After a four month hiatus, I'm excited to be back! For those of you just tuning in, this story may not make much sense. Rising Sun is the sixth installment of The Horizons Saga that started back in the fall of 2010. Dawn, Solaris, Eve, Aurora and Horizons have made up what has been an insane ride full of giant snakes, broken bones and one particularly angry god. But, without further ado, time to get on with the story!
'Into the deadly pit of favour
They have fallen with the gods.'
Hiccup stared up at the splintered rafters of his ceiling, still quite unable to grasp at the straws.
He breathed out heavily into the darkness, half expecting his respire to turn into a little puffy cloud in the freezing air. After all, it had been months since he had slept comfortably on a straw mattress, complete with a set of imported furs piled on top of him to keep him warm. It was miraculous really, the lack of snow covered rocks and gnarled tree roots digging into the soft tissue of his back like blunt daggers. He'd been back a week already, and he still wasn't quite used to the luxuries of his former life.
But he had woken up much the same; he was shaking, all too distracted by the sweat on his brow and the adrenaline driving his addled heartbeat into overdrive – he couldn't simply fall asleep again, not after that. He knew that the sense of familiarity lingering throughout the little room wouldn't simply douse the vivid nightmares of his journey. The tangled furs around his feet and the half-moon shaped lesions in the calloused flesh of his palms all but completely shattered that theory.
He rolled onto his side and took a deep, rattled breath, hugging his arms to his chest out of habit. He had hoped that he would have be used to the cold by now, especially since he had nearly frozen his extremities off more than once in the open air and the falling snow of the undiscovered Western world. But now he didn't have the comfort of a warm wing to shelter him or a strong flank to huddle close to for extra heat; all he had were the animal hides that had wound tightly around his legs during the course of his nightmares, and he didn't quite feel up to it right then to try and untangle the chunks of fur that were probably wedged in between the tiny pieces that made up his prosthetic.
That'll teach me not to wear it at night, he thought wryly, jerking his leg free anyway.
He had gotten so used to wearing it continuously; ultimately, being prepared night and day for any sudden danger had become an integral part of his less than predictable daily routine. Shuddering from the damp chill of the early morning, Hiccup wondered if he was better suited for that other life, the one that didn't involve settling down in one place forever. He wondered if he could truly pull off being just a wandering traveler, discovering new lands and new worlds without the ulterior motives of his most recent adventure. He could go east this time maybe, and discover the secrets of Gaul and Caledonia. He could become a cartographer! He could even draw to make extra money, at fairs or something, to earn food and shelter.
The house creaked languidly as the moisture in the dewy spring air settled into the floorboards and the haunting noise shook Hiccup out of his reverie. Clearly, the lack of sleep was getting to him. He should really have gone to bed earlier, considering what he had been doing every morning around this time since the day after he had returned home from his voyage. But he had had so much on his plate lately, and he'd barely had time to think straight once Toothless had planted his paws for the first time in months on the isle of Berk, just off Raven's Point.
It wasn't long before they were eventually found, of course; they had been spotted flying in from the perches of the westward facing towers, which had more or less clued the watchmen in to their incoming guests. Fishlegs had explained to him the other day that when the dragons had returned from their place of hibernation a few weeks earlier, they had almost all exclusively flew in from the south west. Stoic had made it his personal mission to keep several pairs of eyes out on the horizon under pretense of more returning dragons, but his efforts were considered to be pretty transparent to those of whom he asked. From what Hiccup had gathered from Gobber during the few moments that he had been able to corner his old mentor alone, most of the tribe had developed mixed opinions of his and Astrid's fates during their absence.
Hiccup didn't blame them; he was still reeling over his own disbelief.
Hiccup pushed himself into a sitting position, swinging his legs off of his mattress so that they were just barely touching the ground. He had to be careful to avoid detection at this point; his prosthetic had started squeaking sometime between the iceberg encounter and that gods-awful time where he had been all but forced to strip down naked in front of Astrid, and he was ninety-nine percent sure she had been watching between the cracks in her fingers. Gently lifting himself off of his mattress, his face went red just thinking about it.
Not that he was embarrassed about it or anything. He had nothing to be embarrassed about because he was a Viking. Vikings don't get embarrassed.
His prosthetic made a particularly painful shriek and Hiccup winced, half because of the sound that would surely wake his father up at some point, and half because, well...who was he kidding?
Now that they were back on Berk's solid shores, his westward adventures were starting to feel like some sort of half remembered dream. He kept wondering if Astrid really had come all that way just to find him and bring him home simply because she cared for him…at the time it had felt so right, but now it almost seemed foreign to him again, and Hiccup found that he was doubting himself and weighing his chances when he had already gotten the girl. There was no way she would stay with him now, not after that, not after what he had inadvertently pulled her into, not after seeing him naked. Especially that.
And yet he was sneaking out of his house to meet her, in the blank cover of dark no less. After their homecoming, they had been more or less ripped apart as he was forced back to work and she was banished into her home. The only time they saw each other was across the Great Hall, and after two days back Astrid had managed to pass close enough to him during the supper rush to ask him to meet her at Raven's Point just before sunrise the following day. It had become part of their morning routine now, unspoken in meeting each other just as the light of dawn crawled languidly over the line of the horizon, and as Hiccup shimmied through the back entrance, he thought about what he would say to her today.
They had made it through the past five days stumbling through small talk - the situation was quickly getting the best of them and they both knew it. It was like they were two familiar strangers thrust into the makings of a normal life, a life where they felt like foreigners in a city they once called their home. He knew he couldn't be the only one affected by the vibrant culture shock – after all, he'd studied her from afar during supper times in the Great Hall and watched as she consciously kept at arm's length from everyone, eager to stay away. They had both been accosted continuously since their return, but Hiccup had had more practice humbly weaving in and out of the limelight – Astrid had taken the whole surge of popularity like an attack on her personal space, and had lashed out – sometimes physically – every chance she got. He had mentioned this to her the other day in hopes that she might tone it down a little for her own sake, but all he got in return for his troubles was a snarl and a fallen log all to himself as she stomped angrily away.
He wouldn't try to talk to her about that again, he was sure of that. But there were other things they had been leaving unsaid, more important things that they should be discussing. The problem was that he really didn't want to, no matter how much he ached to tangle his fingers in her hair again.
Hoisting himself over a fence, Hiccup swore out loud at just how awkward things between them had become.
He ducked under a newly fallen trunk and ran his hands roughly through his hair as he did so, begging to Freya for things to just go back to the way that they used to be. When it was just them, things were perfect; he'd never really felt such camaraderie with anyone else before besides Toothless; it was as if she were his perfect partner in crime, his unwavering balance. She was the tenacity to his scattered logic, the nimble brawn to his brains. Despite their contradicting personalities, they complimented each other in a way that he had a hard time describing in words, and yet he was beginning to doubt the longevity of what they had now that they were back on the island. Could they only truly function as a whole while the world as they knew it was in danger? Could they only truly love each other in a crisis when everything they ever loved was at stake?
He shuddered, but whether it was from the damp air or the fact that he had just admitted to himself that he was in love with her, he wasn't sure.
Banking left, he ducked under a series of low hanging branches before emerging onto the small meadow just before the cliff. He could see that it was empty thanks to the pre-dawn light that was just starting to creep above the horizon, and he sat down and made himself comfortable as he waited for her impending arrival. He stared out at the darkened western vista, letting his mind go blank and his eyes fall out of focus as he purposely tried not to think about what had happened out there, or that time when he had almost died repeatedly, or that time where he hallucinated so hard he saw his mother.
He didn't even want to get into that one.
Following an albatross as it skimmed across the rock formations of the bay, he failed notice her presence entering the clearing until the log had shifted as she sat down beside him.
"Morning," she said quietly, her voice still raspy with sleep. He noted the familiar pang in the pit of his stomach as she spoke and tried not to sound as alarmed as he felt by her soundness arrival.
"Sleep well?" he asked, trying to mimic the same quiet tone. The atmosphere was incredibly still as the preceding sunlight began to stain the eastern horizon red.
"Yeah, I guess."
Hiccup chewed his lower lip anxiously as the silence grew, his fingers twitching from a combination of nervousness and impatience. The stagnancy of his situation was gnawing at him like an itch since they'd returned to this isolated rock and he couldn't figure out for the life of him how to scratch it. Was Astrid the answer to all of this? He assumed so, especially now that she was his only human link to the adventure that had nearly outdone them both.
"Have you told anyone?"
Astrid turned her head slightly but kept her eyes trained on the frosted caps of the ocean, "No. No one would believe us anyway."
"Yeah..." Hiccup trailed off, running his fingers roughly through his uncombed hair. He clenched his hand into a fist and set it down forcefully onto his lap, chiding himself for the silly nervous twitch that was quickly becoming a habit.
Their conversation waned into silence again, and this time Hiccup could clearly tell that the uncomfortable stillness was getting to her too. He was sure that she was going to get up and stomp out at any minute and he was surprised when she didn't.
The sun continued to rise.
The sincerity in her voice startled him out of his thoughts and he spun his head towards her, taking in her profile as her hair billowed gently in the breeze from the ocean. He took a moment to study her quietly, drinking in her expression before allowing himself to reply, "Yes?"
"Do you…do you think it's over?" she asked, tucking an errant wisp of hair behind her ear. Hiccup swallowed uncomfortably and turned back towards the sea, following her line of vision towards the western skyline. A dark shadow crossed overhead.
"Do you?" he replied, his tone more acerbic than he had initially intended. He regretted it as soon as the words passed his lips and he fully expected her to leap to her feet and stomp off; again, he was surprised when she didn't. In the silence, he realized just how much he was walking (or stumbling, rather) on eggshells around her, and he wondered if he was judging her too rashly. After all, they had spent so much time together, understanding each other, supporting each other. Why were things so different all of the sudden? Was he the one making this so weird?
Gnawing on his lips, he cursed his alienated childhood for the millionth time. Why was this all so damned hard?
"It followed us back you know," she whispered, her eyes never leaving the source of her apprehension. Her expression was blank, but he had spent long enough studying her idiosyncrasies in the past months to know that she was deeply troubled. Her eyes were clouded with worry, and the once self-absorbed frame of mind she had hauled around as a child melted away with the trepidation she carried with her now. She pursed her lips, still watching.
"I know," Hiccup swallowed, turning his gaze back towards the west, "I didn't know if you had noticed as well."
She snorted quietly, and it was the first physical display he had managed to goad her with all morning, "Of course I noticed. I'm surprised you saw anything at all."
It was Hiccup's turn to purse his lips with half-hearted irritation, but he didn't bother making a snarky retort in response, which in hindsight should have been his first clue, "Toothless pointed it out."
Astrid stiffened slightly and Hiccup just barely kept himself from apologizing to her, knowing she'd maul him to death if he did one more time. The loss of her own dragon was still fresh on her mind and being surrounded by happy Vikings with their bonded dragons didn't exactly help her less that exuberated predilection. He'd seen her wring her fingers into fists to keep herself from strangling anyone from afar, struggling to control her simpering temper; she dealt with her own grief quite violently, and although Hiccup couldn't quite understand why she felt she needed to be this way, he tried not to judge.
"You can still hear him?"
Hiccup raked his fingers through his hair, mentally dwelling on the uncomfortable subject, "Occasionally. Not like before."
The wind started to pick up and a series of huge waves crashed against the base of the crag, filling in the empty silence. Hiccup could see that Astrid was starting to catch a chill but didn't offer his vest to her, knowing full well that she would reject it. Instead, he moved closer and brushed shoulders with her, taking a deep breath of the agitated sea air.
He turned his head slightly towards her, just enough to gauge her reaction, "Are you alright?"
She turned to him for the first time since she had sat down and raised her eyebrows incredulously, "Of course I am," she growled, her words rushed, "Why would you think anything else?"
Hiccup thought carefully about his words before he spoke, weighing his response in his head. He could tell she was becoming increasingly impatient with him so he simply went for the honest approach –he had no real reason to lie to her anyway.
"Well, I'm not."
The surprise at his confession read clearly in her eyes for a moment before they returned to their previous stormy state. Sensing their conversation was over, Hiccup followed her gaze out towards the horizon once more.
Those same dark clouds that had followed them home were still churning, still boiling with the turmoil of gods.
A storm was brewing.
Thank you for reading! I'm already in the process of penning out the next installment, but the longevity of The Horizons Saga rests solely in the hands of my readers. So please, send me a review, a PM or favourite Rising Sun and if I receive enough feedback (whether positive or negative), I'll post another chapter onto Rising Sun in about a week or so announcing the continuance of the story, the title, and maybe even a little teaser. But remember, it's up to you!
For those of you who, like my beta (who I often forget to thank but he knows he's incredibly awesome and I love him), are wondering why Hiccup and Astrid are so distant, I can assure you that will all be explained in the next (possible) chapter. If you want to get an in depth answer as to what's going on between them, I always enjoy a good discussion about my character's motives. So give me a shout (review or message) and we'll chat.
All will be explained in time.