.:: Hiccup told Stormfly before they continued to fly away. Knowing all too well that Alastair was right. Camicazi has set a plan and even if he thought it would be easier for him to go get Stormfly, he was going to actually listen to orders this time.
::I don't know what hanging tightly means…:: Stormfly muttered, seeming confused and saddened by being left.
"We get the guy who's guarding the fields first." Hiccup said. "He's the one who's sounding the horn". He let out a snide grin when he noticed down below that the man was the same he had encountered the previous night, though his right arm was in a sling after Hiccup had stabbed him before he left.
::Toothless.:: Hiccup started, though he could already feel the annoyance coming from the nght fury as he sucked back his fire, the purple glow coming from his mouth. The saddle got warm just as it always did before Toothless shot at something. ::Try aiming at something nearby just to knock him out. He's already injured.:: Hiccup offered and Toothless gave a nod before shooting at the shed behind the man, it exploded and the wooden planks from the shed jutted across the field. The man was good enough, despite his age, to dodge most of them but he dropped his horn. Toothless fired another shot, close to the man's feet and he was thrown back, a broken plank still attached to the remaining structure of the house landing right at his back and he landed.
Hiccup and Alastair both winced at the crunching sound that was made at the impact but circled around nonetheless.
"Good call on knowing where the horn was coming from." Alastair told him.
"Well I was here just last night." Hiccup smiled, trying to wrangle in the shiver of pride that welled in his chest at the praise
"It'll be quicker if I drop down and try to take out some of the guards that are coming up from the courtyard." Alastair mentioned. Looking at a few of them hopping over the fence into the fields—some with arrows, some with swords—to get at Toothless. Though it was a lot less than either of them expected, Hiccup supposed it was thanks to whatever management Asha and Lashmed were doing inside. "You and Toothless can shoot down anyone I don't—"
"No, you stay here, Alastair." Hiccup put a hand at her side, sitting her back down when she was already motioning to get up from the saddle. He and Toothless swooped down another hot wave ran through the saddle as Toothless shot at the feet of the guards. It was too close of a call and Hiccup saw their pants and boots ignite. Some of them tried to put the flames out, other rolled on the ground, and some completely went into flames. He turned his head away at the screams and Toothless looked forward, his expressions deadpan though the thrusting pain at the dragon's chest was something even Hiccup felt.
He clutched his tunic and let his eyes fall for a fraction of a second before his eyelids were filled with red. A light coming towards him when he looked up and saw a flaming arrow being shot off from one of the estate's balconies. Toothless was already trying to dodge but Hiccup messed up his footing, the jolt of the sudden arrow halting his foot and making him shift in to the wrong position. The controls of the tail locked at his and Toothless's opposing movements and he felt the heat graze his skin but it didn't touch.
It was Alastair's scream that made him realize that they were falling, and Alastair's tunic was set ablaze.
She toppled to the ground and jammed her hand in the ground the second she stopped rolling, picking up a fistful of dirt and dumping it onto her sleeve to snuff out the fire before it could spread. Nimfir scurried out of her shirt and trembled on the ground while Hiccup fumbled to detach himself from Toothless's saddle. The night fury tried to get his balance back. Alastair, though, was already on her feet again, a charred tunic sleeve but seemingly unharmed.
She ripped out a sword that she had manage to swipe from one of the guards they buried back in the flats and stood in front of them as the few guards that weren't burned ran towards them. She was only in combat with about three men but as soon as Hiccup looked over he winced, taking out his swords knowing that it was his job to be protecting Alastair but his legs locked, his hands trembled. He only wished he had the rage he did back at the palace when he so easily—almost too easily—stabbed those two men guarding the prison without a second thought.
He felt Toothless's teeth pulling at his shirt to sit.
::Don't do anything foolish.:: Toothless warned him.
Hiccup looked between Alastair and Toothless, biting down hard on his bottom lip before turning his foot forward.
::Sorry but I have to—:: He began turning when he heard the cling of swords clashing, metal ripping through air and landing in the ground with a powerful sink. Alastair lost her sword and the vulnerable look on her face was something Hiccup never wanted to ever see her make.
"Don't touch my brother!" Hiccup screamed, running forward on an angry high. He felt it, that rage, That fear of losing something, of it being his fault for being so weak. The rage brewed a strength that burned his skin and propelled his legs despite his injury. It scared him to be so out of control but he went with it, knowing he'd do what he needed to with it moreso than without it.
He could barely see the movements of the other men but somehow he blocked their swords, like somehow everything slowed down but at the same time was going at the speed of light with his rapid breaths and fire burning in his consciousness.
He felt tears running down his face with every sword he blocked and every battle cry he screamed before he heard that same cling but this time, it was the other man's sword, it flew over their heads, back behind him which he left for Toothless to guard and just as quickly as the other men tried to secure him after that move, he got rid of their swords as well.
Hiccup stepped on one man's stomach with his left foot, another's knee with his right, and pointed one of his swords to the neck of the last man.
He saw horror, fear for life, pleading and begging in his eyes but something within Hiccup didn't turn off his rage. Like all the past days, no, past years of feeling useless were welling up within him.
"It's not like we're competing in some blood hunt" he remembered Camicazi saying earlier that afternoon. And his hand shook, the seconds feeling like hours while his mind raced. He felt it, a lust within him to take out his aggressions by spilling someone else's blood. It made his stomach churn but his senses opened up, leaving even the slightest wind to send his entire skeleton shivering.
"Either finish the job cleanly, or don't start it" he also remember Camicazi saying and that was the last thing he thought before something shut off within him.
He heard the begs of the man at his sword point, the other pained groans of the other men and his boots crushed into their bones. Somewhere deep behind his brain he thought he heard Alastair telling him something but his ears closed off, his eyes went dark and tunneled, and his body moved on its own.
All at once it was like a jolt of consciousness came back to him and he felt rough hands shaking him.
"Hic-Albar, Albar!" Alastair's voice, Hiccup recognized.
::Welcome back, you know it worries me when your mind shuts off, like that.:: Toothless spoke as well, and he felt a dragon's nose nudge his side, a warm, scaly body pressing into his back for support. But Hiccup didn't lose notice of the tense atmosphere the dragon emitted. There was a tenderness a fear of loss, and even thought Toothless tried to sound calm and like nothing was wrong there was that same fear Toothless always seemed to have. Not of losing him but of him, of him personally.
::Wha…what…happened…?:: Hiccup mumbled inwardly, trying to get his faculties up to par. He swallowed when he realized that everyone was there. Alastair, Toothless, Nimfir, Asha and Lashmed, even Camicazi and a clearly rescued Stormfly, Hookfang, Ruffnut…everyone.
Had he screwed everything up again?
He felt a slap on his back, but it was light, shaky and Camicazi leaned down to him.
"Hey stupid, I told you to protect your brother not mercilessly hack up three people and then faint in their blood." She told him, but her voice was anything but it's usually quip. "You almost gave your brother a heart attack."
Hiccup's eyes widened, looking down at his hands that were caked over in dry blood, once he realized what it was he felt it everywhere. Blood was on his face, in his hair, on his pants, his boots. Everywhere but his shirt which, now that he looked at it—the burnt left sleeve, and oversized fit—wasn't his, it was Alastair's.
Alastair held his tunic over her shoulder while she had her undershirt on, chest flat enough due to her bindings but still, a risk. It only took one good breeze for his shirt to waft up from behind her back for him to see that it was stained, almost bathed, in blood.
He held a hand over his mouth, a sting in his throat threatening to hurl up.
"I-I…" he choked out but he swallowed his words when he felt Camicazi throw her arms around him.
"Idiot!" Cami yelled, but her entire body was shaking while she held him. "I told you this wasn't a blood hunt, Albar, I told you not to—"
"Sorry." Hiccup said, reaching a weak hand up to clutch her shirt while he looked around. Everyone looked somber, worn out, and worried. He caught a glimpse of Alastair's eyes while she looked down at him. He couldn't really put a name to the emotion of her face but she looked sad, scared, worried, and yet there was solemn acceptance within her.
"Don't lose yourself like that." Camicazi said as she slowly pulled away, her eyes shined but there was no evidence that tears had fallen. "You're still a kid, don't get your body count too high so early." Her tone was a little softer, lighter, more joking, but that thick emotion underlined her last few words to him. "Don't…" she said, breathy and softly just to him, "…be like me."
"Trust me," Hookfang said, walking forward a bit while slinging her swords over her shoulder. Her own shirt was stained with blood, though it was normal for her. "Once you start," she continued, "you can't go back."
Hiccup nodded, not sure if he agreed or even what he should do but he submitted because doing so usually meant something better for him.
"We should move quickly." Asha interrupted. "I'm sure the estate has a least one last wave of guards left to fight us off."
Hiccup looked around. They were deep back in the fields of the estate, farther back than he had gone on their first run there.
"Alright, let's get mounted quickly, there's two dragons and no time to be picky." Camicazi stood, the leader within her returning in a strong command.
"Well then, I guess this is our stop." Ruffnut stepped back, Thuggory and Furfoot staying by her side.
"Wait, what?"Alastair stepped forward towards them. "You don't have to leave now it's too dangerous."
"Yeah, you've more than proved at least passable if you want to travel with us for a little while." Camicazi shrugged.
"No thanks, our goal is to do the rescuing, not be rescued." Ruffnut smiled to herself. "We're gonna stay behind and get captured again."
"But—" Alastair started to object but Hiccup saw her shoulders fall, her eyes lid and a sad smile stretch her lips before holding out an arm.
Ruffnut gripped it tightly and returned her grin.
"If Roman prison is where you're trying to go, then just bring Tuffnut back, alright?"
"Yeah, definitely, but you…you take care Ast—" Ruffnut stopped herself closing her lips tightly before speaking again. "…Alastair," she landed on.
Alastair nodded, firm and reassuring.
"Hey, you over there." Ruffnut looked over at Hiccup and he sprang up, regretting his motions with the dizziness he felt but was supported by Toothless's forehead under his elbow. "Take care of your brother, okay?"
"Um, y-yeah!" Hiccup bobbed his head in the most convincing nod he could despite the fact that everything around him was still hazy.
And with a heroic wave of her hand Alastair's friend Ruffnut retreated back to the torch lit dragon slavery to be captured once again.
The morning was welcomed with bright yellows and blues over what seemed like a red night to Astrid.
The chill in the air gave her goose bumps over her barred skin since Hiccup still wore her tunic. Her undershirt flapped around as she hoped no one was paying too close attention to the barest suggestion of bindings being underneath.
"Position three." Hiccup told her with a yawn.
"Which one was that, again?" She bit her lip.
"Move your foot all the way back."
"Right." She did so, hearing two clicks and Toothless went a little more upwards, catching the current before she moved her foot back to the leveled position and the glided once again.
Astrid was the one flying Toothless now, opting to do so while Hiccup recovered from his ordeal. He leaned against her back, lazily giving out orders of how to fly Toothless and what positions her foot needed to be in to bank left or right or go upwards. She was getting a little more used to flying—at least moreso than when she had to do it back on Berk during the raid—but she wished she wasn't flying Toothless because Hiccup was too drained from murdering just a few hours prior.
She had never seen him so angry and out of control. She had thrown up at one point just watching him as he ripped his sword through their flesh and just….didn't stop no matter how many times she called to him. His eyes had been hollow, his movements doll-like and it scared her.
That wasn't Hiccup, she didn't know who that was, but all she knew is she never wanted to see whoever that was ever again.
As if the fears she had of being left behind the previous afternoon were enough to shake her up now she had to deal with a whole new wave of fear that she felt towards this new side, no, this other person that seemed to live within Hiccup.
She only wished she had felt some kind of comfort in the whole situation being over and them finally heading to met the others on the Bog's ship after running on almost two days of no food or sleep but her mind was spinning too much.
So she tried to focus on happier things, like Ruffnut. As odd as it was, even in her going back to be captured she was getting all the more closer to her goal.
At least one of them was.
But, boy, did Ruffnut have quite a tale as to how she got there.
The return of those 8,000+ chapters. I basically combined two chapters cause I refused to have an "Alike and Agile, part 5".
Also, if it wasn't obvious enough, the main group is gonna take a brief break because next chapter is a flashback chapter showing Ruffnut's journey to where she is now. So you get to learn more about Thuggory and Furfoot because they've mostly just been background up until now.
Thank you, TheDelta724, Guest, and AliceCullen3 for reviewing chapter 22!
Six samurai of dragon order: Yeah, I don't always catch every wrong pronoun. I often wonder why I picked such a hard concept cause sometimes even I forgot that Astrid was a boy for a long period to Hiccup so use male pronouns, and now whenever someone else is talking to Hiccup he's Albar. Complicated stuff, I should probably proofread more but I still won't catch everything.
Q-A the Authoress: Wellllll, she's still not part of the main group, but what she's been up to is coming up next chapter, so there's that.
SharKohen: I'm so glad you like the story so far, It's kinda tricky meshing everything together but I'm having a blast doing it so I'm glad it's coming off well. Dealing with the three main character's internal problems is one of my favorite things about writing this story and it only gets more intense as it progresses, we've barely scratched the surface!
TheShadoWWarrior: Ah, yeah, good ol grammar…my worst enemy.
Kitty.0: Yeah, Camicazi demands but deserves all the respect she gets. She a fun character to get into once her motivations come to the forefront.
G: Well I don't know if almost two months later is "soon" but it's a lot shorter than my last break.
HiccupHaddockIII: Thank you so much for such a nice review! I'm glad you like the story that much. And you'll get to see all of Ruffnut's current story in the next chapter, it took a while but what she's been up to while Astrid has been getting into all her stuff will be revealed. And haha, it seems quite a few people were up reading this story into the wee hours of the night, which is cool but…get some sleep hehe.
Waveringshadow: Whoa, way to review so many chapters! I honestly can't wait until who the dragon heart is is revealed, cause there are two ways people's reactions can go and each one is going to be entertaining (well for me haha). And Astrid's real name being a plot point…I guess you'll have to wait but I'd say more of a character point than anything else.
Noctus Fury: Yeah, I'm sorry for leaving this story for so long, but I had to get back into the swing of it. I might be gone for a long time but never forever. And Hiccup and Toothless's growing relationship is the slowest of the bunch but probably the most carefully written, it's so fragile which will be touched on later. And well, Hiccup and Camicazi's relationship—like a lot of the relationships in this story—are easily written but not as easily defined. I'd kinda just take it at face value as a bond and let you determine what category to put it under. Astrid may or may not have something to be jealous over but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a romantic jealousy. And everyone's Ruffnut questions will be answered next chapter.
Next Chapter: Rune and Ready