Nightfall, Part Nineteen
Me too me too me too! Hide-and-Seek begs, squirming under Ice Claws’ wings to poke her nose into Hiccup’s paw, smearing red dirt all over nose and paw alike. The young dragon-man chirps with amusement at her and laughs up at Ice Claws, trying to turn the shapeless blotch into something else, something new, but mostly just changing the color of her scales. It is not a new thing, to put colors on dragons – Hiccup draws on his Toothless-beloved quite often – but it is a thing for now.
He has brought the colors with them but they are almost all gone now, and he does not mind even though the colors are special. This is special. This is hunting a monster and breaking the biggest trap they have ever fought.
This is a hunting of dragons a long way from home and with the king himself at their side. It is a great and glorious thing that should be screeched about and cried out for the stars and the sun to listen to up there in their air where dragons cannot go even if they try very hard. But that would not be good hunting to scare their prey away or to warn it that hunters are coming by making a loud noise like a tail rattling through brush.
So the dragons that belong to the great king, that have come south to fight a monster, are hiding for now. They have flown high in the night following Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss who like to fly at night and close to the waves that the king has sent ahead of them under the sun. No dragon will warn the sickbadwrongthing that is an Alpha and an eater of dragons together that they are here. No human will make them fall to the ground hurting and frightened with rocks that fly.
This is not a thing for humans who are dangerous but perhaps do not always have to be the enemy: it is a thing for dragons, to hunt one of their own that is not a dragon anymore because it eats dragons and no real dragon would ever do that. Even humans are better than that.
They are waiting on this island, keeping themselves hidden from the sky under the trees and the rocks, for the right time to hunt. This is a good place to rest and prepare even though they can see the hateful fogs in the distance. But there are no humans and in the deep waters beneath the high cliff the king can wait and protect them from the sound that dragons cannot hear but that they feel and that they can follow to the monster in a warm nest, the feeling-sound that is a trap and must not be followed ever but must be followed now.
It is Hiccup’s idea, and he has sent hunters out to watch and stalk but not attack. They have not yet returned, but the dragons remaining on the island have faith in their king to watch over them.
Bad this-place bad bad know you-both bad here yes warning, Cloudjumper snarls as he alights on the crag beside where Hiccup and Toothless are curled together. Hide-and-Seek and Ice Claws scatter with their colors on them. You this-way here no flying annoyed scolding here flying no!
Toothless sighs regret and sorry beneath Hiccup’s back where they are lying together. Cloudjumper did tell them not to fly this way, but they had gone the long way around and had forgotten.
His companion looks up with clear eyes at their protector, who settles himself on the rock and reaches out a wing-claw to cuff them for disobeying, tail flicking back and forth idly betraying that he is not really angry. Lying humans lying Hiccup fearless dragon Hiccup yes yes, he assures Cloudjumper even as that claw shoves him across the ground, because he knows that secret and that lie are what Cloudjumper was trying to protect them from. But he should have known that telling them not to go somewhere would only make them want to go there even more, even if they had not done it on purpose.
Then Hiccup croons appealingly, curiously, before asking a question he could not have borne an answer to before, but now his flock is all around him and he is with Toothless and they are loved by the great king of dragons.
Mama human she human us mama Aka human yes true yes mama human yes? he demands.
That twitching tail goes very still and the claw on him lifts as Cloudjumper recoils, rearing up defensively on the rock. He growls beginning in surprise confusion shock and becoming angry frightened distressed angry angry protective except it is hurting hurting sorry sad lonely sad at the same time.
It is a big sound.
Aka flock family mine flock ours! Cloudjumper insists. He refuses to be driven away by the young dragons but his head twists around to avoid and ignore them and look out to sea for the scouts instead.
But everything about him says unhappy and before long he hunches all his wings and curls his tail half-around himself, climbing down from the perching rock to their flat place and lowering his heavy head to the ground, sighing a deep sigh that says lonely sad regret sad love regret lonely sorrow.
Cloudjumper is family – they have upset him and it is their fault, so both of Valka’s sons creep up to him and beg forgiveness, placing paws on shielding wings and rubbing faces against scales, purring and whimpering plaintively, ending up tangled and together beneath his jaw and against his chest feeling the unhappiness in the way he breathes and the warmth of his fires with their own.
Red-gold scales heave in a sigh, and Cloudjumper closes his eyes. Aka human Aka love Aka you-both mother Aka good good good Aka love.
Toothless whistles quietly, curiously, wanting to know more and clambering onto the many-winged dragon’s shoulder to listen better. He does not remember either – they were both too young – but now they both have the memory that the king has shown them to keep for their very own like a treasured thing.
Aka mine, Cloudjumper croons sadly. Aka good love dragon she Aka dragon love dragon Aka threatened – this an alert that a flock-mate is in danger, whistled quietly so as not to disturb the resting hunters – Aka me flying Aka nest.
The big dragon shudders, turning his head to look at Hiccup. Aka dragon hatchling you dragon you flying no danger good safe us flock Aka you flock good good.
Cloudjumper had thought he was rescuing Valka, Hiccup understands, that she was threatened where she was, that she did not belong and that she – and her hatchling – would be safer with the flock. Mama dragon here? Hiccup asks, putting a paw on Cloudjumper’s broad chest and then his own. Hiccup dragon here.
Yes yes yes you ours, Cloudjumper confirms. Toothless squirms around from where he has ended up across their guardian’s shoulders to lean down and lick Hiccup’s fur, purring agreement. Belonging flock dragon love dragon us Aka you love you ours.
Hiccup sighs, leaning against Cloudjumper for the comfort of them both. Mama you love? he asks.
Cloudjumper’s wings and ruff flare out at the question. Yes yes yes yes yes, he asserts until Hiccup pets him quiet with his clever paws, whimpering good good no-threat me good.
You mother’s-mate, he assures Cloudjumper. This is a true thing, it is a known thing; it is like sunlight and stone. He hums uncertainty, reluctant to know.
Pfikingr Alpha mother’s-mate? Toothless asks daringly, cringing as Cloudjumper’s head turns to look at the black dragon on his shoulders, which spread with indignation.
Aka mine! he objects.
Hiccup brings his attention back to the little dragon at his feet instead, tapping impatiently on his scales and yelping me!
He meets Cloudjumper’s eyes and insists on an answer with the way he sets his shoulders and the look in his eyes, ready to snarl and argue if he is not told.
Cloudjumper looks at him incredulously, but after a moment sighs in his own right, a much bigger noise and one full of sadness regret loss loneliness grief love love sadness.
Aka pfikingr mate, he agrees. Alpha maybe uncertain why?
They tell Cloudjumper about the pfikingr Alpha with the red fur who had remembered their mother’s name and then let them go but who said that he was their mother’s mate. Cloudjumper is still not sure if the human he remembers mostly as a threat was the Alpha of the humans. He remembers mostly that the human with love for dragons in her eyes and the hatchling she held that had played with him and was not afraid should not belong to the angry human because they were special and should be protected.
The young dragon at his feet shakes this off like snow – it does not matter. Cloudjumper is his family; Cloudjumper has protected him and his other half and had loved their mother so Cloudjumper was their mother’s mate and their guardian, and that is all that matters.
It makes no difference. Hiccup is not a toy to be stolen from nest to nest. He knows where he belongs. It is his choice – it is their choice, as Toothless leaps to the ground and curls up with him under their guardian’s wings, all of them crooning love family yes us good yes to each other – to make.
And they have chosen. They are dragons together, they belong with the flock. Nothing changes that.
Still, if the red-furred Alpha really was their mother’s mate at one time when Hiccup was still a human hatchling before he was a dragon, then it is even more puzzling that he should have let them go. Hiccup loves intensely, passionately, completely – he would do anything, he would fight to the death to regain one he loves.
It is all very confusing, and while Hiccup has some answers they almost do not matter. They are like the screaming of seagulls – right now they change nothing until seagulls scream threat or fear and then they are to be listened to even though seagulls are stupid.
They cannot think about it right now, as they wait for the darkness and for their scouts to return with news, so they wait and are together and brave as the sun goes away. Hiccup puts the last of his colors on Cloudjumper in the fading light, staining red-gold with the purple that is hardest to find and the deep brown and the charcoal black. He saves the scraps of the red dirt for his own skin, renewing the markings down the line between his fur and his skin on both sides of his eyes and to the tip of his nose, because they have been washed off since he put them there in the nest, and he puts red on Toothless’ scales in wide and bold stripes.
Now there is already blood on them, so there does not need to be any more of theirs on their skins.
After the stars come out now that the sun is not breathing its fires at them to drive them away from its sky way up there, Lookout comes back calling out to them with excitement and anxiety that dragons many dragons dragons go dragons fly hungry hunting dragons go!
All across the island, heads come up and eyes turn to Lookout, who perches importantly on a tree branch and cries that she saw dragons hungry hunting fear hungry fear go hunting go us us go raid hunt go now yes yes?
Beneath the deep sharp cliff, the water stirs, and all across the island the dragons of the king’s nest crouch and bow, greeting him as Majesty with awe and love in their hearts.
Protection, the king assures them.
They do not need to be afraid of the thing in the heart of the mists. He is with them. He will protect them from the thing that takes minds and breaks dragons and tries to steal them.
Together as always, where they belong, Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss leap into the air with their family, and find their king’s eyes on them like living oceans.
Lead, he commands.
Ahead is their nightmare – they have dreamed about it together and they have feared it all the more for knowing that it is real, that the eater of dragons, the death of dragons, will try to eat them again.
But it is a trap, and they do not fear traps. They will not fear traps, because then they will be caught already.
Toothless spreads his wings bravely, and Hiccup beckons to the flock come us go us hunt!
Together they dive into the mists, but now their family follows them and they are not alone and they are not afraid, and below the water the great king of dragons travels with them.
They can hear the calling that is a lure that is part of the trap, but their Alpha protects them from her voice like leaves between eyes and the sun, and they can follow it to the monster’s lair without being caught in it. They will use the trap to break the trap.
Once again they are alone-together in the sky, and they must be brave.
The dragon-pair fly cautiously into the open space with the night sky above them, the island where the monster waits for them ahead. But clouds are gathering and there is no moon to show them the way tonight. Even the waves are quiet. There are no dragons flying into and around the nest, and that is a wrongness. It is a nest, it should be a home, but it is not.
All the dragons are gone, hunting to protect themselves from the one that is not a dragon, to beg for their lives with their service that is not the devotion to a good Alpha that is all Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss have ever known, but submission in fear.
It is a nest without dragons. It is a nest made of fear.
The black dragon shudders as he backwings and they hover for a moment in the darkness with the clouds hiding the stars, looking for the way into the mountain that they took before. On his shoulders, Hiccup places a gentle paw on his skull, pressing his body close so that he can rest his cheek on Toothless’ head, as if they were curled up together in their own nest, sleeping-but-not-sleeping and comfortable and warm and safe.
But now they will strike, and Toothless growls low in his chest and dives willingly into the trap, his heart’s-companion with him as always, ready and unafraid and silent with the hunched-shoulders thinking-working that in better days is for making good clever new things.
For this now on this night they are still free. They will have to be very quick and clever for the trap to not snap shut on their wings, but they are the best of dragons together and they have faith in each other, and their hate is stronger than their fear, and their love for each other stronger still.
The darkness of the night is a good darkness, a welcome darkness, but the darkness in the cave when they dive for the entrance is like mud when the snow is melting. But they go on.
Toothless remembers the way, and his nose leads him to the fire in the heart of the earth, and he can hear the calling of the queen of the pit but quietly because their king is close by.
It is a game, he thinks, twitching his tail as if to pounce on prey; it is the best of games.
As before they stand together on the ledge over the pit of fog and mists and the stink of death and wrongness and rot, but this time she will not chase them away in terror. If she chases them she will be the one taken by surprise.
The fogs are still with no dragons to stir them, but when they listen they can hear from far below a movement like breath.
The black dragon looks over his shoulder and holds the gaze of his beloved, who looks back at him with clear and silent determination love anger love resolution stubborn stubborn angry love-you, setting himself for flight and bracing for the hate of the thing below.
They are ready, so Toothless rears up onto his hind legs, flares out his wings, and roars.
It is a good good good sound in this place that stinks of fear; it sounds of defiance and life, and Hiccup roars with him, the two voices as much one as the dragons giving voice to them.
Disgust, they scream. Hatred fury rage insolence mockery defiance – challenge!
The challenge echoes, and it is returned.
She remembers them.
Out of the mist emerges the head of the monster, all those eyes fixed on the little dragons who are one being, one self, who have returned to her.
Hatred! The queen of the pit roars. Kill! Hatred!
Her rage strikes at them like a blow although perhaps she cannot reach them here – but she can! She can see them and she can make them feel what she feels, tearing into their minds and filling them with Hunger and Anger that bites at them like teeth.
They were blind to return! How dare they challenge her? They are little and helpless and they can only run away, they are not a great warrior the way she is, they are nothing! She is the guardian of the heart-fire and its defender, she belongs to it and it to her and she is strong!
Power beats at them, demanding that they bow to her, that they submit and show her their throats so that she can tear them open and watch them hurt and hear them scream, and before they die she will eat their bodies while they live, and she will enjoy it, she will devour them and they will deserve it for defying her!
She no longer wants to own them and make them serve her.
Death! she demands of them.
The eater of dragons reaches for them with her eyes and tries to command them, but they are protected, and they roar their defiance back at her together, refusing to obey. She is no true dragon! She is no queen!
Hunger tears through them, a pit in their bodies as deep as the one at their feet, endless and gaping and terrible like the crushing of the deepest oceans where no dragon can go and the gasping need of the highest skies. And now the two-who-are-one stagger as they did not when facing her anger, feeling as she does, knowing the desperate body-hunger and the ravenous mind-hunger which is greater, that wants to consume their hearts and all that is good about them.
But the movement reminds them that they are together, the weight on the back of the black dragon and the warmth beneath the dragon-man’s heart where he crouches close to his beloved’s shoulders, and they are not afraid.
Flying! Hiccup cries, and they leap at the monster, who blasts fire at them but they are fast, they are clever, they are together; she cannot catch them. The fire burns the air and stings his eyes but it does not touch them. They have come here to pull her tail and fight her when she turns on them, but they are not the only ones who will. And Hiccup knows that it is good that she is angry because it is hard to think angry and if she is chasing them she is not watching or listening to anything else.
And the monster is chasing them and will not let them escape as they did before; she knows every rock and crag and gap in her caves and there is nowhere for them to hide for very long.
But it is fast and Hiccup rejoices in it even as he and his love fly as quickly as they have ever done even without the open sky above them. It is like dancing and they are flying for their lives but this is what they were meant to do. So when an enormous paw with claws as big as they are tears apart the rock face, they are not there; they were but now they are not.
Too-slow! the dragon-man mocks her, shrieking insults from above over the top of her head where she has no eyes. Slow you slow can’t-catch-us!
Many eyes burn with the fire below and the fire she breathes, and heat and flames scorch rock but not dragons, because Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss are somewhere else now, because every time she breathes in hate and roars out her rage and flame Hiccup can see and think just a little more.
She is too big to fight in this space – she is trapped in her own realm. All around her Toothless spins and dives and dodges and flames at her – she is easy to find and to strike at – as his beloved-companion guides him, watching all around for fangs and claws and her lashing tail that is quick and heavy, and for fire and rocks that are dangerous because they are in their way. But no sooner does he see them than Toothless knows too from the way he moves, and they fly as agilely as if they were in open air.
This is what they have been practicing to do all their lives. The speed and focus of the flight together, reckless and lithe and daring and free, drowns out her hatred. The racing of bodies and minds together keeps her hunger from their hearts, which are twined together like hatchlings in a nest in the cold when it is impossible to see or smell where one ends and the other begins.
And there is no time to be afraid anymore. All there is, all the world, is each other and the monster and flight that is joyful and a goodness, and even if they die they do so together, flying, and what could be better?
Hiccup taps his paw against Toothless’ side and they slew and spin so that the monster’s jaws miss them, roaring as she devours only stone and Toothless blasts at a hate-staring eye. As they dart away Hiccup has a good answer and at once Toothless knows it too.
Living is better.
And beneath the roars of the challenged queen they can hear a sound because it is a good sound, a known sound, and they are listening for it.
Down! Hiccup commands, leaning forward to point at darkness in the rocks that is too small for the monster to go into. They have flown past it twice now and both times he has smelled the air of deep caves. They have fought their fight, they have held off an Alpha, and now they must escape.
But as Toothless turns and prepares to dive the monarch of the pit throws herself sideways to crush them between her scales that reflect the fire below and the rock.
Yelping in fear and pain, the dragon-pair falls in the darkness of her shadow, wings snarled against stone and bleeding from half-healed scars, dizzy from the strike and lurching as they struggle to regain their feet and their thoughts on the ground that is too warm and humming slightly like an angry purring. Even though they are surrounded by crushed bones Toothless cannot raise his head and break the staring of skulls – their eyes on him are worse than the eyes of the dark Alpha, but he cannot breathe, he cannot see beyond the dead before him and waiting for them!
On his back he can feel Hiccup-beloved gasping in pain, see out of the corner of his eye in the dim light from the heart-fire and the triumphant flaming of the queen the reassuring sight of his heart’s-love shaking his head, long fur flying as he tries to brush the dizziness of falling away.
Only the reek of death warns them, and they leap blindly, fleeing the stink of the breath of the eater as much as her fangs. Bones crack beneath her, releasing Toothless from the gaze of the dead, and he runs rather than flies, not knowing where he is or where the tunnel they were going to escape into has gone or when they will run out of time and they will be too small for the fight that will crush them.
They have two sets of eyes, though, and Hiccup can look while Toothless flees.
Go! Hiccup gestures, pulling on the flying-with that binds them together and changing their path, and Toothless obeys in perfect trust, leaping a gash in the stone where fire runs below like battle-hot blood. The screams of the queen have deafened him but they have only to be quick and clever to survive now.
He follows the line of Hiccup’s paw when his companion points out There! and runs, tucking his wings in close to go faster and protect the little dragon on his back at the same time, but Hiccup yelps at him and pushes the wings over him away so he can watch for the creature still trying to eat the little dragon-pair that plagues her.
Flame licks at their tail but they are too quick for her and dodge behind a stone, and as the fire dies Toothless jumps to the top of it and leaps from there, half-flying but he does not have time to spread his wings.
His claws catch on the edge of the cliff face that is the side of the pit and the black dragon pulls them both into the tunnel, back paws digging at the scorched rock beneath them. He adds new scratches to old scars that catch at his claws and make them go the way that claws have gone before, but they have made it.
They are too clever to rest – she will not let them escape, they can feel it in the Hatred! Anger! Kill-hate! beating at their minds – so Toothless turns in the new tunnel and burns her nose when she tries to put it into the tunnel and breathe fire at them.
The dark Alpha roars and recoils, rearing up and trying to protect her vulnerable nose, which is torn and ragged and burnt-black already from the reek and the fires of her lair. Shaking it back and forth and stomping with anger, she reaches out with one great paw and digs into the tunnel with it after them.
Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss run, trusting Toothless’ ability to see in the darkest caves as they race past old scars in the rock, barely visible in the last glimpses of the mountain’s heart-fire light, from where she has done this before, trying to catch at something down here that she wants but cannot quite reach.
When they discover what it is at the end of the tunnel that she has tried to catch and devour it is a greater horror than before.
They know this smell – it is a good smell and should be a safe smell.
It smells of eggs and nests and sleep-warm and hatchlings, and Toothless stops as quickly as he can because there are little dragons around his feet, peeping and crying out in terror at him and his companion – and at the claws scratching behind them, trying to reach and howling Hunger!
The hatchlings cannot hear the commands of the Alpha, but they can hear her roar and see the claws that block out the dim light, and they scatter away as far as they can.
But before she hid the heart-fire light from them Hiccup could see that there are scratches in the stone, in the walls and the floor and all the stone of the tunnel. Deep scratches.
She has done this before.
Furious beyond all reason, Hiccup leaps from Toothless’ back and into the mouth of the tunnel, slashing back at those grasping claws with his own small claws, screaming hatred of his own.
To try to take hatchlings!
He has no way of knowing that the placement of the nursery is the result of an ongoing war between the Alpha of the nest of slaves and an instinct as powerful and more in the hearts and souls of those slaves, that the queen of the pit has commanded them many times to move the nursery to a place she can reach it, so that she can punish them better when they fail her, or that this is the only way they have been able to fight her. They have brought their hatchlings this far, but no further.
It is the one thing she cannot force them to do.
When the hatchlings are grown they will belong to her and they will have to hunt to survive, but they will not give her the little ones to eat.
Hiccup does not know this, but he does not have to. He knows the smell of evil, and he smells it now on the claws that reach for him and for his heart-beloved other half and for the hatchlings behind them.
He is a little dragon, and she is big, but his claws are sharper than hers and she is easy to find and attack in the darkness of the tunnel.
The smell of blood is not his, the scream of pain and rage is not his, but the roar of triumph as he feels his claws rip and tear into the soft space beneath her claws is.
The monarch of the pit starts to pull her bleeding paw away – and then it is gone in a single fast movement and a deafening roar.
Two heads snap up, two sets of fangs gape in delighted smiles – they can smell ice.
Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss are good fighters – they have kept the eater of dragons too busy to hear the ice that eats through stone as their king digs his way into the trap to break it open, and now he has come for her. They can hear his roar of fury and disgust and the shocked scream of the queen of the volcano as a true Alpha of dragons tears into her domain and her scales.
Even the mountain shudders as they fight, and the two-who-are-one huddle together in fear and joy at once in the strange nursery, checking each other for wounds and reassuring each other with touch and sound that they are still together, still alive – that they have pulled the tail of an Alpha and survived.
Toothless nuzzles at his beloved’s fur where there is blood in it from their fall, but does not lick at it because that will hurt more and he hates the taste of Hiccup’s blood – it should not be on the outside of him but it is too often. But he croons with delight and satisfaction at the smell of the monster’s blood on his love’s claws, and Hiccup snarls with pride and even in the dark puts its colors on them. They have earned it.
Mostly they lean against each other and breathe each other and are relieved, humming fear relief fear flying fast flying us fight us together us good yes us proud us fight together in harmony as the noise of the battle trembles the stone around them.
It is only when the sound of the Alphas fighting shakes rocks down from above to attack them and little dragons scream in fear and scramble over to the bigger ones, hiding beneath them and peeping in distress, that they remember that the fight is not yet over.
Hiccup crouches to the ground and nuzzles scared hatchlings, breathing good safe us good you little you safe us protect us good to them and letting them taste him to know that he is a dragon who is not a threat, who does not get angry when little ones nip him or roar when they climb on him, who stays still and purrs and protects them. He is a good safe dragon and they are afraid of the sounds of battle and the shaking of their home, so they cling to him and to Toothless and cry.
Toothless breathes into his fur and whistles a question – they did not think of this.
Nearly blind in the dark but for the scraps of light that escape the battle in the pit, but undisturbed by that as all his other senses are working despite the blurring from the fall that is already clearing, Hiccup raises a paw to touch his dragon-love’s muzzle unerringly. Go, he indicates.
The black dragon yelps incredulously, unwilling that they be parted now.
Go flock go flock flock here flock now! Hiccup commands, and shows that he will stay by crouching defensively over the little ones to protect them. Flock help help help! he snaps, hoping that his distress will not scare the hatchlings he is trying to save.
Reluctant but trusting him unconditionally, Toothless rubs their faces together, tasting the good taste of his other half’s skin that he has known since they were very small but even then they knew they belonged together, and purrs his absolute and all-powerful, stronger than fear, stronger than monsters, stronger than anything love you love you love you, and his other half tastes him too and tells him the same and they know the unwavering truth of it.
And then the black dragon whips around and is gone, running for help.
When he returns very soon he does so accompanied by everyone who has come with them, crowding through the tunnel and squirming around each other to get back out again, and they snatch frightened hatchlings and helpless eggs and flee the battlefield as the mountain shakes beneath the feet of the Alphas. They will leave nothing for this trap to bite!
Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss are about to do the same when Cloudjumper drops a wing in front of them and beckons to them to give him the little ones they are carrying on Toothless’ back.
Go you go! Cloudjumper commands. Give!
His anxiety is clear in the set of his wings and the fire in his eyes, so they obey without question, racing down the tunnel and launching into the reeking air of the monster’s pit.
The flight of many dragons through it very fast has blown away the fog, and through what is left they can see the battle.
Frost and fangs of ice ring the gash in the mountainside that the king has torn even through the rocks, and they are shattered across the inside of the mountain like a dropped hollow stone with crystals inside like Crystal Finder’s favorite toy. Many of them have been smashed even further and are melting away against the heat of the heart-fire.
Tracks of enormous dragons and great tears through the stone and broken caves show them where the king has dragged the dragon-priestess of the volcano out from her stronghold, and now they are fighting in the open air. In the darkness broken by flashes of fire the waves from their battle are like attacking dragons leaping down onto the beach from the sky, tearing it apart like a fish for scraps to play with until those scraps are too mauled even to be good to eat.
In the ocean, the great king roars, lifting his heavy forepaws from the water and bringing his tusks up into the sky to breathe ice at –
The mad queen can fly.
She is heavy and awkward but she is in the air; her wings are misshapen and stiff from long imprisonment but she can fly and the king cannot. She is attacking him with fire and she is out of his reach, hiding inside the fogs that the great king has not yet frozen only to burn them away when she strikes.
Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss snarl together at the sight – the sky is theirs! They will not have that thing, an eater of dragons, in it!
Without hesitation they take off at top speed, returning for another strike at the monster of the pit, too angry to be afraid and spurred on by the smell of her blood on their scales. She can bleed, she can burn; she is real so she can be fought.
Now they are not in her territory where she can trap them among the dead in the dark and the too-powerful heat – this is their sky! It is where they belong and the sky on their scales and in their eyes is a joy greater than anything, the fight a taste as sweet as the best of hunts in their mouths.
Up and up and up the two-who-are-one race into the fogs. She is huge and easy to see but they are small and hidden, and Toothless shrieks as they dive, flashing past her and catching her eye only to burn it from almost close enough to touch.
Her enormous wings falter, and she screams in pain, but she catches herself before she falls into the Alpha’s tusks. When he spits ice at her the cold changes the air and makes it hard to fly, pulling her down, but she replaces ice with fire and the heat lifts her again as the king dives below the surface of the ocean to escape it.
As she rises she meets Hiccup and Toothless pouncing back down at her, and they will not try to surprise her again. Now they will try to hurt her.
They know all too well how vulnerable the wings of dragons are.
Her wide wing is such a tempting target, stretched out to catch the heat of her fires so she can escape, and Toothless can land on it if he does it quickly, tearing at the scales with claws and teeth and fire as if digging a hole after a ground thing that is good to eat but is hiding in the soil. He is hunting battle, and he will catch it.
Hiccup leaps from his shoulders as he does so, pouncing for the point where bone meets bone and ripping his small claws into the small spaces, fighting to disable the wing. He moves across the shaking, angry, living surface fearlessly, too furious and moving too quickly to be afraid. The rush of battle is burning him and if now he could breathe fire like his kin he would not be surprised. He wants to burn her. When he roars at the wing he is tearing apart there is no fire in his throat but he can feel it in his eyes and in his mind.
The queen shrieks and tries to shake them off, twisting in midair to snap at her own wing, which flaps back and forth in pain.
Both young dragons lose the grip of their claws and fall, but both of them can fly, and there are good winds here to ride, as wild as the storms they love! In moments Toothless has snatched Hiccup out of the sky and they are together and bound together flying as one again, circling to escape from the raging monarch of the pit.
Their distraction has worked, and she has sunk too low in the sky.
From the ocean the great king leaps for her, snarling, and when they hit the water together, jaws snapping and tusks striking, the wave nearly reaches the fleeing dragon-pair, who hover at a safer distance and watch with satisfaction as sea fangs snap and crumble under their weight and water flies and even the mountain trembles.
The roars from their bodies are deafening, and the roars from their minds even more so, and the two-who-are-one shudder even under the edges of the waves.
Disgust batters them.
Hatred tears at the enemy, and it is a sickbadwrongfeeling again to have that be directed at their king.
But they can also hear her Fear!
The king strikes at her with Challenge and Power.
And there is Hunger, always Hunger and Pride from the eater of dragons, the worst of monsters.
But the king protects his own as he had promised his young wanderers, and he is greater than any arrogant monster who believes herself all-powerful because she had been first to find the warmth in the mountain and learned to force others to do as she commanded. In a movement that all can clearly see but that is too powerful to stop, a strong blow from his paw knocks her off balance and under the water.
When she comes back up again roaring with rage and fear his tusks cut through the air like claws and strike her skull with a sound as loud as sea fangs cracking and crumbling, bringing her crashing to the shore of her broken island.
The great king of dragons leaps from the ocean and his landing with great claws on her fallen body shakes the world, even for dragon-pairs hovering safely in the sky. The battered death of dragons cannot even breathe to scream as he leans his weight on her with his front paws and roars his overpowering declaration of TRIUMPH.
From the mists his flock shrieks back to him, driving away the monster’s fogs with their wings and their voices, rejoicing in his victory and the destruction of a monster.
Her defeat breaks her power, and already the fogs are scattering the way fogs should. Her voice in their minds even through their king’s protection is fading.
She has lost, and his power grips her as she has crushed so many others, forcing her to bow at his feet even when he steps away from her, with her throat extended and head down.
Even now, defeated and helpless, wounded and humiliated, she roars her anger, and it is so great that they can all feel it.
She roars Rage at the great king, who has come from nowhere to destroy her,
She tears at him with Hate.
But she tears at herself more strongly with Shame.
Her pride is a treacherous thing like another dragon inside her with its own hunger, and it is eating her now as it has eaten so many others.
Shame and Fear-of-Death fight over her scraps inside her mind and she screams silently but so loud in their heads, hurting from the battle that goes on even when bodies are still. It is cold and sharp and relentless like the ice that has overwhelmed her fires, but it burns like those fires too, and the king’s dragons shudder as they taste it with her, like hunger with no food ever again in the deepest of winters, like a dragon alone without a flock or a nest.
All around her, the flock waits, landed on the rocks of the shattered mountain or the shoreline a safe distance away or the sea fangs that are not broken, or hovering in the sky like the triumphant pair who are still flying when she is fallen. They are silent now, waiting for justice to be done to a monster, a creature that has wrapped itself up in stone and eaten its own kind in arrogance and scorn, and would have eaten the hatchlings that they rescued if it could, that had tried to eat their wandering dragon-kin and is now completely in the king’s power, submissive at his feet.
And then –
The dragon-king of ice and the north turns away from her where she lies broken on the shore of her broken island, frozen as much as if he had blasted her with ice.
Her trap had held her as much as her flock, and now they have broken it open. The trap is sprung, her power shattered never to be regained. She is free.
High above, Hiccup and Toothless shudder together, unhappy but unable to argue with the king. They had promised that they would free the captives they had found in this place.
They had not thought that the king would see the monarch of the pit as one too.
But they have faith in him as a good and wise king. He is the Alpha, the much-beloved and benevolent master of their flock, and they must obey…
Still, they are the ones who watch the dragon-priestess of the volcano as she struggles back to her paws, still favoring one, in the shallows as the king turns away to return to deeper waters and the flock takes off into the clearing skies to swarm around him and celebrate their protector and his victory, filling his ears and mind with their voices and their love and awe.
They are the ones who see her heavy head come up and her many eyes flash with her mountain-fires and her jaws open to reveal so many fangs with dragon bones still trapped in them.
They are the ones who see her gather herself to leap for the king’s back that he has turned on her, fangs bared to dig into the spine that biting through will kill anything.
But they are swifter than anyone in their nest…
Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss dive faster than they have ever flown before, plummeting to defend their king, shrieking in a single voice.
Toothless’ fires burn that gaping mouth and fill her jaws with fire, and when the explosion clears they are hovering between their Alpha and the reeling, burnt, and bleeding monster, bristling, furious.
There is a defiant and fearless fire as strange and wonderful as the bright and colorful waves of sky-fire, burning in their souls and in their eyes, running through them like lightning with no line between dragon-born and dragon-chosen, and it may be real or it may be a dream-thing from the power of their rage, they do not know and they do not care.
The two-who-are-one care only about the eater of dragons who has even now lunged for them, screaming her endless Hunger! and the PRIDE! that is too strong to ever accept the mercy of a good king.
She snaps at them and blasts them with fire and Hate!
This is their fault! She was powerful and unchallenged and the ruler of a flock that served her and the guardian of a power greater than any! And then they escaped from her jaws and came back to challenge her; they brought the king here!
They were the ones who defied her, the little dragon who is both two minds and two selves and a single self together, one that she cannot properly control because they are so different, because they are something new and good.
They are the ones who have destroyed her – she will destroy them!
She will never let them go!
Toothless faces her hatred and roars back at her fearlessly, defending his family and his king and the half of him that he loves more than anything else, even more than his own life. He is burning with rage, enough to face an Alpha among dragons many times his size and defy her to her face.
But it is Hiccup who takes his eyes off those of the monster’s for only a moment, because he trusts Toothless to hold them there while he looks for their next move.
He finds it.
The mad queen has many eyes but they are all watching the dragon-pair, and her mind is fixed on them like a trap coiled to bite, and Hiccup knows better than anyone else how to push a trap too far so that it will destroy itself and leave them free.
Up! he urges Toothless, pulling back on the flying-with that keeps them one when they fly and lets them do anything, and the black dragon can feel through the tension in his body that this is a thing that must be done now!
Unquestioning, Toothless flips his tail under them and takes them straight up, that impossible maneuver that the two-who-are-one do so well, like a dive or a fall but up so a victory always, racing for the skies where they are free and untouchable.
Blinded with loathing, the monarch of the pit rears up to follow them with her many eyes and gathers her poisonous breath to burn them from the sky.
…and powerful tusks tear into that exposed throat before the great king fills her with the ice of his breath and puts her fires of hatred and hunger out forever.
The king is merciful, but only to a point. He is kind, but he is not weak. He will not let this creature he has fought and spared once reject his mercy and harm the little wanderers who are unique and fearless together and dear to him. The Alpha protects his own.
Hiccup and Toothless are under his protection and no monster will burn them from the sky.
It is later, but still night.
The flock has brought the little ones of the nest back and their family has dug a good warm hole for the eggs while the hatchlings stare up for the first time at the stars in the sky all around where the fogs are blowing away for good, and sniff curiously at the icy dead thing on the edge of their island. One of them scratches at it and, when it does not move or snarl, pounces on as much of it as the little one can reach. Soon they are all playing around it fearlessly, climbing on it and jumping on each other.
That is good, and from the deep waters the king watches with kind eyes.
The two-who-are-one are resting on the warm sand, too tired and too excited all at once to purr or speak to each other in more than the most fundamental knowledge of togetherness and love and relief. Instead they are curled up together shaking.
Cloudjumper lands next to them and looks at them without saying anything, all his signals still and silent.
Then he wraps a wing over them and does something he never does and nuzzles them both like hatchlings, purring for them.
You-both good good good brave Aka proud me proud flock proud, he says, raising his head high and hooding his eyes.
Hiccup puts a paw on his guardian’s broad chest and smiles a dragon-smile up at him. They have done good hunting tonight. But they are not yet done, and they must go on.
The dragon-man stands up properly as he so rarely does and moves to the shoreline. He can walk only on his back paws, which is useful for carrying things. He just lives in an environment where he usually needs all his paws to balance and move properly; it is easier to climb with all his paws on uneven surfaces and that is how he prefers to move. But it is only a little way.
On the edge of the waves he crouches to the ground and bows Majesty to the king, who turns away from the hatchlings now all fighting one dead claw bigger than all of them – they may yet win – and meets his eyes.
Hiccup closes those eyes momentarily, overwhelmed, but takes courage from Toothless who has accompanied him as always and lets the king look into him and see his request.
It is one he has asked before, it was part of the plan if they got this far, but he needs to be sure, because it is a dangerous thing, a mad thing. It is a Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss thing.
The young dragon shudders at the power of it and then sighs when the shakes have gone away, both relieved and afraid all over again. But he lifts his eyes and his paws and his heart and his mind and everything he is to Toothless, who embraces him and is both him and his.
Then, from his dragon-love’s back where he belongs and will always belong, Hiccup cries out to his family, calling them to him.
They have one last battle to win.