By sunrise, the campfire had died down, but the riders were warm enough against their dragons.
“Everyone up, the storm is over, we need to get moving!” Snotlout called out to the cave.
Slowly everyone stretched and rose from the cave floor.
“The sun’s only just rising, we should be able to get to Varan Island and get back to Berk in time” Fishlegs said sleepily as he stepped towards the mouth of the cave, and looked out at the horizon. There was a slight chill, but the sky was clear and blue.
“Alright,” Hicca stood and stretched. “Let’s get moving!” As she stretched, the helmet on her head slipped forward into her eye line, she forgot she had it on.
She took off the helmet and smiled slightly as she ran her hands over it, then she turned to Ruffnut. The tall blond stretched and scratched her head, it was then that she realised her helmet was gone, she turned to see Hicca holding it out for her. “Here, thanks for lending it to me.”
The two smiled as Ruffnut took her helmet back, “No problem, I’m glad it worked.”
She put her helmet back on, and the two turned back to their dragons. The teens quickly packed up their stuff and exited the cave, mounted their dragons, and took to the sky.
A little while later, the dragons were making steady progress. But Snotlout was wondering something, and when he saw Astrid off to one side of the group, he pulled up alongside her.
“Hey Astrid, can I ask you something?”
“What is it, Snotlout?” She asked tiredly, thinking he was coming to simply flirt with her again.
“I was wondering, how did you know what to say to Hic?”
She hadn’t been expecting that, “What do you mean?”
Snotlout rubbed the back of his neck nervously, “It’s just... It was almost like... I mean... like you were... talking from experience?”
She just stared at him for a moment as he turned away and hoped he was wrong.
There was a long silence. Then Astrid’s expression turned slightly sad, she tugged on Stomfly’s reins, causing her to slow and fall further behind the rest of the group. She gestured for Snotlout to do the same, and he followed curiously.
The two were now flying a little way behind the others, but they still flew in silence for a little while longer. Snotlout was starting to worry, and Astrid looked as though she was thinking hard.
Then she finally spoke.
“It’s not personally experience.”
Snotlout released a huge sigh of relief, having his cousin go through such as thing was bad enough, but his friend as well...
“But...” She started again, and Snotlout drew in another breath. “My mother has had personal experience, and she taught me everything about it.”
“Um... w-was she...?” Snotlout was curious, but at the same time he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to ask.
“She was. About 17 years ago, Berk was attacked by another tribe, my mother and a few others were kidnapped. When she and the others were finally rescued... well... it was obvious what had happened to her,” Astrid answered quietly. “When my mother came back, she suffered all of the terrible after effects of rape.”
“After effects? You mean like nightmares?”
“Yeah... and also...” Astrid took a deep breath. She’d never admitted this to anyone before, but ever since she’d found out, she’d desperately wanted someone to talk to. She thought about talking to Hicca, but she had her own experiences to deal with now, Astrid wondered if she could tell Snotlout. She looked at him and studied his face.
He looked genuinely concerned. He wasn’t looking to make a flirty remark, or some kind of sexual innuendo, he honestly wanted to be there for his friend. Astrid decided to trust him.
“Another possible outcome of rape... is pregnancy,” Astrid turned away as she remembered what her mother had told her all those years ago. “I was a product of rape.”
Snotlout was too shocked to say anything. What could he say? His friend had just admitted something that he never would have expected from her, was there anything he could say?
Snotlout’s family were related to the chief’s bloodline, but Astrid’s family had been loyal to the chiefs for decades, almost going all the way back to the very first Hooligan chief. The Hofferson’s were respected among the Hooligan tribe, and word of a bastard child could have caused serious problems for them. It’s no wonder Astrid’s parents had kept it quiet. Only Stoick and Gothi knew the truth about Astrid’s conception, thankfully everyone else in the village just assumed that Asvaldr Hofferson was Astrid’s real father. They had planned to kill the bastard child once it was born, and simply claim that there had been complications during the birth.
But after nine months of carrying the baby, feeling it kick and wondering what he or she was going to look like, and then holding the tiny and helpless girl in their arms... they didn’t have the heart to go through with it. This child was not responsible for what happened, and had no control over how she was created, the two adults made the decision to protect her instead. They trained her to be brave and strong, and had prepared her for anything... including the possibility of her being raped as well.
Astrid’s mother had told her all of this when she was younger, and now Astrid was telling Snotlout. She held her breath and waited for his response.
Snotlout thought for a while, then decided on his words. “I’m sorry your mother had to go through that, but... at the same time, I’m really glad you’re here.” He turned and gave Astrid a genuine caring smile, “This has been an ordeal for all of us, and I really want to try and be there for Hicca, but I really don’t know what I’m doing. So, thank you, for helping her.”
Astrid did not blush at that last comment.
She hid her face and forced Stormfly forward to catch up with the others, Snotlout gave a small laugh and followed.
On Berk, in the grand hall, Stoick looked out the window at the dark clouds.
They were finally rolling away from the island, and thankfully the dragons had helped keep the damage to a minimum. Even without the riders here, the beast’s natural protective and territorial instincts had directed them to dig trenches for the water to drain away, and to herd the cattle to safety.
But Stoick was more worried for the dragons flying out at sea. Most specifically, the people riding said dragons.
Had they been caught in the storm, or had they been able to find shelter in time. He really had no clue, but he trusted Hicca and the others. The twins may not be the brightest sparks, Snotlout was a little too straight forward, Fishlegs was still nervous most of the time, and Astrid and Hicca could both be very stubborn. But one thing they all shared, was good instincts.
He was sure they’d be able to get to Varan Island just fine, the question was, what would happen once they got there?
Hicca had been told by Skadi what to do, but some of the facts were still sketchy.
He opened the large doors to grand hall, and allowed the other villagers to finally get some fresh air. As they exited the building, Stoick was approached by Gobber.
“She’ll be fine you know, a storm like that won’t be enough t’ stop her and the others,” he said to reassure the chief.
“I know, I’m not worried about her getting through the storm, I’m worried about what’ll happen once she actually gets to the island,” Stoick said honestly.
“Why? What’s rattling around in yer’ head?”
“Skadi... is she really trying to help Hicca? And why does she need to go all the way to Varan Island?”
“I’m sure Skadi isn’t trying t’ trick her. Hicca’s got a good head on her shoulders, and if she trusts Skadi, then I’m sure we can as well.”
“I hope so, but Hicca can be too trusting, I worried that one of these days, someone is going to abuse that trust.”
Gobber and Stoick both hated that thought, and they were silent for a moment. But then Gobber gave a small smile, “You and Hicca really are alike.”
“What do you mean?”
“You both keep forgetting yer’ not alone in all of this.” Stoick could only stand still as he processed what Gobber was saying. “Hicca may be the type of person who wants t’ solve her problems on her own, but she has a dragon and a good group of friends who will help her regardless.”
Stoick gave a small smile and nodded, “You’re right. But I fail to see how I’m similar in that regard.”
Gobber could only laugh, “You really don’t see it? Yer’ not the only one worried about Hicca and the others, this entire tribe, young and old, are all worrying and praying for their safe return. If something happens t’ her, everyone is going t’ fight with everything they have t’ get her back. Now, do you really think Hicca is going t’ let so many people down.” Stoick gave a slight smile and shook his head. “You’ll see, they’ll come back safe. In the mean time, we need t’ get ready for that God and the Berserker ships.”
With that, Gobber and Stoick descended the stairs and walked back to the village.
Meanwhile, somewhere over the ocean, the dragon riders were getting closer to their destination.
Ruffnut was the first to spot it in the distance. She suddenly sat up and pointed across the ocean to a small grey blob. “Hey, I think I see it!” She called to the others.
They all looked up and one by one they spotted the land mass. Fishlegs quickly grabbed the map and tracked their position, the island in front of them was definitely Varan Island.
“That’s it, we’re almost there.”
The dragons sped up and they could soon see the island more clearly. It was just like in Hicca’s dream, quite small, with a grassy plain surrounded by sandy beaches, and a large ring of trees surrounding a grand statue.
But as they prepared to land on the grass, the dragons suddenly pulled back, some of them gave a screech and quickly rose back into the air
“Hookfang, calm down!” Snotlout shouted, trying to hold on as Hookfang shook his head wildly.
Tuffnut gripped tightly to Belch’s horns, “What’s going on?”
“It’s like our dragons have gone crazy!” Ruffnut yelled back.
“Toothless, what’s wrong?” Hicca asked worriedly, remembering the last time Toothless’s flying had been off.
“Whoa girl, it’s okay. I don’t think they want to land on the island,” Fishlegs said as he patted Meatlug on the head.
“But why, it’s just another island,” Astrid said trying to control Stormfly.
“Actually it’s not,” Fishlegs pointed out. “Don’t forget this is the resting place of the very first Viking.”
“You think they can sense that there’s something different about this island?” Hicca wondered.
“It’s possible, let’s try landing in the shallow waters instead,” He called back.
The dragons were a little more relaxed about landing in the shallow waters , but they still took a few step back to be further away from the beach. Thankfully, the water only reached knee height, and the riders were able to dismount.
“Just wait here okay bud, we’ll be as quick as possible,” Hicca stroked Toothless’s snout once more before turning to the island.
“Maybe the dragons have the right idea,” Fishlegs said as he nervously followed the others. “Something feels really off about this island.”
He was right, there was a strange energy in the air, and it only grew as they reached the beach and made their way towards the tree line.
“We can’t turn back now,” Hicca said as she kept moving forward. “We’ve come too far already.”
The riders finally entered the tree circle, but then came to a stop as their eyes all fell on the grave. Hicca had already seen it in her dream, but it was a totally different feeling to see it standing proud in front of them.
“So what now,” Snotlout asked quietly.
Hicca didn’t answer, and instead stared moving forward again, but this time the others didn’t follow.
“Hicca? What is it?” Astrid asked, but Hicca kept walking and the others continued to watch.
As Hicca approached the grave, her footsteps slowed, until she was standing a foot away from the head stone, then she bent down and knelt before the grave. But she still didn’t know two things. Who was she praying to? And what was she praying for?
She had a gut feeling that she should pray to Skadi herself, since she was the only person Hicca trusted to help them against Loki. But what was she supposed to pray for? Power? A weapon? She wished she could speak to Skadi and ask her personally, she needed her advice.
From her kneeling position on the ground, she brought her hands in front and closed her eyes.
“Is she... praying?” Snotlout asked. The other tees were still watching Hicca from the tree line, unsure what they should do next.
Tuffnut and Ruffnut were the first to make a move. They looked at each other and nodded, then they faced forward and started walking towards Hicca.
“Ruff? Tuff? What are you two doing?” Astrid asked. But like Hicca, the two didn’t answer and kept walking until they were standing either side of Hicca.
Never in a million years did either of them think they would be here right now, standing beside Hicca as her friends.
The twins had always seen Hicca as frail and weak when they were younger, but they could also see that she was kind, and even though the twins were constantly causing trouble, she was one of the few people who never called them stupid or bothersome. She had every right to considering all the time they had teased and made fun of her, but she never did. Instead, after years of bullying, she had actually trusted them with a great big fire breathing monster, even they hadn’t expected that. No other person in the archipelago had ever put so much faith in them, everyone just assumed that they were stupid and would mess up even the simplest of tasks, but Hicca...
It was hard to express how grateful the twins were to her. They had always thought that because they were twins, they could never have their own individuality. But Hicca saw it. She saw right through Ruffnut’s hard shell, and brought out her motherly and caring nature, and she saw passed Tuffnut’s lack of concentration and forgetfulness, and saw his creativity and imagination. They still messed up from time to time, but she always forgave them and never gave up on them. She saw them as individuals, not just two halves of a set.
How were they ever supposed to thank her enough for that?
A good start would be to follow her lead, she was their leader after all. So, after a short while of just standing there, they sat on the ground either side of her, and also started to pray.
Hicca felt their presence and opened her eyes in surprise. She looked to her left and saw Ruffnut kneeling next to her, her hands pressed together and eyes closed, she opened one eye and gave Hicca a small smile before closing her eyes again. Hicca turned to her right and saw Tuffnut, he was sitting with his legs crossed and his hands pressed together tightly, his eyes were closed and his brow was furrowed heavily. It looked like he was thinking hard about something, Hicca didn’t know what, but just their presence beside her was heart warming.
Hicca closed her eyes once more and continued to pray, repeating Skadi’s name in her head like a chant.
Snotlout, Astrid and Fishlegs all watched from the side lines, still unsure of what to do. But as they watched the three pray together, it felt as though something was changing. They weren’t sure what exactly, but it helped them make up their minds, they looked at each other and nodded, then they all stepped forward and joined them.
Astrid kneeled beside Ruffnut and bowed her head, at the same time, Snotlout and Fishlegs sat to Tuffnut’s right and brought their hands together.
All six of them now prayed before the grave, and all at once, the air seemed to change. Without even realising it, one by one they all started praying for the same thing, Hicca being the last to do so. But it was her inner words alongside the others that finally opened the gates.
‘Skadi... please help me.’
From the shallow waters before the beach of Varan Island, the dragons felt the energy of the island shift.
It had already felt ominous to begin with, but now it was starting to pulse, radiating a power that seemed to grow by the second. Toothless instantly wanted to run forward and find his human to make sure she was alright, but the island’s energy was still preventing him from getting close. He couldn’t explain it, but he just knew it was wrong for him to set foot on that land mass, he still had that feeling while standing in the water, but it was greatly lessened.
The other dragons could feel it too, they all knew their riders were at the centre of the power and they were understandably worried. But then a new sensation spread through them. It was cold, but familiar, they didn’t know how, but they just knew their riders would be alright.
At least... they hopped so.
In the centre of the tree ring, the air seemed to explode in that second, instantly become heavy, and filled with some sort of power.
The teens could all feel it, and their eyes snapped open to try and see what was happening. They watched as the world around them dissolved into blinding light, and the ground under their feet faded away.
They were suddenly falling.
“What’s happening!?” Snotlout yelled.
“I think the praying worked!!” Tuffnut yelled. He and Ruffnut had spread their arms out to the side, as though they were pretending to fly, the fear of falling to their deaths was apparently lost on them.
That feeling was not lost on the others however, and as they saw a tiled floor came into view, the screaming started, and their arms came forward to try and shield their faces.
Suddenly their rapid decent stopped, but no pain came with it.
Hicca slowly opened her eyes and moved her hands away from her face, only to see the ground inches below her.
“Are we... floating?” Astrid asked in surprise.
“... That’s so cool!” Ruffnut said as she and her brother high-fived.
The clapping sound seemed to break the trance around them, and they all fell to the ground heavily. With a series of groans they rose to their feet.
“Oh great, we broke it,” Tuffnut grumbled.
“Yeah, whatever it was,” Ruffnut responded.
Once Fishlegs was back on his shaky feet he looked around them, but he could only gape at what he saw. “Uh... guys...” he said shakily.
The others turned to him, as they did so, they also took in their surroundings. Their eyes widened at what they saw, and Hicca remembered where she had seen this place before.
She had seen these tall and marble walls before, and those beautiful woven tapestries hanging from the ceiling. She remembered it from the very first dream she’d had after fusing with Skadi, a scene from her past, from the time she’d stormed into the home of the gods to seek vengeance for her father.
“Where are we?” Astrid said in a whispered tone.
Hicca answered also in a quiet tone, “...Asgard... This is Asgard.”
“Wait, what!?” Fishlegs almost screeched.
“Oh great, we’re dead! I knew following you would eventually lead to my death,” Snotlout shouted pointing an accusing finger at Hicca.
But Hicca remained calm, “We’re not dead, and stop yelling... we’re in the presence of the gods.”
Snotlout and the other’s did as they were told, and then slowly looked around them. Just like in Hiccas dream, they were surrounded by shadowy figures, then they became clearer and took the form of people, men and women all clad in armour and carrying magnificent weapons. But the difference between the dream and now, was that now the gods and goddesses were looking straight at them, this was not a memory.
“Hicca!” A familiar female voice shouted over the crowd.
“S-Skadi?” Hicca whispered.
The white hair goddess shoved her way through the crowd and rushed towards Hicca, collapsing to her knees and throwing her arms around Hicca’s neck, holding her close like a mother embracing their child.
“Thank goodness you’re alright,” she said shakily. Hicca smiled in relief and hugged Skadi back
The others were stunned as they watched the goddess hugging their friend, they’d only ever seen Skadi as serious and somewhat frightening woman, but now they were seeing a different side of her entirely.
Skadi finally pulled away and looked at Hicca’s face, she frowned at the sight her short hair, and brushed her thumb over Hicca’s nose and cheek, following the line of the scar. “I’m so sorry... I couldn’t do anything to stop him,” she said quietly.
“No, it’s my fault, I just wanted to protect you.”
Skadi gave a sad smile, “You did a good job, I’m just glad you got my message, I was worried it wouldn’t get to you.”
“Well, I’m here now. But how did praying work?”
“That’s one of the things about being a God. We can’t do much up here, but our powers grow stronger when people believe in us, and when they pray to us. I needed you to pray so that I could use my powers to bring you here”
Hicca then remembered their current situation, “But now what? Loki will be at Berk the day after tomorrow, and we have no way of stopping him.”
Skadi gave a small smile, “Hey, I thought we agreed on this. We’re working together now.”
Hicca returned the smile, she and Skadi did promise such a thing. After Hicca had been rescued, she and Skadi promised to fight together from then on, instead of one just protecting the other. But Skadi had wanted to repay Hicca for protecting her, so she’d taken control and fought against Dagur... but she’d lost.But now they had another chance, and this time they were going to win.