Morning dawned in my room with the usual stream of light battering my eyes. My father had left the house well before sunrise, assumedly to prepare for the day ahead, leaving me to do as I pleased provided I arrived at Dragon Training on time. Considering the profound lack of energy I'd had more-or-less since meeting Toothless, and especially considering what was waiting for me, the choice to sleep in was unavoidable.
I rolled out of the way of the sunbeam, yawned and slowly pulled myself into the cold air of the late morning. Quickly I donned my usual bearskin and boots, grabbed a bit of bread and started out the house. The nerves I'd been avoiding since deciding to rig our training sessions finally began to show themselves, and the only thing I had to distract myself was the hardened roll I was crunching away on.
Neither the walk nor the bread lasted as long as I'd have liked, and before I realized it the arena was in sight. There was a vague group of people by the entrance that I assumed were the others, but I wasn't certain; what little of my attention not focused on potential failures in the ring was spent on listening. The normally-quaking dragons were unusually quiet, save for the Terror, which made me curious what they were doing. Were they afraid, still asleep, or listening for something themselves?
I was quickly taken out of those thoughts by something flying towards me. Twisting on my ankle I narrowly avoided getting pelted in the chest by a rock, and Snotlout didn't appear very happy about it. He was waiting by the entrance with Fishlegs, the twins and Astrid, the scowl on his face deepening as I approached. The rest were indifferent about my presence, except Astrid; she was glaring at Snotlout for what he'd done. No one else noticed but me, and I couldn't avoid the smile it caused.
"What are you so happy about, Useless?" Snotlout shouted at me, a noticeable indignation in his voice. "You don't have any reason to be in a good mood. Once we get in there, that Gronckle is gonna tear you apart."
"How do you know they're using the Gronckle?" Oddly enough, just knowing what I was facing seemed to help ease my nerves.
"Oh, I've read about this in the Dragon Manual!" Fishlegs happily interrupted. "Gronckles are traditionally used first because they're small enough for a single trained Viking to handle, but still deadly enough to put up a decent fight against new recruits. They're also better for shield training, since they don't just shoot fire." Fishlegs's library of a brain could sometimes prove useful, even if it was nearly all about fact rather than practice. Not to say he wasn't competent, or any less intelligent than I was - just different.
"Well, at least we know what it is now. Every little bit helps, right?" I said in the best nervous voice I could muster. Rigging the match in front of Gobber and my father may have had me on-edge, but I still wasn't nearly as worried as they were.
"From the sound and smell of things," interrupted the Nadder, in her usual vibrating warble, "that 'Hiccup' Viking is here. Gronckle, remember: go easy on him, but make it look genuine." The sudden outburst of noise took everyone by surprise, even me - the ring had been still just moments before.
"I remember; I'm not stupid!" responded the Gronckle. "Wasn't that the whole point of him meeting us? Don't hurt Hiccup and let him win. Speaking of who, do you think he can hear us?"
"Yes," I replied, at the risk of sounding even crazier than I already did to the others.
"I assume that was for you, unless he was talking to himself," the Nadder chirped through the walls of her container. "Just follow the Gronckle's lead, Hiccup. She'll put on a show for the rest of them, so all you have to do is trust us and play along." The arena fell silent once more when she was done.
"Well, that's... Odd," started a confused-looking Fishlegs. "First they were louder than I'd ever heard them, but now they're silent again. This kind of behavior hasn't been noted anywhere in the Dragon Manual... Maybe we'll have to update it?" The others were curious as well, their full attention drawn to the ring. Astrid, of course, glanced at me; it was obvious she wanted to know what they'd said.
"Mornin' lads! An' lassies," Gobber corrected himself as he and my father approached.
"Morning, everyone." My father looked mildly concerned as he reached the arena gate, his eyes on me.
"Righ'. No sense sittin' 'round out here, so welcome ta' dragon training!" Gobber shouted quickly, throwing down the lever and opening the first gate to the arena. We walked into the small tunnel between the inner and outer gates, waiting for a moment as my father threw open the second gate by hand. I swallowed hard as we entered the ring, making sure to lag behind with Astrid so I could get in a brief word.
"The dragons have a plan, and all I have to do is follow it. Makes it simple," I whispered to her as she and I lined up with the other students.
"Good, but be careful," she responded quietly as Gobber began giving each dragon an introduction.
We stood there silently as he spoke, Fishlegs injecting stats from the Dragon Manual whenever the opportunity presented itself. I had no reason to listen to what he had to say, since the match would be rigged, so my focus began to wander. I found myself drawn to the chattering Terror, silently laughing at her chirping as she scurried around her feed door.
"Oh! He's here! Do I get more fish? Fish now? Maybe after. Give fish after- OH! There's a mouse! Mouse food! Mousemousemousemousemousemouse-" she rambled, her tiny claws clacking against the stone as she ran about in her cage. I couldn't see her, but the sound was still adorable enough that it was a welcome distraction from my impending lesson.
"Hiccup," my father boomed, his voice masking the Terror's tiny hunt, "are you sure ready for this? ...And what are you smiling about? I didn't think you'd be excited for Dragon Training like the others are." With a glance at them I noticed they did in fact seem ready for the challenge, albeit clearly nervous. Astrid was the only other student that looked calm, but still nervous, and I had a feeling that was more to do with me than anything else.
"Oh, I'm not... Excited about this, really... Or at all. I'm just... Trying to prepare myself, you know, for what- what's ahead, and that means... Not letting my nerves get the best of me?" I quietly cursed to myself for answering him with a question. I could tame a dragon, design and build a flight harness for him and then take to the skies, but having a basic conversation with my father? Impossible.
"As long as you're prepared." My father turned from me to his hook-handed cohort, who had been standing next to the Gronckle's cage door. With my father's silent order, Gobber placed his hand on its lever. I didn't expect we'd be starting so soon even if I should have seen it coming, considering our teachers. The others were much more surprised than I was, Snotlout especially.
"Wait! A-Aren't you gonna teach us something first?" I probably shouldn't have enjoyed seeing him panic as much as I did.
"Stoick and I believe in learning on tha job!" With little hesitation he pushed the lever down, unlocking the Gronckle's cage and unleashing the dragon within. Her doors blew open the moment the chance arose, revealing the rocky dragon and the fly-like wings keeping her aloft. She scattered the others with a growl, but while they scrambled for shields to defend themselves I simply waited for a command. In that moment it hadn't occurred to me to act like I was fighting a dragon, but she wasted little time in convincing me.
"So this is what the Dragon Viking looks like?" she vibrated out loud, an empty growl audible behind her words. "The Nadder was right; your scent is deceiving. You're small, but extra weight won't help you on the back of a Night Fury..." She fluttered over to a couple of rocks lying on the ground of the arena, lapping them up with her wide tongue as I began to realize I should probably be moving. "That's right, time to stop acting surprised and start running! I'll handle the rest, and then we can give them a little show!" She fired a blast at me just as I began to move, which was oddly comforting: while a methodical strike, she wouldn't have hit me even if I'd stood still. It was positive proof she was keen on working with me, and all I really needed for the weight to drop from my shoulders.
"HICCUP!" I heard Gobber shout to me, a familiar sternness in his tone, "pay attention and grab a shield!" I was already on my way to the weapon racks in the middle of the arena, where a few shields were already scattered about. I picked up a small axe and the first buckler I could get my hands on while my father yelled at the twins, who were busy fighting over a single shield. Seeing an open target the Gronckle fired, splintering the item in their grasp and throwing them both to the ground.
"Alright, you two! Yer out!" My father stomped over to them and yanked them to their feet. With a slight shove he directed the two to the half-open gate of the arena, which they both slid underneath to continue their bickering. "Lesson one! A shield is your most important asset; more important than any weapon. If you have to choose between a hammer," he gestured to the weapon in his own hands, "or a shield, take the shield." I considered mentioning to them both that neither were using shields when Gobber spoke up.
"Right! An' your shield's good fer more than jus' defendin' yerselves. Use 'em to make noise, and lots of it! Throws off a dragon's aim." Those of us remaining began knocking our weapons against our shields, making the Gronckle beginbobbing in the air as she shook her head. Growing visibly annoyed by the sound she threw herself toward Snotlout, who just barely jumped out of the way.
"It doesn' last forever, though, so use it ta get outta the way when ya need to!" Gobber chuckled, his grin widening even more at the vulgar name Snotlout had uttered at him.
"Gobber's right about that," my father continued as he paced the edge of the ring, his eyes locked on the dragon. "You have to live and breathe this stuff! Know your enemy! Now, dragons all have a limited number of shots. How many does a Gronckle have?"
"SIX!" Fishlegs chimed in immediately, cutting off Snotlout's most likely incorrect answer with his own. He could probably recite the entire manual entry on Gronckles by heart if instructed, not that anyone would want him to.
"Correct! That's one for each of you!" Gobber shouted as Fishlegs threw himself a little celebration, paying no attention to the Gronckle flying around the arena. One well aimed blast later, his shield shattered.
"Fishlegs, out!" my father called while pointing to the door of the arena. Half running and half sulking, Fishlegs squeezed himself under the gate near the still-arguing twins. With him out we were down by half, an equal number of shots remaining in the Gronckle's reserves.
Amidst the havoc I turned to see Snotlout casually flirting with Astrid despite the lesson. She was ignoring him and his advances as she always did, her focus solely on the Gronckle's movements above us. The dragon locked eyes with Astrid and began to flutter over, a shot being readied along the way. As Astrid readied herself the Gronckle changed targets, instead firing directly at Snotlout. Her blast ripped his shield from his arm, crumpling it into a smoldering mass on the floor of the arena. Without anything more than his name, Snotlout frustratedly stamped off to join the others.
"So, just you and me then, huh?" I asked Astrid as I approached from behind.
"Nope. Just you," she replied bluntly, blowing a lock of hair out of her face as she tracked the Gronckle. She must've noticed just as well as I had that the dragon was basically ignoring me as it took out the others. By now it had only two shots left, and even though Astrid was far more capable that I was in battle we both knew only one of those shots was going to miss.
"Incoming!" The Gronckle bellowed, clearly enjoying her temporary freedom as she barreled for us. Astrid dove out of the way while I dropped to the ground, letting the dragon hover over me while she prepared another attack. The shot was quick, smashing Astrid's shield into bits before the girl had a chance to react to it. With her defenses gone Astrid made for the gate, clamoring in with the others and quickly turning to watch what was sure to be an interesting bit of acting on the Gronckle's part.
"HICCUP!" I heard both my father and Gobber scream as I dropped my axe, using my newly-freed hand for more leverage to slide myself out from under the dragon. She wasted no time making a beeline for me as I stood and ran, her fluttering wings telling me just how close she was to me.
"Time to give them something to watch!" the Gronckle growled gleefully as she caught up to me. "Dive to your right when I lunge and then head for the wall!" she commanded. I did as she told me to, my knee slamming into the ground than as I landed, knocking the buckler from my grip. Her lunge just barely missed me, and while she regained control of herself I hurried to the wall as per her request.
"When you reach the wall, drop down to the floor!" she shouted, to which I again listened. As I slid downward she collided with the wall above, landing just in front of me with a plop. She shook her head and began sucking in air, readying her last shot not arms-length from my face.
"Your turn to choose! I won't fire until you're out of the way," she grumbled, her slow-inhale proving what she said to me. Quickly I laid on my back, spun around and kicked off of the wall we were in front of. I slid out from under her just as she fired, the area near my legs getting rather hot as I came out from under her lumpy tail. I stumbled to my feet as she swiveled around, teeth bared and growling. She looked ferocious, but her voice sounded anything but.
"Very good job!" she said, her wings flitting lightly as she growled. "I really doubt they noticed my little game, so it looks like that's it! The first match is over, and as long as things keep going on like this, we won't have any problems trusting you. It was a lot of fun playing, too, so thanks for that! Too bad they'll be putting me back in my ca-hrk!" she yelped in pain, interrupting herself. Gobber's hook had dug into the flesh under her teeth as he began wrestling her toward her cage.
"An' that's six! Go back ta' bed, ya overgrown sausage!" he yelled as he pulled the Gronckle to her waiting pen with the help of my father. With a bit of work the two of them re-secured her door, which shook a little as she huffed. From beyond the wood and steel I could hear her growling faintly to me.
"Other than the hook in my jaw, that went surprisingly well. Anyway, Hiccup, you'll probably be working with the Terror tomorrow. Considering she hasn't stopped chattering about you since our first meeting I don't think you'll have much of a problem dealing with her, but I still wanted you to know," she finished, her cage going quiet again.
"Well, tha' was... Unexpected..." I heard Gobber fill the newly-quieted arena, disbelief in his voice. "Hiccup... Since when have you been fast, lad?" he asked, drawing a nervous laugh from my throat. I hadn't considered what I'd say if I really did win, mostly because I didn't honestly think I would.
"Well, you know... I've, well, I've been your apprentice for most of my, uh, life, and I've also spent a lot of time, by myself, in the woods..." Silence grew as I hunted for something to get me away from the attention. "I guess, uh, wandering the island has helped me speed up. A little. Not much."
"A little? Hiccup, I've only seen Astrid move like that!" Fishlegs exclaimed. He and the other students were beyond shocked that I outperformed them all, minus Astrid. She, Gobber and my father came off as proud more than anything else, which would've felt all the better if I wasn't cheating.
"Well, if ya plan on interrogating my son," dad began, one of his meaty hands grasping my shoulder, "why not do it over lunch? It might not be noon yet, but I'm certainly hungry enough for it. Gobber, take the rest of the trainees to the Mead Hall for something to eat. Hiccup and I will be just behind you; I'd like to have a word with him in private."
"You 'eard 'im laddies! to the Hall," Gobber shouted happily as he spun toward the gate on his prosthetic. The others followed, with all but Astrid glaring at me in some form on the way out. None of them seemed as chipper as Gobber, and I was certain that meant I was in for something akin to an interrogation when they finally had me by myself.
"Hiccup," my father started as the arena emptied to just the two of us, "where did you learn how to move like that? ...And how long has it been like this, anyway?" He took a moment to look me over. "I assume it's how you caught that knife," gesturing to the scabs over my freshly-unbandaged fingers.
"It's like I said, dad. I've spent a lot of time in the forests on this island, and its been really helpful. I've also done a bit of swimming in the ocean, and the water helps people of... 'my' stature speed themselves up, or so I've found."
"And that's all?" he asked slyly, the cheeks under his beard raising in a smile. "You haven't had any other help with this, have you?"
"That's right," I said as we made for the gate. "And don't forget, I am a blacksmith's apprentice. If you don't have nimble hands when you work that job, you either learn or suffer the consequences," I mentioned as I absentmindedly stroked an old smithing scar.
"I see. So Astrid likes a man with nimble hands, does she?" my father asked through a chuckle.
"DAD! Wait, you've got- that's not right- I mean, just- Gods, that's not correct!" I stammered as I stumbled, my legs tripping up on nothing. It took a moment for me to regain my balance, and by that point my father was full-out laughing.
"Alright," he took control of his laughter, "alright, I believe you. But I have to say, you almost remind me of the way I was when I first started seeing your mother..." I chose not to interrupt his thoughts, hoping I'd have at least a few moments of silence to collect myself before he started speaking again.
"...Right. You have to be tough on yourselves," echoed Gobber's voice from behind the doors of the Mead Hall. My father pulled the entrance open, following in after me as it slowly swung shut. We both grabbed a plate and drink before heading to the trainee table, where I took my seat across from Astrid. I ate in silence for a moment as my father slapped Gobber in the shoulder, gesturing to the table they usually sat at. Gobber nodded, told us to behave and left with my father. the moment they were out of earshot, Fishlegs spoke up.
"Hey! Uh, Hiccup. Good job today," he said in a strangely forced tone. I glanced around the table at the others, who were unsurprisingly glaring at me with a combination of confusion and irritation. It seemed more and more likely that not a single person believed my 'blacksmith wandering the forest' explanation, which I wasn't at all surprised by.
"Look," spat Snotlout as he leaned forward in his seat, "we wanna know what's going on. We're supposed to work together now that our group's in Dragon Training, and you're holding out on us? If what you're doing is so good at making you a decent fighter for once, imagine what it could do for someone like me!"
"Well, Snotlout, it's not like anyone in 'our' group ever bothered reaching out to me until very recently," I replied, hoping Astrid would understand I wasn't grouping her with the rest of them. "So, you can't exactly blame me for 'holding out on you' when the main reason I spent all of my time hiding either in the forge or the forest to begin with was to avoid getting beat on. Or locked in a shed. Or pelted with rocks. Or dragged through a field. Or tied to a tree. Or shoved into the ocean when it's freezing outside; do you need me to keep going?"
"...No," came Fishlegs, of all people. I glanced at him for a moment before continuing.
"Besides, what I've been doing hasn't made me a better fighter. All its improved is my speed, and that's not exactly the easiest thing to 'teach' someone. And even if I could, we're going to be too busy training dragons to have the time," I reminded them, hoping they'd finally let it rest.
"Training dragons?" Fishlegs replied. "Almost sounds like you're trying to teach it a trick, or something. Like it's a pet." He and the others sniggered at the idea while I silently tried to keep myself from going pale. Astrid fared a bit better than me at laughing it off, but was still noticeably uncomfortable.
"Yeah, that's a funny... Slip-up, there. I meant training with dragons, not training them. Like you could really train a dragon," I said with a forced laugh. "Yeah, just show up in the kill ring and hope the Nadder won't rip you limb from limb when you open its cage. 'Do a flip and you get a fish!' Sign me up." To my surprise, the others actually laughed at my sarcasm for once, which helped ease my nerves.
"So, uh, Hiccup," began Fishlegs again after the bit of laughter faded, "we're... Sorry. Sorry for doing all of those things to you. And I'm not just saying that because I want you to tell us how you've gotten so much faster." The rest of the table followed up with mumbles of agreement, their eyes looking anywhere but at me. I was definitely taken aback by the apology, even if I hadn't completely forgotten their seven-year torment or Fishlegs' complacency with it.
"Well, Fishlegs, and everyone else who said... Something. Thanks for the apology," I returned awkwardly. "It's nice of you, really." The table drifted quickly into a cloud of uncomfortably silent chewing, giving me a moment to think about my next move while I finished eating in relative peace.
"Are you gonna be busy after this?" Fishlegs spoke nervously again, his plate covered in nothing but cleaned bones. "If you're not, do you maybe want to help me update the Dragon Manual?" In truth I wanted to get in the air to clear my head, but the offer was a definite opportunity for me. Before he could withdraw(He was often as timid as I was), I jumped on it.
"Alright, but not until later. Running from that Gronckle really tired me out, so I'm planning on taking a nap after this," I said quietly, hoping no one else had overheard. Not that I expected the others were eager to spend an evening reading the Manual with Fishlegs, but easing just one person into my world would be hard enough. Luckily, the twins had finally relaxed enough to start wrestling, and Snotlout was too busy laughing and cheering them on to care.
"Hey you two, would you mind if I came with?" Astrid piped up, much to Fishlegs' confusion.
"Uh, are you sure, Astrid? You never struck me as the kind of person to care much about the manual..."
"I've read it a few times, but never all in one sitting. It might be good for my training if I see what you two add to it," she answered casually as Tuffnut's helmet loudly clattered under the table.
"Well, I guess it wouldn't be a problem," Fishlegs admitted while looking over the twins. Tuffnut, pinned to the ground by his sister, whipped his head back and knocked her in the face with it. She retaliated by shoving him back down against the stone floor.
"Just as long as neither of us starts acting like that," I injected as Snotlout decided to join the fray. Within moments, Ruff and Tuff both had him pinned to the ground.
"Definitely not. I don't want anyone damaging the manual; It'd just be more work to fix it," he said, glancing down at his bony plate. "Well, Hiccup, I'm gonna grab some more. You want anything?"
"No thanks, I'm good. This was enough for me," I lied. Fishlegs nodded and walked off, leaving just Astrid and I at the table with the others in a pile nearby.
"That was way too close for me. Nice save, though," Astrid said while adjusting one of her shoulder pads nervously. "So... Did you really think the Nadder might have tried hurt us?"
"No. I knew she wouldn't just because of how she sounded," I whispered, making sure no one was paying attention. "She's not dangerous. If you know what you're doing, no dragon is dangerous. At least, no dragon I've ever met," I said, to which Astrid glared at me. "Look, the Red Death doesn't even count as a dragon; It's pure evil," I said as I stood up to leave. Astrid did the same, but before we made for the door Fishlegs returned with another full plate.
"Enjoy your nap, Hiccup. And while we're working on the manual, maybe we could talk about what a Night Fury's stats might be? I always thought it was an interesting topic to talk about, but no one else seems to."
"Well, I don't see why not!" I said with a smile. "I have some theories about what one might actually be like... But we can talk more about it tonight, since I really should get going. Enjoy the rest of your lunch." With a wave I turned to leave, hearing Astrid say something about her axe-throwing in the forest on my way out. After slipping outside I waited for a moment before she emerged, punching me on the arm playfully after closing the door behind her. Smiling, I rubbed where she hit me as we made for the forest.
"Well, today sure has been eventful," Astrid said as we slipped down an empty part of the village. "Especially for you, considering how many lucky breaks the Gods have thrown your way. First the dragons agree to help you, and then no one questions how you managed to beat us all at training because they were too embarrassed about treating you like dirt. Now we've got an easy way to get Fishlegs on our side, and it's only noon," she said happily. "What's next, your dad finding out about Toothless and being okay with it?" I shared a laugh with her as we entered the border of trees, disappearing into the brush.
"You're absolutely insane, I swear! That flight could've been the death of me! I could've fallen, we could've hit something, something COULD have happened! Sure it was a lot of fun but maybe WARN me next time-!" Astrid had been rambling without rest during the walk back to Berk, having spent the time for my 'nap' on dragonback. We were having a bit of fun in the air when Toothless and I decided to let her experience and inverted flight - without telling her. I knew it'd mean getting an earful, but playing around with Astrid was proving more fun that I'd ever imagined. Especially when I wasn't worried about her inflicting real pain on me as a result.
"That may be," I said, interrupting her for the first time since we left the cove, "but you have to admit it'd be an interesting way to die."
"Well... Yeah, it would. But I've got way too much to do before that happens... Including seeing more drawings of us in those journals of yours," she said quickly while throwing a hand in my vest to grab the book hidden within.
"Hey!" I shouted, turning out of the way just quickly enough to keep her from grabbing it. "I told you, you'll see them eventually, this one included! But we're coming up on my house now, and I don't know if Fishlegs is-"
"Hiccup? Astrid?" came Fishlegs, his voice echoing from the front door of my house. We'd just broken through the foliage, and he'd apparently heard us arrive.
"Yeah?" I called out, which pulled the massive trainee into view from around the corner of the building.
"Hi, you two. Um, what were you doing in the woods? I thought you were taking a nap."
"Oh, yeah. I was in this little safe house I have hidden out there, just in case I can't get back home for whatever reason. I slept there so no one would bother me, and then I uh, ran into Astrid on my way back into the village."
"I guess that makes sense," Fishlegs replied, much to my relief. "Anyway, let's go to the Mead Hall. There's probably not many people there, so finding a table shouldn't be a problem." With the Dragon Manual under his arm, we walked in a calm silence through the darkened village.
We found the Mead Hall to be almost entirely empty. The few Vikings within were at a table near the towering double doors, drinking and paying us no attention. The rest of the hall was empty and dark, the few candles still left burning casting long shadows up the walls. In the far corner was a lone table that I often used before training began, which we seated ourselves at with a freshly-lit candle.
Silence filled the table for a few minutes while Fishlegs opened the manual and pulled and organized a large stack of notes from between the cover and first page. Flipping over to a random entry, he started erasing small details and replacing them with new ones.
"I'm just updating some statistics on the dragons we've got locked in the kill ring," he said, answering me before I could ask. "Some small details, but mostly an increase to the Gronckle's accuracy statistics. I'd never had much of a chance to observe them when they raided us, so I never realized just how good they were at aiming."
"They are pretty accurate. More than I figured they were, at any rate," I commented as Fishlegs continued scribbling down numbers. "So, uh...Are you the one that put those in the manual?"
"The dragon stats? Yeah, that was me. I figured a number system would be an easy reference guide to dealing with dragons. It never occurred to me that most Vikings don't seem to understand numbers," Fishlegs said, as he flipped to another page of his notes to copy them over to the manual. "But even so, I still think it's important to record it. Having the reference is nice, even if no one notices."
"I'm sure someone will eventually," I reassured him. "After all, Vikings are stubborn, not stupid. If anyone notices how much easier these, uh, statistics make dealing with dragons, I'm sure it'll eventually catch on." Fishlegs nodded, his attention mostly on the manual. I went about rubbing the bruise on my head when what he said hit me. "So wait, you're the reason the manual has those numbers? I mean, all of them? Seems like a lot of work for one person."
"Yeah, but I don't think it's too much for me. I spend a lot of time with the manual anyway, since I'm, uh... Not the best fighter on the Island. But I am good with numbers."
"Fishlegs," Astrid began, speaking up for the first time since we sat down, "just because you're not a good fighter doesn't mean you have to bury yourself in a book. Look at Hiccup: he can't fight, but he's quick. You just have to find your niche on the battlefield," she told him truthfully. Fishlegs stared at the page for a moment before turning his attention to her.
"Astrid, I appreciate it, but I've been trying to use my hammer for years. I'm still terrible with it... " He never liked talking about his fighting ability, and I was afraid he might close himself off from us if I didn't say something to bring his spirits back up.
"Fishlegs, Astrid may be on to something. I never really bothered learning how to fight because I've always been too weak for the heavy weaponry our village uses. I never thought I could do it, so I didn't try. It didn't dawn on me until very recently that I'd probably perform better with a sword made for my size and speed," I said in an effort to pull him back out of his slump.
"A fast weapon? What, like a dagger, or something?"
"Nah, a dagger's too small to be used reliably as a primary weapon. I'm talking about something like a short sword, only balanced for someone of my stature. I have a decent idea of how I want it, but I won't really have the time until after dragon training." My mind wandered from my sword to a similar idea for him. "With that in mind, Fishlegs, You'd probably be better off with a much larger weapon."
"Wait, why a big weapon? Because I'm a bigger... Viking?" That was the reason, but I didn't want him to think I was picking on him considering how hypocritical it would be from me.
"Well, yes and no. You're big and slow, but your arms are about as thick around as Tuffnut's chest. With the kind of power you have behind you, a large overreaching weapon makes a lot more sense than that tiny hammer. It'd make up for your lack of speed by vastly increasing your range. In fact, I have some ideas..." My voice trailed off as I thought, and in the hopes that Fishlegs might keep asking questions.
"Play to my strengths? Ideas? What... What kind of ideas?" he asked, his self-doubt seemingly falling from his mind.
"Weapon ideas. I could make you an overlong war hammer with a giant head, blunted on one end with a spike on the other... The handle would probably be made of steel, maybe hickory if I can find another good piece. Regardless, I think something like that would be far better suited for you than our standard hammers. It'd probably have a much more gratifying swing, too, and it would let you hit harder than damn near anyone else on the island. Well, except for the dragons," I said, hoping to get a smile from him. It worked.
"I guess my hammer is a little small for me. I mean, when I use the thing, I can barely feel it..."
"Yeah, and I can barely lift it. Which is why I'm better off with a short sword. It's like you said to me a few days ago: I may have 'plus five speed,' but I'm also down in points on strength." I almost laughed at the idea of assigning numbers to skills and weaknesses. Fishlegs would be the one to come up with something like that.
"Wait, why did I never consider actually sitting down and doing that? Give everyone in our group their own statistics! That way, you can help them with their weapons, too!"
"It's not a bad idea," Astrid interjected, "but you need to be less involved with telling them about it. Snotlout and the twins aren't exactly as smart as you are, so you'd probably be better off avoiding the explanation and just saying it's so Hiccup can make them better weapons. After all, he personally builds them for us." I wasn't going to mention that to him, but I didn't mind Astrid saying it.
"Really? Even though... We all turned our backs on you?"
"Yep. Like how most of the village may treat me like a pest, but they'd still defend me from a dragon if it came to it? I can't defend you in battle myself, but my weapons sure can. We're Vikings, after all; we care for our own."
"But we don't-"
"But nothing," I interrupted him. "Fishlegs, don't worry about it. What's past is past, and there's no changing that. Now, don't we have a manual to update?" I asked, hoping he'd be more open to suggestion after my reassurance. He seemed a bit at ease as he flipped to the page in the manual detailing, however sparsely, the Night Fury.
"The unholy offspring of lightning and death itself. Speed, size, shot limit, wingspan, weight and everything else: all unknown. No one's ever even seen one." He began shuffling through his notes before coming to a page with some decent-looking drawings.
"I tried sketching out what I think it might look like. Do you ever think about that?" Since my childhood I'd wondered what a Night Fury looked like, and having become the Bond-Brother of one I knew Fishlegs's guess was incorrect. The color was right, but pretty much everything else wasn't. His sketch looked a bit like a pitch black Nadder with the spikes on its head and tail removed, standing at about the height of a Nightmare.
"For as long as I knew they even existed," I said as I reached for my journal. "I've also got some examples of what one loo- er, might look like," I corrected myself, ignoring the little slip up as I pulled out a few carefully chosen old watercolor paintings of Toothless. I unfolded and shuffled through them one last time before handing them off to Fishlegs, whose eyes went wider as he flipped through them.
"Wow, I didn't know you could paint! This is a lot more detailed than the one I made, too. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you're close to the real thing. Would you mind if I kept one of these and sketched it into the manual? It might be useful as a possible identifier in the future!" I considered if it would be a problem letting one out of my hands, but anyone could tell Toothless was a dragon, manual or not.
"You can use one, but only one. No point in putting a lot of time into it when we're not even sure if this is what it looks like." Fishlegs placed them on the table in front of him and glanced them all over.
"Hiccup," he eventually said, his eyes not leaving the papers, "in all of these paintings... The dragon looks rather unintimidating. It's eyes even look like giant cat eyes. Don't you have any that make it seem more... Ferocious?" I really never pictured Toothless as ferocious-looking once we started getting along, and I hadn't even considered picturing him that way. I didn't even think I could.
"No, no... Those, they're the best ones. I wanted him to look more... Natural. I mean, dragons can't always be horrible killing machines. Even the best Vikings in history took breaks from fighting, spent time with friends and families. I wanted to try and paint a dragon that way," I explained, hoping he wouldn't prod too much deeper into it.
"Huh, I never thought of that before. But it's hard to think of a dragon doing anything but fighting, so that's probably why." Returning the others, Fishlegs kept only the panting that included both Toothless and I; most likely because it gave a reference to how big the Night Fury was.
"Well, we have a decent enough picture for the book but still no stats. Any ideas?" I shook my head, since I didn't know how his system of 'stats' even worked. Astrid did much the same next to me.
"Hm. Well, explaining how the numbers work shouldn't be too hard. And when I'm done you can give me a hand tweaking them for the Gronckle!"
"Uh... Sure, why not?" I replied begrudgingly. We were about to embark on a very long and dull explanation, but it would hopefully help with letting Fishlegs in on the truth.
"Alright! This isn't too difficult to understand, anyway. You'll probably get it in a few minutes," he said as he flipped through the manual to an explanation page that detailed how 'Dragon Statistics' worked.
Half an hour later, Fishlegs and I had just finished explaining the system to Astrid. I understood it all well enough after reading over the entry a few times, but until I laid it all out for her Astrid couldn't follow what Fishlegs was saying. His heart was in the right place, but his mouth wasn't capable of explaining what his brain had come up with. If we could I'd have liked to help him rewrite the passage, but there was only so much time to work with.
Fishlegs had created a system of numbers to explain how dragons compared to Vikings in ability. It took the averages of speed, strength, endurance and other categories from Vikings around the island and used them as a base to gauge the dragons that often invaded. Categories Vikings didn't have, like fire and venom, were based on the kind of damage they did during a raid.
While not perfect it gave a general idea of what to expect from a fight with a dragon, and was far more intuitive in battle than a long-winded explanation. The higher the number, the better the dragon was in that category. Simple, at least when Fishlegs wasn't the one explaining it.
"So now that you know how it works, what would you say the Night Fury's stats are?" Fishlegs asked Astrid and I. "My guess puts it somewhere close to a Nadder, but a lot faster. Plus fifteen speed to the Nadder's eight at least," he continued, his eyes wide with anticipation for our comments. I had a very hard time suppressing the grin coming to my face, and tried to get rid of it by speaking.
"That seems a bit low, actually. The Night Fury's probably closer to plus thirty in speed, maybe about five in size, a shot limit of ten, plus fourteen to fire heat... The wingspan and other measurements I took a guess at are already on the painting." Of the facts I'd learned about Toothless, the one that remained uncertain was his speed. Wind would nearly rip me from his back whenever we tried reaching his maximum, but hopefully the redesigned saddle would fix that.
"Hiccup... Plus thirty? Really? I don't think anything can fly that fast, not even a Night Fury."
"I'm only basing that off of the fact that every time I've tried shooting the thing down, I miss by miles. I just can't react fast enough."
"Fine... But what about the rating of fourteen for fire heat? The Nadder's is twenty. You don't think a Night Fury's fire is hotter?"
"Why should he?" Astrid interjected; after all, we were talking about 'her' dragon. "There are no known dragons that come close to a Nadder's heat. The next one in line is the Nightmare and that's only plus nine, according to your numbers. Besides, when that dragon shows up it tends to explode things, not burn them."
"Good point," Fishlegs said while flipping through pages and comparing stats. "Yeah, the Night Fury is cool and all, but between us I still prefer the Gronckle. They might not be as mysterious as the legendary offspring of lightning and death itself, but I still like them."
"You like the Gronckle?" Astrid feigned surprise. Quickly Fishlegs began sinking into his seat, apparently embarrassed over admitting such a thing. "Well if it's anything to you, I'd keep a Nadder as a pet if I could," she told him, popping Fishlegs back up in surprise.
"Really? I always thought you hated everything about dragons. Why do you like the Nadder?" Astrid smiled.
"It's light on its feet, deadly in battle and does everything it can to keep itself in top form. Even if they do raid us for food, you have to admire their ability." Admiration wasn't a common thing to be had for dragons, especially from Astrid(at least until very recently).
"Hiccup, what about you? I assume it's the Night Fury, based on your pictures," Fishlegs said while gesturing to the painting.
"You'd definitely be right about that. I feel like the Night Fury and I are pretty similar: rather than attacking with the other dragons, he randomly shows up alone, deals an enormous amount of damage and then flies off without taking anything. Like an outcast among dragons." The Red Death's reign essentially meant this was true; Toothless's species hadn't been allowed anywhere near the nest since the Tyrant took over.
"Oh don't be so dramatic, Hiccup," Astrid playfully spat while she punched me on the arm. "You're not an Outcast, and you're not alone if you have at least one friend. And now you have two, so quit it." Rather than reply I just kept smiling, my other hand mindlessly rubbing the place she always hit.
"She's got a point, Hiccup. If I can't beat myself up about how I've treated you, then you can't mope about it. What's past is past, right?" Fishlegs's relaxed demeanor with us made me wonder if it was time to bring up the true reason Astrid and I were even here. Some ideas in mind, I let him continue a bit more on the journal before speaking up again.
"Fishlegs, can I ask you a question?" He looked back up at me and nodded.
"Have you ever wondered what Berk would be like if we didn't have to constantly worry about getting attacked by dragons in the middle of the night?" Fishlegs's writing stopped, but he kept his eyes on the book in front of him.
"Of course, Hiccup. Who on this island hasn't? Most of the deaths that happen here are because of them." A few pages were flipped, and his pencil began writing once again.
"Yeah, I figured you'd say something like that," I said casually. "Now... Have either of you ever wondered what Berk would be like if the dragons were friendly?" Fishlegs stopped writing once again.
"I know I have," Astrid replied. "More than a few times. Sure, I love learning how to defend my tribe from them, but defending my tribe with them would be amazing."
"It would," said Fishlegs, his attention entirely out of the manual. "Like at dinner when Hiccup mistakenly said we'd be training dragons instead of training against them. Having them as pets would be amazing, and it'd also mean never being raided by other tribes or even outcasts." Finally, it felt like we were getting somewhere.
"Hm. I hadn't considered that," I lied, having long-since accepting I'd be doing a lot of it. "Even Alvin the Treacherous himself wouldn't stand a chance against us. We'd solve both of our biggest problems by using one against the other."
"Yeah. Too bad it'd never happen, though. It's a lot of fun to think about, but the truth is they are just ruthless killing machines looking for food, right? Otherwise they wouldn't raid us all the time." It was getting pretty late, and I had a feeling Fishlegs would probably be heading to bed shortly. I needed to plant a seed of doubt before I'd let that happen.
"I'm not so sure about that, to be honest. The more I think about it, the less sense it makes." I waited in silence, hoping he would take the bait.
"What do you mean? They raid us to eat. What is there to make sense of?"
"Hiccup and I talked about this earlier," Astrid spoke up. "The raiding dragons take everything they can get their claws on, but the ones in the kill ring eat very little in comparison. Hiccup here seems to think that means the raiders might serving a dragon Queen of sorts, and they might stop if the Queen dies." Whatever bit of tiredness on Fishlegs's face vanished in an instant.
"How... How did I never notice that?! You're absolutely right! If there is a Dragon Queen and he's forcing them to raid us, we could end the war by killing him! Hiccup, we need to tell your dad about this-"
"Wait, Fishlegs, hold on a minute; we don't know whether or not that's the truth. Even if it is, and this Queen is eating most of our supplies, imagine how colossal the thing would have to be. It'd make a Nightmare seem like a Terror in comparison, otherwise it wouldn't need to eat nearly as much." As quickly as it came, Fishlegs's peppiness vanished.
"...I wish you weren't right, but you probably are."
"True, but that doesn't make it impossible. If we want to kill the Queen we'll have to use the dragons themselves."
"How?" he asked in confusion. "Hiccup, the dragons in the kill ring are way too violent for that. Even the Terror attacks anyone that comes near it! How could we possibly use them as weapons against a huge dragon when we'd be too busy trying to keep them from killing us?"
"Therein lies the main reason Astrid and I wanted to help you with the manual this evening. Fishlegs, what I'm about to say cannot be repeated outside of this table, even if no one would believe you. In fact, that probably applies to this entire evening. Got it?" He stared at me, unblinking, for what seemed like an eternity.
"I don't know why, but... Sure."
"Alright, good. Now, this is all going to sound mostly to entirely unbelievable, but hear me out: none of the dragons in the kill ring are actually all that violent. They're just terrified they might die every time their cage door opens, which is why they lash out. The Terror specifically is really affectionate, especially if you give her food. She's the dragon we'll be up against tomorrow, and if everything goes according to plan she'll retreat back into her cage the moment she sees me. All I'll have to do is stand there."
"Listen, Fishlegs. It's getting late, and I have some things to take care of before heading to bed tonight. But before I leave, I need you to do something for me: forget everything I just said for now. If you're convinced after I win the next training session, then we can continue from there. If not, we can just pretend this entire evening never happened and you can go on believing whatever you want. Alright?" Fishlegs's stare continued, breaking only for him to gather his notes and close the manual.
"That definitely sounds like a load of nonsense, especially the assumption that you'll win again tomorrow. But it is the least I can do, so... Deal. I can wait, but for the record, I can't say I believe you." He grabbed the book and stood up. "Not that I hate you, or anything. I just can't see you being right about this. Anyway... Hiccup, Astrid, It is getting late. Thanks for the help, and I'll see you two tomorrow." With a wave and a few moments, he disappeared beyond the door, leaving Astrid and I alone in the Hall.
"So, would you consider that a victory? Because he seemed pretty unconvinced that what you just said is true."
"It might have seemed that way, but I have a feeling he won't be forgetting anything I just said any time soon, even if I told him to. Once you get an idea about dragons into his head, he has a hard time getting it out. If he won't convince himself that I'm right, then tomorrow I'll do it for him."
"That brings me to my second question: what are you planning?"
"Something simple. Let's head down to the docks and grab a few small fish; I have a dragon to talk to."
"One more thing," Astrid said as we made to leave. "I never imagined you'd have the confidence to go through with this so quickly."
"Well, that's because I don't. I'm only telling myself I do because otherwise this'll never end, and that's more important than me being comfortable."
"If you're going through with it, then you're confident enough. Now relax and let's get going to the docks." I pulled open the door to the hall and walked out, Astrid just behind me.
I made my way to the kill ring alone, having asked Astrid if she could distract the guard for me while I swung by the docks. On approach I noticed the gate to the ring was open, its watchman loudly snoring away in a seat nearby. Curious, I stepped down into the small hallway that connected the two gates where Astrid was waiting.
"Took you long enough. I grabbed a couple of my mother's herbs and made a small alteration to the guard's Tankard with them. He should be out for a few hours and since no one saw me do it, he'll just think he fell asleep." With her help the inner gate was open, allowing us to enter the ring.
"He's here! AND FISH! I couldn't make out the rest of the hurried chatter coming from the Terror's cage, but I had a more important matters on my mind.
"Terror, it's Hiccup. And yes this fish is for you, because I need you to do something for me. If the Gronckle's right we'll be fighting you tomorrow, and since I don't want you getting hurt I'm here with a peace offering."
"Something like that. If you run back into your cage tomorrow after you see me, I'll give you this entire bucket of five fish in it." To my surprise, the Terror was silent despite the offer for food. "Terror? Did you he-"
"FIVE?" she loudly chirped. "Five? More than one? All I do is run back into my cage?" More chirping filled the area. "Give me fish now and I run into my cage tomorrow." Slightly relieved, I unlocked the feeding door to the dragon's cage and overturned the bucket of fish in front of it. Pushing the flap open with one hand, I slid the fish in with the other. The door hadn't even shut before the sounds of a dragon gorging itself echoed from behind it.
"So we have a deal, then. Tomorrow, just run back into you cage, but only after you see me. I need everyone thinking I won this one, too." It was for a greater cause, but the lying still bothered me.
"Don't worry about it, Hiccup. We'll make sure she doesn't forget. Now go to sleep." The Nadder's tired-sounding rumble was unexpected, but reassuring.
"Thanks, Stormfly. I appreciate it. I'll talk to you later."
"Storm-Fly? What did you call me?" She sounded more awake now, and thankfully not upset. I figured I might as well explain it, even though I didn't really mean to use the name.
"Hiccup, what did she say?"
"She just asked me why I called her Stormfly. Why don't you explain it to her?" Astrid's eyes widened, but her surprise didn't keep her from speaking.
"Uh, N-Nadder? It's Astrid, the girl you met before. The name 'Stormfly' is the name that I, uh, chose for you... If you decided to make me your rider."
"Stormfly? Well, I can't say I dislike the name. Let the girl know I'm fine with her choice, alright?" She let out a loud yawn. "Now please get going. I need to sleep."
"I'll do that, Stormfly. And good night." The ring went silent again, save for the sound of the Terror chomping away at the fish I gave her. We left the arena, the bucket I brought the fish in now sitting next to the passed-out guard. Neither of us said a word until we were in the village square, just outside of Astrid's home.
"So... What did she say?"
"She's fine with it. That and she's about as easy to read as you are, but you both seem set with the idea of being rider and dragon, so don't worry about it." Astrid sighed, following up with a punch and a peck on the cheek before bidding me a good night. I began dragging myself home after she slipped inside, so exhausted I barely noticed the uphill trek.
My house was still and quiet, my father's snoring the only sound coming from within. I quietly climbed the stairs as not to wake him and fell into my bed, passing out in an instant.