A Burning Boat
(a Star Wars/How to Train Your Dragon story- yes, really)
The thing about falling stars was that they were supposed to fall. Not chase each other around like drunken dragons playing tag, shooting fireballs at each other before exploding in the night. Fall, in a brief blaze of glory, then wink of out of existence.
Standing under such strangely dancing stars, Hiccup decided to investigate.
It was a small island, and uninhabited. They'd been flying most of the morning, following the trajectory of the bright falling star that did not go out, but instead grew brighter and hotter as it neared the Earth, until it dropped beneath the horizon and out of sight.
Toothless rumbled beneath him and tilted to the side, black wings dipping and then lifting to cup the air. Hiccup adjusted his foot pedal, and Toothless' tailfin adjusted accordingly, allowing them to glide into a circular pattern above the island. There was a black scar running across it, starting wide and narrowing into an arrowhead shape, the forest there charred badly. Nothing seemed to be moving. Hiccup wasn't exactly sure what a fallen star would look like on the ground, but a scorched damage trail looked like the best place to start.
He leaned down a bit closer to Toothless' ear sensor and patted him once on the neck. "Want to take a closer look?"
Toothless chuffed a bit and flicked his head, the draconic equivalent of a shrug. Hiccup grinned, changed gears on the tailfin, and shifted his weight. Toothless tucked his wings back and they plummeted, air screaming around them and causing Hiccup's eyes to water. They pulled up just above the treeline, skimming along the burnt path, and circling again.
Frowning, Hiccup leaned over Toothless' shoulder. There was…something…in the middle of it all. It wasn't on fire, like a star. It glinted like metal beneath broken branches of trees. Were stars were made of metal? Weird. Maybe it was like the iron in the forge – red when heated and silvery when cool.
Urging Toothless down again, the dragon backwinged as he settled into a portion of the charred landing strip. Hiccup dismounted, wobbling slightly as his prosthetic hit the uneven forest floor. He steadied himself, Toothless standing still until he was confidently upright. They crept their way closer to the metal object together, Hiccup drawing his dagger and clutching it, just in case.
Bracken snapped underfoot, dried out and charred from the star's trail. Hiccup eyed Toothless, who had his ears pricked up in attention, and was sniffing the air cautiously. Otherwise, he didn't seem to be alarmed. Hiccup took it as a good sign.
The closer they got, the clearer he could see it. It was definitely some sort of metal, and definitely wrought in some way. It was painted too – he could see color under the massive scorching and the branches. It was yellowish, and he could see bits of blue, too.
Toothless was growling, low in his throat, and Hiccup placed a hand on his neck, as much to steady himself as to steady Toothless. The dragon snorted and edged further towards the front of the thing, picking his way through the mess of vegetation so that Hiccup wouldn't trip. He huffed as they got within arm's reach of it, and Hiccup reached out and brushed away some of the bracken.
It was yellow. Sort of a grayish yellow, with blue runescript on it that he couldn't read. The symbols were different. And the whole of the thing was blackened, so half the runes were erased anyway. He made a fist and lightly knocked on it. It made a dull thunking noise. Toothless snuffled and tilted his head. Hiccup shrugged. It wasn't empty, but it wasn't completely solid, either. He kept his dagger in hand, but began to sidle along the outside of the metal star, tapping periodically to try to gauge what was inside. He received a variety of dull, flat tones.
There was, for lack of a better word, a wing on it. A flat protrusion sticking out from the main body of the thing. He tapped it with his dagger, then leaned upward and tapped the barrel-shaped metal thing sticking out of the area between the wing and the body. It was painted differently, white and red with a small red crest on it that matched a larger one beside what was left of the runes. The barrel was topped by a rounded dome, but the dome was nearly black with char and half burst. He could see bits of wire sticking out of it.
He looked at the rest of the metal contraption thoughtfully. Was this full of wires too? Did that explain the solid, but not solid feeling of it? He looked at Toothless, and then at the harness wrapped around his dark body, and the cable he'd run from the steering pedal to the tailfin. Wires were man-made things you could get in a blacksmith shop. He scratched his head. Very weird.
He tucked his dagger away inside his fur jacket, placed his hands on the wing, and pulled himself up onto it. Toothless nosed his way closer and watched, sniffing at the metal barrel and making a face at it. He snorted. Hiccup pushed himself carefully to his feet, arms out for balance, and took a closer look from above.
It was dart-shaped. And there were two wings, though the one opposite of where he was standing was half shorn off. There was a long, pointed part towards the front, and some sort of stubby protrusions sticking up in the back.
He looked at the 'star', then at Toothless, then the 'star' again. It was shaped, very roughly, like a dragon or a bird. An area that served like a head or torso, a pair of wings, and the stubby bits in the back were like a tailfin. Except it was all metal, and had the barrel stuck into one side, and large chunks of it were missing. But if it was in the sky before it fell, what made it go?
There wasn't much space to stand or move, and without both feet, he'd have a hard time crawling up towards the 'head' of the metal bird. It couldn't be a star – not a real one. Stars weren't made of metal and wire. Neither were birds or dragons, but he wasn't sure what else to call the thing. He slid back down towards the ground and steadied himself on Toothless with one hand, and the bird with the other.
There was a part of the thing that wasn't scorched metal. It looked like glass, maybe, but it was clouded, cracked and nearly opaque. He ran a hand over it to remove more bracken and pine needles, then rapped his knuckles against it. This time, instead of a dull thunking, it sounded hollow. He stood on his toes and squinted. It was definitely hollow, and he could, in the bright light of mid-afternoon, make out vague, dark shapes within. He just couldn't tell what they were.
He exchanged a glance with Toothless. "What do you think it is?"
Toothless licked his lips, looked at the dome, then at Hiccup. Hiccup smiled and patted Toothless once before running his hands along the seam between the glass and the metal, searching. Whatever this bird thing was, it had to be man-made. Natural things didn't have parts, and wires were parts. Natural things didn't fuse metal and glass either, or have transparent bits. Who had forged it, and how?
He tried to look underneath, but it was sunk a good foot into the dirt. It was hard to say what the underbelly looked like. Did it have wheels? A keel? Feet? Did it need them, if it was meant to be in the sky? Or was it not meant to be in the sky, and that's why it fell? If that were true, how did it get there in the first place?
Whatever it was, it didn't look dangerous. At least not anymore. Something this scorched and blown apart was dead, if it was ever alive in the first place. He'd be careful, since he didn't know exactly what he was dealing with, but it was too interesting not to try to take apart to look at. If it was man-made, how did it get up in the sky? And why did it fall? What was in it?
Hiccup returned his attention to the glassy bubble and the seam. A seam was a weak point, when two things were joined like that – he didn't know much about glass blowing, but attaching glass to metal was tricky, delicate, expensive work. If this thing was man-made, that was the most likely place for it to come apart so he could see inside. He hated the thought of breaking the glass – it was so delicate and rare. He'd have to try getting it open without breaking it.
After several minutes of scrambling fingers along the seam, he sighed and looked at Toothless, who was now curling himself up on the grass and watching the human with amusement. "Yeah, I know, I look crazy," Hiccup sighed. "Would you mind giving me a hand? Or claw?"
Toothless huffed, yawned and got to his feet, shaking himself as he walked over, then reared up enough to place his front talons onto it. He mimicked Hiccup at first, scrabbling against the surface of it, looking for purchase. He caught the edge, where the glass met the metal. His talons scraped against the glassy part, but caught on the metal. Hiccup shuffled out of the way, and Toothless began to pull.
Nothing happened. The metal didn't budge. Toothless dropped to all fours again, looked at the seam critically, then leapt back up and picked at it again, bracing himself against the ground. A horrible screeching filled the air, and Hiccup clamped his hands over his ears. Toothless pulled the metal back another painfully slow inch, then let out a brief roar and dropped again to the ground, shaking his head furiously and sending his ear sensors flapping wildly.
The glassy part, though, had lifted, all the way around the seam, by about a finger-length. Hiccup eyed the dome, and then Toothless, who'd flattened his ears against his head and begun baring his teeth at the metal bird, growling. Hiccup took a couple steps forward and Toothless turned his baleful expression onto Hiccup. He grimaced and looked sheepish. "Sorry. Metal shearing is loud."
Toothless made an unpleasant grumbling noise. Hiccup approached the metal bird, and placed a hand on the glassy portion. He took a deep breath, then a gulp. He looked at Toothless, who gave him a glare in return, ears sensors still flattened.
"I really hope this doesn't explode," he said, then grinned feebly at his attempt at a joke. Toothless continued to glower up at him.
Hiccup pushed upward. The dome lifted smoothly about a foot into the air, as though on hinges, before it caught. Hiccup pushed it upward a little higher, but after that initial space, it suddenly became heavy. He edged himself around the metal bird and peered inside.
He found a body.
With a yelp, he stumbled backward, only to have Toothless' head prop him up from behind, accompanied by a growl. Hiccup patted him on the head and stared back at the now-open dome. The person didn't seem to be moving. It didn't come out. He edged forward again, a hand sneaking towards his dagger, just in case. He looked again, harder, reassured by the constant, slightly ominous presence of Toothless at his back. There wasn't much in the world that could threaten a Night Fury, and by extension, him.
It was a woman. A golden haired woman, in flowing robes of brown and black leather armor, all finely sewn and tailored. The long curls of her hair spilled wildly over her shoulders, much of it matted down by dried blood. Her face was streaked with it, brown around her jawline and redder, damper, towards her forehead. Hiccup moved his hand from his dagger, and he closed his eyes for a moment after seeing the reason for all the blood - there was a piece of metal embedded deeply in her temple.
Whoever she was, she was dead. He looked at her again, at her extended arms. One was caught in a half-circle extending from the front of the bubble she was enclosed in. Over the fancy robes there were straps crisscrossing her chest, lashing her securely to her seat. He frowned and lifted a hand again, not towards his dagger, but towards his part of Toothless' riding harness - they crisscrossed his chest in much the same way, though had added loops for where he could attach carabiners. She strapped herself in like a dragon rider, in some sort of metal bird - metal dragon - that fell from the sky, far higher than he and Toothless were able to go, where the air was too thin to breathe.
What was she? He pressed his lips together tightly and tried to get a better look at her face. Half was caked in drying blood, and the other half was covered in curls. He didn't want to be disrespectful, but this wasn't the way someone should be laid to rest. He pushed some of her matted hair aside, fingers catching on something hard and pointed nestled within. He caught his breath, then pushed the hair further back, revealing first one, then two, horns.
That time, he gasped, but quickly pushed the hair the rest of the way from her face. Two horns, ivory colored. They weren't really sharp - too rounded at the base - but came to a point at the top. Horns. One was bigger than the other, the second seeming to delicately compliment the first. Now knowing what to look for, he examined the other half of her face. Clotted with blood and hair, it was harder to see them, but under the tangles, he could just make out the tip of the larger horn. Symmetrical, and coming out of her skin, not out of a helmet.
A golden haired, expensively robed, horned young woman in a flying metal dragon. It didn't quite fit in with any legends he knew - not precisely - she had delicate horns instead of a swan winged helmet, and a metal dragon rather than a winged horse - but only the dead and dying saw real valkyries. Her golden hair, her flowing robes and armor, her flying through the sky - those most certainly fit the legends. He looked down at her lap. He saw no golden horn for mead, though there was a silver tube affixed to her hip instead. If she was a valkyrie, this was not where she was supposed to be.
He stepped back and away from the metal dragon and its' rider and turned to Toothless. The dragon stretched out his head and took his turn peering inward, sniffing at the valkyrie's body once, then made a low keening noise in his throat. He drew back as well and looked at Hiccup.
Only one star fell last night. He hoped there would be no more, nor would whatever attacked her come down. He placed a hand on Toothless' nose. There was a lot a dragon could fight against, but he wasn't sure if the gods were included. If there was a battle in heaven, he hoped it stayed there. Berk had enough trouble with other humans and feral dragons.
And if this valkyrie lost her life above Berk, fighting some unknown enemy, then there was really only one thing left to do.
"Come on, Toothless. We're going to need some help."
"She's going to need that, Hiccup," Astrid insisted, hand out, palm up.
He'd come back the next day, with Astrid and her dragon to help with the valkyrie. There didn't seem to be much animal life on the island, but he and Toothless shut the metal dragon's glass dome and laid a good size tree on top of it, to discourage any scavengers from the body. They'd brought back a rowboat, Toothless and Stormstab flying it awkwardly between them. At first, he'd wanted to tell all of Berk about the valkyrie, but in the end, he decided it would be wiser not to. He didn't really know it was a valkyrie - could they really die? - and he definitely didn't know how to explain the metal dragon or his speculation that she was in some kind of battle. And if he was right, and she was in a battle, it would needlessly frighten people. The Green Death provided the Vikings of Berk with a reality check on what they were capable of fighting, even with all their Vikingly stubbornness and pride. He couldn't really explain any of it, and he didn't want his father preparing for a war that was not theirs. He'd watch the skies, and Astrid would watch the skies, and they'd get some of the other riders to watch too - Berk was usually ready for attack anyway, and their defenses were only stronger now that they had a couple dozen friendly dragons in residence. They just didn't need to go out and pick a fight.
Valkyrie or not, she needed a proper burial. She was a warrior, so she needed a heroic one. Therefore, they needed a boat.
It was Astrid who realized the silver tube on her hip was a weapon. He'd been trying to clean the valkyrie's face of blood with a wet cloth. Astrid was speculating it was a weapon, due to its' convenient location on the valkyrie's left hip, and fiddling with it curiously. She eventually flipped a small switch on it, and then there was a blue blade of fire bursting out the end of it. They'd stared at it for some time, their dragons coming to investigate what had their riders so fascinated.
It hummed when Astrid moved it. It illuminated her face with a serene, almost spectral, cerulean glow. And it cut through stone like it was butter.
Astrid wanted to learn how it was wielded. Hiccup wanted to learn how it was made.
Hiccup tightened his grip around the silver cylinder. It had knobs and a switch and seams. Someone made this. Someone made a beam of fire that looked so much like Toothless' blasts. A sword of fire, like something Völundr would make in his forge for Tyr or Odin or Freyja.
"Hiccup," Astrid repeated with a sigh, "I know you want to take it apart, but she needs it. She's a warrior. She needs her weapon for Valhalla. You can't keep it."
"I know," he said, handing it over. Astrid gave him a sympathetic look before examining the fire sword hilt one last time herself. Then she turned and waded out into the water and began arranging the hilt in the cold, stiffly folded hands of the warrior woman.
The little boat bobbed idly on the water. Astrid was knee deep in it. He stood on the rocky beach and waited while she arranged the weapon and the tinder around the woman. They'd gathered branches of pine and fir, and the blossoms of wildflowers. The flowers were strewn in the valkyrie's hair. The pine and fir were bundled around her, and would burn fragrant, hot, and smoky, to better return her spirit to heaven.
Astrid splashed her way back up to the shore, asked Stormstab to push the boat the rest of the way into the water, hard enough to let the sea's current catch it. The Nadder complied, pushing it first with her beak, then a foot, until it began to drift.
It sailed, slowly, west into the lowering sun. Hiccup looked to the deepening sky, and the first stars that were out. None of them darted back and forth. Everything looked as it always did, though now he found himself wondering – was there more out there? With Toothless, he could travel from island to island easily. Could the valkyrie travel in her metal dragon from star to star, the way he could from island to island? He smiled to himself, then at Astrid, who was standing stolidly beside him, her arms folded across her chest while she watched the ship sail towards the sinking scarlet sun and the early evening's stars.
He kept his speculation to himself. Astrid would listen, and smile, and roll her eyes, and tell him he was a terrible Viking again. Then, if he was lucky, she'd kiss him for it. He'd tell her later.
"Toothless, would you?" he asked his dragon, sitting on the beach and watching the little rowboat head out to sea. The Night Fury gave him a funny look, head tilted and ear sensors pricked up. "It's okay. Shoot the boat."
Toothless looked a bit skeptical, but rose to all fours and took a breath, then shot out one, single blue bolt of fire. It struck unerringly, and the little ship and the kindling caught fire. Sweet-smelling black smoke from the pine needles drifted upward, and orange tongues of flame began to flicker up from the center of the boat.
"Not everyone cremates their dead," Astrid said quietly, shivering a little. "I hope this was okay with her."
Hiccup thought of the sword of blue fire, and the blue flame of a Night Fury. He thought of the fireballs shooting between the metal dragons, and of the fiery ship now moving out to sea. He placed an arm around Astrid's shoulders, a little tentatively, not sure of the gesture's welcome. She gave him a wry look, then an arched eyebrow, and moved closer.
"I have a feeling," he said, "her people wouldn't mind."
From the ship, now alight, smoke streamed upward towards the stars.
Sooo, not as crossover-y as I'd like, but it was fun to write. (I still can't believe I crossed Star Wars with How to Train Your Dragon, however mildly, HAHA!) This was written for the Combining the Universes Crossover challenge on theforcenet.
Hope you enjoyed the tale,