Astrid, atop the lookout tower, was the first to spot the ship approaching the island, just a dot in the water. She bent and peered into the spyglass mounted on the lip of the tower and aimed it at the vessel, noting the odd design on the white sail. The design looked familiar, but she couldn't place it. It certainly wasn't a Berk ship. It sent a little chill down her spine for some reason. She straightened up and hurried across the roof of the tower. She leaned over and called out to the dragon perched on a ledge below.
"Stormfly, let's go!" The dragon lifted her head, stood, and flapped her wings a few times, lifting off the ledge. Astrid took a running start and leaped from the tower, landing squarely on Stormfly's back. There were stairs, but who had time for stairs? The dragon wheeled around and headed toward the chief's hut.
Astrid was climbing off her dragon's back before the dragon's wings had stopped beating. She raced through the open door. Hiccup was in the front room, scribbling furiously on his map of Berk and the surrounding lands. It had turned into a table-sized creation with his mother's help and he was in the middle of transferring the mess of papers stuck to one another to one large, clean sheet. Toothless had attempted to fit himself under the table Hiccup worked at but was too large to really fit, so had settled for his head and front legs. When Astrid rushed through the door, Toothless sat up, banging his head on the table, upending it and sending Hiccup's tools flying.
"Aw, man, Toothless!" Hiccup threw his hands in the air and sighed before noticing his girlfriend in the doorway. "Hey, Astrid, what's up?" He bent down to retrieve the table, setting it upright.
"There's a ship coming in. It's not one of ours," Astrid said. "The sail's got a weird design on it and I feel like I've seen it before, but I can't remember where. I would've gone out to check it out but I thought I should come find you first." Hiccup looked intrigued.
"Maybe it's a trader of some kind. Whaddya say we go out and take a look from above to see what we can see?" Astrid raised a brow.
"Sounds great, but you'll have to work hard to catch up to me and Stormfly." She was out the door before Hiccup could process what she said, her blond braid whipping behind her. Hiccup glanced at Toothless, and then at the saddle on the wall behind him.
Astrid was nice enough to wait up for them, hovering over one of the huge rock pillars that jutted from the water.
"I only waited because it wouldn't have been a fair race," she said, smirking at Hiccup.
"We could have beat you even with your head start," Hiccup retorted. Astrid snorted.
Afton struggled with the wheel of the ship. She was glad to see the island ahead of her- if her navigation had been accurate, that was Berk. The ship was taking on water quickly- it was a wonder it had made it this long, even with the constant repairs she'd had to make. It hadn't been the best ship to start, either- already in a state of disrepair when she'd taken it. A wave crashed against the side of the ship and a salty spray coated her face. She scrubbed her face one-handed with her cloak as quickly as she could, returning to grasp the wheel before it could shudder out of her other hand's grasp. The sound of flapping wings drew her attention upward and she saw two dragons, far above, approaching the ship. They grew closer but stopped a hundred yards away and hovered.
"Hello?!" she yelled up to them. "I need help, please!" As she watched them, there was a tearing, ripping sound that had become all too familiar. She craned her neck around to see the sail splitting in the middle, the tear spreading up and down until it had split in two. The ship rocked as the sail snapped. She clung to the wheel's mount, trying to keep her balance. "Please help me!" she screamed, looking up at the dragons
But they were gone. They'd vanished from the sky. Terror gripped her chest like Thor himself was squeezing her.
Then something really did wrap around her chest, and her feet left the deck. She shrieked and clutched at what was holding her. It was cool, smooth, black, and wickedly curved. She looked up and was greeted with the sight of the off-white underbelly of a dragon. Another dragon, a sleek black one, flew slightly below, at her level. The rider was a boy- a young man, really- about her age. He had tousled brown hair and a kind face. He grinned at her before shouting something to his dragon and rising up to join the dragon carrying Afton. Afton glanced down at the water rushing below her, and then back at the ship. A wave splashed over the deck, soaking the wood. The ship listed to the side, tipping dangerously.
Afton clung to the dragon's claw a little tighter.
They touched down outside a large hut. As they came in, Afton noticed a huge dragon with an owlish face perched on the roof. It watched them, its head twisting around to look behind it as they passed. The dragon carrying Afton dropped her a few feet from the ground and then landed several yards away. Afton stumbled to the wall of the hut on shaky legs and braced herself for a moment. The other rider was a girl who looked to be the same age as the boy. She swept her bangs off to the side and grinned at Afton before holding out her hand.
"First time flying with a dragon?" Afton shook the hand.
"How'd you guess?" The blond girl laughed.
"Hopefully next time you'll be on top, not underneath. My name's Astrid, and that's Hiccup. Your carrier was my dragon, Stormfly, and Hiccup's beautiful boy is named Toothless." The black dragon, who was being de-saddled by Hiccup, perked up at the sound of his name and opened his mouth in what almost looked like a smile, revealing an indeed toothless mouth.
"What does he do-" Toothless made a huffing sound and teeth popped from his gums. Afton was taken aback for a moment, but recovered quickly. "My name's Afton. I've been searching for this island for weeks. Thanks for getting me off that ship- I don't think I would have made it to shore."
Hiccup joined the two girls, carrying Toothless's saddle. "What were you trying to find Berk for?"
"Two reasons," said Afton. "I need to speak with the chief. I have information that might be important." Hiccup raised a hand, seeming somewhat abashed.
"That'd be me," he said. Afton was surprised.
"Really? You seem kind of…young? I mean, I dunno, maybe that just how it works here." Hiccup's eyes were downturned.
"My dad was, until a month or so ago. He was…he passed away recently."
Afton covered her mouth. "Oh, Odin. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean…"
Hiccup patted her shoulder. "Don't worry about it. You didn't know. Why don't we show you around the island and you can tell us about this urgent matter." He hefted the saddle in his arms. "Just let me go put this away."
As the trio strolled through the village, Hiccup pointed out different shops and people. "A lot of these places have been adapted since we began training dragons and our relationship with them became peaceful. We don't need to build things to defend against dragons anymore so a lot of those workshops build things like saddles, stirrups, stuff like that."
Astrid poked Afton's arm. "Hey, didn't you say you came here for two reasons? What was the other one?"
"While I was looking for Berk I was also trying to find information on where my borther might be," replied Afton. "I heard that he had taken up residence on your island a few months ago."
"Well, it's not like this island is that big," said Hiccup. "If he's here, we'll find him." He stopped outside a blacksmith's. A huge green and red dragon slumbered outside. A huge horn curved up from its nose. As they passed, it cracked open one eye and watched them for a moment, then resumed its sleep.
"I gotta pick something up, do you guys mind? Skullcrusher's here so Eret probably is too and it feels like he never is." Afton froze for a beat, then grabbed Hiccup by the arms.
"Eret? Eret who?"
"Eret, Son of Eret," said Hiccup and Astrid in unison. "Never lets us forget," continued Hiccup, but Afton was already racing for the door of the shop. "Uh...okay," said hiccup as she vanished through the door. He turned to Astrid. "You...you don't think..." Realization dawned on Astrid's face.
"No way. But...she does kind of look like him. Same hair color, eye color- and the blue stripes on her cheeks? They kind of remind me of the ones on Eret's chin."
There was a metallic jangling noise as Afton burst through the door of the shop, looking around the front room. It was empty. There was a rustling noise from an adjoining room.
"With you in a minute!" someone called from the room. Afton's heart skipped a beat. The voice was warm and rough and familiar. The noises stopped and moments later a man walked though the doorway.
"How can I help…you…" He trailed off, the pile of leather pieces in his arms falling to the ground with a soft thwump.
Afton gazed into the stunned face of her older brother.
Neither one moved for a moment.
"Afton?" whispered Eret, disbelief on his face and tears brimming in his eyes. It was all Afton could do before she was closing the distance between them and throwing herself into his arms. He clung to her, and she to him. "I thought you dead," Eret said, his voice even huskier than usual with tears. "I thought I'd never see you again." He traced his hand along the tattoos on her cheeks, the same shade of blue as the ones on his chin.
"Uh…are we missing something?" said a voice from behind them. The siblings broke their embrace to find Hiccup and Astrid standing in the doorway, looking understandably puzzled.
"A small something," said Afton, wiping tears from her cheeks and grinning.
"Why don't we all go back to my house and we can talk about it, and you can tell me the maybe-important information."
When they were all settled in the main room of Hiccup's hut, Eret leaning on the back of Afton's chair, the siblings started their story.
"Eret and I are from a clan from an island north of here. We were trappers, hunters, and we were good at it. The best in the area, which is probably why…why Drago came to our island. He wanted trappers to hunt dragons. We'd seen dragons before, there were even a bunch of species native to the island, but we didn't have the level of coexistence that you have here. We didn't bother them, they didn't bother us."
Eret took over the story. "Drago came to the island and demanded that the men join his trapper gang. A lot of them were scared of him and joined up right away, but a few us didn't, myself included. Drago wasn't happy with that, so he took people that were important to us. Wives, daughters…sisters." The wood on the back of Afton's chair creaked as Eret's grip tightened on it. "And he torched our village. Burned it to the ground. Anyone who hadn't joined up…they were gone. Drago had Afton- I had no choice. Every time I did something wrong, I thought she'd be dead. I didn't know where she was, for so long."
"Drago kept me at his super-secret-fortress-base-thing," said Afton, recalling the dank, dark, smelly prison. "Me and the other people he'd taken. Barely ever saw daylight. We only got out a month or so ago. They didn't bring us food for a day or so, so someone tried the door and it had been unlocked. The base was deserted so we took what supplies we could find and left. There were a few ships around, but they weren't in the best condition, so we did what we could to fix them and left. I wasn't the only one on that ship for a while, but we stopped at other places and everyone else got off."
"That would have been right around the time we took Drago down," said Astrid. "And that's why the design on the sail looked so familiar- there were ones like it on the rest of Drago's fleet."
"Makes sense that his operations fell apart," said Hiccup. Afton shifted in her chair.
"That's kind of the other thing I need to talk to you about." Afton took a deep breath. "While we were sailing around, we kept hearing rumors, whispers that, um…" She glanced at Hiccup. "That Drago isn't dead."