It was dark.
My neck lay at an uncomfortable angle, leaving a crick in my spine. It was cold everywhere and my skin felt wet and slippery, as if it were melting. My toes flexed as if to make a fist, but gave up halfway.
Something was wrong. Sharp pains ran up my front legs. I twitched. The twitch cracked my eyelids open and I finally regained control. Unsteadily, I raised my paw to my face. That was . . . that wasn’t right. The colour was off. The texture was different.
As I watched, a pulse ran through my leg. And in its wake, the scales shivered and curled up. They folded into themselves, becoming soft and smooth, brightening in color and filling the grooves between them until they couldn’t be told apart. I blinked, unable to understand. I turned my paw over just as the claws seemed to evaporate. I sniffed it.
The ground below me moved. I dug my claws – nails – into it, but whatever lay under me was hard and wouldn’t give. I blinked blearily. Water lapped at my skin. I blinked again, and my surroundings swam into focus.
I stared into the blue-red eyes of the tyrant.
For a long time, we watched each other without words. I drew my legs into my chest, cold. His expression was tired, pained, and yet accepting. For the first time, I saw something in him that reminded me of the king.
I should be dead, I said to him.
Yes, you should be, the tyrant said back.
I don’t understand.
The magic had grown too powerful, and your body was rejecting it, the tyrant said. It would have left you all at once, and the energy of its departure would have shredded your body, if not your soul. I . . . I have experience tempering that same rune and its effects on Drago. I’ve slowed its flow out of your body so that you would survive it.
“. . . You saved me,” I said hoarsely.
I leaned back on my haunches - on my knees – nearly falling off his tusk when I forgot my human-self’s disability. The tyrant held his tusks above the water, and I sat at the bottom of the curve, on top the manacle. I didn’t see any blood present on him, and I couldn’t smell any either. But, I realized, I could barely smell anything. The cold had clogged my nostrils, and what little I did smell was salty seawater.
How’s your leg? I asked.
It . . . hurts, the tyrant admitted. The cold is good for it.
Oh. You’ll still need to immobilize it. I turned at the waist and looked upward. I almost flexed my shoulders to move my nonexistent wings. What are you going to do now?
The tyrant was silent.
Then, I felt him jump. His pupils widened as he took a sharp breath.
I asked, What’s wrong . . .?
I was submerged. The tyrant had taken off into the depths of the water, leaving me to drift. I kicked for the surface. I wasn’t moving fast enough – my leg. I’d forgotten again I didn’t have one of them in this form. I needed to compensate –
Something dark broke through the surface and seized me. It lifted me out of the water and into the light. I found myself suddenly pressed up against something warm.
“Hiccup!” my father gasped.
“Dad . . .” I croaked out. I wrapped my arms around him, curling in my fingers so my claws didn’t scratch him.
We were crying. It felt so oddly freeing to be able to cry again. Cloudjumper patiently hovered over the waves.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again,” Dad said between sobs. “We lost track of you with the spyglass, and the dragons were refusing to fly.”
“I told them not to. Don’t be mad at them for that.”
Dad sniffed. “I haven’t heard your voice for months. If I weren’t seeing you speak with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have recognized your voice.”
“ . . . Seriously?”
“Well, umm . . .”
“Really? A few months is all it takes for you to forget the cherished voice of your only child?”
“I had a lot on my mind during that time! Your situation came with quite the bit of drama.”
“Which should have made you think even more about your wonderful son’s wise and comforting voice.”
“You just sounded different in my memories, that’s all!”
We looked at each other. Slowly, we both began to smile.
“Same old Stoick,” I said.
Dad wiped his eyes. “Same old Hiccup. Now, wrap this around yourself.”
“Huh?” I stared as he took off his fur cape and gave it to me. “Why do I . . .?”
I looked down at myself.
“Good thing we spied you before Astrid did,” Dad said with a chuckle. “I told her to stay put and cover her eyes.”
I’m pretty sure my entire body flushed red.
Dad patted Cloudjumper, and the Stormcutter flew off over the sea. We found Astrid and Stormfly before long, and I became an even brighter shade of red as the world suddenly seemed to be giggling about my lack of clothing.
“Hiccup!” She said. She looked like she was ready to jump from Stormfly to us.
Dad chuckled. “Give him some space, Astrid. He’s not quite ready for you.”
I couldn’t look her in the eye. Dad, please stop talking.
We flew back to Drago’s island. Smoke rose from its surface, like a smouldering volcano. I could see the dots of Vikings scavenging in the ruins, but how much they would find in that disaster scene, who knew? Other Vikings were preparing and repairing their ships for the long journey home, or else bandaging wounds or resting after the hard battle.
But Berk was waiting for us. Meatlug soared above the ground, and her rider had a spyglass pressed against his eyes. We heard him shout, saw him wave at the crowd, and Berk surged forward. I watched them intensely, searching for that one face . . .
There he was.
Gobber had grabbed Toothless around the neck to hold him back . . . only to end up dragged along the ground like a child. Toothless ran until he was knee-deep in the water, then balanced on his hind legs, screeching like an over-excited Terrible Terror. Here, here! I’m here! I’m here!
I smiled. “Hey, bud.”
Gobber managed to get control of Toothless as we landed before a crowd of excited Berkians. Dad lifted his hands, and demanded they give us room. l leaned on him, hopping on my only foot as he firmly led me towards a small hut that had survived the battle, while loudly asking Gobber to find me some real clothes (ARGH! Dad, stop it!).
Toothless had freed himself from Gobber, and Dad barely managed to stop Toothless from knocking me over. One arm was slung under the dragon’s armpits, holding Toothless in place as he wriggled and slobbered. He laughed, telling Toothless to wait until I was inside. Sure enough, the second right before he closed the door on me, Dad let the Night Fury go.
I expected the hard hit. Luckily, the floor was made of dirt. I swear, I nearly drowned as Toothless licked my face over and over. I couldn’t even touch his face to it push away, because it seemed to have morphed into one big tongue. Toothless barked, high-pitched and excited, and ran around the perimeter of the room.
I grinned and beckoned him closer. “I’m over here, Toothless!”
Toothless leapt into my lap. I laughed, and laughed and couldn’t stop as I rubbed my face against his. Toothless couldn’t sit still, and rolled over in my lap.
I stoked the underside of his chin. It appeared that someone had already bandaged his wounds. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”
Toothless wriggled in place. His tail swung from side to side.
Sensing the change in atmosphere, Toothless rolled back to his feet. He chirped in my face, questioning.
“Toothless, I’m . . . I’m so sorry. You know I didn’t mean it right?”
He cocked his head.
“Your tailfin. It’s all my fault. I . . . I never meant to hurt you like that. I’m so sorry.”
Toothless stared at his tailfin, as if he’d forgotten he’d had one. He looked back at me, and very deliberately laid his paw on my stump and licked my face.
Your leg, my tailfin. I forgive you.
“Toothless . . .”
He backed away abruptly. Before I could say anything, he bowed.
We left the island the day after. For all this appeared to have wrapped up for Berk’s sole benefit, the other tribes seemed pleased with their lot. Causalities and serious injuries had been minimal and although the two Bewilderbeasts basically trampled the settlement, there had been plenty of loot for the Vikings to pick through – even some of Drago’s ships had been left intact. Drago’s battered army stayed well away during the night, and when we left, it was without knowing what had become of them.
On our way home, the Berkian ships made a stop at the king’s old Nest. Both the king’s dragons, and the dragons that had fled the tyrant’s rule were there. I hadn’t expected much, but when they all saw Cloudjumper bowing to me, they were only too eager to join my admiring crowd. And that is how Berk’s dragon population doubled overnight.
Between that and the original transformation, everyone wanted to talk to me. Fun, but also exhausting. A couple of days before landfall, I finally found some alone time. For like two seconds. Astrid found me on the ship’s deck basking in the light of the full moon. She weaved her way around Toothless, and walked up to me.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey, yourself. We haven’t really had a chance to talk since I turned back human, have we? Not alone.”
She was giving me a weird look. I touched my cheek. “Is there something on my face.”
“No. It’s just . . . you sound different.”
I shrugged. “Side-effect, I guess. My Dad said something about not recognizing my voice when he first heard me, too.”
“Your voices is a lot rougher,” she agreed. “But side-effect of what?”
I grinned. “Listen.”
I showed her. She held a hand up to her mouth.
“Hiccup, was that -?”
“A chuff? Yes, Astrid. Yes, it was.”
Plenty of people had heard me try to imitate Toothless’s sounds before. What was shocking about this occasion was that my chuff hadn’t been a well-meaning, but poor human imitation. It had been real.
“How did you do that?” she asked.
“I guess not all of me is fully human again,” I answered. It made sense. I had been able to speak to the tyrant until the very end, after all. I wondered if he had did that on purpose.
I played with a lock of her hair. “Your scent’s still the same as I remember. It’s like those wildflowers in the meadow behind my house; flowery, sweet, with a touch of dew . . .”
She burst out laughing.
“ . . . In my defense, that would have very romantic if we were dragons.”
She tried, and failed to stop giggling. “Well, thank you for trying. It’s very sweet that you remember my scent. And creepy.”
“Hey.” I tapped my nose. “It was very hard not to notice while I was a dragon. Not my fault.”
“Well, don’t let the kids back at Berk hear you say any of that. They’ll be convinced you’re some kind of dragon-human hybrid.”
“There are worse fates. By the way, where’s Dad?”
“Flying with Cloudjumper. They really like each other.”
“Yeah, well they did have a very important interest in common.”
Even alluding to her made my mood drop. Astrid reached over, and squeezed my shoulder. “You did everything you could. You can’t blame yourself for what Drago did.”
“I know. I just . . .” I whispered, “I wish it hadn’t ended so bad.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I leaned on the deck’s rail, and looked toward the horizon. “Can I take a raincheck on that until we get back home.”
“Of course,” she said. “We can save it until the picnic.”
“ . . . Uh, could you go into a bit more detail on that?”
“If I’m remembering correctly, before you went and got yourself turned into a dragon, we were going to have a picnic.” Her eyes sparkled. “ It was your idea.”
Catching her eye, I grinned like a fox. “Why, yes, it was. How about in that meadow with all the flowers that smell like you?”
“Still creepy, but acceptable. Count me in.”