The first reds and oranges were painting the sky with their soft colors. It would have made for a beautiful vista, except for where this vista was.
The loneliness surrounding me was so profound that the colors in the sky looked more muted than they really were. I stayed awake throughout the night, unable to sleep. And I wasn't even tired right now, although I should have been. If anything, I was feeling a little nauseous. Couldn't tell if it was from all the worrying or the lightning bolt that struck Toothless and me last night.
Toothless hadn't moved or even shown signs of waking up soon. Occasionally, I heard him exhale, and that was it.
I sighed, trying to get some kind of movement in my legs. My hips felt like they were made out of fused iron. I could have sworn I heard them creaking when I straightened my legs out. My right foot and peg dragged slightly through the rocks on the beach. The water that was surrounding me and Toothless like a halo had disappeared. I guessed this beach drained quickly because it was rocky.
I stood gingerly, trying to find my balance. My head was spinning, making the nausea worse. Sat back down and waited for a little bit. Checked to my right to make sure there was nothing that would get mad at me if I vomited on it. I took several deep, slow breaths in an attempt to clear my head. After a short time, the nausea returned to somewhat tolerable.
I tried standing again. This time, I moved a lot slower, making sure I wasn't feeling that sickening wave again. Got to my feet after probably a couple of minutes and looked at Toothless in the strengthening light. Still in the same position, still barely breathing. Tail and support rod still fused together.
I should just remove that rod while he's asleep, I thought. Toothless might not feel any pain if I do that. I mulled that idea over in my head several times before deciding against it. I didn't have anything to stop any blood flow if the rod was embedded that deep into his skin. And if Toothless wasn't awake, he'd have no way to take care of himself. Pulling the rod out of his tail would have resulted in his death from blood loss. Logic wasn't the only voice telling me that. After all this sour luck, I wouldn't have been surprised if he did bleed.
I looked at Toothless’ face. His grimace was gone, and his eyes weren't tightly shut anymore. Somebody who was oblivious to what had happened to us would have thought Toothless was just sleeping.
"I'm gonna see what I can find. I'll be back soon," I whispered to him. Knelt slowly and stroked the top of his head. I really wished he'd wake up soon. It was selfish, but I'd have someone to share in this loneliness.
I stood and slowly made my way toward the mountain in the center of this island. Walking was challenging enough on its own, considering I had no traction with my peg on the rocky beach. And I was still a little dizzy and nauseous, which made it even more difficult.
The terrain flattened enough for me to start walking around the mountain in hopes of finding something. Anything. I turned left and began easing away from Toothless.
After maybe ten minutes of walking and slipping, I saw a few ominous figures in front of me. I gulped, my heart rate quickening, but pressed on. Maybe there was shelter. Or food. Or water.
As the shapes began to focus, my heart sank. I remembered this place all too well. It was where Toothless and I challenged the Red Death. Where we convinced Vikings to support rather than fight dragons. Where I lost my left leg. I stopped, my eyes beginning to water. I didn't want to have to go through all those memories again. They were bad enough once. And they felt awfully similar to what I was going through now. All I could think of was how Toothless was ripped from me that day in the arena. I remembered how it felt and sounded when I watched that Viking ram him in the back of his jaw. And I remembered feeling how the world was going to end that day. Several tears escaped my eyes and ran down my face, but I continued forward.
We had six boats here that fateful day. Two of them were somewhat intact. The other four were now leaky messes of wood, thanks to the surf and rocks. There were several rusted weapons just barely out of the water's reach, telling me where the tide peaked each day. The beach was still dotted with six-foot-long sharpened stakes pointing toward the mountain. Toward the crater that the Red Death crashed out of when it attacked.
This place was once an unforgiving home to an entire horde of dragons. Now only ghosts lived here.
I peeked into the first boat that looked intact. It was only a shell of wood. Somehow, the inside of the boat had been removed, like it had been carved out by a large knife. A few rusted swords and maces were sitting underneath about a foot of salt water, giving it a brownish tint.
Heading toward the second boat, I knew supplies probably weren't going to be around. Maybe there was shelter nearby in case we needed it. If nothing else, I could somehow get Toothless over here and we could hide in the crater the Red Death created. Where Toothless was lying, there was nothing to cover us. No entrances into the mountain or natural roofs.
The second boat was listing at a decent angle. Looking inside revealed it to be almost untouched. Probably because it either ran aground or the tide pushed it here over several months. But the hull was almost completely intact with only a few planks missing.
I climbed onto the lower side of the boat and looked into the hold. Several swords, all of them showing at least some rusting. But this area could do for shelter. If I got the weapons out of the way, it just might work.
Even with this shelter though, we weren't any better off just because of protection from rain. Toothless and I were still bereft of food and water. I glanced toward the ocean. East, if I knew my directions. And as my luck would have it, there was another thunderstorm. Flashes of lightning were dotting the sky in the distance, but no thunder reached my ears. I had no idea which direction the storm was headed, but I wasn't going to take any chances with this. Another downpour, and Toothless stood a good chance of drowning in his little hollow.
I sighed, listening to the ghosts and their silent conversations in this graveyard. I decided we'd take shelter in the mountain for the night because it was easier to reach than the hold of a listing boat. I turned around and started back toward Toothless.
Please, just let someone find me and Toothless, I thought. I want to go home. I wanted to be sitting at my table in front of a welcoming hearth. And Toothless would be curled up about five feet away from me with his eyes closed but not really sleeping. Just keeping me company, because that was what he did best.
A wing about a hundred feet away caught my attention. It was black, telling me Toothless was still there. I walked as fast as I could on this terrain and noticed he was lying in a different position than when I left him. Either someone got here and moved him or he moved himself.
I neared Toothless, ready to greet him with the usual Hey there, bud, but stopped short of him. Instead of a greeting, a choke forced itself out of my throat.
Toothless was in front of me; there was no doubt about that. And nobody was around, so he must have dragged himself here. He was lying on his right side this time, his left side and wing facing skyward. And the skin on his left side wasn't black anymore. It was a mottled dark grey.
Toothless had been lying in that pool for so long that his hide had become waterlogged. Even his face had that same look. I almost couldn't tell where his eye was because his skin was so swollen with water. He was barely breathing, but I had no idea if that was good or bad.
I collapsed on my hands and knees about two feet away from him. The area around him smelled awful. It was that rotting scent, like a week after an animal dies and decay starts its work. Toothless’ left side was peppered with small open wounds that looked to be oozing small amounts of blood.
"Toothless, no…" I choked out, as if those words were going to keep him alive. I sat back on my knees and stroked the top of his head gently. His skin was much cooler than normal when I touched it. "Please, Toothless, wake up," I whispered to him. "Wake up."
If there ever was a time when I wished for a miracle, this was it. Toothless didn't deserve to go through this pain and suffering. Somehow, I just wanted to make his pain go away. Even if it meant trading places with him.
I collapsed with a long groan on my back from exhaustion and worry. This was too much for me to handle. I wasn't sure if I had anything to be grateful for, but I knew Toothless was alive, if only barely. My left hand found the top of his head, and I let my fingers trace over his skin. If nothing else, I wanted Toothless to know I wasn't going anywhere. I might not have been able to protect him, but I wasn't going to leave his side.
It was cloudy, although the clouds were bright enough to show the time was around midday or so.
Toothless was still in his spot, barely breathing. I guessed I had spent three hours passed out on the beach next to him. And that thunderstorm I was worried about was getting closer to Dragon Island. I still couldn't hear any thunder, but the lightning was definitely closer now.
I sat up with a grunt just as a low swishing sound caught my attention. It was to my left, maybe about a hundred feet away.
I heard a girl groan in frustration as the swishing stopped. It sounded like Astrid. No, it couldn't be. I was hallucinating. Really, why should my fortune smile at me?
"I am going to kill him," Astrid said through clenched teeth. She sounded too real to be a hallucination, so I stood and looked left, hoping she wasn't griping about me.
Astrid and Stormfly couldn't have looked more pleasing to me even if they were bathed in a shaft of holy light and accompanied by Odin himself.
"HICCUP!" she shouted. She took off running toward me. Stormfly grunted in an effort to keep up. Astrid bounded toward me just as I got around Toothless and wrapped me in a hug I wasn't ready for. I collapsed on my rear with a groan, reminded of how weak I was from no food or water.
"You had me worried sick! Don't ever do this to me again…" she paused mid-thought as her eyes lost focus slightly. "And what is that smell!?" Astrid stood away from me and looked around briefly, trying to locate what she was smelling. It didn't take long for her eyes to find Toothless and his mottled grey hide. Astrid stood rooted to her spot, her eyes wide in horror.
I didn't have the energy to get back to my feet for a little while, so I just sat there. Looked up at Astrid and said, "Please, you've gotta help Toothless."
"H-how long have you been here?" she asked slowly.
"I don't know. A day, maybe?"
"What happened to Toothless?"
I took a deep breath, not wanting to go through this again. "Uh, okay. Mildew tried to kill him, so I left Berk with Toothless. We were almost here when a lightning bolt struck him in the tail."
"And it did that to his side?"
"No, I…I think that's from the water. He was lying on that side for a long time while the rain was falling."
Astrid stared at Toothless again. Just like me, she couldn't believe both of us were surviving so much turmoil. She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. I watched as a tear rolled slowly down her face. She didn't try to get rid of it.
"Hiccup, I'm…I'm sorry. You should never have to go through this. I feel like I coulda done something to keep Mildew away from you."
I looked down, not saying anything. Mildew or not, Toothless and I were stuck here on Dragon Island with no hope of leaving anytime soon. The only feasible way to get Toothless off this island was by boat.
Astrid took a deep breath as Stormfly shuffled over to us. She moaned softly, telling us she had seen Toothless and me.
I heard Astrid sit down next to me. She put her hand over my left arm. I looked at her, seeing the deep concern behind her eyes. "What can I do?" she asked quietly.
I looked toward Berk, noticing the thunderstorm was inching its way between us and home. "How fast can you get home and back?" I asked.
She shrugged. "Pretty fast. Why?"
"We need food, water and supplies." Astrid looked at me without a change in her expression. It was her way of telling me to continue. "Toothless needs a basket of fish. I need something cooked. We all need water. And bring a large sponge with water for Toothless’ side."
Astrid stood up without a second thought. "Anything else?" she asked, like it was nothing to get all of that stuff here. I shook my head without looking at her. Astrid got onto Stormfly's back, and they took off. Leaving me and Toothless alone once more.
For the better part of an hour, I sat next to Toothless. I kept my hand on his head, letting him know I was going to be here for him. I told him several times he was going to be okay, that he was going to live through this.
Stormfly's wings flapping caught my attention. She and Astrid landed after about an hour of being gone. Stormfly's back was laden with supplies I probably didn't ask for, but I wasn't going to turn them down. It would have been dumb to try playing the stereotypical Viking when I wasn't sure if I'd live another day without food or water.
"RRRRRGH!" Astrid shouted as she dismounted. "I'm really going to kill him!"
I looked up at her and cringed slightly. Now wasn't a good time for me to see or talk to someone who was irate. I watched as Astrid closed her eyes, trying to get rid of her anger.
"All right," she said with a long sigh. "We've gotta get Toothless under something."
"Anything close?" I asked.
She jerked her thumb in a direction behind herself. "Yeah, there's some kind of hollow in the mountain that way. That storm is moving too fast to wait."
Great, I thought. I turned back to Toothless and ran my fingers over his head gently. "C'mon, buddy," I pleaded. "Wake up."
Toothless exhaled deeply with a soft groan. I closed my eyes and sighed in relief. That small groan was the best thing I had heard for several days, if not longer. I continued knuckling over his head, waiting for him to decide.
He groaned again and stirred this time. His left eye barely moved from being so waterlogged, but I saw him try to move his right side.
"You can do this," I said gently. Lifted slightly on his right side in an effort to help him up. Toothless got the idea and groaned again, trying to get himself on his feet. It took him about two minutes, but he eventually rolled onto his front, his legs underneath him. Now all he had to do was stand. His dry side was facing me, so I scratched gently over his neck and flank. Toothless looked at me with his open eye knowingly, like he was thanking me for being there during his darkest hour. When he needed me there for him the most.
"I need a fish," I told Astrid. Seconds later, she was pressing a raw fish into my left hand. I held it in front of Toothless, hoping he'd get the message about having to move. He focused on it and crawled forward, barely keeping his chest off the rocks. "Astrid, tell me where to go," I said.
"Straight back, about fifty feet," she replied. I heard her take Stormfly in that direction.
That's it, I thought. I kept eye contact with Toothless, holding the distance between us constant. Didn't want him to give up and become stranded again. He had a noticeable limp on his left side. Every time he took a step, the blood oozed out of his skin a little more.
"Keep coming, Hiccup. You're almost here," Astrid told me.
Maybe ten seconds after she warned me, a shadow fell over my eyes. This was the shelter she was talking about. Toothless continued forward, panting slightly from the pain. His open eye was showing way too much effort just to walk.
"Okay," she said.
I held the fish out for Toothless. He crept up to me and gingerly took the fish from my hand. Painstakingly swallowed, then collapsed with a long moan on his front. By the time he hit the ground, I had another fish ready for him. Held it in front of his snout. He went through the same routine, slowly pulling the fish out of my hand and taking his time in swallowing it. There was no initial grunt thanking me for the food, no sense of urgency to finish any part of this meal. I had no idea how hungry Toothless was, so I kept giving him fish at his pace until he decided to stop.
"When do you want your meal, Hiccup?" Astrid said while I was feeding Toothless.
"When I've gotten water to Toothless," I said without thought.
It wasn't much longer until Toothless sighed and wouldn't eat anything else. Before I could say anything, Astrid put a bucket of water at my left knee. I held it in front of Toothless’ snout, watching it curl slightly as he smelled what was in front of him. He groaned slightly, lifting his head and began drinking.
Toothless emptied the bucket quickly and lay on his front with a long, low moan.
Astrid must have done this before because she had my fish ready for me. It was lukewarm, but I couldn't be picky about it. I ate in silence, except for the wind and the surf.
"I'm jealous of you, Hiccup," Astrid said, breaking the silence between us.
"Hm?" I asked, my mouth full of fish.
"You picked a really good dragon. I kinda wish I would have been the one to find him."
I didn't know what to say. I put my fish down because I was finished with it and moved toward the sponge and bucket of water. We had several loose-fitting lids around the village that we could use to cover buckets. Made transporting them between islands much easier.
"As long as you're together, Mildew can't stand up to you for very long," she continued as I got the sponge wet.
I scoffed a little at her conjecture. "Well, as long as he has his little group, I don't think we can do very much about it."
"He's losing people left and right. They've been on this huge quest to find Toothless, and they can't. Mildew thinks Berk is still getting hammered by storms because Toothless is somewhere on the island."
"So they don't believe him anymore?" I asked.
"Most of them think he's gone insane. He's trying to tell everyone that all of the gods are angry at us for hiding a Night Fury, and that's why the storms have been so bad."
"Well, I am hiding a Night Fury, if you think about it," I said, my sense of sarcasm returning. Astrid put her forehead in her right hand and shook her head with a small grin. I paused for a little bit, then asked, "Who were you bent on killing?"
Astrid looked at me and, without missing a beat, said, "Mildew. He thinks he owns Berk now. The people who are still following him have the island locked down. They'll try to kill any dragon they see. And they're not letting your dad be chief."
"They're always distracting him with problems that don't exist. They always say the problems are somewhere away from the village and that they're urgent."
"Does he believe them?"
"Not anymore. Your dad's back to doing his regular job now. He basically ignores them."
I heard a few raindrops splash onto the rocky beach in front of us. I knew this shelter was the best we were going to get for tonight. And I had someone to share in the isolation I had been feeling for the last day or so.
I sat down next to Toothless’ waterlogged side and began dabbing gently at his open sores. Luckily, Astrid thought to bring seaweed with her, so each time I finished with a spot, she laid the seaweed over it. Each time one of us touched Toothless’ side, he tensed slightly. I felt like we were going through the same agony as when we removed all those rock shards from Stormfly's feet. But this time, I felt worse. Because it was my dragon in pain.
"D'you think he'll be okay?" Astrid said as we neared finishing with Toothless’ side.
I shrugged. "I really hope so."
The rain turned into a wall of water cascading down the mountain and into the ocean. I put both buckets out so that they'd catch rain water for us to drink. It took maybe five minutes to fill them. I brought them back and held one in front of Toothless’ snout. He cleaned it out quickly, so he must have been feeling at least a little better. He drank some of the water from the second bucket before taking a deep breath and putting his head on his paws. And quietly fell asleep.
I watched as Astrid stroked his flank underneath his wing. Took a deep breath and said, "Thanks, Astrid."
She looked at me and said, "For what?"