Hiccup tensed anxiously as Strangler descended, trying to notice what each and every Viking was doing. Stoick had paused in his departure, slinging a small knife into the sky, and Hiccup watched unhappily as Strangler barely managed to dodge it. In a matter of moments the small dragon landed on his shoulder and the eyes of the Vikings were upon him.
Hiccup knew that, whatever happened now, he wouldn't be able to keep his secret any longer. He had to protect Strangler and he had to know what the dragon intended to say. It had to be important if the Terror had risked so much to find him.
Around him the Vikings slowly crept closer, shouting meaningless platitudes and cautioning him to remain still. Hiccup ignored them. He knew that they wouldn't attack, not with Strangler draped over his shoulders as he was. Vikings were dragon killers but they weren't about to hurt Hiccup. The teenager knew, however, that what he did next might change all that.
'Be brief,' he growled quietly, knowing that some of the Vikings surrounding him would have heard.
Eyes whirling furiously, aware of the danger he was in, Strangler did as Hiccup asked. 'She's losing control,' he said quickly, not needing to clarify. 'Hundreds are fleeing. Some come for you.'
Hiccup nodded, mind rapidly running through scenarios, and was incredibly grateful that Strangler had come, no matter the consequences – this was important news.
A Viking inched closer to him, bringing his attention back to those around him, and Hiccup was willing to bet that it was only because Strangler's teeth were so close to his neck that he hadn't been tackled yet. Still, they seemed to be giving him odd glances, having no doubt heard his growls. Hiccup moved slowly, pulling Strangler from his shoulders as though he meant to kill the dragon himself. The Vikings around him relaxed, clearly intending to let him, and Hiccup took the opportunity for what it was.
'Be swift,' he growled, knowing that would be enough of a warning, and flung the Terror into the air.
There were shouts of surprise all around him and Hiccup immediately pulled his dagger from his belt as Strangler flapped frantically. Let them think he intended to kill his friend in mid-air. Hopefully, given that he was the son of the chief, they would stand back and allow him what they thought would be his first kill. There was a pause as Hiccup fingered his dagger and nobody moved.
As Hiccup hesitated however, the Vikings grew restless as Strangler got farther and farther away. Stoick, not understanding his son's reluctance to throw, was the first to move. He grabbed a dagger from a nearby Viking, having thrown his earlier, and hurled it with frightening accuracy at the tiny green dragon. It was then that Hiccup made his move.
Reacting with lightning speed, Hiccup threw his dagger, praying to Odin, Thor, and all the gods that it would meet its mark. And, with a harsh clang of metal, Hiccup's dagger collided with Stoick's, bringing them both to the ground. Strangler flew safely out of range.
The shocked Vikings turned their eyes on him and Hiccup knew his life had changed forever.
For what seemed like eternity, nobody moved. Hiccup stood there will all eyes on him, not meeting any of the gazes, and wondered if he should just run now, before anyone could do anything about it. But running was cowardly and Hiccup still held out a slim hope that he would be able to explain himself. There was no way that his actions could be mistaken for anything other than what they were, he knew that. His accuracy was as good as his father's, able to hit a small moving target in mid-air. It hadn't been an accident and no amount of lying could turn it into one.
Slowly, unsure of how to react, the Vikings turned to their chief. Stoick was stationary; the expression on his face unreadable, but Hiccup saw the anger behind his eyes.
"What, was that?" Stoick finally asked slowly, in a low dangerous voice. Clearly he too hoped that an explanation would solve everything.
But Hiccup couldn't lie. "The knife slipped" wouldn't be an acceptable excuse. He squared his shoulders. "He wasn't hurting anyone Dad," he said strongly, allowing his voice to carry to all the Vikings present.
Stoick almost took a step back in surprise. "Wasn't hurting anyone?" he growled angrily, voice rising. "It was a dragon!"
"And dragons aren't what we think they are!" Hiccup protested. He had to get out of there. Aside from worrying what the Vikings would do to him, Strangler had told him that the Queen would be sending dragons after him specifically. Even after everything, he didn't want to put Berk in danger. This was where he had grown up and there were people that he cared about here, even if he no longer called it home or if they didn't feel the same way. "We don't have to kill them!"
There was a stunned silence at his words and Hiccup could already hear the whispers of "traitor" floating through the mob.
"Leave us." Stoick's words were low and dangerous, his eyes boring into Hiccup, and the Vikings surrounding him murmured in surprise. "Leave us!"
The Vikings dispersed as Hiccup stood resolutely in place. He caught a glimpse of Astrid's worried face as she left before Stoick grabbed a hold of his arm. It was painful, and Hiccup struggled a bit, but his wiry strength was no match for his father's brute force.
"Dad listen to me," he tried to reason. "There's so much more going on than you know."
Stoick didn't pause, dragging him off to the Great Hall where they could speak in silence. Hiccup was thrown to the ground as Stoick paced and quickly scrambled upward, ignoring the pain as he landed on his wounded leg. It was hard to believe that the injury had been obtained mere hours ago.
"I should have known. I should have seen the signs," Stoick muttered to himself.
Hiccup tried to approach him. "Dad, listen-"
"We had a deal!" Stoick roared at him, pausing to say something before stopping short. He went back to pacing.
"A deal you forced me into!" Hiccup countered, done with everything being blamed on him. "I know how to fight dragons Dad, I'm just not going to kill them."
"So everything in the ring. A trick? A lie?" The chief stomped toward Hiccup, struggling with his words. Before Hiccup could answer Stoick turned to him, eyes narrowed. "The dragons all escaped." It wasn't a question.
Hiccup didn't know what to say. "They're not our enemies Dad!" It was as good as a confession.
His father took another step forward. "There are no Outcasts, are there?" His voice was low and dangerous again.
Now he'd done it. On top of defending a dragon, freeing the dragons, and basically betraying the values of Vikings, Hiccup had wasted valuable village resources on a threat that didn't exist. There would be no getting out of this. Hopefully Stoick would leave soon though, affording Hiccup the opportunity to escape and get Berk out of danger. Hiccup shook his head.
Stoick stared at him. "You've thrown your lot in with them," he stated accusingly. "You're not a Viking." He paused. "You're not my son." The chief made to leave, ignoring Hiccup's devastation, and paused once more. "Your trial will be in an hour."
And then the door was shut behind him, leaving Hiccup alone in the dark. But, as Hiccup reminded himself, he wasn't alone, and no matter what inner turmoil he was facing now, Stoick had just afforded him the opportunity he needed. He already knew the outcome of the "trial" anyway. Banishment was rare in Berk, but for someone who defended dragons, who betrayed Viking values so easily? Well, Hiccup knew what was coming for him. There was no point sitting around waiting for it. As for his other words... Hiccup would think about that later. When he didn't feel like crying at the thought.
The dragon rider didn't wait long after his father had left to make his own way out. Sneaking out of the village was harder this time, the paths and alleyways filled with gossiping Vikings, but Hiccup was an expert in stealth. He made it to the woods easily enough, racing down the familiar hidden trails to safety.
He had stopped running by the time he got to the Cove but he was still short of breath, and in a hurry. He slipped quickly into the entrance, mind racing with all that had occurred (he had had plenty of time to think on the way), and paused as he glanced around. His eyes found Toothless first and a great wave of relief swept over the young rider as he realized his friend was safe. Much calmer, Hiccup continued scanning the Cove; first Meatlug, then the Zippleback, the Nightmare, the two Nadders, and finally Strangler. They were all safe.
Hiccup took a deep breath, allowing himself to grin. He didn't know why he had been so worried – there was no reason to believe that the Vikings had discovered the Cove – but he nevertheless felt as though a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. 'They're all safe,' he repeated to himself.
Now it was time to act.
Taking a few moments for himself, Hiccup took a few deep breaths. First, he made sure that all the dragons were aware of the situation, and knew what Strangler had already told him. Once everyone had the full picture, and was assured of each other's safety, they gathered around to discuss the problem.
The way Hiccup saw it, they had four problems: first that dragons were fleeing from the Red Death, they would be hungry and confused and need a place to go; second was that the Red Death hadn't lost control of all the dragons yet, and some of the ones still in her influence would be going after Hiccup and Toothless; third, he couldn't stay on Berk; and fourth, and it was only really a problem for Hiccup, some of the freed dragons would likely head in the direction of Berk.
Hiccup couldn't be in three places at once and even if he and Toothless split it wouldn't accomplish anything. Not that they even considered it.
'I can take care of the free dragons,' Ripwing offered.
The rider looked toward his friend. Ripwing lived on a fairly large island – still with his parents, though he wouldn't for much longer – and it was just out of the Red Death's range of control. The dragons would be safe there and it was a good resting point anyway.
He nodded in agreement, exchanging glances with Toothless. 'Alright,' he agreed, 'two dragons with one axe. We'll pack up here and head to Timberjack Island. Once there, you guys can set up a base for the coming dragons.' He gestured toward all the dragons but Toothless. That would get him out of Berk as well as take care of the freed dragons.
The Nadder Astrid had flown cocked her head at him. 'And what will you be doing?'
Hiccup and Toothless exchanged glances again, speaking in silence, and Hiccup grinned up at his friends. 'We've got a horde of dragons coming for us. We thought they might be up to a chase.' He didn't say that he was going to try and keep dragons away from Berk at the same time, knowing that he was taking a chance to even get them to agree to his current plan.
The dragons seemed worried but they knew perfectly well that Toothless was the fastest of them all. Besides, both dragon and his rider were known for their stubbornness, they wouldn't be persuaded otherwise.
Problems solved, even if the solutions weren't perhaps the best, Hiccup went back into action. He wouldn't be taking the lean-to with him, or even dismantling the makeshift hut, but he didn't want to leave his things behind. With Strangler following him inside, Hiccup began to pack, wondering on the fact that he couldn't think of a single thing from his room in Berk that he would regret leaving behind. He truly had left his Viking lifestyle a long time ago, even if he was only just realizing it now. He had never really been a Viking, he had known that, but he had never thought about how little he relied on Berk to get by. Every time he left he had returned to Berk for the people and so that he wouldn't be punished, not because he really had to. It was a chilling thought that he had become so independent without anyone noticing, but not an unhappy one.
Even now… Well, he still didn't want to think on his dad's words. About his disownment. Because his dad was someone who mattered to him and to have been so thoroughly rejected…
The banishment wasn't a surprise though. Hiccup had been thinking about it for weeks. He had known that when the truth was revealed he wouldn't be able to stay in Berk, though he had hoped otherwise.
'What's done is done,' he thought to himself as he threw another journal into a saddlebag. He wouldn't be leaving, not entirely, but he wouldn't be staying.
Exiting the lean-to, Hiccup began to place the saddlebags on Toothless when he heard rustling from behind him. The dragons had already noticed it, waiting silently for him, and they sniffed the air cautiously as Hiccup tensed. He wouldn't have thought that the Vikings would have found him yet but it didn't hurt to be careful.
'Friends,' the Zippleback heads growled together as Meatlug began to move forward.
Toothless silently nodded his agreement – no unknown Vikings were coming – and Hiccup relaxed, wishing he had had his knife. Digging a new one from a nearby saddlebag the exile turned to greet his human friends.
Entering the Cove was Fishlegs – who was promptly bowled over by Meatlug in greeting – and Astrid – who the Nadder chirped hesitantly at. Both looked worried and seemed to have run at least part of the way.
"Hiccup, what are you doing?" Astrid asked before he could open his mouth. "You missed your trial!"
Hiccup failed to hold back a snort. "I already knew the outcome," he pointed out, "long before the trial began. It wasn't going to be anything but banishment."
"Yeah, but…" Astrid faltered and Hiccup's suspicions were confirmed.
'Yep,' he thought, 'definitely exile.' His father had been well within his rights as chief to hold the trial without him. They thought they had decided his fate for him. Nobody human knew that he had chosen it himself, seven years ago when he had saved a young dragon's life.
"You didn't even defend yourself!" Astrid protested, as though that would have changed anything.
"I saved a dragon. I practically told my dad that I freed the arena dragons. They wouldn't have listened." He didn't have time for this. He didn't want to think about Berk, and the people there that had rejected him.
Fishlegs was surprisingly the one to respond. "I did," he spoke confidently, but with sorrow underlying his tone. He knew that however much he had trusted Hiccup, the Berkians wouldn't feel the same.
Meeting Fishlegs' eyes, Hiccup smiled sadly. "I don't have a lot of time," he told them calmly, not trying to rush them but merely stating fact, holding back his frustration with the situation. "But if you want, I could meet you here, two nights from now. Everything should have settled down by then." Perhaps he wasn't ready to cut all ties with Berk. But Fishlegs had been kind to him in the past, and they had believed him in the present. Everyone deserved a second chance.
Fishlegs and Astrid paused, taking in a moment to look around the cove. They noticed the saddlebags on Toothless and the tenseness of the dragons ready to fly.
"Hiccup, what's going on?" Astrid asked again.
Well, now more than ever was the time to be truthful. He was done telling lies and hiding things from the humans around him. As much as his emotions were in turmoil, as much as he couldn't stand to think about what his father had done, some part of him felt free. He wasn't pretending to be a Viking anymore. He was Hiccup. He was a dragon rider. And he would fight for what he believed in, regardless of what others thought.
"The poison didn't kill the Red Death," he told the Vikings, "but it did make her angry. A lot of the dragons are free and in need of help."
"Let us help," Astrid said, exchanging glances with Fishlegs – who nodded in agreement. "You said no last time but, Hiccup, Berk is our village too."
Hiccup held back a wince. "It's not my village anymore," he reminded them, not allowing them to protest. "And it's dangerous, neither of you have a lot of experience flying."
"Life is dangerous," Astrid countered.
"I doubt we're any safer here," Fishlegs added.
It was true that if Hiccup didn't succeed that there was a good chance that Berk would be attacked, but being in the air was still more dangerous. He looked between his two human friends. "Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked again. They were free to make their own choices and he couldn't say that their help wouldn't be useful. Besides, he really didn't have time for this.
Fishlegs and Astrid nodded solemnly.
Finally, Hiccup gave in, pausing momentarily to consider the strengths and weaknesses of their dragons. As he did so, he shifted the saddlebags from Toothless to Ripwing. "Alright, Fishlegs, you go with them," Hiccup instructed when he was done, pointing to Strangler, Ripwing, and the unnamed dragons. "There's an island not far from here, Meatlug knows the way. Any dragons that escape and need help will probably land there. Can you help them?"
Fishlegs nodded again, uncertainty in his eyes but confidence in his movements. He slipped onto Meatlug's back, sent one last glance toward Hiccup, and then took off, a flock of dragons behind him.
That left Hiccup and Toothless with Astrid and her Nadder. Hiccup turned to the Viking next. "That leaves you to protect Berk."
Astrid turned a confused eye toward him. "What?"
"Hundreds of dragons are escaping," Hiccup explained. "They're scared and hungry. You don't need to attack them, just keep them away. All you need to do is circle above Berk and shoot fire if they get too close."
Each of them mounted their respective dragons and Astrid nodded before glancing up at the sky, a worried frown on her face. "It looks like a storm."
Hiccup followed her gaze, shrugging. "It was bound to snow eventually. I'm sure you can handle it."
Before he could take off Astrid stopped him yet again, finally catching onto his wording. "Wait, what are you going to do?"
"We're the Red Death's number one enemy," Hiccup responded, raising an eyebrow. "No matter how distracted she is, she's going to send dragons after us. Toothless and I need to lead them away from here." Beneath him the Night Fury rumbled his agreement.
Astrid only looked at him worriedly. "But…"
Hiccup cut her off, not willing to listen to her concern. He was having a bad day (understatement of the century, despite all that had gone right in the morning) and simply didn't have the time. "Astrid, I'm just asking you to do what you've always done: protect Berk and let me worry about myself." And with those words Hiccup nudged Toothless into flight, leaving Astrid to fly off into the coming storm by herself.
Snow had begun to fall by the time Hiccup and Toothless reached the mist but they paid it no mind. The low visibility would hardly hinder them. Still, Toothless' wing was bruised and the less flying they had to do the safer they would be. Going only so far into the mist as to approach the sea stacks, Toothless landed on the first one, prepared to wait for the inevitable fight that was to come.
They waited in silence, both of them nervous but prepared, and soon enough the sound of wing beats could be heard. Listening and watching closely, Hiccup and Toothless quickly determined which dragons, and how many, were after them. Four Nightmares and four Nadders. Two … no make that three Zipplebacks. Surprisingly a Whispering Death and two Gronckles. Fourteen dragons against the two of them, and more were sure to come.
'You ready bud?' Hiccup asked his best friend, leaning over the dragon's neck.
'Always,' Toothless growled in agreement, tensing his muscles as he prepared to launch himself into the sky.
Following a silent countdown that only the two friends could hear, Toothless waited until he could see all fourteen dragons before taking off. He dove as soon as he left his perch, making his way into the sea stacks. Maneuverability and speed would be their friends.
Some of the approaching dragons fell behind instantly, blinded by the snow and the mists and the coming night and unable to avoid the towers of rock that loomed from the darkness. The Whispering Death had halted right away, unable to turn as quickly as the others, followed by a Nightmare, a Gronckle, and two Zipplebacks. Not to mention that Hiccup was willing to bet that the screech that echoed behind them was a Nadder crashing into a sea stack. Six down, eight to go.
Leaning together to dodge the scorching heat of a Nadder's blast, Hiccup and Toothless turned, flying into a particularly narrow gap between two stacks. The Nadder followed easily but the Nightmare behind it was not so lucky, screeching in anger and pain when it didn't manage to stop in time. With no time to celebrate the victory, Hiccup and Toothless executed a loop in mid-air, ending just above the Nadder that was catching up to them. Bearing down on it, one quick shove from Toothless was enough to send the Nadder careening into a nearby sea stack. Eight down, six to go.
A follow up attack came in the form of a Nightmare, one who had been clever enough to fly above the sea stacks rather than through them. Toothless dove as Hiccup ducked, each of them avoiding the fiery maw that snapped shut on thin air, but they weren't quick enough to avoid the talons that followed. One claw managed to scrape across Hiccup's back, tearing open his vest and leaving him with a long shallow scratch. The rider held back a cry of pain at the attack, quickly determining that the wound wasn't serious.
They twisted to the side, Toothless pushing through the pain of his bruised wing as he flew even faster. Slowly they pulled ahead, weaving through the stacks, but they knew they couldn't keep it up for much longer. Toothless' wings were tiring and in the cold air Hiccup was losing his grip.
As a silent signal, Hiccup placed his hand calmly on Toothless, mid-flight, letting his best friend know that it was okay to slow down. Leveling out, Toothless allowed himself to glide out of the sea stacks, out of the mist but into the darkness that had fallen while they were busy dodging dragons. Hiccup twisted around in his seat, giving the Night Fury a moment of rest, and tried to make out how many dragons were behind them.
The Gronckles had both fallen behind. The Nadder and the Nightmare that had crashed were nowhere to be seen. The two Zipplebacks and the Nightmare that had hesitated at the beginning were also out of sight. The third Zippleback and another Nightmare had slowed down recently. But the Whispering Death had caught up, flying over the stacks, not really needing the best vision thanks to its habit of living underground. Three Nadders were still on their tail. And the Nightmare that had injured Hiccup wasn't far behind.
'Nine down, five to go,' Hiccup thought, leaning forward to give Toothless speed.
After a long moment of gliding one of the Nadders finally surged forward, giving Hiccup and Toothless the opportunity they had been looking for. The Night Fury rolled, staying mainly in place, and shoved out at the Nadder with his claws. Thanks to Toothless' positioning, it crashed into the Nadder behind it, sending both of them careening backward as they screamed and scratched at each other.
Quickly turning, Toothless followed up his kick with a bolt of lightning at the Whispering Death, which it didn't manage to avoid. Hiccup stood, ignoring the pain in his leg and back, and dove for the third Nadder as Toothless tackled the Nightmare.
He landed on the Nadder's wing, causing it to stagger in its flight as he scrambled onto its back. As the Nadder fell slightly, Hiccup waited, allowing it to regain its momentum. Once it was above Toothless he kicked out, hitting the wing he had already injured. This time it shrieked out, falling quickly, and Hiccup took the opportunity to jump off. Catching sight of the Nadder, barely managing to glide before it hit the sea, Hiccup knew it wouldn't be back. He landed on Toothless, prepared to settle into the saddle, but the Night Fury was still struggling with the Nightmare.
Without warning, the enemy dragon's tail smashed into Hiccup, sending him toward the sea that the Nadder had just managed to avoid.
There was no way Toothless would be able to catch him in time, his dragon now battling a Nadder as well as the Nightmare. Hiccup got ready to hit the water, and prepared himself for the cold that would fill him and the salt that would sting his wounds.
This wouldn't be pleasant.
AN: Long wait than I expected, sorry. The scene with Stoick was hard to write, I got caught up in vacation, and then I still had a couple thousand words to go. Hopefully it turned out alright.
If you didn't like the father-son confrontation, sorry again. All I can say is that Hiccup will run into Stoick again.
Anyway, thanks for all the amazing reviews and the many follows and favorites. I'm blown away by the response to this story.
(Oh, and, sorry about the cliffhanger!)