The rain falls in big fat drops around us, slowly and steadily, as if it knows it has time to wear us down. I put my hand out to catch some of the water in my palm. Only two drops meet my skin before I pull my arm back under the makeshift awning.
"We're going to have to think of a more permanent solution," I tell Fishlegs.
He sighs as he glances down at his Gronckle, who is curled up, comfortable and dry, over her nest. Then he shifts the pole from his left hand to his right hand. "Thanks for helping me and Horrorcow," he finally says.
"Of course," I say. "We can't just let her and her eggs get rained on." I glance up at the set-up we've got for the moment. It's pretty much just a blanket nailed to the wall and suspended on two wooden poles. "I think I've got a few ideas that might work. For now, let's get these poles standing on their own."
"Okay. How do we do that?"
"I'll find some more wood to use as supports," I say. "Can you handle this while I find someone to help out?"
"Sure," he says as I lean the pole against the wall, "I just hope the wind doesn't pick up."
Of course, right at that moment, it does.
We both shiver. I tug my vest closed over my chest. "Someone will be along to help you," I tell him as I hurry into the rain.
"What are you doing out here?" a man demands as I pass through the market. He points at me over the counter of his stall. "Hiccup's out again!"
"Get back inside!" a woman calls out, sticking her head out of a window.
"Does your father know you're out?!" another man yells, peering at me from behind the pile of bread loaves in his basket.
I stop and grimace. He does now. How does he always find me? "Yes Dad?" I ask as he charges at me.
"What are you doing outside?" he demands. "Are you actually trying to catch the coughing sickness again?"
"Fishlegs and his Gronckle need help," I say. "I'll be back under cover as soon as I find some wood to use for its shelter."
"You're risking your health for a--?!" He stops. "Don't look at me like that!"
"You promised to make an effort," I remind him.
"There's a difference between a Gronckle who chooses to sit in the rain," he gestures to the sky, then to me, "and the boy who risks his health for that Gronckle."
"It won't take long, I promise," I tell him. "Just let me get Fishlegs set up and he should be able to handle the rest."
Parts of Dad's face twitch. His left eyebrow, the right corner of his mouth, both of his eyes. I can tell he's trying not to scowl. "Here, take this," he says finally. He tugs the pelt off his back and drapes it over my shoulders. I almost fall over from the weight of it.
"Thanks, Dad." I smile. "See? Caring about dragons isn't so hard, is it?"
He shakes his head. "Hurry up so you can get inside to a fire."
"I'll be back at the house in no time," I assure him as I hurry to the weapons stall.
Just before I reach my destination, I see a familiar blonde head coming my way. "Astrid!" I wave at her.
She glances up and walks toward me, tossing her axe from hand to hand. "Hiccup?" she asks. "What are you wearing? And how many of them do you have on?"
"My dad lent it do me," I tell her.
"What are you doing outside, anyway?" she says, expression melting into a frown. "You just recovered."
"I'm just giving Fishlegs a hand. Speaking of, would you mind helping us out? Are you busy?"
She rubs the side of her nose with her finger. "What do I have to do?"
"Just help him hold the cover we've set up for Horrorcow."
"I guess I can do it for a little while."
Astrid gasps. "Hiccup," she says quickly, in a shouting whisper, smacking my arm every time she says my name, "Hiccup. Hiccup!"
"Remember that man you talked about before, during the Helheim thing? The one with no right hand?"
"Is that him?" she asks, grabbing my arm and turning me around.
"I think so," I say, my voice just as urgent as hers now. "You can see him? Wait--Do you know who he is?"
Astrid squeezes my arm, hard. "He's coming this way!"
"Uh," I raise my hands and look around, "Uh. Act normal!" I cross my arms and lean my shoulder against the building next to me.
Astrid grips her axe with both hands and stares at me with wide eyes.
"Astrid!" I hiss, "Normal!"
"Hi!" Tyr says.
Astrid drops to her knees. "Hail thee god!" she says, bowing her head low.
"Oh good, that saves me some explanation," Tyr says. "You can get up now."
Astrid stands and brushes the dirt off her knees.
I uncross my arms and step toward Tyr. "So when were you planning to tell me you're a god?"
"Uh. Now," he says.
"You're supposed to be leaving me alone, by the way," I tell him.
"I'm not talking to you," Tyr says, holding up his left palm at me. He gestures to Astrid with the same hand. "I'm talking to this lovely lady here."
Astrid squints her eyes at him. "What do you want?"
"Whoa, don't go skeptical on me," Tyr says.
"Hiccup's the one who's touched by the gods," Astrid says, "I'm not going to let you bug him through me."
"Do you think I would come out in broad daylight--"
"It's raining," Astrid and I both say.
"In broad--well, it's day, okay? Do you think I would expose myself just to annoy the kid?"
"Then why are you here?" Astrid asks.
Tyr turns to me. "May I?"
I exhale. "Fine. You can talk to me."
"Good," Tyr says. "So, Hiccup, how are you feeling?"
I blink. "I'm... all... right."
"All rested up after your coughing sickness?"
"How do you--What's your point here?"
Tyr presses his lips together and glances up at the sky.
Someone walks through him like he isn't there at all.
"Whoa!" I say.
The person just keeps on walking. I turn to Tyr.
Tyr nods. "Yeah, that happens."
"Expose yourself, huh?" I reply.
"This is risky for a god!"
"Okay, uh," I run my fingers through my hair, "talking to nothing in the rain, not my strong suit. And I'm sure Astrid has better things to do."
"I do," Astrid says.
"So if you could just say whatever you need to say--"
"Well," Tyr says, "I just have a little, tiny, mild," he holds his index finger and thumb up so that they're hardly apart, "kind of really important quest to ask for help."
"Help," I repeat. "From... me?"
Tyr shrugs. "That's the idea."
"What exactly do you need me to do?"
"What kind of complicated?" Astrid asks.
"Oh, we don't need you anymore," Tyr says to her, waving his hand as if to shoo her off.
"Yes we do," I counter, stepping between him and Astrid, "She saved my life. She stays if she wants to." I glance at her as I say this, and she gives me a quick, small smile.
"I want to," Astrid says.
Tyr's shoulders sag. "Oh, aren't you darling," he says flatly.
"Back to the matter at hand," I say.
He lets out a long breath. "Forseti is missing."
"Baldur and Nanna's son," Astrid breathes.
"I'm sorry to hear that," I say slowly, "But I'm not sure how I can help."
"You have access to Helheim," Tyr explains, "You can talk to his parents, try to find out if they know a secret place he might be."
"And this is urgent?"
"Since his parents... We've always been concerned about him. And someone needs to be the keeper of justice."
"Hm." I scratch my head. "Are you sure he didn't just... go on vacation or something?"
Tyr crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow.
"Okay, I guess I'm going back to Helheim," I say. "As a messenger. This doesn't sound like the hero stuff Hel told me about."
"You want big hero stuff?" Tyr asks.
"Well, not exactly--"
"You asked for it."
"I wasn't complain--"
"Get a move on, Hero."
I blink and Tyr's gone. "Great."
"Wow," Astrid says behind me. I turn to her.
"Sorry about... him," I say.
"That was... Tyr," Astrid says, still in awe. "Hiccup, you just talked to Tyr."
"You talked to him too."
"But you're on friendly terms with him."
"I wouldn't call it friendly," I say. "Oh," I press my palm against my forehead, "my Dad is going to explode when he finds out I'm going diving in this weather."
"I don't like it either," Astrid says.
I brush my fingers over the back of her hand. "Well, first I've got to help Fishlegs. Still interested?"
After I get some scrap pieces of wood from the weapons stall, and Gobber tells me to get inside, I tell Fishlegs and Astrid how to set up the poles so they'll stand on their own. Then I make my way to the Elder's hut. Just before I touch the door, I take a deep breath. Please let this go well.
I raise my hand to knock and the door opens.
"Hello?" I ask, stepping in. "Please don't hit me!" I quickly turn around and catch the staff with my palm.
"Hm," the Elder says, tugging her staff out of my hand. "What do you need?"
"Well, I'm going back to Helheim," I inform her.
"Special request from the gods," I say, "I made an oath and all. Not much choice in the matter."
"You always have a choice," she says.
"I don't really want to think about what might happen if I say no."
She nods. "Probably best. By whose request is this?"
"Tyr," I answer. "Forseti's missing."
"Baldur and Nanna," she says with wide eyes.
"Yeah. I'm not sure how happy they're going to be to hear the news."
"Hmmmm." The Elder holds her fist to her mouth.
I lean forward, waiting for some morsel of wisdom to come from her mouth.
"Oh!" she says, waving it away, "That's lunch."
I open my mouth, unsure what to say. "... So, just wanted to tell you about my, uh, my mission? Is that what it's called?"
"Or a quest," she suggests.
"Quest. Okay. I guess that's it, then." I wait for her to say something more.
"Good luck," she says.
"Just a quick question," I say. "Do you do anything with this information? Like, is there a reason I'm supposed to go to you before I do these things?"
"Child," she says gently, patting my hand, "I pray for you. Especially you. You need the help."
"I've got connections," she whispers loudly.
"I could use those--ah!"
She tugs on my vest so I have to lean over her.
"What are you--"
"Come here," she says, "Let me see you." She raises her other hand to move my hair off my forehead. Then she presses her thumb into the space between my eyes.
"What are you doing?" I ask her as she ruffles my hair. She makes an effort to move every hair out of place.
"Doesn't look like you'll die today," she says, satisfied. She releases my vest, then pushes at my back with her staff.
"Good to know."
"Embark on your quest, Hero."
The door slams shut behind me.
Well, at least it went well. Now, to tell my dad.
"What?--Dad, you can't just say no to the gods!"
"I'm doing it right now," Dad says, holding his hands behind his back. "No."
"Dad, I made an oath, we kind of don't want to break that." I chase him around the huge fire pit in the Hall as he walks away. "This isn't my choice--"
"You always have a choice," he says, turning back to me.
"It's really simple: I go in the water, someone pulls me out without waking me and puts me back in the house."
"You're already wet from the rain. And you're shivering under that pelt."
"I'll be fine," I say, pressing my hands to my chest, "The Elder said I won't die today."
"You asked her if you would die?" he asks, his voice low.
I drop my hands. "She brought it up. I guess she was trying to be helpful. But you're missing the point: I won't die."
"Maybe not today. What about tomorrow?"
"The gods know what they're doing. They won't just let me die of coughing sickness."
"How do you know?"
"They have... They have plans for me."
Dad tilts his head. "How do you know this?"
"A... dream I had. And," I sigh, "And remember what Mom said when I saw her in Helheim."
"What about this dream?" he says, squinting.
"I just saw Modgud and Tyr talking--"
He rolls his eyes.
"It happened, okay? Tyr was saying that they had the hero they needed. They need me, Dad. It's in my fate to help them."
Dad looks at the floor.
"Would you rather incur the gods' wrath?" I ask him.
"You could have gone without talking to me about it," he says.
"I... I know you don't want anyone to know, but... I know you worry, Dad."
He looks up. "... I'll send someone to fish you out."
"Thank you," I say. I step forward. I want to hug him, but he catches my hand and we grip each other's palms instead. More like he grips my whole hand and I kind of make a fist that fits in it. Anyway, it's the thought that counts.
"None of that almost dying, either," he warns me with his index finger in my face, "No dawdling in the realm of the dead. Be back by dinner."
"I'll do my best," I say, smirking.
"I'm serious," he warns me.
"I know." I can't help but smile.
"Touched by the gods," Dad mutters, "Touched in the head is more like it."
"Hiccup!" Astrid calls into the Hall. She and Fishlegs are standing at the doorway.
"Yes?' I reply, making my way toward them.
"Toothless is going crazy," Astrid says.
"What?" I stop. "What do you mean by 'crazy'? And I thought we talked about using the c-word."
"I have a really good reason," Astrid replies.
"What is it?"
"You've got to see it for yourself," Fishlegs says.
"Where is Toothless?"
"At the nest," Astrid says.
"What is he doing at the--"
"Just look," they both say. I can hear Dad's footsteps behind me as we walk through the village.
"We were setting up the poles like you said," Fishlegs explains, "Then Toothless came and he-he just--"
"Whoa," I say it as I stop walking.
The blanket is in burnt pieces, singed thoroughly through the middle. What's left of it has fallen around Horrorcow and her nest. Toothless stands between us and the nest, his eyes thin and his teeth bared.
"Did he do that?" I whisper.
"Yes!" they both say.
"He won't let us get close," Fishlegs goes on.
"That dragon," Dad starts.
"Dad, I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for this," I say.
"As in?" Dad asks.
"Working on that," I reply. I step forward.
"Hiccup," Dad warns.
"Hiccup," Astrid whispers, "Be careful."
"It's Toothless," I say as I edge forward, "It's fine, guys. Right, buddy? We're fine." I keep moving slowly toward him.
Toothless keeps growling. He tilts his head as he watches me.
"Easy now," I say in a calm voice as I hold my hands up. "Easy, Toothless." I stop and reach my hand out to him. "It's fine, right?" I say gently.
Toothless stops growling and looks at my hand. Then he looks at my face.
He pushes his snout into my palm.
"We have to go to Helheim," I whisper to him as I rub his head. "You have to leave the nest."
Toothless pushes past me and growls at Astrid, Fishlegs, and my dad.
"Whoa," I say, "Whoa, buddy. It's okay." I rub his neck with my hand.
"What is wrong with him?!" Astrid demands. "What is wrong with you, Toothless?!"
I look at the nest. Horrorcow watches us lazily with half-lidded eyes.
"Stay away from the nest," I say. "Tell him you'll stay away."
"I won't go near the nest," Fishlegs offers quickly.
"I have no reason to go near it," Astrid says, "Other than to help. Which I was doing."
Toothless looks at my father.
"Dad," I say. "Do you mind?"
"I have no business here," Dad obliges.
Toothless stops growling. He lets out a short, harsh bark at Horrorcow.
Horrorcow sort of purrs in response.
Toothless snuffles and tosses his head before looking back at me.
"Ready to go?" I ask him.
Toothless circles around the nest, spitting out fire to singe the ground around its circumference. Then he looks at me, expectant.
Garm actually whimpers when Toothless and I arrive at Helheim's gate. He jumps and tries to reach us with his paw, but he fails as we soar over him and past the gate. "I kind of liked him better when he was mad," I say.
Toothless smacks my face with his ear.
Once we're inside, it doesn't take long to find Baldur and Nanna. Toothless seems to have a sense for finding them, because he manages to get to them walking through the forest of dead trees instead of their hut.
"Hail thee god and goddess!" I call out.
They turn to look at me. Baldur doesn't focus on me, but Nanna turns him by the arm so they're both facing me. I slide off Toothless and bow.
"You," Nanna says. "Do you need our help again?"
"Uh," I say as I straighten up, "Kind of the opposite."
"What is your meaning?" Nanna asks, furrowing her brow.
"Okay, there's no easy way to say this," I tell her, holding my hands out as if to ease the pressure of what I'm about to say, "Forseti is missing."
Nanna's whole body jerks. "What?"
Baldur blinks. "Forseti. Forseti is good."
"What's happened out there?!" Nanna demands, stepping toward me.
"I-I don't know," I say quickly, "I wish I could tell you. This is all I know from Tyr."
Nanna takes a deep breath and exhales through her nose. Then she does it again. Her hands are in fists at her sides. "He wouldn't just leave his hall without telling someone," she says. "They should know where to find him. What about Heimdall?!"
"I guess... I don't know what's happening," I shake my head, I have no comfort to offer, "But they wanted to know if you knew of any places he could be. Places they might have overlooked?"
Nanna looks to Baldur. She grips both his arms and presses her forehead to his. She closes her eyes and takes in a ragged breath.
Baldur reaches up and presses his palm to her cheek.
"We must help them find him," Nanna says, opening her eyes.
"I wish I could bring you out with me," I offer. "I can't imagine what you're feeling right now."
"You can't," Nanna says. Then she looks into Baldur's eyes. "Forseti," she says to Baldur through her teeth, "Forseti. Find Forseti." She presses both her hands to his cheeks. "Darling."
"Forseti," Baldur says meekly. "Heligoland."
"They would have searched there," Nanna says. "What about the necklace? He always liked to look at Freya's necklace."
"Islands east," Baldur offers.
"Heimdall would know if he went East, wouldn't he?" Nanna reasons. "Perhaps he visited Jormungand's head?" She shakes her head. "I don't know. Anywhere we would search, the others would have searched for him. That is how we raised him. There is nowhere he would have gone that is unknown."
"Then..." I say.
"Something has happened," Nanna says softly, "Even here I can feel it." She presses her hand to her gut.
"But who would do anything to him?" I ask. "What reason would anybody have--"
"What reason would anyone have to kill Baldur?" Nanna replies icily.
"You don't think Loki had anything to do with this...?" I ask.
"He is paying his price," Nanna says, pulling away from Baldur. "But that doesn't mean his influence is gone from the worlds."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you think Loki's treachery would end if he were incapacitated? He is a trickster. He is always playing tricks. Baldur found out he set up traps in all the worlds just to prove a point--that no matter what happened, his legacy would always survive. This is why Loki instigated Baldur's death--so no one would know."
"But you know."
"It took me ages to get it out of him," Nanna says, gesturing to Baldur. "And aside from Hodur, who could I tell?"
"Me," I say. "I'll tell the other gods. They'll make this right."
Nanna shakes her head. "They wouldn't know where to start."
"Tell me everything you know," I urge her, "I'll make sure the gods hear it."
"It won't make any sense," Nanna says, "I haven't been able to make sense of what I think he's told me."
"Anything will help," I say, "I'm sure the gods will figure something out. I'll help too, if I can."
Nanna glances at Baldur.
"It can't hurt to try," I say.
"A hungry mountain," Nanna says finally. "A silver egg. Scratched gold and all the colors of the Rainbow Bridge."
I nod. "That's all?"
"That's all," Nanna says, "I think. I'm not even sure. It could all be babbles. Maybe his other babbling is what really matters..."
"Babbling," Baldur murmurs.
"I'll make sure Tyr hears this," I assure her. "I promise."
"Find my son," Nanna says.
"We'll do our best," I reply.
"I'll see if I can coax anything more out of him," Nanna says, looking at Baldur. "Return soon. Tell me how the search goes."
I nod. "I'll do what I can. I'm sure the gods will, too. Don't worry too much."
"Have I anything else to do here?" Nanna says sadly.
"Goodbye," I say, "Thank you for your help."
"Thank you, small one," Nanna replies.
I climb back onto Toothless. "All right, buddy," I say as I pat his head, "Why don't we visit your mom?"
Toothless takes off before I can finish the sentence.
I can't hold back a shiver that runs through my body. I hold my hands behind me, hoping to catch some warmth from the fire there, but it doesn't give heat and it doesn't help.
"The gods couldn't negotiate his release," Hel says as she pets Toothless's ear, "What makes you think you can?"
"Not his release," I say, "Just... a temporary leave. His son is missing, and the only key to finding him may be stuck somewhere in Baldur's mind. He needs to talk to the other gods."
"Aren't you serving as their messenger?" she asks.
"I am, but it would probably help more if Baldur could talk to them directly."
"My answer, of course, is no."
I nod. "Well, it was worth a try."
"Are you going to bring these sorts of requests every time you come here?"
"I... don't know," I shrug and shake my head, "I guess it depends on what the gods ask of me."
"I'm a goddess," she informs me, pressing her hand to her chest, "and I'm asking you to keep this impulse under control."
"I'll make a mental note," I reply. "Can't offer a guarantee."
"You are too kind to everyone," she warns, "One day you will be asked to sacrifice this kindness and the consequences of your actions will leave their mark."
"I'm just doing what I think is right. It's all I can do."
"You always have a choice," she says.
"Is that like the theme today?" I ask. "Did everyone have a plan to say it?"
Hel's mouth sets in a straight line.
"Goddess of death: not easily amused," I say, swinging my arms forward and clasping my hands in front of me. "Got it."
Hel leans down and kisses Toothless's head.
"So, uh, just wondering..."
Hel looks up. "What?"
"You wouldn't happen to know anything about your father's traps, would you? Lying around the worlds? Possibly making gods go missing?"
She shut her eyes for a moment, then blinks and looks at me. "What?"
"Didn't think so. Guess we'll be going."
Hel wipes her fingers over her left eye and presses her lips together. "Wait."
"My father may have done this?"
"It's... a possibility," I say carefully. The last thing I need is an angry Goddess of Death five steps away from me.
"Tell me what they told you."
"Nanna said that Loki set traps in all the worlds to keep his legacy alive."
"Well, the rest of it doesn't make sense."
She scowls. "Tell me."
"All right: a hungry mountain, a silver egg, scratched gold, and all the colors of the Rainbow Bridge."
Hel's eyes widen. She looks down at Toothless, then up at me. "No..."
"What is it?" I ask her.
She shakes her head.
"Something's wrong," I say, stepping forward. "I swore an oath to help even you, you have to tell me."
"Are there eggs?" she asks softly, gazing down at Toothless. Toothless looks up at her and tilts his head, his ears perked up.
I start to say no, but then I remember. "Yes," I reply. "We have a Gronckle with eggs... Do you think those eggs have something to do with this?"
Hel shakes her head again. "Not Gronckle eggs. Him."
"He came from a silver egg."
"Could this be part of his destiny, then?"
Hel rubs her palm over her mouth. "It's possible," she admits, glancing around. At what, I don't know. Then she focuses on Toothless and scratches his neck. Toothless shuts his eyes and purrs.
"We should get back now," I say, "I have to talk to Tyr. And I can't miss dinner."
"I have a gift for you," Hel says.
"Not you," Hel snaps. She smiles down at Toothless. "It is at the gate. You will know it when you see it. It will help you leave."
Toothless nuzzles her stomach and Hel lets out a short laugh in response.
I look away. I just heard the Goddess of Death laugh. What do you do after you hear that odd, tinkling sound come out of Death's mouth?
"So," I say. "Where does Hodur hang out? Haven't really seen him around."
"He is in the Hall," Hel answers, "He cannot bear..." She stops.
"Cannot bear...?" I prompt her as I look up.
I jump when Hel is suddenly beside me. She touches my back. "You should meet him," she explains as she leads me to a door. She opens it and pushes me outside. The door creaks closed and she looks up at me. "Good thing he's blind," she says with a nod. Then she starts to walk through the field in front of us.
With each of Hel's steps the scene around us changes. In one step, we're at a beach, in another, we're in a cave, in yet another, we're in a forest of dead trees. After a ten-step trek, we're on the steps of a Hall. It almost looks like home.
"In," she says, gesturing to the door.
I tug the door open. Toothless slips in before I take a step. He sniffs the floor and looks up at me. I glance around, then look back at Hel. "No one's--"
She points with her index finger at a lump in the corner. After I stare at it a moment, she huffs and starts walking toward it. "Hodur," she says quietly.
The lump grunts. "I hear a hag," it replies in a ragged voice.
Hel keeps walking, seemingly unfazed by the insult. "This is Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third," she says.
I start walking after Hel. "Uh, hail thee god!" I say.
"He's small and short," Hel says, "And he's our new hero."
The lump lifts its head. Hodur turns his face to us. His skin is saggy and streaked with dirt. I can't quite tell what color his hair is, but it's dark. He has an unruly beard that covers his neck. He keeps his eyes closed.
Hel stops walking. I keep going until I reach her.
"Hero?" Hodur spits out.
I flinch. I try to remember that I would be cranky too if Loki used me to end Baldur's life. "I swore an oath to devote my life to the gods," I say. "So if you ever need anything..."
"The only thing I could ever need, the hag will not give," Hodur announces.
I look to Hel. She looks bored. "We're done now," she informs me. Then she starts walking back to the large doors.
"Nice to meet you?" I say as I hurry after her. Toothless walks beside me, glancing back at Hodur.
"By the way," Hel says, pausing near the doorway without looking back, "Forseti is missing. My father may have done it. Hero is helping the gods find him."
Something crashes across the Hall. When I look back, Hodur is standing, shaking, his hands clenched at his side. A table is overturned, across the room from where he is.
"Hero," he says in a cold voice.
"... Yes?" I cringe as I say it.
"Prove your worth," Hodur says. "Or I will wrench it out of you."
"... Sure," I reply, breathless. I don't know why, but I feel dazed.
"What are you waiting for?" Hodur calls, "Go!"
I turn back to the doors. Hel has a smirk on her face.
I take in deep breaths as we step out of the Hall. "I thought he was blind!" I say.
"He knows the Hall like he would know his mother's face. He never leaves it. He hardly even stands. You inspired him."
"I think I just inspired him to beat me to a pulp. Which he could probably do."
"It's hard for gods to accept some heroes," Hel says as we make our ten-step journey.
"By some heroes, you mean me, right?" I say. We stop at her front door as she opens it. Toothless and I follow her in. "What are you doing?" she asks, turning to me.
"Oh. We're done?"
"Go," she says, urging me forward, her hand on my shoulder. "The gods are waiting."
"No blinding light coming through the doorway?" I ask. "We just walk out?"
"I like to change things up," Hel answers, "I don't have many visitors like you."
"You mean visitors who can leave?"
Hel doesn't respond.
"Bye, then," I say as I follow Toothless out the door.
After the door creaks closed behind us, I look at Toothless. "I'm going to make her like me," I assure him. "I just have to figure out how."
Toothless follows something just behind me with his eyes. I look. It's a white puff.
"I guess we can spare a few minutes," I say. "Go on, buddy. Go cra--go for it."
Toothless grins and leaps at the white puffs around us.
When I open my eyes, I'm in my bed in the house. I sit up against the heavy weight on top of me. Dad's pelt is spread out over my blanket.
"Toothless?" I call out.
He pokes his head up from beyond the foot of the bed.
"Hey buddy," I say as I shiver. I swing my foot off the bed and stand. Toothless darts to my side and I pat his head. "Good thing your mom put that tree by the gate," I say as I head to the doorway. "That was nice of her," I go on as I open the door, "even if she wasn't doing it for m--Whoa!" I jump as I turn to look outside.
"Hi," Tyr says, leaning his arm against the doorframe. "News?"
"A little more notice next time?" I say as I hold my chest.
"News," Tyr says, an order now.
I tell him what I told Hel. Tyr nods as he takes in my words, and he remains silent for a few minutes after I finish talking.
"I know it isn't much to go on," I add as I pet Toothless, "But Nanna is trying to get more. I tried to get Hel to release Baldur, but--"
Tyr lets out a cold laugh. "You thought you could talk Hel into releasing Baldur?"
"It was worth a try," I say.
"You're definitely a hero," Tyr says, shaking his head.
"I just thought--Dad!"
"Hiccup," Dad grunts out as he stops at the doorway.
"Uh," I say, looking between him and Tyr.
"Are you going to let me in?" Dad asks, gesturing into the house. His hand goes right through Tyr's chest.
"Sure! Right. Sorry. Come on in." I step aside and Toothless moves with me. Dad walks right through Tyr.
Tyr is crossing his arms as he reappears.
Dad looks at me, then at the doorway. "What are you looking at?" he asks.
Tyr shakes his head and mouths "no."
I press my fist to my mouth. "I, uh, I just woke up," I offer, opening my hand to him, "I was wondering what time it is."
"Just in time for dinner," Dad murmurs. He pokes at the fire and turns to me. "How was Helheim?"
"It was... it was good. I mean. It's not, like, spectacular or anything, but--"
"I get your meaning."
"Yeah, it was productive," I say. "I met Hodur."
Dad's eyes widen and he nods. "How is he?"
"He's... not a happy person," I say. "But that's understandable."
Dad nods again.
"It was him," Tyr says, admiring my Dad from the doorway.
I blink. "What?"
"What?" Dad asks.
"Oh, uh, nothing, Dad," I say.
"The birth was difficult," Tyr says as he steps into the house, walking toward Dad. "They weren't sure if your mother would make it. So your father swore to the gods that he would give anything to save her."
I lean forward. "And?"
Dad stares at me with his mouth open. "Hiccup...?"
Tyr stops beside Dad. "We heard him," Tyr says, "We visited you in the night. And you were touched by the gods. Because we wanted to see what would happen if we didn't break your father's heart. If you would do it for us."
A chill runs down my back. "Why are you telling me this?" I say quietly.
Dad walks through Tyr to the door. He shuts it. His eyebrows are drawn together as he carefully walks toward me. "Son, what's wrong?" He puts his hand on my shoulder.
I take a deep breath and focus on my father. "I'm talking to--"
"Don't you dare!" Tyr cries. I can't see him because Dad's blocking my view. But the fire flares up, high, and Toothless starts to growl.
Dad turns to look at Toothless. "What is wrong with your dragon?"
I step past my dad to look. Toothless is growling at Tyr. He has put himself between the god and us.
"Get out," I tell Tyr.
The corner of Tyr's mouth hitches up. "Are you throwing me out of your house?"
"Yes," I tell him. "Tell the gods what I told you, since I went to so much trouble to get it. And find Forseti. Come back to me when you run out of options."
"This newfound courage of yours--" Tyr starts.
"Glad you gave it to me?" I point to the door. "See ya."
Tyr huffs. Then he disappears.
I look to Toothless and nod. He nods in response.
"... Should I even ask what that was about?" Dad asks.
"Oh, I was just talking to--Ah!" Something hits my eye. Hard. I tumble to the floor.
"Hiccup!" Dad drops to his knees beside me. "Are you all right?"
"... Ow," I let out, holding my right eye.
"What is going on?!" Dad demands. He pries my hand off of my face and his eyes widen as he examines me. "It's bruised. Badly."
"What can I say?" I reply, "I'm touched by the gods."
"A god was here?" Dad says in awe.
"It stops being cool after a while," I assure him. "I promise."
"Toothless," Dad says, pointing to my face, "Heal him."
Toothless pads toward us and tilts his head sideways as he examines my eye. Then he tentatively sticks his tongue out. He slips his gaze to Dad.
"Go ahead," Dad urges him.
Toothless licks my face.
"Ugh," I let out as I feel the slobber. The burning starts, then it tickles. "Wait. Dad, did you just call him Toothless?"
Toothless stops licking and pulls back, admiring his work.
"Good dragon," Dad says. He puts his hand on Toothless's head.
It takes me a moment to realize my mouth is hanging open. "Dad..."
"What is it?" He and Toothless both look at me with concern. "What can I do?"
I smile. "Nothing."
"Does it feel better?" Dad asks.
"Nothing's wrong at all, Dad," I say. "Let's have dinner."
Astrid's fingers ghost over the skin around my eye. "Tyr did this," she says quietly.
I glance around the Hall. It's pretty much empty, save for a couple of guys dozing on a table near the back. The usual post-dinner crowd. Everyone noticed my eye at dinner, but Dad and I decided to tell most of them that I walked into the door.
I couldn't lie to Astrid though.
"I think," I say. "I didn't really see who did it."
Astrid doesn't look very happy as she pulls her hand away. "He can't just hurt you like that."
"It was my fault. I was about to out him. I should remember not to anger the gods."
"You never did anything to deserve this," Astrid counters, "You're helping them. And what he said about your dad and you..." She shakes her head. "He was up to something. I don't trust him."
"What happened to gods being cool?" I ask her.
"This," Astrid says. Her mouth sets in a straight line as she crosses her arms. "It still looks bad, even after Toothless helped."
"It's all right," I say. "I just hope they can find Forseti. I didn't help very much."
"You risked yourself to help. That's enough." She pauses and scrunches her lips together. "Tyr had better not show himself again."
"I have a feeling he won't be bugging me for a while."
"No one does this to my..."
I blink. "... Your?"
"My," she looks up at the ceiling, "... friend," Astrid finishes carefully. She looks back at me. Then she brushes my hair from my face and kisses my eye.
"Oh," I say.
"Did that hurt?" she asks immediately, pulling back.
"No, that... That actually helped."
She smirks. "Really?"
"Oh yeah," I say with a nod, "You should totally do that again."
She kisses my eye again. "How's that?" she asks, pulling her bangs behind her ear.
"I think it needs one more," I tell her.
She raises her eyebrows. "Fine." She moves to kiss my eye again. I turn my head up and catch her lips with my own mouth and we stay that way for a few seconds. Then I pull back.
Astrid blinks. "That's the first time you've ever kissed me," she says.
"I thought it should happen," I reply with a shrug.
"You didn't have to trick me to do it," she says.
"I was... inspired." I shrug and turn on the bench to face her fully. "So, since we're... friends..."
She smiles. "Mhm."
"And I'm not sick anymore..."
"We should do more... friendly stuff."
"... Okay. Like what?"
"I don't know, we could go hunting."
"Hunting? You want to go hunting?"
"You like to hunt, don't you?"
"I do like to hunt," Astrid says, "Animals. You like to hunt trolls."
"Oh, come on, that was years ago."
Astrid laughs lightly. She's so pretty when she grins like that. "What is that look on your face?" she asks, her grin growing bigger.
"You look so... goofy."
"It's a good face," I defend, "I like the way I feel when I make this face."
"Okay," she says, holding her hands up in defeat, "Whatever you say. You still look goofy, though."
"Well, get used to it," I tell her, "You're going to be seeing it a lot."
"In that case, I don't know if we can be friends anymore," Astrid says, her lips twitching as she suppresses what must be another smile.
"Ha ha," I reply.
Astrid leans forward and hooks her arm around my shoulders. Then she presses her forehead against mine. "Guess we should tell our parents we're friends," she murmurs, stroking my neck with her fingers.
"Or you could just kiss me in public again," I offer, "Several times. In succession. They'll get the hint."
"But then we'll have to explain it to Snotlout," Astrid says, scrunching her nose.
"And Ruffnut," I say. "Well, they need to find out some time." I turn my head and pull away as I yawn. "Sorry, going to Helheim just exhausts me."
"You should probably get some sleep," Astrid says, "I don't want you to get sick again. Come on." She stands.
I swing my legs over the bench and follow her to the door. We both peek out.
"It's raining harder than before," Astrid observes.
"I need to find Toothless," I say as I step out.
"Think he's at the nest?" Astrid asks as she comes with me.
"I'm pretty sure he's there," I answer as we head towards Fishlegs's house.
"Any idea what's gotten into him?"
"None whatsoever. Maybe he's just really protective of baby dragons? It could be the god in him."
"Even their father isn't that protective," Astrid says. "And Horrorcow doesn't really seem to care. Well, she never leaves them, but she's comfortable with us."
When we reach the house, as I predicted, Toothless is there, curled up in front of the nest. Horrorcow's mate and another Nadder are stretched out on opposite sides of the nest. Toothless lifts his head and watches us as we approach.
"Hey, buddy," I say as I carefully step toward him, "I'm heading to bed. Are you going to sleep out here?"
Toothless looks to Horrorcow. She blinks and lets out a few grunts. Then she throws her head and flutters her wings. Toothless gets up and moves toward her. He touches her head with his snout before he curls up around the nest.
"I guess that settles it," I say. I step forward to pet his head. "Good night, buddy. See you tomorrow."
Toothless nuzzles my hand and I massage his ear.
On the way to my house, Astrid grabs my hand. I look at her to see if she wants something, but she just keeps looking forward. So I squeeze her hand and don't let go until we reach my door.
My sleep isn't restful. I toss and turn, waking every now and then only to remember hearing my name in different voices--some I know, some I don't. Hel, Hodur, Nanna, Tyr. Tyr sounds especially angry.
Let the hero find him! Tyr says, just as a creak wakes me.
I blink a few times as I adjust to consciousness. "Dad?" I ask quietly, turning toward the doorway. The door is open, but my dad's not there.
A gust of wind blows in and I shiver. I sit up and stare at the doorway. "It's not going to close itself," I mutter, remembering something my dad said years ago. I force myself to stand up and trudge over to the doorway.
There's a strong gust of wind as I close the door, so I have to lean against it with all my weight as I shut it. When it's finally closed, I turn to the room. Now I'm fully awake. "Great," I say. I start to move back to the bed, but something feels wrong.
I glance around.
"Oh, right." Toothless is staying with Horrorcow and the others at the nest.
I walk back to the bed, but the feeling doesn't go away. "Dad?" I call out, not loud enough to wake him if he's sleeping, just loud enough for him to hear me if he's not.
That's when I feel it: something brushes against the back of my head.
"Wha--Mpf!" I start as I turn around, but a hand clamps over my mouth. I try to pull back away from it, but another hand clamps onto the back of my head, keeping me trapped between the two hands. "Mmmfff!" is all I can get out as I try to pry off the hand on my face.
"Quiet," the man hisses. I can hear the breath from my nose against his hand as he starts pushing me toward the bed. He's dressed like a Viking, but I've never seen him before. "Be good and quiet and you won't get hurt."
"Mmmmffff!" I let out as I do my best to scowl at him. He shoves my head down hard and I fall back onto the bed. Then he forces his knee onto my chest.
"Stay still," he orders me quietly. Then he lifts his other hand. In it: a dagger. Like that's going to help me stay still.
"Mpf! Mmmmm-mmph!" I curl my hands into fists and strike at his face. I connect a couple of times, but I don't get any quality face pounds in. At least, I think I don't, because he doesn't seem fazed at all as he weaves to dodge my hands.
"It's okay!" he cries out, "I'm not going to hurt you!"
"Mmmf!" I gesture wildly at his dagger. That looks like it's going to hurt!
"I know it looks bad," he says, "But it'll just sting a little before you stop feeling it altogether."
"Mmmmm!" Not encouraging!
"Just stay still--"
"What in Odin's name--?!" Dad starts from the stairway.
The stranger stops. His gaze slips to the side as he stands, frozen over me.
Dad lets out a war cry and leaps at the man from the stairs. They roll to the floor and I sit up, rubbing my mouth. It hurts. A lot.
"Great," I mutter before I let out a sigh. "Dad."
Dad has the guy in a headlock. "Son, are you all right?"
"I think he's a god," I say reluctantly.
"What?!" Dad cries. The man escapes from the headlock, but Dad deals him an uppercut that stuns him for a second. Dad grabs his arm and twists it behind his back, then he shoves the guy against the wall.
I point to my mouth. "Am I bruised?"
"He didn't beat you?" Dad yells out.
"No," I say.
"Are you a god?" Dad demands, pushing hard on the guy's arm.
"Yes!" the stranger squeezes out.
"What were you doing to my son?"
"I was marking him."
"Marking me?" I ask.
"What does that mean?" Dad asks.
"Ow! Just let me go, and I'll explain it."
That's when I notice the dagger on the floor. I lean down to pick it up, but the stranger calls out:
"Don't touch it!"
I look up at him. He's rubbing his shoulder like it hurts.
Dad walks over to me. He lifts my chin with his finger as he eyes the damage. "How are we going to explain this one?" he grumbles. Then he turns to the stranger. "What name do you go by?"
"Hermod," the man replies.
"Hail thee god," I say, waving my hand. "I would do the thing where I kneel down in awe," I add, "But I'm still a little shaken."
"Hello, Hermod," Dad says gruffly, "What business does the messenger of the gods have with my son?"
"I need to mark him," Hermod says. "Don't you know that heroes need to be marked by the gods?"
"That wasn't in the Hero of the Gods Manual!" I exclaim. "Maybe because there isn't one?"
"Well, now you know," Hermod says.
"What does it mean to mark me, anyway?" I ask.
"You've served as a messenger to Helheim," Hermod says. "You can pass easily into Helheim because you have Hel's permission. You will pass into Asgard if you have Odin's permission. Thus, I must mark you."
"And you couldn't do that during a sensible time of day?" I say, "With a little explanation when you come to the door?"
Hermod blinks. "No. The hero must not mar the ritual, which must be held when the moon is at its brightest, with spoken words."
I want to say something, but I can't find any words to speak. I look to my dad. His eyes are wide.
"It's okay, Dad," I say. "I guess."
"What are you going to do with the knife?" Dad asks.
"I'm just going to touch him with its tip," Hermod says as he steps forward and retrieves his weapon. "Did Hel not tell you any of this?" he asks as he straightens.
"Oh," I say. "Hel was supposed to tell me? That explains it. You gods need to work on streamlining this process. And wasn't Tyr supposed to be the messenger?"
"He is no longer interested in helping you," Hermod says.
"Well, that goes both ways," I say. "Okay, let's get me marked."
"It's too late now," Hermod says, "You've talked and the moon is no longer at its brightest."
"Oh. So... we're doing this again tomorrow night?" I ask.
Hermod's shoulders sag. "I suppose."
"You came a long way, didn't you?" I say.
I look to Dad again. He shuts his eyes and rubs the right one with the heel of his palm. "Would you like to stay here?" he says.
"Oh no, I couldn't," Hermod says, holding his hands out.
"Really, it's fine," I say.
"I honestly can't," Hermod insists. "I wouldn't know what to do with Sleipner."
I hurry to the door and open it. I can hear the horse snuffle outside. I step out and see the eight-legged steed. It looks like any ordinary horse. That glows with a gray light. And has four legs in the front and in the back. "Wow," I say.
"Kind of hard to explain," Hermod says behind me. "We'll be back." He pushes past me and walks to the horse. "Be ready tomorrow night," he calls out as he mounts the steed.
"Whoa, you can't just leave--"
I blink and they're gone.
"... Guess you can."
I shut the door and step back. I bump into my dad, who is right behind me.
"Visiting gods in the middle of the night," he says.
"I swear I had no idea this was going to happen," I say, "Dad, please don't be angry."
Dad claps his hand on my shoulder. I turn and look up at him.
"The gods are serious about this hero thing," he says. "Are you sure you're up to the task?"
"I know, I know," I reply, "I always have a choice."
He shakes his head. "I was going to say that if you ever need any help, you can turn to me. I will be here for you. You know that."
I nod. "Thanks, Dad. And thanks for saving me. How did you know what was going on?"
"I didn't," he says, "I just woke up and sensed something was wrong."
"That's kind of eerie," I admit.
He squeezes my shoulder. "Go back to bed. We'll have Toothless heal you in the morning."
"Do you want me to start beating up on these gods?" Astrid says with absolute seriousness.
"It's fine," I say. "It's not like he hit me or anything."
"It looks awful," Astrid says, "You look awful."
"Thank you," I say before I shove more bread into my mouth.
"You know what I mean." Astrid watches me eat with an unhappy half-smile. Then she looks up. "'Morning."
"Hey," Ruffnut says as she slips onto the bench across from us. "Whoa, Hiccup, what happened to you?"
"Did you get into a fight?" Tuffnut asks as he sits next to Ruffnut. "Who did you fight? Did you win?"
"There was no fight," I say. "Just another accident."
"Don't tell me a door did that to you," Tuffnut says. "You know half of us didn't believe that last night."
"I-I don't really want talk about it," I say. "It's kind of a sensitive subject."
"Hiccup," Ruffnut says, her voice suddenly quiet, "Your dad's not..."
"No!" I say, "Gods, no. He's not hitting me or anything like that."
The twins share a look.
"Really. Guys. He's not."
"Don't start any rumors," Astrid says to them. "Or there will be no place for you to hide."
"Fine," Ruffnut says. "Geez, Astrid."
"Tuffnut," Astrid says in a warning voice.
"Okay, okay," Tuffnut says, holding his palms open, "I won't say anything."
"Just leave Hiccup alone," Astrid says, satisfied.
"It's not like we're the ones beating him," Ruffnut grumbles.
Astrid's eyes thin.
"Whoa!" Snotlout says as he slips onto the bench, beside me. "Hiccup, who happened to your face?"
"Are you okay?" Fishlegs asks, sitting next to Ruffnut.
"I'm fine, everyone. Thanks for the concern." I shove another piece of bread into my mouth.
"Let's talk about something else," Astrid says.
"Wait wait wait," Snotlout says, holding his hand out, "I want to know what happened to dude's face." He points at me with his index finger.
"You missed that conversation," Astrid informs him.
"Yeah, we're not allowed to talk about it," Ruffnut says haughtily.
"Whaaaat?" Snotlout says, "Come on," he goes on, bumping my shoulder with his, "Hiccup, what happened?" bump "Who put you down?" bump bump "I'll tear him apart with my elbow," bump "Just say the word, man."
"It wasn't a fight!" I say, as I tear my bread in half. "Can we just, like, ignore my face, guys? Please?"
"You don't have to be ashamed, bro," Snotlout whispers loudly as he pats my shoulder. "We're still your friends."
I drop my bread and look up at the ceiling and press my lips together.
"Hiccup, what happened to you?" Mumbles asks as she bounces up to the table.
I press my face into my hands.
"... Hiccup?" Astrid asks.
"I'm just going to stay like this until everyone's gone," I say into my palms.
"But people are just coming in," Astrid says.
"I'll be fine," I say. "Go ahead and eat, guys."
"Did Hiccup get beat up?" Mumbles asks.
"Mumbles, your mom is calling you," Astrid says beside me.
"No she isn't."
"Go play with Lungs."
"I don't want to. I want to know what happened to Hiccup."
"I'll tell you later, Mumbles," I say into my hands.
"I want to know now!"
"I did not get beat up," I say as I pull my hands down.
"We'll be right back, guys," Astrid says. She stands and grabs my arm. "Here, let's go."
"Where?" I ask as I get up.
"I have an idea," Astrid explains as we walk out of the Hall, "You're going to need it. Keep your face covered."
"What are we doing?" I ask Astrid.
"Just hold onto that edge," she says.
I can't help glancing around as I grip the blanket. The window is open, letting soft light in for the flowers sitting in a vase on a table. I remember there being flowers the last time I was here. "This is the second time I've been inside your house."
We're downstairs, in an area that was clean before Astrid dumped out the contents of a trunk. Now at our feet are several stained pillows, a few other blankets, and some lumpy old toys that I think used to be animal-shaped.
"Is that a... sheep?" I ask.
Astrid doesn't answer as she whips out a knife and stabs the blanket.
"Whoa! A little wary of blades at the moment," I warn her as I hold one hand up.
"Don't worry," she assures me. "It's fine." She drops the knife and grabs the blanket where it's cut. Then she yanks hard. The blanket tears further.
"What are we doing?" I ask again. "Why are we destroying a perfectly good blanket?"
"You're not the only Viking who can make things, Hiccup," she replies. She pushes another part of the blanket into my hands. "Now pull!"
I pull. She pulls too. The blanket rips clean into two pieces.
"Okay," I say, "now we have most of a blanket and--"
"And a big scarf," Astrid says, holding up the smaller piece. "Here." She wraps it around my neck a couple of times. It covers my mouth. "It's just the right shade of brown." She steps back and tilts her head. "It looks good on you."
"I'll just have to be careful about eating," I say, "But I think this will work. How are we going to explain the blanket to your parents?"
Astrid folds up the rest of the blanket and sets it aside. "It's an old blanket from when I was little," she says, smiling, "They won't even care."
"I have such a smart friend," I say. I pull the scarf down to chin and step forward to kiss Astrid's cheek.
When I pull back, her mouth is open.
"Is that okay?" I say. "Can I do that?"
She closes her mouth and smiles. "Yes."
"I love that that's okay," I inform her as I slide my hand down her arm.
"Come on," she says, re-adjusting the scarf, "Let's get you back out into the world."
As Astrid and I walk together back to the Hall, the people who pass us don't give my new scarf a second thought.
"It's working," I say, "This is perfect. Thank you."
"You're welcome," she says, looking smug.
"Hey, there's Toothless," I say, pointing at him. His back is to us as he sniffs the air. "Toothless!" I move toward him.
Toothless turns and leaps at me.
"Ack!" I cry out as I fall backward. Toothless' two front paws are on my chest and he sniffs hard at the scarf.
"Toothless!" Astrid cries.
Toothless looks up at Astrid. Then he sniffs the scarf again. Then he looks at Astrid.
"We made it from Astrid's blanket," I explain. "Buddy, you're too heavy, can I get up now?"
Toothless steps off me and I sit up.
Astrid offers me her hand and I take it and stand.
I reach out to pat Toothless, but he starts off between two houses. Then he stops and turns to look at us. He tosses his head.
"Guess he wants us to go with him," Astrid says.
"All right, Toothless," I say as I adjust my scarf, "Lead the way."
We follow him back to where Horrorcow's nest is set up. Horrorcow is standing in front of the nest, staring into it. Toothless stands beside her, glancing in at the eggs. He turns and looks back at us.
"Are we allowed to go near it now?" Astrid asks.
Toothless moves to where I'm standing and bites my shirt. He keeps hold of my shirt and pulls me next to Horrorcow.
I peer in. The six small ovals are all different colors--blue, orange, red, yellow, green. There's even--
"A silver egg," I murmur. That's when I notice the eggs are bouncing. Five of them have huge cracks. "Whoa."
"What?" Astrid asks.
"They're hatching!" I say, turning to her. "Astrid, get Fishlegs! The eggs are hatching! Legs is going to have baby dragons!" I hold my hands to my head. This is so great!
"Babies?!" Astrid exclaims. She runs forward and looks into the nest. We look at each other. Astrid's eyes are wide. "Babies."
I nod and smile. "Babies."
"I'll go get him!" Astrid says before she runs off.
I look to Toothless. "Okay, buddy, I think you should go get their father. He's probably with Hunder..."
Toothless doesn't seem to hear me. He scorches a patch of earth next to Horrorcow and wiggles his behind before he settles on it.
Toothless looks at me and flicks his ear.
I open my mouth to speak. Then I close it. Then I hear a small cracking sound and some squeaking.
"Oh!" I look into the nest. The red egg is bouncing like crazy. I can just see something dark moving in the hole on its end.
"Did I miss it?!" Fishlegs calls out, "Did I miss it?!"
"Shh!" I say as I turn to address him, and everyone else. "They're just starting to come out," I whisper loudly as I gesture for them to circle the nest.
Astrid stands next to me. I look to her with a smile.
"What are you wearing on your neck?" Tuffnut asks as he takes a spot across from me.
"Uh, it's called a scarf, doofus," Ruffnut says, shoving him with her hand and taking the spot for herself.
"That looks like a whole freakin' duvet," Tuffnut says, plowing into her with his shoulder and taking his spot back.
Snotloud steps into the spot beside Tuffnut and tilts his head as he asks, "What's a duvet?"
"How do you know what a duv--" I start.
"Quiet!" Fishlegs shouts next to me.
We all look at him.
"Um," Fishlegs says, flushing at the attention. He points into the nest. "Look."
Instead of a red egg, there are now the remnants of said egg and a small black lump. The lump wriggles around in the nest and lets out a series of small squeaks. Horrorcow gets up and leans in to lick the lump.
"It's a tiny Gronckle," Astrid says in awe.
"Why is it so ugly?" Ruffnut asks.
"He's not ugly," Fishlegs says, "He's... black."
"Where's its dad?" Tuffnut asks. "Did he take off?"
At this point several thoughts start to circle in my mind. One: silver egg. Two: black offspring. Three: Why would a Nadder and a Gronckle have a black baby? Four: Why is Toothless so protective of--
"Oh my gods," I say as my thoughts collide into one.
"What is it?" Astrid asks.
"Toothless..." I turn to him. "These are your kids."
Toothless looks at me like I'm an idiot.
"But," Fishlegs says, "But Houndberger--"
"No, he's right," Astrid says. "This explains Toothless suddenly getting all territorial on us."
"Ugh," Tuffnut says, "With a Gronckle? Toothless, you could have done better."
"Hey," Fishlegs says, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Whoa, it's not like you did the Gronckle," Tuffnut replies. "Calm down."
"Shut up!" Astrid calls out.
We all look at her.
She points into the nest.
Now there are two small black lumps and two brown lumps in the nest, all squeaking away.
Toothless and Horrorcow purr and lick their kids.
"Toothless is a father," I say, though I still can't believe it. "Hel... has grandchildren."
"Okay, that's just weird," Tuffnut says.
"Whoa, check out that blue egg," Snotlout says. "It's pulverizing its shell."
We watch as the shell is destroyed from the inside. Most of it is shattered already. Then it falls off to reveal a tiny, brown Night Fury. It opens its mouth and breathes fire, singeing part of the nest.
"Yup, she definitely has grandkids," I say.
"That silver egg isn't moving," Fishlegs says, concerned.
We watch the nest for five more minutes, but Fishlegs is right. The silver egg does nothing in that time. It doesn't even bounce.
Toothless nudges the egg with his snout and barks at Horrorcow. She replies with a growl and climbs back onto the nest, carefully herding her babies into a corner so that she doesn't crush them before she curls up over the silver egg.
"I don't think that's gonna work," Ruffnut says.
"Shhh!" Fishlegs and I reply.
"Okay, I'm bored," Tuffnut says, turning away. "I'm gonna go flying."
"Me too," Snotlout says, following Tuffnut.
"You can't go flying without me!" Ruffnut says.
"Yes I can," Tuffnut replies, "Stay here and ogle the dragon babies. Girls like to do that right? Go crazy over babies?"
"I'm staying," I say.
"Yeah... you're different," Tuffnut says, putting a hand on my shoulder. Then he lifts his hand back up. "Oh. Sorry. Did I hurt you?" He cackles. Snotlout snickers and even Ruffnut laughs behind her hand.
I roll my eyes. "Wow, that's so funny, I'm actually dead from laughter."
"Well, you did go to Helheim," Snotlout squeezes out before he falls into another bout of snickers.
Astrid lets out an "ahem," and they all go silent. "What was that, Snotlout?" she asks innocently, her hand on her hip.
"Take it easy, Astrid," Snotlout says, raising his hands in a gesture of defeat. "We kid because we love."
"The danger Hiccup puts himself in for others isn't funny to me," Astrid says.
"Anyway," Tuffnut says, tugging on Snotlout's elbow, "Babies aren't my scene. Come on, man. Let's hit the sky before it starts raining again. You coming, Ruff?"
Ruffnut looks at the nest, then at me, then at Snotlout and Tuffnut. "I guess," she says, trudging after them. "Come on, Fishlegs," she says, looking back at him.
Fishlegs shakes his head. "No thanks, I'll stay," he says.
"Astrid?" Ruffnut asks.
"Nope," Astrid replies.
Ruffnut pauses for a moment. She starts to turn back to us, but then she swivels around and follows the guys. "Fine!"
I look at Fishlegs. He stares after Ruffnut for a moment before meeting my eyes. "Well," he says, "Looks like we have a family to feed."
At that, Toothless starts hacking up something from his belly.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I say as I turn away, "I do not need that visual right after breakfast."
When he's done regurgitating whatever he regurgitated, I look again. He's tending to the little squeaking dragons.
I can't help but say it: "Wow."
"What?" Astrid asks.
"Toothless made little dragons," I say, "He made life. And he has a family. It's amazing."
"Yeah, it's pretty cool."
"I'm glad he's letting us near the nest again," Fishlegs says. "I want to help take care of them."
"Me too," I say.
"Count me in," Astrid says.
Toothless steps back from the nest and paces beside it.
I peer in at his kids. "Something's missing," I say as I tap my chin with my finger. I take the end of my scarf and tear off a piece. Then I hold it over the small dragons.
Toothless stops and thins his eyes, but he seems okay with the idea so far.
"Just to keep them warm," I assure him as I lower the patch of blanket onto them. I lay the blanket so it covers all of them. The small, brown Night Fury bites my finger, but he has no teeth so it doesn't hurt. When I pull my finger out of his mouth, he squeaks with annoyance. I put my finger back and he sucks on it happily.
"He's so small," Astrid says, kneeling beside me.
Toothless sticks his head over the nest and looks at my hand. Then he looks up at me.
"Congrats, bud," I tell him, "You're a father."
Toothless drops to the ground, his eyes fluttering.
Astrid and I laugh.
"Welcome to the family," Fishlegs says, leaning over him with a grin.
"I think you should have one. Or--no, two," I tell Dad. "And that will leave another one for me to take care of."
Dad turns his head sideways as he keeps his eyes on me. "I'm not taking care of any dragons," he finally lets out.
"They are a feature of the village."
"I don't need to take care of dragons. I don't have time to take care of dragons."
"They're kind of part of our family," I inform him, "And you need your own dragon or two." I rub my chin with my index finger. "Yeah, I think this will work out."
"Hiccup," Dad warns me.
"Dad," I reply.
"Hiccup," he says, his voice more grave.
"Dad," I say.
"I'm not taking care of any dragons," Dad repeats.
Toothless sticks his head under Dad's arm and nuzzles Dad's side.
"What--" Dad starts.
"Dad," I tell him with a smile, "I think you are."
"I'm not agreeing to anything!" Dad declares as he tries to push Toothless away. "What is wrong with you? Stop that!" Dad turns away from us and crosses his arms.
Toothless sits up on his hindquarters and presses one of his paws to Dad's shoulder. He slowly leans over Dad's shoulder and peers at Dad's face.
Dad glances at Toothless and looks away. Then he takes a longer look into Toothless's face. "What are you looking at?" Dad demands, pulling away.
Toothless lands on all fours and looks to me. I nod. "He'll do it," I whisper.
"Hiccup!" Dad cries, turning back to me.
Toothless jumps for joy. Literally. He leaps up to one of the rafters and balances on it, looking down at us.
Then the door opens.
Toothless leaps down to the floor and trots to him, sniffing him from his feet up.
Hermod opens his hand in greeting, then moves swiftly to me. Dad stands from his chair and I scoot back on the bed.
Hermod gestures for me to lift my shirt, and I do. Then he presses his left hand on my chest to hold me down. He holds his right hand up, jerks it in the air, and his dagger materializes.
Toothless starts to growl. I hold my hand up to reassure him, but he keeps growling. Dad moves to stand between us and Toothless.
I look from my dad to Hermod. He nods. I nod.
Then he shoves the dagger into my gut. He was right: it does sting. It also pulls me into a darkness I don't expect.
When I open my eyes, I'm not in my house. I sit up. The ground is a light yellow, dry. There are no trees around. I jump when something clatters down beside me.
"What do you want from me?" a woman demands. She has light, long hair, almost to her hips. She wears a white cloak, and there are tears streaming down from her eyes.
"I-I," I start, before I realize she's not talking to me. She doesn't even know I'm there when she picks up the tortoise shell that's next to my hand.
"What does it mean?!" Hermod demands, facing us. He's holding an axe up, in a not-so-friendly way.
"How shall I know?!" the woman replies, throwing her head to the side. "My husband is not such a despicable god!"
"We heard it from Baldur himself," Hermod says flatly.
"As if he would have no motive against my darling?!"
"Sigyn," Hermod says, "You must know what it means. You are at his side for years at a time. He must have said something about a hungry mountain."
"Hmph," Sigyn replies, throwing her head to the side again, "And what reason have I to confide in you?"
"I am the only company you ever have aside from your wicked husband," Hermod answers.
"I prefer my husband," Sigyn says haughtily.
"Woman, be reasonable!" Hermod says, stepping forward, "Forseti does not deserve to suffer at Loki's hands! Have his parents not been through enough?"
Sigyn gasps and drops the tortoise shell as Hermod grabs her arm.
"Hey, let her go!" I say. But neither of them hear me. I can't even hear me, because a loud scream rips through the air. The ground shakes so hard that I almost fall over.
Hermod and Sigyn continue fighting, but I follow the sound of a second scream to a small group of boulders.
I peer around a boulder, certain that it can't be what I think it is. There's a man chained to the rocks. Above him, a serpent. Something drips from the serpent's mouth to the man's cheek. He opens his mouth and the cry he lets out causes the ground to shake again.
"Loki," I breathe.
Just when I think he has to run out of breath, the scream morphs into laughter. He turns his head and looks directly at me. I freeze.
Loki stops laughing. He exhales. "Hmm," he says in a bored voice, "You are not my wife."
"You-you can see me?"
"Where is Sigyn?" he asks me, his voice wavering. I can see the drop of venom working its way across his cheek.
"She's talking to Hermod."
"Wait, I can talk to you," I say as I move closer to him. "Tell me about your traps."
Loki's eyes thin as he watches me. Then the corner of his mouth twists up into his cheek. "Someone's caught, eh?"
Loki shifts in his binds. He tries to change the angle of his head, then he sighs and gives up. "Come closer."
"I'm good here," I say.
"Do you want to hear about the traps?"
Inside I know it's not a good idea, but I step closer. "There."
Loki inhales deeply. "You smell like a mortal."
"Uh... No comment."
"Hero," Loki whispers.
"Traps," I correct him, "Hungry mountain, silver egg. What does it all mean?"
"Hm, Baldur is talking." Loki sniffs. "And just why should I help you?"
"The gods know all about your plan. If they don't find--if something were to happen to one of them, do you think they'd hold back on punishing you further?"
"I'm already being punished," Loki replies. "It's Forseti, isn't it?"
"You are an awful liar, hero. I made one especially for Forseti. Obviously he didn't think he got justice for the deaths of his parents."
"You did this on purpose?" I say.
"Ah, it is him. Interesting."
"Now, now, that sort of language will get you nowhere."
"I'm... going to go now," I say.
"Wait," Loki says, "Wait. Have you any news of Hel?"
"I have nothing to say to you," I reply before I turn away.
"You will need Hel to free Forseti," Loki calls out.
I take a deep breath. This could be a lie. She didn't seem to have anything to offer. "How can she help?"
"If you can get from her a silver egg, the mountain will take the egg and return Forseti."
"And where is this mountain?"
"Sail toward the warrior's belt in the stars with the silver egg in hand and after two days you will find the island where Forseti sought his revenge. The mountain is missing its top. Beware if it spews its hot innards at you."
I turn back to him. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Hel will never give up the egg," Loki says, "Like she would not give up Baldur. I want the gods to stew in the consequences of Forseti's choice. Justice will have a new meaning, whatever the outcome."
"Hm." I guess Loki hasn't been reading his family bulletin. "We'll see about that."
Loki grunts as he shifts. He's got his eyes trained on the serpent. I step closer to peer at it. The venom is just starting to leak out.
I walk backward as I watch Loki's face twist in expectation. Then the venom falls.
He screams, but for some reason, my mouth is open too.
I keep screaming until I realize I'm home again.
Dad is on one side of the bed, his hand in my hair. Toothless is on my other side, his two front paws on the edge of the bed. He nudges my arm with his snout.
I take in a deep breath, then another. "... Hi," I say as I sit up.
"You weren't supposed to be out so long," Dad says. "Hermod is gone."
"I know how to find Forseti," I tell him, "We just need--" I stop. I look at Toothless. I can't do this...
Just wanted to note that Fishlegs will end up with a girl in this series. Probably in the next fic. Hiccup and Astrid are safe with me, although drama may crop up between them. (Who knows, really?)
I look between Dad and Toothless. I think about what Loki said about the trap. The silver egg. It's a simple solution. Giving it up will fix everything for Forseti and the other gods. But for Toothless...
I can't say it.
"What?" Dad asks, leaning close. "What do you need, Son?"
I hold my palm to my mouth and inhale slowly. Toothless leans in too, curiosity in his wide eyes.
I drop my hand from my mouth. "I'll get back to you on that."
Dad blinks. "You seemed so sure."
"Yeah, I was caught up in the moment."
"What did you dream about?" Dad asks. "Why were you screaming?"
I scratch my cheek. "I... don't... know."
Dad tilts his head down and looks me in the eye. "Really."
"Yeah," I scoot toward the edge of the bed and Toothless moves off so I can get up. "You know, because Loki was there and it would be so silly if that was important because it's, you know, Loki--"
"Was Loki hurting you?"
"No! No, it wasn't like that. Honestly, Dad. Just... I don't know what to make of it, really."
"You must speak with the Elder," Dad says with a nod. "She will interpret for you. If that really was Loki in your..."
"Dream," we say together.
"Right," I go on as I stand. "Guess I'll go see her in the morning."
Dad stands. "You might as well see her now."
"Oh. It's morning?"
"You were out for quite a while."
"Dad, did you stay up all night for me?" I ask.
I press my lips together and touch his arm.
"Off to the Elder with you," Dad says, putting his hand on my back. "The sooner this is over, the sooner the gods will stop bothering us."
I refrain from telling him he's being very optimistic. I know he's probably doing it for my sake.
"Sure," I say. I rub Toothless's head.
Dad hands me a small basket of bread and fruit. "Tell her I said hello."
Dad and Toothless follow me out, but they each go in different directions. I look at the path to the Elder's hut.
"Here we go," I announce to no one before I start walking.
Once I'm inside the hut, I turn and block the Elder's staff with the basket of food.
"Breakfast?" I say, holding it out to her.
She takes the basket and sets it on a table I could swear was never there before. "You didn't come here to feed me," she says as she turns back to me.
"You are right," I say.
"So what happened?" she asks.
"Well... I found out from Baldur and Nanna that Loki laid traps throughout all the worlds, and we think Forseti might be stuck in one--"
She holds her hand up. "I meant what happened to your face? You look terrible."
"Oh. I made Tyr angry. Then Hermod came to mark me."
"The mark of Asgard," she breathes.
"... Yeah. It knocked me out for half the night. I dreamt that I talked to Loki."
"Whoa," I say, holding up one index finger. "I did not just hear that."
She smacks my hand away. "Child, don't get distracted--you talked to Loki?"
"I... I don't know. I was in this dream where Sigyn and Hermod couldn't see or hear me, but Loki knew I was there."
"You and dreams," she says, tapping my chest with her staff, "You have powers unforeseen."
"Uh... I can barely lift an axe. I don't think I have any powers."
"You have dreams," she corrects me. She points to my head with the staff. "You have powers. A connection to the gods."
"We're definitely connected," I agree. "But, okay, here's the issue: I can free Forseti if I sacrifice a silver egg."
"You must find a silver egg?"
"We actually have one. In the village," I let out. "My dragon's baby is in it. Hel's grandkid."
"So you must sacrifice one god's son for another," the Elder murmurs as she strokes her chin.
"Not a decision I want to make."
"It's simple." She holds her hand open. "The egg must be sacrificed."
"What?! What about Toothless?!"
"There are other offspring, aren't there?"
"Well, yeah, but it's not like having one less egg to fry. This is a life we're talking about."
She tilts her head. "Is Forseti's life not precious?"
"I'm not saying anything like that," I reply. "But it's not that simple."
"Isn't it? There must be justice."
"Yes." I shut my eyes. "I don't think I can do this."
"You have nothing to worry about. Once the gods know, they'll save Forseti."
"I don't know if I can sit back and let this egg just be taken."
"Have you told your dragon?"
I look at her. "... No."
"Do you intend to?"
I shake my head. "I don't know."
"I think you've already made the decision."
I rub my face with my hands. "Oh gods," I say into my palms. "No. I can't do this. Whatever connections I have--whatever allegiance I owe--to the gods... I'm drawing the line here."
"You do realize you'll have to be the one who tells Baldur and Nanna their son will not be saved?"
I sigh and drop my hands. "He's a part of my family," I tell her.
"Forseti is a part of theirs," the Elder reminds me. "There is no other to take his place."
"I'm not doing this," I say, "I cannot--I will not do this to Toothless."
"Then you are doing this to Baldur and Nanna," she declares. She has a firm grip on my arm.
I look down at her hand and sigh. She releases me and goes to the table.
"I don't have a life with Baldur and Nanna," I say as I look up at the ceiling. "I need time to think. There must be a way around this. Yeah. I'll figure something out." I look back at her. "I just need to focus."
The Elder has a hunk of bread in her hand. She chews thoughtfully. "I will pray for you," she says after she swallows.
"And I'll go and think. Something will come to me." I run my fingers through my hair and take a deep breath. "While you're praying, can you get me on good terms with Tyr again?"
"I'm not a miracle worker," she says, setting the bread down in the basket.
"I'll see what I can do," she says, brushing crumbs off her hands. "How long do you intend to think this through?"
"That egg could hatch any second," I say, "I'll give it until tomorrow, then I'll visit Baldur and Nanna and give them... whatever news I have."
She nods. "Think hard, Hero," she says. "If the gods find out you're the only thing standing in the way of Forseti's freedom, they may not look upon you so favorably, no matter what I try."
"Oh. I didn't," my voice cracks, "I didn't think of that."
She grabs her staff and nudges me in the back with it, hard, toward the door.
"You're not going to do it," Astrid says beside me.
"I'm not going to do it," I confirm. I turn to look at her, but the tall grass is in the way. I can hear Toothless and Astrid's Nadder, Queensthorn, romping around and purring somewhere to our left. "Except..."
I reach out and shove the tall grass aside so I can see Astrid. "I don't want to anger any more gods."
She watches me for a few seconds before she reaches out and touches my hand. It's like my whole body buzzes when she touches me. "Whatever you decide will be what's best," she assures me.
I roll over onto my stomach so that I'm almost on top of her. I fold my arms under my chin and look at her. Some of the grass pokes through my shirt and makes me itchy, but I ignore it. "If I put some gods before other gods, does that mean I'm a bad hero?"
Astrid turns onto her side and touches my back. "I think it means you are being forced to make a choice that should not be yours in the first place. You were just a messenger when all of this started."
"Oh, the good old days," I mutter.
Astrid leans toward me and kisses my temple. Then she presses her forehead against my hair. "Just don't almost die, okay?" she whispers into my ear.
"I don't know how Nanna's going to take this," I say. "Hel might be on my side if I tell her about the egg. It's part of her family. Why did Loki have to be so..."
"Yeah. Why would he do that to his own daughter? If this happened earlier... if Hel refused, she'd be more hated. If she agreed to sacrifice the egg, she would have lost a son."
"Maybe he has something against Toothless."
"Well, he does have a destiny. Or, he did. Now he's a family dragon. I don't know how that's going to work out."
"Oh great," Astrid says.
"What?" I ask, turning onto my back.
"Hey guys!" Snotlout calls out as he and his Nightmare touch down near us. "Whoa!" Snotlout lets out as Fireworm starts rubbing her body against the grass. He slides down to the ground and holds his crouch for a few seconds before straightening up.
"Hey... everyone," Astrid says, pushing onto her feet.
I sit up just as the twins land beside me.
"What are you guys doing?" Ruffnut asks.
"Just hanging out," I say.
"Your dragons look like they're having more fun than you," Tuffnut says.
"Where's Fishlegs?" I ask.
"He won't leave the stupid dragon nest," Ruffnut complains. "You two missed lunch."
"Oh did we?" I reply, "Darn that's... What a shame."
"It's okay, we brought you some," Snotlout says, sidling up to Astrid.
"Maybe we should be heading back," I say. Astrid turns and offers me her hand.
"Thanks," I say when I'm on my feet.
"We... Should. Be helping. Fishlegs," Astrid says awkwardly, as if the words are just showing up in her mouth without prior notice, "We're. Going to go back. And help Fishlegs."
"Yes," I say, not sounding much better, "That. Is such a wonderful idea... Astrid."
"Why are you two talking like that?" Ruffnut asks.
"Like what?" I ask.
"Like you forgot how to talk," Tuffnut says. "Is something going on?"
"Maybe," I say just as Astrid says "No."
She looks at me.
"Maybe we should tell them?" I whisper.
"Tell us... what?" Tuffnut asks.
"Astrid and I are--"
"No!" Astrid says, before she punches me in the arm.
"Oh!" I hold onto my arm and turn on my heel. Then I turn again, keeping my hand pressed to the offended region. "Ow..."
"Sorry," Astrid whispers, putting her hand over mine. "Force of habit."
"Okay, now I want to know," Snotlout says, crossing his arms.
"It's not important," Astrid says, rubbing my arm.
"Gee, thanks," I say.
"You know what I mean," Astrid insists, looking back to me.
"I know what your fist means."
"Hiccup," Astrid says between her teeth.
"What is going on?!" Ruffnut demands. "We're not letting you leave until you tell us."
To make their point, the three of them take places around us, to block all exits.
"We haven't even told our parents," Astrid complains.
"Told them what?" Ruffnut demands.
"Look," I say, "Guys, we're--"
"We're friends," Astrid finishes, crossing her arms.
Snotlout, Ruffnut, and Tuffnut stare at us.
"Yeah?" Ruffnut asks finally.
"We're friends," I repeat. "See, uh." I point to Astrid's hand. "My hand goes there."
"And then my lips," Astrid says, pointing to her mouth, "Go here," she points to my mouth.
The three of them stare at us again.
"Dude, you're going to crush Fishlegs's dreams," Snotlout says.
"Fishlegs likes Astrid?" I ask. "Really? Cuz I never got the impression--"
"Other way around," Tuffnut says, holding his hand out and pressing his fingers against his thumb to shush me, "He has a crush on you, dude."
"Buh-what now?" I say.
"Ever since we watched you fight the Green Death," Ruffnut says with a huff. "Have you somehow not noticed his googly eyes?"
"Uh... no? There were no googly eyes."
"Even I noticed," Tuffnut says.
"Wait," I say, holding up my hand, "Ruffnut, are you at all disappointed?"
"She already kissed you," Ruffnut says with a shrug. "I figured..."
"What about you, Snotlout?" Astrid asks.
"I can wait until you're done with him," Snotlout assures her with a nod, "He's like the skimpy appetizer you have before the beef."
"I can hear you," I say flatly.
"It's okay," Astrid says, putting her hand on my shoulder. "I don't eat very much."
I open my mouth and look up at the sky. "... Somehow I still find that insulting."
"You know what I mean," Astrid says, touching my arm again. "Are you okay?"
"I'll live. Until tomorrow at least."
"What happens after that?" Ruffnut asks.
"I have to deliver some bad news to a couple of gods. And then I might have to fend off the rest of them."
"What?" Ruffnut and Tuffnut ask at the same time.
Astrid looks to me. "You want to explain?"
I shut my eyes as I exhale a long breath. Then I scan everyone's waiting faces. "So here's the deal," I say.
"Fishlegs?" I say gently as I step up to him. He's sitting in front of the nest. From the way his shoulders slump he looks exhausted.
"Oh hi," Fishlegs says with small smile.
I guess the others haven't told him about me and Astrid yet.
"How's it going?" I ask.
"She doesn't really let me help much," Fishlegs says with a frown. "But the babies seem to be doing all right."
"Good," I say with a nod. "Good. There's something I need to talk to you about. Okay, maybe two things."
"Sure." He looks at me and waits.
"Uh..." I glance at the nest. Horrorcow blinks as she eyes me. "Can we go somewhere private?"
Fishlegs hesitates, but then he stands. "It's almost dinnertime isn't it?" he says. "So the Hall is out."
"Yeah," I say as we start walking, "Let's go out and see the sheep. I don't think anyone will bother us there."
"Okay." Fishlegs and I walk for a few minutes in silence. "What did you need to talk about, Hiccup?"
I turn and look at his face. No googly eyes. Just regular old Fishlegs. Were the others joking? They seemed serious. "Well..." I glance around. We seem to be in relative privacy. "So, Astrid and I are friends now."
"You've been friends for a while," Fishlegs says innocently.
"We're. She's. She's my girlfriend, now."
Fishlegs stumbles, but recovers quickly.
"We haven't told our parents yet. But we told Ruffnut, Tuffnut, and Snotlout. So I thought you should know, too."
"... Uh huh," Fishlegs says. He sounds breathless. "What else?"
I don't know that he likes me. I don't know that he likes me. I do my best to ignore it. I don't want to embarrass him.
We stop as we reach the edge of the sheep field.
"The gods need the silver egg to save Forseti," I say as I turn to him.
Fishlegs looks at me, surprised. His eyes are shining in the firelight. "What?"
"See, Forseti is stuck in a trap that Loki set for him. The only way to save Forseti is to give up a silver egg. The silver egg. But--"
"Hiccup," Fishlegs gasps.
"I know it sounds bad," I say, holding my hand out to him, "But I'm not going to let them have the egg. I just thought you should know. Since the egg is your family, too."
"The gods won't just let you say no," Fishlegs says.
"I know. It wasn't an easy decision. I've been thinking about it all day, and I just realized I can't--"
"Wait, you had to think about this?" Fishlegs asks.
"Uh. Yes," I say.
"You actually considered giving up the egg?" Fishlegs says, this time his voice really quiet.
"Well, there's a life at stake--"
"The egg is a life at stake," Fishlegs replies, "That baby is fighting for its life right now. And you actually considered giving it up?"
"It's not that simple--"
"What about Toothless?" Fishlegs bursts out, "Does he even know about this?"
I take a deep breath. "No."
"Were you ever planning on telling him? What were you going to do if you decided to give up the egg? Just steal in the middle of the night?"
"Whoa, Fishlegs," I say, "There's no way that would happen--"
"I don't want you anywhere near that nest again," Fishlegs announces, "If I hear about you even looking at Horrorcow..."
"Hey," I say, grabbing his arm.
He flinches away like I've hurt him.
"Hey," I say, he turns but I step into his line of vision, "This wasn't easy for me."
"The silver egg is a part of your family," Fishlegs says, his voice again that eerie quiet, "Family is easy. I hope you're happy with Astrid. Maybe you'll have kids and have to give one up one day." He turns and stalks away.
My heart sinks. "Fishlegs," I say.
"Negative one hundred," Fishlegs says without turning around.
"Negative one hundred what?"
"Everything good I ever thought about you," he says.
"Come on, don't be like that." I walk after him. "Fishlegs!"
He bursts into a run.
"Okay, now you're just cheating!" I call out.
It's too late. He's gone.
And I'm alone.
"I'm glad you told me," Dad says. "Finally."
"Please don't be angry," I reply, holding my face in my hands.
"I'm not angry. I wish you had told me about this earlier, though."
I drop my hands to the table. I stare at the wood. My chest still feels heavy from the talk with Fishlegs. "I just had to work it out before I could tell anyone."
"Have you told Fishlegs?"
"Yes. That didn't go so well."
"But you made the right decision," Dad says.
"Well, I didn't make it soon enough." I look up. "Wait, Dad did you just say--"
"You have the makings of a good future chief," Dad says, his hands flat on the table. "I am proud of you, and I stand behind your choice."
I take a deep breath. "Wow. Thanks, Dad. That means a lot to me. Now, if Fishlegs could stop being angry with me... And if we could avoid having the gods angry at us, that would be kind of good, too."
"They're not angry yet."
"Oh but they will be," I assure him and force a smile. "I can't wait."
"Can't you just... not tell them?"
I shake my head. "I don't want the rest of our lives to be some waiting game to see if the gods ever find out. I won't lie to them. Whatever happens, I want it settled. Now."
"And your oath?"
I press my lips together and exhale through my nose. "Toothless is still a god. If I'm being loyal to him, maybe nothing will happen."
"Maybe," Dad says, as if the word tastes bad. "Whatever happens, the village is behind you, Hiccup."
I nod. "Thanks."
Dad and I both turn when there's a scratching noise at the door.
"Are you going to tell Toothless?" Dad asks quietly as I stand.
"I'll tell him now," I say as I put my hand on the door. I turn to face my dragon and pull the door open. "Hey, buddy."
Toothless prances inside, swinging his tail and looking proud of himself.
"Did you leave a nice big pile right next to Snotlout's door?" I say as I scratch his neck with both hands. He grins before he shuts his eyes and purrs with pleasure. "Good job!"
"I'd best get back," Dad says, standing from the table.
"Okay, see you later, Dad," I say.
Dad pats Toothless's head on the way out. "Good night," he says before he slips out the door.
I turn to Toothless. "Okay. Toothless. I need to talk to you about something."
Toothless tilts his head.
"You'd better sit down," I tell him as I pull up a chair.
He drops his behind on the floor obediently as I sit beside him.
"Okay, buddy, now don't freak out. But you know that silver egg?"
Toothless stares at me without blinking as I tell him the story. I keep my hand on him the whole time, either petting him or letting it rest on his back where he likes it. When I'm finished telling him about my decision, he stands and stares at the floor.
"Toothless?" I whisper. "Whoa!"
Toothless jumps at me and the chair falls backward. I shut my eyes as it hits the floor. Toothless paws at my face until the scarf is under my chin. Then I groan as I feel his tongue and the accompanying dragon slobber on my face.
"I love you too, buddy," I say as I wipe at my face with my sleeve.
Toothless jumps off me and bounds to the door. He looks back at me. I turn off the chair and roll to a sitting position.
"You need to go again?"
Toothless jerks his head toward the door. When that doesn't work, he comes back to me and nudges my back.
"Okay, you want me to come?" I say as I stand up. He walks with me to the door and I pull it open.
Toothless darts out, then stops and looks back at me.
"I'm following," I assure him with my hands up, "Don't worry."
I have my suspicions as I trail after Toothless, then something in my chest tightens as we move past two houses.
Toothless rushes over to the nest where Horrorcow is. He nudges her with his snout. When her eyes flutter open, they have a quiet conversation of warbles, grunts, and purrs.
Fishlegs stands with his arms crossed, his mouth curved downward in a strong frown.
"Hi," I say.
Fishlegs doesn't move. I don't think he's even breathing.
"Toothless," I call out, "I'll just uh. I'm gonna go back to the house."
Toothless roars. He trots to me and nudges my thigh with his snout, urging me toward the nest.
"No, really, it's okay. I'm gonna. I'm gonna go get some sleep. Yeah. You know, since we're heading to Helheim in the morning."
"You're going back to Helheim?" Fishlegs says, and it almost--almost--sounds like he cares.
"Yeah, I've got to tell Baldur and Nanna the bad news."
Fishlegs doesn't say anything else.
I turn to leave, but Toothless blocks my way. I take a step to the side, but Toothless just moves to block me again. "Oh, come on," I say. Then I lower my voice to a whisper: "Fishlegs is mad at me."
Toothless chomps down on the edge of my vest and turns me around.
"Fishlegs, do you mind?" I ask as Toothless drags me toward the nest. "He's just so happy."
Fishlegs scowls at me, but makes no move to stop me.
Once we've reached the nest, Toothless lets go and pokes his head in to lick his kids.
I sit beside the nest and look in.
The babies all squeak and roll around each other in the tight space. The little brown Night Fury climbs on top of one of the black lumps and sticks his head up into the air. He squeaks loudly.
"Hey little buddy," I say as I offer my finger. He quickly clamps down on it.
I glance at Fishlegs. He's a little closer now, watching my hand.
"We're going to have to name them," I say.
"I'll take care of that," Fishlegs huffs.
"Fishlegs, this is silly," I say, "How long are you going to stay mad at me?"
"It's only been a few hours," he says.
"Are you planning on having a normal conversation with me ever again?"
"We have no reason to fight," I tell him. "I'm not sorry that I had a hard time making this decision."
"Then I'm not sorry for being angry at you."
"Is this really about that?" I ask as I stand. "Oh!" The Night Fury hangs onto my finger, so I accidentally lift him out of the nest. He can't hold on, though, so he falls, but I catch him with my other hand.
I look up. Fishlegs is poised to catch him, too. His nose is an inch from mine. Awkward.
I look into the nest and gently set the baby down. Then I look back at Fishlegs.
"What else would this be about?" Fishlegs demands quietly, pulling back so a full two steps are between us.
"I don't know... me and Astrid?"
Fishlegs's face is blank for a moment, then he draws his eyebrows together for a second before his face goes slack with realization. His mouth hangs open and he glances down at the ground. Then he gulps.
"It isn't about that," he says carefully.
"Then what is it about?"
"You know what this is about. You can't be trusted!"
"I can't be--Where is this coming from?"
Fishlegs paces. "You keep getting hurt and almost dying and expecting us to just take it." He turns and walks again. "You're about to call down the wrath of the gods on yourself and you expect us to accept it." He turns again. "You made a decision that should have included more people than just yourself!" He faces me and points his finger at me.
I blink and look up. "That's why you're angry?"
"... For now... I guess."
"Then I give up," I say.
"What?" He looks at me with surprise.
"I give up." I open my hands in defeat. "I can't win." I gesture to the sky as I go on: "I'm about the call the wrath of the gods down upon my head and I won't even have my friend-" I throw my hands in his direction, "-there to pick me up after they're through with me. Guess that's what kind of hero I am. Good to know this going in."
"Oh, sure, it's all about you, Hiccup," Fishlegs replies.
I throw my hands up. "I'm done. I... am about to have a really bad day. Good night." I start walking back to the house. "Toothless, are you coming?"
Toothless stays with the nest a little longer, but when I turn to look back at him, he trots over to me. "I'm sorry, buddy," I say as we walk, "I didn't mean to bring that into your family's abode." I look down at him. He's looking back at something. I glance back.
I shake my head and look straight ahead.
My heart is pounding in my chest when I spot Baldur and Nanna in the Helheim field. "Okay," I say between deep breaths, "Okay. We can do this." I pat Toothless's head. "Let's go."
Nanna looks up before we reach them. She lifts her hand up in a wave.
"Hail thee god and goddess!" I say as we draw closer.
"Do you have news?" Nanna asks, pulling Baldur along as she half-runs to where we are. "Have you heard anything?" She stops dead when she sees the expression on my face. "...What is it?" she breathes.
I slide off Toothless and take a deep breath as I step closer to her.
Her hand slips from Baldur's arm to mine. "What is it?" she says again.
"Forseti is probably in a trap Loki set," I inform her slowly.
"How do you know this? Do you know where he is?"
She nods, her eyes growing wide. "Then the gods will save him?"
"... They can't."
She squeezes my arm hard. "Why not?!"
"They need a silver egg to save Forseti--"
"Then they will search the worlds for one."
"I know where there is one," I say.
Hope flashes on her face. "Then..."
I put my hand over hers and gently remove it. Then I hold her palm. "I can't give it up--"
"What?!" she explodes, pulling her hand out of mine.
"I will not give up the silver egg," I say it just like I practiced.
She steps back, shaking her head. "You are not saying this," she whimpers. Tears roll down her cheeks. "My son. My son is trapped."
"His son is in the egg," I say, pointing to Toothless.
She whips her head around to look at him.
Toothless looks sadly back at her.
Nanna shakes her head again. "No," she says quietly. Then she raises her voice. "No. I will not take this."
"I'm sorry," I tell her, "I thought hard over this, but I cannot in good conscience--"
"You would rather let my son rot in a fate he doesn't deserve?!" Nanna cries out.
"Maybe there will be another egg somewhere," I say. "Maybe they will find one."
"Why shouldn't my son be freed?!" Nanna demands, "Why are you doing this to us?!"
"No Forseti," Baldur murmurs.
Nanna sobs and holds her hand to her mouth.
"I'm... sorry," I say again. "That's all I can say."
"What about your oath?!" Nanna screams, curling into her self. "You have betrayed us!" She points an accusing finger at me. Then she launches herself forward.
I land on my back and hit my head on the ground. But I bite down against the cry of pain that rises in my throat.
"I will not take this!" Nanna goes on. She raises her hand and slaps my uninjured eye.
Toothless growls and leaps and Nanna. Nanna has the foresight to pull out of the way.
"No!" she lets out, as if the air is ripping the word out of her. "I will not let you go that easily." She shakes my shoulders hard. "No!" she sobs.
"Toothless," I say, holding my hand up. "Don't." I can feel her tears on my face and neck. My nose burns.
"Forseti," Nanna goes on, holding her hands to her face. Then she gets a sudden infusion of rage. "Hodur!" she calls out with every part of her voice, "Hodur, hear me!" She bares her teeth as she presses down hard on my shoulders. "Hodur!"
"Nanna," Hodur says above me.
Nanna looks up at him and sobs.
"What has happened?!" Hodur demands.
Nanna shakes her head and rocks forward, gripping my shoulders. Her mouth is open, but she can't talk anymore.
Hodurs hands come down, searching over Nanna's shoulders before he gently pulls her off me. Then his hands come down hard on my chest. He grabs the front of my shirt and lifts me up.
"Stop," Hel says.
Everyone freezes. Nanna stops crying, Baldur stops swaying on his feet, Toothless is stuck in his crouch, and Hodur's arm remains pulled back.
I reach down with my toes to see if I can support myself. I can barely touch the ground with my right foot.
"Well done, Hero," Hel says behind me. I don't turn my head; I might lose my balance.
"Thanks?" I say.
"Do you not understand the concept of your oath?" Her voice is now behind me to the left. Before, it was behind me to the right. I slip my gaze far to the left to see if she'll pop into sight.
"The eggs," I say, "Toothless is the father."
"I got that much."
"You were watching?"
"I know what happens in my own realm. You got Hodur moving. Impressive."
"So you know why I can't give up the egg."
"You're going to give it up."
"What?!" I start to turn, but then I have to do a one-footed dance before I regain my balance. "But that egg is your grandchild."
Hel pops up to my right. When her head moves, I can just see the two tears that leak out of her eyes. "Give it up, Hiccup."
"Toothless will never--"
"Don't tell him."
"He'll know the egg is gone. He'll never forgive me. I'll never forgive myself."
"I will talk to him," Hel says.
"But how will we fly?" I ask, "He won't ever trust me again. He won't want me to ride him again."
"I will talk to him," Hel says again. "He will need you to come back here."
"I can't do this to Toothless."
"You can't do this to yourself. The gods will destroy you. And after you're gone, they'll take the egg anyway."
"Why are you so determined to have me betray your son?"
"We need you, you idiot child," Hel says. "We had an agreement. His destiny. Remember?"
"He's got a family now. His destiny is--"
"This is a part of it now. It can't be undone. This needs to happen."
"How are you so sure? How do you know?"
The corner of her mouth rises with disdain. "Do you have any idea how many village elders make their way down here?"
"So you have consultants. They're human. How do you know they're right?"
"I know," Hel says. She's so close to me now I can feel her breath on my neck. "Go back and do your job, Hero."
"How do I know you're not just doing this because you hate me?"
"Look into my eyes."
I slip my gaze to the right and look.
"My father wanted him dead. I will not let him win."
"But the egg is letting him win."
"We will not lose another god to my father's tricks."
"But you'll lose a grandchild."
Another couple of tears leak out of her eyes. She doesn't look sad or tired like I expect. She doesn't even blink. "Think fast, Hero," Hel warns me before she says again. "Stop."
Hodur's fist comes at my face, but I lift my right foot and push off against his chest to avoid it. My shirt tears a little but Hodur's surprise lasts just long enough for Nanna to put a hand on his shoulder.
"Hag," Nanna says.
Hodur releases my shirt. I drop back onto my right foot. I wobble a bit, and Toothless rushes to my side to help me, but I manage to stay upright.
"Let them go," Hel orders.
Hodur grunts. Nanna sobs again and clings to Baldur. Baldur blinks. Tears drop out of his right eye as he puts an arm around Nanna. "Why sad?" he whispers.
"Goodbye," I say before I mount Toothless.
"You'll pay," Nanna says bitterly.
"Now, now," Hel says.
I look back at Hel. She gives me a subtle nod.
"Let's go, buddy," I say as I touch Toothless's neck.
I blink and adjust to being back in my bed.
"What if he doesn't wake up in time?!" someone says in a hushed voice.
"We're just going to have to try to do it for him," another voice replies.
I sit up. "Hey!"
Astrid and Fishlegs jerk in surprise. Then they rush toward me. "Hiccup, you have to come outside with us," Astrid says gently as she tugs on my arm.
"My face is wet," I say as they tug me up from the bed. I touch my eye. "... Oh."
"We really need to talk to you," Fishlegs says as they lead me outside.
"Wait, how long have I been out?" I ask. "Fishlegs, why are you talking to me? Stay here, Toothless."
Toothless grunts and curls up tighter beside the bed.
"Uh," Fishlegs says as he swings the door shut. "Look, Hiccup, I'm sorry. About everything."
"What? Wait, why are you two--"
"It was my idea," Astrid says. "I heard you muttering while you were out."
"I'm going with you," Fishlegs says, "I can't let you do this alone."
"I would go too, but someone needs to help deal with Horrorcow," Astrid says. "Ruffnut, Tuffnut, and Snotlout are gonna need some help. Soon. So you need to go."
That's when I notice in the sunlight that they're scratched and bleeding in places. And they kind of look a little singed.
"What... are you talking about? What happened to you two?"
Astrid puts her finger to her lips as if she's motioning for silence. Then she slips something into my pocket.
My eyes go wide. "Astrid..." She has a long scratch over her eye. It's partially hidden by her bangs, but it suddenly helps me understand. This is real. This is... done.
"I'm not proud of myself," she whispers shakily into my ear. She grips my hand. "Do you what you have to do." She presses a kiss to my cheek before she pulls away.
I touch the cold, round thing in my pocket. My mouth goes dry. "But--"
"I'll explain later," Fishlegs says. "You know how to get to... wherever you need to go?"
"Yeah, kind of."
"Then let's get Toothless and get moving."
"What am I going to tell Toothless?" I ask.
"Tell him you're going to look at the trap yourself, to see if you can help," Astrid informs me.
"Fishlegs, won't you need Horrorcow?"
"I've got a Gronckle ready to go," Fishlegs says.
"You two..." I say. "Thanks."
"Just come back alive," Astrid says. "Both of you."
"Can you talk to my Dad and the Elder?" I ask her.
"Of course," she says.
"Okay, see you in four days," I say.
"Four days?" Fishlegs says. "Is it really that far?"
"Two days each way," I tell him. "By boat, anyway."
"We'll need to pack some lunch," he says, holding his index finger up.
"I've got a few things that might work," I say.
As Fishlegs goes through our personal store of food, I can't help wrapping my fingers around the cold, silver oval in my pocket. Toothless is behind Fishlegs, sniffing away at the food that Fishlegs puts out for us to take.
"Hey, Toothless," I say, "Stop bugging Fishlegs."
"It's okay," Fishlegs says. "I'm used to Horrorcow doing the same thing."
"So, what moved you to stop being angry at me?"
"Astrid," Fishlegs says nonchalantly as he stacks fruit on the table.
"What did she tell you?"
Fishlegs glances back at Toothless.
"Oh, right," I say. "I guess we can discuss this later."
"Are we okay?" Fishlegs asks, turning to me. Somehow, he has amassed enough food for the trip in under a minute.
"How did you--"
"Are we good?" Fishlegs asks, less of a question this time.
"I... guess? You don't have to come with me."
"Yes, I do," Fishlegs says, determined. "Sack?"
"Here," I say. I open a trunk next to my bed and pull one out. I toss it to him. Then I look back in the trunk and pull out another sack and a couple of other things. "We'll probably need all this."
Fishlegs sort of scoops all the food up with his arm, and it all settles in the sack.
"Ready to go Toothless?" I ask him.
Toothless bounds to door and looks back at me.
"Guess that's a positive," I say as I look to Fishlegs.
Fishlegs smiles. He pulls the sack with him and moves for the door.
It opens before either of us reaches it.
"Dad," I say.
"Good morning," Fishlegs says.
"Fisheggs," Dad says with a nod before turning to me. "Going off on an adventure?"
"Astrid talked to you?" I ask.
"Briefly, before she went to help deal with a wild Gronckle. Do you two know what that's about?"
Fishlegs and I glance at each other.
"I'll explain later," I say.
Dad shuts his eyes briefly as he processes this. "I'm not surprised," he announces when he opens his eyes again.
I pull my breast hat out of the trunk and put it on my head. It's kind of hard to tell through all the facial hair, but I think Dad smiles a little.
"We'll be back," I say to Dad, "Probably."
"I'll be here," Dad replies as he holds the door open for us. "Make us proud."
I almost recognize the Gronckle Fishlegs wants to take on the journey. "Is that Toad or Chuckles?" I ask him.
"It's Chuckles," he answers as he hooks the food sack onto his saddle. "Chuckles has higher speed."
"I could never keep track of the dragons the way you do," I say.
"Well you do so much already," he replies, "No one expects you to be perfect at everything." He turns and faces me. "You ready?"
"Before we leave, I have to say I'm sor--mpf."
His hand is on my face.
"Don't worry about it," he says before he removes his hand. He blinks.
"It's like my face is a free-for-all," I mutter.
"What happened to your other eye?" he asks.
"An unhappy goddess," I inform him. "You know that bad news I had to tell?"
I climb up onto Toothless's back. Then I reach into my pocket, just to make sure the egg's still there.
This is it. I'm going to do this.
Fishlegs mounts Chuckles, who grunts a little, but wakes up from his nap.
"Let's pull this off," I say as I touch Toothless's neck. "Let's go, buddy!"
Even though it's day, I can navigate by Loki's directions because I had the foresight to plot out which way to fly the night before. I didn't know why I did it then, other than trying to get over the fight I had with Fishlegs, but it worked out for the better. Heroes need this kind of foresight, I guess. Maybe I am meant to be one.
Time passes quickly when we fly. What must be hours feels like moments. I hardly notice it until Toothless makes a sharp drop toward an island we've never visited before. Then I realize the sun has moved in the sky. It's past half-day.
"I'm sorry, bud, I didn't even notice how much time passed. Do you need a break?"
Toothless replies by setting down in the nearest part of the shore.
Fishlegs and Chuckles follow our lead.
I dismount and pace a bit to stretch out my legs. Fishlegs slides easily off of Chuckles. Both dragons are panting.
"Good job," I say to Toothless as I rub his snout. "How about some fish?"
As Fishlegs works his magic with the net in the water, I sit with the dragons. Toothless and Chuckles both purr loudly as I scratch their necks. Soon, there's a pile of fish for each of them and Fishlegs and I are working our way through some bread.
"Two days by sea," Fishlegs muses, "Hopefully we'll get there faster."
"Well, we don't want to wear the dragons out," I say.
He nods. "Yeah."
"But we are moving faster than the ships ever could," I add before I take a sip of water. "Just look out for a mountain with a hole in it, I guess. It's the best we can do."
"We can do this," Fishlegs says, "I trust you."
"Are you sure about that?" I ask.
"Yes. I trust you."
"I mean, really? You don't have to trust me if you don't want to."
"Hiccup," Fishlegs says, his voice with more edge than I've ever heard from him before, "Seriously, I trust you."
"I don't know," I say, "You seemed so adamant before."
Fishlegs sighs. "I really am sorry."
I almost laugh.
"Are you smiling?" Fishlegs says with disgust. "This is serious."
"I can't help it," I reply, "It's so nice having my friend back. Although he's," I straighten my back and speak stiffly, "a little more serious than he used to be."
Fishlegs pokes holes in his bread with his index finger.
"I can't even imagine what Astrid told you to change your mind," I say as I lay back on the ground. "But I'm... I'm glad she did it." I pick up one end of my scarf and hold it to my nose. It smells just like her.
"Astrid's a good girlfriend," he confirms. "You're lucky to have her."
"Oh, I know that," I say.
I want to ask him about the egg, what they had to do to get it, but I remember we can't talk about it. I want to think about anything but the fact that I'm about to betray my best friend. That I'm about to destroy his trust in me for what may be forever.
For some reason, Hel's voice surfaces in my mind. Give it up.
I blink back the tears that prick my eyes when I remember the tears she shed.
A shadow moves over me and something wet touches my eye. The one Nanna hit. "Ugh. Thanks, buddy," I say as Toothless licks away. His slobber smells fishy, but at least he isn't regurgitating anything on me.
When Toothless is done, he jumps over me and curls up around my legs. I sit up and smile at him. "How do I look?"
"Better," Fishlegs says, impressed.
Chuckles puts his head between me and Fishlegs and sniffs at Fishlegs's bread. Fishlegs tears off a piece and offers it to Chuckles. Chuckles sticks out his tongue and after Fishlegs gives him the bread, he swallows and purrs, nudging Fishlegs with his snout.
Fishlegs rubs Chuckles's chin.
"It's like you've been doing this your whole life," I say.
"I had a good teacher," Fishlegs says before he pushes up onto his feet. "Should we get going?" He steps over to me and offers me his hand.
"Guess so." I take it and let him pull me up.
Then something happens that I did not expect.
"Uh, what's that?" I say as I look down at the thing between my legs.
"I think that's an arrow," Fishlegs says with an impressive calm.
"Where did it come from?"
"Over there," Fishlegs informs me, still calm. I follow the path of his finger and look at the archer standing at the edge of a grove of trees. "... Run for it?"
"Totally, except, with flying instead of--"
More arrows come at us. We both swear and leap at our respective dragons.
"Okay, buddy," I say quickly as I struggle to hook my pegleg to the pedal. "We need to go. Now--Whoa!" Someone leaps at me from behind and we tumble off of Toothless. I land on my stomach. "Aaahh!" Whoever's on top of me shoves my head into the sand.
Toothless roars and suddenly the weight on my back is gone.
I turn onto my back and wipe the sand off my face. Chuckles is growling and standing between Fishlegs and two attackers. Toothless is on top of the guy who attacked me.
"Get the dragons!" someone shouts from across the beach.
"No!" I say as I scramble to stand. I wobble a little when I'm upright, and I spot the handful of Vikings who are running toward us.
Three of them are carrying spears, one an axe, and another a hammer. They've all got thick arms and thick middles, but they run in the sand like they've had a lot of practice. Both at running in sand and at attacking dragons. Even though they emit war cries, I feel a little relieved to see them. I feel a little less... alone... out here. The feeling only lasts as long as it takes for me to inhale a new breath.
"No no! Uh, we're Vikings too!" I call out as I wave my arms and make my way toward them, "Please don't get the dragons! They're good dragons!"
Three of them run past me, sounding another wave of war cries, their spears and axe raised. The other two stop in front of me. One of them, a tall man, is shirtless with a brown pelt around his shoulders. His companion is wearing a sleeveless, blue tunic. He hefts the hammer in his hand as he looks me over. For some reason, they look familiar to me.
"What tribe are you from?" the taller one asks.
"We're Hairy Hooligans," I tell him. "Could you, like, call those guys off? My dragon's a Night Fury. He really doesn't like being attacked."
I hear a familiar sound of fire whooshing and the three who went to attack the dragons come running back the other way. Shouting in a different tone now. Their clothes have small flames on them.
"Like so," I say.
"Hairy Hooligans," the tall guy muses.
"Yeah," I say, nodding, "Stoick the Vast is my dad."
The shorter guy leaps back. "Y-You're Hiccup the Horrible?"
"It's Hiccup Horrendous Haddock," I correct him. "The Third," I add.
"Why has your father sent you?" the tall guy asks, shifting his spear from hand to hand. "Why have you brought dragons?"
"This was just a stop on the way to--We're taking a trip... And we stopped to rest. Here."
I shrug. "Toothless chose it."
"Is Toothless your companion?"
"He's my dragon," I answer, gesturing back at Toothless. He's still on top of my attacker. Chuckles has managed to knock Fishlegs's attackers unconscious. "Oh, uh. Sorry about that. They'll be okay. I think."
I turn back to the taller guy. He's scowling.
"So... Who are you guys?"
"We're the Treacherous Trodders. You don't remember us?" The tall guy gesture to himself, then to the shorter guy. "I'm Hork and this is Knut. We used to visit Berk more often when you were just a littl'un. Even then we knew you were a little behind on the Viking curve." He laughs and shoves my shoulder with his hand. "How old are you now? Nine? Ten?"
I blink and take a deep breath. "I'm fifteen."
Hork's laughter dies slowly. "... All right, then. Let's get you back to the village."
"Hiccup!" Fishlegs calls as he runs toward us. "Is everything okay?"
"Fishlegs, this is Hork and Knut," I say, gesturing to each of them, "Guys, this is Fishlegs. Uh, we'd love to stay and chat, but we're kind of in a hurry."
"What kind of trip did you say this was?" Hork asks.
I glance at Fishlegs. He shrugs. I can't tell what he's thinking, but I'm not sure it'd be a good idea to share what exactly we're doing.
"Should we tell them about the thing?" Fishlegs whispers.
"There's a thing?" Hork says, perking up. "What thing?"
"No no," I say. I force a laugh. "It's not important. It's just a thing. You know. We all have things."
"You're coming back with us," Hork declares as he grabs my arm.
Toothless roars again and comes bounding toward us.
"No!" I call out.
"Night Fury!" Knut shouts. He stumbles backward and cowers as Toothless leaps at Hork.
Hork releases me as he falls back in the sand.
"Toothless!" I yell. "Toothless, get off of--Toothless, let him go."
Toothless looks at me with wide, innocent eyes.
"Toothless..." I say.
Toothless nudges my stomach with his snout, urging me away.
I lean over Hork. "Sorry about this, he-he gets protective sometimes."
"He protects you?" Hork asks.
Toothless makes a confused sound and steps off him.
Hork sits up and adjusts his helmet. I brush some of the sand off his back and offer him my hand. He takes it and almost pulls me down with him before Knut helps him up.
"We haven't had an attack in weeks," Hork says. "The dragons are on your side now?"
"Our side," I correct him. "I don't know if any will come back here, but you don't have to attack them. They're good now."
"How did you manage that?" Hork asks.
"Oh! Can I tell them?!" Fishlegs says, raising his hand, "It's so epic!"
"Fishlegs," I say, nodding to the left, "The thing."
He deflates. "Right."
"Come," Hork says, reaching for my arm, "We want to hear the sto--"
"Toothless, calm down," I say as I pet his head, "They're Vikings. They're the good guys. Remember? Wha--"
Toothless nudges his head against my legs, like he's trying to get between them.
"Buddy, what are you doing?"
He keeps doing it.
"Sorry," I say to Hork, as I try to push Toothless back with my hands, "He's not usually like this. Toothless. Toothless! Stop."
Toothless groans and lays down in front of me. He tosses his head back.
"What does that mean?" Hork asks.
"Oh," I say, "I think he wants to--" Toothless sniffs at my pocket. "Oh! Okay." I step away from him.
"You're coming, then?" Hork says.
Toothless looks confused. He snuffles and blinks.
My heart beats faster. I want to touch the egg in my pocket, but I can't risk it. Did Toothless smell Horrorcow on it?
Fishlegs hurries to my side. "They might know where to find the other thing," he whispers.
"What other thing?" Knut asks. He's still keeping his distance.
"Where to find... it," Fishlegs says, opening his hand between us as if to guide my thoughts.
"You may have a point," I say. I turn to Hork. "Okay, so do you guys know where to find a mountain with no top?"
"You mean a volcano?" Hork says. "Sure. There's an island just over a day's sail from here."
"Volcano," I say slowly. It's an interesting new word.
"Every once in a while, it spews out its innards," Hork explains. "Are you coming back to the village with us?"
"Guess we should," I say, shrugging and looking to Fishlegs. He nods.
"Chuckles!" Fishlegs calls out. Chuckles grunts and flies over to where we are.
"Come on, Toothless."
"Toothless, don't start," I warn him. "Do you want dinner later?"
Toothless stops growling and whines a little as he looks at me.
"Come on," I tell him. "Be good." I scratch his neck. "Let's go."
Toothless finally gives in when the rest of us start to leave him on the beach. He nudges Fishlegs aside and walks beside me, glaring at everything that catches his eye.
"So why'd you stop visiting Berk?" I ask after a few minutes.
Hork and Knut each carry one of the guys that Chuckles knocked out. The guy who attacked me had gone ahead of us when we were talking.
"We just..." Hork starts.
"We never got around to it," Knut finishes.
"Hm," Fishlegs lets out.
"What were you doing instead?" I ask as I dodge a tree's low branches.
"Oh you know, rebuilding and recovering after dragon attacks," Hork says.
"It must be a relief to know they won't attack anymore. Now you can visit and say hi to my dad. I'm sure he'd love to see you guys again. Oof!" I almost fall over when my pegleg gets caught in tree roots but Toothless catches me. "Thanks buddy."
Hork and Knut are looking at each other as I start walk again.
"Sure," Knut says, just as Hork says,
"Oh, yes, of course."
I notice that the trees are starting to thin out. "So is it very far?" I start to ask, but then the war cries start, all around us. "Oh no." This can't be good.
Toothless roars as nets fall over him and Chuckles. I turn to help them, but I'm suddenly surrounded by spears aimed at me, and a circle of faces, some clean-shaven, some with braided beards. One guy has naturally curly facial hair that's kind of shaped like Berk.
"Don't move, boy," the Berk-bearded spear-holder growls.
"Toothless, don't hurt anyone!" I call out.
Toothless roars and spits fire, but he can't shake off the Vikings who have tackled him.
"Don't harm the boys," Hork says, "It isn't their fault. They've been hypnotized by the dragons."
"Hypno-what?" I say. "We're not hypnotized! The dragons are our friends!"
"So after hundreds of years of raiding us, they suddenly take to us? Just like that?" Knut says.
"Hey," I say, "It wasn't easy getting to this point. You have no idea what happened, what we've been through."
"And what do we have here?" a man says.
Knut and Hork each step aside to let the speaker through.
The guy has an epic beard. I mean, it's almost as awesome as my dad's beard. But it's blond, and it has less braids.
"Stoick's son," Hork says quietly, nodding at me.
"Ah, guests." The newcomer rubs his big hands together.
"This is the worst dinner party I've ever been to," I say. "Who are you?"
"You may call me Gudrik, son of Stoick." Gudrik leans over to Hork. "Who's the big one?"
"My name is Fishlegs Ingerman," Fishlegs says. "I will not be recommending your version of hospitality when I leave here."
"Hm," Gudrik says. He holds his hands out, and drops one while he lifts the other. Then he does it again, as if he's weighing something in each hand. "To hold ransom or not to hold ransom?"
"Stoick's boy could fetch a fair lot," Knut muses.
"I vote for letting us go," I say. "You really don't want to make my dad angry."
Gudrik smirks, but his lips go slack and his eyes thin as he looks me up and down. "What is that?" he says. It doesn't sound like a question.
"What?" I ask.
"That," he says, coming closer and pointing. "Out of the way!" he yells as he shoves some of the spear-holders aside.
"What?" I ask again. "I honestly have no clue what you're--"
He grabs the front of my scarf and yanks it off me. Then he holds it up, examining its frayed edge. "This came from a blanket."
"It did," I confirm. "What's it to you?"
"This was my sister's blanket. I gave it to her for her daughter."
"You mean Astrid?"
"How do you know her?!" Gudrik yells.
"She's... my girlfriend."
Gudrik blinks. "Girlfriend..."
"Well, we haven't technically been on a date yet, but we sort of have an implicit agreement that--Ow."
Gudrik grabs my arm and starts hauling me off behind him. "Kill the dragons," he orders nonchalantly.
"No! No," I say as I try to pull out of his hold, "No, do not kill the dragons. You don't want to do that! You will make at least one god angry."
"He's a little young to be a village elder, don't you think?" Knut.
"But he's got the perfect girl-ish figure," Hork says.
"Seriously. Guys. Gudrik!" I grab his shirt and manage to grab his attention. "Gudrik, you don't want to do this."
"Why not?" Gudrik says, bored.
"I... I'm a hero of the gods." I brace for their response.
They all stare at me.
"Hiccup," Fishlegs whispers loudly, "I don't think it's working."
"Every village has one," Knut mutters.
"Hero, sure," Gudrik says, "And Knut here once found Thor's hammer in a ditch."
I exhale a long breath. "How do you think my face got bruised? And how would you explain this?" I say as I lift my shirt.
Gudrik's eyes go wide. I look down just to make sure it's still there. There it is, the intricate scar lines forming a sun and its rays on my side.
"Mark of Asgard," Gudrik murmurs.
"So you've heard of it?" I say.
"Hey," Knut says, "He's a real hero. It's real this time."
"Wait, wait." I say, holding my hand up, "What do you mean 'this time'?"
Gudrik huffs and releases my arm. "Come, son of Stoick."
"You can just call me Hiccup," I say as I follow him. "Uh, are you gonna let Fishlegs come too?"
Gudrik waves his hand and the spear-holders around Fishlegs lower their weapons.
"And the dragons?"
"Keep the dragons in the holding pens!" Gudrik orders.
"I'm kind of on god-business," I say, "Could this conversation wait until maybe tomorrow or the day after...?"
Gudrick turns and scowls at me.
"Okay, then," I say, "Now it is."
He throws the scarf at me before turning and walking again.
"Are you okay?" Fishlegs asks as he follows with me.
"Yeah," I say as I wrap the scarf around my neck, "You?"
"I'm fine," Fishlegs answers, "A little confused."
"Gudrik," I say.
He ignores me.
"Gudrik," I say again. "I'm a hero. You can't ignore me. Gudrik!"
"How many gods have you met?" Gudrik asks quietly.
"Let's see, uh, Hel, Baldur, Nanna, Hodur--"
"You've been to Helheim?" He stops and turns to face me.
I lift one hand. "In a word, yes." I lift my other hand. "In more words... long story."
"I must speak with the Elder," he says as he starts walking again.
"Can you two chat while I'm away, or...?"
"She needs to see that." He gestures at my stomach.
"O... kay." I rub my face with my palm.
Fishlegs pats my shoulder.
I look at him and nod my thanks. Then I look back at the men carrying the dragons to the holding pens. I can hear Toothless groaning as they move out of sight.
"So you've been visited by heroes before?" I ask Gudrik.
"One of our boys was a hero," Gudrik says roughly, "He left one day and never came back."
Fishlegs and I walk in silence as we continue after Gudrik to his Elder's hut. I wonder if the situation were reversed, if they came to our village on dragons before the change, would we have reacted the same way?
"Any chance you'll tell us about the volcano?" I ask.
Gudrik stops in front of a hut. He knocks. The door opens immediately and he catches something that comes from inside. A short elderly woman peers out of the doorway. She has a staff like our Elder, but her face is narrow, and her hair is in a bun. "What business have you brought?" she demands.
"It appears," Gudrik says, gesturing to me, "That we have been visited by a true hero of the gods."
"Ha!" the woman says waving him off. She goes back into the hut.
"It's real this time," Gudrik insists, going in after her.
Fishlegs and I go in after Gudrik.
"He's marked," Gudrik explains.
The Elder turns, squinting. "Which?"
Gudrik points to me.
The woman hobbles over to me and shoves her face up at me. "Where is it?" she asks in her rough voice.
I lift my shirt.
"Oh," she says. She touches my stomach. "You're so thin. Do you ever eat?"
"Kind of on a quest here," I say.
"It's the mark," the Elder says, bored. She turns away. "Anything else?"
"Volcano!" Fishlegs says.
"Uh, yeah!" I say, "We have a quest. In a volcano. Any advice?"
"What are you doing at the volcano?" the Elder asks, almost as if she's disgusted by the idea.
"I'm going to save Forseti," I say. "He's been missing."
"Why is he at a volcano?" she asks, again with the same distaste.
"It's a trap set by-Look, that's not important. You're an Elder, do you have any wisdom to impart?"
The woman looks me up and down. She points at my pegleg with her staff. "You're going to have some trouble getting around with that."
"... Thanks," I say. "So... we're going to get going..."
"Wait outside for me," Gudrik says. He shoves us out the doorway then slams the door closed.
Fishlegs tilts his head in thought, then presses his ear to the door. What he hears causes him to recoil.
"What is it?" I ask.
"She said you could be valuable... Hiccup, I kind of don't like it here."
"No wonder Toothless was so on edge befo--"
A horrible sound interrupts me. A sound like screaming, but worse than any human could possibly make. My eyes widen.
"That sounded like," Fishlegs starts.
"Dragons!" I yell.
We both hurry in that direction. Fishlegs is faster than me. After he goes past two buildings, he stops. I think he's waiting for me, but when I catch up with him, I see why he stopped.
"Hey!" I yell out, tugging Fishlegs along by his arm. "Hey stop that!"
There are four holding pens, all in a row. Toothless is at one end, and Chuckles is at another end. There is a crowd of kids our age armed with spears and hammers and swords going at Chuckles like he's a stuffed attack dummy.
Toothless roars and thrashes against the walls of his pen. Chuckles crashes around his pen and screams in pain.
"Legs, I need your help here," I say as I move toward them. "Come on, snap out of it." I shake him by the arm. "Fishlegs!"
One of the guys laughs out loud.
Fishlegs snaps. "Get away from him!" he shouts, running at them. He grabs two guys and smashes their heads together. Then he kicks another guy in the gut, putting him out of commission. Now there are three girls left facing him.
"Fishlegs," I say carefully as I finally reach them.
"What do you think you're doing?!" one of the girls demands, aiming her spear at Fishlegs. "Who are you anyway?!"
Fishlegs scoots himself between the girls and Chuckles. "Get away from my dragon," he says in a deadly whisper.
"Your dragon?" another girl scoffs. "Anyone can kill it once it's in the pens."
I feel like my gut just turned into ice.
"Hiccup," Fishlegs says, scowling.
I move to Toothless's pen. "Hey buddy, I'm so sorry."
Toothless makes a sad keening sound as I stare at the structure of the pen. It takes me a few seconds, but I figure out that if I move this, twist that, and tug on that other thing that I'll get it open. It works.
"I'm sorry, bud," I say as I pat his snout. "Are you okay?"
Toothless growls suddenly and shoots past me. He's immediately at Chuckles's pen, putting himself between the girls and its opening. Fishlegs is inside, checking on Chuckles.
There's so much blood, and Chuckles just looks... broken. His mouth hangs open and his torso twitches, even though he doesn't look conscious.
"How does it look?" I ask.
Fishlegs looks up at me. I've never seen him so sad.
"No," I say.
"I think... I think he's--"
"Duh! It's dead," the third girl says. "That's what it's there for."
Fishlegs emits this sort of muffled scream in his throat, then I step in to catch him when he leaps forward.
"Fishlegs. Fishlegs! I need you to calm down."
"How can I calm down?!" he cries, "They-they killed..."
"What's wrong with your friend?" the first girl asks.
"Okay, you three, just go," I tell them, "Go. I don't ever want to see you again in my life."
"It's our village," the second girl says.
"Oh wow," I say. I am quickly losing my resolve for holding Fishlegs back. "Look, just leave. Or you'll end up like--"
The three guys Fishlegs knocked out are back on their feet.
"I heard it's black cuz it's a Night Fury," another one of the boys says.
"Night Fury," the girls murmur, "That's so cool!"
"Oh no," I say, "You are not touching Toothless."
"Hiccup," Fishlegs whispers, pushing past me. "Go."
"We should definitely leave," I say, "I'm not feeling the welcome here."
"No, you should go," Fishlegs throws over his shoulder.
"But what about you? We can ride on Toothless, he can support two."
"I'll just get in the way. You have to do your thing, remember? And what Gudrik said about ransoming you... Do what you have to do, Hiccup."
"Out of the way," one of the boys says. He tosses his hammer up and catches it by the handle.
"You want some more of this?" Fishlegs says again his deadly tone.
"Fishlegs," I say as he puts himself between Toothless and the kids.
One of the boys leaps at Fishlegs, but Fishlegs deflects him easily.
"Come back for me when you can," Fishlegs says as he pounds his fist into his other hand. "I'll be okay."
Now the guy with the hammer tosses it at Fishlegs. Fishlegs catches it.
"Go!" Fishlegs calls out.
"You're a real hero, Legs!" I say. Then I climb onto Toothless's back.
One of the girls grabs my right leg. I try to kick her off, but she's got a fierce grip.
Fishlegs rips her off of me like we're two sides of a piece of parchment.
"All right, Toothless," I say, "Let's go, bud!"
Toothless leaps into the air.
I can hear the kids "whoa" as we take off.
I urge myself not to look back, but I can't help it; I do. Fishlegs waves at me until he's out of sight.
"No wonder they couldn't keep a hero."
Toothless and I fly until it's dark. He's panting again when we land on another island. I stay alert as we eat fish, constantly checking the trees for any sound or movement. I can't help thinking of Fishlegs and Chuckles.
When we're done eating, I sit up, thinking and staring at the stars. Toothless curls up around me and covers me with his wing.
"Thanks, buddy," I say.
He warbles and nuzzles my side.
I sigh as I rub his face. "We'll pick him up on the way back," I say. "We'll just... get this done, then we'll go and pick him up."
Toothless lets out a long, sad howl.
"Poor Chuckles," I say, holding my knee to my chest. I rub his tail. "But I'm glad it wasn't you."
He settles down to sleep and I lean back against him. I'm still worried about other Viking tribes lurking around, but soon I can hardly keep my eyes open.
The next thing I know, I jerk awake as something moves under me.
"Whoa!" I say, before I realize it's Toothless shifting.
Toothless blinks sleepily and looks back at me.
"Sorry, bud, didn't mean to wake you," I say as I pet his ear. The sun is just about to rise. I climb out from under his wing and stand to stretch my leg. "Well, I might as well get breakfast," I say as I tug out the net.
Toothless eats his entire pile of fish in less time than it takes for my one to cook. He runs up and down the shore as I pick the bones out of my fish meat.
When he notices me standing, he bounds toward me.
"Ready to go?" I ask him.
He nudges my leg with his snout and lets out a bark.
"I'll take that as a yes."
When we're in the air again, I see three other islands that could be the one.
"The Trodders could've at least warned us," I say. "Okay, that one on the far right is closest, let's see if it's got a volcano."
Toothless makes a curious sound as he looks back at me.
"A mountain with a hole in it," I remind him. "The one we're searching for."
He looks forward again and we make our way toward it. The trip takes up most of the morning, and all we get out of it is Toothless not wanting to land.
"Why not?" I ask him.
His whole body shudders.
"If this were the island we needed," I warn him.
Toothless pulls away from the island.
"Fine," I say. "But that means you can't take a break until we reach the next one."
The trip to the next island takes long enough that my stomach starts to grumble. It's definitely past half-day when we reach it. And yet there is no volcano.
"Great," I say as we land. "What a colossal waste of time."
Toothless responds by rubbing his body all over a patch of tall grass.
Since we took so long between breaks, the break itself lasts longer with Toothless taking a nap that I cannot for the life of anyone wake him up from. When finally he opens his eyes again and he shakes awake, it's nearly sundown.
"Well, I told Astrid four days," I reason. "And that third island is closer. We can just take a look."
At first I think it's a lost cause. All I see as we approach are green hills. Then I see it through some misty clouds. A really large, green mountain that looks like it's missing part of its top.
"That's it," I say, "Toothless, that's it! We found it! Land down there! Right there. It's perfect, it's three quarters of the way up the mountain, so--"
So I can go up alone.
I slide down to the ground and take a deep breath.
This is it.
I put my hand in my pocket. The silver is cool against my fingers.
"Stay here, buddy," I say, faking cheer, "I'm just gonna take a look around, okay?"
Toothless moves to come with me.
"No, you stay here and rest, okay?" I rub his neck. "You had a long flying day."
Toothless makes a disappointed sound.
"Stay here," I urge him. "I'll be back."
He follows me again.
He gently nudges my pegleg and drops down in front of me.
Maybe it's better this way. If he knows now, instead of when we come back.
I wrap my fingers around the egg. I start to pull my hand out...
I can't do it.
The only way I can do this is to lie to him. He won't see if I drop the egg while we're flying over the hole.
I rub my hands over my face.
This is the kind of hero I am.
I mount again.
"Let's go, buddy," I say, sounding weaker than I expect.
Toothless flies to the top of the mountain. I look in. It doesn't look very dangerous, but it is actually quite hot.
I reach into my pocket.
Okay, this is it.
I pull the egg out.
I'm a hero of the gods.
I hold it over the hole.
I'm going to save Forseti.
All I have to do is let go.
I'm going to do this.
I take a deep breath.
Just drop it.
And that's when I realize it.
Just let go.
"... I can't," I say aloud as I shove the egg back into my pocket. "Okay, Toothless. Why don't you land over there?"
There are two rings around the rim. One is lower than the other. We set down on the lower, outer rim.
I slide down to the ground.
"I need to talk to you," I say as I stand before him.
"I. I lied to you," I say, holding my hand out to him. "We're not here to help. Well, we are here to help. But not the way you think."
He tilts his head.
I take a deep breath and pull the egg out of my pocket. "Buddy... I... Please don't hate me." Then I shut my eyes and hold the small, silver thing out at him.
He doesn't make a sound.
I open my eyes. He's staring at the egg.
I exhale and set the egg down on the ground between us. Toothless steps forward, placing his body over the egg as he glares at me.
"I'm sorry," I say. "Hel said... Your destiny... No, I can't justify it. But I can't go through with it. I'm sorry, Toothless."
A low growl sounds in his throat.
"I'm really sorry," I say. "I don't know what else I can say." I shake my head. "Any chance we can just fly home?"
Toothless bares his teeth at me.
"Then I guess we're kind of stuck here, huh? Oh, gods." I hold my head. "I'm sorry, Toothless. I'm sorry, Astrid. Fishlegs. Snotlout, Tuffnut, Ruffnut. I'm sorry, everyone. I've just let everyone down." I start to lose control of my breathing. "I can't-I can't--"
The air moves in and out of me like I have no control over it. I hunch forward and press my hands against my knees as I try to catch my breath.
"You know," a voice says. "For a hero, you're a really big loser."
I turn my head and glare at Tyr.
"I know," Tyr says. "I'm amazing. Take a moment to catch your breath."
I shake my head as I hyperventilate. Then I decide that wasn't a good idea.
"So, Hero is a failure," Tyr announces, pacing around Toothless. Toothless follows him with his eyes.
My head feels a little light. The volcano's heat isn't helping. I drop down to the ground.
"Give me the egg," Tyr says to Toothless.
"Don't!" I force out. I lean back heavily on my hands where I'm sitting.
Tyr steps toward Toothless, but Toothless spits fire at his feet. Tyr jumps back.
"Make him give it to me," Tyr demands, moving toward me.
"Won't," I manage between long breaths.
"He won't or you won't?" Tyr asks.
I point to myself with my thumb.
Tyr screws up his mouth and shakes his head. Then with one swipe of his left hand, he grabs the front of my shirt and yanks me up. Then he releases my shirt and catches me around the waist with his right arm.
"You forced me to do this," he declares as he leaps across the lower rim. In another second he leaps across the inner rim. Then he takes hold of my shirt and dangles me over the edge of the volcano's gaping mouth.
At that moment, I start breathing normally again. "Oh gods!" I flail my arms and my right leg, then I figure out that's probably not best course of action. I grab Tyr's arm with my hands.
Something happens then. I blink and suddenly I'm not over the hole. I'm not with Tyr. I'm somewhere so hot I can hardly breathe, and I'm standing. Voices whisper at me: Unfair. It was unfair. They shouldn't have died.
"Not a good time to be calling on us," Tyr says almost cheerfully, snapping me out of the waking dream.
"Tyr, what are you doing?!" I yell as I squeeze my eyes shut and try to will some part of the ground to come under my foot.
"Either the egg goes in," Tyr explains calmly, "Or you do."
"I won't help anyone by dying!" I reply as I try to summon up a glare.
Tyr turns his head. "You wouldn't let him die now, would you?"
I follow Tyr's gaze. Toothless is on the inner rim now. He carefully sets the silver egg on the ground with his tongue before he glares up at us.
"Toothless," I say, "Toothless, I understand. Save the egg-Whoa!"
Tyr shakes me. "Don't save the egg!"
"Tyr-Let's-Can we stop with the shaking?!" I say.
"Egg or your rider," Tyr says to Toothless, his voice tight, "Decide now." He shifts sideways on his feet so we move closer to Toothless.
"Oh go-Oh great Odi-Oh, I'm gonna die, aren't I?" I let my body sag.
Then it happens again. I'm in the hot place, and the voices are saying: Your father. Dead. Your mother. Gone.
Toothless makes a confused sound and it brings me back to the top of the volcano. His eyes are wide. He steps back and looks down at the egg.
The next thing I know, I land on the ground and Tyr is on his back, grappling with Toothless. Toothless opens his mouth and it looks like he's preparing to shoot fire into Tyr's face, but Tyr punches the side of Toothless's head and Toothless is dazed for a moment.
I turn my attention away from them and go to where the egg is shaking. There's already a small hole in the shell.
"Oh," I say.
"Stupid dragon!" Tyr grits out, "No one even likes your mother."
"Oh, you did not just insult his mother," I say, turning to them. Tyr has his arms around Toothless's head, keeping his mouth shut.
"Egg," Tyr grunts out at me, "In. Now."
"No," I say.
Tyr shakes his head. Toothless slips out of his grip somehow and tackles Tyr to the ground with a roar.
I stand next to the egg. There are huge cracks in it and I can see something black moving in the hole.
Toothless cries out.
When I look up, he's sliding on his side, a boat's length away.
"Toothless!" I almost run after him, but I hear the eggshell crack.
I step in front of the egg and look around. Where's Tyr?
Something grabs the back of my shirt and lifts me up.
"Tyr," I say. Can I fight him? It would be nice if being a hero meant I had some sort of special power. Aside from having weird dreams that let me communicate with stranded gods. "Don't do this."
"Are you going to stop me?" Tyr says, "Really?" He turns me around so I'm facing him.
"You gave me courage," I reply. "I have to do something with it."
"I gave you courage to look for trolls, to try to do everything you weren't supposed to."
"Well, it's backfired, hasn't it?"
"You couldn't even drop an egg," Tyr says. He tosses me aside.
"Ow!" I land hard on my elbow, but that doesn't keep me from diving for the egg.
Tyr knocks me aside like I'm a feather in the air. That gives me an idea.
I stand as Tyr casually walks to the edge of the rim. I try to tackle him, but he steps off the edge and stands in mid-air. I almost fall into the gaping chasm, but Tyr sticks out his foot and kicks me back onto the rim.
Toothless roars and bounds toward us.
"Good riddance," Tyr says as he drops the egg.
"Not quite!" I say as I throw myself over the edge. I hold my arms to my sides to pick up speed. Then I reach out and grab the egg.
"You idiot!" Tyr calls out. "I'm not saving you!"
"Thanks!" I reply. "Here goes nothing." I shove my hand into my pocket and pull my idea out. "Good old Modgud," I say before I stick the gray feather into my mouth.
"Oof!" I land on my back and hit my head on the surface beneath me. I gasp for breath as I look at the orange ceiling, but it's like the air doesn't seem to want to move. And it's hot. Hotter than I remember Berk ever being.
I pick the feather out of my mouth and shove it into my pocket. Then I open my other hand. Silver pieces slide apart to reveal a small, black Night Fury.
I sit up and look around. Voices whisper from somewhere I can't see. Baldur is dead, they say. Nanna is dead. They keep going, but I shake my head and try not to pay attention.
"Hello?" I call out. I hold the Night Fury close to my chest as I stand. He squeaks and presses his body against me. "Hey, little buddy," I say gently. "It's okay. I'll get you home." I pet his head with my finger before I pick out the pieces of silver.
"Get-get away!" someone cries, a man. "Get away! Get out of my head!"
I turn to follow the sound, but I can't. It sounds like the one clear voice is just circling around me.
"If I were a trap Loki set for Forseti," I wonder aloud, "I think I would act like this." I turn in a circle. Everything around me is molten orange. The walls shift as if they're made of liquid. But there are several openings. More levels of the same trap? Or more traps? I don't think I want to know. "... Forseti?" I ask. "Are you here?"
"Stop! Stop it!"
I shut my eyes. The whispers grow worse but the voice gets louder.
Dead by Hodur's hand.
"Mother! Father! Help me!" the clear voice sobs.
An idea comes to me. Maybe...
I hold out my hand, the one with the silver pieces, and slowly turn in a circle.
"Odin, help me!"
As I turn to the left, the voice becomes more focused. I can sense its direction. With my eyes still closed, I turn and take a step.
The egg for Forseti. The egg will know where to find him.
Through the heart.
Dead of grief.
Trapped in Helheim.
"Who are you?" the voice asks.
I open my eyes.
The man is stuck in the wall. His arms are completely submerged in the orange liquid. His knees and toes peek out. His face is exposed, but he looks dazed. Almost like Baldur.
"A-are you Forseti?" I ask as I look into his blue eyes. He doesn't look more than five years older than me.
He stares at me blankly as he breathes through his mouth.
"Forseti," I say again, "Are you Forseti?"
"Are you real?" he asks in a small voice.
I touch his face with my fingers. "I'm real."
"Real," he breathes.
"Okay, this is really important," I say, "Are you Forseti?"
"Yes," he murmurs.
"My name is Hiccup. I'm. I'm a hero."
"Hero?" he asks in awe.
"Yeah. It's a story. There was an oath. Anyway, I'm here to save you."
Forseti's expression slips into annoyance. "Then what are you doing here, you idiot?"
"Uh, saving you?"
"How exactly do you expect to get out?"
"I have something that this trap wants," I tell him.
"A small black dragon?" he asks, one eyebrow raised.
"Other hand," I say, "The silver egg."
"It isn't much of an egg now, is it?"
"Just. Uh. Let me work on that." I look around. "Maybe the trap will take the egg parts. It's still an egg. It's just... broken."
Forseti shifts in the wall. "Help me," he commands.
I slip the remains of the egg into my pocket and put the Night Fury down on the ground. "How exactly do I get you out?"
Forseti strains against whatever's got him stuck. His fingers slip out of the wall, then his palm follows. "Pull me."
I take hold of his hand. My finger accidentally touches the wall and I jump back from the burn.
"Pull me," Forseti urges.
I gulp and carefully take hold of his hand. Then I pull.
There's a lot of resistance.
"I don't think this is going to work..." I say with reluctance.
"I'm telling you, just pull!" Forseti insists.
"Okay, okay." I pull on his hand. His other hand slips out of the wall.
"Now both," Forseti orders.
I grip both his hands and tug.
"Whoa!" I fall backwards and he lands on top of me.
Forseti is hot. He exhales a hot breath against my neck before he shoves his burning hand against my chest and pushes himself up. After he stands, he takes hold of my arm and helps me up.
"There isn't very much to you, is there?" he says, looking over me.
I shrug before I lean down to pick up the Night Fury. "I use my brain more than my other parts."
Forseti shuts his eyes suddenly and covers his ears. "Stop it!" he yells.
Suddenly the walls go black. I look up and down. The floor and ceiling are black, too. It's almost like they aren't there at all.
Foresti opens his eyes and his face twists with horror as he looks at something past me.
I turn around.
There's Baldur, laying on the floor, eyes staring blankly and a sprig of mistletoe in his chest.
"Forseti," I say slowly, "It's not real."
Forseti shakes his head and opens his mouth to speak, but he can't seem to get any words out. He kneels beside his father's body.
I remind myself that it's not real. But it looks so...
"Forseti," I say, for both of our sakes. "It's just a trick."
It was all Hodur's fault, the voices say.
"Oh come on," I reply, "Everyone knows that's a lie."
Forseti rises and turns to me, his eyes thin. "How do I know you're not a trick?"
"What?' I say. "I'm real. I got you out of the wall."
"This never happened before. I never saw... What if you're trying to make me think you're helping?" Forseti accuses, moving slowly toward me, "Your appearance is just a ruse?"
"I have a mark," I say as I lift my shirt up to show him. As he moves closer, I step backwards, away from him. "This can't be more real, trust me. I wish it wasn't real either, but we're stuck here--"
"The mark could be part of your disguise."
"I'm not part of this trap," I insist.
"Then how did you get in?"
I sigh. I slip my feather out of my pocket to show him. "Modgud feather. Gets me out of trouble by getting me into trouble."
Hero made Nanna cry, the voices say.
I blink. "Hold on..." I hold my hand up. "That's not--"
"That," Forseti says, still moving toward me, "That is new too."
"It wasn't me," I say, as I keep moving backward, "I swear, I had nothing to do with--"
I hear Nanna sob behind me. I turn. There she is, on top of me, crying over Forseti.
When I turn back to Forseti, his lips pull into a sneer.
"No," I say, "This place is taking my memory and twisting it. Forseti. Forseti!"
He moves forward, faster now. I can't keep up with his pace. Soon he grabs my shirt and pulls me close. "Make the voices stop," he growls.
"I-I can't. I don't know how!"
Forseti shoves me and I fall onto my behind. I make sure not to crush Toothless's kid in my hand. He's squeaking a lot and can't seem to sit still.
I blink. "Forseti, the dragon," I say. "The dragon is real. If you won't trust me, trust this dragon. He came from the egg. He's going to save you."
"How?" Forseti throws the word out as he watches his mother cry.
"Hodur!" she screams. Then it happens before us, just the way it did in Helheim. Hodur arrives and pulls Nanna away from me. Then--
"It likes memories?" I mutter, "It can have them." I shut my eyes and concentrate.
"I'm not proud of myself," Astrid whispers. I open my eyes and I see her and me at the house. "Do you what you have to do."
"What...?" Forseti asks, confused. He looks around us, where these scenes play out over and over again.
"Family is easy," Fishlegs says behind me. I turn and see him with his dead quiet anger. "Family is easy."
I grit my teeth and focus on one more scene. "Come on," I say.
"If you can get from her a silver egg," Loki says, tied to boulders just beside Baldur's dead body, "the mountain will take the egg and return Forseti."
"Loki," Forseti breathes.
"That's him," I say. "From my memory."
Suddenly, the place we're in shakes. What seems to be black rock falls down from above us.
I push myself up onto my foot.
"Loki did this?" Forseti asks me.
"Let's concentrate on getting out of here," I tell him.
We navigate around the scenes, the bodies and voices that seems so real. "Just gotta say," I yell out, "I don't really know how to get out of--Whoa!"
The ground beneath Forseti collapses. He falls, but manages to grab onto the edge of the gaping hole.
"Grab my hand!" I say to him as I lean down over him.
Forseti looks unsure.
"I'm here to help you!" I insist.
"You talked to Loki!" he replies.
"It was-I didn't mean to! If I hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to come for you!"
"What if I just fall and die? Then I wouldn't be trapped here forever. Then I could see my parents!"
"Forseti," I say slowly, "Don't let Loki win. If you want to beat Loki, you have to get out of here and lead a good, long life."
"How do I know you can help me do that?"
"You don't," I tell him, "But do you really want this trap to be the first thing people think of when they hear your name?"
Forseti slips a little as he looks away in thought. Then he reaches out and grabs my arm.
I'm on my back on the floor of the orange space.
The weight on top of me moves.
"Forseti?" I ask.
He groans and rolls off me. "What was that?" he asks. He shivers, which is weird because it's so hot where we are.
"I... don't know." I sit up and look around. The baby Night Fury is beside me, squeaking. The walls are molten. Just like before. "Was that all in our heads...?"
Loki set a trap, the voices say.
"Hello?" I call out as I get up. I know it's silly to think there's someone behind the voices, but we've managed to turn the voices against Loki, which means there must be some kind of sentience behind them.
"There isn't anyone else here," Forseti says as he stands. "I've tried. If they were here, they probably melted to death when I wasn't pay attention."
I lean over and scoop up Toothless's kid into my hand. "Loki was planning to do something with the egg," I say, "If I can just figure out what... What did you just say?"
"There isn't anyone else here," Forseti repeats.
"No, after that."
"This," I say, digging the egg shards out of my pocket, "Is silver. Silver can be molded with enough heat." I show him the silver parts.
"We've got a lot of heat here," Forseti says.
I move closer to the wall in front of us. I hold my fingers close, but I can feel the heat radiating, waiting to burn me.
"Do the walls hurt you?" I ask Forseti as I turn to him.
Forseti looks over himself, his bare arms. His skin is red and he has some blisters. "A little, I suppose."
"We need to mold the silver into an egg. We don't have much silver, so it'll be the size of a robin's egg. For your freedom, would you hold these pieces inside the wall?"
Forseti looks unsure. "For my freedom?"
I nod. "It's the only way to turn it into an egg, which is Loki's requirement for getting you out of here."
"Loki," Forseti says with a scowl.
"Yeah, I know, but let's get you out first, then we--or, you--can concentrate on revenge, or punishment, or whatever you want. I would suggest just sticking with the justice thing. That was working for you before."
Forseti sighs. He wipes the egg shards into his hand and examines them. Then he shoves his cupped hands into the hot, orange wall. He grunts and jerks as if he wants to pull his hands out, but he stays strong.
"Once the pieces are soft enough," I advise him, "mold them together into one lump."
"This had better work," he grits out. Then, "There." He pulls his hands out. They're blistered, but they don't look as bad as I expect. Forseti opens his hands to reveal the small silver lump. "Ooh!" he exclaims, tossing the lump up, "It's hot!" He catches and tosses, catches and tosses again, then he just lets the lump drop to the ground.
"Do you hear that?" I ask him.
"I don't hear anything," Forseti replies.
"We stopped the voices. We did it," I say. "We did it!" I grab his shoulder and squeeze it.
He looks down at my hand with his mouth open, then he looks into my face.
"Sorry," I say as I remove my hand. "Now, let's hope it gets us out of here."
"All right." Forseti holds his hands open. "Work!" He leans over and peers at the silver lump. "You can let me go now."
I glance around. "Hm."
"It's not working," Forseti says, straightening up.
"Uh... huh." I shift the Night Fury to my other hand. "Hm."
"You're making that sound a lot," Forseti observes, "I don't think it's a very helpful sound."
"We just need to... we just need to figure out how this works. I mean, before I was just going to drop the egg in and hope for the best." I blink. "What's that?"
"It's sort of a... a sucking sound," I say as I look up. "It's coming from up there." I point with my free hand.
"Now that you mention it..." Forseti murmurs. "Here, boost me up." He takes hold of my arm and turns it so my palm is facing upward. I brace myself as he hops up and steps into my hand, but he's surprisingly light. I lift my hand up so he can go higher. "All right, stop there," he says. He presses his hands up against the ceiling, then through it. It's moving liquid just like the walls.
He gasps. "I think I feel the air!"
Forseti and I scream at the same time as the ceiling falls apart and drops at us. Forseti loses his balance as I jerk in surprise and we both tumble down, him on top of me. I hold the Night Fury out at arm's length as I hit the ground.
Forseti groans as he shifts on top of me. His knee jams into my groin and his elbow juts into my throat. Then he pushes himself off me. I take a deep breath and sit up.
"Well, at least we can get out now," I say as I look up. It looks like we're inside the mountain. I can see the hole at the very top. "Out of here, at least. I don't know how we're going to make it all the way up there."
"I can get out," Forseti corrects me, "I don't know if I'll be able to reach you from up above the hole."
"... Right," I say flatly. I resist the urge to complain about gods.
"Boost me up again?"
"Sure," I say. What else can I do? I came here to free Forseti. Maybe I can wait until the little Night Fury is big enough and we can fly out. I exhale and hold my hand out again.
Forseti leaps up onto my hand and reaches up through the ceiling. Then he screams and I yell and he loses his balance on his own and lands on me. Again.
I hold the Night Fury at arms length as I hit the ground.
"What-What is that?!" Forseti cries out.
"What? I can't se--Mpf!" His hand is on my face.
Then I hear a familiar roar.
I reach up with my free hand and remove Forseti's palm from my mouth. "Toothless?" I call out.
Something dark covers the hole.
Forseti rolls off me. "Uh!" he says, unsure. "What's Toothless?"
Toothless pokes his head in through the hole and barks. Then he tilts his head and looks down at my hand. At his last child.
"Forseti, this is Toothless. Hel's son." I exhale a long breath and stand. "Here you go," I say as I offer Toothless the small dragon.
Toothless opens his mouth. I gently place his kid on his tongue. Then Toothless lifts his head out of the hole and the darkness over the hole recedes into light.
"Hel's son," Forseti says bitterly, brushing off his pants. "I despise that hag."
"She's really not so bad," I tell him.
"She didn't refuse to return your father after an unfair death," Forseti bites out.
What can I say to that? "... Here, Forseti, let me help you up."
"I'm not sure if I want to try that again," Forseti says.
"Would you rather lift me up?" I ask him.
"Point," he replies.
This time I hold both hands together to boost him up.
"I can just reach it," Forseti says. He manages to grab onto the side of the hole.
"Got it?" I ask.
"Yes. Just a little higher!"
I push my hands up.
Then Forseti lets out a small shriek and starts kicking. "It's back! It's back!"
I try to dodge his feet, but he connects. "Oh!" I let out as he kicks my chin. "What's back?"
Toothless sticks his head into the hole and bites the back of Forseti's shirt.
"That!" Forseti yells, "That's back! What is it doing?!"
"He's helping you," I say gently, "Just stay calm. He's going to pull you out."
Toothless gently pulls Forseti up through the hole and they disappear over the side.
I wait for one or both of them to appear again.
I glance around. There's no way I can climb out on my own. I wonder how Forseti survived without food, but then I remember he's a god.
The hole goes dark again. I look up.
Toothless locks eyes with me. Then he nods and turns away again. Light shines in. I look down and let my shoulders sag. Then something touches my face. I jerk back and look at it. I look up.
It's Toothless's tail.
I gulp. Then I wrap my arms and legs around it and hold on.
Slowly, Toothless lifts me out.
Forseti is dancing on the surface. At least, at first that's what it looks like.
"Hot!" he declares, "Hot! Hot!" He prances from one foot to the other.
The baby Night Fury squeaks away as it sits next to Forseti.
Then I feel the surface as Toothless pulls me onto it. It is hot.
I use my hands to push myself up, but I regret it. "Ouch," I say. I rub them on my pants. I try to balance on my pegleg, but I keep having to use my right foot to keep from falling in different directions.
"Okay, Toothless," I say, "Ready to fly?" I stop and hold my breath. Is he still angry with me?
Toothless goes over to the baby and scoops him up into his mouth. Then Toothless lowers himself and tosses his head back.
"Come on, Forseti," I say, tugging on his arm.
"Are we leaving this wretched place?"
"Yes, thank the gods."
"Well," Forseti says, looking triumphant as he flips his shoulder-length hair.
"Just get on the dragon, will you?"
When we reach the top of the mountain, Toothless sets down on the outer rim.
"Uncle Tyr!" Forseti calls out. He leaps off of Toothless and runs to Tyr.
Tyr grabs him up in a hug and spins.
"Wow," I say before I dismount. I rub Toothless's neck.
He looks back at me.
"Toothless, I'm sorry," I say. "I'm so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"
Toothless turns around to face me fully. He sniffs at my face and my shoulders before he nuzzles my stomach.
I pet his head. "I love you too, bud."
"Harold?" Forseti asks, "Was that your name?"
I turn to face him. "It's Hiccup," I say.
"Hiccup. I don't suppose I could trouble you and... it... for a ride?"
I resist the urge to say "you're welcome." Happy gods. We want happy gods. "Can't you just go with Tyr?"
"I'm not actually completely physically present," Tyr says. "But Forseti is. He'll need a ride from Hermod. Who should be visiting you soon."
"All right," I say as I hold my hands away from my body. "I guess I don't really have a choice."
"I'll see you later, Uncle Tyr," Forseti says.
Tyr nods. "Later." Then he's gone. Like he didn't threaten to kill me or anything.
"Well, the sun's down," I say, "We'll have to wait until morning--"
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," Forseti says, holding up his index finger, "I'd like to get out of this place before I thrash it to the ground."
I pat Toothless's neck. "Think you can make it, bud?"
"Shall we?" I say to Forseti.
Once we're in the air, Forseti holds his arms tight around my waist.
"It's just like before," I remind him. "You won't fall off, I promise you."
"Just in case," Foreti says in his high-pitched scared voice. Then he adds: "Thank you, Hiccup."
I blink. I'm surprised. "You're welcome," I reply.
"I owe you my life. If there is anything I can do--"
I hold my hand up to stop him. "Hero of the gods, remember?"
"There isn't any justice you'd like to see done? No retribution?"
I blink as a thought comes to me. "Maybe there is something," I say.
"What is it?"
"Oh, I'll tell you all about it," I say. "But first, I have a question."
"How did you get stuck in the trap in the first place?"
Gods are good fishers. Well, technically they don't really fish. At least, Forseti doesn't. He stands with the water at hip-height and just sort of sticks his hand into the water and picks fish out.
"How do you do that?" I ask him as I raise the net.
Forseti shrugs and tosses the fish over his shoulder, into the net. "It's how my father taught me."
"... Ah. I never knew gods need to fish."
"We like to maintain our skill sets," Forseti explains, turning to smile at me.
I glance back at Toothless. After flying most of the night to an island between the volcano island and the Trodders's island, he pretty much fell asleep the moment he touched the sand.
"I think Toothless is going to be out for the better part of the day," I say before I yawn behind my hand.
"You can go back to sleep," Forseti suggests. "I'll save some fish for you both."
"Aren't you tired?" I ask him. "You were in that trap for days. With those voices. Did they ever stop?"
"No," Forseti replies, "Never. But I can survive without sleep." He slides his hand into the water and flips another fish over his shoulder. "Honestly, it just felt like one long day in there."
"Well, I managed without much sleep during the whole Helheim thing. What I could really go for is to be home again. But I can't let Fishlegs rot with the Trodders."
Forseti exhales loudly. He turns around and throws three fish at me. They hit my shoulder, my chest, and my elbow before falling down into the sand.
I sigh before I bend down and pull them into the net. "I'm sorry that you don't like her," I say. "But she's a person, well, a god, too. She has a kid. She has grandkids. You can't all just hate her forever."
"We won't all be around forever," Forseti says. "Maybe on one of your fabled visits to Helheim you can ask her why she won't let my father go." He turns back to the water. "Goodness, I do enjoy being out in the fresh air."
"Is that an attempt to change the subject?" I ask him.
"It's a coping mechanism," he informs me without looking back.
"Oh!" A fish hits me in the face. I catch it in the net. "Forseti. At least admit that Toothless isn't horrible. He saved us."
"The dragon is tolerable," Forseti admits. "I've never ridden a dragon before."
"But you like it?"
"It's a pleasant experience."
I catch another fish, then look back at Toothless. "He's got a destiny," I say. "I'm going to help him fulfill it."
Forseti laughs. Not a mean laugh or a polite laugh. He laughs like I'm telling a really good joke but he already knows the punchline. "You're small, but you have courage." He laughs again.
"I should," I reply, "Your uncle gave it to me."
He stops laughing and picks up another fish. "There are few people he would do that for."
"Really? Aren't a lot of Vikings courageous?"
He turns to me. "You have no reason to be courageous. You are everything a Viking should not be." The fish lands in the net.
"Gee, thanks. I don't hear that enough."
"So when did he first visit you?"
"Hm." I actually pause to consider it, then I shake my head. "I don't know. It was when I was really little. I don't remember it."
He blinks, then looks away. Then he draws himself up as some thought comes to him. "You're him."
"Uh. I'm me?"
"You're him," Forseti says, pointing at me. "He talked about you."
"Tyr talked about me?"
"He raved." Forseti looks triumphant. "He was right."
"No. Wait. This can't be right." I rub my palm over my eye. "Tyr told me what they did to me--they made me the worst Viking Berk has ever seen. They wanted to break my father's heart. Through me."
"Uncle Tyr made you what a Viking should not be," he confirms.
"Yes. That's what he did."
"Because he made you what a Viking cannot be. Hiccup, you were his favorite for years. He knew you would do great things. Greater things than any Viking could imagine."
I hold my mouth open as I try to come up with something to say. "... Tyr liked me?"
"He loved you. He looked in on you all the time. The first time you went looking for trolls, he told everyone. As if he was your father. He was proud."
"So all these years I was a failure... and he was proud of it? Sorry, I just don't--"
"Listen," Forseti says, "You're alive, aren't you? You must have had a lot of people looking out for you."
"I'm a chief's son," I tell him. "I had an entire village who hated me."
"Would you be alive if they hadn't paid attention to you?"
I reach up and rub my thumb against the scar on my chin. "No."
"You're a chief's son," Forseti reasons, "An heir. A future leader. Child of a whole village."
"Everything I did wrong affected the whole village."
"And everything you've done right?"
"... The dragons changed our lives."
"Now you're starting to understand," he says, "You know, you're not what I would expect from a hero. I think that's what makes you strong."
"Thanks... I think." I try to absorb what Forseti said. "Hey, I have a question."
"Yes?" He had turned to face the water again, but he half-turns to face me.
"I had a dream that Tyr said the gods need me. Do you know anything about that?"
"Hm." Forseti screws his mouth up and looks up in thought. "Not off the top of my head. I suppose Uncle has some idea of what sort of courage you're going to need."
"Do you think it might have something to do with Loki's traps?"
Forseti pulls two fish out of the water and squeezes them hard in his hands. Then he drops them.
"Forseti," I warn him, "Remember, we want to stick with justice."
"I deserve my own justice," he says in a low voice.
"Well, that's for you to work out. But you should also work on warning the other gods so they don't fall into the other traps."
His shoulders go slack. He plucks a fish out of the water, then throws it as far as he can. Which is pretty far. "What is it like for them in Helheim?" he finally asks, gazing out at the sea.
"It seems like a peaceful existence," I tell him.
"And they're... all right?"
I hesitate. Should I tell him about his father? "Your mother seems strong. They both helped me get out--"
"But something's wrong with Father."
"I wouldn't say... wrong..."
"You would have known more about the traps if he were all right."
I look down at the fish in the net. I guess I owe it to him to be honest. "He's a little out of it."
"Out of it?"
"He's confused and he doesn't talk very much," I explain. "He doesn't really pay much attention."
"Something's wrong," Forseti says quietly. "Even here, I can feel it. Hermod told me everything was fine, but..."
"Believe me, if I could help, I would."
He turns to face me fully. "Take me with you. To Helheim."
"Oh..." I press my fist to my mouth. "I... I don't think that's a good idea."
"I want to see them. Just one more time."
I scratch the back of my head. "Garm's probably not going to be a big fan. And I don't know what Hel will do to me."
"If I could just see my father, I might be able to help him."
"Maybe you should ask your uncle before you go down there," I suggest.
Forseti nods lightly. "I suppose you have a point."
"It's not that I don't want to take you," I assure him. "It's just... not a good idea."
"Hm." Forseti walks out of the water. "I'm bored."
"How do you do that?!"
He blinks. "What?"
"Your pants and boots are dry!"
He shrugs. "The water chose not to be absorbed." As he reaches me, he grabs the net out of my hands. "Does your village have any pretty girls? What is that look on your face?"
"What look? This is my normal face."
"No, you look... funny."
I tug on my scarf. I was just thinking of Astrid. "Well, there's this one girl," I admit. "But she's taken," I add quickly. "By me."
Forseti looks up from his appraisal of the catch. "... Nice."
I shrug as I fiddle with one end of my scarf. "We haven't actually been out on a date yet, but we're working on it."
"I look forward to meeting her."
I blink. "You're gonna. You're gonna meet her?"
"You are taking me back to your village."
"I... didn't think of that. You're going to meet the people in my village. Are you going to meet my dad?"
"If you introduce us," Forseti answers.
"And we get to tell them you're a god?"
He smirks. "Yes, Hiccup."
"Wow," I press my hands to my head, "This is great!"
"It's great," Forseti allows as he drops the net. He steps closer to me. "Now, go ahead and sleep."
"Oh, I don't need to--"
He taps my nose with his finger and my eyes cross as I watch his finger pull away.
I blink. My sight begins to go dark. I fall, but he catches me with one arm and cradles me to his chest.
"How did you do that?" I ask him weakly.
"It's the way my father taught me," he replies gently before everything goes black.
Something wet touches my face. It smells fishy. I open my eyes. "Toothless."
Toothless nudges my cheek with his snout. "I'm awake," I tell him, "I'm awake." I sit up. We're under a tight grove of trees, off the sand. The little baby Night Fury is next to my hand. He nudges my finger with his nose.
"Forseti?" I call out. I jump when he replies.
"Yes?" Forseti says above me.
"Did you put me to sleep?" I ask him as I tilt my head up to look at him.
"I needed some time alone," he says.
"You could have just told me. I would have given you some privacy."
"I couldn't risk you being conscious," he explains. "I was stretching out my godly form."
I wait a moment for that to sink in. Then, "What?"
"It's..." Forseti looks up and considers what he's about to say. "I'm not always-" he gestures to himself, "-this. I am this because I'm in Midgard at the moment. But I have another form. Well, I have several forms, but most important is my godly form."
"I couldn't let you see it, or you would have been obliterated."
"So, thanks for putting me to sleep," I say quickly.
Forseti smiles. "It's past half-day." He hands me a stick with a cooked fish on it. "Do you suppose we could make it to the Trodders' island?"
I turn my head and look at Toothless. "Ready, buddy?"
As we fly, I tell Forseti about Berk, how it was before and how it's changed because of the dragons. He asks a lot of questions about my childhood and me, which I answer. Not many people are interested in my early years. We get into a story where I was hunting trolls when we reach our destination.
"This is it," I say to Forseti as we set down on the beach. "This is the Treacherous Trodders' island."
"It doesn't look like much."
"Just wait until you meet them," I assure him as I slide down to the ground. "They're really lovely. By which I mean, I don't think I could dislike people more than I dislike them."
Toothless growls and keeps glancing around as we walk through the forest.
"So how does this justice thing work?" I ask.
"I hear both sides, then I make a decision," Forseti answers.
"Do you have any idea what sort of punishment you'll mete out?"
"Hiccup?" That's not Forseti.
I blink and look around. "Fishlegs?"
"Hiccup! Over here!"
"This way," Forseti says, heading west. We walk around a clump of trees, and between two more that form an "x".
"Fishlegs?" I call out.
"Up here!" Fishlegs replies.
I look up. "My gods. Fishlegs!"
Fishlegs is hanging from a tree by a rope tied around his wrists. His face is bruised and there's blood smeared across his arm.
"How-how did you get up there?!" I ask. "What did they do to you?"
"They got a little angry because I was beating those kids to a pulp," Fishlegs explains. "They figured you'd come back for me, so they left me out here for you. And you found me! Yay!"
"Oh, Fishlegs." I wipe my palm over my forehead.
"Who's that?" Fishlegs asks, swinging a little now as he tries to lower his head to get a closer look.
"Fishlegs, this is Forseti," I say. "We're taking him back to Berk. Forseti, my friend Fishlegs."
"You are a brave one," Forseti announces.
"Oh... Thanks... Uh, hail, god!... Um... So... Hiccup?"
"Yeah?" I ask.
"Do you think you could get me down from here?" Fishlegs asks.
"Oh, right! Geez." I smack my forehead with my hand. "Toothless, can you make it up there?"
Toothless looks bored. He lets his kid out of his mouth. He tilts his head slightly to the right. Then to the left. Then he spits out fire that hits the rope dead on.
"Good job," I say as I massage his ear.
"Oh, I'm going to fall!" Fishlegs exclaims, swinging hard now as he kicks.
"We're here to catch you," I tell him, "Just don't swing around so much!"
"I'm going to fall!" Fishlegs says again.
"We'll catch you, Fishlegs, I mean it. Just calm down."
"Oh, the rope is breaking!"
"Aaaaahhhhhh!!!" He yells as he plummets through the air.
Toothless darts between Forseti and me.
"Oof!" Fishlegs lands on his stomach on Toothless's back.
Forseti and I help Fishlegs stand. He wobbles a bit and braces his hand against Toothless.
"Are you okay?" I ask him. I look him over. He's scratched everywhere. "Any broken bones or anything?" I tug the rope off his wrists.
"No. Thanks." Fishlegs blinks and breathes quickly. When his hands are free, he rubs his wrists. Then he looks up at me with an expression as if he's about to ask for my firstborn. "Do you have anything to eat?"
I press my lips together and pat his arm.
"Ow," he says quietly.
"Sorry," I say. I lift my hand away.
Toothless starts hacking something up from his stomach.
"No, no, Toothless," I say quickly, "Fishlegs doesn't want--"
"Toothless, it's okay," Fishlegs adds. "I can wait."
"So, Hiccup, you did it!" Fishlegs says, looking at Forseti. "You saved Forseti! You dropped the..." Then he blinks. He turns to Toothless. "Wait. You did it, right?"
"We tricked the trap," I explain. "So we got Forseti and we got a Night Fury." I point to the little Night Fury on the ground.
"Oh!" Fishlegs says, leaning forward. "He looks just like his dad! How did you do it?"
"Oh, I'll tell you, but first, the reason why we're here... well, aside from saving you."
"Hiccup informed me of a grave injustice," Forseti explains.
"Chuckles," I say to help Fishlegs.
"Oh." Fishlegs deflates.
"Do you, uh, do you know what they did with his body?" I ask.
"They burned him," Fishlegs says in a low voice.
"I'm sorry," I say.
"You didn't do anything to him."
"I'm sorry I left you, Legs."
Fishlegs smiles weakly. "You're a hero," he says. "You had to do what you had to do." Then he looks between Forseti and me. "Hiccup, how are we going to get back?"
I blink. "What do you mean?"
"There are three of us now."
"Oh, I'm very light," Forseti assures him.
"Let's get to the village," I say, as I turn back toward our original path. "I don't want to be here any longer than we have--"
I'm face to face with a guy around my age. One of the kids who killed Chuckles.
"It's here!" he yells out. He wipes his chin-length red hair out of his face and hefts his axe in his hand.
"Okay, we didn't make the best first impressions on each other," I say. "My name's Hiccup." I put my hand on my chest, then gesture to him. "What's your name?"
The guy smirks as his friends emerge through the trees.
One of the other boys holds a hammer, which he smacks against the flat of his palm. A girl twirls a spear in her hand, throws it up, then catches it with her other hand.
"I guess you should know," says the boy facing me, "that the guy who is about to kick your ass is named Arick."
"Arick," a dark-haired girls says, "This is boring, let's do something else."
"Shut up, Lex," another one of the girls says cheerfully. She pulls a sword from a sheath on her back. "It's time for some real payback now."
"I'm not here to fight," I say as I hold my hands up in a goodwill gesture.
"What about your friend?" Arick says.
"I won't hit you if you don't give me a reason to," Fishlegs says darkly.
"If you're not here to fight," Arick goes on, "Why'd you bring someone else?"
"Are they the ones?" Forseti asks gently.
"They're the ones," I answer.
"What ones?" the girl holding the spear asks, her hand deep in her curly blonde hair.
"You killed Chuckles," Fishlegs explains.
"Geez, the thing is dead," the same girl says, "Move on. Or are you gonna cry?"
"That's Knees," Arick explains, gesturing to her, then the other girls. "Runa, Lexdala." Then he gestures to the other boys. "And Bear and Bok." Bear has his hair in a short ponytail and Bok, the one holding the hammer, has a shaved head. "Now that we're properly introduced, excuse us while we destroy you."
"Whoa whoa! Wait. Hold on." I hold my hands up to stop them. "We're really here for peace."
"We aren't interested in peace," Bear declares.
"I'm interested in peace," Forseti announces. "And my opinion matters."
"Who are you?" Arick asks as if he really couldn't care less.
"My name is Forseti. Heard of me?"
"So you're named after a god," Knees says.
"I am a god," Forseti corrects her.
The kids all pause with their mouths open. "... Sure," Bok says. "Someone's been hitting the mead."
Forseti takes a long, deep breath. "Why did you kill the dragon named Chuckles?" he asks.
"Because it was there," Runa says, fingering one of her six blonde braids, "And that's what dragons are for."
"Heard enough yet?" I ask Forseti.
Forseti furrows his brow. "There has to be more to it than that."
"Look," Arick says, holding his hand up, "You have no idea what it was like to get raided by dragons--"
"Uh, yes we do," I say. "We used to get raided too."
"Well, I wouldn't know," Forseti admits.
"Okay, maybe not you," I allow. "But we got over it. The dragons are good now."
"How do you know it's not a trick?" Arick asks. "How do you know they're not going to turn on you at any second?"
"Why are we even bothering to talk about this?" Runa demands. "Arick, let's just kick their asses before--"
"Before what?" Gudrick says behind her.
Runa cringes. "... Daddy."
"Runa," Gudrick replies as he moves closer to us. "Son of Stoick, you've returned."
"I've returned," I say, "Don't bother considering holding me for ransom, that's not what I'm here for."
"You've brought the dragon," Gudrick observes. He steps past Arick and stops in front of Toothless.
"Yeah," I say, "Just the one this time. Since you, uh, killed the other one."
"To what do we owe this pleasure?" Hork asks as he steps out from the trees.
"Gudrick," I say as I gesture to Forseti. "This is Forseti. Forseti, this is Gudrick. The Trodder chief."
Gudrick looks ambivalent to the introduction at first. Then he looks hard at me. Then he turns his gaze to Forseti. "No," he says.
"Good day, sir," Forseti says, tipping his head to the left. "I think I'll need to speak with you."
Gudrick shakes his head. "There's no way."
"Dad," Runa says. "What is it?"
"Gudrick?" Hork asks, suddenly concerned.
"I assure you that there is a way," Forseti says, "With the gods there is always at least one way."
Gudrick hurries over to Runa, puts his hand on her shoulder, and shoves her forward. "Apologize."
"What?!" Runa explodes.
"All of you," Gudrick says, shoving each of the kids forward, "All of you, apologize."
Their replies are a chorus of "what?" and "no way!" and "are you kidding me?!" as they all crowd around him.
"I'm your leader," Gudrick yells, "And I'm telling you to apologize!"
"We didn't do anything wrong--!"
"They're the ones who came to our island--!"
"I am not saying sorry to that fat--!"
Forseti takes a deep breath. "Cover your ears," he warns me. Then he yells: "QUIET!"
Even though I cover my ears, I find myself on the ground. When I glance around, everyone else is on the ground too. The kids all look shaken, Gudrick looks scared. Hork looks between Forseti and Gudrick, and Fishlegs utters an "eep!" behind me. Forseti's yell is still echoing through the island.
"How did we get down here?" Arick asks as we all get back up onto our feet.
"Now, Gudrick," Forseti says. "Shall we talk?"
Gudrick looks like he's suddenly realized he's not wearing any pants. "... Sure."
Fishlegs makes it through four fish before he stops and looks up at me. "Sorry, did you want some?"
"No, no," I say as I hold up my hand. "I'm good. Thanks."
Fishlegs smiles and massages Toothless's ear, right at the spot that makes Toothless croon. "I wonder what Forseti's going to do," he says as he looks out at the beach.
"He'll give a fair judgment," I say. "So, I told you about Forseti and Tyr and the trap. Are you ready to give me the play-by-play of what happened after I left?"
"There isn't much to tell," he admits. "I just kept hitting those guys when they kept on standing up."
"I never knew you had it in you," I say. "No offense."
"None taken. I didn't think I could do it either. But it was like something came over me, you know?"
"Well, considering what they did, and the way they were acting..."
We both look up. Standing behind us is a girl with most of her black hair tied back in a plain ponytail. Her bangs cover her eyes, but I can see freckles on her nose and cheeks.
"Lexdala, right?" I ask.
"Yeah," Lexdala says. She grinds the toe of her boot into the ground. "Sorry, I didn't catch your names."
"I'm Hiccup," I say.
"Fishlegs," Fishlegs says gruffly. "Is there a reason why you're here?"
"Well. I just. I wanted to say I'm sorry, for," her mouth screws up into a crooked line, "For... everything."
"Did Gudrick put you up to this?" I ask her. "I don't want you to apologize if you're not sorry."
"I'm sorry," Lexdala says, like I've accused her of doing something else, "I really am. The other guys may not be, but I am."
"Why are you sorry?" Fishlegs asks.
"I didn't want to do it in the first place," she explains. "I just do it because they do it. Because if I don't..."
"If you don't?" I urge her.
She shrugs and wipes her hair back from her face.
"Wow," Fishlegs breathes.
"Oh gods," she says, looking between us. "What is it?"
"You have beautiful eyes," Fishlegs says.
Lexdala gulps. "My da... He was from the Eastern Islands. My ma says them and my hair are the only things he left me."
I grimace. "Not the most encouraging parental message."
She shakes her head and laughs lightly. "Nope."
"So, if you don't do what your friends do," I say, getting us back on track.
"Then I'm not their friend," Lexdala says simply, opening her hands.
"Well, you know, sometimes you have to take a stand, you have to take a risk," I say, "You never know what might happen." I put my hand on Toothless's head. "I wouldn't have two great friends here if I didn't take risks."
Lexdala nods as she looks down at the ground. She takes a couple of steps back, then stops. Then she looks up at us. "I guess I should... I mean. Since I'm bothering you." She turns around, stops, and turns back.
"Are you okay?" Fishlegs asks.
"Is-is it really okay?" Lexdala releases the words with her eyes shut, as if she's hoping they'll hit upon a favorable response.
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"The dragon," she says, looking down at Toothless. "Is it really okay?"
"I mean. Oh." She throws her hands down. "Can I... touch it?"
"Him," I correct her. "He's a him."
"Him," she says. "Can I touch him?"
"I don't know," I say. "Toothless, what do you think?"
Toothless turns around to face Lexdala. His eyes are thin.
"He doesn't look happy," Lexdala says.
"Toothless," I say. "Can she touch you?"
Toothless sniffs and tosses his head.
Fishlegs stands. "Here," he says. He takes hold of Lexdala's arm and pulls her forward.
Toothless growls lightly.
Lexdala squeaks and shuts her eyes. Fishlegs holds her hand out. "It's okay," he encourages her.
"It's okay," I say gently. "It's okay, Toothless. It's okay, Lexdala."
Lexdala resists at the last second, but Fishlegs holds her steady. Toothless lifts his head and nudges her fingers with his snout.
Lexdala inhales and opens her eyes. "... Wow." Toothless drops down and licks the baby Night Fury. Lexdala gasps. "It's a baby!"
"Yeah, he just had kids," I tell her.
"That," Lexdala says, "Is so cool. It's so small!"
"Dragons are pretty cool," I tell her. "Too bad the rest of your village won't believe it."
"Hey!" a boy calls out from across the beach. "Let go of her!"
"Oh no," Lexdala moans before she turns around. "Bear, they weren't doing anything."
Bear storms over to where we are. "He had his hands all over you."
"He wasn't doing anything, honest," Lexdala says.
Bear wraps his arm around Lexdala's waist. "Mine," he says, glaring first at me, then Fishlegs. "Got it?"
I can feel my mouth hanging open as I turn to Fishlegs. Then I turn back to look at Bear. "Take it easy," I say. "She's not a toy."
"You're right," Bear says. "She's my girl."
Lexdala works at his arm to pry it off, but it seems to be stuck there. Her shoulders sag as she gives up. "Why are you here, Bear?"
"Runa's dad and the Forseti guy are done talking," Bear explains, "They want to talk to these guys. Come on."
Lexdala looks back at us after Bear turns her around. Then she looks forward as she struggles to keep up with her boyfriend.
Fishlegs watches them wistfully.
"So you've forgiven her?" I ask him.
The wistfulness disappears. He stretches his hand out to me. "Let's go."
Bear leads us to the front of their town Hall. There's a large crowd gathered, but they part when they see me, Toothless, and Fishlegs coming. Forseti stands with Gudrick at the Hall doors.
"You've made a decision?" I ask Forseti.
Forseti nods. "I'm going to need you for this."
"Uh... sure. What do you need me to do?"
"Trodders!" Gudrick yells, "This is Hiccup, son of Stoick the Vast. A true hero of the gods!" The crowd doesn't sound too receptive of the idea, but Gudrick goes on. "And this is Forseti, the god of justice!"
A chorus of "what?!"s go through the crowd.
"The hero bears the Asgard mark!" Gudrick announces. "Show them."
"Lift up your shirt," Forseti says quietly.
"... Okay." I lift up my shirt.
The crowd erupts with "ooh!"s when they see the scars.
Forseti gently touches my side. The lines of my mark turn black and the black lines extend out in a design over my unmarked skin. "Whoa," I say, "Is that going to stay there?"
Forseti doesn't respond.
I look up. "Forseti, is that--"
Forseti is glowing. He's taller now, and he has a beard. He looks older.
"Uh, Hiccup?" Fishlegs says over the sound of the crowd, "Is this supposed to happen?"
"Forseti?" I try again.
"A grave injustice was borne on this island," Forseti says in a deep, booming voice. "Against the dragon named Chuckles. Six children ended his life. I have heard both sides and I have made my judgment."
"I guess this is it," I say to Fishlegs. I let my shirt fall back into place.
"The Treacherous Trodders will now help the Hairy Hooligans care for their dragons. And the six children will aid the hero, Hiccup, on his quest to find the Trodder hero, Ludin."
"Wait, I have a quest?" I say. "I thought this was a punish--"
"After the quest is completed," Forseti goes on, "the six children will continue to aid the hero on his journeys until the time deemed fit."
"What?!" five voices erupt.
"Oh man," I say.
"That is the judgment I lay upon you now," Forseti says. "What is your response?"
"We acce--" Gudrick starts.
"Daddy!" Runa yells, running up to him. "You can't be serious! This is completely--"
"Girl, do you dare disrespect the god Forseti's judgment?" Forseti asks.
Runa is suddenly on her knees. Tears rush down from her cheeks as if they're running away from her. "But. But... This is... This is so..."
"I like it," Fishlegs says happily.
"You're not stuck with them!" I say, gesturing at the small crowd of kids. "Why am I being punished?!"
"You must help each other," Forseti says, turning to me. "Do you accept my judgment?"
I make a point to exhale loudly. Not that it will help. "I guess we accept."
Forseti turns to Gudrick.
"Daddy, no!" Runa shrieks, running at him again.
"We accept," Gudrick says blandly, holding a sobbing Runa at arms length.
"Hiccup!" Lexdala calls as she runs up to us. "You're going to find my brother!" She catches me in a hug. "Thank you! Thank you so much."
"Oh, uh. No problem. I guess."
When Lexdala pulls back, she wipes at her eyes. "It's been years. No one else would help me go out to find him."
I glance at Fishlegs. I guess I have no choice. It was decreed by a god.
Fishlegs nods his head at something.
I glance over to see Bear scowling at me.
"Huh?" Lexdala asks.
"Uh, I mean it's great. That we get to do this together." I hold my fist up. "Yay."
"Well," Forseti says beside me, in his normal voice. He's back to his twenty-year-old form. "That was exciting. It really got a good reaction, I think."
"You had to send me on a quest?" I ask him.
"The children need to do something. They need to learn your ways, Hiccup. The world could use more heroes like you, even if they aren't marked."
"Oh. Well." I shrug. "I don't know, I'm nothing special."
"Stop being modest," Forseti says as he grips my shoulder.
"Thank you, Sir," Lexdala says. "Thank you for letting me find my brother."
"Well, he's not back yet," Forseti says, looking at me.
"But he will be," I say. "I hope."
"Thank you for apologizing, Lexdala," Forseti says to her. "That was very brave of you."
"Oh," she murmurs, "It wasn't... I just... How did you know about that?"
"I sensed it," Forseti replies with a smile. "I sense good things in your future."
"Thank you, Sir."
"So," Gudrick says behind Forseti.
I turn to look at him. "Gudrick," I say with a nod.
"Son of Stoick."
"Looks like we'll be seeing more of each other now," I tell him.
We stare at each other.
"Be good to Astrid," we say at the same time.
I blink in surprise. Gudrick presses his lips together.
"Suppose we'll be hypnotized by dragons too," Hork says, clapping me on the back.
I look down toward his hand. He removes it.
"It's not as bad as you think," I assure him.
"We'll see," Hork says. He looks off into the crowd. "Be good to the children," he says distantly.
"Wait," I say, "Are you talking to me?"
Hork looks back at my face. "Yes."
"They're good fighters," Gudrick says. "But they don't know much about the world. You will be a good influence on them."
"I'm not promising anything," I say, "And some of the stuff I do is dangerous. I'm warning you now. They could get seriously hurt or--"
Hork holds his hand up for silence and shakes his head. "It's the Viking way, isn't it? No need to warn us. We can only guess what a hero of the gods must do."
Suddenly I don't feel like a hero of just the gods. "Well, you're right on that count," I say. "Even I can only guess."
"Stay for dinner," Gudrick says. "It's rather late to be flying, isn't it?"
"Oh, Fishlegs and I already ate," I say.
"At least drink some mead," Gudrick urges me, "We owe you."
"Your kids don't feel that way."
"You are a hero," Gudrick says. "All heroes deserve a little mead every now and then."
I look to Fishlegs and nod toward the Hall doors. He nods an affirmative. "I guess we can stay for a bit."
"Are we going to drink mead?!" Forseti asks me excitedly as he grips my arm. "Real, human mead?!"
"I guess," I say. "How well do you hold your liquor?"
Forseti is the worst drunk I know. He's completely normal when he's drunk. Except he laughs a lot. And he keeps changing forms, like sometimes he'll be a little kid and sometimes he'll be an old man. But other than that, completely normal. I learn absolutely nothing embarrassing about him or the other gods when I try to get information out of him.
The next morning, I expect to find myself hanging from a tree by my good leg. But no, I wake up in the Hall next to Bear of all people, who is dozing away on the table.
"Fishlegs?" I call out, my voice still groggy.
"Ugh," Fishlegs says, sitting up a couple of tables away. "I'm here."
"Are you okay?"
"Oh for human's sake," Forseti says, sitting up from the floor. "What is this awful sensation in my head?"
"Could be a hangover," I say.
"I despise it." He snaps his fingers. "All better."
"That's just... totally unfair," I say. "Toothless?" I look around. "Toothless, where are you?"
I hear a roar outside that brings me to my foot.
"Toothless!" I call out as I hurry outside.
I tug the doors open and stop. Fishlegs crashes into my back. "Wha..?"
Lexdala is holding a long tree branch that she drags along the ground. Toothless is chasing it and leaping at it like it's a spot of light. Lexdala laughs and runs away. Toothless roars again and chases the branch.
"Aw," Fishlegs says.
"I never thought of doing that," I say.
"Sorry," Lexdala calls out, breathless.
I turn to look at her.
She shrugs. "I thought he might enjoy it."
"No, it's fine," I say. "Looks like he likes it all right."
Lexdala drops the branch and Toothless attacks it. Lexdala goes over to a basket on the ground and pulls it up. "I made these for you. For your breakfast."
"Oh," I say as I take the basket. I lift up the cover. The scent of light, sweet confection wafts out.
A hand reaches into the basket and pulls out a cake.
"These look wonderful," Forseti says, examining the cake in his palm. He takes a bite. "They are wonderful! Thank you, Lexdala."
"You can just call me Lex," she says as she wipes her hair from her face.
"What beautiful eyes you have, Lex," Forseti breathes.
"Oh." She blushes. "Th-thanks."
Fishlegs reaches into the basket and pulls out his own cake. "These are great!" he says.
Lex smiles. "I'm glad you like them."
"Thanks, Lex," I say.
"I made enough for you to take to your families."
"That's perfect," I tell her. "I'm sure they'll appreciate the cakes."
Fishlegs sticks his hand into the basket again.
"What-Fishlegs," I say. "You just started..."
Fishlegs holds his open hands out for inspection.
"Okay," I say, "Go ahead."
"Yes!" he says as he reaches in again.
Even Toothless enjoys a cake with his morning fish. Unfortunately, it makes him so hyper he starts jumping around the beach like he's chasing a swarm of bees. Or maybe like it's chasing him.
It takes Forseti, Fishlegs, and me to catch Toothless and make him sit still long enough to hook the basket onto his saddle. Then comes mounting him.
When we're finally in the air, Toothless decides he wants to spin. A lot.
"Toothless, we just ate!" I yell.
"This is unusual, right?" Forseti asks.
"We're definitely not giving him anymore cakes when we get back," I reply.
Toothless roars and dives for the ocean.
"Oh, come on!"
When, finally, we get back to the village, Fishlegs and I are dripping wet. Forseti doesn't complain about being wet and I assume the water didn't wish to be absorbed this time as well. I can see the villagers running to the Hall and waving up at us. I wave back as we fly over the village.
"Okay, Toothless, set down by the Hall. Please. Gently, now."
Toothless eases onto the ground.
I exhale in relief.
"Hiccup!" Astrid calls out as she runs to us.
I slide down and land on my foot. "Astrid. Hey."
Astrid leaps at me and we hug.
"That special girl?" Forset asks, beside me.
"Astrid, this is Forseti," I say, "Forseti, this is Astrid. My girlfriend."
"Hail thee god!" Astrid says as she starts to go down.
Forseti catches her arm. "There's no need for that."
"Girlfriend?" a voice asks behind me.
"... Dad," I say before I turn. "I was going to tell you. Really."
From the way his mustache moves, I think he's smiling. He claps me on the shoulder. "I'm happy for you."
"Dad, Forseti," I say, gesturing to each of them. "Forseti, Dad."
Dad nods. "Hail thee god," he says.
"Sir," Forseti replies. "You should be proud of your son."
"Oh, I am."
Murmurs ripple through the crowd that has gathered around us.
"I guess I'd better..." I gesture to the people.
Dad nods. "Probably best."
"Hey, everyone!" I say.
"Hiccup!" they all reply.
"Forseti," I say. "This is everyone. Everyone…" I can't help smiling, "This is Forseti."
Horrorcow romps around with Houndberger, chasing him between houses and stalls.
"So they're together," I say. "Houndberger and Horrorcow are together."
"Yeah," Fishlegs says.
"But Toothless is the father."
"Yup," Fishlegs says.
"And they're all okay with this," I go on.
"Seems like it," Fishlegs replies.
I look at Toothless. He's standing at the nest, poking his head in.
"I guess that's okay for dragons?" I venture.
"They're not like us," Astrid says as she wraps her arm around my neck. "One mate for me, thanks."
I turn my head, tug my scarf down, and kiss her cheek. "Me too."
Fishlegs sighs on my other side.
Astrid releases me and I go back to stirring the mixture in the plate in my lap. "We're ready, Toothless."
Toothless pulls his head out of the nest and nods.
Fishlegs, Astrid, and I move toward the nest. "Okay, boys and girls," I announce, "Time to eat." I set the plate inside the nest. Fishlegs and Astrid gently pick up the hatchlings and set them around the plate. "Eat up," I tell them as I rub their heads with my finger, " So you can grow big and strong like your mom and dad."
Horrorcow grunts behind me.
"Hey girl," I say as I pet her neck. "Just giving them our special blend."
Horrorcow nudges the two black lumps closer to the plate before she turns to nuzzle my side.
"My pleasure," I say.
"So what's in that stuff?"
I turn to look at Ruffnut.
"I thought you were flying," Astrid says.
Ruffnut shrugs. "I stopped. What's in that mush?"
"A little bit of everything," Fishlegs explains. "I'm pretty sure their stats are growing everyday just from eating it."
"Oh," Ruffnut says. "That's cool."
"Do you need something?" Fishlegs asks.
"No," Ruffnut says hesitantly. "I just thought..."
"Yeah?" Fishlegs urges her.
"I was wondering if you needed help with the babies."
"We're good for now," I say.
"Then, maybe later. If you need help later," Ruffnut says. "I can help. With the babies. 'Cause I can be good with babies."
I try to imagine Ruffnut with a baby, then I shut my eyes and try to shake the thought out of my head.
"Sure," Fishlegs says. "If you want to help. That's nice of you."
"Well, I," Ruffnut starts. She rubs her thumb over her chin. "I just... want to help. You know. With the babies."
"... Sure," I say. I glance at Astrid, and I guess we've both decided not to note how strange she sounds right now.
"Is there something wrong with wanting to help with the babies?" Ruffnut asks.
"No!" Astrid and I say at the same time.
"No, not at all," Astrid says.
"It's great," I say.
"Good." Ruffnut wipes her nose with her finger and sniffs. She peers into the nest. "That brown one's moving away from the plate," she says, pointing in.
"Go ahead and move her," I tell her.
Ruffnut gestures to herself with her hands. "Me?"
"Just pick her up really gently," Fishlegs says, moving to stand beside her. He takes hold of her wrist and guides her hand to the little brown Gronckle. "See? Just scoop her up."
Ruffnut slips her fingers under the Gronckle and lifts her hand.
"Good," Fishlegs says, "Now move her over--good. That's it. And just lay her down again."
Ruffnut eases the Gronckle onto the ground. She lets out a small laugh. "Cool." She looks up at Fishlegs, then looks away, her smile wavering for a moment.
Fishlegs releases her wrist. "You helped! Yay."
"Y... ay," Ruffnut says awkwardly, her expression confused.
I feel confused too. I never thought I'd ever hear her say that.
"So where's the god dude?" Ruffnut recovers.
"He's... uh, somewhere," I answer as I scratch my head. I'm surprised that I don't know. "Exploring, I guess."
Ruffnut squints one eye. "Shouldn't those Trodder people be here by now?"
"It's been days," Astrid says.
"I guess they'll make the trip whenever they feel like it," I say.
"It's not like they have to worry about dragons anymore," Astrid says.
"Are you looking forward to seeing your uncle?" I ask her.
Astrid shrugs. "It's been so long. It'll be nice, I guess. I kind of wish I hadn't destroyed the blanket though."
"We can sew it back together," I say as I tug the scarf off.
"No," Astrid says, touching my hand, "I like it on you. I like that you have it."
I smile. "Okay."
"Ships!" someone yells. "Trodders!"
"Guess that's our cue," I say. I walk backwards and open my hands. "Who wants to meet our new friends?"
None of them look enthusiastic, but they come with me anyway.
"They killed Chuckles," Ruffnut says as we walk to the pier, "They're not our friends." She punches her hand. "I think we need to change the sleeping arrangements so both of the mean girls are staying with us."
"This is their punishment," I remind her, "They're not going to be very happy either."
"I remember disliking Runa," Astrid says. "Now I just hate her on principle."
"Maybe friends was a strong word to use," I say.
"Definitely not friends," Fishlegs confirms.
I consider the arrangement as we walk. Dad and I would be hosting Arick while he stayed in Berk. Runa, of course, was placed with Astrid. The twins were taking on both Bear and Knees, while Fishlegs offered to give Bok a place to rest his head. Lex would be staying with Mumbles's family. Snotlout offered a spot in his basement, but pretty much everyone thought that was a bad idea.
"Guests?" I try. "They're our guests?"
"Unwelcome guests," Fishlegs allows.
There isn't much of a crowd at the pier, but there is a lot of commotion.
"Where is Stoick?!" Gudrick thunders as he storms through the gathered Hooligans. "Is he not here to greet us?! Ah." He points at me and moves in my direction. "Son of Stoick! Where's your father?"
"I guess he hasn't gotten here yet," I say. "Gudrick, you know Fishlegs. This is Astrid and Ruffnut. Astrid and Ruffnut, this Gudrick."
"Hi," Ruffnut says.
"Hello," Astrid says. Her right shoulder dips down as she steps forward to shake his hand. "It's good to see you again... Uncle Gudrick..."
Gudrick laughs and pulls Astrid in a hug. "Look at how you've grown!"
Astrid forces a laugh when he releases her.
"Oh, you remember Runa, don't you?" Gudrick says. He turns and yells down the pier. "Runa! Get over here!"
I see Runa at the end of the pier. She 's standing at its edge, looking into the water. I wonder if she's considering throwing herself in.
"Do it," Ruffnut mutters.
"Ruff," I warn her through my teeth.
Gudrick shakes his head. "What is she--Runa! Come greet your cousin!"
It takes a full minute, but Runa eventually turns and starts walking away from the water. She pauses as she passes the ship and Lex, Knees, Bok, Bear, and Arick step out.
Lex hangs back a little and makes sure the others don't see her when she smiles and waves.
Runa stops in front of her father and sighs loudly. "Hello, Cousin," she says to Ruffnut.
Ruffnut raises her eyebrows and blinks. Then she points to Astrid. "Wrong blonde," Ruffnut says with a smirk.
"Oh." Runa rolls her eyes as she turns to Astrid. "Hello."
"Hi," Astrid says. She doesn't even try to hide the expression of distaste on her face.
"Gudrick!" Dad calls out.
"Stoick!" Gudrick replies, walking to him.
Runa waits until her dad is out of earshot to say, "I just want you to know that this is complete and utter bull--"
"Hey guys, what's going on?" Snotlout calls out as he and Tuffnut approach. "Are those the kids who are staying with us?"
"Yes, Snotlout," I say.
Snotlout nudges Tuffnut with his elbow and mouths the word "babes" while Tuffnut's arm jerks in a subtle fist pump.
"Well, since we're all here," I say, "I guess I'll introduce you." I gesture to each of my friends and say their names. Then I gesture to each of the Trodders and say their names. After that, I explain who is staying with whom and watch their reactions.
Bok grimaces when he learns he's staying with Fishlegs. Ruffnut smiles evilly at Knees, who looks unsure and grips Bok's arm. Runa and Astrid glower at each other. Arick tosses his hair and looks unimpressed with me and Snotlout insists that Lex should stay with him instead of Mumbles.
"Why can't Lex and I stay together?" Bear demands to know.
"Because that's the way our parents wanted it," Ruffnut replies. "You got a problem with that?"
"Yes," Bear answers.
Ruffnut laughs. "Oh, gods. I can't pretend anymore," she says lightly before she sobers: "I don't care."
"How are you doing?" Tuffnut says to Knees with a grin.
"Gods," Knees mutters, "Don't talk to me."
"Now, make nice, everyone," I say. "Because these-" I gesture to my friends, "-are your-" I gesture to the Trodders "-new dragon trainers."
"What?" Arick says in a flat voice.
"You're going to learn how to ride dragons," I tell the Trodders.
"Why?!" Runa exclaims, "Why do we need to--"
"Well," Gudrick says. "It looks like we're all introduced here."
"Daddy, I want to go home!" Runa cries as she clings to her father's arm.
"You know," I say. "Forseti's still here. I'm sure whatever other punishment he decides for you should--"
"Ugh!" Runa stamps her foot. "Fine!" She crosses her arms and huffs.
"This sucks," Bok says aloud.
"Now now," Gudrick says. "There will be an adjustment period, but the Hooligans will take good care of you."
"How long are you staying?" Runa asks her dad.
"About eight days," Gudrick replies. "Then we need to make sure we're not caught in the freeze." Something on the boat catches his eye. "What are you doing? Don't unload that!" He swears and hurries off.
"We're going to be stuck here!" Runa moans in her father's direction.
"Oh gods," Astrid mutters.
"Does she always talk like that?" Ruffnut asks.
"Like what?" Arick says, his eyes thin.
"Like she has a wrench in her tights," Ruffnut answers loudly.
"At least I don't look like a man," Runa says.
"Whoa, Ruffnut." Fishlegs steps in her way while Astrid puts a hand on her arm.
Ruffnut smiles. "I am going to rip her a new--"
"Dad!" I say as he comes up behind her.
"Hiccup," Dad says, looking over the Trodders. "What are you all doing standing around?" he asks. "Haven't you got things to do?"
"Yes!" I say, "We have things to do. We are so busy." I look around at everyone. "We have dragon training and dragon babies to take care of... Don't we guys?"
Everyone grumbles a word or two.
"I suggest you all get acquainted with your hosts," Dad says to the Trodders. "And their dragons. It's not what you're used to."
"You can say that again," Knees mutters.
Dad squeezes my shoulder. "Teach them well," he whispers into my ear before he walks off.
"So," I say as I rub my hands together. "Like my dad said, why don't you all go and meet some dragons?"
I cross my arms and lean against the frame of the stall as I watch Gobber stack shields against the wall. When he's finished, he turns and looks right at me. "Are you going to watch me all day, or have you come for a reason?"
"How about a little bit of both?" I say.
Gobber turns to face me fully and holds his hand at his hip. "So what problems have you got now?"
"Not problems, exactly," I say.
"I could hear the screams from here," Gobber tells me as he pulls up a stool. He gestures to it.
"Oh," I say as I sit. "Wow, the village has some good acoustics."
"So what's wrong?"
"Well, nothing's really wrong. It's just... really messed up."
Gobber goes to a pile of swords and examines them one by one. "The newcomers didn't take well to the dragons?"
"There's this girl named Runa--"
"Astrid's cousin," Gobber says, sorting the swords into two piles. "They passed by."
"Yeah, apparently she was set on fire. Twice."
Gobber nods. "That was bound to happen to someone."
"Then there's this guy named Bear and a girl named Knees. They're staying with the twins. Their Zippleback won't let them touch him now. He threw them off while they were flying. While they were flying, Gobber."
Gobber pauses in sorting and looks at me. "Didn't you say these kids were unpleasant?"
"Don't get me started on Horrorcow." I say, "She tried to crush Bok against the side of Fishlegs's house."
"That does sound a bit... angry," Gobber decides on a word then goes back to sorting swords.
"And Toothless will have nothing to do with Arick. I guess that's a good thing for Arick."
"Sounds a little like our growing pains."
"We barely had those kinds of problems when we were getting used to the dragons," I tell him. "The dragons didn't hate us like they hate these kids."
"Maybe they can sense something that you and I don't," Gobber says, gesturing at the air with a sword before he puts it down. "Maybe they're angry about what happened to Chuckles."
"Maybe," I say. "Well, at least we had one success story."
"Lex, the nice girl. She rode Fireworm with Snotlout all right. She didn't get singed or eaten or thrown off. Snotlout's pretty proud of himself for keeping his dragon under control."
"Well, at least there's a positive."
"Yeah," I say, "But I don't know if this is going to work out."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm the same age as these kids, Gobber. It's not like I know more about the world. I just almost died a few times. They're not really looking to me for wisdom."
Gobber sets another sword down and looks at me. "Just trust your instincts and teach them about life the way you teach us about dragons."
"How am I supposed to teach them to be better? I'm not better. I'm just a Viking who happens to like dragons."
"You are better than them, Hiccup," he points at me with a blade. "You don't hate dragons."
"But I used to. I was just like everyone else."
"No, you never hated dragons."
"Yes, I did. Remember? I wanted to kill one and get a date."
"No, you wanted to be like everyone else. Except instead of being like everyone else, you invented a machine to catch a dragon." He points at the machine in question.
"Exactly, I was trying to catch a dragon so I could kill it."
"Then why didn't you invent a machine that could kill a dragon in the first place?"
I blink. "... I don't know. You wouldn't let me mess with anything sharp?"
Gobber sets down one last sword before he walks to where I'm sitting. "Because you never hated them like we did. You never hated anything in your life, Hiccup." He puts his hand on my shoulder. "That's why you can do this."
"I hated the gods when my mother died," I say quietly. "I hated those kids for killing Chuckles."
"Did you really?" he asks me, leaning in close. "Sometimes I wonder about you being touched by the gods." He pokes my chest with his finger. "I wonder what it really was they did to make you different. What they gave you, and what they took away."
With that, Gobber goes back to sorting swords. I watch him without really seeing him. Then I notice someone else is in the stall.
"Forseti," I say.
He's smiling. "It's time for me to go."
"Hail god," Gobber says.
"I'll be back, Gobber," I say as I stand.
"I'll be here," Gobber says, waving me off.
I walk with Forseti out of the stall. We don't really talk as he leads me to where Sleipner and Hermod must be. Even though it's fairly early, the sky is dark. Proof that winter is almost upon us.
"Thank you," we both say at the same time.
Forseti stops walking and grabs my arm. "Thank you, Hiccup," he says. "For risking yourself, for saving me, for bringing me back with you. I have made a judgment by your request, but I still feel I owe you more."
"You don't owe me anything," I reply, "Thank you for... being you. For accepting me and helping me in the trap. And for telling me about Tyr."
Forseti smirks. "I'm not sure I should have divulged those details."
"I won't tell anyone," I say. "But do me another small favor?"
"Tell Tyr... 'thank you' for me."
Forseti smiles, but his eyes looked confused. "I will, but I thought you were angry with him."
"I was. I am. But... I guess he isn't all bad."
"He isn't," Forseti confirms.
"I guess I'll see you around?" I say, "Or not?"
"I'll be around," Forseti assures me. "I don't suppose you could do me a favor?"
"Tell my parents... that I love them. And that I miss them." Forseti looks down at the ground and lets out a small laugh. "I know, it's not very original or pertinent."
"No, it's... That's fine. They will be glad to hear it. And that you're okay. I'll head to Helheim tomorrow and tell them."
"Thank you." He looks up at me. "I wish I could help you with Ludin."
I shrug. "I'll figure something out. Lex said she'll tell me everything she can, which should be enough to go on, at least to start."
"You are doing good things," Forseti says. "I hope you know this."
"I'm kind of getting the gist of it," I say. "I think I'll understand it as I move forward."
He nods. Then he holds his hands away from his body and claps them against his thighs. "So this is it."
"This is it," I say. "Goodbye, Forseti."
"Goodbye, Hiccup. Be safe."
I blink and Hermod and Sleipner appear behind Forseti. Hermod offers his hand to Forseti and Forseti takes it and mounts Sleipner.
I lift my hand to wave, but in another blink they're gone.
As I walk back through the village a thought comes over me. No, a feeling. I march through the village until I find Astrid laughing with Ruffnut and Fishlegs by Horrorcow's nest.
"Hiccup," Astrid says as she chews on something, "What are you-"
I take hold of her shoulders and pull her into a kiss.
When I'm satisfied, I let her go.
Astrid continues chewing. "Want some jerky?" she asks, holding out her handful.
"No, I think I'm fine," I say. "Wait, scratch that. I'm not fine."
"Then what are you?" Ruffnut asks.
"I'm just as the gods made me," I reply. "And I think that's fine." I smile. "Were you talking about Knees, Bok, or Runa?"
"All of them," Fishlegs barely manages to say before they start to laugh again.
I move closer to the nest and peer in. The little dragons are quiet, sleeping.
Something nudges my leg and I look over at Toothless. "Hey bud." I scratch his neck and hit the sweet spot just under his neck. He falls to the ground, purring.
"And then-" Astrid says over her laughter, "-And then she started rolling around on the ground!"
"Still screaming?" Ruffnut asks.
"Still screaming!" Astrid yells before she and Ruffnut start laughing again.
"Are you okay?" Fishlegs asks. He's on my other side.
I nod. "Forseti's gone."
"Yeah." I watch him for a moment. "Do you think it'll always be like this?"
I shrug and I gesture to the girls laughing, to Toothless purring on the ground, to the dragon babies in the nest. "Like this."
"I don't know," Fishlegs says. "But it's nice now."
"... I'll do it," I say.
"Good things," I say, "Whatever the gods throw at me, I'll try to make it like this."
Chapter 13: Epilogue
Nanna shuts her eyes and tears drop down off her cheeks.
"So," I say. I glance around at the Dead Tree Forest. "He's safe and he loves you and he misses you. We're going to go now."
"No," Nanna says, holding out her hand. "Wait."
I take a deep breath and wait. I glance at Toothless. He nods towards Nanna so I look back at her.
"Thank you," Nanna says in a shaky voice. She opens her eyes to look at me. "And I'm sorry."
"You don't have to apologize," I say. "He's your son. I understand. Well, I guess I don't really understand, but it's all right. You were justified."
"He's all right," Nanna murmurs. She wraps her arms around Baldur's neck and kisses his mouth. "Our baby is all right." She sniffles. "It was all Hiccup's doing."
"Hiccup," Baldur murmurs.
"Hiccup is good," Nanna says as she runs her fingers through Baldur's hair. Then she releases him and moves toward me.
"Oh," I say as she pulls me into a hug. She holds my face to her bosom before she lets me go. "Uh, you're welcome?"
"He really misses you," I say. "He wanted to come down here--"
"Oh, no he can't!" Nanna exclaims. "He mustn't!"
"I told him it's probably not a good idea."
"No, definitely not," Nanna says. "Was it very bad?"
"Was what very bad?"
"It wasn't very nice," I say. "I don't know very much about it other than what I saw."
"Volcanoes aren't very nice," Nanna informs me.
"I got that impression," I say with a nod. "The voices were a cruel touch."
"There were voices?"
"Reminding him about you guys. How you're dead and gone."
Nanna shakes her head. "Loki," she bites out.
"Hopefully none of the other gods will fall into any traps," I say. "It would be really great if they didn't."
"What about your world?" Nanna asks. "How will you protect the Vikings?"
"I... don't know," I say.
"Protect them," Nanna says. "You must."
"I'll do what I can," I say, "But in the meantime, I have another quest that Forseti set up for me."
"I have to find a lost hero."
"Do you think he is in a trap?" Nanna asks.
I think about this. "I didn't consider that," I admit. "But now..."
"Good luck," Nanna says, holding my arm. "Whatever it may be. Good luck, Hero."
"Thanks. I guess I'll need it."
"I will ask my darling about the traps again," Nanna informs me. "I will help you, if I can."
"Thank you," I say solemnly.
"Go," she says, "Return to your world. You have saved mine."
She waves as I set my foot in the stirrup. I return the wave, but as I do, I see Hel walking toward us. Hodur stumbles behind her.
"You're still alive," Hel says.
"So are all of your grandchildren," I reply as I turn away from the saddle.
Hel nods. "Do you hear that, Hodur?" she says, turning to him. "Hero saved Forseti and my offspring's offspring."
"Out of my way, hag," Hodur growls.
Hel steps aside and Hodur wanders around, feeling the air with his hands. "Where is he?"
"Here," I say.
Using just that sound, Hodur finds me. He feels my face with his hands. "True hero, are you?" he asks me.
"I'm just doing my best," I say.
"Keep doing it," he says with a nod. Then he drops his hands.
"Can he go?" Hel asks. "Does he have Hodur's approval?"
Hodur waves me away. "Move on, now! The gods will be needing more help soon enough."
Hel smirks a little, but when she notices me watching her, it slips off her lips. "You did well," she says to appease me. "Is that what you were hoping to hear?"
"I keep hoping to hear what they've all been waiting to hear," I say as I gesture to Nanna, Baldur, and Hodur. "But I know enough not to ask for it."
"Good child," Hel says. She walks over to me and tilts her head. Then she raises her hand and gives my head an awkward pat. "Take care of my grandchildren."
"You should visit them some time," I say.
Hel almost smiles, but her lips don't quite curve. "One day they will know me."
After we fly over Garm, I remember what other business I have in the cave. "Toothless, hold on a moment," I say, and he sets down near the river. I look around. "Modgud?"
"Yes?" she says behind us. We turn to face her.
"I thought you liked me," I say.
"I do," Modgud says. "Did I not give you the feather?"
"Then why did you hit me?" I ask her.
Modgud blinks. "You knew that was me?"
"I guessed," I admit.
"Tyr does not visit you arbitrarily," Modgud says. "If he requests his presence not be known, he has his reasons. And at the time you threw him out, he was telling you something very important. I grew angry. I apologize. It was not my place."
"It's okay," I say.
Modgud fiddles with her cloak.
"I think... I think I understand what he was trying to tell me," I tell her.
"You know, your feather is pretty powerful."
"Are you okay?"
"I worry for you," she says. "You are truly a hero."
"Well, it comes with the job, right?"
"You do not understand. Not all gods accept heroes. Not all forces accept a devotion to the gods."
"Forces? What forces are you talking about?"
Modgud stares at me.
"I have nothing else to say."
"Do you mean like giants, or...?"
Modgud looks away.
"Please? Just a little hint?"
"I cannot," Modgud says.
I rub my hands over my face. "Okay. I'm going to give you time to think about this. You're going to have to tell me some time."
Modgud lets out a small "hm".
"Okay, I'm going to go home. I have... a lot of people waiting for me."
"All right," Modgud says. "Be careful."
"I will," I say flatly, "Thanks." I try to give her a disparaging look, but it fails. So I tell Toothless we need to go.
"Oh, you're awake!" Lex says, leaning over me
I blink. "Why are you in my..." I sit up and look around. "This isn't my house."
"No, this is the Elder's hut."
"Why am I here? Wait. Why are you here?"
Lex puts her hands on her waist as she thinks. "Someone said they didn't want Arick to be hanging around you when you were in Helheim. So they brought you here."
"And you... know about this Helheim thing how?"
"Mumbles told me."
"And you're here because...?"
Lex smiles. "Silly. Everyone else is at dragon training."
"You don't need dragon training?"
"Well, they're working on not having the dragons freak out on them today. I sort of already passed that part. I thought you'd want some company when you woke up."
Toothless lifts his head next to Lex. He glances at her, then he puts his front paws on the bed and rests his chin on the edge of the mattress. I pet his forehead.
"I'm going to be an elder when I grow up," Lex says.
"But... you're with Bear."
"He doesn't know yet. Well, I guess no one knows yet. But the elder in our village says I should watch out for things like this. Gifts from the gods. You're a gift from the gods, you know. You're going to find my brother."
"... I am," I say. I'll try. I swallow the urge to remind her I may not succeed.
Toothless nudges my hand with his snout. I realize I stopped petting him.
The door creaks open. "Is he awake?" the Elder asks.
"Yup!" Lex says.
The Elder nods, mutters, then she leaves us alone again.
Lex smiles, but doesn't talk.
I swing my legs around over the bed so I'm fully facing her.
She watches me with a lot of hope in her eyes.
"If I disappoint you," I say, "Please don't hate me."
"I'm pretty sure you won't," she replies.
"How can you tell?"
"You don't seem the type," she says. "I have a feeling about you. A good feeling."
"But if it happens..."
"I won't hate you. I promise. You're the one who's supposed to hate me, remember?"
She grimaces. "Sorry. Awkward."
I shake my head. "No. Honest."
We stare at each other.
"So," I say. I take a deep breath. "Tell me about your brother."
Lex smiles. She also wipes her eyes with her hands. But she smiles.