PROLOGUE || Zero Hour

It wasn't held as a foolish notion against her instincts, nor did the question ever incite an air of concern. The breeze for its bite was fair, a gentle sensation that brushed her cheek high upon the cliff. These days, the sun rose with fair tidings, a clean cast of blue sky above, and filled by winged creatures that soared uninhibited. Of them she could name very few, birds yielded a common economy for professions of which filled an abundance of labelled shoes, binoculars and in that respect, endless published volumes. The one in that she feathered the discoloured leathers of dared to dream grander; she'd heard what song the news would sing and read the articles of supposedly practiced minds. There was no leading in her field, not as she saw it, just the collaboration of many; however, the truth like gravity was all that grounded her to the reality of things; she was the leader of her field. The pencil dancing around her fingers were marked with age but no less were the marks to be etched upon the page.

May 15, 2004..

If I had to explain things as simple as possible, there is no denying it, I've become unpopular; my reputation draws villainous intent and if there wasn't enough devilry to go around, I'm somewhat accident prone. In all fairness I do remind Diane to check on the distribution valves running above the central Sanctuary corridors. Regardless, those whom I thought were friends wear masks over their true faces; I fear they may deal deeds of an unsocial variety to the degree one may suggest as violent. I realise that sentence was being pretentious; I stole something of theirs and they want it back. The likes of who, villains or businessmen? Unsurprisingly, the two coincide on a regular basis…

All as well to maintain a strong face for a forecast of diversity but her hands for reasons she rightfully knew and feared, shook. It wasn't all that cool, the breeze was for one amiss as the Summer months loomed ever sooner. Sunlight grafted a shimmering array down the flowing streams of water that brandish a long winding river to the sea; the overlook she sat about hosted a wide glimpse into the Skardi range to the North. How many of those sunsets was she allowed to see? when did the tides finally turn to a paramount of grievance and loss?

I'm not ready to say goodbye. I don't want to leave everything I love to live out alone; it's not incomparable to death. But such is my fate…

With a shudder to wrap her aurora in a sealed pain, the first tears slipped onto the pages coaxing the granite markings to blur. 'Damn this. It's my fault.'

This journal shall stay on my person into the coming days; I've left everything in place for them to go on with a sense of insurance and peace. In time, they'll find what they need, my library is left for Hiccup, his aptitude will likely rival if not exceed my own, for his curiosity is remarkable as are any five year old's. I just pray he finds companionship, that Stoick does right by him; Berk needs their spirit and for the sake of dragon kind, I pray that they can forgive me…

May 1, 2004, Downtown Berk…

Like the pencil had circled aimlessly in her experienced fingers, so too would the fork. The thoughts and mysteries of the world were clouded in her mind leaving the colourful city lights to an ethereal glow. An open setting, luscious vines wound the elegant curve of the pillars and people massed amongst the streets in tight top fashion enjoying a night at last beyond the strenuous servitude of the office.

'Val?' even in the realm of softness that the voice spoke, she couldn't miss the man whom it belonged.

His brow was thick and auburn hair sprouted in a powerful yet modest beard that was tied around the base. His eyes rung with the faintest lines of age, but they were obscured by the shimmering glow of his emerald eyes, eyes that sought only simple beauties and contentment.

'Sorry, even here I can't catch a break; I keep thinking we're out of the mess from ninety-seven but people as they are, can't help but to dig things up again,' she rubbed her forehead before returning the fork to the table.

'Much less the government inquiries. There's only so much I can do and when faced against the federal jurisdiction,' Stoick chuckled mirthlessly.

'They weren't your people, the onus was on me,' Valka said adhering to the fact.

'And I've been saying it for years. You didn't know,' he reached forward clasping her slender hand. 'It'll all pass on soon, the activist will get bored and move onto the next conspiracy.'

'Like the domestication impartialities?' she raised an eyebrow.

Stoick's cheeks glowed slightly as he hesitantly eyed his drink. 'I've no clue what you mean.'

'I see,' she cast him an unconvinced glance. 'So no meticulously hidden loop holes in dragon human interaction and accommodation laws.

'It must feel good being the leader in your field that you're practically making up the rules,' Stoick snarked back curling his own smile.

'It's a trial and error circumstance,' she grinned. 'The fireies have it hard enough on the rural theatre lest they need excess domestic troubles too,'

'Aye, I spoke with Finn the other day. There's a little work to do near the Northern Oakfields. It picks up in the dry season,' he said, taking a sip from his glass. 'Speaking of Finn, how's Astrid going?'

'Like I keep saying, I wish I knew what happened. Her arm will heal in full, but she'll wear those scars the rest of her life,' Valka rubbed her hands as the conscious image rolled over her mind.

Stoick for all his wisdom was out of depths, he couldn't say he knew enough. 'And what about you?'

'I… she,' Valka bit her lip in thought. 'They both need time. Stormfly was spooked at first, but she's become incredibly sad, she barely eats, some nights you can hear her wailing; I worry for the other dragons,' movement out of the corner of her eye realised them to the arrival of their dinner.

'For you madame, the smoked salmon, rocket linguini and the large serving of crispy Snapper with salsa verdé risotto for you sir,' the waiter gracefully slid the dishes from his arms before leaving the couple to their feast.

'Hmm, how time passes in good company,' Valka contemplated on the freshly prepared meal before her.

'I wouldn't have it any other way,' Stoick raised his glass. 'To the firefighters.'

The turmoil of yesterday, the uncertainty of tomorrow, Valka felt the weight the of her words. 'To the future of dragon kind,' she joined him with a clink of their glasses.

I wish I could have told him then. I wish I could have told them all; that is the natural state of mind when faced with what was to come. Even as we walked across the promenade to Berk Tower that night, I could feel the tension with each step going forward in realisation that these were some of my last. Is this what terminal cancer patients feel, or are they at a greater ease and certainty; they've come to peace with their mortality knowing that the day they die is certain. I don't have that luxury, I may live and a life after that is as well as a ghost, a half-life. I think that's one of the cruellest ideas ever thought of and as I remind myself every single time I look over my shoulder; this is all my fault. Last week, I overheard Darius in communique within a person of interest; his name was never mentioned and the likes of which seemed to have him on edge. I often contemplated on the possibility that he responded to a higher authority, but the idea seemed ill suited to his nature. Perhaps it was a collective; the influence of several parties in a combined coalition. Regardless, his plans continue to thrive with vessels already set for Northern expeditions. My own plans have stumbled dearly, that I might have risked everything with a brief encounter; he was a dark man, trimmed hair, dark eyes and I could have sworn was a British accent. A collision in passing with brief apologies but those eyes met with recognition and not the kind you might see on a public theatre. I feel as though my time is almost up; Tomorrow, I'll use the coming rain and the cover of darkness to obscure their prying eyes. The road may be long but I'm not without a guardian; I still feel the sense of irony for it, it's only a box yet much more; regardless, no one knows about the old observatory. My contacts assure me their new underground research facility will be the safest place on Berk but to the dense wilderness unmarked on any maps, I'll hold my bets…

May 19, 2004, Haddock House…

It was such a thought of inconsequence, what noticing a faint but new line on her face might suggest to some. Little things, the inescapable rapture of age making its mark but her vibrant auburn hair still shone with the richness of daylight. All that she needed, the likes of which included what had brought this fate, were packed in a duffle bag. The fibres in her bones vibrated in resistance, each buckle on her boots an agonising strain of effort. Indeed, she was dressed as if to tackle the wilder parts of Berk, the extra padding on the outer joints, a Kevlar vest with rivets curling around her figure and all of it woven with the latest strand of fireproof synthesis.

Her footsteps echoed heavily on the stairs leading up into the kitchen. Her face was pale against the mirror fastened upon the wall; the strands of hair glowed with richer reds against it and to her black attire. Valka resolved her will with a deep breath and pushed on knowing who awaited her at the top of the stairs.

'Are you off now Mum?' Hiccup's head poked by from behind the couch, many freckles littered across his face illuminated by the fireplace.

'Aye, duty calls,' she felt the tear on her heart as her smile was born naturally. 'Balmore's already on the way there, so best not to keep him waiting.'

Hiccup hopped up from the couch leaving behind the book he was reading; Valka caught a glimpse of the plain cover as the third volume of her own hand. Stoick appeared from the office, the concern in his eye unmistakeable and she that what wrought her stomach was guilt.

She lent down and caught Hiccup as he bounced into her arm. 'Ohh cool. Watch out for the dragon claws!'

'No. No dragon training this time Hiccup. Just a big pile of documents, but if anyone gets a paper cut, I'll let you know,' she beamed with her eyes sparkling against the fire.

She pressed a kiss against his forehead, bringing him close. 'Be good, help out. I'll see you tomorrow,' she rose with a faint pain in her throat.

Stoick rest his hand to her back. 'Are you sure about this Val, you could wait till morning I'm sure the team won't mind,' his tone was soft and laced with concern.

'Stoick, you know this has to be dealt with now. Their board wants my head,' Valka was firm with her intentions as she stared directly into her husband's eyes.

'Valka look outside,' he tried to counter.

'Yes, I know Stoick, but you can't change my mind. I'll call you as soon as I arrive ok?' she replied, unhooking her coat.

'Aghh, fine. Just… drive safely, please,' his hand brushed her cheek.

'I will,' she smiled before placing a gentle kiss to his lips. 'You make sure he gets to bed on time,' Valka nodded towards Hiccup.

The faint shimmer of light in his beautiful green eyes was almost enough to stay her feet; her heart was seized with a terrible pain that brought an unpleasant sting to her eyes. 'I'll see you soon,' and so she draped herself with the hood and met the storm with the first tears to be shed.

The headlights of her ute were caught by the rain as the streams of water glinted across the gravel driveway. The trails from the tires were an absent thought as she felt the vehicle slide a little; the coming of the trees that lined the road were blurred and masked by the thunderstorm with the horrors found in nightmares. Valka reached the tarmac of the main road with fluidity at the empty intersection before braving the greater leg of the journey along the Northridge motorway. What little mud she picked up along the gravel soon washed away as the timberland parted ways for the open view of the coastal road. Her route would lead her further towards the Western border of the Raven's Point parkland and in the state of isolation as it were, she found little to be calm about.

'In six kilometres, turn right at the intersection, onto Raven's Point Road,' her navigator chimed in.

Valka noted the map display suctioned to the windscreen finding the path ahead just beyond the Harolson Bridge. She was close now, another half-hour on the road and the rest to be covered by foot in thick wilderness with drenching rain and mud. The dufflebag rest idly upon the passenger seat still damp though not for the contents inside. She undid the zipper revealing among the various files, tubes, and the grapple gun, a small unostentatious box not unlike fabled flight recorders. With one eye on the road, she fiddled with the dials turning a particular node labelled frequency to her intended levels before flicking the device on. A blue light activated and for all the fiddling, that was it; it hummed softly without any further attention. At last a sense of ease began to seep through Valka's heart as she relaxed her shoulders. The world may have been shrouded by the mists and showers that plummeted down from above, but this road was clean driving across the ridge.

Headlights flared in her rear-view mirror with the full strength of their beams casting a nasty glare into Valka's eyes. To say all that she felt was the cold grip of fear would omit the fires in her heart as rage was equally ready to take its place. Two headlights became four and Valka knew that her escape was now a matter of interception; they appeared upon her tail without any pretence suggesting a daring chase had them shrouded in complete darkness with nothing but her taillights to guide. She allowed her foot to rest heavier against the accelerator and the speedometer gradually rose from the comfortable 80 up through 90 and teetering upon the breach of 100 kilometres per hour. Her company dared to match her courage enough so that the closer pair of lights crossed over to her left. The second vehicle closed the gap, cruising right on her tailgate boxing her in. Any such doubt was cast from her mind that these weren't foolish teenagers when the crackling sound of gunfire left sparks ricocheting across the bonnet.

Valka gasped and desperately reached inside the bag to find the very pair of round rimmed goggles she'd intended for later. Not moments later the windshield cracked in a shower of glassing and frigid rain was left to pelt against her face. The goggle's rims illuminated with a ring of red and for that brief second in darkness she was rewarded with vision that cut through the darkness in shades of green.

'In three kilometres, turn right at the intersection, onto Raven's Point Road,' her navigator echoed from floormats.

'You don't say,' Valka grunted before guiding the steering wheel towards her attackers.

She felt the bull-bar budge against the heavier Landcruiser. The nudge was a terribly dangerous manoeuvre at risk of all parties being subjected to the table drain in these conditions. Nonetheless, Valka earnt her break as the gunman fell back in his seat with the driver easing off to recover. She floored the accelerator easing off the impact. Steam billowed from the engine in its damaged state and she could already begin to feel the top end speed waning. Against the elements the Hilux mastered above all else, but direct gunfire to the carburettor was sure to stall that record. Her destination was void lest it be compromised, and these cronies would have her head either way. The scales dipped to such a degree that the hard choice arrogantly flaunted its inevitability before her eyes. Harolson bridge and all that it forebode was her only chance and the guide posts streamed all the way along to its steel beamed support structure.

The engine fluttered as it fumed dangerously, her dials inconsistent as warning lights flashed upon the dash. 'Come on you unbreakable bastard!' Valka urged as the gunman reappeared, his sub-machine gun raised towards her.

Valka reefed on the wheel and slammed the Landcruiser once more, this time straining the last of her engine before flames ignited against the rain. She charged off to the right hitting the table drain with a metallic crunch as the suspension met their load. The Landcruisers skidded to a halt at the head of the bridge with nothing but the licking flames to watch as the ute snagged a rock curling it over the cliffside.

15 Years Later…

'And I see that despite what those people on television say, any such belief or speculation, I knew that my path would one day lead back to you. I dreamed of it always but… so impossible was it to simply walk through the door,' Valka curled her armoured knees against her breastplate. 'How could I?'

Hiccup eased himself against the adjacent pile of rubble allowing his muscles to finally find peace from the pain that plagued them. 'I know how you feel,' he wheezed, grimacing at throbbing on his side. 'The secrets, the sheer necessity they have in keeping people safe.'

He reached out for Toothless; the Night Fury slowly curled in close allowing Hiccup to idly run his fingers across his scales. 'Such is hunting down Dragon Trappers.'

'Only in a life where they are the ones hunting me,' Valka attempted a shot at wry humour but in her own doubts there wasn't any to be found. 'Except they didn't really know. I was already dead in Drago's eyes.'

Hiccup ran his hand through his fringe allowing the sweat and dust to hold it from his eyes. 'What actually happened that night?' he asked.

Valka's eyes were glazed with a shine that seemed to be cast in history, the way she was unable to focus on a single point as if the events were happening right in front of her. 'I fell,' she breathed as if beyond their place of sitting, but then she stared down his soul with a new light that brazened like a dragon's eye. 'And then I flew.'

May 19 2004, Harolson Bridge

The world no longer held upon its axis, lost into a valley of shadow and lightning. What remained within the bag was of little consequence and to say that this finale was worthy of the name? How could pride be so abundant in the regaling of her legacy, Valka understood long before this was a foolish notion to linger and still, she wondered if enough had been done to stop Drago. That was it, that was the reality she lumbered in doubt with; it wasn't time, she wasn't ready to die. Not now and definitely not here. Valka unclipped her seatbelt and at the first rotation of her vehicle, she threw herself out the door to the elements that channelled along the choppy river crossing. If she could be seen the words of many would call it a leap of faith; the predictability of humans rivalled that of the dragons but for once, faith indeed proved bountiful.

A hallowing cry travelled the length of the channel and there Valka saw her salvation, brilliant, golden eyes that cut through the rain and four powerful wings plumed in scales of beige and amber. Her wrists covered her face as the powerful claws plucked her from the air with ease; a dragon of her request and wise in both mind and muscle as he swooped in under the bridge supports to hide in the shadows.

Valka idly slid from his claw to rest upon his shoulder, her hand caressing the shimmering scales with tears that screamed all the relief in her heart. 'Thank you Cloudjumper, thank you.'

The further crunching steel below caught their eye as the Hilux was tested against the betterment of its reputation. It continued to roll down the embankment where the rapids finally consumed its remains. Upon the bridge, the battered Landscruisers emptied as the men and women shielded by dark raincoats watched the ute tumbled downstream.

'No one could've survived that,' a young woman stepped up to the edge.

'You presume too much,' her counterpart crossed his arms. 'Those things are unbreakable.'

The third man joined them, his attentions still upon the greater company. 'Do we send a party sir?'

The superior in question, his skin dark and black hair trimmed thinly, his eyes cast in shadow, shielded under his cloak and yet that scowl was unmistakeable. He carried only the gun up to the edge of the bridge and in complete silence, he fired a burst of ammunition; flames erupted in a plume as the engine gave into leakage and the fuel tank ruptured from impact.

'Tomorrow, the world will mourn the loss of an icon,' his voice was smooth, the remnants of his British accent still abundantly prevalent. 'But tomorrow, we will celebrate.'


Begins 2020