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*Set after The Serpent's Heir.


Chapter 1: Beginning

Hiccup was leafing through the Book of Dragons. The rustle of pages was the only sound in the Great Hall, apart from Fishlegs' constant fidgeting in his attempts to stay quiet. He finally gasped. Hiccup hadn't realized he was holding his breath. "Hiccup, I can't take it anymore," Fishlegs finally blurted out. "I want to go open about this. Will you please just hurry up? We haven't found out a lot of information on this new dragon and there's nothing you can do about that. Red Ghosts are like, well, ghosts. We only found them by chance."

Hiccup sighed. Maybe if he ignored him, Fishlegs would stay quiet. Hiccup frowned at Fishlegs, and went back to the Book. "Hiccuuuuuuuup..." Fishlegs moaned. Hiccup sighed again, and looked at him. "What? What is it, what do you want?" he asked.

"Hiccup, I can't stand not being able to tell everyone about what we've found, and it's driving me insane." Fishlegs said. "So can we please just get this over with as soon as possible?" he added. Hiccup stared at him, wondering how someone so intelligent could be so forgetful. This guy remembered every single fact about dragons there was to know, but he couldn't remember what he ate for breakfast an hour ago. "Fishlegs, I've told you, I want to give a Red Ghost to Astrid as gift to her." Hiccup told him. "If you could please be quiet, the whole village would not wake up and come to see what we're doing."

"Well, why me? Why didn't you get Snotlout or the twins, or even your mother to help? Why, out of all the people on this island, did you choose me?" Fishlegs ranted. Hiccup hurriedly shushed him. "Well, you know my mom isn't very good at hiding things, and she would probably act suspiciously around Astrid, and Snotlout and the twins are just, Snotlout and the twins." Fishlegs pondered for a bit. That was true. Valka was a dragon expert, but not so much at lying or at least covering something up. and then there was the three troublemakers. Hiccup had hit the nail right on the head with that one. Telling them to keep a secret would be like telling them to make it breaking news in all the nine realms.

All in all, he was probably the best choice that Hiccup had. "Okay Hiccup, you're right. Come on, let's go to Phantom Island. We can visit Soul. He could help us with our research, and we could train him along the way," Fishlegs beamed. Hiccup smiled and went out to Toothless, closely followed by Fishlegs, who was now telling Meatlug to "Get up, girl." Hiccup got on the still sleepy Toothless, and they flew off to Phantom Island, the uncharted island that was home to Red Ghosts.

=0=

Upon landing on the rocky beach, they were almost immediately greeted by a friendly roar. An enormous, majestic red dragon, with gargantuan wings and spikes and horns that could easily gut anything, crashed through the trees and fell at their feet, panting. Soul got up, and licked Toothless and Meatlug. Then those empty eyes, glowing red and devoid of pupils, settled on Hiccup and Fishlegs. It's horned, pointed snout nosed the two of them gently, until they patted him and rubbed their hands along the length of his horn. He jumped around happily, not unlike an excited dog, then shot a single celebratory ball of fire into the sky.

Red flames and streamers of fire erupted from Soul's mouth and in that moment, he looked extremely terrifying. The power and heat that radiated from him hinted at his true nature as the alpha and leader of the Red Ghosts, a great and powerful position that even the Alpha of all dragons acknowledged. Toothless gave out a faint growl from within the deep recesses of his throat, and his mouth, his nostrils, and the ridges on his spine and between his eyes momentarily glowed blue. Soul extinguished the fire in his mouth, and gave another roar of welcome, a gigantic thing in and of itself, multilayered sound that would have killed you with fright if you didn't know what made it.

"Hey, whaddya say we train a bit, huh?" Hiccup said when that terrifying sound had stopped. "We can practice the old tricks and I'll teach you new ones," he said cheerfully. "Well, Soul? How about it?"

Soul happily licked him and Fishlegs.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'," Hiccup grinned. He walked towards the side of the island that they used for training. Soul happily bounded along behind him, every once in a while crashing into or jumping on Meatlug or Toothless due to his recklessness. Hiccup climbed over a few boulders and jumped into the clearing, or Soul's training ground, and gasped at what he saw.

On the beach lay a dead Bewilderbeast. Blood flowed from the fresh wounds in its head, body, tail, and stomach. It looked like it had been killed viciously by another dragon, more powerful than it. But what was more powerful than a Bewilderbeast, that could have done this? The wounds were too large to be from claws. Fishlegs clambered up the boulders, slipped and fell down behind him. He got up. "Hiccup? What's wrong..." he trailed off, now seeing the dead Bewilderbeast. Hiccup's heart and mind raced. The holes in its body were too large for a harpoon, so what could have done this? Certainly not another Bewilderbeast. He had spotted this one, ashen white with gray spikes on the back of its neck and spine. It had been the only one in the vicinity. The only other one he knew the location of was a smaller one that lived quite far away from Phantom Island. Its tusks had been underdeveloped, little more than extended, thin stubs. It could never have done this. But then what could have?

Chapter 2: Mystery

"What could have done this?" Hiccup said, shocked, this being the first thing either of them had spoken in several seconds.

"I-I don't know, Hiccup," Fishlegs replied. "Oh no," he said quickly after. "I think I'm going to-" He hurried away and hurled the remains of dinner out behind a bush. Hiccup did not look. He was feeling just as queasy, and he didn't want to throw up as well.

"We're going to have to see what caused this," he said. Fishlegs, drinking water from a flask, almost spat it out.

"Hiccup, you know I can't stomach this."

"Well, it looks like there's nothing left inside to come back out, so you might as well. Besides, this could be bad. I don't know if there's anything that could kill a Bewilderbeast, apart from another Bewilderbeast, a Foreverwing, or a Red Death. And there's almost no chance of any of those attacking one another, because the first two are usually gentle, and Red Deaths are incredibly rare. They're as rare as Night Furies for Thor's sake. And these wounds aren't from any of those anyway," Hiccup added. "They're too big."

"Harpoons? Ballista bolts? Something else from dragon hunters?" Fishlegs suggested.

"Too big for any of those too," Hiccup said, shaking his head. "I don't know any weapons that could have caused this. The only explanation is some sort of dragon."

Fishlegs made that strange squeaking sound he always made whenever he didn't want something to happen, but followed after Hiccup as he slowly walked towards the Bewilderbeast body.

Close up, the wounds looked even bigger. They were as wide as tunnels made by young Whispering Deaths.

"Fishlegs," Hiccup called. He gestured towards the wounds. "Whispering Death?"

Fishlegs shook his head. "They're smaller. And there aren't any Whispering Deaths around for a hundred miles."

Hiccup was silent for a bit. Then he spoke.

"I'm going to have to go inside."

Fishlegs looked ready to collapse. As a matter of fact, he did sag against Meatlug for support, but regained his composure after a few seconds. He swallowed. "Do whatever you need to."

"Come on, bud," Hiccup said quietly to Toothless. They went up to the Bewilderbeast, and Hiccup got on Toothless. Slowly, with a gentle flap of wings, Toothless rose up into the air and moved towards one of the gaping wounds.

Hiccup tried not to look at the scarlet, dripping flesh, but instead at where the hole lead. Suddenly, he frowned, all else forgotten. The wounds were very straight, and weren't like you would expect from a Whispering Death, tunneling about here and there like a worm in the ground. Instead, they opened up on the other side. There were a lot of them, but they were smooth and straight, clean wounds like you would get from a sword stab. A gigantic sword wielded by the gods. If it had been from a Whispering Death, or some sort of giant flesh-eating worm, these wounds would be all over the place, turning and twisting and tunneling around inside. You would expect them to be more ragged. These ones were perfect, precise cuts, like some maniac had decided to cut you in random places, but would do it very carefully where he chose to cut you open.

Hiccup patted Toothless, and they landed. He had seen everything he needed to.

"What is it?" Fishlegs asked, a noticeable tremor in his voice.

"This is completely different from anything we've seen before. It's completely clean, like it got shot by a giant arrow and the arrow went straight through and out the other side."

"What are you saying?" Fishlegs asked nervously.

"I'm saying that this is really, really bad. We need to figure this out before anything else happens, because I'm pretty sure that something else will happen."

"So what should we do?"

Hiccup thought about it for a moment, then looked up. "We'll go back to Berk. I'll look through the Book of Dragons, and you look at your dragon cards. See if there's anything that could have done this. And rule out Whispering Deaths."

"But what if we don't find anything?"

Hiccup looked back at the Bewilderbeast for a moment. He turned back to Fishlegs. He had a look in his eyes that Fishlegs had seen plenty of times before. It was the look he got when he was completely and utterly determined to do something. "Then we go back to Dragon's Edge, and we use the Dragon Eye."

"Didn't we destroy both of them?" Fishlegs asked, surprised.

"We destroyed the ones you knew about. I made one more, for emergencies like this one, and I hid it away in a very safe, very secure place." He looked at Fishlegs, directly into his eyes.

"I made a vault in the volcano on the Edge."

"What?" Fishlegs asked incredulously, shocked and surprised, unable to believe how Hiccup could have managed something like that in secret, and all on his own.

"How did you manage that in secret, and all on your own?" he wondered aloud.

"Remember that one time last year when I went off for 3 months? That was when I did it. I designed and built the whole thing. And I wasn't alone, I had Toothless. Isn't that right, bud?" Hiccup said fondly, scratching his dragon under the chin. Soul, who had stayed away for the time, immediately came for petting of his own. Hiccup looked at him with a despairing grin, like the face of a parent who is starting to get irritated by their adorable toddler's constant need to be carried around.

"Alright, alright," Hiccup said, scratching Soul under his chin too. Soul closed his eyes, enjoying the treatment, perfectly content to just sit there and be scratched.

"Alright, that's enough," Hiccup said after a few seconds. "We're gonna have to go, big boy." Soul put on a sad expression.

"Sorry, but this is really important." Soul did not budge, and neither did his face.

"Okay, how about this? I'll give you a responsibility. You stay here and see that nothing happens while we're gone, and we'll be back in a while. Okay?"

Soul lumbered off towards the Bewilderbeast, and sat down.

"Alright bud, let's fly. Come on, Fishlegs," Hiccup said as he and Toothless took off. "We'll get to the bottom of this," he said, almost to himself. "Count on it."

Chapter 3: Discovery

When they got back to Berk, dawn was breaking over the island. It had taken them hours to fly to Phantom Island and back, using up the night that had cloaked them as they left. The people of Berk would start waking up any moment now, and they had to get back to how they should be before anyone suspected anything.

"Hello, boys," came a feminine voice from above them. Hiccup looked up to see Cloudjumper gliding steadily above him, Valka on his back.

"Oh, hey mom," Hiccup said guiltily. In truth, he had no reason to be feeling guilty, but this was a feeling he had every time his mother found him doing something she hadn't known about before.

"And what were you doing this time?" Valka said, a gracious smile on her face.

"Oh, nothing," Hiccup said, waving her away. "Just some early morning flights, as you do."

"That's strange," Valka remarked. "If you were out having an early morning flight, why didn't I see you?"

"Oh, ahh, well, you see, we were gone out a long way," Hiccup said jovially. "Just getting our dragons some nice stretches," he added, laughing nervously.

"I see. And where did you go, hmm?"

"Oh, you know," Hiccup said, with a laugh. "Here and there, and then everywhere."

"Hmm," Valka said, smiling. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

"What? No, no, never!" Hiccup said frantically.

"Very well then. I'm sure you have your reasons." Valka straightened up. "In the meantime, there is something that I have to tell you."

"Oh? What's that?"

"You'll see. Come." Valka flew off with Cloudjumper.

"Come on, Fishlegs. I suppose our bit of research can wait," Hiccup sighed, and flew away after his mother.

"Coming!" Fishlegs called, following them.

=0=

After some time, Cloudjumper stopped, hovering in the air, flapping his great wings almost silently.

"Look down there," Valka said. "What do you see?"

"An island?" Hiccup said, uncertain what he was supposed to be seeing.

"Look closer. There's something important on that island."

"Ahh, a beach? Rocks? Trees?" Hiccup asked.

"Close. Look for something alive."

"You mean the wild boars?" he said sarcastically. Then he frowned.

"Oh. I see what you mean."

"Yes. Them."

He hadn't been able to see them before while they were in the forest, but now that the Dragon Hunters had come out from the cover of the trees, they were, in their dark clothing, as clear against the yellow sand as blood on snow.

"What are they doing there? And whose Hunters are they?" Fishlegs wondered.

"They're not any of Drago's men, that's for sure," Hiccup said. "And they're not any of the Dragon Hunters we encountered outside the Archipelago."

"Outside the Archipelago?" Valka asked. "When was this?"

"Oh, a couple of years back. I'll tell you all about it later."

"I'd love to hear it. Now, what of these Hunters?"

After a few moments' pondering, Hiccup looked up at them, a mischievous smile on his face that they only rarely saw.

"I think we should go down there, give them something of a fright, and then we capture and interrogate them."

"Uh, Hiccup," Fishlegs said, motioning towards the Hunters. "I think someone's doing that already."

Hiccup looked back at the Hunters to see them cowering in front of a black dragon. A black dragon with a rider sitting on top of it. Hiccup couldn't see well enough to make out any special defining characteristics, but one thing was for sure. This dragon was massive, and he had a rider.

"Do you think that's their leader or their enemy?" he wondered.

"From the way he's got a sword to their throats, I think he's their enemy," Valka commented. Sure enough, the mystery man had dismounted his dragon and extracted a sword from somewhere on his person. He was now holding the silver blade to one of the Hunters' throats. The rest of the Hunters were getting whacked out of existence by the dragon.

"Well, you know what they say. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. What do you say we go down there and meet him?" Hiccup suggested.

"It's worth a try," Valka said.

"Hey," poor Fishlegs said, having been unable to get a word in edgeways for the last few minutes. "Don't you think we should confirm if he's on our side or not first?"

"You have a point, Fishlegs," Hiccup mused. "Let's just go and hide in the trees for a while. Hopefully, he won't see us, and we'll be able to figure out what's happening down there."

Valka and Fishlegs nodded, and they silently descended into the trees. The dragon, which Hiccup was now able to see clearly, looked at them with an almost bored expression on its smoothly rounded yet somewhat sharp triangular face, as though it didn't care for them.

It was definitely big, maybe even the size of a Sentinel. It looked like a mix between a Sentinel and an Eruptodon, holding itself up on two muscular looking legs, but not in the way Sentinels did, resting the front parts of their bodies on their wings. Instead, it stood like an Eruptodon, balancing on those two legs alone. Its scales were black as volcanic ash, just like an Eruptodon, but they had the same hard, rocky look that the scales of a Sentinel had. The tail started out thick, and thinned as it went down, but then ended in a strange sort of club, like a box of spikes in every conceivable direction. Its wings were another matter entirely. They were folded, but Hiccup could make out the shape of a Skrill's wings.

This dragon had everything, he realized. It was big, but it wasn't bulky, which meant it could fly faster than it would have otherwise. It was rough and jagged, but in such a way that it was still sleek and streamlined. It was big and presumably powerful, and it was tough and had an impenetrable hide, and it must have been suitably fast, and it was smart enough to show complicated emotions. This dragon was… something else.

Even though the dragon had seen them, its rider hadn't. The Hunter's back was to them, and they could see bits and pieces of the rider from between the leaves.

The clothes he wore were a mix of three and only three colours: black, silver and gold. The colours were arranged specifically around his clothes. The lower half of his apparel was black, with intricate, draconic silver embroidery going down the sides in a line. The top half of his clothing was black as well, but this time with simple gold lines used as highlights around his arms and torso. Clearly, he was all about being fancy while making an understatement of it.

Crouching in the trees, they managed to eavesdrop on what he was saying to the Hunter.

"Where are the eggs?" he was saying. His accent was unlike anything Hiccup had heard before. Elegant in an unassuming, almost unnoticeable way.

"I'm not going to tell you," came the swift response from the Hunter.

"Tell me, or I'll kill you right here and now."

"But if you kill me, you won't know where those dragon eggs are," the Hunter said smugly.

The mystery rider was quiet for a moment, then he spoke.

"Fine then. How does torture sound?"

"You can't do anything to me. I'm valuable to you, and you can't risk damaging me too much, or you'll never know what you want to know," the Hunter replied, the grin he wore not visible to them, but the grin in his voice very much distinguishable.

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure of that," the rider said, smiling. This was a fierce and ferocious smile, dangerous, with shark's teeth.

Nervously this time, his cockiness gone, the Hunter asked, "What do you mean?"

"You see, torture is about making it unbearable without making the victim hurt too much. And I'm sure I could do that. And if you're not cooperating," the rider said, smiling viciously, "I have contingency plans."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I don't know, I could kill you painfully, burn you with Singetail fire, wear you away with Changewing acid, crush you under a Catastrophic Quaken, impale you with Nadder spikes, shock you with a Skrill, and then, to top it all off, have you eaten by... well, something. I'm certain it doesn't matter what breed." And he gave the Hunter a polite smile, laced with undertones of pure malice.

In the forest, Fishlegs squeaked with terror. Hiccup quickly clapped a hand over his mouth. Thankfully, the unknown rider did not seem to have heard them.

The Hunter, clearly unnerved by this man's ruthless approach to things, quietly said, his voice trembling, "Th-this way sir. Just-just follow me."

"Good man. Wreckage, come," the rider said, the last part addressed to his dragon, who was apparently named Wreckage.

The Hunter gulped, and said, "If you wouldn't mind, could we just leave the dragon behind? He makes me nervous."

"Wreckage comes with me. I don't trust anyone who works for Myre, no matter how afraid of me they are," the rider said, holding up his sword. It caught the light and flashed in the morning sun, and from within the trees they saw that it was made in such a way that the light bounced off of it in every way from every place, scattering to create a million glittering stars on the ground.

The Hunter, who apparently worked for someone named Myre, said nothing, simply gulped and motioned to follow, which the rider did. But then he stopped, and tapped the Hunter on the shoulder.

"Before you take me there, mind telling me about your friends in the trees?" he asked.

In the forest, Hiccup's breath caught.

"What friends?" the Hunter asked, genuinely puzzled.

"I see. So they're not yours. Well, if you want to know, I was talking about the people who seem to have hidden themselves in the trees. Those ones," he said, pointing his sword in their direction. His dragon stood in front of him, and opened its mouth.

A huge shockwave erupted from the infinite hole with teeth that was the dragon's mouth, ripping entire trees out of the ground and sending the Berkians and their dragons flying with the force of the blast. They landed on the ground, dazed.

The dragons were the first to recover. They jumped up, growling, standing in front of their riders protectively. Wreckage growled right back at them with a sound like grinding metal.

The rider looked at the entire group suspiciously.

"They say things aren't always as they seem," he said. "Even then, you can get a pretty good idea." He shook his head, bewildered.

"But what is going on here?"

Chapter 4: Altercation

"I am honestly rather confused as to this turn of events," the rider was saying. "It's not every day you find other people riding dragons."

Hiccup got up, groaning. He was soon followed in his example by Valka and Fishlegs.

"Okay," Hiccup said when the dizziness had subsided a little bit. "Who are you?"

"Who am I?" the rider said, an amused smile on his face. "I think the better question is who are you?"

While the rider was distracted, the Hunter attempted to slip away, but the rider noticed, and he caught hold of the Hunter and hauled him back.

"No, I'm not quite done with you yet," the rider said. He hit the Hunter on the temple with the pommel of the sword, and the Hunter dropped to the ground like a sack of dragon hunting potatoes.

"I'll deal with you later," the rider said to the unconscious Hunter, who did not respond.

His head snapped up to look at them. "Now, to business. How can I help you?"

"Well, you can start by telling us who you are," Hiccup prompted. The rider appeared to consider it for a moment.

"No, I don't think I will," he smiled at Hiccup. "Mind answering that question yourself?"

"I'm Hiccup Haddock. Chief of Berk. Could you maybe return the favour?"

"Ah, Berk!" the rider said, snapping his fingers. "I haven't heard of that place in years! Oh wait," he said, his expression darkening. "Don't you kill dragons?"

"No! No, not anymore!" Hiccup said, waving his hands frantically. "We used to, but we stopped! We've made peace with the dragons, and more importantly, we've made new kinds of friends."

"Well, I have no reason not to believe you, I suppose," the rider said, but he didn't put his sword away.

"So, uh, can you come with us?" Hiccup asked.

"Where to?" the rider asked suspiciously. "Berk?"

"Yeah, it would be great if you would," Hiccup said. "You know, we can show you around a little bit, introduce you to some of us, get to know each other a little bit-"

"No."

"I-I'm sorry, what?" Hiccup asked in surprise.

"I won't be going with you. I have something to do, and I will be doing it."

"We can help you," Hiccup offered.

"No," the rider replied, frowning. "Why are you suddenly so inquisitive?"

Hiccup held his hands up in apology. "Sorry if I come off that way, but I just want to get to know a little more about what's going on here."

"Well, there are some limits to things, Mr. Chief of Berk," the rider said sarcastically, then frowned. "Wait. If you're the Chief of Berk, then… what happened to Stoick the Vast?"

"Stoick the Vast was my dad," Hiccup said sadly. "He died some time ago."

"Ah," the rider said quietly.

"Yeah. I don't know if you know him, but he was killed by someone called Drago Bludvist."

"I am sorry for your loss," the rider said softly, almost gently. "And what happened to Drago?"

"So you do know him. Well, I'm not surprised. I think he drowned when we beat his Bewilderbeast."

"You did what?" the rider asked incredulously. "You beat his Bewilderbeast? Was it an Alpha?"

"It was an Alpha," Hiccup confirmed.

"I see," the rider mused. "And which dragon became the Alpha after that?"

"Toothless here became the Alpha. He was the one that started the rebellion against the Bewilderbeast."

"Toothless?" the rider asked. "Which one of those dragons of yours is Toothless?"

"It's this one," Hiccup said, patting Toothless. Toothless warbled.

"An Alpha that is a Night Fury," the rider breathed. "This is a momentous occasion in itself!"

"Yeah," Hiccup said, unsure of what else to say.

"I don't think you quite understand," the rider said. "Before now, no dragon has been the Alpha apart from the acknowledged contenders of each class."

Valka looked surprised. "Other dragons can compete for the position of Alpha?"

"Of course," the rider said, grinning. "Every dragon class that you know of, as well as the ones you don't, has its own unique Alpha contender, dragons that are most liable to have the position of Alpha. For Tidal Class, Bewilderbeasts. For Stoker Class, Eternal Flames. For Boulder Class, Devastares. For Mystery Class, Foreverwings. For Sharp Class, Impalers. And for Strike Class, Skywardens."

"I-I never knew," Hiccup stammered. He turned to Valka. "Did you know about any of this?"

"This is the first I'm hearing about it."

"There are impossible things in this world," the rider smirked at them. "And you do not know them all."

"Look, it's pretty obvious that you know a lot about dragons that we don't know, so could you just come with us to Berk?"

"Stop pushing so hard," the rider growled, his face immediately souring. "If I don't want to come, I won't come. Leave me be."

"It's just a short trip," Hiccup tried. "We'll give you something in compensation."

"I'm not. Coming," he replied angrily.

"Come on, it'll be a good opportunity to make allies too," Hiccup said, trying to appeal to this man's apparent military sense.

"I said no!" he roared. Wreckage, sensing his rider's discomfort, opened his mouth again.

"Brace yourselves!" Hiccup yelled, covering his head with his arms and crouching down on the forest floor, like that would do any good against a shockwave.

"Wreckage, no!" the rider said, just a second too late, as the massive dragon let loose.

But instead of the huge blast from before, Wreckage breathed deep blue fire, twisting and turning his head as he let it all out, letting the flames land on the ground in a wave-like pattern, surrounding the riders and their dragons. The heat was even more immense than you would expect.

The dragons, being flame-proof, went straight through the fire and got their riders onto their backs and into the air.

"Thanks, bud," Hiccup murmured. Toothless growled, and looked down at Wreckage. They landed on the ground, and Toothless immediately hurled Hiccup off of him, like a wild, untamed bull. Hiccup landed on the ground with a thud.

"W-what are you doing?" Hiccup asked, more confused than anything else. Toothless looked back at him, and nodded his head at a spot behind Hiccup.

Stay back.

Hiccup complied, unsure of what was to transpire now. Toothless looked back at Wreckage, and growled. Then he began to glow.

Bright blue emerged from his nostrils, from the ridges on his spine, from the scales between his eyes.

Toothless was displaying his position as Alpha.

He let out a ferocious roar at Wreckage, the meaning of which was clear. Back down.

But Wreckage did not respond as he should have. Instead he roared right back, the sound of which was like a world crumbling away to nothingness, being crushed to dust between a giant's hands.

Whatever Hiccup had expected, this was not it. "What's happening?" he asked. "Why isn't Wreckage bowing down right now?"

The rider seemed just as surprised. "I have no idea," he said quietly.

Wreckage and Toothless had begun to circle each other. They were both snarling at each other, flickering flames in their mouths, deep purple and purple-white lights facing each other. Anyone who got in the way would be burnt to a cinder immediately.

And then, just like Toothless, Wreckage too began to glow. A deep purple began to travel down his body from the head. Veins of purple twisted through his scales, a ragged outline of violet reaching his wings and spreading through it like a river through land.

"They're fighting for the position of Alpha!" the rider yelled in a strange sort of excitement.

Hiccup breathed out. "Of course! He was protecting you, and he's even going to stand up to the Alpha to do it!" He looked at the rider in amazement. He really did have a strong bond with his dragon.

Wreckage released a burning stream of blue fire at Toothless, who jumped out of the way and fired a single blast back. It hit Wreckage in the face with immense explosive power, knocking him to the ground. Toothless leaped on top of him, and roared in his face.

Wreckage slapped Toothless away with his wing, and got up. He fired again and did not let up this time, the blue flames unrelenting, chasing the Alpha wherever he went. Toothless lifted his head up into the air, and screamed.

Cloudjumper and Meatlug deposited their riders and came flying to help their Alpha. Wreckage looked at them, and directed the twisting stream of flames at them. Toothless took advantage of the stony black dragon's distraction to charge up a plasma blast, then let go.

Wreckage was blown several feet away, landing on the ground with a thud. Meatlug and Cloudjumper landed by Toothless, and they began to advance towards the downed dragon.

Wreckage got up slowly, regarding them warily. The three dragons began to circle him. His attention flicked from one dragon to the other, trying to keep them all in sight. Then something else happened.

There was a strange keening whistle, which cut off immediately afterwards. Wreckage instantly rose into the air, and made to fire at the ground.

The shockwave bounced off the packed soil and blew all three of the circling dragons away in a violent blast of wind.

Toothless, upon crashing into the ground, got up straight away and began to fire explosive blasts at Wreckage. Blast after blast after blast hit Wreckage in the face, and even though the dragon was tough, he wasn't invincible. The other two joined in, spewing fire and molten rock at the unfortunate contender.

Wreckage hit the ground for the second time in as many minutes. The black dragon had lost strength, but he wasn't out yet. He still moved, albeit very feebly. Toothless warbled at Meatlug, and she flew at Wreckage, spinning around at the last moment, so that her bludgeon-like tail hit him full in the face. His head, which had until now been held up high, dropped. Wreckage did not move again.

The rider stared. "Wreckage?" he said. "Wreckage? Wreckage?"

His face turned to fury. "You!" he yelled, and leapt at Hiccup with his sword out. Hiccup pulled out Inferno, and blocked the flashing blade.

The rider cocked his head. "Fire sword, huh? That won't be good enough if you don't know how to use it!" He quickly retrieved his sword and swung at Hiccup's throat, too fast for him to react.

There was a clang, and the rider pulled his sword away from Valka's staff, immediately turning and parrying Inferno. He pulled away and twisted, and Inferno flew out of Hiccup's hand sideways.

Valka's staff came in, and then a plasma blast came in as well, and the rider was blasted away, flying through the air and ploughing through the dirt when he landed. Like Wreckage, he did not get up again.

"Thanks, bud," Hiccup said, smiling at Toothless. He warbled. Hiccup turned his attention to the rider, walking over to him.

"Well, we have an opportunity now," Hiccup said, staring down at the unconscious rider. "Shall we?"

"We shall."

Chapter 5: Prisoner

Gathering up the rider to take him away and back to Berk had proved more difficult than they had previously anticipated. There was no place for him to sit, and having their dragons carry him with their claws would probably dislocate his bones from whichever point he was to be carried. Eventually they decided to just carry him on dragonback. They could take turns. The difficult part would be making sure he didn't fall over the side in his unconscious state…

Hiccup had taken the rider's sword, admiring the fine workmanship and the quality of the metal from which it had been forged. He couldn't really identify it, which was strange in itself, as Hiccup had found out early on while working under Gobber that he could easily figure out which metal was which simply by smelling it. A bizarre skill in itself, but when compared to some of the things the twins could do, it really wasn't all that strange. This sword however… it was foreign to him, a metal he couldn't recognize. On Toothless now, he took the sword from where he had put it away and sniffed it.

Nope, completely unrecognizable.

"Hey Fishlegs," he called.

"Yeah?" came the quick response.

"Is Meatlug getting tired yet or what?" he asked.

"Nope!" Fishlegs chuckled. "She's really strong, aren't you, girl?" he added, the last part directed to Meatlug, whose turn it was to carry the rider as well as Fishlegs. She simply gronked at him, as you would expect a Gronckle to do.

Where had his mind gone over the course of the last few years.

Deep in thought, he absently began stroking the rider's sword with his finger, running the tip up and down the edge of the blade.

Up. And down.

Up. And down.

Up. And do-

"Hiccup!" someone yelled, right into his ear.

"Gahh!" Hiccup jerked away from Fishlegs, hovering right next to him on Meatlug. "Wha-what? What?"

"We've almost gotten to Berk and it's your turn! Did you forget?" Fishlegs asked.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry, guess I… zoned out for a moment."

"Really, Hiccup," Valka admonished him. "You're flying on dragonback with family and friends, and you can afford to get distracted? I didn't raise you this way."

"Yeah, you didn't raise me at all, Mom," Hiccup replied. Valka looked surprised that he would play that card, but turned away, chuckling.

"Just like his father," she murmured, smiling.

Meatlug and Fishlegs flew above Hiccup and Toothless, hovering just above them. Fishlegs reached behind him and heaved the rider onto Toothless' back. The rider thumped as he collided with Toothless, and rolled off backwards, off the tail, and fell down towards the ocean.

Hiccup, not having fully processed what just happened, just stared at the rider as he fell into the azure blue depths.

There was a quiet splash.

"Come on!" Hiccup yelled, turning Toothless into a steep vertical dive. Like the rider, they fell, but they fell with precision. Big difference.

They dove into the ocean with a huge, spraying eruption of water and mist. Hiccup remembered to take in a deep breath before he breached the surface. Then he remembered that the rider also had lungs. All the more reason to rescue him. He didn't want another death on his conscience.

Toothless swam towards the sinking rider quickly, and grabbed him by the collar with his teeth. He dragged him upwards, Hiccup clinging on tightly. They ascended rapidly, Toothless' strong wings beating against the water. The two, no, three of them broke the surface of the water, Hiccup spluttering as he got all the water out of his mouth, Toothless indifferent, and the rider still very much unconscious.

"Well, that was almost a bit of a disaster," Hiccup remarked. Toothless warbled in agreement. They rose back into the clouds to join the other two, where they were waiting

"I'm glad to see that you two were perfectly content to let me handle that," Hiccup said sarcastically. Valka chuckled.

"I thought you had it handled. Now, let's pick up where we left off, shall we?" she said, with an air of carelessness. She and Cloudjumper flew away. After giving Hiccup a bit of an awkward look, Fishlegs followed. Shaking his head in amusement, Hiccup patted Toothless on the shoulder, or whatever a dragon would call it, spurring him on to race after them.

=0=

"You what?" Astrid asked, frowning at him.

"We brought him here," Hiccup said nervously. He didn't want to face Astrid's wrath so early in the morning.

"You brought him here. A dragon rider we don't know about, someone who we've never seen before, someone who, according to you, Fishlegs, and your mother, is really good with a sword, and knows more about dragons than anyone we've ever known, you brought him here. On dragonback," Astrid said.

"Uhh, yeah?" Hiccup tried.

"Hiccup, that was really dangerous!" she exclaimed. "What if he'd woken up? What if he'd gotten to you?"

"Well, he didn't," Hiccup said. "And what's done is done, we gotta move past that. It's over now, it's done, and now we have something else to do," Hiccup added, walking past her briskly and into his house. They'd converted it into a makeshift interrogation room for the time being. The rider was sitting in a chair, his hands dangling loosely at his sides. He was still unconscious, somehow, and Hiccup noticed his hair. It was remarkably black. The bent-over shape of Gothi was standing in front of him, a small vial of something clutched tightly in her old, gnarled hand. The one that wasn't holding a staff. Gobber was right beside her.

"Well, laddie, you want teh wake him up now or noot?" Gobber asked, his foot-long moustaches jumping with every word.

"Ah, in a moment. Who-who put him in the chair?" Hiccup asked.

"It were those twins," Gobber said. "They sat him doon here and lehft. Said they had some things teh do."

"Can't trust those two with anything," Hiccup muttered to himself. He gestured to the rider.

"Could you…?" he said, making a looping motion around his wrist. Astrid nodded and made to go outside.

"Do me one more favour and get the rest of the gang here as well. And get Mom and Eret too, wherever they are."

The door shut before he even finished his sentence. Hiccup sighed and pulled out a chair for himself, setting it down opposite the rider. He sat down, and let the time pass by.

Not long after, Astrid came back, a rope wrapped tightly around her hand and his mother and the rest of his friends following close behind. She set to work immediately, taking the rider's hands behind the chair and tying his wrists to the back of the legs.

Hiccup sighed wearily. The day hadn't even begun and he was already in the mood to sleep. Although, to be fair, he had spent a rather long time awake for Phantom Island. His eyes widened, and he groaned inwardly. He'd left Soul back on the island, guarding the Bewilderbeast faithfully. He pictured the giant red dragon sitting patiently on the sandy beach, waiting for his friends to return.

He felt a pang of guilt, and promised himself that when this whole interrogation was over, Soul would get a visit and a day's worth of fish.

"Hiccup," Astrid said. Her quiet voice snapped him out of the momentary daze he'd been possessed by. He looked up to see her beckoning him over with a single finger. He got up and went to her.

"Look at this," she whispered. On the rider's left palm, there was a strange symbol inked into his flesh. A large dot, surrounded by a circle, encompassed by a bigger circle, encompassed by an even bigger circle, and all that inside yet another circle, and this last ring had curving flares shooting out of it in a spiraling design. It reminded Hiccup of the way they drew the sun.

He squinted at it. There seemed to be nothing special about the ink used, other than the fact that it was black.

"Huh," he murmured.

"What do you think it is?" Astrid asked him, speaking quietly.

"I don't know," he said in the same, low tone. "Maybe some kind of tribal symbol."

"Instead of theorizing about it, why don't you ask him?" Astrid suggested, speaking normally again, a smile on her face as she spoke to him. "He should know, right?"

"Yeah, yeah," Hiccup said smiling right back her, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly.

They stared at each other, his eyes on hers, her eyes on his.

"Hey lovebirds!" Snotlout yelled at them. The two of them started away from each other, then laughed.

"Come on," Astrid said.

"Gothi, if you could do the honours," Hiccup said.

Gothi uncorked the vial. A strong, pungent odour wafted out. Everyone wrinkled their noses, trying not to breathe. Gothi seemed unaffected, somehow.

Gothi held it under the rider's nose for a few seconds.

He jumped awake and the chair rocked on the floor, almost reaching the verge of tipping over. He sat there for a few seconds, breathing hard. Then he looked up, and saw them all, sitting or standing there, and groaned.

"Great, there's even more of you idiots," he said sarcastically. He looked around him. "And I appear to be tied to a chair. How fun."

"Hi again," Hiccup said, unsure of what else to say. His words were accompanied by an unconscious wave, and he almost kicked himself once he realized he'd waved. Well, this was getting awkward again.

"Um, if you're up for it, we'd like to ask you a few questions," he tried.

"Ha! Up for it! Up for it! You have me tied to a chair, you want to interrogate me, I'm being held against my will, and you just politely ask me if I'm up for it!" He threw his head back and laughed. Hiccup sighed.

"Well, while this isn't an ideal situation for a polite conversation, it's the best we can do with your attitude towards us right now," he persisted.

"My attitude towards you, he says," the rider grinned. "I had a mission assigned to me, I was on my way to complete it, I run into you fools, you try to get me to come with you when I don't want to, then when that fails you knock me and Wreckage out, you bring me here and I wake up tied to a chair. And then it's my fault, is it? Perfect logic!"

"Okay, when you put it like that it sounds worse than it is," Fishlegs piped up. The rider shook his head.

"Oh no, it sounds exactly as bad as it is. Now, let me go and I won't throw you into the ocean."

"You're tied to a chair. You can't move. There's nine of us, and one of you. You really think you can escape all of that?" Astrid asked incredulously.

"Oh, definitely," the rider said, smirking.

"I dare you to get past us all."

"Accepted."

"Wait, wait," Hiccup said. "You said we knocked you and Wreckage out. But isn't Wreckage, you know, uh…"

"Are you trying to say dead?" the rider said seriously. "Because no, he's not."

"He took an entire shot limit's worth of charged plasma blasts and a Gronckle to the head!"

"He's Wreckage. His species is tougher than a mountain."

"Really?" Fishlegs asked excitedly.

"No. It's a metaphor."

"Then is he alive or not?" Hiccup pressed.

"Definitely alive," the rider confirmed. Then something seemed to click, and his face changed to become a peculiar mixture of smug and excited. "And you won't want to be here when he is."

"What does that mean?" Hiccup asked, confused.

"He'll be coming all the way over here in a couple minutes," the rider said.

"How long?" Hiccup demanded.

The rider shrugged. "Twenty or so."

Hiccup whirled around. "Okay gang, get your dragons, and get ready. His dragon is nothing like we've ever seen before."

"Why though?" Tuffnut said, bored by all the stuff that didn't involve things blowing up.

"Because, Tuff. We have a village to protect."

"What, is it going to destroy everything?" Tuffnut asked, an animated expression entering his eyes.

"'He'," the rider corrected. "Wreckage is a 'he', not an 'it'."

"I actually agree with you on that one," Hiccup said.

"Lovely. All I've ever wanted my entire life. I aspired all my childhood to have you agree with me," The rider snarked.

"Ignoring that, yes Tuff, he'll destroy everything if we don't stop him," Hiccup said.

"Well, I say we let him do it!" Tuffnut yelled, throwing his hands in the air and accidentally smacking Snotlout in the face.

"Do you really want your house to be destroyed, with all the stuff in it?" Hiccup challenged.

"Uh… no?"

"Then you'll stop that dragon from doing any damage." Hiccup frowned, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "And that'll be easier said than done."

"Why?" Snotlout asked arrogantly. "It's just another dragon. We can take it down no problem."

"'He', and 'him'," the rider said.

"I say whatever I want," Snotlout said, waving away the rider's protests with one hand.

The rider looked at him coldly. "I see."

"Snotlout, this dragon can breathe fire and it has a shockwave attack," Hiccup said with a tone of finality.

"What's a shockwave?" Snotlout asked.

Hiccup pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed in exasperation. He could hear the rider judging them.

"Huge air blast that can, for example, turn a forest into firewood."

"Oh."

Without protesting, Snotlout immediately went outside, followed by Fishlegs, the twins and Eret, who had just stood around, listening and not saying anything. Very uncharacteristic of him. Usually he had some sort of input.

"Before anything else," Hiccup began, turning back to the rider, "could you tell us your name?"

"Finally," the rider said. "A question that's actually worth answering. I'll tell you this, and nothing more."

"Ah, well, alright. If that's what you think."

"Don't give me that nonsense. It's what's going to happen, and you're going to deal with it."

Hiccup put his hands up. "Okay, okay. Point taken. But we will still be trying, I can assure you of that."

"Hmph. Anyway, my name is Alphas. Alphas Arcanum."

To the side, Gothi started, an expression of shock on her face. She came forward, and put her stick to the ground, but instead of scratching, she leaned on it and for the first time in what must have been decades, she opened her mouth.

"Arcanum?" she said in a grating, hoarse voice. It was cracked and old, unused to being used after being neglected for so long in favour of hieroglyphics in the sand.

Everyone had shock written all over their faces. In all the time that they had been alive, they had never heard Gothi use her voice. There had, of course, been discussion on why Gothi didn't speak, but never before had anyone raised the opinion that it was voluntary. The rider, or rather, Alphas, as he had said, was out of the loop, so he just raised an eyebrow at all the gaping mouths around him.

"Yes, Arcanum," he said to Gothi. "Anything I should know? What's with you all?"

Gothi smiled. "I've just had a vow of silence for the last fifty-three years. Today was the day I broke it."

Alphas did a double take. "That is a long time."

"It is. Could everyone please come with me? There's something I need to tell you all in private." And without another word, Gothi took her stick and trudged upstairs, leaving everyone to stare after her.

Joining her in Stoick's old room, everyone waited expectantly. At last, Gothi opened her mouth.

"This person you have down there, Alphas Arcanum, is not an ordinary human being."

"In woot way?" Gobber asked.

"I had my suspicions when you brought me here to wake him up. I sensed the faintest traces of what makes him special in the room."

"Gothi! Who or what is he?" Hiccup asked impatiently.

Gothi looked at him for the longest time, and Hiccup immediately felt like his bones were being taken out without opening his flesh. Then Gothi spoke.

"A sorcerer."

Chapter 6: Sorcery

"A what?" Hiccup said, unsure if he had properly heard her.

"A sorcerer."

"But that can't be. Magic isn't real!"

"It is. After all, have you seen all the things I can do?"

Hiccup had no answer for that. It was true, Gothi could cure almost every illness and could tell you things about you that even you didn't know.

"Wait, so how do you know that he's a sorcerer?" he asked.

"Anyone of the name Arcanum inherently has power in their blood. They are all sorcerers, of varying strengths and potency of magic."

"And how do you know all of this?" Hiccup wondered. "About the whole magic family tree and everything, I mean. Well, I'm assuming it's a magic family tree or something, I'm not sure."

Gothi sighed. "I believe it is time for me to tell you a story. About how and where I learnt everything I know. But not here. Down where the sorcerer is. Where Alphas is."

She got up and trudged back downstairs, stick tapping against the wood rhythmically as she made her way back.

Hiccup was the first to follow. "Why would you come upstairs and back downstairs in just a few minutes?"

"I don't presume to know the powers that bind our actions."

The first thing that Hiccup and Gothi saw as they reached downstairs was Alphas standing by the fireplace, standing loosely, relaxed, looking at all the ornaments on the mantle.

"Ho-how did you do that?" Hiccup said in absolute surprise, a touch louder than his normal tone of voice.

As he was joined by more and more people coming downstairs after Gothi, Alphas finally did something to acknowledge their presence.

"It's easy enough to get out of those ropes when the chair's that narrow," he said without looking around.

"What do you - gaahh!"

Astrid's first reaction to seeing a prisoner free was to immediately run at him with her axe in hand, yelling a war cry to announce her presence. Alphas turned his head to look at her, then at the very last second, he moved, impossibly fast.

As Astrid swung the axe at his head, he bent over backwards, the axe passing above and in front of his face, and Astrid hadn't even completed her swing that he neatly pulled it out of her hands. He took one step backwards, whirled the axe around in his hand, straightened, and then caught Astrid and slammed her against the wall, the axe to her throat.

It all happened in the span of two seconds.

Everyone froze. Nobody spoke for what seemed like an eternity, a moment caught and stretched to infinity.

Alphas cocked his head at an angle, dipping to the left and turned slightly upward so that he was looking at Astrid haughtily, arrogantly.

"And what did you hope to achieve with that?" he asked, his tone of voice amused.

Astrid recovered quickly from the shock of being beaten in one simple moment, and kicked him in the stomach. Alphas grunted and staggered backwards, releasing Astrid from the death hold of her own axe.

Astrid leaped at him and her fist connected with his jaw, knocking him backwards onto the floor. The axe skidded across the ground out of his grasp. Astrid made to take him out right then and there, but Alphas rolled out of the way of the strike and jumped to his feet. Hiccup, finally managing to make some sense of what had just happened, pulled out Inferno and raced at Alphas, quickly followed by Gobber and Valka. Gothi sat to the side.

Alphas saw them coming out of the corner of his eye, and growled. With anger. And frustration.

Well this wasn't good. From what Hiccup had seen on the island, this guy had major anger issues. Kind of like Dagur, but a lot more controlled.

That... was bad.

Alphas brought his hands together, and tapped his palm with his ring finger.

Purple mists of energy exploded outward from that point, slamming everyone back into the walls, catapulting them through the air, pinwheeling back and into or over tables and chairs.

The room, only a few seconds previously neat and tidy, was now in complete disarray.

"This is what you get," Alphas said disdainfully, and turned away, walking towards the door.

"No," Hiccup croaked.

Alphas turned back around. "No?"

"You can't leave," Hiccup managed to force out.

And then Alphas became truly angry. It showed in his dark eyes.

"I can't leave, huh? I can't leave?" he said angrily, his voice rising every minute. "Just how stubborn are you? How hardheaded? How stupid? How blind to the truth can you be to feel as though you're the injured party? This is what you get! This! Is! What you get! For trying to get me to come with you, to interrogate me, to keep me from going away! Haven't you learned your lesson yet? How long will it take you? HOW LONG?"

Alphas was spitting fire at this point. Almost literally. His eyes were glowing purple, and his mouth was the same. Sparks and crackling bolts of purple magic were erupting with every word and running down his body. His hair had risen up by a little bit, and was now floating around his head. It would have been a truly mesmerizing sight, were it not for the look of fury on his face, the look that suddenly, inexplicably reminded Hiccup of the way his father had looked at him, before everything that happened, what with defeating the Red Death and all.

Disappointment.

Anger.

Disgust.

And the slightest trace of thoughtful confusion.

This was what Hiccup's own father had looked at him like, before he came to see all the things that Hiccup was worth, the ideals that he had come up with, that he had introduced to a stubborn Berkian world.

And that, for some strange reason, gave him a feeling of the deepest sadness he had known since his father.

Alphas was watching him, the fury having subsided, now replaced with a cold frown. He turned, opened the door, and walked out. The door clicked into place as he shut it.

Hiccup tried to get up, but his body simply wasn't listening to him. He collapsed back onto the floor with a moan. He stared down at the grainy wood as he waited for the feeling in his body to return. Dark oak, he thought absently. His thoughts were interrupted by a snore. He looked around to see Gobber sitting slumped against the wall, fast asleep.

His brow furrowed. He looked around more, and saw everyone fast asleep, except for Gothi, who seemed to be extremely drowsy. Her eyes were unfocused, and she was leaning rather heavily on her stick. She yawned widely.

She was definitely almost asleep.

Hiccup realized that he could now stand up, although weakly, wobbling on his unsteady feet. He yawned as well, and realized that he, too, was feeling extremely sleepy. He hadn't noticed before for some reason, but he was feeling a lot like curling up in some warm place and just lazing around until he was out of it. Like Toothless.

That was the last thing he thought before his legs slowly collapsed beneath him, depositing him relatively gently on the floor, but hard enough to make him feel kind of woozy.

Hiccup passed out with the rest of them.

=0=

Alphas walked out, shutting the door behind him. He couldn't afford to have them escape easier than they would have otherwise. Even if opening a door only took a single second, he knew that every second made a difference. Another benefit of closing the door would be that they couldn't see where he was going. Well, the scrawny Viking with the tousled hair couldn't. He had been the only one awake from the blast. Strange, that. Usually the influx of magic was supposed to overload bodies and make them fall unconscious. Maybe that one had a little bit of a higher tolerance than the others.

Now, he had to find his gear and get the hell out of here with Wreckage.

'Where would it be?' Alphas wondered, not aloud. 'The smithy?'

He strode through the village, until he found a smithy. He vaulted over the counter, thankful that there was no one up yet except for the idiots that had had a hand in kidnapping him and their friends. He briskly walked to the pile of weapons waiting for repair, and gave it a cursory glance, making sure his blades weren't in there. Once satisfied, he looked around, and spotted the living quarters of the smithy.

A quick sweep ensured that his weapons weren't there either. Alphas gritted his teeth. He needed his sword and his dagger, as well as his other equipment. At the moment, he only had a single blade on him, and even that only two inches long or so. Oh well, at least it had come in handy for cutting his bonds. He grinned. They should have tied his hands differently. If they had, he wouldn't have been able to reach the tiny little knife he kept in a sheath on the inside of his sleeves. As it was, they hadn't, and he had managed to take the knife out and free himself while they were upstairs discussing.

If his other blades weren't here, where could they be? After a moment's pondering, it came to him. One of the riders must have stored it away and not taken it out. He exited the way he had come, and went to find the dragons.

Wandering around the village, he took a moment to pause and snatch some fruit from a nearby abandoned vender's stall. He was hungry, and it was the least they owed him for the treatment he'd been given, he justified. He made a mental note to repay them if he ever felt guilty about it later.

Upon hearing a growl, he quickly ran to where it had come from, but it wasn't a dragon, only a wolf terrorizing the sheep. Alphas sighed. He didn't want to waste any more time, but livestock were important. So he quickly ran over to the wolf, which snarled at him, and leaped for his throat. At the last moment, Alphas moved the upper part of his body to the side and out of the way, and shot his hand out, grabbing the wolf by the throat. It yelped and began to struggle, but Alphas held on. He walked to the edge of the nearby woods, which cost him another few valuable minutes, but he promised himself he would make up for it. There, he let the wolf go, where it scrambled away from him, disappearing into the trees. Alphas watched it go, then turned back the way he had come. The wolf had cost him a few minutes, and he had to be careful around here. He petted a sheep as he walked past, smiling at the feel of the soft wool on his hand.

"Come on, Hookfang!" he heard. He ducked behind a building, and peered out. The short, stocky Viking from earlier was berating a Monstrous Nightmare, which appeared to be his mount. The Nightmare, unwilling to take that from his rider, promptly threw his rider into a trough of water. He splashed in it, and glared at his dragon, soaked. "Really?" he asked angrily.

Alphas smiled quietly at the dragon's antics, and turned to go back, when a thought struck him. He could get the rider and interrogate him for a change, ask him where the other dragons were. As the idea solidified in his mind, he grinned to himself. He'd always loved a good hit and run. Or in this case, run, capture, and run. He steadied himself, then ran out of hiding. He charged at the rider, who saw him but was too slow to react. He almost screamed when Alphas dragged him out of the trough, but got a swift punch to the jaw that shut him up for a little bit. The Nightmare snarled at him, and got ready to fire. Alphas quickly dipped his hand in his pocket, and when he withdrew it his fingers had a light green substance stuck to them that looked like the faint smears of the pulp of a fruit. The Nightmare immediately calmed down, and drew closer to him, sniffing delightedly. Alphas put his hand to the ground and rubbed the substance off on the grass, leaving the Nightmare to lick it off the ground with a forked tongue.

The rider was positively whimpering as Alphas dragged him, sopping wet, around the corner of what seemed to be a stable. He slammed him against the wall, holding him up by his tunic. The rider hit the wall with a wet smack, and stared wetly at Alphas, dripping.

"Now," Alphas said, staring at him in the most menacing way he could, "Where are the dragons being kept?"

"W-w-what?"

"You heard me," Alphas growled. "Where are they?"

The stocky Viking held his hands up in surrender. "I-I mean which ones?" he asked, smiling nervously.

"The Night Fury, the Stormcutter, and the Gronckle," Alphas told him.

"Uh, which Gronckle?"

Alphas gripped him tighter. "The Gronckle that belongs to the skinny Viking, or the woman with brown hair, or the fat one."

"Oh, you mean Meatlug. They're all in the Hangar."

"Whatever the dragon's name is. Take me there."

"Uh, sure," the Viking smiled nervously again.

Alphas let go of him, and the Viking thumped to the ground. He dragged him up and, holding him by the scruff of the neck, let him lead the way. He decided to give the Viking a warning, despite knowing that it was hardly necessary. This one was nothing more than a coward. Arrogant when he had the upper hand, timid when he didn't. Still, it would be good to give him a little fear. Let him know where the power lay.

"Just know this," Alphas whispered. "If I find that you've led me into a trap, or that you try to, the moment I escape I will come for you, and I will cut you in half. Understood?"

The Viking nodded quickly, terror showing in the shaking of his body. Alphas allowed himself an evil smirk. It felt good to be vile, for some reason.

A few minutes of traversing the quiet houses had led to a spiraling wooden staircase set into the ground. The Viking slowly, gingerly walked the steps. Eventually the staircase straightened, becoming direct, and the wood beneath his feet gave way to stone for a bit, then quickly became wood again. Alphas paused to appreciate the effort and the full majesty of the work that went into a project of the scale before him.

A high, curving roof greeted him, and little cages and pens for each dragon. Sections were made for different types of dragons. Class, perhaps? A quick survey confirmed that yes, the stables were made with the qualities of different classes in mind.

The floor was made of wood, and, looking around, Alphas saw that there were feeding and watering stations dotted all over the place. Squinting past the horns of the helmet of the Viking before him, Alphas saw that this 'Hangar' opened out to a clear sky beyond. This place was massive, now that he realized it.

It also seemed to be a bit of a labyrinth, as his unorthodox guide was taking turns here and there. Alphas was suspicious at first, but when they passed some Boulder Class dragons, he immediately knew the Gronckles were the first stop on the list.

Rounding a corner, Alphas saw the large, sandy-haired Viking in the distance, talking to and petting an excited Gronckle, the same one from their little scuffle on that island.

Alphas train of thought was interrupted by a nervous stammering. "Can I-can I go now?" his guide asked.

"Not yet. You still need to show me where the Night Fury and the Stormcutter are," Alphas responded, steering him to an empty cage.

"What are you-" the Viking began, then shut up as Alphas threw him in the cage and slammed the door behind him, locking him in.

"I'll get back to you when I need you again," he said, smirking, then turned his attention to his target, who had most definitely noticed him and was frozen to the spot. Alphas ran at him, and the Viking screamed. He didn't even try to run away, he just stood where he was and screamed.

Strange man.

Alphas caught him and spun him around, then pushed him into another empty cage. It seemed that they didn't have many Boulder Class dragons, either that or these ones got special treatment.

The Gronckle that the large Viking had been attending to had been completely indifferent to the events playing out before it. 'Her,' Alphas corrected himself. You could tell by the wideness of their eyes. The eyes of male Gronckles were usually less dilated. They became wider only on special occasions. Adoration of their riders was not enough to make them go this wide. Perhaps the sight of their children would be enough, but none of the little ones were here. This Gronckle was quite obviously female.

Alphas rummaged through the saddlebags, finding nothing of significance except for a map, which he took out and perused for a while, looking for familiar islands that he could use to find his way back. Nothing caught his eye, and so he put it back, thinking that maybe Wreckage could just lead him back to where he had come from, and they could work backwards from there. Good old Wreckage, he had so many useful skills. Such an exquisite dragon. Alphas' heart softened for a bit while thinking about his reptilian friend, then he scolded himself, reminding himself of the task at hand. He turned and went out, walking to where he had locked his guide in to prevent him from escaping.

Alphas unlocked the cage and hauled the Viking out. "Take me to the Stormcutter and the Night Fury."

His guide nodded quickly, fearfully, and led him away through the maze of pens and cages once more. When they reached the Stormcutter's pen, where it appeared to be asleep, Alphas saw that there were no forms of storage on it. Not even a saddle, which he had expected after seeing the state of the Gronckle, equipped as it was with various amounts of leather and iron.

Alphas cursed quietly to himself, then indicated to his guide to lead on, which he did.

They reached the Night Fury, which regarded him with curiosity and mild aggression, which Alphas quickly suppressed by allowing him to sniff his hand, which still smelled like the concoction he had pacified the Nightmare with. The Night Fury began nosing his hand, trying to get at the attractive prospect of the mixture, which Alphas made a mental note to give the dragon some of later. He hated to disappoint creatures who weren't people.

He withdrew his hand, and shoved the Viking into another pen. This one, too, was empty, although this time Alphas saw clearly that the reason for that this time was the remarkable absence of Strike Class dragons. The Night Fury was the only one that he could see in this entire section of the 'Hangar'. Oh well. He had more important things to focus on.

Alphas delved through the saddlebags one by one, and didn't find anything that looked even remotely like his weapons, or even some of the other things absent from his person. In the third saddlebag, however, he found his dagger. He slid it into the sheath on the left side of his waist, and resumed his search.

"I don't get it."

Alphas looked up at his guide. "What?"

"I don't get it," he repeated. "Why aren't the dragons aggressive towards you at all? And what did you give to Hookfang?"

"I gave your Nightmare a special concoction of mine. It pacifies dragons. As for why they're not aggressive, they can still smell the stuff on my hands."

"What's your 'concoction'?" the stocky Viking asked, his curiosity aroused despite his sullenness at being thrown in a makeshift prison. Alphas grinned light-heartedly at him.

"Trade secret."

Alphas turned his attention back to the saddlebags, and found his sword in the biggest one. It had poked a small hole in the end of it. Alphas thanked his lucky stars that the sword hadn't fallen out mid-flight. It seemed he had, though, his clothes were even colder than normal in the late morning wind. Maybe that was just the way things were on this island, but Alphas thought his clothes did stick to him a bit. He snorted quietly. How careless could they be, to let him just… fall? Into the ocean?

Returning his focus to his sword, he ran a finger up the blade, making sure it was just as sharp as before, although there was no reason to really check. It had only been a few hours, after all. But he did it still, as was his habit to do so.

He reached up and over his shoulder, and the sword slid neatly and snugly into the diagonal sheath on the right side of his back. It felt good to be armed again, but there were still a few things missing.

Back to the saddlebags he went.

As his hand shifted through the various things, it hit soft, stiff leather. Alphas grinned. Jackpot.

He pulled out the book, and flipped through it, making sure the runes he'd inscribed into it almost fifteen years previously were still there. And they were. Alphas shut it with a muted thwoompb, but before putting it away in the special compartment he'd made on his waist for it, he made sure that the scalpel, the stick of charcoal, and the brush that he'd fixed to it were all there as well. Which they were. So he put it away.

Even if he hadn't found his weapons, he would have gladly left them behind in favour of the book. This one of his most treasured possessions, and he took it with him wherever he went. He needed it. For almost every single thing he did. His missions. His life back home. His life in his occupation. His life with Wreckage. Everything. The runes in those pages were everything to him, and he constantly updated the volume every time a new rune was discovered, a new formation of lines and curves.

He tucked the volume away and dipped his hand into his pocket again, and held out his hand to the Night Fury laying in the pen with him and regarding him curiously, his fingers once more smeared with a light green pulp look-alike. The dragon before him sniffed his hand, and then his – of course it was male, how had he not noticed that before? – tongue darted out and gave Alphas' hand a good lick. The Night Fury licked his hand well and thoroughly, taking every last trace of the pulp into his mouth. He licked his lips and put his head to the floor, sighing contentedly. Alphas' eyes widened. This one, it was a lot smarter than the rest. Other Night Furies he had seen were intelligent, but this one licked its lips. That was something he had never seen before on any other dragon. It could almost pass for… no, that was impossible. It was confirmed that Night Furies were dragons, nothing more. And besides, even if this one could almost pass for one of them, it lacked the distinct talents that made them what they were.

Alphas was distracted again. It seemed to be happening more and more these days. He shook his head. He might have been twenty-six, but he felt like he was growing to be over sixty years of age. These distractions were uncharacteristic of others his age. But then, were they as thoughtful, as innovative, as he was? Probably not. His ideas were ingenious, but the sheer amount of them made them difficult to accept. Some regarded him as insane, others as possessed by something.

Alphas mentally slapped himself. He was getting distracted by his own thoughts of being distracted. That was definitely a first.

He walked out, not bothering to shut the door behind him. The Night Fury was at peace, and it wouldn't be coming after him any time soon. He ignored the protests of the Viking he had locked in, and continued on his way back out of this 'Hangar'. Luckily, he remembered the path he had taken, and even if it was rather roundabout, it was definitely the right way back.

Right, left, right, right, straight on, fourth left, straight on, second right, then left again and he would be at the exit, or perhaps the entrance. Whatever. At this point, it was irrelevant. Sure enough, following these directions led him to the exit, and as Alphas ascended the spiral staircase he gripped his dagger tightly. There could be a party ready to welcome him back to the chair. He would prefer to avoid that, or at least get out of it, at all costs. Well, maybe not at all costs, but quite a few.

As he reached the end of it, the grip on his dagger relaxed, and Alphas calmed himself. There was no one in waiting for him. Quickly, he made his way to the docks. It seemed the village was waking up now, as there were people coming out, going to their stalls in what seemed to be the market, or perhaps tending to the farms. He kept his head down, trying not to attract attention, but as he passed, he heard whispers start up behind him. It was probably his clothes. Alphas cursed internally, wishing he had a sigil available to become invisible. He had everything he needed to make one, but these things required time and an effort not to mess up the lines, and he didn't have very much of the first. He should make a request for permission to have an invisibility sigil on hand for whenever you needed it. Who cared if he wasn't part of the Stealth Division? It would probably come in handy on multiple occasions.

He reached the docks, where two men, one short and squat with brown hair, and the other tall, with blond hair and a bucket on his head, were getting ready for something. He peered into the boat, and saw there was a fishing rod and some nets laying in the boat. They were going fishing. Alright then.

He sauntered up to them, his hands in his pockets, – his clean, empty pockets – and greeted them with a smile. "Hello there," he said, making sure to emphasize the 'lo' part of 'hello'. It made him seem friendlier, easier to talk to, from his experience in the past.

"Oh, hello!" the one with the bucket on his head said happily. His accent was rather thick.

"Oh, hey. How're ya doin'?" the squat one asked, his accent slightly different and a little less thick.

"I'm fine, thanks. And the two of you?" Alphas asked politely.

"Oh, we would be just fine if Bucket here remembered how ta fish!" the squat one remarked. There was a glint in his eye, and he turned to face Alphas fully. "Say, I don't remember seein' you around here before! What's yer name? And where'r ya frum?"

"I'm visiting," Alphas responded. "My name is Alphas. As for where I'm from," he took his hands out of his pockets and hooked the thumbs alone in, staring at the sky, "I'd rather not say."

The squat one shrugged. "Fair 'nuff." He nudged his companion, who, from what Alphas had gathered, appeared to be called Bucket. "Say, Bucket, don't leave me ter do all the talkin'! Have a chat with our new friend over here!"

He seemed rather amiable.

The one called Bucket turned around to face him. Up until now, he'd been trying to hook the nets to the fishing rods, and failing every time they slipped from the broken one without any string, and therefore any hook, that he had picked up.

He waved at him, a jovial expression on his face. "Hi!"

"Hey," Alphas said, smiling at him as nicely as he could manage. "So you're going fishing?"

"Yer darn right we are!" the squat Viking piped up, his voice muffled. He was tending to something to do with the boat. Alphas looked at them, amused.

"This early in the morning?" he inquired. The one who had spoken began shaking furiously, and it took Alphas a while to realize he was nodding.

"We gotta get a mornin' catch, so's everyone gets a nice, fishy breakfast," he supplied helpfully. Alphas nodded. It made sense.

"The fish are very happy this time, too. They always wake me up when they make noises in the morning," Bucket said, equally as happy as the fish probably were in that little world of his. "Isn't that right, Mulch?" he asked excitedly. Alphas blinked, unable to process the fish waking him up.

"What?"

The squat one, Mulch, slapped his forehead and groaned. "Ignore him. He thinks that sheep lay eggs."

Alphas nodded slowly. "I… see."

"Bucket, how many times do I gotta remind you that fish don't crow?! That's chickens!"

"Oh," Bucket said despondently. He got into the boat and trudged towards the nets, sitting down alongside them. He buried his head in his hands.

"Don't mind him. He lost half his brain in a lightning strike ya know. Took some things away and gave him a few others."

Alphas winced. "Well, that sounds painful."

Mulch nodded. "Oh, it was. We couldn't get him to stop screaming or even sleep for a week. Really messed us all up."

"Hmm."

"Well, I got to be going now. Nice talkin' to ya, Al!"

"Don't call me Al," said 'Al' grinned at him.

Mulch grinned back, and waved a hook at him as he got on the boat. Alphas hadn't noticed the hook, and so he almost jerked away before he managed to control himself. As Bucket and Mulch sailed off, there was shouting behind him. He turned to see the scrawny Viking and his friends running towards him. At the exact same time, he heard a grinding roar in the sky, and as he pulled out his sword, he looked up to see Wreckage barreling his way. He looked back at the Vikings, and raised his hands in mock surrender. Wreckage swooped down and caught him by those hands, flinging him up into the air so he landed on his back. It wasn't clean, and it knocked the air out of his lungs, but it was a solution in a time of urgency, and so there were no real drawbacks to it.

Alphas got up and took a proper position on his dragon, sitting upright.

It felt good to be back.

Chapter 7: Memories

Alphas turned in his seat to face them, and waved jauntily. He grinned to himself. He was finally out. He could finally get the eggs, given that the Hunters hadn't got to them in the time he'd been taken.

Then a white star blasted him out of his seat.

Alphas fell, too surprised to react. Wreckage followed him downwards, catching him just as the ocean came up to swallow him. He swung him back into his seat. Alphas looked back at them, and saw the old woman with white glowing around her staff. He huffed. Of course things wouldn't be that easy. They never were.

"Arcanum!" she yelled, her voice grating. "Listen to m-" her voice cut off, and in the distance, he saw her bent over, trembling, clutching her staff as though her life depended on it.

He really shouldn't have stayed to protect those sheep, if only for his own good. The old woman started up again.

"Please! Hear what I have to say!"

Alphas decided to ignore her, and turned around to head back just in time for a dark wing in the face. He catapulted backwards and landed on his back. He leapt to his feet, teeth bared and sword drawn. He appeared to be on a large sea stack. It even had little patches of green growing on the surface. How charming.

Wreckage swooped down again, only to be blasted in the face by a streak of purple. He looked to the side and sent a stream of blue fire the Night Fury's way. Alphas whistled to him, and he looked back, hovering. Upon seeing the hand waving him upwards, he immediately abandoned all attempts to rescue his rider and turned his full attention to the Night Fury. The rider leaned over the side, and fell.

And then he spread his wings.

Alphas could only stare, dumbfounded, as the Night Fury rider whooshed over his head and landed right beside him. Other dragons landed on the sea stack, their riders disembarking with weapons in their hands. A double-headed axe for the blonde woman who had attacked him earlier. Matching short swords for the long-haired twins. A clubbed staff for the tall woman. And of course, a flaming sword for the Night Fury rider.

So this would be their battleground.

"You really cannot let go, can you?" Alphas sighed, shaking his head. "You're like a dog with a bone, the moment you have it you're not willing to give it up."

"Look, all we want is peace," the skinny Viking said. Alphas looked at him with the most bland look he could muster. The Viking's defiant expression faltered for a moment, then he stood straight again.

"Please, just come with us. Don't make this any difficult than it has to be."

Alphas scoffed. "You've got another thing coming if you think this is my fault," he said, and then immediately waved his arms as he saw the Viking's mouth open.

"No no no. Shush. I did nothing to you except try to mind my own business. You on the other hand, took my dragon's protective instinct as an excuse to kidnap me. So think about it for a moment, and tell me. Who's in the wrong here?"

"What were you even doing on that island?" the Viking pried, ignoring the accusation.

"Changing the subject I see. But since you asked, I was sent to retrieve some extremely rare dragon eggs that, grown up, would be nearly indomitable." He felt the jaws drop around him, saw the looks of guilt, and he knew it was his chance to press on. "We are fighting a war that's lasted years. Those eggs, in the hands of the adversary, would spell disaster for everyone and everything, if they were trained."

There was an extremely uncomfortable silence.

"Can we go back and discuss this peacefully?" the Viking asked meekly. Alphas shrugged.

"If you behave."

"… Deal."

=0=

Alphas sat on the chair given to him, polishing his sword. He was aware of the uneasy glances he was getting, as well as a glare from a certain someone. He looked up into angry brown eyes.

"What's the matter?" he chided. "Still upset about how scared you were back then?"

"Just so you know," the Viking explained in a very matter-of-fact tone, "I was only pretending to be scared so that this would happen."

Alphas planted the blade under the stocky man's chin, and listened to the shrieks for a moment before retracting his hand and pushing him into an adjacent chair with his foot. He sat down with a thud and almost toppled over.

Forget that. He toppled over.

"Before we start," Alphas said, leaning back, "tell me your names, if you please."

"Well, I'm Hiccup," the thin Viking said, "that's Astrid, Fishlegs, Snotlout, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, Gobber, Gothi, Eret, and my mother, Valka," pointing to everyone in turn.

"I'm sorry," Alphas sat forward, "but Hiccup?"

"Yes?"

"No."

"What are you-"

"I'm asking," Alphas interrupted, "what kind of name is Hiccup?"

Hiccup waved him away. "Long story."

"Give me a summary."

He sighed. "Names like these scare off trolls and things."

Alphas nodded. "Of course. Because a troll would be frightened of someone named after a bodily disfunction."

"It's better than being named-" Tuffnut began, but got knocked out of his chair by the girl sitting next to him. She appeared to be his twin.

"Uh, thank you? for that? Ruffnut?" Hiccup said.

"You're welcome!" she said proudly, holding the mace over her shoulder. Tuffnut bawled something about a mace betrayal from the floor.

"If this is how your meetings go I think I'll leave," Alphas shook his head.

"Nononono! It's fine. Just a one-off thing," Hiccup said hurriedly.

"I'll take your word for it."

"So, uh, who are you, exactly?" Hiccup inquired.

"Me," Alphas replied simply.

"Who or what are you a part of, I mean?"

Alphas sat forward, grinning. "If you're ready to hear the entire history of our civilization then you can tell me."

"In your own words, give me a summary."

Alphas snorted. "Well, since you put it that way, breakoff from the regular people because we have the ability to channel innate magic through runes and sigils."

"Oh. Could you expand a bit on the magic part?"

"It's an innate force which certain people have, and it can be passed down genetically. It can be channeled in different ways. Each way means a different kind of magic user. Sorcerers, wizards, witches, warlocks, and mages are all part of the overarching system."

"What's the difference?"

"As much as I love having a talk with you, I'm not ready to allow the intrusion of normal people on the world of magic. We have rules."

Hiccup held his hands up in surrender. "Sure, sure."

He turned to Gothi, frowning. "Actually, Gothi, how do you know about sorcerers?"

Gothi smiled at him. "Would you like the full story, or a summary? The whole thing is not particularly long, but the summary would be much shorter."

"Summary," Alphas said.

"The whole story, if you're okay with it," Hiccup said, at exactly the same time. They both looked at each other, and Alphas raised an eyebrow.

"Your island, your rules."

Hiccup shook his head. "You're nicer than I first thought."

"I tend to be more amiable when I'm not tied up, fighting, or otherwise occupied."

"Well, that's… definitely understandable," Hiccup turned to Gothi, and gestured for her to start talking. She took a deep breath.

"When I was younger, and I was in training to become a healer, I was sent to an island where many other young girls like me were instructed by a priestess. This priestess was renowned for her ability to cure anything, and to be able to learn under her was a great honour. I worked hard to learn of every medicine, I did my best to memorize where every root and herb and substance would be found, and what it could be used to cure. I quickly became better than the rest for my dedication.

"One day, the priestess took me aside, and told me that I could make a deal with her. She said that I was her best and brightest, and she saw in me her successor. She told me I had two options. The first was that I could stay on this island with her, and learn her every secret, learn the ways of medicines and potions, and teach those that came to learn in her place after she passed. The other choice was to continue learning with everyone else, and when I had completed my training and was to leave, she would tell me only two of her secrets, and would give me a parting gift."

Gothi smiled. "You can see which one I chose."

"When I was getting ready to return to Berk, she summoned me to her quarters. She had a book with her, and she said that this was to be my gift. Then she told me two things about this world. The first thing was that there existed a strange force that could bend this world to the will of the wielder. It was called magic. The second thing she told me was that the secret to wielding this force lay in that book, but I would be taught by no one. I would have to learn on my own."

Gothi's grip tightened on her staff.

"For years, that book was nothing but confusion to me. It is full of drawings and writing that I did not understand. But one day, I decided to try drawing those symbols. I did, and nothing happened. But then I accidentally touched the parchment that I had written it on. It evaporated to nothing in an instant.

"I then realized that these symbols were activated by touching them. So I experimented, and I drew all the symbols, finding out what each one did. I found that there was one central symbol which all the others had to touch in order to activate. One day I wondered if they worked for everyone. So when someone came in requesting help with a broken bone, I had them touch one of the symbols while they were unconscious. It may have been the fact that they were unconscious at the time, but the symbols did not activate. I then had them touch it when they were awake, but I got the same result.

"From this I concluded what Alphas had told us. Some people have magic, and others do not. So from then on, I continued learning these sigils, and I decided to carve some of them onto my staff."

"I saw," Alphas snorted. Gothi smiled at him.

"Yes, I believe it was made obvious."

He got up, slapping his clothes. "I don't know what compelled me to stay here. This conversation was useless."

"What do you mean?" Hiccup asked, surprised. "I'm pretty interested."

"In case you haven't noticed," Alphas said, looking at him over his shoulder, "I already know all this. All the runes, all the combinations, what each and every one of them does and in tandem with each other. This is not exactly divine knowledge being bestowed upon me. I am a sorcerer by nature. I know more about magic than your enigma here."

"I agree completely," Gothi said before Hiccup could respond. "You are a sorcerer by nature. You have been brought up in a community of magic. You know more about magic than I do. But I believe there is one thing you would like to know."

"And what would that be?"

"How I know about sorcerers, and about the Arcanums in particular."

Alphas paused. "You're right," he said slowly. "You never did mention that."

She gave him a look. "If you tell me how to link 'runes', as you call them, I will tell you," She smiled kindly at him, then realized that he had gone stone-faced. He turned to her very slowly.

"I had decided to overlook the fact that you can use sigils, if only for the good of your community here, but now that you're trying to bribe me with knowledge that is of little to no use to me only to further your own skills, I cannot ignore it any further."

He walked over to her, and took out a book, flipping through the pages. Everyone watched rooted, to the spot, unable to move as he perused it.

"W-what are you going to do?" Valka asked, in fear of the potential damage to be done.

"Nothing much," Alphas replied without looking up. "I'm just going to extract the knowledge of runes from her memories and from her head, and then I'll burn everything with sigils in and on it."

Hiccup immediately stood up to protest, but then Alphas turned his head.

Fear shot through Hiccup's body and he felt extremely heavy. He slowly sat back down in his seat, pushed and held down by an invisible force. Alphas turned back to the book, and hummed as he found the page he was looking for. He pressed his thumb to the corner, and it was as though the page was peeled out of the book while leaving itself behind. He took the brush from the front of the book and began to draw.

Quick strokes painted strange symbols onto the yellow canvas, a flowering mess of ink that couldn't be made head or tail of. He turned the page around, then drew something on the back as well. Then he peeled an exact copy of the page from itself again, and stuck one of them to Gothi's head, the other to his own. He closed his eyes, and pressed his palm to the page on his face.

The symbols glowed purple, and the same with the other page. Gothi's eyes rolled back, and she began to tremble. Everyone watched, horrified, as little streams of white smoke crept from every orifice in her face, dissipating into nothing.

Alphas opened his eyes and put the brush back. He took her staff and threw it into the fireplace, where it immediately burned blinding white as the runes caught fire. The fire crackled with white lightning and sparks of the same colour flew. Everyone leapt out of their chairs to escape the sparks. Some landed on them and they cried out as searing pain jolted through their bodies. Alphas seemed unaffected. The white sparks that landed on him turned pink and fell away, landing on the floor and sinking into the wood. It didn't burn, but there was the faint sense that it had turned into something else entirely.

The roaring fire ate up the staff until there was nothing left. It was burning pure white, but as the flames died down it turned back to the normal orange-red.

Alphas turned to walk away, snatching the papers from his and Gothi's heads and throwing them into the fire as well. Now the fire burned deep purple.

=0=

Alphas searched the various compartments in the old woman's hut at the top of the hill. Wreckage hovered outside. The Berkians didn't seem to have taken notice. It must have something to do with the fact that their healer was in a state where her mind was adjusting to the absence of knowledge. He smiled to himself. That had served as a splendid distraction from his activities. He could tell them she would be alright when he was done.

He kept looking, and then he found loose papers strewn about in a little cupboard, with a book under it all. He took it all out, threw it off the edge, and whistled.

Wreckage shot it midair, and then there was nothing except little scraps of parchment, burning white and gold all the way down.

Alphas walked to the edge, and put his foot on the rails that ran around the structure. Aside, he wondered why the healer's hut was all the way up on the top of a hill. Surely it would be much easier for people to access if it was down on the ground with the rest of them.

Wreckage positioned himself right up close to the platform, and Alphas walked over the black dragon's body to the saddle and sat down.

They flew.

As he neared the hut where he had been held, and where they had later held a fruitless conversation, he got ready to lean out of his seat and yell. For some reason though, there was no one around. He scanned the ground for a moment, looking to see if they had gone anywhere, but saw no one. He shrugged, and patted the right side of Wreckage's neck. They turned around, and he felt the wind on his face as they ascended to greater heights, making their way home.

He failed to notice his shadows.

Chapter 8: Enemies

It had been a while now since he and Wreckage had left Berk. Flying towards the island where he had first met the Vikings, and where he had been assigned to retrieve the eggs, he had found the Hunters gone. Most likely they had taken the eggs with them.

Well, crap.

Alphas turned in the direction of home to report back, and flew on in silence. A few minutes later however, the clouds began to ripple above him. A head poked out and grinned at him. He smiled back.

"There you are! I was getting just a little bit worried. I mean, I know you can handle yourself, but even then after so long I thought that maybe-"

"Come now, if I'm not me then who am I?" Alphas asked him, tilting his head.

"You're an Arcanum!" the head in the clouds suggested brightly.

"True. Bad news though."

"Oh?"

"Got ambushed. I escaped and left them something to take care of, but the eggs are gone now."

"That is bad. What do we do now?"

"Do I look like I know?"

"You always know," the head said completely seriously. "You're you, after all."

"Don't flatter me like that, you're not getting anything from it."

The head grinned. "Worth a try, isn't it?"

Alphas grunted.

The head and the body it was attached to came out of the clouds. A man Alphas' age, with the same kind of clothes on as he had. His dragon was sky blue with white patterns, an elongated body with large wings and a very smooth, thin head. The tail curled and whipped around to pat Alphas on the head.

Cloud Eaters were very affectionate. Alphas smiled and raised a hand to the dragon's snout.

"Hello, Spiral," he said softly. The dragon crooned and nosed along his hand. He gave it a final, lingering touch, and then retracted his hand.

Alphas sat up straight, caressing the top of Wreckage's head, and looked at the new arrival, opening his mouth to speak.

Something small and black whizzed past between their dragons' wings. Both veered away from the unknown projectile, screeching in sudden reptilian rage. Both riders looked at each other and nodded. Alphas took out his sword and readied his hands, although he was unsure of what his sword could do, while his companion reached for an axe on his back.

Something small and dark arced up from the ocean mists and bore down on them. The arm of the rider on the blue dragon jerked and a sheet of metal flicked out. A compacted shield.

He deflected the projectile with a clang and reached backwards as it bounced off. The arrow was sleek and black with one red line spiraling downwards. He looked at Alphas, and they both knew what it meant.

Some part of Myre's forces were nearby, and they knew exactly where they were.

Taking out his dagger, Alphas tapped Wreckage on the neck with it.

"Ready," he said, and that was all it took. Wreckage roared that grating growl, his mouth steaming, and beat his powerful wings in the air. A little way away, a guttural snarl came from Spiral, and the air around his head began to ripple.

Both riders and their dragon were now ready. Alphas tapped Wreckage again.

"Dive," came the order this time.

Both dragons went into a steep dive, Spiral wrapping his long wings around himself and speeding downwards, Wreckage just folding his wings into pointed arrows. As they got closer to the sea, the ships came into view.

There was shouting and a volley of arrows as the people on the ships took notice. The dragons evaded, and fired. A constant stream of burning blue from Wreckage, and blasts of super-heated air from Spiral. Spiral went lower, close to the churning waters now, and Wreckage crashed into the side of one of the ships. It went down just as Spiral came up and fired a thin jet of boiling water at the soldiers on another vessel. Spiral landed and the wings opened wide, his rider dismounting and rushing the soldiers that hadn't been knocked off by Spiral's wings. Wreckage landed on another, and Alphas began to paint his sword shining red.

Then the sky screamed.

A purple shockwave hit the base of the ship's mast, and swept Alphas and everyone else off their feet while toppling the pillar. Soldiers dived out of the way, and Alphas rolled sideways just in time, the mast crashing down and splintering the wood right next to where his hand rested.

He glared upwards at the black shape that swooped downwards like the shadow of a shooting star. A stream of sparks and liquid fire burned another ship, and smouldering rock cooled on another one, the wood combusting around it.

These Berkians really didn't know how to do this.

Alphas put his hand to his mouth and whistled sharply. All heads turned his way, and he saw the Berkians pause.

"Take the people! Not the ships!" he yelled.

"Who's that?" a curious voice asked behind him. He whirled around to see Spiral and his rider flapping silently by the vessel he was on.

"Nords. Berkians, specifically. They're with dragons now."

"When did that happen?"

"I have no idea. Just go with it."

There was a panicked shriek, and he turned to see the Gronckle and the Nightmare's riders surrounded, their dragons lying lethargic behind them.

"Wreckage!" he roared, and the black dragon immediately heeded his call, scooping him up and speeding across the water to the other ship.

Alphas and the Night Fury rider landed at the same time, leathery, batlike wings hanging loosely from… 'Hiccup', was that his name?

"…Hey Alphas."

"Shut up and fight."

Hiccup brandished his flaming sword like a drunkard holding a mug of wine. While their enemies backed away at the fiery sight for now, they would soon realize that the boy had no idea how to use a blade.

Alphas took advantage of their fear and leapt at them, drawing blood with every stroke. The panic added to their fear, and they scrambled over each other to get away, falling and tripping and giving him ample time to add their names to the list of the dead.

Hiccup could only watch as Alphas scythed through them in a flurry of movement, and the sight of all that blood, the mangled bodies, the reddening, dripping wood of the deck made him feel something rising in him. He turned and threw up over the side of the ship. When he turned back, Alphas stood there, sword held loosely, dripping scarlet down the length of the blade. Hiccup tried not to look at what lay behind him.

Alphas raised an eyebrow.

"You have no experience, do you?" he sighed. Hiccup looked at him, bewildered.

"Never resorted to a violence of your own making?"

"It's terrible," he choked out.

"I see where you’d get that idea, but it's necessary," Alphas responded, and turned away to see another group of men coming at him. He held out his hand to Hiccup.

"Sword," he demanded. Hiccup quickly handed it over. He held it up, flipped it in his hand so it was facing backwards, stepped into the group and swung in a wide arc.

Men with cauterized throats faced him a few seconds later. Hiccup felt sick to his stomach. He'd never had to deal with something this violent, this creatively brutal, and here he was, being forced to confront these things in a matter of minutes.

Alphas handed him back his sword without even looking at him and glanced at him from the corner of his eye.

"You'll be needing it in a minute."

In the rapid confusion, Snotlout and Fishlegs had been completely forgotten about, and had now disappeared from sight but returned to memory. Hiccup looked around.

"Hey-"

There was a clang, and Hiccup fell forward, his face smushing into the wood, as a man in tight, dark green clothing stood there, a very long knife in hand.

Alphas whirled the moment he heard the sound, and found himself frozen, his sword stuck in the act of rising as cold silver flashed beneath his chin.

The man regarded him carefully, not a trace of fear in his eyes.

"Yes," he said. "Myre will be very happy with you."

"And you are?" Alphas asked icily, taking care not to speak too fast.

"My name is Caird," said Caird. "I am one of Myre's generals, and you are mine now."

"No the hell I'm not," Alphas snarled. Caird tilted his head, a slight trace of amusement in his eyes.

"Well, if you're completely sure that we kill your companions and make you eat them for meals, that's fine with us," he shrugged. "Your dragons, of course, will be fitted and given to Myre. A Black Angel would make a lovely addition to his forces."

Alphas didn't speak. That was all the answer Caird needed. He smiled.

"That's a good boy. Give me the dangerous knife and then I'll take you away."

Alphas dropped the sword and his hands blurred, already raising a finger to his palm to make the two symbols meet. Caird caught him by the wrists, and pulled Alphas' hands behind his back, pulling him forward as well, and knocked his forehead into his face. Alphas was stunned for a moment, and Caird took the opportunity to punch him in the face, knocking him backwards. Before Alphas could move, Caird stepped on both his arms in a strange position, legs splayed like a human crab. Another man, probably under his command, came and slipped two brown leather bands with metal studs onto Alphas' wrists. They immediately tightened, and Alphas hissed as they burned into his skin. Caird stepped off and hauled Alphas to his feet, turning him around with his hands behind his back.

"And how are your little bracelets going to stop me?" Alphas snarled.

"First of all, they're bracers, not bracelets. Second, they bind your magic."

Alphas paled. "So the metal…?"

"Is not for show," Caird finished. "There's binding sigils carved onto them. I believe you know why leather is not suitable?"

"Shape,” Alphas replied slowly, as though he were taking time to think about it.

"Precisely. How clever you are!"

Caird pushed him down a short series of stairs and shoved him into a small, bare room. The iron gates locked, their design of crisscrossing bars with not enough space between them for a mouse to slip through, and then Alphas realized it was a prison. Caird turned away.

"I want two guards here at all times to attend to the prisoners!" he yelled. There was a collective shout of affirmation from above. Caird continued on his way without a second thought for the people in the cells. Looking across from him, Alphas saw the Berkians, all in their own individual cells.

Hiccup waved to him. He seemed to be the one to take initiative. "Hey."

"If you would spend less time greeting people and acting innocent and more time actually being efficient we wouldn't be in this mess."

"Okay, first of all, cut it out," the blonde woman stepped in. "Do you think we wanted this either? Do you think that you're the only one here who does anything? We've saved hundreds, even thousands of dragons over the past few years. You have no right to tell us that we weigh you down because you're not special, you know."

Alphas absorbed the fiery burst of temper, and then looked at her with the coldest expression he knew he could create, and her face fell for a moment.

"Don't look at me like that," she snapped. Alphas grinned a mirthless smile.

"You’re talking in numbers, are you? If you want statistics, do you know how many dragons I alone have saved? From all those like the people on the deck?" He paused for a moment for effect. "I remember all the things I’ve done, and I’d say I’ve sunk maybe eight hundred ships, and rescued tens of thousands of dragons over my time in our forces." He smirked, but there was no real malice or arrogance behind the expression.

"All on my own. So tell me," he said, leaning in, "How does that compare to you?"

There were noises upstairs before they could respond, and then boots stomped on the floor above, knocking dust free from the planks. One of the hunters came down, dragging a rope behind him, and to that rope was attached a pair of hands with leather bands around them. Alphas relaxed, just a little. He'd been afraid, but at least he knew that he was okay now.

The guard slammed him into a cell and stomped upstairs again. Alphas jerked a thumb at him and looked at the new arrival to the jail.

"Well he definitely didn't have a good day."

There was a laugh from a few cells over.

"Hey, who is this?" the short Viking asked, hands folded over his chest. Alphas frowned at him.

"What's your name again?"

"It's Snotlout! Jeez, it's not that hard to remember. Firt Dar en no you," he said, mumbling the last bit. Alphas didn't catch a word of that part. He sighed and sat down, making himself comfortable in the cell. As an afterthought, he looked down at his waist. They'd taken his dagger, but not his book. He didn't remember them taking the dagger. Well, at least he still had the book. That would be useful if he could find something to use.

"Well, since it looks like we'll be here for some time," he sighed, "meet Omegas. My twin brother."

There was silence.

"I'm the elder," he added.

"YES!" the two dirty blonde long-haired Vikings yelled out at the same time. "We finally meet more twins!"

Chapter 9: Plan

Alphas raised an eyebrow.

“How common are twins on Berk, exactly?” he asked.

“Not… too common,” Hiccup said, a little hesitantly.

“Interesting,” Alphas mused. “Twins are rather common back home. Every family has at least one pair of twins. Perhaps the magic affects fertility.”

“I’m… not going to say anything to that,” Hiccup said.

“Wait,” Tuffnut blurted. “There’s more twins?”

“Yes.” Alphas quirked an eyebrow. “You should have gotten that, I think.”

“Really?”

“Well… now that I’m really talking to you, I suppose not.”

“So, Alphas,” Omegas interrupted, leaning against the cell door. “How do you know them?”

“Wonderful story, actually,” Alphas said, smiling. He looked at Hiccup. “Would you like to tell him?”

“Uh… well… we kinda… kidnapped him… I guess…” Hiccup said, hesitantly.

“Sounds great,” Omegas nodded. “Tell me more about it later. How are we going to get out?”

This question was directed to Alphas, who pondered it for a moment before looking up.

“Same way we do it every time.”

“Gotcha.”

“You guys get caught often?” Hiccup asked mildly, languishing in his cell.

“Too often. Most people don’t get jailed in their life,” Omegas sighed. “Alphas got caught five times, three times with me. This is the fourth.”

“That sounds like… a bit much,” Astrid spoke up. “We’ve only been imprisoned once, I think. And that wasn’t even all of us.”

“Lucky.”

“Alright, game plan,” Alphas interrupted. “Everyone’s going to be good prisoners and not act suspicious. Then I’ll get us out of here.”

“No offence,” Hiccup said, “but that sounds like a terrible plan.”

“Looks like you’re keeping up your little trend of judging before you get to know the details. How charming.”

Hiccup flushed with mild anger. “Okay, look here-”

“Shut up! All of you!” a guard yelled, banging on the door. “You won’t get any food if you keep talkin’!”

Snotlout, who hadn’t really said a single word so far, somehow managed to get even quieter. Fishlegs started hyperventilating.

Alphas looked at them, and his face said it all. ‘What’ was the only thing he could possibly be expressing with a face like that. And he meant it in all the ways it could possibly be applied, in any situation.

Blinking, and clasping his hands together, he put a finger to his lips, signalling for everyone to stay quiet. And they did.

=0=

The guards’ names were Kolger and Borlne. Kolger was constantly drunk, and Borlne kept trying to hide the ale to keep Kolger sober, but he always found them somehow. Kolger always had the first shift, and Borlne had the second, but he would keep coming around to check on him every hour or so. They would be given food 3 times a day, much to Fishlegs’ disappointment. He couldn’t complain about the quality of the food though, it was definitely better than Berkian meat, according to the Berkians.

Alphas mentally went through the information he had learned over the past 3 days. It was enough to know what to do, and when to do it. He just had to wait for the perfect time, when Kolger gave them food and Borlne wasn’t hanging around.

That time came a little later that day, around midday.

Kolger came in with plates of food, and set them down in front of everyone’s cells. He opened every hatch, one by one, and let the food slide into the individual plates of every prisoner. Alphas waited patiently for his turn. Kolger just went back to his chair when he was done, where he sat down and talked to himself.

Alphas waited until he went out of the room, then quietly went to the window of his cell, where he could see the ocean a little below him, and dropped the food out. He turned back to see a look of horror from Snotlout, who was chewing furiously. He swallowed and opened his mouth to speak. Alphas quickly shushed him with some desperate hand waving.

And then he set the ball rolling.

“Guard,” he called from his cell, speaking in a monotone. Kolger did not respond.

“Guard.” There was no response.

“Guard!” Alphas called, a little louder. Again, there was no response.

“Kolger!” he yelled this time. There was a crash from the other room, and Kolger seemed to materialize at the door, he moved so fast.

“The hell do you want?” he shouted back.

“You didn’t give me my food, Kolger.” Alphas showed him the empty plate.

The guard grunted, and disappeared for a moment, returning again with a plate of food. He strode towards Alphas’ cell, and stood for a moment in deep thought.

“Bring your plate up,” he intoned in a voice of deep sorrow. Alphas brought it up, and Kolger went to tip the food in. But then, what happened next, happened very quickly.

Alphas dropped the plate, and his hands shot through the hatch. He threw the plate to the side with a deft flick and grabbed Kolger’s tunic with one hand, the other going to his waist to grab the keys. He pinched them and withdrew his hand in a second, holding the keys close to his chest, then pulled Kolger in so that his face slammed against the door. The unfortunate guard dropped limply to the floor.

Alphas put his hand through the hatch, and tried the keys on the door. Everyone held their breath.

The first key didn’t work. Neither did the second, but the third did, and the doors swung open. Alphas stepped out, grinning.

“What did I tell you?” he said.

He strode over to Hiccup’s cell, and tried the fourth key on it. It opened immediately. He went to everyone else’s cells, and opened each of them in turn.

“Now,” he said, throwing the keys aside, “I think it’s time to escape.”

Chapter 10: Away

“Before anything else, uh,” Hiccup paused for a moment, wrestling with his words. “I’m… sorry. I shouldn’t have done everything I did.”

Alphas barely spared him a glance as he said it, but the way he held himself and the look in his eyes told Hiccup that the apology was accepted. Hiccup sighed internally in relief. This was one enemy he didn’t want to make. The offhanded mentions of entire families of sorcerers was something to be feared, with the casual way the information was thrown around. Hiccup might not like to concede to much, but he wasn’t stupid. Foes of this calibre must not be made at any cost.

He just hoped the others could see that too.

“So, what’s, what’s the plan?” he asked. Alphas paused for a moment as he shut Kolger in one of the cells and dropped some food in with him.

“First, we get our weapons as quickly as we can and without letting anyone else on the ship know that we’ve escaped.” He shut the door softly, the lock clicking into place.

“Then we fight our way out, free any and all dragons we find, and get to wherever the hell we need to be.”

“Ah, one, slight problem with that, actually,” Hiccup said, wincing as the magic twins looked over at him in unison.

“Yeah?” It was Omegas who answered this time.

“We’re… probably going to need our dragons to get out. Maybe you don’t, but we will. We’ve only ever fought our way out of these situations with dragons, so…” he cringed at how that sounded. It seemed… weak, for some reason, in front of them. He didn’t know why (he did, but by the gods if he admitted it to himself).

“I see. Well, no issue there. You lot can stay here while we get our stuff. We’ll get the dragons, kill everyone on the ship, and then we can all get out.”

That felt worse. They were effectively dead weight. Astrid said as much to them.

“We can help! We don’t have to just sit here!” she said heatedly, before calming a little. “We don’t have to be useless. Let us help,” she said, putting a hand to her chest.

Alphas appeared to consider it. Omegas watched him as the gears turned in his head, expressionless save for the slightest indecipherable emotion that seemed to be ever present on his face.

“Set up camp here and guard the area. It’s defendable and should work fine as a temporary base of operations.”

“You’re just not giving us anything to do.” Astrid said at once. “You think you can just, distract us, with pointless tasks. It’s like giving a baby a mace!”

“You give your children- never mind. Your parenting techniques are not something I want to know about. But your concerns are valid. It’s only logical to think that I’d want to keep you out of my way.”

He clapped his hands together, and the people who had only been half-listening turned their heads to him.

“But at the same time, your concerns are unfounded. This is an actually important task, and I’ve revised the whole plan of action around it. If you can establish a secure spot on the ship and keep the people in relation to this area quiet about it, we can conduct activities securely and ensure that the fact that we’re free is kept under wraps.”

Alphas grinned, a genuine expression for the first time since they’d seen him. There was the light of excitement in the tilt of his head, a hunger for something as of yet undefined in the set of his eyes, murder illustrated in his bared teeth, and force, overpowering force, in the shoulders he rolled and the hands he splayed and the fingers he curled, and it seemed to remind of his feats, his talents, the strength he held, or perhaps hinted at all that he had not yet shown.

“Then we get out.”

Clear as day, that voice rang through them and now they were instantly alert because of the finality with which he said it.

This is certain, his voice said. This is promised, it whispered.

And if it doesn’t come true, it added, then I shall make sure it does.

The shark’s smile was gone, replaced by something much milder, but a ghost of that blazing aura of absolution remained.

Hiccup felt something surge through him, and he was vaguely aware of everyone else standing up a little straighter. They had Alphas on their side, and if Omegas was his brother, then he was bound to be just as good.

=0=

Alphas crept through the corridor that led away from the deck. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in ages, and he was constantly having to keep himself from sneezing. A mammoth task with the amount of dust in the air. Behind him, Omegas was having the same problem, face scrunched up into amazingly bad expressions. There was also the danger that the swirling currents caused by their movement could be seen by someone else because of the substantial amounts of dust, and so they were having to move far too slowly for his liking.

They reached a part of the corridor where it forked in 5 different new pathways, and Alphas paused, unsure of where to go from there. Omegas tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked back to see him gesturing to something to the right, and turned in the indicated direction. There was a small doorway, barely noticeable against the grainy dark of the wood, inset as it was into a recess in one of the labyrinthian corridors. They crept forward, taking care to stay close to the wall where the wood was firmer, so as to avoid any unwanted creaks.

As they neared, there was a glimpse of glowing red-hot bars of metal and gray surfaces, walls, floor, and ceiling lined with metal and stone. A furnace. Lucky. He turned back to Omegas and motioned for him to flatten against the wall, which he promptly did. Sneaking up to the opening, which he now saw had an open door, the sound of clinking and tapping metals became clear. The hot coals snapped and sparked, and the furnace flames roared with every wheezing breath of the bellows. Clearly someone was in there.

Omegas was more suited to sneaky kills, so he turned back and leaned over to whisper in his ear.

“This one’s yours. If there are any others I’ll take them after you go in,” he said as quietly as he could manage.

Omegas nodded and moved ahead of him, rolling his shoulders in preparation. His hands curled into partial claws, and he straightened, walking to the doorway, and lunged inside, out of Alphas’ sight. There was a small sound of surprise which was quickly followed by a harsh clang. Hopefully that wouldn’t seem out of place for a furnace, Alphas thought as he hurried in. There was only the one man, who was currently caught in a chokehold, eyes wide and pleading with a hand clapped tightly over his mouth. Alphas drew his fist back and delivered a solid strike to the jaw, and the smith’s eyes rolled back as he fell limp. Omegas released him and immediately began to look around. His eyes fell on something and he walked over. Alphas took a cursory glance at the rest of the room before his vision was impaired by reflective stormy gray. He grabbed the sword that Omegas had held out to him and gave him a soft glare as he accepted the dagger that followed. Omegas shrugged and smiled, strapping an axe of the same dark gray as Alphas’ sword to his shoulder and a flat, bulky gauntlet to his left arm. He gestured to the rest of the items on the table, one of which Alphas recognized as that flaming sword Hiccup had wielded.

“Take half,” he said, moving forward.

Omegas nodded and began picking out several weapons to carry, a battle-axe, a broadsword, and the flaming sword, which, as he swung it around to hold it better, collapsed into the hilt. He stared at it curiously, flipping it the other way. The blade stayed locked in the hilt, but a drop of something green splashed onto the floor. Alphas picked up the remaining short swords, warhammer, and spear, as Omegas inspected the green liquid on the floor. Alphas tapped his foot on the ground. Omegas looked up, and Alphas dropped the spear on him and turned around to leave without another word.

Omegas caught up with him a few seconds later and bumped him in the shoulder, grinning. He gave him an amused smile back, allowing a small show of teeth as he did so. They continued on in silence for another few minutes before Omegas finally broke the silence.

“So… how’d they get you, exactly?” he asked.

Alphas looked down at the weaponry in his hands, sighing. His gaze drifted to the floor for a moment as he recounted the events of 4 days ago.

“So I went to get the eggs, right.”

“Uhuh.”

“Dropped in out of nowhere while I was getting one guy to take me to where they’d kept them. I could hear them in the trees. They tried to hide but they’re not exactly subtle. One of them squealed like a mouse. While hiding.”

Omegas whistled softly.

“So I got Wreckage to blow their patch of forest away. Their dragons thought we were attacking them, I guess, and get this, the Night Fury is an Alpha.”

“The hell?”

“I know, I was thinking the same.”

“How though? Like, the Furies aren’t even Power Class, they don’t stand a real chance against stuff like Devastares.”

“It was a Bewilderbeast this time, so maybe you could cut them the slack on that front. It’s just barely possible. Anyway, they beat Wreckage by using the Gronckle as a club and knocked me out with the Fury’s blast. Woke up on Berk, told them a little about magic, and got the hell out of there. Met you on the way and the rest is history.”

“I feel like you’re leaving something out.”

“I am, but that’s for later,” Alphas replied as they neared the prison entrance. He kicked the door open with his foot and was immediately met by a swinging fist to the face which thudded against his cheek with a sharp smack. He took 3 steps back, blinking as the blonde girl held her hands to her face in horror.

“Sorry, sorry! You startled me!” she said, repeating until Alphas held a hand up to make her stop.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” he reassured her. “Good reflexes, I will say that. Punch needs a little work though.”

He ignored Omegas dying of barely suppressed laughter beside him and put all the weapons on the floor.

“Oh, sweet,” the male twin said, leaping forward from a circle they had formed in the middle of the prison. It was a passable defense, all things considered. With what Alphas had seen beforehand of their combat prowess, along with whatever they had a hand, it was good enough, functional. The shorter Viking was positioned at the other entrance to the cells while everyone apart from the blonde girl (Astrid, that was her name) had formed the protective circle. Good thinking on their part, although some improvement would perhaps be needed.

Everyone gathered up their weapons, and Alphas noted who took what. The male twin took the two short swords while his female counterpart grabbed the spear, expertly swishing it around and twirling it between her fingers. Good, at least the experience was there. Omegas laid down all the things he had carried as Astrid picked up the axe and took a few swings to acquaint herself with its weight. Hiccup, of course, took up the fire sword, which at the moment was just a hilt. The short Viking and the large Viking picked up the warhammer and the broadsword, respectively. The hammer was understandable, he had visible muscle which would be useful in carrying its weight. He wasn’t so sure about the broadsword though. A form like that wouldn’t leave much room for swings or parries, and he would be open to attack. Alphas had to rectify that, if nothing else. Armour under the clothing should work, and something had to be done about trimming the weight, to put it politely, if he intended to continue fighting like this. Then he remembered that they were overly reliant on their dragons, and it clicked. Another something for later, he supposed.

“All right. Now you have your weapons. Keep the formation you had when we came in, it’s good for what you have now. If Kolger wakes up, hit him upside the head immediately. We can’t afford to have him yelling. Personally I’d just kill him but you’re not equipped for that so just knock him out straight away. Me and ‘Megas will go to the lower levels of the ship. That’s normally where they keep the dragons. You stay here. Now that you have your gear though, take care to distance from each other so there’s less chance of hitting each other in case someone does come.”

He took a deep breath, and exhaled. Everything should go well from here. He gave them all his most intense, hungry smile.

“Ready?” he asked. Everyone nodded vigorously, and Hiccup whirled his fire sword around. There was a click and a sound of smooth, sliding metal, and then the cell was lit with firelight as he spun his weapon in a circle of flames.

Omegas gaped.

That’s what it does?”

Chapter 11: Give And Take

Omegas walked much more confidently along the corridors of the ship now that he had his axe. It was weighted to perfection and was a soothing presence on his back. Alphas was positively glowing with boldness as he strode along the wooden floors, sword and dagger snug in their respective sheaths.

Never hurt to be armed, after all.

He tapped Alphas on the shoulder, and he looked back with a questioning look on his face, as though he was snapping back to reality. Knowing his brother, he’d probably been distracted by some thought or another, and was walking without really paying attention to it.

“Recap for me here? I wasn’t exactly paying attention when you were explaining,” he said.

Alphas snorted. “You really liked that sword huh?”

Omegas just shrugged and gave him a sheepish smile.

“Right,” Alphas said. “So the plan is to roam around until we find the dragons, kill anyone who gets in the way, take the dragons to the cells then beat the living crap out of every ship here.”

“Simple enough, I got it.”

“Yeah.”

“One thing that’s been concerning me though,” Omegas began, then hesitated. Alphas glanced at him, and slowed his walking speed so he fell back beside him, and continued at a matching pace.

“What?”

Omegas held up his hand so the bracers that had been fitted onto his wrists, that had burned into his skin and sizzled with multicoloured magic, were visible. Alphas’ face became immediately serious as his eyes settled on the brown leather, the metal studs, the binding sigils.

“Aha. How they have access to magic.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

“Honestly, I was just thinking about that. Myre isn’t magical and all the mages hate him. I can’t fathom how he would get his hands on the sigils, let alone be able to put them together, if we were all entirely opposed.”

Omegas chuckled, and Alphas looked at him, frowning in confusion even as his mouth quirked upwards in humour.

“Scary stuff and all, and I don’t want you to think I’m not taking this seriously, but I love watching you do your whole theorizing thing,” he grinned teasingly.

“Oh, shut up,” Alphas laughed and hit him lightly on the shoulder.

A yell, and a black flash that they both just narrowly managed to avoid. Omegas jerked his arm and flicked the shield out of his gauntlet as Alphas drew his sword, and they looked back to see the familiar black arrow embedded in the wood. They looked back to see a soldier holding his bow and arrow to them, his hands trembling.

There was a sound of running boots in the distance. Crap. That yell must have alerted some of them.

Alphas leapt at the assailant, sword held out in front as he fired off another arrow. Alphas shifted the blade so it nudged the arrow head at just the right spot, just the right angle, and it ricocheted away at Omegas, who raised his left arm and blocked it as there was a cry and then a gurgle and then the unmistakable sound of flesh being cleaved away by a blade honed to perfection.

The soldier hit the ground as blood dripped from Alphas’ blade. He stepped over him and looked off to the right, then beckoned for Omegas to follow as he ran off, drawing his dagger. Omegas followed, his footsteps timed to the sound of clashing weapons and vocalizations of pain.

He turned the corner to Alphas carving his way through a crowd, every stroke, every slash precise and deadly. The thought just barely registered in his mind before he instinctively charged, a hand coming up over his shoulder to grab the handle of his axe, and he too began to paint the walls red to a symphony of screams.

=0=

There was a clanging crash and the rush of flames as Hiccup barely parried the dagger the intruder wielded. Firelight shone in those shimmering eyes that stared straight at him, unblinking. Snotlout had a hand wrapped around their enemy’s mouth, keeping him from saying anything. Despite the cutoff from any possible help, this soldier had kept his calm and immediately adapted by pulling a dagger from somewhere on his person and twisting his arm around to stab Snotlout. It was almost like he refused to panic.

These were a completely different breed of Dragon Hunters, and it did not bode well.

Hiccup had rushed at him and caught the blade in one of the hollow parts of Inferno. Momentary surprise had immediately faded away to be replaced by a determined look in the Hunter’s eyes.

He’d seen that look in Alphas’ eyes too. The only difference was the feeling it inspired. Alphas inspired awe, a bold encouragement, wonder, respect.

To see the same thing in the eyes of this soldier only gave him a feeling of apprehension, fear, an anxiety that gripped at his heart and tightened his chest.

Maybe he was afraid that there were more people like Alphas who were against them. Who were not afraid to kill.

Snotlout had, however, managed to wrap the other arm around the soldier’s throat, with some difficulty. Hiccup did his absolute best to engage the dagger, and succeeded for the most part. Right as he was about to lose consciousness, his arm jerked upwards and the blade flicked against Snotlout’s forearm. He hissed in pain as he began to bleed, but didn’t let go until the man before them dropped to the ground.

“Ow. Someone have anything to wrap this with? It hurts.”

On the other side of the room, Astrid was breathing hard with her axe against the throat of another intruder, while the twins scrambled across the floor to grab his weapons, a simple pair of short swords. Fishlegs had knocked the spear out of another’s hand and barrelled into him, slamming him against the wall and knocking him out with his sheer weight. He was now slumped against the wall.

“Fish? You have anything for Snotlout?” Astrid asked, her eyes never leaving the man she now stood over.

“Ah, give me a minute,” Fishlegs, rummaging through his pouch.

“I have something for that.”

A husky voice that sounded like it had never been used, carefully spoken words, slow speech. All heads turned to the only conscious enemy in the room. He looked young, now that Hiccup properly looked at him. Light brown hair, pale skin, and the same standard black and red leather and dragonscale uniform that they all seemed to wear, a red scaly vest over midnight fabric. Despite the situation, he looked completely calm, eyes occasionally glancing here and there.

The exquisite rational thought of these hunters, these soldiers, terrified Hiccup. He was not Alphas or Omegas, none of them were. But these soldiers… were something close. Military men, to the core.

“I’m sorry?” Astrid said through gritted teeth. The soldier’s eyes flickered to her.

“I have something for your friend,” he said. “For the blood.”

“And why, why in all the worlds should we trust you?” she snarled. He blinked placidly, then, as carefully as he could in the position on the floor beneath her foot and her axe, he shrugged.

“You shouldn’t, ” he replied simply. Astrid opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, he continued.

“The choice is yours, whether you want your friend to bleed out or you want the bandaging kit I have in my left pocket.”

“Your left what?” Hiccup frowned. “Pocket? What’s that?”

The soldier stared at him for a moment, then looked back up at Astrid.

“Can I just use my left hand for a second?”

She didn’t respond for a long moment, during which time Snotlout clutched his arm tightly as his fingers reddened.

A drop of blood hit the wooden floors.

“Fine,” Astrid relented. She adjusted her axe so the blade wasn’t impeding the movement of his left arm. Slowly, he reached downwards to his waist, and further down to a slit in the pants leg of his left thigh. He put a hand in, and after a moment, pulled out a small paper package. He tossed it with an expert flick of the wrist and it slid across the floor to Snotlout.

Hiccup reached over and ripped the brown packing apart to find a simple tightly folded square of cloth with an unlabelled bottle of clear liquid. He squinted at it and held it up to the daylight that seeped through the cell windows, trying to discern anything that could register in his memory.

“It’s supposed to stop you from getting sick, if you rub it on the cut,” the soldier spoke up. He had laced his fingers and placed his hands behind his head as per Astrid’s request. Well, not request. More of a very fierce order, with the promise of a very painful experience if it was not listened to.

“Again,” Hiccup said, shaking his head, “why should we trust you on this?”

He shrugged once more. “Like I said, you don’t need to. It’s just a benefit. Skip it if you want.”

Hiccup gave it a moment of thought, staring at the cloth and the bottle as his mind raced. Everyone was silent as they watched him contemplate.

“For Thor’s sake Hiccup, just put it on already! I don’t care whether you put that stuff on or not but I’d really like to stop bleeding right about now!” Snotlout burst out. Hiccup started, and looked over at him sheepishly.

“Sorry Snot.”

He uncorked the bottle and held the cloth to it, waiting. He was aware of all eyes in the room on him, including the soldier.

The door burst open and they all started as Alphas sauntered in, clothes stained a fresh scarlet and red on his fingers. Omegas came in just moments later, holding an axe with a dark grey blade the surface of which seemed to be in a state of frozen flux and which too was splattered with blood, as was the handle and his clothes. At the sight of them the soldier stiffened.

“Hello!” Alphas said cheerfully, pausing in the midst of a step taken as his leg swung forward without ever touching down, rising and then falling backwards like a pendulum. He balanced on one foot alone, cutting a horrific figure even in the bright midday sunlight that penetrated the prison, sword hilt visible over his shoulder and a smile on his face that did not mix at all with the bloodstains on his body. Omegas did not go for the same forwardness as his brother, but his presence too was something to encourage wariness as he stood loosely to the side, looking down at their latest prisoner with a bloody axe gripped by two fingers and a thumb alone.

Hiccup decided that no matter their statements about an alliance, he absolutely needed to watch his back.

Alphas noticed the cloth in his hand, and the bottle he was holding to it.

“What’s that?”

“Bandages that he gave us,” Hiccup answered, pointing to their captive. He froze under Hiccup’s finger, and shot a fearful look at Alphas, whose expression had faded into something sadistic.

“Is that so?” he whispered, kneeling down to the soldier. Every word was laced with venom, every enunciated syllable sent another visible shot of terror through the unfortunate prisoner.

“You think you can trick them like that, do you?” His voice, now low and harsh, reverbated off the iron bars in the doors and pierced the wood. It turned every muscle into a taut adrenaline-ridden mess, and drilled through the ears like a Screaming Death.

“You think you can kill them?” He leaned in closer, staring straight, unblinking into the soldier’s eyes, and his target, no, his victim, breathed harder, faster, fear mounting with every new heartbeat. Alphas gave him a smile that was more a show of teeth, a snake baring its fangs before the deadly strike.

Not on my watch.

And he straightened up and kicked him in the jaw so hard he slammed into the metal door just inches behind him with enough force to leave a dent in the criss-cross of iron. The soldier did not move, and a trickle of blood found its way down the back of his head and onto the wooden floors.

Alphas shifted.

“That will probably have alerted them. ‘Megas, you lead them to the dragons. I’ll stay here and fight off any that come down here.”

Omegas nodded and turned, motioning for them to follow.

“Oh, and Hiccup,” Alphas called as they silently filed out. Hiccup turned warily as Alphas drew his sword with an ominous shink. It too had little flecks of blood adorning its length, some in thin, perfect parallel lines. He realized he must have wiped it on something.

“Yeah?”

Alphas held his sword in a single hand, taking a few experimental swings, then settled into a strong stance facing the prison entrance. He looked back, and there was a small, sad smile on his face that caught Hiccup off guard with his fresh memories of that display of brutal dominance.

“Sorry about that. I don’t like those kind of sneaky tricks. He almost poisoned… Snotlat, is that his name?”

“Close,” Hiccup said hesitantly. “It’s Snotlout.”

“Ah. Alright. Don’t use that bandage he gave you. It’s got a severe venom in it now. Ask ‘Megas to grab you a fresh strip on your way. And remind him to tell you about the… complications.”

“Complications?”

“Ask ‘Megas. Run along now.” He grinned.

“Your dragon’s waiting.”

And Hiccup left Alphas to fight off the yells and clinks of metal that thundered towards them from above, following Omegas as he led them through a labyrinth of musty corridors. He caught up to the Arcanum and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned with a raised eyebrow. Hiccup tried to ignore a particularly vibrant shade of red on his neck.

“Alphas said there were complications…?”

Omegas nodded. “Yeah. Listen up, all of you. You’ll have to adapt to a very different situation in a bit.”

Chapter 12: Bound

As Alphas danced his way through hordes of attackers, leaving behind only memories and grieving family members, he found himself wondering.

As Omegas explained the difficulties that had arisen to the Berkians, he felt a sense of faraway thoughtfulness.

As Hiccup listened, he wanted more and more to lie down and panic.

As Caird heard of the reports of a brawl in the prison cells, he sighed and waved his informant away with instructions to let it sort itself out.

As Myre found out about the capture of not just one, but two Arcanums, with a sweetener of six Vikings, he smiled to himself.

And in several places in the middle of the ocean somewhere, things began grinding their long journey towards the end.

=0=

“Are you okay?” Omegas asked. Hiccup was walking around in circles in a single spot and trying to inhale the atmospheric equivalent of about three sheep.

“Nononononononono I’m fine,” Hiccup said shakily as he continued orbiting a specific panel of wood.

“No time for that, man,” Omegas said, and picked up the Berkian chief like he was handling an armful of kittens. Hiccup was slung over a shoulder and Omegas jogged off, with the rest of the Berkians following, just barely resisting the urge to do as Hiccup had done.

“Hey, Fishlegs, pick me up too,” Tuffnut said, trying to maintain some form of ridiculousness as they ran down the corridors. What was a life, if not spent without every second only to honour Loki?

Fishlegs didn’t waste time talking, and just picked Tuffnut up and went on like that.

Two minutes later, he wheezed and set him back down.

“Why’d you stop?” Tuffnut asked, who had sort of been enjoying the ride despite the situation.

“Can’t… run… too… heavy,” Fishlegs managed between gasps.

“I’m heavy?” Tuffnut asked, eyes sparkling. He pumped the air. “Yes! I’ve got to try falling on people next time!”

Omegas snorted ahead of them. Hiccup, a little more coherent now, was insisting on running on his own one foot.

“Nah.”

“Why??”

“Someone else might ask to be carried.”

“They won’t! Put me down! Please!”

“No can do. Bear with it.”

“But why??”

“Later.”

And Omegas gave him a grin that immediately shut him up. He resigned to looking at the floor pass by before him.

=0=

“My word, man,” Alphas said between slashes. “Who trained the lot of you?”

He got no reply apart from screams and the occasional gurgle when he felt like a little whisper of steel across the windpipe would be sufficient.

Bigger fish to fry, or bigger men to kill, and all that.

“Have you ever thought about how it works?” he said aloud as he stabbed another one through the torso. “The binding you’re doing.”

He skipped under a swung axe and slammed the offender’s head into the sharp end of someone else’s sword.

“It’s like language. Put the words together and you have a sentence, right?”

The stricken sword-wielder got a good view of his heart before he died.

“The runes are like the words. Put them together properly, you have a function.”

A scream of metal as Alphas pitted his sword against another soldier’s mace was cut short as the blade passed through the unfortunate weapon and into its master.

“What’s been done there, is you’ve somewhat said that ‘if this, then that’. With us, well, we wear it and we can’t use magic.” A flurry of blows put down three more within the same second. “Cleverly enough, we can’t take it off without using magic.”

Alphas spun and one of his opponents flew away, landing rather painfully on top of a fallen mace.

“It would be a rather effective kind of restraint will you stop screaming if it were made with that intent in mind,” he mused as he put the unfortunate man out of his misery. “On chains, perhaps. Hmm. An idea to put on the table at home.”

Alphas looked around, and realized no one else was standing. Kolger was awake and too afraid to say anything, despite the vast amounts of alcohol sloshing about in his system. Alphas strode to his cell, stepping over prone bodies where necessary, and put his face to the iron.

“Would you like me to continue?”

Kolger trembled violently, and Alphas realized the confusion. Oh, like he was ever going to have survived.

“I mean the little magic lesson. Want to know more?” he smiled.

Kolger nodded so fast it was a wonder his head didn’t fly off. Of course, that was the only reaction to be expected. Alphas crossed his arms and put them to the door, leaning against in a manner that could only be described as relaxed, because there really was no other word to give even a hint of that predatory stance.

“You completely cut us off from magic. The dragons though, the dragons are cut off from everything that makes them dragons. The sigils have been arranged so that at least one leg must touch some surface at all times. Fire doesn’t travel further than the throat before turning into fish. Excellent strategy, I must say. They try to attack you and they get only satisfaction? Ingenious. Really, Kolger, you must tell me something.”

To poor Kolger, it seemed as though the universe rapidly shrunk until there was nothing but him and Alphas and all his nightmares at once. Nothing except Alphas, who soaked those fears in and radiated them, casting him into darkness.

The eyes that looked at him held something that was usually confined to the eyes of unspeakable things. Kolger had never known them and never would, but Alphas knew, and if he knew what Kolger was seeing from behind the misty curtains of black terror that shrouded his vision, perhaps he could have compared that view to… them.

Alphas’ hand slammed the criss-cross of metal that was the cell doors. Kolger would have given anything to be at the end of a lion’s teeth or a dragon’s fire or a scorpion’s sting right now, because at least there you had a chance.

Here, there was nothing but the inevitable.

When Alphas spoke, the words themselves trembled at being spoken.

Who is making these for you?

The unfortunate Kolger could only babble.

“Please no I-I don’t know w-what they are C-Caird knows Caird knows Caird knows please don’t k-kill me no no no no n-”

Alphas opened the door to retrieve his dagger, and with some effort, dislodged it from the bone.

“Good throw,” he murmured to himself, and inspected the stormy gray blade before walking away.

=0=

When Omegas finally reached a closed door was when he set Hiccup down.

Hiccup stretched. That position had been uncomfortable in more than the mental sense.

“So we’re here?” he asked as he tried to bend over backwards.

“Yes. Would you like me to help you with that?” Omegas asked.

“Uh, sure.”

“‘Kay.”

Hiccup was picked up by the feet and shoulders.

A minute later, he felt like a condensed universe.

“Oh that was good. Thanks!”

“No problem,” came the reply, accompanied as always by a cheerful gesture. In this case, it was a little laugh.

Astrid fidgeted. “Can we go in?”

Omegas nodded. “Absolutely. Just watch out for booby traps.”

Astrid, who had had her hand to the door, whirled on him.

Traps?”

He raised his hands before him. “Kidding. We already checked the room, don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe.”

She gave him a perfunctory glare, then walked inside and the scowl was immediately replaced with cooing and murmurings of “my baby girl” as she petted Stormfly.

Everyone else followed suit and soon the room was filled with whispers of affection. Hiccup passed somewhat bashfully in front of Wreckage and Omegas’ dragon, who he had told them during their time in the cells was called Spiral. He nodded to them, and he could have sworn that Wreckage gave him an almost imperceptible nod back. He stared for a moment, then hurriedly turned away to face Toothless, and hugged his snout. He got a crooning warble in return.

“Right,” Omegas said as he positioned his axe over the door. “Step back now everyone.”

They all wisely stepped back, and the axe was brought down over the lock in a splintering of fractured, tortured metal. Hiccup gaped. Everyone gaped. He had cleaved through gods knew what kind of metal in an instant, without so much as a grunt.

And it had splintered.

Wood was supposed to splinter. Not metal. Metal should be unperturbed. At the very least, metal should be dented.

Metal should not be torn apart.

Hiccup raised his hand. He didn’t know why, but after that show he felt he should raise his hand. Omegas glanced at him.

“Yes?” he asked hesitantly.

“Um. Is that an axe or a hammer?”

Omegas tilted his head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“You tore the metal!” Hiccup exclaimed, going straight to the heart of the matter. All he got in return was a look of greater bewilderment.

“So?” Omegas asked, failing to see what was so fundamentally wrong.

“It’s… it’s metal!”

“Uh, yeah… it’s metal… so?”

“But-” Hiccup flailed for words. A hand grasped his shoulder.

“Look, you can ask every kind of question later on. Right now, we need to get out. Okay? Questions are good, but this really is not the time to ask them. Okay?” Omegas asked.

Hiccup sagged. He was right. “Okay,” he murmured.

“Cool.”

One by one, the other locks were ripped to shreds. Everyone took great care to stand as far away as possible.

The dragons stepped out.

And Omegas smiled.

“Let’s go.”

=0=

Caird stepped out of his quarters and took the way to the lavatory. He turned a corner and then someone grabbed him and threw him along the length of the corridor.

Nature’s call was ignored, and nature itself soon learned to shut up as Caird looked up at Alphas Arcanum.

=0=

I should have gone to sleep then,’ Hiccup thought desperately as he narrowly avoided an arrow and tumbled across the deck. All around him, people were fighting and struggling and sweating a bit too much for his liking.

I shouldn’t have stayed up to look for stuff about Red Ghosts,’ he lamented as someone picked him up and dragged him out of the way of a leisurely hammer. Hiccup watched it dreamily as it arced down into the ground where he had been. It slammed into the deck and broke the wood.

Someone slapped him. The haze of sounds and blurred shapes sharpened and he saw a furious Astrid.

Uh oh.

“Don’t just daydream!” she yelled, then whirled to kick someone in the head. Hiccup winced as he fell, clutching his skull.

She looked back at him, frowning. “Come on, Hiccup,” she said, and pulled him along behind her.

Hiccup.

Why did the name sound so flavourful when she said it?

She pulled him along, and he would have been content to just be dragged onwards forever, as long as she was the one who had him by the hand, until she dumped him in front a great black shape which wrrred at him.

“Toothless, take care of him,” she snapped, and strode off with her axe in hand. He looked up at the dragon and shrugged.

“She’s too awesome,” he smiled happily.

Toothless pointedly ignored him, opting instead to whack someone with his tail and scream into another’s face. He circled his rider, growling.

The world sharpened to crystal clarity, and Hiccup scrambled up. He reached for his belt and there was a burst of flames as Inferno ignited.

Parry. Swipe. Duck. Lunge. Parry. Thrust. Swipe.

Toothless took care of the rest with a briskly snapped out wing.

The soldier hurtled back.

He looked around and then there he was, Omegas Arcanum, a whirlwind of death that ate up the opponents and spat out their corpses. Blood pooled at his feet and behind him was the path he’d taken to get here, decorated with carnage.

Not for the first time, Hiccup was impressed, and feeling rather sick.

A splintering crash ate up the rest of his thoughts as two people barrelled through a wall and kept going in a flurry of movement. Alphas and Caird had yet to reach for their swords, and were duking it out with physical blows.

Alphas flipped in the air and kicked Caird in the face, who fell sitting to the floor. Alphas made to land on him but his foot was caught in a platform made of hands which saw him slammed to the floor. Caird got up, still holding him by the boots, and whipped him over his head and introduced him to a new spot on the floor. Alphas recovered quickly with his hands to the ground, and spun his legs, effectively spinning Caird onto his head as well. Both men somersaulted to their feet and a new series of crashing blows commenced.

Every fighter was giving those two a wide berth by now.

Hiccup whirled madly just in time to block a sword, and Toothless whipped his assailant away.

Oh, how he hated this. How he hated the madness. This wasn’t the place for him, He’d be much better suited at home, tinkering with that contraption he’d come up with for doors.

Toothless roared, and the sound startled him from his reverie. Right. Not the place to daydream. Focus, focus.

Snotlout hurtled through a wall of men, whooping with glee, and landed in front of him. He must have hardly noticed that Hiccup was here. The Jorgensen ran off to another tight group, which immediately scattered in the face of his hammer.

And then came the crowd which swallowed all the others, and Hiccup watched the huge tide of black and red as it came towards him, like an ever growing tsunami.

A roar.

A slam.

And the crowd dispersed into panic as Wreckage rammed himself into their midst.

Caird flew by in front of him and he reared back, snapping his teeth. Hiccup did not want to be around for anyone to get bitten by that monstrous mouth. It would be less of a bite and more of a rather large chunk suddenly and painfully missing.

Creaks wailed across the deck, and the entire ship rocked. Hiccup slid away down the now nearly vertical flooring, and was saved from falling a rather long way down into the ocean by the rails. Toothless crashed into the rails, just barely not splintering them under his weight.

And then the vessel rocked back into place, throwing up a huge spray as it did so. The droplets reached all the way up to the deck, and the foaming water was clearly visible even in the blinding sun.

“Wreckage!”

The roar came from nowhere, and it was an instant before Hiccup recognized Alphas’ voice.

Wreckage answered the roar with one of his own. Everyone instinctively clapped their hands to their ears, and Hiccup thought it prudent to do so himself.

Even with those measures, that world-rending thing that could barely be called a growl and could more accurately be called a consternation of thunder was deafening. Hiccup took his hands from his head, the sound still echoing, and was immediately surprised when Toothless grabbed him, threw him onto his back, and galloped across to where Alphas was standing.

And jumped.

They landed in a much smaller kind of vessel, but that was compared to the hugeness of what they had been held on. That ship was a manmade island. This was just a regular ship, and for that Hiccup was glad. For some reason, there were no people on this one.

“No one here?” he managed to ask as Alphas walked towards him. He shook his head.

“This is sort of like an emergency ship. No emergency yet, so no people, and food and rations for days.”

“Oh, good,” Hiccup slumped.

“I’m glad you appreciate it,” he responded, as the other dragons and their riders thumped on to the deck.

“Careful now,” Alphas said without sparing a glance for any of them, his gaze focused solely on looking up. “Don’t want to capsize the moment we get here.”

Hiccup, wondering what he was looking at, made to turn his head, and saw nothing of note. He turned to Alphas, mouth opening to ask a question.

The arrow sliced through the sails, and fire spread.

“‘Megas! Handle it!” Alphas shouted, and leaped off the side.

Hiccup just stared, and then his mind must have decided not to deal with it, because he blacked out.

Chapter 13: Wherever

At a groan, Astrid looked around, and saw Hiccup sitting up at last. She hurried over to him.

“You okay?” she asked worriedly, checking him all over for anything else of concern. He waved her away, smiling weakly.

“‘M fine,” he croaked. Astrid picked up a flagon of water and held it out to him, which he took gratefully, and while he was sipping it little by little she went to tell the others.

Within the next couple of minutes, the room was crowded.

“Hah! If I was you I wouldn’t have fainted,” Snotlout bragged amidst the chatter. Hiccup looked at him tiredly.

“Oh, yeah. How long was I out?”

“Ten ye-”

“Just a few hours,” Astrid hurriedly interrupted Tuffnut.

“So… we got away?”

Fishlegs groaned. “Yeah, we got away, but I never want to do anything like that ever again.”

“What are you talking about?” Alphas strode in. “It was fabulous.”

He nodded to Hiccup. “Feeling alright?”

As Hiccup gave his affirmation, Omegas came in with a plate of food and handed it to him.

“Thought you might want something to eat,” he clarified.

Internally, Astrid wished she had prepared something to eat for him before calling in everyone else.

Hiccup chewed a mouthful slowly, and swallowed. “Uh, how did we escape if the sails were burnt?”

“It’s an exciting story,” Alphas said, leaning forward. “It’s also one that can wait until you’re done. Eat up first.” He indicated the plate with a nod.

Slowly, the food disappeared, and Hiccup sat back contentedly. “That was pretty good,” he said, turning to Omegas. “Did you make that?”

He shook his head. “They’re kind of ready made. This is pretty much an emergency ship, after all. If there’s an emergency, you don’t want to waste time cooking.”

Hiccup sighed. “Right, I should have thought of that.”

“You’re not expected to,” Alphas clarified. “New environment, new way of thinking. You can’t wrap your head around it immediately, and no one’s going to say that you should have.”

Astrid didn’t agree with that statement, but she didn’t say it out loud. A warrior should know how to be ready for any kind of situation, and that includes critical thinking.

But… Hiccup wasn’t a warrior, was he? He was a dragon-rider, and a cute one too, with an about average hand at weapons, and he didn’t really take that much action on the ground. Having dragons meant you got used to aerial attack over anything. And even before the dragons, he’d mostly stuck to smithing because that was all a Viking with no muscles to speak of could do to make himself useful in a war-driven environment. Everyone needed weapons, and he was so desperate to be a part of something that he’d done whatever was necessary.

Astrid kept her thoughts to herself.

Alphas was saying something, relating to Hiccup their daring escape, with the way they had blasted a hole in the main ship and left it to sink, the way they had dashed across the ship to put the fires out, the way every arrow and harpoon with a rope trailing behind it had been severed midair. He narrated the look of fury on Caird’s face, which Astrid hadn’t even been able to see with the huge distance between them, but Alphas somehow had. And she could have sworn that as he talked, the scenes he spoke of played back in his eyes, with firelight and steel and entire clouds of black arrows shimmering in those eyes made of shadow.

Hiccup listened with a slight frown, and when Alphas was done, he asked the same question as before.

“But how did we get away if the sails were burnt? Or are we still there but they’ve moved on?” he added sarcastically.

A smile. “There’s spare sails on every one of these ships. We just rowed like hell to get out of their reach then set it up. After that, everything was smooth sailing.”

Hiccup gave the pun a little snort of acknowledgement. “You rowed?”

“There’s oars. You can see them if you like.”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

=0=

The sea was dark around them, but calm. Small waves shimmered under an orange sky.

Alphas and Omegas stood together, leaning over the railings.

They stood in silence, gazing into the blueness below, with only the sounds of the wind and the occasional shuffle of feet or rustling of clothes to mark the time with. At last, Omegas spoke.

“Two things.”

“Go on.”

“First. The magic.”

“Caird wouldn’t talk. Just taunts. Shut him up quickly enough.”

“Hm. What did he say?”

“Something along the lines of ‘You’ll find out soon enough, and then you’ll wish you hadn’t.’ Standard threats, but it could be genuine. Who knows, with Myre?”

“Got it.”

“Second?”

“Do you know where we are?”

“If I had even the faintest kind of idea I’d be steering. As it is…”

“You’re just letting the wind take us.”

“Lost, in a nutshell.”

“Damn.”

They looked at each other with tired expressions. Omegas’ mouth twitched.

“Well then, oh brother of mine, I’m going to go and lie down,” he proclaimed with a sweep of his arm.

Alphas gave him a tiny smile in return.

“Go ahead,” he replied, and turned back.

Omegas faltered, but then he swung around and walked away. If Alphas was worried, then he’d give him the space he needed.

=0=

It was when he was deep in thought that it came. The wind… froze.

Alphas barely paid it any attention. But then he tasted it in the air. That crackling, the sparking of the sky.

Alphas looked up, and his face changed. He swore, and yelled for Omegas.

The sky before the ship was violently dark.

Seastorm.

=0=

“Get the damn sails down!” Alphas screamed over the wind. The ship was being tossed around by the waves. Every few seconds another wall of water would slam against the hull and the entire thing would rock the other way. Alphas had to jump every time to keep his balance.

Omegas darted to the mast and began clambering his way up, but was immediately dislodged by the ship quaking as another huge wave thundered against the vessel. He fell to the ground with a thud.

Alphas leapt forward as the ship crashed back down as a Berkian, the one called Fishlegs, staggered out of the entrance to the lower levels.

“What’s happening?” he yelled.

“Storm! Get back inside!” Alphas shouted as he dug the dagger into the pole. Fishlegs wasted no time in obeying and was immediately gone. Hanging on tightly, Alphas retrieved the dagger and stabbed the wood, using it to pull himself up just as a violent burst of wind threatened to bring him back down. Omegas slalomed around the pole, slipping on the water that had found its way onto the deck. Before he was thrown off-kilter, his axe found its way into the mast.

Omegas began to climb up as well.

Slowly, both of them found their way to the horizontal board by which the sails were held up. They scrambled up and nearly fell over as a powerful gust of wind whirled around them. Gripping the ropes, they began to cut through.

The sails didn’t even have a chance to begin falling before they were blown away, throwing them both off the mast. They landed rather painfully.

“Ow,” Alphas hissed as he got up, the ship rather less violent now that the wind wasn’t careening them in every direction.

“I’m going to be sore for a week,” Omegas grumbled, who hadn’t even tried to pick himself up. Alphas took him by his leg and dragged him inside to wait out the tempest.

=0=

Crack!

The entire ship shook. The juddering continued well after the sound had died down.

“What was that?” Hiccup asked nervously.

“Don’t know,” Alphas said, “but I’m going to check it out.” He got up.

“Anyone else coming?”

Omegas raised his hand.

“You coming is a given,” Alphas remarked. “Anyone else?”

Hesitantly, Hiccup raised his hand. After him, Snotlout and Astrid did. Then Fishlegs put his hand in the air, and the twins followed suit.

Alphas raised an eyebrow. “Unexpected, but welcome. Let’s go.”

Once they were on the deck, it was only a matter of looking over the rails that made the matter clear.

A bit too clear for anyone’s liking.

“Big rock.”

“Very much so.”

They all looked over.

“At least there’s an island. Look at all those trees.”

“Gotta be at least some fruit trees in there. And animals. We can live pretty well while we figure out how to get back home.”

Hiccup pointed. “Is that a cave?”

The hole yawned darkly. The rim of the entrance was studded with deep red rocks that reached far inside. The colour faded the farther away from the entrance it was, and the plants around the area too were crimson.

The Arcanums frowned upon seeing it.

“It’s a cave, yes. Good eye,” Omegas responded. “Probably best not to go in, though.”

“Ah…” Hiccup came forward and whispered something in his ear. He nodded, then turned to the twins.

“As for the two of you, you can go in any time you like, because there’s probably a lot of delicious sea slugs in there and I’m sure we wouldn’t mind having some for a meal every now and then.”

Tuffnut wailed at this, and Ruffnut glared at Omegas, opening her mouth to speak.

“Of course, if you go down there, there might well be something to fully educate you on all the different types of leaves that exist in the world, so that’s an added bonus, I’m sure,” he continued.

Ruffnut cowered on the floor with Tuffnut.

“Now that that’s settled,” Alphas said, clapping his hands, “we’ll need to make a camp here and find food. As I see it, the part of the ship with the rations was hit.”

Fishlegs whimpered.

“It’s not hopeless,” Alphas said pointedly, glancing at him. “Island survival is easy.”

“Oh sure, survival extraordinaire can say that,” Snotlout muttered. Alphas was immediately looming over him.

“Something to say?”

“Er, no.”

“Oh no, go on. This is a team effort, after all.”

“D-didn’t say anything.”

“Sure? Oh well then.”

He turned back to everyone else, and gave them a smile that would have been charming were it not so intrinsically dark.

“Let’s set up,” he said.

=0=

“These damn birds,” Alphas said as he laid waste to one of the aforementioned. “You’d think they had it out for us.”

For seemingly no reason, the island’s inhabitants were supremely aggressive and were out for the group’s blood. They didn’t get very far, not with the sorcerer twins at hand and dragons to chomp them through.

Omegas slapped one out of the air as it hurtled towards him, screeching.

Hiccup was keeping them at bay by swinging Inferno around threateningly. It seemed to do the trick, and the other Vikings made sure to keep close to him, lashing out wherever they could. The conventional weapons didn’t seem to be enough of a deterrent.

Alphas plucked one out of the air, one-handedly delivering death to the eternal stream of unfortunate avians as he inspected the one in his hand.

It was decidedly a beautiful bird, with red, blue, yellow, and green feathers that cascaded over its form. The eyes seemed enraged, with tiny black pupils like pinpoints. It had a small red beak, perfect for nipping out eyeballs, and orange claws tipped with black talons.

Its voice was exceedingly shrill, and so Alphas crushed it underfoot.

They very quickly took the message after that. But wherever they walked, there were hundreds of beady red eyes glaring at them from the trees.

“Annoying, aren’t they?” Omegas remarked.

There was no response.

“Come on, don’t be stingy!”

Silence.

“Alphas. Say something.”

Alphas did not say something.

“Great,” Omegas sighed, and slumped. Hiccup exchanged an amused glance with Astrid, and they walked onwards.

Right then was when they reached the clearing.

It sprawled over a huge area, a clear blue lake fed by a stream, surrounded by crowded trees and small grasses vying for space underfoot. The canopies merged into one above them, turning the shadows green. The sky was refreshingly blue compared to the lightning-split darkness of what they had had to pass through, and everyone couldn’t help but sigh in relief at finding such a perfect spot.

Everyone except Alphas. That man had seemingly no emotional response.

He clapped his hands and gestured to an area some way off from the water.

“‘Megas, get chopping,” he ordered. His brother nodded and, slinging his axe from his back, strode off to the indicated area.

“You two, help him clear the area and break off any good firewood you find,” he said, pointing to the twins. Astrid was next.

“Set up a perimeter,” he told her, then turned his attention to Hiccup and Fishlegs.

“You’re in charge of getting anything edible from the trees, bushes and whatnot that’s around here. And you, Snotlout, you’re coming with me.”

He marched away into the undergrowth. Snotlout exchanged a look of hopelessness with everyone else, then trudged off after him.

He caught up, leaving behind the sounds of chatter as everyone else tried to plan how they would go about their respective tasks. They walked in silence, and the faraway voices faded away. Alphas said nothing, which meant Snotlout said nothing, because he would not dare to break the silence. All there was was the rustling of the grass and leaves as they walked past, and the occasional chatter or call of a bird. And maybe Snotlout imagined it, but there was also a nearly imperceptible hissing, just at the corner of his hearing.

“Name,” Alphas said, apparently unperturbed by the hissing. If Alphas couldn’t hear it, then Snotlout was probably imagining it. Immediately, the hissing went away.

Wait, oh no, Alphas had said something. What had he said?

“Um, could you say that again?” Snotlout said uneasily.

Alphas quirked an eyebrow at him. “Name,” he repeated.

“Name?” Snotlout asked, bemused.

“Yes, name. What’s your name?”

“Don’t… don’t you know my name?”

“Full name, full name. I know they call you Snotlout and that’s your individual name, but what clan do you belong to?” Alphas clarified.

“Oh. Snotlout Jorgensen,” said Snotlout Jorgensen.

“I see. Any other Jorgensens in that group?”

“Hah! You wish!” Snotlout crowed, forgetting himself for a moment. Then he remembered and said “S-sorry.”

“Sorry? For what?” Alphas inquired, then his head snapped to a bush, just an ordinary bush. He looked at Snotlout and held a finger to his lips, signalling silence.

He crept up to it, then he kicked it hard.

A screaming thing erupted from the bush, with flailing arms and baring long yellow fangs as big as Snotlout’s own hands. It had dirty yellow fur, and its hindlegs looked like another set of arms. The most terrifying thing of all though, was its face.

It looked almost human.

Alphas just punched it so hard that Snotlout heard a crack as a bone broke. It dropped to the ground, writhing. Alphas stamped on its head and all wild motions immediately ceased. There was just the occasional twitch to show it was still alive.

Alphas knelt down to it, and peeled back the eyelid. Even knocked out, the eyes were crazed and bloodshot. He tilted his head, as though puzzled, then straightened.

“What were we talking about, before we were so rudely interrupted?” he asked.

“Uh…”

Alphas snapped his fingers. “Right! Sorry for what?”

Snotlout furrowed his brow, trying to remember. Then he recalled the earlier conversation and looked somewhat sheepish.

“Um, I don’t know.”

Alphas looked amused. “You’re afraid of me.”

Snotlout hung his head and didn’t say anything. Alphas smiled at him. It was actually a nice smile this time, calm and friendly, not one of the varieties of intimidation or rage he always seemed to have ready.

“All I can say is, really, I’m a bit of an angry person.”

This was a severe understatement, in Snotlout’s opinion, but he didn’t voice that thought. Alphas continued.

“But you must admit, you lot gave me a good enough reason to be angry.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I’ll be fine now though, I promise. And you don’t have that much to be afraid of with ‘Megas, I know. He’s nice, isn’t he?”

Snotlout voiced his agreement, although it must be said that he would have agreed with anything Alphas said.

“Right. Let’s start off on the right foot this time then, shall we?” He stuck out his hand.

“Hi, I’m Alphas. Pleased to meet you.”  He smiled radiantly this time. Tentatively, Snotlout shook the proffered hand.

“Snotlout. Pleased to meet you too,” he tried.

“Lovely!” Alphas exclaimed, then spun around on his heel and continued deeper into the trees. Could this really be called a forest, or a wood? It was something else entirely.

Snotlout took a deep breath. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes?”

“Why are we out here?”

Alphas looked back at him and yes, there was that dark smile again. “Looking for something to fight, of course.”

=0=

Omegas was chopping trees with surprising speed. One quick slash and the entire trunk was cut through. Astrid watched him work, enraptured, forgetting about setting up a perimeter.

“How do you do that?” she asked him.

“It’s just a matter of having a sharp enough axe and enough strength behind the swing,” he told her. He flipped the weapon around and offered it to her. “Would you like to try?”

She took it from him and aimed a swift chop at one of the trees. The axe cleaved straight through the entire thing, and it fell with a lot of rustling and a few snaps as the branches broke off. She gazed at the dark metal in awe.

“What’s it made of?” she asked.

“It’s called Indus steel. I haven’t a clue how it’s made,” he replied. He put his hand forward to ask for the axe back.

“Huh,” Astrid said, and reluctantly handed it over. “Sounds like a better kind of Gronckle Iron. Feels like it too.”

“Gronckle Iron?”

“You don’t know?” she asked, astonished. Omegas shook his head.

“Well, you’ll have to ask Hiccup how it’s made. You have to make a Gronckle eat specific amounts of special stones and then use the lava to make whatever you want. It’s strong. I remember the first time Gobber made Gronckle Iron. It was really light but it cut straight through a normal iron sword.”

Omegas’ eyes gleamed. “Now that sounds useful. I wonder what would happen if you pitted it against Indus steel. Which would win, I wonder?”

Astrid laughed. “Honestly, probably your metal. Gronckle Iron might have cut through regular iron but it still couldn’t cut straight through the trees.” She swished an imaginary axe as she said this.

“I see. Indus steel can cut through iron too. It would be an interesting competition,” he remarked. “Now, weren’t you supposed to be setting up a perimeter?”

“Oh, right!” Astrid looked around, then faltered. “I’ll have to wait for you to get done with the trees first though. I can’t set up a perimeter between all this.”

Omegas shrugged. “Just mark out the general area and I’ll cut it through.”

“Thanks. I’ll just put a cross in the trees to cut.”

“Good idea. You do that.”

Astrid retrieved her own axe and got to work making notches in the bark.

While she was busy, Hiccup and Fishlegs returned with armfuls of bright red berries and dumped them near the dragons, some of which were asleep, others watching the activities with interest. Upon sensing the berries, Toothless came forward to give them a sniff, then slowly crept back, as though thoughtful.

“Ah! Perfect timing!” Omegas exclaimed happily upon seeing them. “Mister fire sword, would you mind doing me a favour?”

“Uh, sure?” Hiccup said tentatively.

Omegas pointed at all the stumps around them.

“We can’t exactly lie down on those or anything, so please do burn them. I’d ask a dragon, but they’re not up to the task at the moment.”

“Burn them? Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” he nodded.

Hiccup hesitated, then pulled out Inferno and, as it flared, he held it to a stump. The flames danced along the length of the metal, and it took a few minutes before the wood caught. Soon, the little area they had made was lit with flames.

Omegas applauded. “Wonderful! Continue just like that!”

Spurred on, Hiccup repeated the process for every stump he came across. As he did so, he noticed the furrows in the dirt around every single one. The fallen leaves had been scraped away and any grasses or ferns uprooted, leaving only the dark soil, which could not catch fire. As he lit the next stump, Hiccup realized with a start that Omegas had done all this beforehand.

He had anticipated Hiccup’s usefulness, and prepared accordingly.

Really, you couldn’t help but feel impressed.

As he neared a stump on the edge, Omegas called him.

“No no, don’t burn those. Not the ones right on the edge. They’ll act as a sort of boundary for our site, yeah?”

Hiccup nodded, and turned his attention back.

There was smoke everywhere.

“How do I get back?” he shouted over the crackling of flames.

“You walk, I guess?” Omegas replied.

“I can’t get through the fire!”

“Such a shame. Hang on, I’ll be right there.”

Hiccup waited, and then Omegas came through with his collapsible shield in front of him.

“Thought you’d appreciate the protection,” he grinned, and beckoned to follow. Hiccup did so, and Omegas turned the shield every now and then to block off the flames. Soon, they emerged on the side with everyone else on it. Hiccup coughed. Smoke was not entirely kind to the lungs. His eyes watered.

“Can I have some water?” he croaked, desperate to wash away that sort of film that coated his tongue.

“But of course.” Omegas rummaged in a satchel for a bit, then produced a water-skin with a flourish. Hiccup took it gratefully, and drank deeply. He sighed contentedly when he was done. It was quite welcome.

“Oh, and by the way, no one eat the berries you’ve found yet.”

Hiccup looked questioningly at Alphas.

“They’re safe to eat. We recognized them.”

“Still. Do wait until Alphas gets back. In the meantime, perhaps we could catch some fish?”

“How?” Hiccup asked. “We don’t have nets or rods. How will we catch anything?”

Omegas smirked. “By sword, of course.”

“Eh?”

“See, it’s not just nets and rods that are used to catch fish,” Omegas informed him. “In some places, tridents are used to spear the fish in the water.”

“What’s a trident?”

Omegas considered this for a moment. “Like a spear with three points. Anyway, the point is that we can take a leaf out of their book and use that spear that belongs to one of you to get something.”

“Or we could use dragons.”

Omegas paused. “You know, I really should have considered that we have fish-predators here,” he said, and laughed. Hiccup chuckled with him.

“Omegas, are all the trees done?” Astrid came walking up, then looked at the blaze. “What?”

“I asked your boyfriend here to set specific stumps on fire with that impressive sword of his. I asked him to leave the ones at the edge, I thought they could act as a boundary to add to the perimeter. Of course, if you like he can burn those as well.”

“N-no, it’s fine,” Astrid said quietly. Her face went slightly pink. She looked up.

“We’re betrothed, actually,” she declared, and now it was Hiccup’s turn to flush, not that he hadn’t been already. Omegas did not seem in the slightest bit affected.

“Really? Congratulations!” he exclaimed.

“Thanks,” Astrid said briskly.

“Th-thanks,” Hiccup murmured. Then he looked around.

“Where are the twins?”

“They went off the moment Alphas and Snotlout did and left the task of stripping the trees for firewood to the lot of us,” Omegas told him. “While you were clearing the area, I set your friend to cutting branches and gathering the dry leaves.”

Sure enough, Fishlegs was hard at work, breaking off branches and putting them in a steadily growing pile. Every now and then a dragon would reach out to help him rip away a particularly thick bit of wood.

“Where’d they go?” Hiccup asked frantically.

Omegas waved his concerns away. “Don’t worry. I saw them. They went off after those two.”

“Which two?”

“Who do you think?”

=0=

Snotlout followed Alphas in a silence that was punctuated only by the sounds of the island that he had grown used to.

A flash of something that hung from the trees and yelled at him.

Snotlout yelled and jumped away, only to see that Ruffnut was laughing hysterically. Alphas was not amused, and plucked Tuffnut out of the trees before him.

“Firstly, you need to be quieter. I heard you all the way. Secondly, I thought I told you to help Omegas.”

“He had it handled,” Ruffnut scoffed. “What could we do?”

“Simultaneous tasks increase efficiency,” Alphas informed them.

“Not like you could get any more efficient than he was already going,” Ruffnut grumbled. “Fine, we’ll go back.”

She turned around and inspected the surroundings. “Yeah, we’re lost.”

Alphas sighed. “Then you had better come with us, hadn’t you?”

He didn’t wait for a reply, he just turned and walked off deeper into the trees. Snotlout glanced at the twins, then followed him, and heard the rustling as they came along.

Along the way, Alphas bent down to inspect some small animal on the ground as it passed by. It bared its teeth at him and he nudged it along with his foot. Rather forcefully.

“Did you have to kick it?” Ruffnut asked him. “It was kinda cute.”

“I didn’t kick it,” Alphas said, seeming miffed. “I just shooed it. Did you see me draw back? No? That’s because I didn’t kick it. I just touched it and then moved it out of the way.”

No one said anything after that. A miffed Alphas was, to their minds, rather close to an irritated Alphas, which was uncomfortably near to an angry Alphas, which they didn’t want to see.

They continued on until they heard an amalgamation of different kinds of squealing and screeching. Alphas glanced at them, and they immediately knew he was going to get close. Reluctantly, they followed.

The sight that greeted them was an interesting one.

In a small area devoid of any trees or grasses or shrubbery, a miniature war was taking place. The birds from before were dive-bombing the ugly human-faced things that Snotlout had had the misfortune of seeing and Alphas had had the pleasure of beating up. The enraged things were dancing and grabbing birds from midair, biting into them and clawing them down as they attacked the eyeballs. The tiny things Alphas had not-quite-kicked before were darting about, nipping at feet and scuttling up the bodies of the human-faced things. There was another, new party too, which was subject to the same kind of attack as the human-faced things, and was attacking back and attacking things that had not done anything and attacking the enemies of its enemies and just generally attacking anything in sight.

It looked like a huge lizard, or perhaps a small wingless dragon, bigger than a Terrible Terror. It had frills all along its back, decorated with small colourful patterns. The rest of its body was bland and grey. Its mouth was saggy and when it hissed at anything, there was a view of small and sharp, tightly packed teeth.

Its eyes, as with all the others, were furious.

Alphas nodded to himself. “Alright then.”

He launched himself into the fray.

By the time he was done, the little clearing was devoid of any living animals, with the rest having run away, and the message was probably clear.

Humans are dangerous. Stay away.

Alphas rubbed his hands together.

“Well, time to get back.”

And they followed him back through the trees on a path only he seemed to know.

=0=

“How,” Hiccup said slowly, “can you find this many things to kill?”

Alphas was dripping redness. The twins and Snotlout made sure to stand well away from him.

“I’m talented,” Alphas said without batting an eyelid.

“You’re also covered in blood,” Omegas told him. “Go clean up. And don’t drip any on the catch.”

Alphas looked around at the fish, which had been laid out on a second spare sail that Omegas had recovered from the ship. He nodded.

“I won’t,” he said, and walked away towards the lake. Then he turned back. “The wildlife is unusually aggressive.”

With that parting quip, he sauntered off to the clear blue water. Hiccup looked at Omegas, who was frowning. Had that comment meant anything?

“What did he mean, they’re unusually aggressive?”

Omegas cheered up immediately. “Oh, nothing,” he said, and went to the pile of firewood that Fishlegs had painstakingly prepared. Fishlegs was currently glaring at the twins for leaving him with their work.

Omegas came back with an armful of sticks, which he threw to the floor, then went off in a different direction.

There was a distant splash as Alphas jumped into the water. From where Hiccup was sitting, it looked like he hadn’t even bothered taking his clothes off. His sword and dagger, however, were sitting on the ground by the lake in their respective sheaths.

Omegas came back with some good sized stones, which he began to arrange in a circle. He had to make another trip to complete it, but once that was done he arranged the firewood in the middle and held his hand out to Hiccup. He understood and took out his sword. It clicked and burst into flames and he handed it to Omegas.

The lake rippled as Alphas swam quietly in the distance.

Omegas went to get some more stones and put them on the edges and corners of the sail on which the fish had been laid out. He retrieved the sword Alphas had left, washed it a bit in the lake, then wiped it dry on the sail. He speared a fish on the blade and held it over the fire to cook.

“Won’t he mind?” Hiccup asked, not a little fearfully.

Omegas shook his head. “It’ll be fine.”

The fire was roaring by now, and night was setting in.

=0=

“Alright then,” Alphas said, folding up the sail with the fish still in it. He’d come up, dripping wet, but at least it was water this time, as Astrid had remarked. Sitting in front of the fire had dried him out quickly though.

“So you lot can sleep,” he said, “and me and ‘Megas will take turns staying up to watch out.”

“Are you two sure you’re fine with it being only you staying up?” Hiccup and Astrid said in unison, then they looked at each other and smiled.

“Absolutely,” Omegas confirmed. “Of course, if anyone wants to stay up with us…”

Exaggerated snoring resounded in their little camp, mostly from Snotlout.  Alphas snorted, Omegas chortled, and Hiccup and Astrid just sighed, too used to these antics.

“Well,” Hiccup said uncertainly as he lay down by Toothless, “goodnight.”

“Night,” Alphas said.

“Don’t let the goblins bite,” Omegas smirked.

“Goodnight Hiccup,” Astrid said warmly.

“Goodnight,” came Fishlegs’ voice.

Snotlout did not bother responding, committed to pretending to be fast asleep. Meanwhile, the twins had actually gone to sleep immediately upon lying down.

“You or me first?” Alphas asked Omegas quietly.

“Pick.”

“I’ll go then.”

“Sure. Time?”

“Three hours each turn?”

“Sounds fine. Have fun, oh brother of mine.”

“Go to sleep, you fool.”

Omegas grinned and went to lie down with his back against Spiral.

Alphas sat down and prepared for a long night.

On the edge of the island, a thick and steady stream of red smoke began to rise from the cave.

Chapter 14: Evil Minds

“-gas. ‘Megas.”

Omegas groaned and sat up.

“What do you want?” he said groggily to Alphas, rubbing his eyes.

“Your turn to keep watch, remember?” Alphas reminded him.

The memories of the past few days kicked in and he was immediately alert. “Right.”

He got up, stretching. “After this it's your turn, isn’t it?”

Alphas nodded. “Oh, and watch out for the animals. They keep showing up, and they’re worse than before. I’ve killed three of them already.”

“One for each hour, eh?”

“Not quite.”

Omegas grabbed his axe and straightened. Stiffly, he walked to the point of their camp which opened up to a moonlit view of the lake. And frowned.

“Hey, we don’t have any blood moons due yet, do we?”

“Don’t know.”

“Is it them?”

“Could be.”

“Dammit. I wish we could go without situations every single day.”

“We do. There’s just stretches of time in between where all the situations we didn’t have pile on.”

“All I’m hearing is we were meant to have situations but put them off and now they all come at once.”

“That’s definitely what I said.”

Omegas sat down, one leg outstretched and the other tucked against his chest.

“See you in three hours then.”

“Night, ‘Megas.”

Omegas listened to his brother as he shuffled away behind him, and then lay down against Wreckage.

He paused, and turned back.

“Alphas.”

“Mm?”

“You said you killed three animals, right?”

“Yes?”

“Where’d you put them?”

Without raising his head, Alphas pointed at a bush, where Omegas saw freshly disturbed dirt. He’d buried them, then.

“How’d you dig it?”

“Wreckage.”

“Right.”

“How long does it generally take?”

“You’d have to ask a plant expert. All I know is blood.”

“Well, that’s not completely true.”

“I wouldn’t want it to be, either.”

“Right, but how long should it take? Really.”

Alphas sighed. “Anywhere between one and three days for decomposition to set in, and another day or so for the plant to be affected.”

“So in total, about two or four days.”

“Yes.”

“Right. You can go to sleep now.”

“Finally,” Alphas grumbled, and turned over.

And Omegas sat and watched the night pass by.

=0=

“Well, crap,” Omegas muttered as he scrambled to his feet, “he’ll definitely need to know about this.”

He hurried over to Alphas. He leaned down. He punched him.

Alphas jumped to his feet, eyes blazing.

“Who?” he growled, and then recognized Omegas. “The hell did you do that for?”

“Sorry, sorry. But I needed you to wake up before it went away.”

“What went away?”

“Night’s quicker here for some reason. Moon’s almost gone. I noticed it just now, so I thought you should wake up quick.”

“What,” Alphas said pointedly, “are you on about?”

Omegas grabbed him and shoved him forward. “Look at the moon,” he whispered, pointing.

Alphas looked.

“What’s there to see?”

“I know it’s difficult, because the layer’s really thick so you don’t notice much, but look. Not just at it, look around it. Look at its light, look at the redness.”

Alphas looked again. Alphas frowned. Alphas squinted, peering at the vile redness of the moon.

Alphas swore. It was a colourful one, too.

“Easy now. Don’t want to wake them up.”

Above them, a never ending cloud of red gas billowed across the sky, twisting and turning in a wind made of knives.

=0=

Hiccup yawned and stretched as he got up. Sleeping against his dragon was certainly a far cry from the comfort of his bed back on Berk, but the heat which radiated from that jet-black body kept him warm all night.

He looked around. Daylight streamed through the branches of the trees around them. The twins and Astrid were already up, eating fish a little way away. Their faces looked uncharacteristically grim. It seemed even the twins were taking the matter, whatever it was, seriously.

That wasn’t right at all. What had happened?

“Ah, awake at last, I see.”

Hiccup looked back at Alphas as he walked over to him. The man seemed even more pensive than he normally was. Hiccup blinked.

Was Alphas worried?

“There’s something we found last night. I’ve already told your friends, the ones that are awake, at least. Now that you’re up, you need to know as well.”

Hiccup shook his head. “Nope.”

Alphas looked surprised and confused. “Sorry?”

“Nope,” Hiccup said again. “I’m not going to get involved in this, whatever it is. The past few days have really taught me something, and it’s to stay out of your magic messes, whatever they are. I’m not having anything to do with this.”

Alphas sighed, and squatted at his level.

“Normally, I’d say sure. This time, you don’t exactly have a choice. We’ve all got to do something because me and ‘Megas aren’t going to be enough to handle it.”

Hiccup was taken aback for a moment, but stood his ground. “Take the dragons with you then. Handle whatever it is with them by your side, not a bunch of random Vikings that got pulled into your messes,” he said bitterly.

Alphas laughed hollowly. “You got pulled into our messes? Sorry, that’s not how it happened, and you’re not allowed to change the past to suit your views. You involved yourself. You could have ended your involvement at our meeting on that island, but no, you chose to stick your nose in it further, and now look where we are. Cut off at that point, you could be happily ruling your island and me and my brother might not even have been caught by Caird. Now look how it turned out.”

Hiccup flushed with anger. “You make it sound like it’s all my fault, but it isn’t. You can’t just pile the blame on me and leave it there.”

“He’s right,” Omegas said from behind him. Hiccup whirled to see him sitting in much the same way as Alphas.

“You’re being too harsh. Turn it down a notch. Or maybe a whole swathe.”

Alphas sighed. “Sure. But they’re coming too, you agree on that.”

“Oh, yeah, definitely.”

“What is it, then?” Hiccup hissed, exasperated. “What is it that’s so bad you can’t deal with it by yourselves and with all these dragons?”

They sighed.

“You know what wyverns are?” Alphas asked him.

“Wyverns? They’re smaller, dumber dragons, aren’t they?”

“Wrong. The legend came from fact, but people mixed it up along the way. The general legends say that dragons are smarter, with the power of speech, and the ability to use magic, isn’t that it?”

Hiccup nodded, the anger slowly dissipating. “Some of them also say they’re bigger.”

“Well, I don’t know about that part, from my experience wyverns are about the same size. Of course, there’s difference in size between the species, but that’s true for dragons as well.”

“The point is,” Omegas continued, “that it’s the other way ‘round. Dragons are the ones who’re less intelligent, and wyverns are the ones who can talk and, sometimes, use magic.”

Hiccup gaped. “Wyverns have magic?”

“Some species. And of course, all of them can talk. It’s kind of creepy, really. They hiss and snarl the entire time.”

At this point Alphas took over. “Now, there’s one species called Insidians. Physically, they look a bit like Windwalkers, if you know what those are.”

“Windwalkers?”

“I’m guessing you don’t then. Anyway, Insidians are vile,” he spat. “The incarnation of evil in draconic beings. They breathe a gas, like the Zippleback, except it’s red and it doesn’t explode. If you breathe it in, you don’t get sick, but you get… corrupted, I suppose.”

“Corrupted?” Hiccup asked, bewildered.

“It’s like this,” Omegas told him. “Let’s say you’re a perfectly normal person who just happens to get in the way of an Insidian. Usually, you’re just a normal person, with emotions and things you’re happy about and all that. Breathe in the gas, and you turn bad.”

“Everything you were before is gone,” Alphas continued. “Now, you’re pretty much slave to Insidians when they want control over you. When they don’t, you feel the urge to kill. Your entire existence, just consumed by the want for violence. No one matters, not your brother or sister or father or mother, not your wife and kids, not your friends. No one means anything to you anymore. If the Insidians get to you and you walk in on them, you’d kill them, even beat them to death with your bare hands if you didn’t have anything else to do it with, and you’d laugh while you did it.”

“Insidians used to be a plague,” Omegas said. “They were such a problem that everyone got together to beat them. Every society came together to get rid of them. Most of them were killed, and the rest were either banished to some weird realm or pushed back to some area in this world that they couldn’t get out of. Now, the fact that we found free Insidians isn’t the only thing that’s worrying. The fact is that they haven’t shown up above ground, which they would if they were enslaving the animals up here. As well as that, we’ve seen their gas at night. It’s like blood red smoke.”

“Now the question is, what are they using that smoke on? They don’t have any reason to use it on each other, because they’re immune, and if they’re not coming above ground then there’s nothing else to use it on. But then, the animals are too aggressive. So there has to be some source of influence.”

“It’s the plants,” Omegas said. “The smoke leeches into the ground and contaminates the soil. That’s why I told you not to eat the berries you’d gathered yet. But still, the problem is that there’s no reason for the Insidians to use their smoke.”

“There is, however, another source of it,” Alphas cut in. “Instead of consciously breathing it out, their eggs produce it at night. Very, very large amounts. It’s different from the normal kind of gas in that there’s no mind control or anything, but the aggression remains. Until you can get it out of your system, the influence stays. Of course, since the animals are living off the plants and each other, they keep taking it in. It never ends.”

“But the eggs are the important part,” Omegas insisted. “Insidians were a menace back then. If they’re laying eggs, that means their numbers are going up. If all of them decide to come out, well… it’s going to be bad, for sure.”

Hiccup sat back.

“There’s no cure for Insidian smoke, either physical or mental. If you breathe it in, you’re pretty much screwed. The only thing is to wait for it to wear off. Dragons, at least, aren’t affected, so you can count on them to handle you until then.”

Hiccup glanced at them both. Their faces were entirely earnest, and for once, there was a hint of haggardness to their expressions.

They were taking this extremely seriously, he realized. Which meant the situation was probably worse than he could recognize.

Inwardly, Hiccup groaned. The day had barely begun for him and here he was, having to deal with things like this. Did that seem selfish? Definitely, but Hiccup hated having to be selfless the entire time. He wished fervently that some day, that responsibility would fall to someone else.

He sighed. “Well, let’s go beat your wyverns then.”

=0=

“This is the entrance?”

“Yep.”

Hiccup stared down the vast darkness of the cave. “Wow. Who would’ve thought.”

“How did you know, by the way?” Fishlegs wondered.

“Easy. Even the rocks around here are red. The plants are entirely red. If we’re talking red smoke that infects other things, then it’s really quite obvious,” Alphas replied.

“But smoke isn’t all there…” Fishlegs faltered.

Alphas glanced back at him as he stepped forward into the mouth of the cave. “Of course it’s all there. Where else would it be? Smoke’s just a little less solid than anything else but you can still touch it. You can’t tell me you’ve never waved your hand through smoke and it hasn’t come out a little bla-”

It was there that the speech ended, as Alphas was yanked deeper in. Omegas yelled and raced in, extracting his axe from his back and flicking his shield out as he came. The dragons immediately followed, though those bonded with the Berkians faltered as they wondered why their riders weren’t coming too.

Hiccup breathed in. “Ah, screw it.”

And he ran in too.

Something wrapped around his leg and dragged him away. It felt like a tail with a dagger at the end. He heard the gasps as the rest of the Vikings were picked up as well. The tail thing swayed for a moment, then he came face to face with a face from hell.

Evil yellow eyes glared at him, a hint of playfulness and power bright within the slitted pupils. A snout as long as his arm, tipped with something like an arrowhead, was all that separated him from those eyes.

“What do we have here?” the Insidian said, and even the voice slithered, like a snake’s scales rasping across stone, brushing through grass. That voice was the core of every final strike, the hiss and the fangs and the whispering of air, cut to the bone.

It opened its mouth, and red smoke pooled within.

A hissing scream interrupted the moment, which Hiccup was thankful for. The Insidian turned those glaring eyes onto whatever had stopped it from having its fun, and its eyes came to rest on a head.

Red scales, elongated snout, and a long, long neck that curled behind it like an entire serpent on its own.

“Nah,” Alphas said, stepping into view. “You’ll put him down.”

“Or what, human?” the wyvern hissed.

“Or you get the same treatment.”

“You cannot kill one of-”

The sword flashed.

Hiccup fell.

“You good?” Alphas asked him. Hiccup nodded, and sat up, looking at the Insidian. It was the one time he was actually thankful to see a corpse.

“I think,” came a serpentine voice from the dark recesses of the cave, “that we should have our fun, don’t you?”

Hiccup was yanked away once again by a tail with a dagger at the end, dragged along the ground.

He hit his head on a rock on the way and the world blurred, although it didn’t really make a difference. Everything was just blackness anyway.

His senses sharpened after a few seconds, right as they dropped down from the blackness into a luminous, foggy redness. Hiccup screamed as they kept on dropping. There was a rustle of scaly wings, and a rush of air as the Insidian carrying him finally took flight.

They flew through the red mist. Hiccup could only barely see a dark shape to his left, indicating that there was an Insidian there as well, maybe carrying someone. If it was, it was probably Alphas, since he’d been right beside him.

The tail let go of him, and he dropped face first into the ground. Moaning, he got up, and reached for Inferno. He drew it, but didn’t light it yet. There was no need to show the Insidians what he had up his sleeve.

There was a sound of beating wings, and the fog shifted, whirling and swirling around him as it was blown away to reveal lines of Insidians in a huge cavern. It was like the entire island was hollow on the inside. Rock formations tinted with red were visible, crimson stalagmites and stalactites reaching up and hanging down respectively. Steps of stone and small pools of water had formed, and at the very edges of sight, at the far ends of the cavern, were large, rounded objects that he immediately knew to be the eggs.

The Insidians smiled at him and the rest of the group as the fog began to come back.

“We will enjoy the entertainment,” one of them said, and it rasped. Hiccup realized that was supposed to be its laugh.

Alphas’ voice cut through that horrible sound. “Wreckage,” he said, pointing with his sword. The fog descended, and Hiccup prepared to hold his breath for as long as possible. Alphas was momentarily shrouded in crimson before the next order came.

“Wave.”

A blast of power hit the Insidians and they flew back, screeching. Hiccup was knocked to the ground, and the fog was blasted back and away to somewhere that all those suddenly visible tunnels and other caves led to.

“Entertainment?” Alphas said, swinging his sword in the direction of the Insidians. “Who said we were here to put on a show?”

Wreckage growled in that thundering way of his, and settled into a stance behind his rider. Omegas sauntered up behind Alphas, axe over his shoulder, shield by his side. Spiral emerged, craning his long neck over his rider’s head and growling too.

One by one, the others stepped up as well, each handling their own individual weapons, their dragons right behind them. Toothless stepped up to Hiccup as well, snarling at the Insidians, his mouth and spines and nostrils all glowing blue. Hiccup finally lit Inferno, slowly swinging it in circles.

“Nah,” Alphas continued. “The show ends here.”

Chapter 15: Annihilation

Alphas dashed at one of the Insidians, which launched itself into him, and its weight overcame his own, flattening him across the floor. It opened its mouth, red smoke collecting within, and then was slammed sideways by Wreckage’s tail.

It struggled to get up. Wreckage generally had that effect.

Alphas took advantage of the moment to plunge his sword through the brain. The struggles ceased immediately.

Another Insidian barrelled past him and snapped at Astrid. She dodged aside and slammed the flat of her axe into its head. It staggered away.

“Kill it,” he told her. The look of uncertainty told him everything he needed to know. She still believed, somewhat, that because it had the shape of a dragon it had the mind of a dragon, no matter how much of her was fighting to believe what really was.

But he’d have to take care of it himself while she fought that battle, because it had the shape of a dragon but the mind of a human, and that human was a psychopath.

If she waited until she was ready, she’d die while she waited.

So Alphas ran to the one she’d just hit and it died.

Omegas walked backwards by him, gripping one of the wyverns by its mouth to stop it from using its smoke. It growled from within the deep recesses of its throat, which was soon severed from its body.

Snotlout thudded his hammer into another Insidian a little ways away, which constituted an immediate and total shutdown. What else could you expect, with a hammer blow?

Alphas heard pattering steps behind him and whirled. The Insidian caught his sword between its teeth with an iron grip, snickering to itself.

“You cannot fight us, human,” it said between Indus steel. “You can reduce us, but you cannot end us. Only death lies that way.”

“Death for you, maybe,” Alphas replied, and stuck his dagger in its overly long neck. It let go of his sword and tried to step away, gurgling. Alphas held on, and slid the dagger around. It carved easily through the scales and reptilian flesh.

He stepped away and almost got stabbed.

“Sorry!” Ruffnut yelled as she jabbed the spear again at a rapidly retreating Insidian. Tuffnut was hanging on to its mouth, keeping it closed. Loud but indecipherable mumbling noises came from the Insidian. Alphas stepped forward and took care of the matter.

“Thanks!” she said brightly as Tuffnut picked himself up off the floor. He hurriedly let go of the Insidian, or the part of it which he had been holding.

No time to waste. Alphas darted to the nearest enemy he could find. This one was being handled by Hiccup and the Night Fury. Every time it opened its mouth, he would make to stick his fire sword in, and the mouth would be shut with astonishing readiness, or even fear. In the meantime, the Night Fury was snarling and batting the wyvern with paw or tail or wing.

Alphas decided that he could come back to this one later. It was certainly amusing to see an Insidian cower. He could let it go on for a little longer.

A scream attracted his attention, but even as he twisted around, he saw Omegas stepping up to handle it, and so he turned away from the matter. The one called Fishlegs definitely needed some training, if any at all.

He frowned. The Gronckle seemed to be having some trouble. The Nightmare and the Nadder and the Zippleback, not to mention Wreckage and Spiral, were handling it well enough by matter of sheer size, but the Gronckle was smaller, even if it was ferocious enough in its own right, and besides, it was being flanked.

Alphas leaped.

A soldier must be aware of every single thing on the battlefield if they are to fight on another one. This, however, is simply not possible for a human mind, which, while it can handle the influx of information, simply does not have sophisticated enough means to take in all information at once.

As such, while a good soldier can be aware enough of the things happening around them, and can react to the unknown right before it strikes them, only an excellent soldier can achieve a level of awareness near the goal, which is, in almost all cases, good enough for them to handle any threat.

However, a human mind is susceptible to mistakes. While it can see a possible threat, or even one barrelling towards the body at high speeds, the mind may sometimes fail to process the information. Most times excellent soldiers have fallen because they forgot the enemy was holding a spear, and charged.

Therefore, a truly sharp mind can see the chinks in the armour, and wedge their entire being into the crack, prising it wide open.

Insidians have extremely sharp minds.

Alphas went sprawling, crashing through crimson stalagmites until he finally came to rest, surrounded by rubble.

The Insidian which had caught him and thrown him as he leapt forward advanced, grinning. Its eyes sparked. His head spun from where he had cracked his skull on the stone.

“What did we tell you, human?” it said, pleased. “Only death lies this way.”

A forked tongue flickered, tasting the air, as he staggered to his feet, searching for his sword.

“You have killed us. We cannot let this pass. You too will die.”

The Insidian’s tail whipped around.

“It will be slow,” it told him as he gasped, blood trickling, rapidly darkening the black material he wore.

Alphas looked at his shoulder. He looked at the gash that travelled down his arm…

And severed the leather.

He began to smile before the Insidian scored another deep cut, this one across his chest. He hissed, pain nearly overriding his senses. Struggling, he pushed it down. Living was more important.

“Still,” it said. “You have forced our hand. We use our power against one like you! An admirable feat.”

“Could you,” he managed to say between gritted teeth, “do the other arm… as well?”

The Insidian cocked its head, surprised showing in those golden eyes.

“You wish for pain?”

“No better way… to go out as… a warrior, eh?” he grinned madly at it.

“You have accepted your fate, then,” it mused. “The task of submission was easier than we imagined. Perhaps we should keep you as one of our thralls.”

“Over my… dead body,” he snarled.

“That would not be very long,” it said, amused at its own joke. “Very well. We would honour your wish before you die.”

=0=

Hiccup managed to stick the sword inside, and the dragon - wyvern, he corrected himself - before him screamed in agony. Hurriedly, by some reflex, he pulled it out, taking a few teeth with it.

The Insidian glared at him. “You dhae to inzuh uth?” it lisped with fury.

Hiccup winced. “Yeah. That looked painful.”

Toothless yowled and slapped it with his paw. The wyvern yelped as some of its teeth met the fresh gaps.

“I’m kind of sorry,” Hiccup continued as it just barely didn’t scream. “But I don’t think I can go all the way. You’re evil, from what I’ve heard.”

“You thould noh bewieve eveything you ah thode.”

“You said you would enjoy the entertainment. Like watching us rip each other apart is a fun time. Why wouldn’t I believe what they tell me about you?”

The Insidian did not respond, as Toothless had bowled it over. Currently it was lying on its back with spread wings. It blasted Toothless in the face with a cloud of red gas, and he scrambled off, rubbing at his eyes.

“Toothless!” Hiccup exclaimed, alarmed. “Are you okay?”

Toothless pawed at his eyes, which were watering.

“We cannoh enthrah them, buh we cah hurh them.” The wyvern rose behind him. Hiccup didn’t turn, and felt the radiated curiosity, so calm and confident, like nothing could hurt it, as though what had happened just a few seconds ago didn’t matter at all.

“Thur anh fathe me, boy.”

Hiccup readied Inferno.

“Why zho you noh obey?” it asked him.

Hiccup turned and swung the sword, pointing it right at one of those glittering eyes. The wyvern was tall, and he couldn’t reach far enough to stick the weapon in, but it scrambled back in sudden fear. Hiccup kept close, keeping the flames right in front of those eyes. To the Insidian, it must have seemed like the sun had descended.

“Shut up,” he told it. Carefully, it moved, just a bit, which Hiccup took as a nod. Then its eyes flickered away, despite the fire right there, and Hiccup couldn’t help but follow its line of sight, wondering as he did so if he was falling for one of the oldest tricks in the book.

What it was looking at was real, and Hiccup didn’t like it.

The cavern was filling up again.

=0=

Alphas almost screamed as the arrowhead on the end of the tail, laced with a dark yet vibrant red, ripped a trail along his leg. He fell to one knee.

The next cut was on his head. It stung, and then it burned. Blood leaked across the fabric over his legs.

The hand he held up, with some difficulty, to hopefully have the other band torn through, was instead rewarded with bloodied fingers.

The scream was small enough that no one else heard, and instead came out as a long whine in his throat.

The Insidian rasped with its horrible laughter. Blood trickled down over his forehead, and he had to close one of his eyes as it streamed down.

“How pitiful you look now,” the Insidian hissed at him. “Do you still wish for pain?”

Mutely, Alphas hung his head, the picture of a beaten man.

“All your bravado gone,” it said gleefully. “This is your reward for having any at all.”

The tail was poised. “We will now give you your last desire. The next time, it will go through your eye.”

Unseen by the Insidian, Alphas grinned.

=0=

Omegas dodged a pillar of red smoke, which was blasted at him from above. It hit the ground and curled outwards in a tiny cloud of evil. He raised the shield as the Insidian attempted to score grooves in his head, and grabbed its foot. It tried to shake him off, which ended in failure.

He swung forwards and let go, and right before he fell he buried the axe in its breast.

It screeched, whirling in the air madly, and then fell, crashing along the ground in a trail of dust. Omegas wriggled out from under it, and attempted to pull the axe out, but he’d lodged it in deeply.

As he strained, he felt hot breath over his shoulder, and turned to see an Insidian, which grinned and opened its mouth.

=0=

Astrid ran backwards, slammed an Insidian with her axe as she passed, and then dropped to the ground as the Insidian following her from the air spewed a stream of thick smoke which passed harmlessly over her head. She rolled sideways, vaulted over a downed Insidian that the twins were beating over the head, and ran on, then stopped.

The fog before her was like a wall.

“Wreckage!” she shouted.

The huge black dragon looked up from where he was pummelling an Insidian into the ground, and regarded her quizzically.

She pointed at the fog.

“Wave!” she yelled.

Wreckage cocked his head, then opened his mouth.

The greatest degree of blunt sound echoed in the cavern, and the fog was clear.

When the residual claps of thunder had died down, Astrid got up, and hit her head on the way. She paused, and looked behind her.

She’d been blown away, and landed right next to the eggs. She grasped her axe, looked at the hovering Insidian, which stared back at her in some reptilian imitation of horror, then brought it down.

It crashed.

A translucent orange liquid leaked out from the egg. A momentary glance informed her that there was a stubby pink lump inside which had tumbled out as the shell splintered. She kicked it away in disgust.

The Insidian gave a roaring scream of rage, and dived. Astrid stepped out of the way, allowing it to succeed in smashing another two eggs and knock itself out against the wall. She swung her axe in a straight line, demolishing another five eggs, then yelled as she was caught by the ankle and swung upside down to face not just one, but multiple Insidians.

They looked very, very angry. Their eyes sparked, their teeth had a metallic sheen. Worst of all, their tails were poised.

“You kill us, and that is worthy of death.” A tail snaked out and ripped her axe from her hand.

“But to attack our young in their shell is a step further. You will not just die anymore.” A tongue flickered, the eyes narrowed, and the arrowheads on the tails ran with liquid light.

“You shall be executed.”

All the blood was rushing to her head, so it may have been her imagination, but there was a purple glow behind them.

As they all drew back to pierce her at once, an Insidian, somewhere else, screamed.

And it screamed with fear.

=0=

It was an explosion, although not one that anyone else could have felt. Everything took place inside, and in a place beyond perception.

Such energy! Such power! All coursing out at once!

It roared outwards from the place it had been sealed, so anxious to be out after so long that it manifested in forms other than what its host was used to.

It ran, flaming across paths that had run dry, that were aching for the power to burn its way past again.

It raged through the outlets, and it was delighted to be back.

Magic blazed through Alphas Arcanum, like a river that has finally broken through the dam.

Before, it was a steady stream of power, racing readily across the conduits.

Now, it was an invading flood, and, even momentarily, it took its host for its own.

The Insidian before him was incinerated in a purple flash.

The power blazed around him for a moment, savouring the freedom, before it died down and allowed him to get up.

Bleeding and burning, Alphas stood.

=0=

Astrid was dropped, and the Insidians whipped around to survey the new threat. Stealthily, she grabbed her axe, and when one of them flicked its tail around she cut it off.

It screeched and glared at her with a vengeance. She smiled at it, then hit it in the eye with two stiff fingers.

The screams reached a new pitch, and she found herself clutching her ears as the sound echoed.

Then it cut off, and she looked up.

Another Insidian had its jaws clasped around the screaming one’s neck. It pulled and the flesh tore and the Insidian collapsed. The killer turned back without even a second glance, and it whipped its tail around.

A wave of gleaming red light burst forth from the arc, heading quickly towards the purple glow, which, now that she saw it a little clearly, was surrounding Alphas. It was like he was glowing from within, without casting any light at all.

He raised his head, staring calmly at the speedily approaching wave of red. Astrid wanted to shout at him, tell him to dodge, to do something, but she was too slow to do anything but watch as the wave neared.

Alphas put his hand out, far to his side, a single finger curled, then swept it around in a claw.

A massive wave of purple engulfed the red, which vanished with a sizzle, and kept going, aimed directly at the Insidians.

They’d lost all trace of smugness, and scrambled backwards. One of them almost stepped on Astrid, and she grabbed her axe and growled at it. It gave her a terrified glance, and moved aside, shoving the others away.

Astrid turned, and began smashing the eggs again.

The Insidians looked between her, as she killed all hope of their offspring, and the rapidly approaching, roiling wave of midnight purple, and scrambled out of the way, as if they’d forgotten how to fly.

Astrid leapt over the wave as it crashed into the wall with a bang and showered her with bits of egg and orange slime. Thankfully, none of the pink stuff landed on her, but bits of it slapped down in the rapidly spreading pool of orange.

Alphas slowly approached. The Insidians cowered. It took him forever to get there with the speed he was walking at, and the size of the cavern.

As he neared, Astrid realized with a pang of guilt that he was bleeding pretty badly. He walked with a limp, and his torn black shirt looked a lot more maroon now. There was a huge cut along one leg.

The Insidians did not rejoice, as she had expected them to. She frowned, and smashed another egg as she wondered why. Then she realized. They were animals, pretty much. They might not have the minds of animals, but they definitely had the bodies. And didn’t most animals have sight and smell better than humans could ever achieve? They’d smelt the blood, they’d seen the injuries, and they were scared because even with all that he’d fought them back and beaten them.

“What can we do?” one Insidian said quickly as he approached. He tilted his head, as though confused.

“What can we do for you to spare our lives?” the Insidian said. He appeared to consider the question.

“Nothing,” he told them, and then he brought his ring finger down to the palm of the other hand.

A misty blast of purple energy engulfed the Insidians and Astrid. The wyverns just slammed further back against the wall, but Astrid was blown back sideways, smashing more eggs along the way with her kicking legs.

She landed on something soft yet tough, and blacked out before she could think about what it was.

=0=

“-s a dud. Look, it’s been kept aside in some corner, and it’s not even smoking. Shows even they didn’t want it.”

Astrid got up, inwardly groaning, although not aloud, because that wouldn’t be proper. She looked around, and saw Alphas and Omegas standing discussing one lone oblong shape in a corner.

She stood with a bit of a struggle, and shuffled towards them. They turned at the sound of her footsteps.

“Ah, hello,” Alphas greeted her. She looked at him. He hadn’t bothered to wipe any of the blood away, and it had formed a vertical crust along one side of his face where it trickled down. His eye was open, and probably couldn’t shut.

He blinked, and tilted his head when she didn’t say anything in response.

The tilted head didn’t bother her, but the blink did. How could he… when his eye was…?

He noticed the stare. “Oh, this. Don’t worry, I’ve probably been through worse.”

This time she blinked. “Probably?” she said hoarsely. She needed water.

“Yes. I can’t exactly remember. We’ll get you some water once we get out, by the way, so you needn’t worry about that.”

“How can you close your eye?” Astrid asked, getting straight to the point.

“Made sure to wipe it away,” Alphas told her. She thought about this.

“And not anywhere else?” she asked incredulously.

He shrugged. “As long as it doesn’t impair me, I don’t mind.”

Astrid nodded slowly. She couldn’t quite see the logic there, because if you did one bit you might as well do the whole thing.

“I say leave the egg,” Omegas said. Alphas frowned at him.

“Why leave anything to chance?” he said. Astrid agreed.

“It’s clearly a dud! Look, it’s not smoking, and it’s in this corner, which means the Insidians didn’t want it. If they didn’t want it, and it’s not smoking, that means it’s a dud, so not worth smashing!”

Alphas sighed. “If you’re doing this because you want a souvenir, I swear.” He wagged a finger at Omegas as he said this.

Omegas made a face. “Why would I want that as a souvenir? No thanks, I’d rather take one of the birds.”

Alphas looked resignedly at the egg. “If we get in trouble because of this later on, I’m going to make you eat the thing.”

“Fair enough, but I’d rather you didn’t.”

And the two turned to her.

“You may have noticed,” Alphas said, “that everyone else is snoring.”

Astrid looked back and saw everyone lying comatose in various positions and places. She nodded.

“That’s because of the magic I used to put the Insidians to sleep. Somehow, everyone managed to get caught in it,” he said. “Overloads systems pretty fast. Those with magic are less affected, and if you have enough magic, you aren’t affected at all.”

“People like us just get a bit sleepy,” Omegas added.

“Yes. So, in the meantime, do you know where to find a good weapon?”

Astrid looked at him, with his sword and dagger in their sheaths. He caught the look and shook his head.

“I need something that isn’t made of Indus steel,” he clarified.

“Oh.” Astrid looked around. “Tuffnut? He had short swords.”

Alphas nodded. “That’ll work,” he remarked as he limped off.

A rustling sound made her turn around. Hiccup was had gotten up and was examining himself.

“Odd,” Omegas muttered. “He’s up a little early.”

Astrid stored the comment for further examination, and hurried over to her betrothed.

“Hiccup? How do you feel?” she asked concernedly.

“‘M fine,” he muttered. “I feel kind of… rested, actually.”

“Oh, yeah,” Astrid smiled. “I feel the same.”

This was a bit of a lie. She didn’t feel all too energised. In fact, it could have been that she felt slightly depleted.

Alphas came back with one of Tuffnut’s swords in hand, and regarded Hiccup carefully.

“You’re awake, then,” he said.

“Oh, really? I didn’t know,” Hiccup replied, and Astrid had to hide a genuine smile. Alphas gave him a smirk that had somehow been wrangled into the realm of politeness, and sidled over to Omegas, who held out his hands.

She couldn’t hear anything of their murmured conversation as Alphas carefully positioned the blade by the leather. Alphas gripped the handle tightly and frowned, and the blade began to glow deep purple. It cut straight through the bracer. Alphas repeated the process with the other arm, then hurriedly stepped back, as quickly as he was able. Omegas gasped and doubled over.

Heated blueness exploded from him, and tiny flashes of lightning crackled along his hair. The blueness expanded and Alphas jabbed the air with his finger. A wall of purple erupted at the same time that the blue flashed blindingly and burst outwards. The purple went violet, then simmered back down to purple.

“Got a handle on it?” Alphas asked him.

Omegas straightened. His eyes glowed momentarily blue before the entire blue flame of his existence shrank back into him. He nodded.

“I think so, yes.”

Alphas put his hand down and the purple faded away.

He limped away to the nearest napping dragon, which happened to be Hookfang, and began cutting away at the leather around one of his legs.

=0=

“Glad we’re leaving this dump behind,” Snotlout remarked as Hookfang flamed through the air. “Man, it feels good to fly again.”

“You can say that again,” Hiccup said, scratching Toothless as they flew.

“Snotlout, you’re supposed to say it again,” Tuffnut said in a hushed whisper.

“Shut it, muttonhead.”

Omegas was doing loop-de-loops high above them and whooping. Spiral was gracefully majestic. He seemed to have about as much refined control in the sky as Toothless did.

Hiccup closed his eyes to feel the wind on his face, and sighed contentedly.

“Well,” Alphas said, grinning with genuine enjoyment as he sat on Wreckage’s back, who was releasing streamers of blue fire ahead of him, “time to go home?”

Everyone nodded. “Time to go home,” Fishlegs confirmed. There was something unusually determined in the set of his jaw.

“I’ll just go tell ‘Megas then, shall I?” Alphas remarked. He began to urge his dragon up, then stopped. He turned to Hiccup.

“Want to be involved more in our “magical messes”?”

Hiccup shook his head, smiling. “No thanks. I’ve had enough for a lifetime.”

Alphas laughed. “Well, if you’re sure,” he said, and swooped upwards, those black wings beating powerfully.

Hiccup looked down at the saddle, still smiling. Then he remembered something. As Alphas came back down, he guided Toothless over beside Wreckage. Alphas looked at him, eyebrow already poised.

“Ah, before we go back, I want your opinion on something.”

“That being?”

“You’ll see.”

=0=

Hiccup told everyone except Alphas, Omegas, and Fishlegs to stay back, and charged Astrid with the extremely important responsibility of keeping them both back.

“Why do I have to stay back though?” she grumbled, annoyed.

“Because they’ll stay back if you tell them to,” Hiccup said. More like threaten, he thought to himself, but didn’t say out loud. “I’ll tell you everything later, I promise. And no matter what, do not come after us.”

She conceded with a sigh, and waved him onwards.

Toothless glided away to where Fishlegs and the Arcanums were waiting.

“Yes?” Alphas said.

“Follow me,” Hiccup told them, and swooped downwards.

The roar resounded immediately. Both the Arcanums had their hands out immediately, ready for a burst of magic. Hiccup landed on the sand, and Soul charged him.

Hiccup held his hands out, placating both the sorcerers and the dragon, who skidded to a halt right before he crashed into Toothless.

He glowed with heat. Hiccup had almost forgotten the pure, sun-like power that radiated from him. He was a bonfire all on his own. If it hadn’t been for the Mystery qualifications, he was sure Red Ghosts would have been in Stoker Class. Maybe if they learnt enough, the species would be transferred.

Everyone else touched down. The sorcerer twins seemed uneasy.

“And what is this?” Omegas asked, looking up and down at the huge dragon, regarding the empty red eyes, the branching horns, the spike along his snout like the prow of a ship, the wings that seemed to have teeth of their own.

“This is Soul,” Hiccup introduced the dragon. “A Red Ghost.”

“He looks like a volcano,” Alphas said.

“Feels like one too,” Omegas added.

“Yeah,” Hiccup said proudly, “that’s kind of a staple of the species. He’s the Alpha.”

“Like a Speed Stinger Alpha?” Alphas asked.

Hiccup nodded. “Yep. I think that the bigger the horns are and the more powerful the fire is, the higher up the ranks they go in the pack. The flames are the first deciding factor, the horns are to distinguish between the equal flames, sort of.”

“I see.” Alphas looked at the dragon. “Could you have him fire?”

“Oh, shoot, yeah,” Hiccup said, brimming with an unnatural swagger. He pointed at a single rock. “Soul, fire!”

Soul opened his mouth, and Hiccup very wisely got out of the way.

Soul fired.

The fireball was huge, and left a trail behind it like a heat haze on fire. The rock was left glowing not just red, but yellow-hot. Liquid flames leaked from Soul’s mouth, dribbling onto the sand, where they disappeared into nothing.

A single breath caused residual lines of fire, streamers of flame, to burn their way out of the mouth through the gaps between the monstrous teeth. The mouth seemed to be full, not of needles, but spearheads.

Alphas looked at the dragon in admiration.

“How’d you find the species?” he asked, still sitting astride Wreckage. Hiccup shrugged.

“I just got lucky, pretty much. I was out exploring and I just saw a little bit of red on the island. I’d seen the island a lot before, but never saw any dragons. So I went down to check it out and… almost died.”

“I can definitely see how that would happen,” Alphas said. Wreckage lurched forward to Soul, and sniffed him.

Soul stood stock still, unsure of what to do faced with such a direct approach. Usually if anything else saw a Red Ghost, it got out of the way, or it tried.

Wreckage finished the examination, and crooned. Soul brightened up immediately, and roared back. The roar, now that Hiccup had something else to compare it to, sounded like several smaller Wreckages all roaring at once to make a din equal to the roar of a normal Wreckage.

Alphas looked even more astonished. “This thing’s like Wreckage from the underworld.”

“Which one? I'd say Helheim, Niflheim and Jotunheim don't really fit him.”

“What? What are Helheim, Niflheim and Jotunheim?”

“You said underworld, didn’t you?”

“I think we have different ideas of an underworld.”

Carefully, Alphas got off his dragon and approached Soul, who regarded him curiously.

“You just rub your hand against the horn,” Hiccup said, demonstrating the action for him. Soul leaned into the touch, and closed his eyes in bliss. Alphas looked unsure.

“I can feel the heat from here. Doesn’t your hand burn?”

“Not really. It’s more warm instead of burning around his head. I don’t know why. The only time it gets hot would probably be when he fires, but I haven’t tested that.” Hiccup grinned at him.

Alphas smiled back. “Yes, I can see that. For one thing, you’re not charcoal.”

He looked at Soul, who seemed to look back at him, although with eyes like that it was hard to say. He leaned forward, and rubbed the snout. Soul immediately closed his eyes, and began rocking. The enjoyment was clear to see.

“Right,” Alphas said, still petting him. “What did you want my opinion on?”

“Oh, right!” Hiccup smiled at him sheepishly. “Soul kind of got us sidetracked.”

“There’s something else?” Omegas said from beside Spiral. Hiccup’s smile faded.

“Yeah. You won’t like it.”

Hiccup led them through the sand, clambering over boulders where necessary, and they reached the clearing.

By now, the carcass had begun to rot. A foul stench drifted from the bloated body. Hiccup gagged.

The Arcanums seemed unperturbed by the smell. They probably walked across the dead almost every day, Hiccup reasoned. Omegas spoke.

“That,” he said, “stinks.”

Hiccup looked at him with mild surprise. “You’re... not showing it.”

“Just because we get used to the smell doesn’t mean it gets any better.”

Hiccup nodded. That resembled sense enough to be an acceptable explanation. He gestured to the body.

“So what do you think caused this?”

“Wreckage,” Alphas called. The stony black dragon lumbered over, and Alphas pulled himself up into the saddle, wincing as his injuries were aggravated.

“Taking a closer look,” he called as the large wings beat the air. They lifted up.

Hiccup watched him hover around for a bit, then looked at Omegas.

“You’re not going?” he asked. Omegas shook his head.

“I’m not suited to this. Alphas knows the signs better, whatever the signs are.”

They waited for a few minutes as Alphas got different views of the holes, now dry and shrivelled, then he came back down.

His face was pale.

Hiccup watched him with growing terror as he dismounted and ran, yes, ran over to him. Alphas grasped him by the shoulders, seemingly not feeling the pain in his fingers, which must have been overwhelming.

“Listen. You can’t go back to Berk.” He shook him, hard. “Do you understand?”

“W-what? Why?” Hiccup asked, bewildered, and more than a little frightened.

“The holes were made by an Impactor. Myre’s expansion division uses them to clear out any major resistance. Do you understand? Myre uses them. If they’re in the Archipelago, then he’s already spread his control to this region. Whatever you do, do not try to be a hero and rush off to fight them by yourself. That doesn’t make you a hero, it only makes you a fool.”

Hiccup absorbed the information like a sponge.

Fear morphed into rage.

“How dare someone take over my home. My home! MY! HOME!

Alphas had to pin his arms to his sides.

“The last time someone tried that, WE DROWNED THEM! WE DROWNED THEM! WE’LL DO THE SAME TO THESE ONES!

Alphas slapped him across the face. It hit like an elastic branch. Hiccup looked at him, breathing hard, his face red.

Alphas spoke quietly, but his words had all the impact of a meteor.

You bloody idiot, what did I just tell you?

The eyes, like midnight, but holding far more to fear.

I said don’t go in alone, didn’t I? What gave you the idea that I said don’t go in at all?

Slowly, Hiccup’s fury began to dribble away.

Alphas let go of him. Hiccup hissed and rubbed his arms. They were sore where he had grasped them. He pulled up the sleeves to see vivid red markings in the clear shape of hands.

“Sorry,” Alphas said, speaking casually now, as though the last minute hadn’t held an extinction event, with burning forests and quaking earth, black skies and red seas.

“Now, what I propose to you is this,” he said, talking quickly. “We need to get out of the area without attracting the attention of any ships. After that, we head to Nisi.”

“Nisi?”

Our home island.”

“Oh. Wow. You’ll take us there?”

Alphas shrugged, then winced. “What other option is there? Anyway, we head to Nisi, we make our report, we gather the forces, and then we take Berk and all the other Viking islands back from Myre. Sounds good?”

Hiccup took a deep breath. “Best thing I’ve ever heard.”

Chapter 16: Royalty

They flew in silence for most of the journey, which took a lot longer than Hiccup had expected. By the proximity of the island where they had first met to Berk, he’d thought that Nisi should have been a lot closer. As it was, the journey consumed almost the rest of the day, with no stops in between. Alphas was entirely against stopping out of fear of Myre, and insisted that they stop only if any dragon needed to rest urgently.

Who was Myre, anyway, that even sorcerers feared him? Who was Myre, that even sorcerers couldn’t beat him?

Hiccup revised all the information he had on Myre. He headed a huge force, employed several generals, had enough money for several fleets and ships that towered over the tallest sea stack, and was thoughtful enough to provide normal sized ships stocked with supplies as emergency vessels. Oh, and he’d been at war with the magic people for decades.

He sounded… somewhat familiar, actually. Thoughts of a man with burns down half his face surfaced, and Hiccup was hit with momentary sadness as he lamented that loss.

He glanced at Alphas. He sat stiff and straight on Wreckage, as though he had an iron rod instead of vertebrae. He turned his gaze to Omegas, who was sitting much the same way, then looked at the other Riders around him. Snotlout leaned back in his saddle, which had a back like a chair. Astrid rode low, close to Stormfly. Fishlegs sat up, but was as hunched over as he could get. The twins sat like they normally would on a stool, albeit the kind of stool they sat on right now was a neck attached to the rest of a dragon. Hiccup himself kept close to Toothless, Night Furies being naturally swift enough for the wind to seem like it was attempting to pull your ears off.

The way those two sat, ramrod straight, seemed to be an indication of either a different kind of training, or just a natural tendency to sit straight.

Hiccup nudged Toothless close to Wreckage. He grudgingly obliged. His wings must have been tired. Alphas looked at him questioningly.

“Who is Myre?” Hiccup asked in a whisper. “You’ve talked about him a lot, but you never actually said anything.”

“I’ll be telling you later,” Alphas promised. “Any distractions, and you might have the opportunity of finding out for yourself.”

Omegas’ head came into view. His hair looked like it was trying to escape his head, like a victim of a lightning strike. This may have had something to do with the fact that he was upside down.

“What’re you talking about?” he asked. Hiccup looked up at him. He looked down at Hiccup, although from his perspective he was probably looking up.

“Just asking about Myre,” Hiccup told him.

Omegas gave a small laugh. “There’s no just asking about Myre. Once you ask, he’s a part of your life that’ll never go away. Either you ask, or you don’t.”

Hiccup looked at him. “He’s that bad?”

“I don’t think any language has the kind of-”

“Omegas. Not now.”

Omegas smoothly glided out of view. Out of the corner of his eye, Hiccup saw him descend back into his original position. The others looked at him curiously.

Alphas looked at him. “You want to know so bad, I’ll tell you when we get there.”

“Get where?” Hiccup asked him tiredly. “We’ve been flying for almost the entire day. Aren’t we there yet?”

Alphas smiled, and pointed ahead. “Spot on.”

Hiccup squinted. There were just clouds.

“Do you live in the clouds?”

“Ha. No. Wait for it.”

Hiccup waited for it. Nothing happened.

“Wh-” he began to say, and was interrupted by the sudden apparition of a column of translucent blue light. The riders gasped, and Alphas looked smug.

It penetrated the sky, leaping out of the clouds from somewhere below. Hiccup could barely see the far edges of it, even with nothing around to block his view.

“That’s the barrier,” Alphas told them. “A defensive measure. Now, dive.”

He demonstrated the movement as he said it, shooting down before they’d finished understanding the words. Quickly, they followed his lead, and dove through pale, neverending white until it opened up onto a clear, greenish sea, unlike the deep and impenetrable blue around Berk.

“Is something wrong with the water?” Hiccup shouted as they plunged downwards, the wind whipping at his words.

“What are you talking about?” Alphas yelled back. “It’s just a different colour.”

They pulled up right before they hit the water, and spray erupted under the dragons from the speed of the motion. Hiccup gasped as icy water hit his face.

Alphas sped away, and they followed. It was amazing how fast a dragon like Wreckage could be. Normally, you wouldn’t expect it from the sheer bulk of the dragon.

Dragons shimmered into view around them, and Hiccup gaped. Maybe a Changewing could manage, even if there wasn’t anything to camouflage against in the air, but these were other species entirely. Hiccup spotted a Skrill, a Thunderdrum, and a Nightmare, among other dragons he couldn’t identify.

Something clicked in his brain. Of course. Magic must be extraordinarily useful. You weren’t bound by things like natural logic.

“Who-” one of the riders began, then noticed the Arcanums. “Alphas! Omegas! Where have you two been?”

“Capture,” Alphas said.

“Right, right. I’ll just send word then, shall I?” the rider asked. He was sitting on top of the Skrill.

Alphas tilted his head, confused. “For passage?”

“The search parties.”

“Ah,” Omegas chimed in. “It’s nice to be missed.”

The rider gave him a look. “Of course you’ll be missed. The two of you just disappearing for days after being sent out on a mission is a disaster. The king’s been worried.”

“Has he now? We’ll pay him a visit.”

The rider noticed Alphas’ torn and bloodied clothes. “You’re hurt.”

“I’ll visit a healer on the way, don’t you fret.”

“Right. And your friends…?”

“Currently, they’re guests. Myre’s taken their island.”

“Hate it when he does that. Alright. Who’s going to tell Buzzard?”

Alphas treated him to a grin. “You will.”

“Hell no.”

“That’s an order.” This came from Omegas, who was wearing a gleeful expression. The rider looked terrified.

“Come on, please, don’t do this to me.”

“We’ve been imprisoned for three days and shipwrecked for the other two. We’ll have some fun now, thanks.”

The rider hung his head in defeat. “I hate you both.”

“That’s no way to speak to your superiors,” Omegas chided him playfully.

“It’s deserved.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Alphas shrugged. “Ah well. Have fun.”

The rider glared at them as they passed on. He glanced at each of the Berkians as they flew by, and looked pensive.

They neared the shield, and Alphas waved at the island. Someone must have seen it, because a hole appeared in the rippling blue, which they flew through. Hiccup took a look at the island, or at least its outskirts, and then he kept on looking.

Large wooden structures like warped, twisted catapults were dotted periodically around the edge of the island. Unlike catapults, however, they didn’t seem to have any mechanisms to them. Like catapults though, there were people attending to them. Hiccup wondered what they were for.

Someone brought a piece of wood and held it up to one of the structures, then let go. It seemed to have attached on its own. Hiccup looked behind them. The blue wall was climbing up at a frantic speed.

Aha. So that’s what it was for.

Hiccup looked back at the view.

Beyond the barrier generators were rows of pristine houses, built out of slabs and walls and pillars of cut rock. Wonderful colours burst through his sight, red and white and blue. And in the middle of it all, towers and spires rising from a tall central building, their roofs lined with gold. It all sloped upwards, the city a prelude to the grandness of the castle.

It took Hiccup’s breath away to see it.

Berk was nothing like this, so grand and bright. The buildings were full of colour, their structures, their architecture was filled with vibrance, but it didn’t pack quite the same punch. Compared to the sight before him, Berk was faded when put beside the liveliness of Nisi.

“You know," Alphas remarked as they flew the distance, “I think I prefer Berk.”

“Huh?” Hiccup was bewildered by the response. He preferred Berk? Compared to this?

“But… it’s so beautiful here. How do you like Berk over all of,” he gestured wildly, “this?”

Alphas smiled. “You have a sort of freedom there. The forests haven’t been overrun by the expansion of your people. Here, we’ve had to restrict the places that you can build or cut them down. We’ve squeezed every last drop out of the land and we keep looking for more.”

He looked back at Hiccup. “You still have the opportunity to save your island. Don’t let your home die like ours has."

Hiccup stared at him as he flew on. He looked back at the island.

Not a bit of green in sight. Not from here.

His heart sank. The forests of Berk were one of the places he’d felt safe, when he was younger. When the people rejected him, he’d gone running there sometimes, and he’d let the ground soak up the tears, and he’d let the branches shade him, and he’d let the chatter of those unseen animals surround him, until he felt better, until he felt he could take another day in stride.

The people of Nisi seemed to have lost the opportunity to have that comfort. He swore to himself then and there that the people of Berk would have it forever.

There was a loud burst of foreign language below them.

The shouted whisper was audible to all of them, and Hiccup glanced downwards to see people pointing upwards and talking to each other with great fervour. Several of them were running quite fast, although the dragons easily outpaced them. Hiccup wondered where they were running to. It seemed somewhere distinctly towards the inside of the island, although where they were right now left almost any direction to be towards the inside of the island.

They continued on for a bit, the houses whirling by beneath them, then Alphas and Omegas suddenly dropped down and landed on a street made of smooth, grey stones. The white buildings, with their coloured roofs and strange construction, clustered around them. Wreckage just barely fit in the street. The inhabitants peered out as they passed by, and the whispers, in a language he didn't recognize, turned to exclamations, which then turned to a roar.

“Well,” Hiccup said, feeling a little uncomfortable because of all the eyes watching them, “you’re popular.”

Alphas smiled. The crowd’s whispers grew a little more frantic. “It comes with the post.”

He raised his voice and said something Hiccup didn’t understand. The crowd immediately began to trickle away.

“What did you say?” Fishlegs asked.

“Go away.”

“Hey!”

“That’s what I said to them. Not you. Gods…”

“O-oh.”

“What language was that?” Hiccup asked in an attempt to rescue Fishlegs.

“Greek.”

“Greek…” Hiccup rolled the word around his mouth. “I haven’t heard of it.”

“Of course not,” Alphas sighed, and dismounted.

“Where are you going?” Hiccup asked.

Omegas, tired of not talking, replied for him. “We’ve reached the stables.”

=0=

When they had put the dragons in the stables, and Alphas had left strict instructions that they were to be given adequate food and none of them were to be messed with in any way, they left, and Alphas went to a healer. In the meantime, Omegas took them in some unknown direction.

“Where are we going?” Snotlout asked.

“Getting a lift.”

“A… lift?”

“Yeah.”

“Omegas, I hope we don’t have to keep reminding you that we don’t know some of the things you have,” Hiccup said tiredly. “What’s a lift?”

Omegas looked embarrassed. “Sorry. It’s slang for getting some transport.”

“Transport? You mean dragons?”

“Not exactly.”

“Wyverns?”

“What? No. Are you insane? It’s like riding a human. They’re on the same level as us. The only way they’d agree is if it’s a battle.”

“Oh. Alright.” A thought struck Hiccup. “You have wyverns just roaming around here?”

“They like to drop in sometimes, yeah. What gave you the idea of using wyverns as a ride though?”

“You said “not exactly” when I asked you if you used dragons, so…”

“Right.”

They walked in silence for a bit.

“Something I’ve noticed,” Omegas said, “is that no one really talks except you.”

“We just don’t know what to say. It’s a bit of a new experience.”

“How come you talk so much then?”

“I’m chief. I need to take the initiative.”

Omegas laughed. Hiccup looked at him, puzzled.

“Did I say something?”

“You did. That’s what I’m laughing about.”

“What did I say?”

“You said, “I’m the chief. I need to take the initiative.””

Hiccup felt even more confused. “So?”

“Nothing.”

Hiccup pondered this for the rest of the journey.

Omegas stopped. “We’re here.”

Everyone looked around. There was nothing there. Not even any people, in fact. It was just an empty street.

“I think you took a wrong turn somewhere,” Astrid remarked, hands on her hips.

“I don’t think I did. It should be here in a bit.”

“What should?”

And then it came. Excellent timing, really.

An empty thing on thin, elegant wheels. It had seats inside and a large seat in front. It had a roof, and no doors. There was a man sitting on the outside seat, holding something like black ropes in his hand, which were tethered to some magnificent beasts, with long, graceful faces and a mane of long hair down their neck, and powerful legs. Their tails swished behind them. It drew to a pause in front of them, and the operator’s face took on an expression of shock the moment he saw Omegas, who grinned cheerfully at him.

He said something which seemed to excite and alarm him. The operator immediately responded with frantic gestures and words. He dropped down from his perch and bowed deeply. He didn’t straighten up.

Omegas hopped in with barely any effort. The entire thing rocked slightly as he did so. “Get in, will you?”

Everyone stopped staring at the assembly of oddity before them and carefully got in. Each time, it rocked less noticeably. Fishlegs was the last to get in. It was only then that the operator released himself from his bow, and frantically climbed into his seat. He jerked his hands as he took up the black ropes again, and there was a snapping sound.

“Hyah!” The animals out front began to walk forward, slowly at first, and then they broke into a run as the operator jerked his hands again and again, somehow impressing on them his urgency to get the party to their destination as soon as possible. The ropes snapped each time.

“So,” Omegas said, unperturbed as the rest of the passengers clutched the soft seats while the world blurred outside. “Anything you’d like to ask in the meantime? I’m guessing you have a lot of questions.”

“Er, yeah,” Hiccup said shakily. This was nothing like riding a dragon. “What is this?”

“And what are the animals?” Fishlegs piped up.

“Why are we going to the castle?” Astrid asked.

“How come everyone here is so surprised when they see you?” Snotlout said.

“How does magic work?” the twins said in unison.

Omegas looked at them. “Any reason in particular you want to know…?”

“We need to know how to blow things up,” Tuffnut said determinedly.

“Ah. Then I’d better not tell you.”

Ruffnut tried to get down on her knees and immediately got back up, clutching the seats tighter with her eyes wide. She’d almost been flung out as they took a turn.

“Please,” she said in a small voice.

“‘Fraid not.” Omegas turned to Fishlegs. “You asked about the animals? Which animals?”

“The ones pulling this… thing,” Fishlegs clarified.

“They’re horses? Don’t you have horses?”

Hiccup frowned. “I think we did, a long time ago, but during the raids the dragons carried them all off. I’ve never seen one before!”

Omegas sat back. “Wow. You’ve never ridden one then either. Amazing.”

“What’s amazing about it?”

“Riding a dragon was your first experience of riding anything, is what I’m trying to say.”

“You were trying to say that?”

“I… think so? Maybe. Anyway, what was your question again?” This was directed to Hiccup.

“Oh, I was asking what this is.”

“Oh, that’s easy. It’s a carriage. We use it to get people places they want to go. It’s kind of a public service. You basically put wheels on a box and have the horses pull it along.”

“Huh.”

“And you?”

“Why are we going to the castle?” Astrid repeated.

“To meet the king, of course. Didn’t we say we would?”

“Why’s the king so worried about you?”

“Some of your best fighters go missing for five days? Any leader would be worried.”

“Right. Good. But it’s strange, isn’t it? You get all this kind of special attention. It’s like you’re more than just the best fighters. There’s something else about you, isn’t there?”

“And that,” Omegas said, “leads us rather nicely to your question, doesn’t it?”

Snotlout nodded, looking pleased. Omegas sat back with a grin on his face. The carriage lurched and everyone bounced.

“Simple. Me and Alphas? We’re the king’s nephews. If you need a word for it, we’re the princes of Nisi.”

He spread his arms wide.

“You’re looking at royalty right now, folks.”

=0=

They reached the castle without incident, although Snotlout almost threw up on the way. Thankfully, he’d managed to keep it down. Omegas paid the carriage driver with some currency made of silver that Hiccup couldn’t recognize, and they left the driver bowing furiously behind them.

The gates to the castle were tall and gilded. They were made of bars that ended in spikes, and curved upwards towards the middle rather smoothly. They were set between walls made of white brick. Behind them, Hiccup could see a waving path of small stones set in the middle of a huge field of short grass.

Omegas put his hand to a symbol on the wall to which the gate was connected, which glowed blue for a moment. Then the gates swung open on their own and he walked past, then looked back.

“Come on now. Before they close.”

Hesitantly, the rest of them walked through. The gates stayed open for a moment, then closed behind them with a sharp clang.

Omegas led them into the castle. Armoured guards on either side of a set of huge double doors saluted smartly before opening them, with some effort, and after a few minutes of walking through various rooms and marble archways, they came face to face with the king of sorcerers.

Chapter 17: Plan Of Action

The first impression was that of largeness. This room alone probably filled at least half the castle. The floor was made of white marble, and the edges of the floor ran with black and blue, with a thin line of gold set before them. The room was bare, apart from numerous colourful tapestries hung on the walls. They, too, were enormous, and depicted scenes that Hiccup couldn’t make sense of. One of them, for example, was a dragon burning a tree. Why anyone would make a tapestry of that, Hiccup couldn’t guess. Somewhere above, coloured light filtered through into the room.

At the very end of the room was a series of progressively smaller marble rectangles, though they were all the same thickness. They tapered upwards and plateaued, and upon that plateau was a throne.

The king filled the throne. There was no other word for it. He managed to occupy the space in just the right way.

If the room had a sense of largeness, the king radiated hugeness. The term larger than life has been used to describe many people, but the king gave it physical form. He was expansive, but there wasn’t a hint of fatness about him. He appeared to be made entirely out of muscle. The only person to compete with him in size would have been Stoick, but whereas Stoick remained approximately the same width from top to bottom, the king’s chest constituted a healthy portion of his average width. This was not to say that he had small legs, because he definitely did not, but his torso appeared to have gotten the preferential treatment.

His attire was composed of silver and blue. Everything about him was covered, but it was, understandably, strained over his form. Blue had taken charge of the leggings, shirt, and the outside of the cape, while silver took responsibility for the streaks along the sleeves, the gauntlets and the chestplate, and the inside of the cape.

And of course, no king is complete without a golden crown. This one had points fit for impaling, and was perched over a neat mass of black hair. The enormous beard, too, was black, and no word could better describe it than ‘bushy’.

And from a pale yet tanned face, shrewd blue eyes looked out at them.

Omegas saluted. Everyone else stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do.

“Hello, your uncleness. We’re back,” he said with a grin.

The king sighed. It sounded like a breeze in a mineshaft.

“Omegas. I’ve told you to stop calling me that.” His voice was so deep it rumbled.

“Sorry, uncle.”

The king nodded at the company behind them. “And you have brought Vikings with you. Why?”

Hiccup opened his mouth to speak, but Omegas beat him to it.

“Looks like Myre’s taken their island, your majesty.”

The king looked at him. “Uncle is fine. You don’t have to be overly formal with me, you know that. You say Myre has taken their island? It is a pity.”

“I think it’s a lot more than just a pity, uncle.”

“Myre has taken many territories. If we attempted to free them all, our forces would be stretched very thin indeed. I must ask, though, what kept you for so long?”

Omegas hesitated. “I think you should hear that from Alphas, to be honest.”

“Alphas?” the king boomed. “Where is the boy?”

“A healer, uncle.”

“Healer? Since when does he get hurt?”

“It was necessary, uncle.”

“Doubtless he shall fill in the details for me.” The king turned his attention to the Berkians.

“As you can hear, I know your language. Speak. Who are you? Where are you from?”

Everyone looked at each other. No one wanted to be the one to speak, but they didn’t want to hold up a king either. With some jostling, Hiccup was pushed forward.

“Uh…”

The king waited. Hiccup took a deep breath and tried again.

“We’re Berkians. From… Berk. Um… I’m the chief, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third.”

Omegas looked at him with a vague astonishment. Hiccup just knew what was going to be asked.

“You’re name’s ‘Horrendous’? And two other people have had the same name?”

Hiccup sighed. “Yeah.”

“Leave their naming traditions, Omegas,” the king said. The bass resonated in the room. He looked back at Hiccup. “You are the chief, you say? Of Berk?”

Unsure of what else to do, Hiccup nodded. The king looked vaguely perplexed. It was a confusing expression to watch on his face.

“What of Stoick?”

“He… died,” Hiccup said quietly. “He was killed in a battle with Drago.”

The king sat forward. “My condolences to you. You are his son, yes? He spoke highly of you. I am sure there is no better way he would have wished to go.”

Hiccup looked up into the king’s face. “You knew him?”

He got a nod in return. “Your father would visit every few years.”

Hiccup felt astonished. He knew he probably looked the part, and everyone else probably did too.

“He visited? And never told anyone?”

“It is a duty to maintain relationships. He also had ties to Nisi, which must have provided a better incentive to come,” the king replied. “It is my hope that you shall take his place in this honoured tradition.”

Hiccup just stood there, still processing the information.

“My da- my father had ties here?” he asked after a while. The king nodded.

“The blood may be diluted, but it is always present.”

Hiccup didn’t know what to make of that. He resolved to leave it until later.

“But… why wouldn’t he tell me?”

“It is my understanding,” the king said, “that he endeavoured to tell you once your training was complete. How long has it been since his death?”

“About… two years, I guess,” Hiccup said after a pause, chewing his lip thoughtfully.

“Then he would have told you of us within the next two.”

The king waited for a few seconds before he spoke again.

“You say he was slain in a battle with Drago Bludvist?”

Hiccup nodded.

“I see. Bludvist is a crude warrior. He has no refinement.”

Was a crude warrior,” Hiccup corrected before he could stop himself. The king tilted his head.

“He is dead?”

“Just a day later.”

“Fortuitous news, indeed. Unfortunately, others would command the forces under his control.”

Hiccup didn’t know what to make of that, so he shrugged. This, he thought to himself, was probably not how you should converse with a king. At least he didn’t seem to mind.

The king stood up and walked down the steps from his throne until he stood right before them. Hiccup managed to fully appreciate the scale once he tilted his head completely back to take in the sight. He towered over all of them. Hiccup had thought of Alphas and Omegas as tall, but the king was probably a couple of heads taller than even them.

“And your party?” the king inquired.

Hiccup stepped back so he could talk without feeling ridiculous. “My friends, your majesty.”

“I see. Their names?”

“Ruffnut and Tuffnut, Snotlout, Fishlegs, and Astrid,” Hiccup said, indicating each one in turn. The king inspected each of their faces with extreme precision. His eyes could have been made of scalpels. He seemed to dissect them with a glance. The king nodded, then turned and went to sit back on his throne.

The doors clanged as Alphas leisurely walked in. His clothes were still torn and bloodstained, but the wounds underneath had disappeared. The king looked over his shoulder, then turned completely to appraise his second nephew.

“Alphas. You appear to have found yourself in some trouble on the way back.”

“Right you are, uncle,” Alphas said, standing to perfect attention. He relaxed after barely a millisecond had passed.

“Hm.” The king sat down in his throne. “Will you report to me of your, undoubtedly valiant and glorious, escapades?”

Hiccup realized that, without cracking even the hint of a smile, the king had made a joke. His face seemed to be eternally set in an expression of calm sternness.

“I would appreciate if you called in the Commander, uncle. I think he should hear about it as well.”

“As you wish, my nephew.” The king beckoned somewhere to the side, and Hiccup jumped as someone materialized from the shadows.

“You heard Alphas, yes? Do as he says.”

With a curt nod, the attendant vanished through a set of doors in a dark corner of the room. The king turned his attention back to Alphas.

“Are you feeling fine now?”

Alphas nodded. “Yes, uncle.”

“And you, Omegas?” the king said, turning to the other brother. “You were not injured?”

“Nothing that won’t heal on its own.”

The king nodded, and then turned to Hiccup.

“And I hope none of your party were injured either?”

Hiccup blinked, then turned to face everyone.

“No one was hurt, right?”

A chorus of ‘No’s and quickly shaken heads gave both him and the king the answers they sought.

“Excellent,” the king said. The attendant returned. The doors clacked as he shut them.

“The Commander has been summoned, your majesty. He says he will be here in a few minutes.”

The king raised a stolid eyebrow. “And what were his exact words?”

“I believe they were, “Tell his majesty I’ll be along when this damn bastard’s lost a couple of teeth,” sir, or something along those lines,” the attendant said, his face unflinching. “At the time I called upon him, your majesty, he was involved in a conflict. With his ability, sir, I believe it should not take more than some minutes.”

The king nodded, seemingly unperturbed. “I see. We shall wait for his arrival.”

Alphas took out his book, the one he had used back in Berk when he mindwiped Gothi. Hiccup peered over the pages. On every yellowed page, a symbol. Alphas flipped through them until he reached a blank one with a complicated design in the corner. He put his thumb to it and peeled the page from itself, again, just like on Berk. Then he took out a brush and began to draw.

Hiccup watched in fascination as he quickly made a new pattern of shapes. It looked somewhat familiar. Hiccup frowned, racking his memory to try and remember where he had seen it before. You never saw things like this often.

Alphas made a sound and handed him the page, which Hiccup took, surprised and not entirely sure of what to do with it, so he just kept holding it.

Alphas took out another replica of a page, and began to draw again. Hiccup watched as Alphas made the same bizarre symbol again. Then, right as he reached the end of it, he made another few strokes, and added something new to the drawing.

“That’s magic, isn’t it?” Snotlout asked. He’d also come to watch. At the mention of this, everyone else began to nonchalantly sidle over to watch.

“It’s not magic yet,” was Alphas’ mystifying reply. He dabbed something transparent on the back of the parchment, then snatched the first page out of Hiccup’s hand and gave it the same treatment.

He stuck the first page on Hiccup's head, who felt bewildered.

“What-” he began as Alphas stuck the other page to his head, then gasped. Something felt different in his mind. Something else lay on the edge of perception, so close yet so, so far. It was like a mental itch that couldn’t be scratched. Hiccup’s eyes watered.

“What is this?” he asked, wiping his eyes.

Alphas frowned, then ripped the page of his head. Hiccup just felt confused.

“What did you do all that for?”

“Do you know what I’m saying?” Alphas asked him.

Hiccup furrowed his brow. “Yeah? Why wouldn’t I? And what kind of question is that?”

Hiccup paused as he heard the gasps from his fellow Vikings. Something about the words hadn’t sounded quite right…

“I gave you some of my knowledge,” Alphas said as he stuck the page on Snotlout’s head.

Hiccup considered this sentence, and then realization exploded.

He’d spoken Greek.

He’d learnt a language in a second.

Hiccup just watched in awe as Alphas spoke to Snotlout, who replied in the same language ecstatically, and he could understand it.

The process was repeated with the other Vikings, and they were all excitedly chattering to each other in Greek when the large doors slammed open and a man staggered in.

His clothes were a musty, dusty black, the kind of black you get after dragging your clothes through a thousand miles of desert and then vigorously washing them every day of the year because of how much dirt you’ve rolled in. His coat reached all the way to below his knees and looked tough enough that a knife probably wouldn’t penetrate the material. Underneath was a faded brown. He wore numerous buckles, which were attached to straps made of leather.

The face was tired in the way that it’s already kept going for this long, what does a few more years matter? He had brown hair and stubble. His eyes were dark, like those of Alphas and Omegas.

He was also sporting an interesting shade of violet on his jaw.

“Sorry for the wait, your majesty,” he drawled. Hiccup found, to his delight, that he perfectly understood the Greek.

“No matter, Commander. Did the ‘damn bastard’ lose any teeth?” the king inquired without the slightest shift in his expression.

The apparent Commander paused. “A few, sir. I could show them to you if you like,” he said carefully. “Can I ask, your majesty, how you knew?”

“How I knew what, Commander?” the king asked, his face blank.

“Er… nothing, your majesty. My mind must have been elsewhere.” He noticed the Vikings, and his face took on some complicated expressions.

“Can… can I ask, your majesty, why they are here?”

“They have sought refuge on Nisi. My nephews have brought them here.”

Really now?” the man said, an unblinking stare focused on the Vikings.

“I trust, Commander Leonidas, that you have no objection?” the king said sharply. You could have used his voice to hammer swords into shape.

“What? Oh, no, no, not at all, your majesty,” he said hastily. “For what purpose have I been called here, may I ask?”

“Alphas?” the king said.

With a deep breath, Alphas recounted the events which had transpired over the past few days. The Commander shot them a dirty look when he mentioned how they had attempted to take him prisoner. When he got to the attack on the ships, Alphas stopped.

“What I’m going to say now is extremely important, alright? So listen closely.”

The king leaned closer. The Commander strived to look more attentive than he had been before. This was difficult, since he had been paying close attention.

“Caird took me by surprise and caught me. I couldn’t use my magic.”

The king frowned. The Commander looked a little confused.

“What do you mean, you couldn’t use magic?”

“I don’t know how,” Alphas told them, “but Myre’s managed to use sigils. He bound us and the dragons.”

The king sat back. “Are you sure?”

“I had firsthand experience, uncle. Yes, I am completely sure.”

“This is serious,” the Commander said. “Myre was dangerous enough before, now he has magic on his side? We can’t afford to ignore this.”

“I don’t think any of us planned to, Leonidas,” the king said, frowning. “And you say he has taken Berk?”

“I believe so, uncle. A Bewilderbeast within the limits of the Archipelago was killed by an Impactor. It is my opinion that Myre has extended his control there.”

The king nodded to the Commander. “We must ensure that it does not submit to him.”

“Your majesty, are you sure of this decision?” the Commander asked.

“Are you questioning me, Commander?”

“Yes, your majesty. A king needs people to tell him when he’s being a fool.”

The room was silent.

“Well put.”

Hiccup whipped around in shock to look at the king. For the first time, he had a faint smile on his face. It was difficult to see under the beard, but it was definitely there.

“The rest of you, leave us. I have something to discuss with our Commander.”

The sorcerer twins bowed. After a moment’s hesitation, the Viking bowed as well, then straightened up and followed the Arcanums out. The doors were carefully shut behind them, and a murmur of muffled conversation rose behind the giant wooden frames.

Alphas and Omegas sat cross-legged on the marble floors, and leaned back against the wall. Hiccup and the rest joined them on the floors.

“So… we just wait?” Fishlegs asked.

“Yeah. Whatever they’re talking about, they’ll call us in when it’s done with,” Alphas said. Omegas looked at the doors.

“Don’t bother,” he told Tuffnut, who had put his ear to the door. “We tried once. Couldn’t make anything out. The doors are made to scramble sound.”

Tuffnut dejectedly came back and sat down with the rest of them. Omegas patted him on the shoulder.

“It happens.”

“What happens if they decide not to take Berk back?” Astrid asked.

“Then I’m afraid we’ll have to mount a solo mission, which would most likely end in failure,” Alphas replied.

Astrid took her axe from her back. The intent was all too clear. “They’d better hope they make the right decision.”

Alphas laughed. “You can’t even beat me. You think you could take Buzzard?”

“Who’s Buzzard?” Hiccup asked as Astrid glowered.

“The Commander, of course. Leonidas. Old Buzzard, we call him. He fights like the bird.”

“What bird?” Fishlegs asked.

“A buzzard.”

“And how does he fight like a buzzard?” Hiccup asked.

Alphas sighed. “Ever seen one in action?”

Ruffnut raised her hand, and looked around. “Come on, I can’t be the only one.”

Everyone else guiltily shook their heads.

Alphas made a gesture. “Why don’t you explain to them how it fights?”

Ruffnut made some wild gestures of her own, nearly nailing Snotlout in the throat. “It’s just, like, wild animals fighting. They just do their best to scratch the other one first.”

Alphas grinned. “And that’s how our old Buzzard fights. He’d take your eyes out before he went for his sword. And whatever you do, try not to be in the way of a punch.”

“Why?” Hiccup asked, against his better judgement.

“He generally goes for the mouth. It’s strong enough that you bite your own teeth.”

“You bite your teeth?” Hiccup asked, his mind conjuring up some horrifying images.

Alphas grin widened. “I said what I said.”

Hiccup decided not to ask anymore. Beside him, Snotlout tentatively opened his mouth.

“Doesn’t the king mind… you know…”

“Things like ‘that damn bastard’?” Alphas finished for him. “He’s got nothing against street language, if that’s what you mean. And Buzzard doesn’t care enough to make everything formal.”

“And… the king doesn’t care?”

“I think uncle just likes to leave things be. As long as everyone’s comfortable.” He shrugged.

The doors opened, and the attendant poked his head out.

“His majesty requests your presence,” he said, then disappeared.

“Right,” Alphas said, and stood up smoothly. He just seemed to transition from sitting down to standing up. Everyone else followed him back into the room, where the king and the Commander stood side by side. The Commander only came up to the king’s chest.

“It has been decided,” the Commander said, “that Nisi will provide its assistance to Berk in fighting off Myre’s forces.”

Hiccup and the rest breathed an audible sigh of relief.

“However,” he continued, “we will make a single attack. If this fails, all important personnel will be retrieved from Berk and provided refuge on Nisi. The island will fall under Myre’s control, but the people will be safe.”

“That’s really the best deal you’re going to get with Buzzard in charge,” Omegas whispered to him. The Commander frowned at the exchange, not that he could hear any part of it.

“Alright,” Hiccup said reluctantly. “We accept your help with gratitude.”

The Commander nodded to him, and some unknown expression flickered across his face. It was gone in an instant, but Hiccup knew it had been there.

“What’s the strategy?” Alphas asked.

“Kick ass,” the Commander replied. The king frowned at him.

“Commander, I am sure that our guests would appreciate a more detailed explanation. The fate of their home, after all, is on the line.”

The Commander sighed irritably. “We’re going to get a squad on dragonback to attack the ships. Another squad will be airdropped onto the island and combat any resistance on the island. A special unit led by me will see to it that all the island’s inhabitants are secured and ready to be transported if the need arises. Any questions?”

“Aren’t there any specifics?” Astrid asked. “You’ve just said that someone will do this, someone will do that. You haven’t said anything about who will do what, or where from, or when. This isn’t a strategy. You’ve just decided to attack.”

The Commander waved her away. “I’ll be handling all that, don’t you worry.”

“Are you,” Astrid said through gritted teeth, “treating our island like a game?”

There was dead silence all around.

The Commander blurred in front of her so suddenly that she stepped back, a gasp of surprise escaping her mouth. He didn’t do anything, just stood there with his hands clasped behind his back.

“I assure you,” he said, his cordial tone easily conveying far more danger than if he had shouted, “that I will handle it.”

And with that, he walked out the doors.

“Oopsie,” Alphas said. “You pissed him off.”

=0=

A soldier by the name of Quintius was standing guard at the docks when a ship suddenly entered his peripheral vision. He jumped, and looked up to see someone wave at him. He relaxed, and went to help with the lowering of the gangplank. He set his pike down and, with another soldier he didn’t recognize, caught the gangplank. They both grunted under its weight, and carefully, with not a little struggling, positioned it on the pier. Quintius picked up the pike and saluted as Caird walked down the gangplank, followed by another man he didn’t recognize. This one seemed to have a faint, ever present smile on his face.

“This one is Berk, correct?” Caird asked him.

“Yes, sir!”

“Good,” said the mystery man. That smile neither left nor widened. Quintius was beginning to feel a bit unnerved. People shouldn’t have faces like that.

“The people were not harmed, I presume?” Quintius realized with a jolt that the smiling man was addressing him. He was waiting with no small amount of attentiveness. Quintius got the feeling that he could have gone out for a drink, a roast duck, and a good few hours of sleep, and when he got back the man would still be here, waiting patiently for a response.

“No, sir! We were very careful, sir! Non-lethal force only, sir, as per our orders!”

“Excellent news.”

The man nodded to him, greeted the other soldier, then walked off with Caird in tow.

Quintius looked at the other guy, who shrugged. You got some odd types every now and then, it couldn’t be helped, was what the shrug seemed to say.

He looked up to see if anyone else was coming down the gangplank, and was met with a complete absence of people. He looked at his companion, gave him a brief nod of farewell, then walked back to his original post.

The other guy was frowning at the sky. Quintius looked, and saw nothing. He looked back questioningly at the other guard. He saw him watching and beckoned to him. Quintius looked around, and saw no one watching, so hurriedly went over.

“See something?” he asked. The guard pointed at a seemingly random spot in the sky.

“It just me, or is something flying this way?”

Quintius looked at him as if he was dumb. “Probably just birds, ya daftie. We’re on some island. There’s gotta be birds around, right?”

“Oh, yeah.” The other guard looked sheepish. “My bad. What’s your name?”

“Quintius. You?”

“‘M Lambert.”

“Want to get a drink after this shift? Sounds like you need one.”

“Ah sure. You’re paying though.”

“Ach, fine.”

Lambert squinted up. “Ya know,” he said slowly, “those don’t look an awful lot like birds.”

Quintius looked back at the sight. They did not, indeed, look a lot like normal birds. For one thing, they looked a lot like dragons.

“I’ll… uh… I’ll just go and tell Caird about this real quick.”

“Okay.”

Quintius sprinted after Caird. Not fast enough, as it would turn out, as a split second before he reached them, he died.

Chapter 18: All Or Nothing

Wood shattered and flew in splinters across the deck as pure power ripped through the entire thing. Lambert stood watching in shock as Quintius exploded in front of him before everything else kicked in, and he ran up the gangplank, much valuing his life over his duty. It was a wise decision, as to pursue the accomplishment of his duty or even an honourable death would have led to a death, and dying was dying, no matter how honourably it happened.

Caird looked immediately anxious, his sword whirling out of its sheath and deflecting a large bit of wood that flew his way. The smiling man was unperturbed. Even now, the smile hadn’t left his face.

“It seems,” he mused, “that we have rather less time than I imagined.”

=0=

When Alphas had finished his report, concluding with their fight against the Insidians, the king absently bade them leave, somewhat preoccupied with the matter of the wyverns that Alphas had presented to him. The attendant had ushered them out, and now they stood awkwardly just outside the door.

“Why does the Commander hate us?” Hiccup asked.

“Ah, so you noticed, huh?” Alphas sighed. “Well. It’s not like he tries to hide it.”

“Why though?” Astrid asked, still fuming a bit over the interaction.

“I don’t know. No one knows why or how it happened. It’s just one of those things, like you don’t like the taste of fish, or you want to read instead of playing outside, or you hate a specific element,” Alphas said. “It’s just like that. Buzzard grew to hate foreigners for some reason.”

“What do you mean, hate a specific element?” Fishlegs said, bewildered.

Both Arcanums looked at him, puzzled, before light dawned. “Oh, right. It’s a magic thing. Forget about it.”

“I don’t think I want to forget about it,” Hiccup said obstinately. “Explain.”

Omegas grinned. Alphas gave an amused sigh. “Alright. Magic lesson number one takes place outside the castle though, because I don’t want to blow anything up. It’ll come out of my pocket, and some of this stuff is expensive as hell.” He walked off and gestured to follow.

Just down here, if you please.” This was delivered rather flippantly.

They followed him down the corridors and halls and through various rooms until they exited the castle into daylight. By now, the sun had gone lower in the sky, which was a burning orange.

“You have a good view of the sunset from here,” Hiccup said critically. Alphas glanced at him.

“How so?”

“There are sea stacks around Berk. It kind of blocks the view.”

“Ah, right. We had them too, but they were knocked down. You know, so we can see anyone sneaking up on us.”

“Makes sense,” Astrid said, nodding.

They walked further until they were at the gates. Alphas pressed his hand to a symbol on the wall like Omegas had done when they came in. It glowed purple and the gates swung open for them to walk out.

“I know you’re going to ask,” Omegas said as Hiccup opened his mouth, “so I’ll just explain right now, shall I? Basically, every magid - that means magic user - has a special magic signature. You can see it as the colours of our magic, right? Like Alphas is purple, I’m blue. That sigil scans our magic signature and lets us through if it matches one that’s allowed.”

“So you have a list of allowed signatures?”

Omegas nodded. “Right on. And if your signature is allowed, you can get through. If someone who isn’t allowed tries to get in, the gates don’t open and the guards are alerted.”

“Could we do that?” Astrid asked. Omegas shrugged.

“It works if you have a strong enough signature to detect. Everyone has some magic, but it’s almost always too weak to use. Magids are the people with strong enough magic to channel.”

“And are there different ways to channel magic?” Fishlegs queried.

“Yessir. You have us, which is sorcerers, who use runes and sigils. It’s like the magic alphabet. Write it down, put your magic into it for a starting boost, and it can keep going. No sigil can keep going without the power rune though. That’s the basic rune, and it powers all the others. You give that a bit of your magic and it goes on forever. Any other rune gets powered by individual magic charges.”

“Charges?”

“Giving it a bit of magic every time you need to use it, basically.”

“What other kinds of… magids are there?” Snotlout asked. By now, everyone was listening closely.

“Sorcerers use symbols. You know that. Hell, you’ve seen it enough times. Then there’s enchanters. Remember I said runes are like the magic alphabet? They’re the written form. You have writing, and then you have talking, don’t you? Enchanters say the magic. We write it down, they say it. Then there’s magicians. They rely on an object of power to cast a spell, like a staff or a wand. They don’t have to say or write anything, but they need the magic medium for casting and they have to mentally construct a spell. Going with that analogy of writing and talking, there’s also thinking, right? Sometimes you think in a language? They have to think in the language of magic. They’re faster, definitely, but if you get a single clause wrong in the spell you have to start over again.”

Omegas paused. “I think I need some water. Anyone have some?”

Alphas wordlessly picked up a sort of small mug of water from a stall as he passed by and handed it back to Omegas, who drank deeply. He set the mug back down on the stall and handed the befuddled vendor a coin, which he hesitantly took.

“That,” Omegas said appreciatively, “felt good. Right, where was I?”

“Magicians,” Alphas reminded him.

“Got it. I just finished with magicians, didn’t I? Yeah, I did. Okay. Next you have witches. They do their thing with potions. I don’t know how potions are made, so don’t ask. No one knows except witches because only witches have to bother to learn. It’s complicated stuff. So, after witches there’s mages. A mage is someone who can use magic without any kind of preliminary requirement. No writing, no talking, no thinking even. Just think about what you want the magic to do and it happens. The downside to being a mage, though, is that you burn through your magic pretty quick and you have to wait for it to recharge. The strength of the spell is also dependent on your mental and emotional state.”

“What do you mean, you burn through your magic?” Fishlegs asked. “Isn’t it like an infinite supply?”

Omegas wagged a finger at him. “You, sir, are full of questions. But no, magic isn’t infinite in any way. The way that most people describe it - because we do have to teach our kids - is that everyone has a sort of cup inside them, full of magic. Every spell you cast takes up a little more magic. If your cup doesn’t refill fast enough, you’re pretty much depleted of magic. Everyone’s cup is a little different. Some are bigger, some are smaller. What are you laughing about?”

This was directed at Snotlout, who was trying to suppress a smile that threatened, if unleashed, to consume his face and everyone in the immediate vicinity. A little laugh spilled out at the question, but he shook his head. Omegas tilted his head, as though pondering the circumstance.

“Well,” he shrugged, “suit yourself. Do tell me if you feel like sharing the joke.”

Snotlout struggled to contain himself.

“Anyway,” Omegas continued, “There’s a specific system of categorization for magids that depends on the kind of magic they do. Wizards have some of the more… flashy spells, I guess. I don’t know, it’s complicated. Their kind of magic is specifically called wizard-class magic because we don’t have any sort of rule to it, at least not that we can put into words. You just know if it’s wizard magic, but there’s not really a definition for it.”

“I thought wizards were, like, man witches?” Ruffnut said. Omegas stared at her in uncomprehending horror.

I’m sorry??”

“I think she means,” Alphas said, “that she thought wizards and witches were the same thing, but wizards were the males and witches were the females. Which they aren’t.”

“Oh, thank god,” Omegas said, visibly relaxing. “Yeah, that’s not it. Wizards and witches are completely different things.”

“I know. You just said,” Ruffnut told him.

“Then why the hell would you say it anyway?” he asked in complete bewilderment. She just shrugged.

Omegas blinked, attempting to dislodge whatever thoughts had terrorized him. “Right. So. Anyway. Wizards. Then there’s alchemists, who work with the transformation of objects. Anyone can be an alchemist, but witches have it easiest. Then there’s necromancers. Necromancy is seen as minor dark magic, so any necromancer is kind of shunned. Healers are pretty much the white magic version of necromancers, and they do what it says on the box. Psychics can see the future and things like that, and elementals have a special connection to a certain kind of element, like earth, air, fire, water, darkness, light, etcetera.”

Omegas took a deep breath. “Talking this much is tiring. I think that’s all of them though.”

“You forgot the warlocks,” Alphas reminded him.

“There aren’t any left. What’s the point?”

“No no, I’m interested,” Hiccup interjected. “What are warlocks?”

Omegas sighed. “Warlocks were ultra powerful magids a long time ago. Only a mage could become a warlock though. Warlocks had an infinite supply of magic and perfect control over it, too. No one knows why only mages could become warlocks, it’s just one of those things that happen.”

He shrugged.

“There’s also conjurors, who can, you guessed it, make things. Sometimes they’re also called distorters, because bringing new things into existence isn’t actually all they can do. They can also change reality around them. They don’t have to say anything or write anything, their magic is kind of instinctive. We don’t really know how to classify conjurors, because their magic is limited to bending the world, and they can’t do anything else. The first category of magids is based on how they channel their magic, so they don’t really fit in. The second category is based on specialization, but they can’t really specialize in anything. Personally I think conjurors go in the channelling category.” He snapped his fingers.

“Almost forgot to mention, the specialization category doesn’t restrict you to that kind of magic only. You can still do other kinds, it’s just that you’d be better doing a certain kind of magic. Like some people are better at drawing, some people are better at running, some people can do archery better than others. It’s like that. Some people can be better at elemental magic, some people can be better at wizardry, some people make great necromancers.”

He shrugged again. They kept walking in silence for a bit.

“Magic is more complicated than I thought,” Hiccup confessed. Omegas grinned at him.

“What, you thought it was point and shoot? I can do whatever I set my mind to? It’s just like anything else. There’s an upside and a downside. You have to work for it, and sometimes you just have to have the aptitude, I guess.”

They kept walking.

“And… how do you know if your level of magic is high enough to do it?” Fishlegs asked tentatively. Omegas laughed.

“Want to try your hand at magic, huh? Well, there’s a test you can go through, but it’s a long process, and it’s not always accurate. Of course, there’s a simple way, but we don’t have anything that’s required.”

“What’s the simple way?” Astrid asked curiously.

“Apparently there’s a specific stone,” Alphas said, “Which glows in the presence of a strong enough magic energy. The brighter the glow, the more powerful the magic. The level of strength required to make it glow is possessed by everyone though, so that doesn’t tell you much. They were used before, but the last ones were destroyed a long time ago.”

“Why would anyone destroy something like that?” Hiccup asked in confusion. “What kind of reason do you need to destroy something that useful? It was harmless, wasn’t it?”

“It wasn’t really up to anyone,” Omegas cut in before Alphas could reply. Alphas shut his mouth, looking vaguely annoyed. “It was some kind of magic accident that blew up an entire island. All the stones were lost after the place sank.”

“What caused it?” Tuffnut asked. Hiccup rolled his eyes. Of course he’d ask where explosions were involved. Alphas and Omegas shrugged. Omegas began to reply but Alphas slapped a hand over his mouth.

“Some kind of casting that set off a chain reaction. No one knows what the spell was, but it triggered every single kind of magical presence and sent it into overdrive,” he said. His hand snapped off Omegas’ mouth and he wiped it on his leg, looking disgusted.

“Why’d you do that?” he said.

“Why’d you do that?”

“You’ve talked enough. Let me have a go.”

“Oh I’m sorry, I didn't know we were supposed to distribute the talking equally. No. I’m going to say as much as I like.”

“I’ll put spiders in your bed.”

“I’ll set up a trap that reverses your magic flow.”

“I’ll use a deflection sigil.”

“I’ll prepare a sigil to bypass it.”

“I’ll bypass that.”

“I’ll bypass that.”

“I’ll bypass-”

“No one’s going to bypass anything,” Hiccup interrupted before the conversation could deteriorate into the same phrase repeated. “Just… do what we were going to do.”

Alphas and Omegas grinned simultaneously. The effect was uncanny. “Heh. Alright then. We’ll do the whole subterfuge thing later.”

They set off again, walking in silence.

=0=

Caird rushed a man as he landed from his dragon, and sliced his chest open. As the man staggered back, his eyes narrowed and he sent a wave of orange power at Caird, who ducked and rolled.

He stopped, and began to rise on his elbows, when a smooth sphere of yellow crystal landed right in front of his face.

There were sigils on it, and they were glowing.

Caird looked up and saw the man smile wickedly at him even as he bled out, and give him a thumbs up.

Then the ball flashed, and as Caird jumped up the world exploded.

He flew back, the world muted around him. Every sound made it seem like he was underwater, and his vision was a blurred grey.

Boots. Boots walking by. The boots stopped before him, and a hand reached down. Caird looked up, and in the black and white glory of the immediate world he saw the man he’d been walking with.

That faint smile. That terrifying smile.

Caird’s senses kicked in as the world began to slowly fade back into normality, and he reached out. He was pulled up effortlessly, and Caird felt light for a moment as he dangled from the man’s hand. He was gently set down.

Caird shook his head and slapped his hands against his face in an attempt to dislodge that hazy feeling.

“Mind staying here while I do what I need to?”

He immediately looked up and nodded. The man’s smile widened a bit before settling back to its normal state.

“Thank you. I do appreciate it.”

He walked off at a leisurely pace, seemingly unaware of the attackers, which was quite the wrong impression to take.

One of the soldiers saw an apparently easy target and ran at him. He went straight past as the man neatly sidestepped him, and stopped, looking puzzled.

He slowly fell to his knees, then dropped face down on the ground as blood stained the grass.

Myre walked on, calmly sheathing his sword.

=0=

“We’re here,” Alphas said, and entered a modestly sized building which, now that Hiccup looked at it, was actually quite large, not in the sense that it was tall, but that it covered a lot of ground. It probably covered the area of nine whole dragon pens of average size.

Alphas went up and knocked. A woman with curling black hair, blue eyes and a beige sort of long dress came out with a questioning expression that quickly morphed into shock. She slapped her hands over her open mouth.

“Your majesties!” she gasped. “You’re back?”

“Feels like we never left, doesn’t it, miss Arete?” Alphas smiled at her. “I’d like to borrow the room you use for magic classes, if you don’t mind. There’s no one already using it, is there?”

“Er, no,” she said uncertainly. “But we will be having a class there later. Can I ask why you want it?”

Omegas waved a hand. “For magic lessons, of course. And don’t worry, we won’t take too long.”

A small blur barrelled past Arete and slammed into Alphas’ leg, where the shape settled into a small boy in a blue-green tunic and loose white pants, who was hugging his leg tightly.

“Uncle Alphas! You’re back!”

“Oh, yeah, no love for me, huh?” Omegas said. The boy immediately let go and sprang into his chest, arms wrapping around him in an instant and not letting go.

“Actually,” Omegas said with overexaggerated wheezing, “I change my mind.”

The boy laughed delightedly. “I missed you too, Uncle Omegas.”

“Thanks, kiddo.” Omegas ruffled his hair, and he finally let go and jumped down. He peered shyly at the Berkians from behind Omegas.

“Who are you?” he asked. Hiccup looked at him.

He was cute, certainly. That mouth was turned upwards in a bashful smile. He had a small nose so customary of children his age, and black hair of a decent length that curled at the ends and cascaded over his forehead. The eyes were the same kind of dark as those of Alphas and Omegas. He couldn’t have been more than four years old.

Hiccup knelt down until he was at eye level. “We,” he said, racking his brains for something amusing to say before giving up, “are guests.”

It was a lame finish, but he was coming up empty on all other fronts.

“Whose guests?” the boy asked.

“The king’s,” Hiccup told him.

“Oh, you’re daddy’s guests,” the boy said. “You talk funny. Where are you from?”

“An island called Berk,” Hiccup said, mind reeling over the fact that the boy had so casually stated that the king was his father. It was a plasma blast to drop in a conversation, and this child had done it with absolutely no flaunting of the fact, so unlike what he had expected. He knew he would have bragged a bit at that age.

“Are Alphas and Omegas your cousins?” he asked, flailing for something to keep the conversation going. The boy nodded, then ran back inside.

“That’s Phaidros,” Alphas told him as he straightened up. “Best kid I’ve ever met, although to be fair I don’t meet that many kids.”

Arete cleared her throat. “Would you gentlemen, and gentlewomen,” she added, eyeing Astrid and Ruffnut, “mind going to the magic classroom? I do still have to teach.”

“Of course, miss Arete,” Alphas said with a bow, which clearly flustered her. “We’ll be right on our way.”

“Y-yes,” she said. “Have fun.”

And she closed the door with a little more force than was probably necessary.

“Quit teasing the poor woman,” Omegas said casually as they stood, still looking at the door. Alphas looked confused.

“What did I do?”

Omegas shook his head with a dramatic sigh. “You’re hopeless. Let’s just go, shall we?”

And he went on around the corner.

=0=

Caird punched a man in the face so hard he fell down screaming and clutching a broken nose. Blood trickled between his fingers. Caird sliced those fingers off, resulting in a new pitch of screams. The next strike went straight through the heart.

Caird pulled free and spotted a faint trickle of soldiers from the opposing side, the last of which disappeared into a gap between the houses. He screamed a set of orders which all his nearby men quickly obeyed, leaving him to deal with a rather unfair number of men on his own.

He smiled grimly to himself. This was definitely a one-sided fight. For one thing, and the only thing that mattered, they were facing him.

Yes, very unfair indeed.

=0=

“Right,” Alphas said, pulling up his sleeves and picking up a piece of chalk. “What were we actually here for?”

There was a momentary pause as everyone tried to remember.

“You said something about favourite elements, I think?” Fishlegs said hesitantly. Alphas snapped his fingers.

“That’s the one.”

Omegas lounged in the corner on a large chair, while the rest of them squatted uncomfortably on smaller chairs, presumably made for the children that attended this school. They faced a wall of pure darkness, or what Alphas had called a blackboard.

“Not favourite elements though,” Alphas remarked as he held the chalk up. “We were talking about elements you hate. It’s a common enough thing here.”

The chalk spiralled, leaving behind it a line of white. Alphas brought it up in a curve and then back down from the high point, where it ended before the line of chalk met the previously drawn spiral.

“That,” he said, tapping the blackboard, “is the symbol for fire.”

He set to work again, making a single point with the chalk, then drawing three arms at equal distance from each other, all branching out from the initial dot and ending with a spiral each.

“That’s air,” he told them, then began drawing again. This time the chalk began at a high point and then curved downward, making a sort of incomplete crescent. Alphas continued from the lower point, making a wavy pattern that stuck close to the line. He stopped when he reached the top.

“Water.”

The next symbol to be born began with a square with one side cut off. Alphas set the chalk to one of the points of the open side, and made a zigzag which overtook the other point and continued around the rest of the square until it came close to where it had started.

“Earth.”

Alphas set the chalk down.

“These are the elements I’m sure you’ve heard of before. There’s a lot more, but I think these are the most well known, yeah?”

Nodded heads gave him his answer.

“Right. So the reason why some people hate some of the elements is that they don’t like the kind of effect it has. Of course, they still use it when they need to, but they don’t necessarily like it. It’s all down to personal taste, preference, and personality.”

Alphas shrugged. “I’ll just give you an idea of what it’s like.”

He tapped the drawing labelled ‘fire’, and it immediately began burning with a typical red flame. The red glow quickly vanished, however.

“You can set it off, but after the initial burst it’s just normal fire. And stone doesn’t catch fire. Blackboards are made of slate, so you can piece it together from there.”

He tapped the drawing labelled ‘air’. Nothing happened.

“Right. I’ll need one of you to come up here to experience it. You can’t see air, and the runes on their own have a weak effect. No shockwaves for you, sorry to say.” He smiled.

“Snotlout. Come here.”

Snotlout looked around in panic as if there were other Snotlouts seated around him. Fearfully, he got up and came over.

Alphas grabbed his wrist and held it to the sigil as he tapped it again.

Snotlout immediately relaxed as he felt the invisible effect of the spell.

“Feel that?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s it like?”

Snotlout shrugged. “Just air. Like when you blow on something.”

Alphas looked as triumphant as though he had won a battle with the gods. “Exactly. You can go back.”

Snotlout strutted back to his tiny chair and painstakingly sat back down.

“Next one,” Alphas said, and tapped the one marked ‘water’. Shimmering liquid immediately flowed down the blackness and dripped on the floor. Alphas looked down at it.

“Have to clean that up before we leave. Alright, last one.”

He tapped the one marked ‘earth’. A brown crust formed on the lines. Alphas put his hand to it, and brushed it off, where crumbled bits of earth landed on the floor and in the water.

“That’s the basic elements you’re familiar with. There’s more, there’s always more, but I’m only telling you these ones because you know them.”

“What other elements are there?” Snotlout asked. He seemed to have taken a sudden interest.

“Well, there’s darkness and light. You can understand those, I think. But it’s not always that straightforward. There’s also, for example, up and down. Those are also elements. It gets a little confusing.”

“Could you show us those ones?” Fishlegs asked excitedly.

Alphas shook his head. “Nope.”

“Why not?” Fishlegs said, a little crestfallen. Alphas pointed.

They all looked to see a crowd of children staring quietly at them through rectangles of a smooth, clear, crystal-like substance that Hiccup found vaguely familiar. Arete looked over the tops of their heads with a raised eyebrow, and gestured. The meaning was clear.

“It seems,” Alphas said with a smile, “that we have some other eager young scholars.”

=0=

Caird whirled through them. Even the magic they hurled of all various colours wasn’t enough to take him down, as he simply managed to not be where their magic was. It was a dance, and Caird did not have two left feet. Both his feet were perfectly normal.

Caird spun between them, taking two more lives with a single arc of the blade.

Then the sword caught.

Caird looked at two dark eyes, and beneath those eyes was the worst smile he’d ever seen.

“Hello,” said Alphas, and attacked.

=0=

When they got back to the castle, the Commander was waiting for them. The look of evident displeasure which appeared the instant he saw them was gone just as quickly.

“The forces are assembled,” he said.

“That quickly?” Hiccup asked in astonishment. The Commander looked at him with distaste before the expression wiped itself off his face again, leaving him like a blank blackboard, and with just as much evident darkness, except in his case it was under the surface.

“Yes. We are always ready to battle. Especially with Myre.”

Great news, Buzzard. When’s the attack planned?” Alphas asked.

“Whenever you wish.”

“Then they will stay here until further notice, while we progress with the assault.” Alphas looked back at Hiccup and the rest. “No excuses. If you go, there’s the danger that you get caught too, and then all Berkians would be under lock and key.”

Hiccup nodded glumly. He could see the logic there, but it just didn’t sit right with him to sit back doing nothing while his people were at the whim of an apparent tyrant.

Hiccup frowned. He never did tell him, did he?

“Alright, but first I want to talk to you for a bit.”

Alphas looked at him questioningly as Hiccup took him by the arm and led him around one of the castle’s pillars.

“Yes?” he asked.

“You haven’t told us yet. You said you would, but you haven’t.”

“What did I not tell you?” Alphas asked, plainly confused.

“Myre,” Hiccup reminded him. “You haven’t told us about Myre.”

The confusion evaporated like parting clouds. “Ah. And you want to hear it now?”

“I want to hear it now,” Hiccup said firmly.

Alphas sighed, and told him.

=0=

Caird walked backwards under the furious onslaught that was Alphas Arcanum. He could only barely keep up with all the movement. It astounded him that a single man could be this fast. Of course, Myre had told him when he joined that all magic users were physically enhanced…

Some clever move crashed into his sword with all the power of a thunderstorm, and the sword flew out of his hand, nicking him in the face on its whirling way.

Caird clutched at the gash, stunned. Was a sword cut supposed to be jarring?

Was the sword supposed to bounce when it hit you?

Ignoring the pain and Alphas standing over him, Caird poked a finger in, hissing as the agony rose, itself a screaming mass. His suspicions confirmed, he covered the exposed flesh with his hand and its one now extremely bloody finger.

Alphas raised the sword, settling into an executioner’s stance. There was no ceremony to the movement, just the inevitability of death.

A flash of silver, and Caird closed his eyes.

Silver?

The blade was grey. And he was still conscious, no pain around the neck area. Which could only mean one thing.

Caird grinned, and opened his eyes to the only sight he knew he would see.

Myre stood with a single sword out, blocking the dark metal from its straight path into Caird’s skull. He and Alphas stared directly into each other’s eyes. Alphas’ eyes were narrowed in that single minded focus of battle.

And Myre still smiled.

They moved.

Caird got up, still holding his face, and walked away from the sounds of clashing swords to pick up his own.

He might have been cut to the bone, but he damn well wasn’t going down easy.

Caird held up the sword, and made to face any adversaries that weren’t involved in that tornado that was Alphas and Myre.

=0=

Hiccup lay back in the bed that he’d been provided with, as had all the others, and worried.

He hoped none of his family, none of his loved ones had been hurt.

He wondered how Alphas and the rest were getting on.

=0=

Caird spun again through those unfortunate victims, and dared to laugh at them, even if it hurt to move his face or to feel the wind, stinging and cold, on his wound, not least because it riled them up, made them feel irritated.

And irritation is only a step away from anger.

And anger clouds the mind better than any drink.

Caird stuck his foot out as one of them charged, and the big man tripped. Caird took the opportunity to give him a little present to welcome him to the realms of death, namely a fatal stab in the back of the head.

He skipped underneath the arc of a sword, then blocked a swung fist with his jaw and countered by falling on top of the fresh corpse he’d made.

Some guy with a bruise on his chin and brass knuckles on his hands looked down at him, and showed him some teeth.

Caird rolled as the punch came down. It hit the body instead with enough force to crack ribs. Caird heard them break.

He instantly decided that this one needed to be taken care of at the earliest convenience.

He set his hands to the ground and pushed, lifting himself up momentarily, and in that split second which is the climax of the move, he kicked out with both feet, neatly catching his new adversary in the stomach. It was a flawless move, spoiled by the fact that he didn’t seem to feel it. He just kept coming, unrelenting.

Caird held his sword up, the blade right in the way of the next punch in the hope of cutting up that fist, and it shattered under the force of the blow, bowling Caird back.

Really, he managed to think as he lay flat on his back, he was getting rather lucky. Any one of those shards of metal could have gone into his eye, and yet they all missed. All he had was a couple of rather large bits embedded in his chest and stomach, and another one in his cheek. He was taking care to keep his tongue away from where it penetrated into his mouth.

The man gave him a very menacing smile, and leaned down to finish the job.

The punch never reached Caird, because the man was hauled off in one fluid motion and thrown into another group of their opponents. Myre looked down at him as they all picked themselves up.

“You,” he said, that smile still there, “need medical attention.”

He caught the punch without even looking. Myre finally looked back when the owner of the fist began doing his utmost to wrench it free, and finally released. The puncher staggered back before righting himself. Myre just smiled at him, as was his perpetual custom.

The puncher suddenly launched himself, and Myre just sidestepped and slammed his fist into the back of his head so hard that he dropped to the ground and didn’t move again.

Myre lifted Caird up, taking care not to apply any kind of pressure on the pieces of sword that were lodged in him, and they slowly walked back to the docks.

“You… get it?” Caird asked, feeling weak from blood loss.

Myre nodded. “Of course. We have no more need for this place now, so we shall be leaving. It does seem, however, that the sorcerers have also set their sights on Berk. I wonder why.”

Caird had enough energy to ask one more question.

“You kill… either… of ‘em?”

Before he succumbed to unconsciousness, he distinctly heard Myre’s reply.

“Of course not. Where’s the fun in that?”

=0=

“You’re telling me,” Leonidas said slowly, “that they just left?”

The soldier nodded. His name was Damianos, or something. “Yes sir.”

“And why would they do that?”

“Beats me, sir. I was just out sinking the ships.”

Leonidas looked at him. “What dragon do you have?”

“Wind Burst, sir.”

“How many did you get?”

“I’d say about five, sir.”

Leonidas nodded. “How many ships were sunk in total?”

Damianos looked thoughtful. “At a guess, sir, I’d say somewhere between thirty and forty.”

“I see,” Leonidas said with deceptive calmness. “And how many ships were left?”

The soldier looked crestfallen. “Over a hundred, sir,” he said quietly.

“Dammit!” Leonidas roared. Damianos backed away.

“How much does it take to put a dent in his forces? How long does it take until he even notices? Huh?”

Leonidas grabbed the soldier before him by the collar, and lifted him into the air. “How long?” he yelled.

Damianos licked his lips. “S-sir, please put me down.”

The fires of rage simmered down, and Leonidas quietly set the poor soldier on the ground. “Sorry. I lost my temper.”

“It’s… it’s alright, Commander. I understand.”

Leonidas looked tiredly at him.

“Who were they, anyway? The smaller one was good enough to take on us all at once. The bigger one I could have gotten, but the other one interfered. Did you get any idea of who they are?”

“Alphas told me that the bigger one was Caird, sir. I don’t know about the other one.”

Leonidas grunted. “He was a damn good fighter, anyway. We’ll have to watch out.”

“Yes sir.” Damianos saluted, and walked away.

“Hey,” Leonidas called after him. Damianos turned, a questioning look on his face.

“Sir?”

“What rank are you?”

“At the moment, I’m a private. Why, sir?”

“Private, huh? Well, from now on you’re a corporal.”

Leonidas left the shocked newly-appointed corporal behind, and went to check on wherever the hell the other guy had come out of.

=0=

“The hell is this?” Leonidas stared. Stone gears and sigils stared back at him. He’d found an opening in the floor of that damn great building at the center of the village, and when he went down he found a giant stone room full of grey pedestals and grey doors powered by grey gears, not to mention traps of grey arrows and huge grey boulders for crushing.

There were other traps too, but they were not worth mentioning, since they were more or less magical, meaning that Leonidas, who could see them a mile off and immediately draw up something to render them inert, was completely in the clear and unaffected. He would not have been surprised if he’d triggered one and the sigils lit up with grey light. It would have been completely in character.

And at the very end of whatever this was supposed to be, there was a small, bare room, also grey, which was to be entered by passing through some giant stone gates, also grey, which were powered by a mechanism of gears, also grey, which were activated by a stone lever, also grey.

Leonidas could feel himself getting a little bit sick, and he longed for fresh air and an environment that was, above all, not grey.

The doors looked completely normal, so of course he smashed through the wall instead with a special sigil that only he and a select few others in their military were allowed to have. He nodded with satisfaction at seeing the pitfall right in front of the door. He walked over, and peered down.

It certainly seemed deep. The blackness was quite welcome in the stifling, suffocating grey. Anything for a bit of variety. The torches, in brackets along the walls, were rotten. He didn’t dare to light them, even just for some kind of redness to spice up the grey, for fear of poisoning himself in some way. He’d just have to contend with the monotony for a little while longer. At the very least, he didn’t need any light. The air was alive with a kind of phantasmic glow, which he had used thus far to get through this… whatever it was.

That begged the question though. Why did a series of trapped corridors underneath the central building of a distinctly unmagical Viking tribe have magic-based traps in them? There was more to this place, it seemed, than met the eye.

Leonidas walked to the center of the room. There were several pedestals in a row, each of them with a small chest on top, except one. The mystery man must have taken that one. It stood to reason. If he had come here, he wouldn’t have left without a prize.

Actually, how did they know this place existed?

Ah well. The question could be answered another time. Leonidas peered at the box, and, seeing nothing carved into it, went to open the lid.

And immediately snatched his hand back, cursing so much the walls must have winced. It would have served them right, if they did. Their fault for being big grey bastards.

Leonidas tentatively reached out and flicked the lid open. The burning sensation only lasted long enough to make him hiss. He put his hand in, taking care not to touch any of the sides, and removed the wound up bit of parchment in the middle. He glanced in as he removed the ribbon, and nodded to himself.

He’d been right. The sigils were carved on the inside. He read the parchment, and frowned. It was just some sort of riddle poetry about some building in Rome, of all places. Why the hell would Myre want something like this? He shrugged to himself. The king would want to know about it anyway. He might as well take the lot.

Carefully, he flicked open the lids and removed each scroll, coming away with a total of only a termite mound’s worth of pain, as opposed to the mountain of agony he’d felt when he’d grabbed the first chest with both hands.

Leonidas gathered up the future, even though he didn’t know it at the time, and went to walk back up to the surface.

Chapter 19: History

“Scrolls?” the king asked, his face unusually pale. Leonidas nodded.

“With riddles on them, sir. Pointing to locations.”

The king leaned against a pillar. “So he’s after that, is he?” he muttered.

“Sir?” Leonidas went a little closer, and peered into the king’s face. It seemed… frightened.

The king straightened.

“We cannot allow him to have this. It’s too dangerous.”

“What’s the whole thing about, sir?” Leonidas asked. “I’ve been wondering. Is it some sort of quest?”

The king sighed. “A quest, yes. But what lies at the end is far worse than anything else. Myre is after one of our legends. He seeks a story that is all too true.”

“Which legend is that, sir?”

The king looked up sharply. “That is not for just anyone to know.”

“I’m not just anyone, am I, your majesty?” Leonidas said, his face a perfect representation of oblivion.

“Even then, Commander, you are not to know. Do not ask me again.”

Leonidas bowed his head. “Yes, your majesty.”

“And bring me my nephews. I have a mission for them…”

=0=

“So everyone’s alright?” Hiccup asked, relieved.

“Yes,” Valka said. “Actually, they treated us very well.”

“Really?”

“Aye, lad,” Gobber interjected. “Verrae well.”

“Oh. Good. Nothing else happened?”

“Nae, lad. All they did was put us in our own prisons. But they gave us their food, and good eating it was too.”

“Oh. Well, has everyone gone back to their houses? Are the dragons all in their stables?”

“Yes,” Valka said. “It’s almost all back to normal, apart from the hole in the Great Hall.”

“We could make it a basement,” Gobber offered. Hiccup looked at him, amused.

“We’d have to get rid of all the traps, and mine the whole area under the Hall. I mean, a basement isn’t just a bunch of tunnels.”

Gobber waved a hand dismissively. “Ach, I’ll just set the lads to it. You’ll see! There’ll be a Great Basement in no time!”

Hiccup laughed. “Alright Gobber. Have it your way.”

“Aye, chief.” He went to find someone to swing a pickaxe, and some Gronckles to store the rocks in. Hiccup was left with his mother.

“What about the… wizards?”

“Sorcerers,” Hiccup corrected. “They might be wizards too, though. It’s confusing.”

She looked surprised. “You can be both?”

“It’s more of a profession thing, I think? Anyway, they’re going to leave us alone, but we’ve formed an alliance. So they might reach out at some point. Maybe.”

“I see. They mean well, do they?”

“I-” Hiccup hesitated. “To be completely honest, I’m not too sure. They seem alright, but I don’t think they like other people. Also, did you know Dad used to visit them every few years?”

“He did?” Valka said, surprised. “He never told me, I know that. But now that you mention it, he would go off on his own, with no other men, for weeks at a time every few years. I always wondered why, but then after some time I just became used to it.”

“Why wouldn’t Dad tell us about them, though?”

“I expect he had his reasons. If you want to know, you should probably ask the sorcerers.”

“No other way, huh,” Hiccup said gloomily.

“I expect not,” his mother replied airily. “But you should probably get back to your chiefly duties. I am, as always, available if you need me.”

“You’re right. How’s Gothi, by the way?”

“She seems alright. She’s seemed a little confused lately, though. She… hesitates about the medicines. She gets it right every time, but as far as I can remember, she didn’t do that before.”

“Right,” Hiccup said. “Maybe she knows that she’s forgetting something, but she doesn’t know what, so that’s why she hesitates about the medicines. Because that might be what she’s forgetting.”

His mother gave him a Look. And it was definitely a Look, and not just a look. It had earned the capital letter.

“You’ve been taking magic lessons, have you?”

Hiccup shrugged. “It’s just a guess.”

“Well then. Just don’t go shooting fireballs out of your fingers yet. That sort of thing puts people off.”

“I can’t,” Hiccup said, vaguely annoyed. “It was just a guess.”

“If you say so, dear.”

She walked off, and hadn’t gone a few steps before Cloudjumper swooped down and plucked her off the ground. Hiccup watched her go with the exact expression of someone suppressing irritation.

“Sup.”

Hiccup screamed, whirled, and fell. Alphas stood there with his hands up.

“Surprise you?”

Hiccup just glared at him. He returned it with a bright smile.

“Yeah. Uncle sent me to check out your whole basement thing.”

The clothes he was wearing now were different. Hiccup hadn’t seen him since the night before the attack to take back Berk. Where before he had been dressed in a light and airy black, with simple gold lining on the shirt and complex silver on the leggings, now he was dressed in a similar manner to Commander Leonidas. Dark brown pants and an open coat of the same colour, with purple fabric underneath. The coat, while not as long as the Commander’s had been, was still rather long, reaching to just above his knees. Straps and buckles lined his waist and torso, with one hung diagonally across his chest. Alphas noticed him looking, and twirled with his his hands spread to the side. His coat twirled with him.

“Like it?”

Hiccup nodded mutely, then looked down. The boots were almost identical to the ones he had worn before. Where those ones had had a sort of string on them, these ones also had buckles. Hiccup looked at his own boot. Fur on top, and no string or buckles to speak of. He’d have to add some.

“Official military outfit,” Alphas was saying. “I notice you like the boots. You want some?”

He looked down, and his voice trailed off. His face went blank.

“You… want one?” he corrected.

“Sure. I’ll have one,” Hiccup said bitterly.

“No offence intended,” Alphas said immediately. “Just… the first thing that came to mind. Sorry.”

Hiccup sighed. “It’s alright.”

“Sorry. How’d it happen, by the way?”

“Sort of burnt off after a Red Death exploded,” Hiccup said dreamily. Alphas stared at him.

“What’s a Red Death? And it exploded?”

Hiccup looked up. “You don’t know what a Red Death is?”

“No, but it exploded?”

“Look, we were fighting it and we shot it on the inside. It crashed and exploded and I fell, okay? How do you not know what a Red Death is?”

“Describe it to me, then.”

“Huge, six eyes-” Hiccup began.

“Oh. That’s what you mean. We call that a Hexoberon.”

“Which means…?”

“Hell if I know. It’s some obscure tongue from ancient times when magic thrived.” At this he used air quotes.

“That’s what the damn scholars say, at least. I don’t have anything against scholars, but these ones act all high and mighty just because they can say something in a language no one uses anymore, damn them.” His voice boiled with contempt. He blinked, and looked back.

“Anyway, Uncle sent me here to check out your secret tunnels, now being converted to basement.”

“You know about that?”

“Moustache man was singing about it. Kind of hard not to know, to be honest.”

Hiccup grinned. Good old Gobber.

“Yeah. Feel free.”

“Thanks.” He turned to go.

“Where’s Omegas, by the way?” Hiccup called after him.

“Playing with the kids,” Alphas said over his shoulder, and continued on in the direction of the Great Hall.

Hiccup frowned, and went to find Omegas.

=0=

He found him a little while later, jogging around the village center while children chased after him, squealing. He stopped, and just as the train of 6-year-olds reached him, he jumped backwards over all their heads, landing on the other end of the line, and started jogging away in the other direction, this time facing towards his devout followers. The children squealed with laughter as the fell over each other to try and catch him again. Dragons sat and watched with interest. Some mothers were standing around and smiling. Others were taking the opportunity to get something done. One of them noticed him as he came.

“Oh, Hiccup,” she said. Her name was Hilda, Hiccup knew, but that was approximately the end of his knowledge. The village had expanded a lot recently. It was starting to get difficult to remember everyone.

“Who is this man?” she asked him.

“That’s, um, his name is Omegas.”

Omegas saw him and waved. Hiccup raised a hand in greeting before turning back to Hilda.

“He’s from an island called Nisi. We’ve, uh, we’ve made an alliance with them. They’ve said they’ll keep to themselves though, mostly.” Hiccup scrambled for some other details and came up blank. Hilda nodded.

“Alright then, chief. Good morning.” She looked at the children, then turned back to him. “This is a visit then?”

“Hm? Yes, he’s the… chief’s son.” Hiccup didn’t know if he should say that he was a prince. Vikings were not very open to new ideas.

“Oh.”

“His brother’s at the Great Hall,” Hiccup added.

“He has a brother?”

“They’re twins. They don’t look exactly like each other, but that’s it. They’re pretty similar in everything else.”

Hiccup glanced at Omegas, and saw that where Alphas wore purple underneath his coat, Omegas had blue.

Nice details,’ he thought to himself. Hilda was watching Omegas again. Hiccup sidled off. Omegas waved his hands and said something to the kids. They pouted, but shuffled back to their mothers, gazing longingly after him.

Omegas caught up with Hiccup and fell into step beside him.

“Alphas?”

“Great Hall,” Hiccup replied.

“Which is?”

“The building with the tunnels under it,” Hiccup snapped.

Omegas nodded. “Mad about something?”

“What?” Hiccup sighed, and ran his hands through his hair. “No. Not really.”

Omegas said nothing. They walked in silence back to the Great Hall and stood in front of it. Omegas eyed the stone steps.

“Do you have to walk up these every day?”

Hiccup nodded with an air of depression. “There’s too many, I’ve always said. I don’t really have to, with Toothless, but I have to set an example, as chief.”

“Wouldn’t it set a better example to just fly and land at the top? Like look at your chief, he sees the simplest path to reach his goals.”

“Our people won’t see it that way,” Hiccup told him, gloom resonating in every syllable. Omegas Looked at him, just like his mother had done.

“I get it,” he said. “Up, up, and away?”

“Up, up, and more up, I think.”

Hiccup started walking. Omegas followed.

When Hiccup slowed, Omegas stopped beside him.

“Need some help?” he offered.

“Thanks, but no,” Hiccup said, breathing heavily.

“Weeeeell, you better watch out, because the help’s coming anyway,” Omegas said, and stood to the side. Hiccup tried to Look at him, but only managed partway, because a blur of darkness grabbed him and whooshed up the stairs.

“Toothless!” Hiccup slapped at the dragon’s hide, trying to get him to let go, but he was unrelenting. They whirled to the top and he was deposited in front of the doors, where Alphas sat with his back to the door. He applauded.

“Excellent performance,” he said. “Really brought a tear to my eye.”

“Oh, shut up,” Hiccup laughed. Alphas helped him up.

“Omegas?”

Hiccup pointed. Alphas looked down.

“He’s still got some way to go, it seems.”

“Yeah.”

“Want to stand here and make fun of him when he reaches?”

“Oh, for sure.”

They stood there and waited. Toothless sat expectantly. Hiccup turned to him, then hesitated and turned to Alphas.

“Should I call the others?”

Alphas shrugged. “Suit yourself. I’m just visiting.”

“Toothless, go and get Astrid, Snotlout, Fishlegs, and the twins,” Hiccup instructed. Toothless bounded off.

“Does he really understand all that?”

“Hmm? He does. Why do you ask?”

Alphas hesitated. “It’s just… dragons on Nisi seem a lot… dumber.”

Hiccup frowned. “Maybe it’s the magic? Like being around it all the time makes their minds dull?”

Alphas considered the idea. “You know, you might not be wrong.”

Hiccup shuddered. Wreckage seemed smart enough already.

“Why were you sitting here, by the way?”

“Catching my breath,” Alphas grinned at him. Hiccup smiled.

They waited for a few more minutes. When Omegas finally arrived, they just stood with their arms folded and looked down at him.

“Slowpoke.”

“Snail.”

“Slug.”

“Other words starting with S that mean slow.”

“If the two of you don’t shut up right now,” Omegas panted, “I will throw you all the way back down.”

A moment’s silence.

“Imagine taking that long. Couldn’t be me.”

Hiccup felt he was running out of face for his smile to stretch.

“I hate both of you.”

Omegas straightened up with a whistling breath, and exhaled.

“You really have too many stairs.”

“I’ll add more, just for you,” Hiccup told him.

Omegas held up a finger. “I’ll summon as many creatures from the nether world as you add stairs.”

“Necromancy isn’t your strong suit,” Alphas reminded him.

“Don’t care. I’ll still do it. If I mess up you just get worse stuff, anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”

Several colours blurred past them, accompanied by screams. The doors of the Great Hall crashed open under the force.

“That’ll be your friends, then,” Alphas said conversationally.

=0=

“Magic traps, huh?” Alphas said as he traced one of the sigils with his finger. He’d cut through it with his knife, so it didn’t work anymore. “Interesting.”

“I imagine so. Pity you can’t deactivate a boulder, huh?”

Omegas was miffed. He’d almost been crushed by one of the traps.

“Oh, yeah, yeah,” Alphas said. “That too.”

Omegas squinted at him. “Die.”

“It’s on the bucket list.”

Alphas walked on. Omegas followed him reluctantly. Hiccup walked by his side, while the rest of the gang trailed behind. Astrid looked distinctly like she had just woken up and been dragged out of bed, probably because she had. Her hair was a mess. Hiccup thought it still looked good on her.

Alphas paused when he came to the hole in the wall.

“Buzzard?”

“Buzzard,” Omegas agreed. They walked in, and Alphas nodded approvingly at something behind the doors.

Hiccup walked in and looked to see a pitfall like the ear canal of a giant. He felt like an appropriate word was in order. What would Alphas have said?

“Damn,” he remarked.

Everyone looked at him in surprise.

“Never heard you swear before,” Alphas said.

“That’s because he never has,” Astrid told him. “In his life.”

Hiccup blushed. “Just… trying it out.”

“Well… you do you, I guess?” Alphas said, and looked back at the pedestals. They had some small boxes on them shaped like chests. Alphas picked one up, then threw it against the wall so hard it smashed. He held his hand, an expression of surprise on his face.

“Never heard of something like that before,” he muttered.

Omegas looked at him. “And what did you do that for?”

“Why don’t you pick one up then?”

Omegas did so, and dropped it immediately. He stared at his hand.

“That’s a weird one. Usually you that sort of thing doesn’t fade away so quick. Even with curses, if someone makes a curse that small.”

“What are the two of you doing?” Hiccup asked. “What’s with the boxes?”

“Don’t pick one up,” Alphas and Omegas said in unison.

“Why?”

“It burns you,” they said, again at the same time.

“Doesn’t look that hot,” Snotlout said, and picked up the one Omegas had dropped. He flung it away. It clattered.

“It bit me,” he said, staring at the box as he wrung his hand experimentally.

Alphas and Omegas looked at each other. “You know, that might be it.”

“Magicians, right?”

“Made from the wands, or the staffs.”

“Wait, wait,” Hiccup said, waving his hands to catch their attention.

They definitely looked. After a moment, Alphas raised his hands and waved back. Hiccup snorted.

“Stop that. What do you mean about magicians? And how did the box bite him?”

“Have you ever been bitten by a snake?” Snotlout said.

“No. I don’t want to, either.”

“Oh, good. Then you’ll get it.”

“What?”

“It wasn’t like a snake bite at all.”

Hiccup looked at him. It wasn’t a full on Look yet, but it got the job done.

“Don’t try something like that again.”

“I can do what I want,” Snotlout protested.

“Sure, but not something like that. You just made me even more confused.”

“I told you about magicians back on Nisi, didn’t I?” Omegas interrupted.

“Yeah. So?”

“They use wands and staffs and other objects of power. I told you this. If a magician is strong enough, the wand or staff or whatever they’re using comes alive, kind of.”

Alive?

Omegas considered it. “It’s a kind of… parasitic life. Being around a magid for so long, some things happen by themselves. If the magician is strong enough, it’s almost a given that their medium has absorbed so much magic that it begins to change itself.”

Everyone listened closely.

“So, you get living wands, living staffs. Things that can use their owner’s magic on their own. They have a special connection. Technically, a lot of things in a magid’s use can have some kind of magic build up, but it usually only happens with wands and staffs. So what happens is, sometimes, if someone else tries to take or use the medium without the owner’s permission, or without the medium wanting to have that done-”

“It can want stuff?”

“It’s alive. Living things can want stuff. Anyway, if someone tries that, the medium can defend itself or its master. Sometimes they use some of the owner’s magic to make things happen, or they can, you know.” He gestured. “Bite the offender.”

“How do they bite, though? It’s not like they have mouths,” Hiccup persisted.

“They’re magic,” Omegas reminded him. “It doesn’t make sense all the time. Even to magic users. We just make the rules up as we go. If something doesn’t work by the rules, we just make new rules to fit it in. We barely know how we’re doing what we’re doing most of the time. All we know is that we’re doing it.”

There was a contemplative silence while everyone thought this through. At last, Alphas spoke.

“Well, time to go. I think I’ve seen everything I need to.”

=0=

“You’re just going to leave? That quickly?”

“Sorry. It’s just, we should be reporting back as quickly as possible. There’s always other missions.”

“Are you sure you won’t just stay for a drink or something?” Hiccup pleaded.

“I… don’t drink.”

“Me neither.”

Hiccup looked at both of them, sitting astride their respective dragons, and sighed and waved them away.

“See you some other time then,” Omegas said as they rose into the air. He threw him a two fingered salute before they starting growing smaller on the horizon.

And there ended Berk and especially Hiccup’s involvement in a war that started long ago.

…Not.

Why did the war start?

It started with these words, “In the time before men, there was a dragon, who laid an egg…”

Chapter 20: Retaken

The stranger arrived.

=0=

“No Gobber, I don’t think that would work,” Hiccup said patiently, after the man had finished describing exactly how the Great Basement, as they had started calling it, should be equipped with full defenses, including boiling oil to throw over their enemies, side by side with a wall with harpoons in it.

“Why not, lad?” Gobber asked forlornly. He was rather attached to the idea.

“Call it a hunch.”

“Chief.” Hiccup turned to see Mulch standing in the doorway to the smithy, scratching his head.

“Yes, Mulch?"

“There’s a trader here. I thought I should tell you.”

“Thanks, Mulch. I’ll come along in a minute.” In the corner, Toothless warbled.

“Right you are, chief,” Mulch said, and walked away past the counter and out of sight.

“But lad, think of all the advantages! No one expects to be attacked in a basement!”

“Gobber, no one’s trying to conquer the basement.”

=0=

The stranger sorted through the items. Where was the one which was needed?

Ah…

=0=

“Greetings, citizens of Berk,” said the merchant. He was dressed in flowing white, with green highlights on the sleeves. He looked young, with a pale, pleasant face and striking green eyes. The gathered crowd waited for the inevitable explosion of verbal flowers.

The merchant raised an eyebrow. “I… have wares?”

The crowd still waited. The merchant looked from face to face for a sign of what it was he should be doing.

“Look, I don’t have all day. Are you going to buy something or not?”

The Berkians looked at each other. This wasn’t what they were used to. Johann would be narrating his travels right now. One Berkian hesitantly spoke up.

“Have ye travelled far and wide?”

“Yes?” the merchant said, equally as hesitant. “Lots of faraway lands. It’s where I got the merchandise from, you see.” He indicated the various items on his boat.

“Did a king offer you his daughter that you thought was a pig?”

The merchant just stared, at a loss for words.

“If I thought she was a pig, I wouldn’t have gotten the offer,” he said uneasily. “Look, I’m just here to sell you something.” He looked around and picked up some random article of merchandise.

“Squid ink? Anyone?” he said, a little desperately. The crowd grumbled. They had expected more.

“Ye got ta tell tales,” someone called out, “or yer not a proper trader, friend.”

The merchant looked shocked. “Tell tales? You mean lie?”

“Not fib, not fib,” someone else clarified. “Tell stories. Talk about yer adventoores.”

The poor merchant was at a loss.

“I-I don’t-” he began.

“Sorry,” Hiccup said, shouldering his way through. “I got caught up in something. Welcome to Berk, trader…?”

The merchant looked mystified at the inflection at the end of the sentence before realization dawned.

“Trader Fannar. Are you chief of Berk, by chance?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Only your… fine people expect me to be lying-”

“Oi! We said no fibs!”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Hiccup sighed and scratched at the back of his head. It was a bit of a nervous habit. Somehow, it was always right. He filed away the trader as a character to be investigated.

“We’re just used to traders who talk about their travels and narrow escapes and all those adventures,” he said tiredly. “Sorry you had to go through this.”

“Oh. No, it’s no trouble. Thank you.”

Hiccup turned to the assembled Berkians, who watched him like a colony of ants. It was a strange comparison, he found himself thinking, but it was what fitted at the moment.

“Alright. Fannar isn’t going to do what Johann did. If you want to buy something, do it. But please, don’t ask him to tell you any stories.”

“What about bedtime stories?” someone called. Laughter rippled through the Berkians. Hiccup looked back at Fannar, who shrugged.

“Depends on whose bed it is,” he replied, which was met with a hysterical response and a few cheers. The Berkians seemed to settle down after that, and began investigating his ship after he moored it to the dock. It was a larger ship compared to those of other traders. He must have been quite successful.

“What’s this?” Hiccup said, poking at a sack of what seemed like stones.

“Amethyst geodes,” the trader replied as he helped Gobber carry another sack down to the docks.

Hiccup looked back at Fannar in suspicion. The trader came back to the ship.

Really amethyst geodes?” Hiccup asked. The merchant shrugged.

“It is what it is.”

“You don’t mind if I test that, do you?” Hiccup said.

“Sure. Just pay for the geode you break open,” Fannar told him. He walked off to a crate by the mast and began rummaging in it. There were some distinct wooden and metallic sounds, and he came back with a hammer and chisel, which he handed to Hiccup.

Hiccup extracted one of the supposed geodes. It just looked like ordinary stone, if a little smooth.

“Did you polish this?”

“Some people use them as decorations. About half of them are polished. The rest are rough.”

“Why not just do all of them then?”

“Others might not want it polished, mister chief.”

“Just call me Hiccup,” Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third said.

“Yes, mister Hiccup.”

Hiccup set the chisel to the stone, and began to hammer at it carefully. Little chips of stone bounced off. In a minute, he had a good wedge, but he still couldn’t see a hint of anything crystalline inside. He set the chisel at a good position, and brought the hammer down. The stone split open to reveal sparkling purple crystals inside, with some hints of white here and there.

“Wow,” Hiccup breathed. “Is this pure amethyst?”

“Almost. Can I have my payment now, by the way?”

“Oh, right. How much?”

“Three silver.”

Hiccup rummaged through his pouch and picked out three silver coins, which he handed to the trader. They were whisked away to some unknown crevice with a faint clink. Hiccup relaxed. Only a true trader could be so careful with his money.

Fannar walked over to Snotlout and gently pulled a necklace out of his hands. Snotlout looked vaguely annoyed at the words that Fannar was saying, but he relented and handed over an indiscernible amount of coins, which was just as quickly secreted away. The necklace was handed back, and Fannar went to see to another customer.

Something snuffled behind Hiccup. He turned to see an orange cat with a white underbelly and feet. The white reached up to the chin, from where the orange took over. The cat blinked curiously at him. It had a red collar.

Hiccup reached out to pet it. The cat tolerated it for a moment, then yawned and jumped into a crate with a blue cloth draped over it, where it curled up. Hiccup just sat and watched it for a bit. It was a lot like Toothless, he thought, except that it acted a little more haughty. Toothless had some more excited, dog-like mannerisms.

=0=

When no one was looking, the stranger drew out the stone, and paused for what they saw.

It glowed an emerald green.

The stranger nodded, and tucked it away.

=0=

Snotlout crashed to the floor, quite possibly in debt. He got up, grumbling at the length of cloth that had tripped him up.

“No worries, friend. You broke nothing.”

Snotlout turned and saw Fannar standing there with a vaguely unnerving smile. It looked like it didn’t belong there. Those eyes, green and striking, like a snake, seemed to bore into him. Snotlout didn’t like the effect.

“Alright,” he mumbled, and sidled away, nearly tripping again over the twins, who were whispering to each other behind a crate.

He didn’t want any part in whatever stupid shenanigans they were going to pull, even if his darling Ruffnut was involved, so he hurried away before anyone could say they saw him there.

=0=

The stranger knew the matter should be investigated.

But… ah… which one of them had set it off?

Later, perhaps, when the world was dark…

=0=

Hiccup watched as the merchant sneakily peered at Snotlout from behind a crate. It was extremely obvious to see that he was keeping an eye on the one person to trip and fall on the boat. Somehow, though, Hiccup doubted Snotlout was aware of it. It had the quality of being obvious only to the people who weren’t being watched.

Hiccup looked back down at the cat, which still lay in its crate, watching him lazily. Those slitted green eyes blinked slowly, to the point that you began counting under your breath to see how long it would take until the next blink arrived. Continental drift was faster.

“Do you like it?”

Hiccup spun around. Fannar was completely noiseless, as stealthy as-

Hiccup glanced down. Yes, that seemed to fit. Stealthy as a cat.

“He’s mine. His name is Egg.”

Hiccup spluttered with shocked laughter. Fannar had said that so seriously, like it wasn’t anything strange at all.

Egg.

Hiccup wheezed, doubled over, unable to care about Fannar watching him. He thought about it again and laughed a little more.

Oh gods. Egg.

Hiccup steadied himself and straightened, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. Fannar studied him with a faint smile. Hiccup smiled widely back, on the brink of laughing again.

“That always gets a reaction, but you’ve laughed the most, I think,” Fannar said thoughtfully, still smiling. “Interesting.”

“What’s interesting?” Hiccup asked, finally managing to stuff the hilarity somewhere else for further study.

“Oh, nothing, mister Hiccup. Spend as much time with him as you like, but don’t touch the tail. He doesn’t like it if you touch his tail.” Fannar began to walk away, then turned back. “Oh, and if he tries to bite you, don’t worry about it. He takes care not to do it too hard. I think you will find it easier to just let him have his way.”

And with that, Fannar whizzed away between the various items again, leaving Hiccup with Egg.

“Hi there… Egg.”

The cat blinked up at him. Hiccup knelt down.

“You have a funny name,” he said, running his hand along the top of the head. Egg closed his eyes and let the petting happen.

=0=

The stranger surreptitiously looked back at the stone. It glowed a faint green again, before settling back into its normal, mundane red, devoid of any kind of illumination.

The list was narrowed down to two options, then, with all others as secondaries in case of failure.

Now care would have to be taken…

=0=

Night had fallen, and Fannar was still here. His ship, moored to the docks, served as his sleeping place for the night. The twins were snickering about something, and Hiccup had searched the entire boat as quietly as he could, but failed to find anything. With any hope, whatever the twins had planned was on Berk and wouldn’t blow up the trader’s vessel.

Hiccup clicked his tongue, and Toothless trudged up the stairs towards him. Almost three hours of flying had taken it out of the Night Fury. Hiccup made the gesture for sleep, and the dragon gratefully sagged onto his wooden slab, heating up the platform as an afterthought.

Hiccup, too, sank into his bed. He’d done all he needed for today. All that was left to let things play out.

He wondered what would happen.

=0=

The stranger climbed up the wall with all the ease of a cat. Somehow, they managed to jump using only their arms. Masked and hooded, with two flat, curved swords strapped to their back, the stranger could probably have dealt with any late night drunks who happened to catch them. They looked forward to testing the capabilities of any guards who passed by.

The stranger hopped into the window, and held the stone out, letting it soak in the presence of the room. The occupant was gone, but there would be traces, if there was any source at all.

The stone remained red.

Time to check the other one then.

The stranger jumped down all the way to the ground, landing with hardly a whisper, barely a crunch of dirt.

Target two.

=0=

The stranger reached their destination without running into resistance apart from one unfortunate thief. The not-so-innocent passerby would now be spending the rest of eternity in darkness, at least until the occupants of the hut checked their attic.

If anything, perhaps they would be thankful that nothing was stolen.

Even the thief would have disagreed on this. The stranger chuckled inwardly. Such ungratefulness.

The stranger hopped into the window. Oh good, the occupant was here this time. They held out the stone…

=0=

Hiccup whirled out of bed, grabbing Inferno from the floor on the way, and catapulted himself to right in front of the hooded person who had crept into his room. The orange glow of Inferno was immediately in competition with the emerald green glow from something clasped in their hand. The light blazed out from between the clenched fingers as the masked figure snatched it out of Hiccup’s reach. Apart from that, they didn’t move at all.

“I know it’s you, Fannar,” Hiccup snarled as the rest of the gang tumbled into the room, righting themselves instantly and settling into various battle ready positions. Valka and Gobber, along with Eret, were there too.

Under the hood, the stranger cocked an eyebrow, and looked beyond them.

Fannar came into the room, clapping slowly. Immediately, about half a dozen weapons were pointed at him. It didn’t seem to faze him much.

“You tried, I suppose. But look at the eyes, will you? Look at the eyes. You think I can change that?”

Hesitantly, Hiccup looked at the figure again.

The eyes, the only features visible, were wood brown.

Fannar’s were reptile green.

“Someone I hired,” Fannar said. “I can’t exactly run up walls myself. Besides, they owe me a favour, so I thought I’d cash it in.”

“Who- who are you?” Hiccup said, the confusion gone to be replaced with rage.

Fannar tilted his head, and smiled with his teeth. It was undoubtedly genuine, and the thought terrified Hiccup. No genuine smile should intimidate this much. It was… draconic. It was the way someone smiles at seeing a meal they enjoy. But somehow, Fannar’s smile managed to accommodate compassion. The effect was deadly.

Fear fed the fire, and rage evolved into fury, which boiled in Hiccup’s gut.

“Tell me right now!” Hiccup screamed, stalking up to Fannar and waving Inferno in front of his face. Some weapons were turned towards the masked figure to compensate.

“But of course, mister Hiccup,” Fannar said, completely unfazed by a blade of fire whirling across his face. He pushed the weapons out of the way, and bowed.

“My name is Myre Fang,” he said as he straightened. “I am here for your island.”

Chapter 21: Myre

“Myre’s, well, something of an insane genius. That’s how most people from his army describe him,” Alphas had added.

“What, you don’t know?” Hiccup had asked. Alphas had given a pained shrug.

“None of us have ever seen him. If anyone has seen him, they don’t come back to say much about it.”

“Oh.”

“In any case, he’s supposed to be so completely insane that he’s come out the other side.”

“That’s… how you’re describing it?” Hiccup had asked hesitantly.

“Some guy from Myre’s army put it that way. He likes poetry, as I understand it.”

“Who, Myre?”

“Possibly Myre likes poetry as well, but at the moment I was talking about the guy we took prisoner.”

“Weird. He gave you that information freely?”

“Oh, yeah. They have no problem talking about Myre. Anyone or anything else they just shut up. Nothing except torture makes them say even a word.”

Hiccup had shifted uneasily. “Torture?”

Alphas had paused. “Best if you don’t ask further, I think.”

Hiccup had paled, horrific images flashing past his mind.

“That’s terrible!”

“War isn’t meant to be pretty. Anything you can do, you do it. Anything for even a little bit of an edge over your enemy.”

“And does Myre have something like that done to… your people?”

Alphas had hesitated. “No one knows. Even the prisoners don’t know.”

Something had occurred to Hiccup then. “Why not just read their minds?”

Alphas had shaken his head. “Linking minds, like I did with you, is easy enough. I can just dump information in or take it away, like with your healer. It’s… complicated. Give and take is fine if you know what you’re looking for. Reading a mind? When there’s so much else in the way? When all the thoughts are just sharper emotions? That takes an entirely different kind of magid, which we don’t have.”

“Right, right. But really, what kind of person is Myre?”

“A bit of a… thorn in our side, to put it one way. He’s clever, he’s so mad he thinks he’s sanity itself, and he knows almost as much about magic as we do. In some areas, maybe even more. No one knows how he gets his information. He’s apparently got access to magic too now, which is frankly terrifying, and should tell you almost everything you need to know, and he has the largest army ever. Probably some of the other people you’ve fought against, if any, have been divisions of Myre’s forces.”

Hiccup had breathed out, slowly, patiently.

Hiccup breathed in sharply now, looking at Fannar, apparently Myre, in a new light, and heard the other brief intakes of breath around him.

This was Myre?

This was Myre?

A man with a cat called Egg and a polite smile was supposed to be the greatest enemy to magical society, was supposed to exist on the other side of insanity?

A man who had gained entry into Hiccup’s house, locked as it was, and bypassed all the people in hiding without being seen, and was even now smiling calmly in the face of a dragon in the room and multiple dangerous bits of metal pointed at his vitals…

Hiccup nudged Toothless with his knee. Myre’s smile seemed to brighten. His companion didn’t move, but their eyes were beginning to look bored.

“Toothless-” Hiccup began, and didn’t get any further before he was knocked flat on his back. Now Myre was crouched over him, Inferno somehow in his hand, and pointed directly at Hiccup.

Despite the combined heat from Inferno, Toothless, and the rage which had coursed through Hiccup moments earlier, the room froze.

Myre’s smile was bright as an evening star.

“We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. Let’s discuss this, shall we?”

=0=

Larisa peered at the sigils on the bracer one more time, just to make sure.

The king needed to know.

=0=

Myre got up, dusting himself off, and held a hand out to Hiccup. Hesitantly, Hiccup accepted it and stood. Myre handed him the sword.

No one else moved in the meantime.

“Come. Walk with me. I shall tell you everything.”

Leaving the words hanging in the air behind him, Myre walked out of the room. Hiccup heard him take the stairs down.

Hiccup didn’t move.

After a few minutes, Myre’s head popped into view.

“Are you coming by yourself or not, mister chief? Because you will walk with me, and while I could certainly drag you the entire way, I’d prefer that you have a say in the matter.”

Hiccup looked at Astrid, seeking any modicum of perspective in her face. All he could see was anger laced with concern.

He made the executive decision and made to walk out.

There was a whisper of air behind him, and he looked back to see Myre’s companion had grabbed Valka’s hand by the wrist as she reached out for him.

Hiccup wasted no time in punching the black-clad figure in the place he assumed their nose to be. They didn’t move, but Hiccup knew he had made his point.

“Hands. Off,” he snarled.

The dark eyes flickered to Myre, behind Hiccup, then the grip was released and the figure stepped back, the green glow they still held in their hands now a little brighter.

With a glare for Myre’s companion, Hiccup leaned in and whispered something to his mother, then followed Myre down to the bottom of the stairs, where he had somehow managed to be without a single sound of his passage. No one followed him except Toothless.

Hiccup waited for Myre to tell him to leave the dragon behind. Instead, he just walked outside without so much as a word.

Bemused, Hiccup followed, Toothless trailing behind.

Myre kept his hands clasped behind his back as he walked. Hiccup hung behind expectantly, waiting for those inevitable words.

Myre opened his mouth.

“Toothless stays,” Hiccup said smugly.

Myre did not turn around in shock, just in mild puzzlement.

“I never said he had to go,” he replied. “Your dragon can stay if you wish.”

Hiccup faltered.

Was Myre not intimidated at all by a dragon? But he felt that the people, human people, not at all as dangerous as a dragon, were to stay behind?

“Now then,” Myre was saying, “I wanted to tell you my side of the story. Undoubtedly you have heard from the sorcerers, but isn’t it unfair to know the perspective of only one side in the story?”

Hiccup remained silent and just kept walking beside Myre. They were headed in the direction of the Great Hall.

“I think it is,” Myre continued. “Don’t you?”

Hiccup kept quiet. Suddenly, Myre stopped. Hiccup drew to a halt beside him. The man turned to face him, hands still clasped behind his back. Toothless blinked at him.

“I ask that you tell me now whether you wish to remain quiet or not for the length of this conversation. The sorcerers may have talked endlessly without a space for you, but I am not necessarily the same. Yes,” he added, seeing the look on Hiccup’s face, “I know you have contact with the sorcerers. The one island that I take that they fight for? It cannot be a coincidence. As well as that, Caird reports that he captured six Vikings along with two sorcerers. It is a simple connection to make.”

Hiccup said nothing. It was absolutely the best option to let someone like this fill the gaps in their own sentences. Myre had a mind like a fishing hook, he could already see. It could be cast into the depths of memory and bring out exactly the catch, exactly the knowledge he needed. Who knows what could happen if Hiccup, even accidentally, offered up the most meager scrap of information?

Myre nodded. “It appears you have chosen to remain silent. Very well then.”

For a few minutes, the three of them walked on in silence.

“When I said that I had come for your island,” Myre began, “I did not mean that I had come to take you prisoner. The first time I came here was only to have what lay underground. I presume you already know of that which I speak. What occurred during that time was simply to keep any unwanted resistance out of the way. I meant you no harm, which is why you may have noticed that none of your number are killed or harmed beyond reason.”

Hiccup thought for a moment. Certainly no one was missing, and the most grave of injuries was a wide gash in Spitelout’s arm, which Gothi had seen to already. And, according to Spitelout, one of the guards had bandaged him up in the cells, just to see that the blood flow stopped. Healing or medicine of any sort had played no part, but you would never have seen that sort of attitude in normal guards.

And of course, everyone had agreed that the food was pretty good, and all of it had come from the invaders’ stockpiles.

Myre’s peaceful, ever present smile gained a satisfied, focused quality.

“You’ve thought it over, then?” he said as his smile faded back to tranquility. “Yes? Good. Now, the regular arrangement with conquered territories is that we provide our help with any problem you face of any sort, be it from the land, the people, or the dragons, and other such creatures. Assistance is to be given whenever needed, upon the condition that whenever you are called upon, you help me. It is, if I do say so myself, an excellent deal, since I don’t call upon anyone much, and you can just ask for help with anything. It is taken care of, whatever it is.”

Myre looked up at the sky, glittering with stars.

“It is always taken care of.”

With extreme reluctance, Hiccup opened his mouth. It did sound like an excellent deal.

“I… will have to consider your offer.”

Myre nodded as they walked on. “Of course. Take your time.”

“I have to ask though, what happens if I say no?”

Myre’s smile grew teeth.

“If you refuse the offer, we just leave you be, except that we pass through your waters when necessary.”

Hiccup shot him a skeptical look. “I don’t believe you.”

“Your mistrust of me is worthy of applause,” and here he clapped twice, slowly, “but I assure you, if you refuse the offer there will be no regrets, except perhaps mine.”

He gave a single, small laugh.

Hiccup still eyed him with suspicion. There was something about the way he had said it…

=0=

“My king,” Larisa said, kneeling before him. He nodded to her.

“Stand, venerable scholar,” he ordered. That voice echoed in the bare room like the deepest of caverns.

Larisa stood.

“My king, I have urgent news. I cannot understand it, but all I know is that you should know what it is.”

The king leaned forward. “Show me.”

Larisa took a breath. “The bracers, that your nephews were bound with. They have no binding sigils on them. All there is is the power sigil, and a conditional spell. The conditional ensures that a magical item must be used to free the prisoner, but I cannot understand the use of the power sigil.”

The room was silent.

When the king next spoke, he spoke slowly. “Are you suggesting that instead of empowerment, the sigil is binding? Are you suggesting, that it has reversed its function?”

Larisa released the breath she had been holding.

“It… would appear that way, your majesty.”

The king’s face betrayed no emotion under that beard.

“Consult our Magiker. Look into the archives. Scour the stories for even a grain of truth. Find out, at any cost or at every cost.”

Larisa bowed, and left. Behind her, the king stewed in thought, humming pensively as he stroked his beard.

=0=

“Uh,” Tuffnut said. All eyes in the room turned to him. “Is this a good time to mention that we put a stink bomb on the ship?”

Astrid slapped her hand to her forehead. “Tuff, go there and put it somewhere else. And by somewhere else I mean not in anyone’s house, not in a sheep pen or a yak pen or a chicken coop or a grazing field, not in a dragon stable, not in the Hangar, not in the armoury, not in the Great Hall, not in the Smithy, not at someone’s stall, nowhere that anyone or anything lives or works, Tuffnut, do you understand?”

In the oppressive silence that followed, Tuffnut mumbled “Yes Astrid.”

As he trudged out of the room, Astrid turned at a small sound. Myre’s companion watched her. Whatever light they had been holding in their hand had fizzled out. The room was dark now, the only light coming from the moon outside.

Astrid noticed all this, but above all she wondered who had given a small snort as Tuffnut reluctantly acknowledged his task.

She swung around, Gobber hurriedly backing away as her axe nearly gave him terminal indigestion.

“Who laughed?” she demanded.

Myre’s friend raised their hand with a swish of air and fabric. Astrid regarded them haughtily for a moment.

“Hmph.” The axe went up again, right under the chin.

“Not another sound.”

=0=

Myre watched Hiccup with his signature faint smile as he paced along the doors of the Great Hall. Hiccup felt the eyes on him.

“Stop watching me.”

Myre turned aside and sat down at the edge of the stairs, looking out over the village.

“Why is your friend running to the docks?” he asked after a moment.

“Huh?” Hiccup came over to see a small figure sprinting all the way downhill in the direction of the docks.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Did he leave anything on your ship?”

“Some kind of explosive, yes. I believe it was a… stink bomb.”

Hiccup stared. “You knew, and did nothing?”

Myre looked at him. “The ship is expendable. I have no reason to bother.”

“What about E- what about your cat?”

“Egg likes to stay under the surface.”

“... Is that really his name?”

Myre’s smile turned to a sort of melancholy humour. “Yes. I may head armies, but at the end of the day I am still human, am I not? I can afford to have my fun.”

“You’re-” Hiccup hesitated. “You’re not like the other… warlords, I suppose, that I’ve met.”

“Met many, have you?”

“A few, I suppose.”

“I see. I’m sure you’re wondering why we are here.”

Hiccup stiffened. He had just been about to ask.

“We are here,” Myre continued, seemingly oblivious to Hiccup’s inner turmoil, “because of what lies underneath. What about it, you may ask? You never knew it was here, did you? A piece of your history, forgotten. Built out of magic and mechanisms. Do you not wonder why?”

Hiccup did not respond. In truth, he’d been thinking about it in the back of his head, ever since he’d gone in and come back out.

Why did Berk have magic built, quite literally, into its stones? When had it been built? What for?

Every question seemed to have no answer.

“There is a legend, you see. A legend of dragons,” Myre said. “It is what I am after.”

“A legend?” Hiccup questioned, intrigued despite himself.

“I am afraid I cannot tell you at this point, mister Hiccup,” Myre smiled at him as he said it. “Perhaps some day, you will find out, whether from me or from another. But I will not tell you today.”

Hiccup slumped.

“I think I have my answer for you,” he said, just as a bang swept over the island.

=0=

Tuffnut coughed and waved the thick green fog away from his face, eyes watering. Oh, that was disgusting. It was funnier when it happened to other people. When it happens to yourself? Curses are heaped upon your past self.

Maybe they shouldn’t have put so many little pellets all in one bag… it was, after all, quite sensitive.

Oh no. Astrid.

She was going to kill him.

Tuffnut got down on his knees and, despite the acrid smells that seemed to have originated in a compost made of skunks, began to fervently pray to Loki.

He was rewarded by a yowling cat leaping onto his head and scrambling to stay there, claws sending little streaks of stinging fire across his face.

=0=

“Oh, gods…” Hiccup trailed off, staring at the huge cloud of smog that now occupied a substantial part of the village.

“Rather powerful, I gather,” Myre said, watching the same. “I hope Egg is alright.”

Tuffnut ran screaming out of the cloud, a ball of orange on his helmet. If the explosion and the smell hadn’t woken people up, the noise definitely would.

“I think your cat’s fine,” Hiccup said.

“I saw. Now, what was your answer?”

Hiccup blinked at him before he remembered where he had left off. “Ah. I’m afraid I’m going to have to say no.”

“I see. Well then, in that case I shall go about my business, yes?”

“Sure?” Hiccup said uncertainly. Myre’s smile flashed wide for a moment before Hiccup was flying over the steps.

He closed his eyes.

He opened his eyes.

Toothless had grabbed him and was now leaping down the steps. Hiccup risked a glance behind. Myre followed unhurriedly.

“You may have realized, I am sure, that when I said no regrets, I did not mean you would have nothing to regret.”

Even though his voice was low, its deathly calm tones carried easily over to Hiccup.

“I just meant that whatever you had to regret, you would be unable to.”

Hiccup swung up onto Toothless’s back, fit his prosthetic into the stirrup, and they took off.

Below them, Myre continued at a leisurely pace.

Hiccup might forever hate himself for it, but he pointed at Myre and gave the order.

“Toothless, plasma blast.”

The shot fired.

=0=

In an instant, the figure perked up, looking out the window. Astrid followed their gaze, seeing nothing.

The smell had reached here by now. Tears were streaming from her eyes.

Myre’s companion cocked their head at an angle, then nodded.

A hand went to their hip, a finger tapped on metal, once.

A white light with traces of other colour shone, then flickered and died out.

Just a few seconds later, a horn sounded in the night.

Then, too fast for them, the black-clad figure took a thin, straight dagger from their back, and spun.

=0=

Umbra should have received the signal by now.

Myre continued onwards.

The chief was gullible. He could be manipulated to do what Myre needed.

But of course, everything was in motion. The entirety of the expansion division should be here, instead of just that skeleton crew he had authorized. If the sorcerers attacked again, they would be beaten with ease.

Not even magic could protect against one of his harpoons. And he had enough of those to make an island, just by sticking them together. A painful island to walk on, to be sure.

Myre turned his memory back to the point where the chief had fired at him.

He’d tried to kill him? A pitiful attempt…

=0=

Hiccup’s mind spun as he flew onward to his house.

He hadn’t even seen what had happened. Toothless had fired, and then Myre had moved and suddenly the blast was going straight for them. Toothless hadn’t even managed to dodge, and they had spiralled down and away, smoking, before Toothless recovered enough from the shock to start flying again, and Hiccup had managed to clear the ringing from his head enough to take control again.

By the gods. Myre was so much more than what Alphas had told him.

Then he saw the ships, like a wooden horizon.

Every inch of vision was occupied by the vessels. And each of them, he could see, was heavily armed, soldiers milling on the decks with assorted weapons.

Beyond the rows of normal sized ships were titanic vessels, towering over the regular ones. They were of the same affair as the one they had escaped from when Caird had captured them.

And, towering over even those, was a single ship with a burning sword on the sails. Myre’s own, undoubtedly.

He couldn’t fight those. Not even the entirety of Berk could fight a fleet like this, a force like this.

They needed help.

So Hiccup whispered an instruction into Toothless’s ear, and his dragon turned until they were pointed straight at a place from where help could come.

They set off.

=0=

Caird saluted Myre and nodded to Umbra, who gave a small nod back.

“Sir, one of their party has escaped on dragonback. I shall set the troops to taking control of the island in the meantime. Who would you like to send to retrieve the rider?”

Myre waved away the question.

“We shall let this one free.”

“But sir-”

“We shall let him go, Caird. That is an order. But do me a favour and set your stealthiest rider to follow him.”

Caird bowed his head. “Yes sir. May I know why?”

Myre spread his arms. “Do you not see the opportunity? He goes, of course, to the sorcerers. Why stop him, if he leads us straight to them?” Myre leaned in.

“Why stop him from giving us an opportunity for victory?”

And he smiled, and Caird saw why he was named Myre Fang.

Chapter 22: ???

Coming soon!!!

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