A/N: I based this mostly on the movie and the TV series. They came first for me. I have read the first book, but, I personally prefer the movie and TV series. I did like the book, I just like the movie's plot a little better. I also did research on this before putting a little of my own spin on it, so, I'm pretty sure I did alright with this. Happy Halloween everyone!
Winter Nights on Berk are joyous times. Feasting almost never ends. Practically the entire island is lit with festive lanterns. Everyone looked forward to the excuse to celebrate and be content. Even the most grumpy, grouchy, snarly folks would crack a smile on these holidays. Especially now.
Everywhere, young and old were dressing in their most raggedy, terrifying clothing and armor, making beastly masks, and practicing fearsome growls, not to remove them for the next three days. For tonight, it was said, evil spirits were to begin roaming the area. They would curse the land if left be. So, to repel the spirits and bring further prosperity to the land instead, the Vikings of Berk dressed in their most disgusting, hideous, foul garments, and behaved as trolls, goblins, monsters, being the absolute scariest they could be. For the Hairy Hooligans tribe, this was great fun. Spirits or none, everyone liked being scary. And, this year, there were hundreds of dragons and one more person ready to join in the fun.
Since very early that morning, an iron smith's shop was lit inside and people could hear the sounds of someone working inside. Now, with morning nearly gone, the sounds had ceased and a cry of triumph rang from within. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III dashed out of the shop with two objects wrapped in cloth under either of his arms. One was only a bit bigger than his chest. The other was much larger, and slowed his running pace quite a bit. Nonetheless, his smile was undaunted. He heaved them home, making a bit of noise as he hurried up the stairs, causing his father to start just a bit at the sight of him carrying such a heavy load. Hiccup hurried into his room without paying any mind to whether or not he'd caused a stir. He'd been working on this for weeks in preparation for this very celebration. Finally, he was finished, and just in time to have the best Winter Nights celebration ever, in his mind.
He struggled to open the door, unwilling to put down his load just yet, and stumbled into his room, shouting, "Toothless! Look!"
A dragon as black as pitch with eyes of lime green jumped slightly, looking at him with alarm at first, curiosity slowly setting in as he spotted his friend's unusual bearings. Hiccup hauled the cloth-wrapped packages to his bed, lifting them up onto it and beginning to unwrap them. Toothless stood, approaching Hiccup with interest, nosing his leg as though urging Hiccup to tell him what he had. "Hang on, bud, hang on!" Hiccup said, pulling the cloth off the larger object first.
Toothless beheld it with confusion, sniffing at it but not quite sure if he wanted to touch it yet. It was a large helmet of polished steel, with fins on either side of it to look a bit like a sea creature, gleaming brightly with how sharp they were. The face had copies of ancient writings and patterns etched into it. The place where the mouth of the wearer would be was open partially like it was a creature's mouth, and was lined with 'teeth'. The eye holes were shaped in a menacing expression. The whole thing was shaped to fit a dragon's head. Briefly, Toothless growled at it, almost believing this was the head of a threatening beast. Hiccup patted his neck to sooth him. "It's okay, Toothless," he said. "I'm glad you feel that way, though. That means this is perfect!"
Abandoning the smaller package to lift up that large helmet, Hiccup turned to Toothless, showing him the hollow of the helmet, and moving to put it on him. Toothless flinched a couple of times, blinking rapidly as Hiccup set it on his face. As Toothless remained still, deciding what he thought of the helmet, Hiccup stepped back to see how it looked on the whole of his dragon friend. The polished metal went beautifully, gracefully with Toothless' ebony hide, but the threatening expression on the mask gave it just the right look of danger. Smiling, Hiccup took a breath of satisfaction. Toothless blinked, turning to find Hiccup's water basin for washing his face in the morning. Looking down at his reflection in the water, he jumped once, startled by the mean-looking new dragon at first. It took three or four looks before he managed to grasp that he was looking at himself.
Hiccup continued smiling in absolute elation, turning back to the smaller package and pulling the cloth off. A smaller mask of a more ogre-like shape sat here, just as polished and carefully made as Toothless' new helmet. Hiccup ran a hand over the smooth metal, pride rushing through him. This will be the year… I won't hope to scare everyone, but, this time, I won't be something for everyone to laugh at! Hiccup told himself. With the dragons celebrating with us this year, there's no way I won't scare anyone!
He lifted that helmet up, turning it and placing it on his head, hoping Toothless hadn't spilled the water in the basin in his alarm at the reflection yet.
In all his life, Hiccup had glumly joined in the Winter Nights, dressing up like everyone else was doing to scare off evil spirits. Every year, he was lucky to have an old lady come upon him and pretend to be afraid of him in his costume. Never ever had Hiccup truly scared someone on his own. In fact, he was the target of most scares every year, it seemed. Even the little girls of the village weren't scared as often as Hiccup was. This was his least favorite holiday of the year.
However, since his father, Stoick the Vast, had accepted dragons into the village, many hopes had been reignited in Hiccup. Among them, the hope that he would scare someone during the practice for Winter Nights before everyone began patrolling to scare off evil spirits. That he might give some scares rather than receive them this year. This was to be the year that he erased the shame from his status. Even if he didn't become someone to look out for next year, he would no longer be known as the only Viking on Berk who couldn't be monstrous on the Winter Nights.
Hiccup approached the basin beside Toothless, looking into the water at his new 'face'. "Perfectly hideous," he said, turning to Toothless and scratching at his bare chin. "For once, that's a good thing! I might actually scare someone this year! And with the most fearsome dragon in existence by my side, this couldn't be a better year for me to try to become a monster with the other Vikings if the Gods themselves came down to give it to me!"
Toothless wasn't sure what he was saying, but, sensing his friend's pride and excitement, nosed Hiccup's chest in a friendly gesture, joining in the happy feelings.
The boy let out a chuckle, glad to see that his dragon was also eager to join in the fun. "I've got a few more pieces for us to put on," Hiccup mentioned. "Once we get them on, we'll go down for breakfast and head out, okay bud?"
Toothless gave a low rumble of content, turning to look at the packages on the bed. Where the helmets once sat, he could see other polished metal objects in the cloth, some for him and some for Hiccup. Enthusiasm burning bright, Hiccup pulled out these other pieces and applied them with as much care as he could while his hands were shaking with his excitement.
Downstairs, Stoick sat in the quiet for a bit, wondering what Hiccup was up to that he was soundless after coming in so noisily. He'd heard a small exchange between his son and his dragon, and there was a bit of other noise, but not much that would tell him what was going on. Then, came a whisper:
"Come on, bud! You'll get used to them! Just follow me!"
Slightly heavier than usual, but normal-sounding footsteps started toward the stairs, followed by an alarming, unfathomable metal scraping noise that continued after them. Stoick stared at the stairs, waiting to see what was coming. First, a heavy set of reddish-brown bear-paw boots with metal claws came stepping down, slowly bringing a brown fur and gray feather-clad body downstairs with it. On this body's hands, long metal fingers extended four inches longer than normal fingers would have and curved inward on the ends. On the furry chest, teeth, claws, patches of leather and scales hung from a string around the creature's neck. There seemed to be no neck in the thick fur and feather coat, but the face of the creature stole attention from all else anyway. Fangs gleamed, and skin glinted in the light. Carvings that lined the features gave it an arcane primeval appearance. The helmet was a perfect molding of a most terrifying goblin, indeed. The creature's skin and paws were menacing, still blood-stained it seemed, but lightly shining with a slightly evil-looking light.
Then, from behind it, a darker beast came clumsily clattering down the stairs, its head fitted with another perfect, malicious-looking helmet with fangs. Most of its body was black as a night without moon or stars, but the major joints in the creature's wings were decorated with shiny steel spikes, one on either wing. Its paws bore similar claws to the goblin's, slightly shorter for it to be able to walk around almost normally. Its tail remained obscured up the stairs as the goblin had blocked its way to look at the large Viking standing in the middle of the front room of the house.
Stoick folded his arms, staring at the creatures, impressed by their perfectly graceful, yet terrifying look. "By Thor's hammer, son," he said, beginning to smile. "I don't think you've ever looked more monstrous for the Winter Nights! Are you excited this year?"
Hiccup lifted his helmet to look at his father properly. "You couldn't tell?" he asked, grinning.
Toothless groaned in his dragonic voice, complaining of hunger to get Hiccup to move. The boy hurried down the last few steps, moving to the side to let Toothless slowly climb down behind him. The claws were bothering the Night Fury, and it wasn't hard to see. As he came down, though, Stoick could see that Hiccup had replaced the fin on Toothless' tail piece from the red fin with the white Berk Insignia to a black fin with a red ghostly face painted on it. Stoick chuckled, amazed at how thorough Hiccup had been. "I might have to keep you inside today," he said, slapping his son on the shoulder as he approached. "Lest you scare all the people out of the village, never to return!"
Hiccup gave a grunt as he absorbed the blow, forcing a small laugh at his father's joke. "Nah, I'm not aiming to be that scary," he said, swiveling his shoulders to help recover from his father's playful slap. "But, if a few people jump at the sight of me and Toothless, it wouldn't hurt my feelings!"
Toothless grumbled, nudging Hiccup's back with his nose. Giving in to the insistent hungry dragon, Hiccup moved on to the kitchen area, feeding Toothless a good-sized pile of fish and grabbing himself some breakfast as well. He ate no more than usual, but, by the time he finished eating, Hiccup felt he might explode. It was all he could do to contain himself. Toothless was aware of this, sniffing at Hiccup, wondering what the excitement was about. Nervous and eager at the same time, Hiccup led Toothless to the front door, breathing deeply, preparing to stalk out with his shoulders back and chest out. "Alright, bud," he said, scratching Toothless on the neck. "The goal for today is to scare people. We don't have to terrify the village, but if we scare a few people, we can both just attend the festival with everyone else and not have to worry about being made fun of."
Toothless gurgled in his throat, looking up at Hiccup, understanding the mission, though he didn't quite comprehend why it was important. Hiccup looked to the door, giving yet another great breath in preparation for the departure. All he would be doing was practicing for nightfall when he and the rest of the village would be storming across the entire island roaring and behaving like monsters to scare away evil spirits, enjoying feasts and spending time with friends while they did so. Still, it seemed like such a big moment for him. He'd come such a long way socially since meeting Toothless. It all felt so new, though he'd had it for a while now.
Heart pounding hard with mixed emotions, Hiccup reached forward, pushing the door open. Sunlight fell in through the door, the slight chill of late autumn air causing both Hiccup and Toothless to become more alert. With the door open, Hiccup could hear monstrous roars and practice growls of Vikings preparing themselves for the evening festivities, quickly followed by shouts and screams of alarm and brief terror. Taking a deep breath to help settle his excitement a little, Hiccup stepped out, Toothless right behind him. Immediately, Hiccup dashed for a hiding space between a storehouse and a pile of old crates he'd had planned to use a few weeks in advance, urging Toothless to follow him. He approached, confused and excited at the same time. He liked hiding games. Whatever Hiccup had planned, Toothless was eager to join in.
"Alright," the young Viking spoke in a hushed tone to his dragon. "Every time we hear someone coming, we jump out and roar like we have no good sense in our heads, alright?"
Toothless peered out at the rather quiet road, ears perking up as he began listening for the first victim. Hiccup crouched down beside the storehouse, his own hearing peeking with the energy he got from his excitement. Every little sound made him want to jump, but he held his ground, waiting for the sound of someone walking close by, headed their way.
Sure enough, a door opened and closed, and footsteps started toward them. A big grin spread across Hiccup's face, and it was all he could do to make himself wait until that person was close. Toothless kept peering over at him, waiting for a signal. The shuffling footsteps seemed to take forever before they were finally about three feet away. Hiccup patted Toothless' shoulder. In one jump, both leapt from their hiding place, hollering bloody murder, wings spreading and 'claws' rising up for a properly menacing posture, as they stopped just short of actually attacking the old man that'd been headed toward them.
He stared wide-eyed at the two creatures attempting to terrify him, casting his gaze from side to side between them.
Awkward silence filled the air. Suddenly, Hiccup began gradually, stiffly allowing his posture to return to normal. Toothless looked at Hiccup for some sort of answer. Hiccup looked at him, only to look away, knowing his dragon was questioning his plan. It's… It's just a fluke! The elderly here have seen so many horrible battles, not much can scare them anymore!
The old man reached forward, knocking a single knuckle on Hiccup's helmet. "Hiccup, lad?" he said. "Is that you? Did you make this new monster camouflage?"
Hiccup gave a great huff of disappointment, trying to confide himself on the inside that it was just because this old man was so old and experienced that he couldn't be scared, while answering a few questions about his work on the costume he'd made as the old man asked them.
As soon as they were let go, however, Hiccup hurried away with Toothless, seeking cover around corners, on rooftops, once sneaking around to hide on a cliff side. Each time, he and Toothless swiftly emerged from hiding, growling like lunatics and swatting at people, careful not to hurt anyone. Some jumped at their sudden appearance. They were still young enough to be easily startled. Because of this and their training as Vikings, said people threw various long-range weapons at Hiccup when he jumped out, giving him bruises and dinging his brand new helmet. Toothless was likewise damaged. Though the reactions were not preferable, they showed more fear than Hiccup had ever inspired in anyone before, which brought him a bit of confidence in his plan.
Anyone who wasn't startled by their ambush… was not startled by their ambush. The people they jumped were either mildly shocked by their appearance, or immediately knew it was Hiccup and Toothless, found no reason to be scared of them. It was a bit disheartening, to say the least, and Hiccup found his enthusiasm had died a most painful death by lunchtime. Toothless was beginning to shake off pieces of his armor, tired of the hindrance of the claws and the helmet obscuring his view. He was hungry, bored, and thoroughly disappointed in how this game was going.
Hiccup insisted he leave the armor on, however, and pressed on to find someone who would surely be terrified by him. And, as luck would have it, he came upon the house of just such a person. For a few minutes, Hiccup removed his and Toothless' helmets to speak with a Viking lady before both entered the house, heading upstairs to seek out the ever-fearful duo of Fishlegs and his Gronckle, Meatlug. Once they'd disappeared upstairs, Hiccup quickly replaced the helmets on their respective heads as they approached Fishlegs' room. Both were very careful of their footsteps, Toothless even looking back at his tail once in a while to make sure it didn't swing into anything as he walked.
At the door, Hiccup carefully gripped the handle, almost quivering with how much care he was putting into the motion, looking to Toothless to be sure he was ready. The black dragon looked at the door in anticipation, his gaze just barely wavering to notice Hiccup was waiting eagerly as well. This is it, Hiccup told himself. This one is absolutely certain. If we can't pull it off… There's no way! We've got this! Now!
As though propelled forward by lightning, Hiccup shoved that door open with enough force to make it slam into the wall, running in with Toothless, snarling and growling as they'd been practicing all day. Almost as quickly, a foot flew through the air, slamming into Hiccup's face and dropping him to the floor. There was aloud thunk! as Hiccup's head collided with the floor. He remained conscious, but very disoriented and beginning to be confused. What just happened? Since when can Fishlegs kick anything more than six inches off the ground? Much less my head height?
Toothless quickly mellowed as the figure in the room looked to him, blue eyes softening as she realized who she'd just hit. "Hiccup?" Astrid's voice was mildly concerned but mostly questioning. "Wow… Great armor!"
Hiccup had to blink a couple of times before he could see the lady Viking standing over him as just one person. She was recognizable in her costume, but rather fierce in appearance. Any of her normally very pale skin that was exposed was slathered in a light coat of brown mud and decorated with red and gray marks, also mud. Her hair was loose from its usual braid and looked as though it hadn't been brushed all year. On her head, she wore a crown fashioned out of spikes from her Deadly Nadder, Stormfly's tail. She seemed to be wearing all her usual clothes otherwise, she'd just put a few pieces of bloody-looking armor on her shoulders, chest, knees, and boots.
All in all, despite her rather savage appearance, she was just as beautiful as ever, and Hiccup couldn't help staring for a moment.
Astrid turned her attention to Toothless, moving to rub his shoulder while admiring the craftsmanship of his helmet, as well as the rest of his armor. "Is this what you've been working on so furiously these past few weeks?" she asked, amazed as she traced one of the lines etched into the helmet. "You must be scaring the living daylights out of everyone who crosses your path!"
The compliment brought Hiccup tumbling down to reality, though he was already on the floor. He groaned as he rolled up, pulling off his helmet. "Yeah, sure," Hiccup said, unwilling to admit that he hadn't scared anyone too badly yet. "I was here to add Fishlegs to my list... Where is he?"
Hiccup peered around, realizing that his victim was nowhere to be seen.
Astrid put her hands on her hips, looking around for herself. "I was going to do the same," she told Hiccup. "But, he's gone. Strange how his mom thought he was up here, though. He must've left pretty early for her to have missed him leaving."
At this, Hiccup heaved a sigh of annoyance. He's probably left Berk for the day just because of all this… He thought to himself. I should've known…
Toothless snorted, eyes beginning to slump with boredom as he carefully turned to leave, not even waiting for Hiccup. "Hey! Where are you going?" Hiccup asked, following after him.
Astrid followed both of them out, as she had no further business here. Hiccup chased after Toothless as he went traipsing out the door, leaving the house. Just as Hiccup and Astrid stepped out behind him-
A gigantic mouth with sparkling black teeth was all they could see as they tumbled back, hearts pounding with shock, the growl so terrible it made their armor quiver just a bit.
Toothless looked back at them, blinking in confusion. Astrid recovered first, beginning to recognize the foul breath of the monstrous mouth before them. "Meatlug!" she said, holding her nose and waving at the air in an attempt to disperse the smell.
The roar slowly lowered in volume until the mouth finally closed, revealing the chubby round dragon, and her chortling rider as he fought to keep from falling off of her in his laughing fit. Fishlegs sat upon Meatlug's back, covered in a bunch of rancid leaves and vines, his face coated in traces of the festival foods he'd already eaten today. For a bit, the rather bulky boy couldn't even breathe while he continued to laugh, but he pointed at Hiccup and Astrid, and it was plain that he was trying to regain his breath to speak to them. Finally, he wheezed loudly, taking in a long breath, and chuckling once more before beginning to speak. "I knew it!" he said, holding his sore belly. "There's always somebody sneaking into my house to try and scare me! But, I was ready this time! This time, I wasn't caught off guard! And look, Meatlug! We've scared the two bravest Vikings on Berk! This is-"
Fishlegs was interrupted by yet another terrible roar as something suddenly dropped from the sky, flaming and shrieking with what sounded like fury. At this, both Fishlegs and Meatlug were tipped over in their panic, both screaming in terror. Over all of this, one very snobby laugh rang out, coming from a mass of fur and armor sitting atop the flaming object. Both Astrid and Hiccup were calm enough to see this time, and were able to begin recognizing the clutter-covered form of Hookfang, and his very uppity rider, Snotlout. Both were covered in excessive armor and fur and old animal claws and teeth, and Hookfang was plainly uncomfortable with wearing all the extra weight.
"Correction," Snotlout sneered, hopping off of Hookfang's back. "The second bravest Viking and the biggest wimp on Berk! You couldn't scare the bravest Viking on Berk if you tried!"
Fishlegs scowled at him, rolling over to get to his feet and carefully lifting Meatlug back onto her feet as well.
Astrid bounced up at last, stalking over to Snotlout and giving his arm a much deserved twist, putting him on his knees and calling uncle immediately. Sure enough, while Astrid held onto his arm, pushing him even closer to the ground, she spotted a familiar two-headed Zippleback and its twin riders, Ruffnut and Tuffnut, approaching at an easy pace, looking like they might be trying to sneak up on them, though everyone but Snotlout could see them now. Grinning, Astrid pointed at her victim with her free hand, letting them know where to direct the full brunt of their ambush.
Shocked that she'd seen them, the twins looked at each other, shrugged, then grinned as they continued on. Astrid released Snotlout, moving back over toward Hiccup. Snotlout groaned, stretching his arm to settle the pain in it. "You see! That's why you're second bravest!" he said. "You're not afraid to attack the bravest himse-"
Barf and Belch, the heads of the twins' Zippleback, gave Snotlout a little bump on the back. All at once, his boastful attitude flew away with the wind, and he screamed out in absolute horror, running around to hide behind Hookfang, going silent for a moment before peering out, and glaring at the twins as they howled with laughter. Fishlegs and Astrid were getting close to falling back down as they, too, relished in the moment of hilarity.
Hiccup's lips were pressed in a rather tight line, however, as he got up and brushed the dirt off of himself. This might be more amusing if I felt I'd scared anyone really well today… He thought to himself, turning and mounting Toothless, hooking his artificial foot into the control for the dragon's tail. "Let's go, bud." Hiccup said quietly.
Toothless spread his wings wide and, with one powerful flap, he and Hiccup were high in the sky, soaring away quickly. Astrid paused to look up, confused by his sudden departure, and having known Hiccup to take at least a little bit of amusement from Snotlout being put in his place. She wasn't entirely aware of what today was supposed to mean to him. No one really was. Hiccup had only really been someone to pay attention to since he started Dragon Training nearly a year ago. No one really knew how much trouble he'd had with this three-day holiday.
Without a word, Hiccup and Toothless soared out to the beach where the sounds of the village would be quietest, and drowned out by the sound of the ocean swaying to and fro.
They alighted on the sandy shore, Hiccup breathing deeply as he climbed off of Toothless. Mind buzzing but not really trying to place actual thoughts just yet, Hiccup pulled off his helmet, then Toothless', dropping them both on the sand. I tried… I really tried this year… Hiccup thought, seating himself on the sand, rubbing Toothless' head as he laid down beside Hiccup. And I have Toothless. How haven't I sent someone running for the hills yet?
It was a puzzle to Hiccup. A puzzle he'd been trying to figure out from the day he was born, it seemed.
And, perhaps it wasn't that he couldn't scare anyone. Perhaps… lingering after nearly a year of actually feeling like he fit in… he felt that he still didn't quite fit in the village. Even now that he had skills that leveled him with some of the stronger warriors on the island. Even now that he'd brought peace between two races that'd been warring for hundreds of years. Even now that he could call some of the people he'd met along the way to these goals friends. After all this, he was treated almost exactly the same as before. Try though he did to fix this, it made little to no difference.
I'm sick of this… he thought to himself. I won't try again. I may not even join the festival over the next three days… What's the point anyway? There's no such thing as evil spirits…
For a long while, it was very quiet. Toothless settled in to nap on the sand. Hiccup continued to stare at the ocean, trying to figure out whether he wanted to go back to the festival or stay here for the next few days. The aura was heavy, as though the thick sea air wasn't enough. And that was how they stayed, as the sun began to sink in the west, night creeping in from the east. Though neither could hear it one way or the other, screams had stopped sounding out from the village but for the occasional cry of amusement, or burst of laughter, the monster-like howls and roars continuing on, but not aimed at anyone. The scaring of the spirits had begun.
Further peace was settling on the island. While that sort of depressed the Viking lad sitting on the beach, it also allowed him to calm down a bit, and he slowly leaned back against Toothless' side, getting a bit more comfortable. By now, he was nearly done complaining about his failure and was getting a bit tired of hearing his whiny thoughts. Now, he was just slowly gathering himself in preparation for a reluctant return to the village. He looked over at Toothless, watching as he continued snoozing in the evening. He'll be hungry when he finally wakes up… Might as well introduce him to some festival food. Even if I don't enjoy it, Toothless should get to. Hiccup told himself, reaching over to pat Toothless' face and wake him.
Before Hiccup could touch him, however, Toothless' ears suddenly perked up, green eyes shooting open wide, pupils narrow despite the growing dark. Hiccup's skin prickled at this sudden jump, and he got to his feet as Toothless stood up. "What is it, bud?" he asked, alarmed by his dragon's alert appearance.
Toothless was frozen for a moment, staring out at the ocean, slowly beginning to loosen up. Hiccup looked out at the water, not seeing any changes in it, other than the color growing darker as the sun began to disappear further. Suddenly, as though listening to a sound he was trying to find the source of, Toothless whipped his head to the left, hissing low. Hiccup looked at him, and then over in the direction he was looking. A little ways away from them, Hiccup spotted a small boat covered in green algae and barnacles on the shore. How did I miss that coming?
A skinny, soaking-wet figure was climbing out of it, looking around warily as it went to hammer a stake into the sand so it could tie up the boat. That person doesn't want to be found here, huh? Hiccup thought, becoming cautious as he carefully mounted Toothless once more. Let's just see what they're up to, then.
Hiccup touched Toothless' head, quietly urging him forward. Toothless was perfectly fine with sneaking up on this person, seeming more wary of them than the usual stranger, and approached silently as a shadow on the sand. Getting closer, Hiccup could hear the figure muttering in a frantic way, already tying up its boat, still peering around nervously. Its shoulder-length brown hair swung around as this person continued on in a panic, drops of water flying. Seaweed hung from this person's arms and shoulders, standing out quite well on the long grey tunic this person wore. It looked as though whoever it was had swum all the way there.
Getting closer, Hiccup saw further evidence that this might be the case, even with the boat present. This person was pale as the sky at dawn, fingers wrinkled like tree bark like this person had been in the water for a very long time. There hasn't been a storm for weeks, thought Hiccup. Would there still be people washing up alive after all that time? Would they be energetic enough to be this jumpy?
They were right behind the skinny figure now, Hiccup wondering whether this person knew he was here, now. Surely they'd seen him when they were coming ashore, even if he didn't see it coming.
Toothless grew impatient, obviously still bothered by this new person. Hiccup placed a gentle hand on Toothless' head, urging him to calm down, and taking a breath to speak. "Hey."
The figure jumped up, turning to look at him with eyes of absolute terror, shrieking as it spotted him and Toothless. Seeing its face now, Hiccup could see this person was a woman. Her age was uncertain, however. She appeared to be rather old, her face pale and kind of saggy, but her hair had its full color and her brown eyes retained just a bit of a youthful look. The woman tumbled back, breathing hard and looking like she might start crying with fear. Now, Hiccup was becoming a bit concerned, holding up a hand as a sign of peace while he quickly dismounted Toothless. "Hey, hey, shh! It's alright!" he said, taking a step toward her.
She tucked her legs up closer to her, trying to scoot away from him now, eyes darting over at Toothless as he growled at her. Hiccup shook his head, still holding up his hands defensively, no longer moving toward her. "It's okay!" he insisted. "We're not going to hurt you! Toothless, stop that!"
The dragon looked at him once, still rumbling low. The woman gasped, little sobs escaping her chest as she looked back and forth between the two as though they were the most horrible creatures she'd ever seen. Hiccup turned to Toothless, giving him a stern look. "I mean it! You've already scared the daylights out of her!" He said, briefly thinking back on the day's mission. "That was our goal, remember? Just a scare. We're not supposed to hurt anyone. Alright?"
Toothless did remember this. He fell silent, holding his growling expression a moment longer before lifting his head, and looking at Hiccup, waiting on his order. He nodded, giving Toothless his thanks before turning back to the woman. She was stationary now, her chest heaving with her breath, eyes wide as she witnessed the exchange. Hiccup ventured to take a step toward her, deciding she needed serious help before she got herself hurt. Her attention jerked to him, and she shied away yet again, squeaking in obvious horror at the idea of him coming closer.
Hiccup continued forward this time, though, and quietly, gently, he crouched by the woman, taking her hand as she raised her arm to defend her face. Her hand was cold, and still wet, despite having been planted in the sand to help her move away from him. "It's okay," Hiccup told her, voice hushed to make her listen. "We can help you. This is Toothless, and my name's Hiccup. Can you tell us your name?"
She blinked once, very hard it looked like, her breath still noisy as she looked back and forth between Hiccup and Toothless. Her fingers twitched in Hiccup's grip as she turned to actually look him in the eye. All at once, she froze, still as a stone, staring wide-eyed at him. She didn't even appear to be breathing for a moment. Hiccup's eyes almost moved from her face while she sat there staring like that. Her gaze was unlike any expression he'd ever seen, in an almost bad way. Finally, she breathed in, blinking once, her fingers twitching again. "S-S… S-Spica." she stuttered. "M-My name's Spica."
Hiccup blinked once, not sure what to make of her pause, but gave a small smile so as not to put her back in her earlier panic. "Alright. Where are you from, Spica?" he asked.
She continued to stare at him with eyes wide, her expression showing no more than shock. "Very… Very far away," Spica told him. "You wouldn't believe… how far I've traveled…"
At this, Hiccup's earlier caution returned. She wouldn't say exactly where she was from, which left Hiccup to wonder yet again if she was an Outcast. He looked her over once, thinking about his next words. "You look like you were caught in a storm." Hiccup noted, half-questioning.
Spica's wide eyes darted over to her boat briefly before turning back to Hiccup's face, still open wide. "Y-Yes, I was tossed around a little." she said, her tone awkward.
Hiccup found his left eyebrow rising higher and higher the longer she looked at him with her wide eyes. She was still unsettled, plainly. And the way she stared at him, it was as though she had hoped not to be found here. Like being found by someone meant something terrible to her.
Hiccup was quiet for a bit, trying to figure out how to convince her to calm down the rest of the way. In this moment, Toothless was impatient, but working to contain himself until Hiccup gave some sort of indication as to what they were going to do about the stranger. In his boredom, Toothless shifted his feet, snorting. Spica jumped, her attention turning to him.
Hiccup looked to Toothless, ready to scold him. He stopped short however as the ebony-scaled dragon looked at him in question. Spica moved back another few inches, starting in on her earlier panic once more. Hiccup turned back to her, beginning to realize her discomfort. "Spica, it's alright," he said. "The dragons here on Berk are friends. Toothless won't hurt you. None of the dragons you might see here will."
Spica paused in the sand, her breathing heavy again, and her eyes not moving from Toothless' face. The dragon gave her a minor scowl, not pleased with having to wait, and beginning to feel hunger creeping into his belly. They stared back and forth at each other for a bit before Toothless seemed to scoff and turned to leave. Hiccup looked at him, pursing his lips. "Well… it's not his best quality, but, he's prone to avoid strangers when he can, at least until they aren't strangers anymore." Hiccup said to Spica, turning to look at her.
It was a moment before she could look away from Toothless to meet Hiccup's eye. "B-Berk… This is Berk?" she asked.
Hiccup gave her a little nod, wondering what this meant to her. She looked him over, eyes still wide, mouth slightly open. "You live here?" she asked.
He nodded, releasing her hand now that she seemed willing to stay and ask questions. "I know the Berk reputation says that everyone here is a giant, probably bearded, with permanent scowls, even on good days," Hiccup said. "So, finding a… me might seem a little off the mark."
She breathed deeply, holding her released hand to her chest, and blinking her eyes again. She still made a fair amount of noise as she breathed, but she'd calmed herself enough to breathe slowly now. She looked as though she was facing her absolute worst fear and realizing that she had little choice but to continue facing it. Hiccup's eyebrows knitted together at this, and he allowed himself to relax and sit on the sand, slightly startling Spica as he did so. Every move he made seemed to scare her. "Where were you headed before you got here?" Hiccup asked.
She bit her lower lip now, her wide brown eyes reluctant to give an answer at first. "I-I… I was actually… coming… here." Spica said slowly.
She was proving to be a very big confusion, and Hiccup leaned forward to better meet her eye and read her. "Back up a second," he said. "Obviously, you're terrified of dragons. You've heard enough about this island that you would even be scared of me on first sight. Me. But, when you left where ever it is you came from, you headed a course for exactly the place where you knew you would meet two of your fears up close and in person?"
Spica blinked another of her very long blinks, giving a tiny nod. "You could say… I'm being punished for losing a bet…" she told him.
A pause settled between the two as they studied each other, Hiccup trying to be sure this was the truth, and Spica because she didn't seem to know any other way to look at someone. She seems honest enough. With eyes as wide as hers, I'm surprised I can't see the thoughts bouncing around inside her head. Hiccup thought to himself. She's not noticeably armed. As long as I don't let her wander off too far, everything should be fine.
Suddenly, off in the distance, a great roar that resembled that of a bear's sounded, echoing all across the island. Spica cried out in shock, looking up in the direction it'd come from. Hiccup stood up, rolling his eyes at the sound. He knew someone had challenged his father to roar his best roar. Someone always did. Every year.
Spica looked to Hiccup as he stood at full height, shying back an inch. Hiccup held out his hand to her, giving a little smile now. "You chose the perfect time to lose a bet, you know?" he said. "There's a festival going on in the village. Food, drinks, music, dancing. The whole nine yards. There'll be a few dragons, but, they'll be part of the fun. What do you say? You want to join us?"
Stillness. Spica sat so still that she seemed to be turning translucent. Her eyes increased in depth until Hiccup felt he might fall through them, never to return to this world, if he wasn't careful. What was it about her? Why did she seem so… different?
Finally, Hiccup was very slightly shocked as her cold hand reached up and wrapped around his, beginning to pull. Quickly recovering from whatever trance he'd just fallen into, Hiccup helped heave her back onto her feet, and started over towards Toothless, who'd stopped in their original landing spot, and sat down to wait.
Spica reluctantly followed, stalling as she saw Hiccup pick up the two helmets settled in the sand. She took a step back as he placed one on Toothless, changing the dragon's face to become a silvery beast of origins unknown. She watched in horror as Hiccup placed the other helmet on his head, turning himself into a goblin with the stature and menace of a most incredible and terrifying demon. Hiccup turned to her now, watching as she took another step back, obviously very scared. It took a moment for him to realize that the helmets bothered her, and he removed his to show her his face once more. "It's okay!" he said, giving a brighter smile. "It's just a helmet! See!"
He put on and removed the helmet a couple of times to show her it was harmless. Even so, she looked unconvinced. She would not accept his offer to let her wear it, either. So, Hiccup carried it instead. Spica kept her distance from Toothless as well, though Hiccup tried to convince her that there wasn't anything to fear from him. She followed them, however. Hiccup and Toothless were forced to walk if she was to follow them, but she kept on behind them. As the howling and growling got louder, and they got closer to the village, she began moving closer. She kept Hiccup between her and Toothless the whole way there. Toothless found this rather irritating, but kept his gaze on the road ahead. Hiccup kept casting glances at her, just to make sure she was still with them. When he wasn't looking at her, he would look to Toothless and try to urge the plainly irritated dragon to be calm, telling him that they'd get some food when they got into the village.
It was dark when they finally got there. Torches and lanterns were lit throughout the village, keeping it as bright as if the sun was still up. Spica looked around nervously, fingers clinging to the back of Hiccup's tunic like a child might cling to a mother's clothing when facing something undesirable. Hiccup looked to her now. "I can't imagine your life's been all that great if you're scared of villages too." He noted.
She would not look at him as she continued to scan the village area. She was genuinely scared of something about this place. "There's… There's no one here…" she noted.
Hiccup looked around, shrugging as he found he couldn't see anyone either. "It's part of the festival," he said. "Most will be wandering the island in shifts. Some will be indoors, usually children who scare too easily at night. The main festivities will happen at the Great Hall."
He went on into the village, Toothless beginning to advance ahead of him, allowing Spica to keep closer to her guide, not that she felt any better to be right on his heels. All around, it was mostly quiet. As Hiccup had said, some muffled children's laughter could be heard from inside some of the houses they passed. Hearing this, Spica seemed to settle, removing her grip from Hiccup's tunic, though she remained close enough to step on his heels if she wasn't paying attention.
Halfway through the village, though, Hiccup began looking around suspiciously. While he knew everyone would be at the Great Hall, he knew they could see the whole of the village from up there. Most would probably recognize him. Most of that most would take advantage of his near-isolation and come to sneak up on him, even if they weren't supposed to scare anyone anymore. The fact that they'd gotten this far with no sign that anyone was coming to scare him was simply too good to be true. I might be able to take it this time, he thought. But, the way she is, Spica's bound to run if she doesn't just faint. Will they show mercy if I convince her to walk where she can be seen? Maybe…
He turned to Spica. Jumpy as she was, she immediately noticed the motion, looking up at him.
"They'll see us coming from where they are," Hiccup told her. "They'll want to know you're coming in advance so they can prepare things for however long you're going to stay, so, if you'd come out from behind me?"
Spica looked around a couple more times, reluctant to leave whatever safe shelter she had behind this young man. Her foot shifted toward Hiccup's right side, however, away from Toothless.
Hiccup jumped, letting out a small yelp of surprise. Toothless roared, flaring up his wings and getting up on his hind legs while flapping. Snotlout, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, and their respective dragons had come to scare them, but even they became alarmed at the sound that followed their terrible roar. It wasn't even that it was scary, it was just… unexpected.
Hiccup turned to see Spica wailing at the very top of her lungs, crouched down with her eyes squeezed closed and hands over her ears. The cry resounded across the island, and everyone could hear it to some extent. It shook nothing, physically, but everyone could still feel a certain unsettling thrill running through them at the sound of it.
The dragons backed away from her, eyes wide and heads low to the ground.
The young Vikings could see the cowering girl on the ground now, and removed their helmets to better see this pitiful-looking woman continue to shriek for an unusually long time. When she finally stopped, she bent down further until her forehead touched the ground, her body shaking.
Hiccup looked to the others, giving just the briefest frown before easing over to Spica. He crouched down beside her, hesitating to touch her or even speak, wondering if he would scare her further. "It's okay," he said, quietly. "They're my friends. They were here to scare me for fun. There's no danger, Spica."
She grew still, then. Deathly still. The dragons regained just a bit of their nerve, sniffing the air while gradually inching toward her, trying to figure her out. Hookfang leaned in closest, being just a bit braver than Barf and Belch, while also a tad dimmer than Toothless. Hiccup looked to Hookfang, holding up a hand to keep him back. "Steady, now!" he hissed. "She hasn't accepted that dragons can be peaceful, yet. Please don't make her scream like that again…"
"Why not? That was the scariest scream I've ever heard!" Tuffnut said, obviously not as cautious with his voice.
"She might even be better than me!" Ruffnut agreed, sliding off of Barf to approach the fearful ball Spica was trying to become.
"Who is that?" Snotlout asked, urging Hookfang to stay back from her.
Before Hiccup could answer, Spica began breathing heavily once more. The dragons shied away from her at the sudden motion, growling low. She began peering up, finding Hiccup first, then moving around behind him as she saw all the dragons around her. Hiccup sighed, getting just a bit tired of acting as her shield against the world. "Spica, these are my friends," he said again, making sure she heard the 'friends' detail. "They can be an irritating bunch but nothing to be scared of. Can you calm yourself?"
Spica blinked as she peered over Hiccup's shoulder at all of the new faces. Every single one of them stiffened under her unnaturally wide-eyed gaze as she glanced around, taking in the similarities between them and Hiccup, including the helmets they held under their arms. All of them were some kind of animal or monster head shape. Their dragons were dressed thinly in a similar manner (save for poor Hookfang), and looking to Toothless for answers. Spica cast a short glance at Toothless, just long enough to gather that she was a safe distance from him, it seemed, and took one hesitant step out from behind Hiccup, still quivering.
"This is Spica," Hiccup said. "She's terrified of Berk. She was sent here as a punishment. I figured it would be good if I brought her to join in the festival. So, if you lunatics are done scaring the living, maybe you can leave us and go scare the evil dead!"
Spica blinked, causing the others' skin to crawl, as this was their first time witnessing her strange manner of blinking. She looked around, her eyes seeming to dig past what was around her, something beginning to click in her head. "Scare the evil dead?" she inquired.
Hiccup looked at her. "Yeah, that's part of the festival," he said. "That's why we're all dressed up like this. We scare away evil spirits so that we can have peace on Berk."
She looked around at the others again, and her eyes began to get brighter with some deep understanding. The dragons became less skittish now, relaxing once more to feel the festival celebrations around them.
Spica grabbed hold of Hiccup's sleeve, still shying away from the dragons as she looked at him. "Is it really alright for me to be here?" she asked.
Finally, Hiccup could look at her eyes and not feel uncomfortable. Because now, her eyes weren't deep voids of fear. They were being filled with interest, even a touch of eagerness now. Hiccup smiled, feeling a bit better about taking her to the festival now. "Sure! As long as you want to." He said.
She took a deep breath, still not smiling at all, but she nodded, holding tight to Hiccup's sleeve as he addressed Toothless, and the three started on. Suddenly, the interest in scaring the life out of the forests of Berk became second on the priority list, and Snotlout, Ruffnut, and Tuffnut began to follow them, their dragons trying to sniff at Spica while she had her back turned.
In the Great Hall, Spica switched to clinging to Hiccup's arm, at first. All the terrible masks and horrific clothing and skin markings around her kept her from moving even an inch further into the building. It took the hulking, beastly mass of Gobber the Belch walking up to greet Hiccup and the newcomer. He growled as he spoke, and this did scare Spica. But, as he continued being friendly, she began to loosen up. Others came to greet them, including the chief himself, Stoick the Vast. Each person displayed the same scary outer appearance, but a friendly demeanor. Slowly, but surely, Spica seemed to be realizing that they were wearing costumes. Even the weakest outfits would startle her at first, and she would have the same reaction as the person inside them continued talking to her, as though she couldn't even see the people behind the under-done costumes.
Hiccup fought the urge to laugh at this at first, but, as it happened repeatedly, he began to wonder if she was acting.
Finally, Astrid and Fishlegs came to greet her and Hiccup, getting the story as most others did. "That must've been one awful person to send you to a place you're terrified of just because you lost a little bet," Fishlegs said. "Even if Berk isn't actually someplace to be scared of anymore."
Astrid looked at her with wary eyes, folding her arms. "That's for sure," she agreed with Fishlegs, looking her up and down. "One awful person… But, you know, Hiccup, if you're going to bring a stranger into the Winter Nights celebrations, you should get her fitted with some monster armor! What's the matter with you? If evil spirits see her like this, they'll curse this land!"
Hiccup gave a slightly sheepish look, looking back and forth between Spica and Astrid, shrugging. "I guess she could use something…" he said.
Astrid rolled her eyes, reaching over and taking Spica's hand. The woman gave a bit of a whimper as Astrid began ushering her over to a pile of spare dressing items, looking back at Hiccup with wary eyes before turning to the task at hand.
Hiccup watched Astrid struggle with Spica as she tried to get her to dress up. Spica tried not to even touch the clothes and armor, only touching them if she was trying to push them away until Astrid finally managed to wrap her in an old straw shawl sort of thing, and put a helmet of carved wood on her head that looked as though it had two sets of eyes and a second mouth of sharp fangs in addition to the eye holes and open spot just under the nose area. From there, Spica simply stood still, leaving Astrid to put clawed boots and gloves on her feet and hands, hanging a string with a dragon's tooth around her neck.
Spica did not seem to be conscious until she was brought to stand before a large piece of metal that served as a mirror for those who were just getting dressed. She jumped at her very reflection, not even realizing it was her at first.
Things continued much like this all night. Spica had to meet every single one of the villagers to be convinced there was no danger, and, through this, she figured out the concept of costumes. With that, she began to loosen up, taking food that was offered to her, beginning to move with the music being played even if she wouldn't dance, and stopped jumping when people approached her. Astrid went to Hiccup while Spica was distracted, voicing the fact that she had the same suspicions Hiccup had. He assured her that he was not unaware of Spica's oddities, and would be keeping a close eye on her.
The party proved especially interesting, despite some minor worries, though. Everyone took turns dancing, snacking, a few even heading out to roar at the open air to keep evil spirits away. Spica stared at the ones roaring whenever she could, seeming particularly intrigued by it. She did not go out to join those people, though. She much preferred playing with children. Probably because children would not ask her any questions beyond 'do you want to play too?'. She didn't care to answer any other questions, it seemed. She played games and small tricks all night with the children, and seemed disappointed when people were deciding to take the children home for bed time.
Astrid watched her as she watched the last child leave the Great Hall, eyes narrow. Spica looked terribly out of place, now. Not just in the way she looked around as though she didn't know what to do. Something was wrong with her. Astrid kept looking her over, trying to figure out what it was. As she watched, she kept losing Spica in the crowd, only to find she hadn't moved from her original spot when she spotted her again. She moved normally now that she was settling into the party. Her eyes didn't seem so ghastly now that she was calmer. She behaved very naïve while also seeming a bit wise at times. But Astrid couldn't figure out what was causing her spine to crawl until much later.
Half-slumped bodies stumbled exhaustedly out of the Great Hall. Spica was more comfortable walking with everybody now, though she continued to shy away from the dragons. People were patting her on the back for learning to lighten up so quickly, and there was half-discussion about where she would be staying for the night. Astrid was focusing intently on studying Spica from a way's behind the group. Not a single thing looked wrong about her. Astrid was almost to the point of deciding nothing was wrong… until she watched Spica put her hand on Hiccup's shiny helmet, admiring the craftsmanship. In the smooth metal, reflections could be seen rather clearly, if only a little twisted up. But Spica's hand had no such reflection.
The moment was fleeting. The very next moment as Hiccup let her try the helmet on, Spica's hands appeared in it just as clearly as anyone else's. But it was enough to disturb Astrid rather deeply.
Spica turned around now, brown eyes visible even under the cover of Hiccup's helmet, and she looked at Astrid. Astrid frowned slightly under her gaze, squaring her shoulders in preparation for some sort of accusation. Spica said nothing, however, and turned to Hiccup. "Can I stay with you tonight, Hiccup?" she asked.
He looked at her, then over at Astrid to figure out how she'd come to the conclusion by looking at her. He gave an understanding look to her before looking to Spica. "Sure," he said. "Go ahead and follow Toothless to the house. I'll be there in a little while."
Reluctance painted in bright colors covered Spica's face as she tenderly stepped along behind Toothless.
Snotlout, Ruffnut, Tuffnut, Fishlegs and their dragons were already departing, leaving Hiccup and Astrid alone to speak. "Her hand didn't appear in the reflection on your helmet," she whispered. "On and off, I've been seeing odd things like that happening around her all night. Something is wrong with her."
Hiccup nodded, looking off into the darkness where the only sign of Toothless was Spica walking skittishly behind him. "Yeah, I know, I saw that too," he said. "In the Great Hall, her shadow disappeared a couple of times. It was too easy to lose sight of her when she wasn't even moving. Something's wrong, and I know. I'll keep an eye on her."
Astrid's brow furrowed in frustration and she took Hiccup's hand, squeezing it firmly. "Be careful," she said. "She's not the kind of unusual we're used to dealing with."
Hiccup nodded, giving her hand an assuring squeeze before releasing it and hurrying away to find the strange woman and his dragon.
They stood outside his house, Toothless beginning to push the door open with his nose, Spica standing behind him with a very pitiful posture, her fingers flexing in and out of fist form. Hiccup paused as he saw Toothless turn around to look at Spica. She didn't step back this time, but her body shook. Toothless approached her with cautious eyes, sniffing her face even as she turned away, eyes squeezed closed. A long moment of stillness passed, just a bit tense like it might turn bad. Toothless didn't even growl, however, backing away from her slowly, giving her space.
Hiccup started toward them once more, watching as Spica slowly calmed down. He let them in and showed Spica up to his room, letting her take his bed while he settled down beside Toothless on the floor. He watched for a few hours through his exhaustion as she slept, not moving at all. With the first signs of sunlight in the sky, Hiccup's eyes closed, and he got in maybe a three-hour nap before he felt Toothless shift behind his back. Immediately looking at his bed, he saw Spica had moved. He turned to his left, where Toothless' head was, and stopped just short of speaking to him. Spica stood beside his dragon's head, eyes as wide as ever, fingers shaking as Toothless looked up at her, his own eyes very wide. Somehow, overnight, all the lines and wrinkles that'd covered her face, somewhat aging her, had smoothed away. Were they just wrinkles from being soaked for a long time? Hiccup couldn't be sure She looked no older than he was now. And now that she stood up straight and semi-confident while staring at Toothless, she didn't look as small as she did just yesterday.
Some kind of exchange was going on between these two, and Hiccup could see it. He wasn't sure what was being said. But, slowly, Spica began to raise her hand toward Toothless. Toothless looked to that hand, watching as it moved toward him… and quietly allowed her to rest it on his nose. Spica blinked, breathing deep. She shivered, but didn't seem upset. Instead… for the first time since she arrived on Berk, soundlessly, she smiled.
The expression looked strange on her face, as she'd been nothing but scared or surprised since she got there. But, watching Toothless beam back at her, Hiccup smiled. Whatever her problem was, Toothless didn't believe she meant any harm. And a dragon's instinct was a very reliable one in Hiccup's mind.
The sun shone brightly that day. Hiccup led Spica and Toothless out as quickly as possible to practice scaring people again. Spica was unusually good at this, with her almost unearthly screaming voice and the abnormally twisted expressions she made when scaring people. Hiccup didn't seem to notice this as he went around and finally got a few good scares out of people. He and Toothless held their heads high, proud of themselves when they joined their friends for lunch. There, Spica gathered her wits and touched each dragon, beginning to laugh an almost eerie sound of excitement.
Even though it was plain that she meant peace, people were still unsettled by her voice and appearance. All through the day, people noticed more and more of her odd 'disappearances', and lack of reflections or shadows. At nightfall, Astrid went with her on a brief scare patrol and returned to the Great Hall in a fear induced daze.
Even Ruffnut and Tuffnut could see how scary she was, by this point, and refused to go with her. Obviously Fishlegs would give no answer as to whether he would go or not, though his face said not. Hiccup looked to Snotlout now, the two of them being the remaining partner options for Spica, as she wanted them to be there to see how good she'd gotten.
Neither wanted to go, however. Astrid was perhaps the most fearless Viking among the dragon riders of Berk, and even she came back with minor tremors and a pale face. No one wanted to find out what'd shaken her nerves of steel.
"I'll go if you go," Hiccup whispered. "I don't want to, but, I will."
Snotlout glared, straightening his posture, puffing his chest out. "Fine, if you're so chicken!" he sneered.
"Oh, so you can go alone, then?" Hiccup asked, challenging him.
Silence fell between the two as Snotlout glowered and Hiccup stared half-blankly in return. Without another word, they headed out with Spica, who giggled in her unsettling manner without a care in the world but to enjoy the traditions of the festival. "This is so exciting!" she squealed, running in a serpentine motion through the trees.
Hiccup and Snotlout dragged their feet behind her, looking at her uncertainly. Like all day, in the slight moonlight falling through the forest canopy, Spica's shadow was disappearing frequently from on the ground and against the trees. Hiccup's brow furrowed at this. Obviously she looked peaceful enough, and she wasn't hurting anyone. She was just… creepy.
Snotlout began to quiver a bit as they continued on through the forest, following Spica as she sought out the perfect place to scare. She was being especially careful in choosing, for which the boys were somewhat thankful. Pulling out his journal, Hiccup squinted in the evening light to quickly jot down Spica's perfect flip from terrified puddle to overly-excited monster seemingly overnight. She's not trying to hurt anyone, I don't think, Hiccup thought to himself. But I can't be sure. One moment, she seems naïve and inexperienced like a child and the very next she can seem as wise as an elderly person. She's all over the place.
While Hiccup was focused on his notebook, Snotlout was becoming impatient with Spica. He didn't want to find she was something to be scared of, but he wanted this to be over quickly. The suspense was squeezing the life out of him, and he felt he might pass out if he waited any longer.
Spica turned to look back at them once, smiling at them before turning to keep running. That was it.
Snotlout's hands became fists. His nostrils flared as he breathed in. Hiccup had no idea what to do about it once he realized what Snotlout was about to do. So, without hindrance or any further hesitation, Snotlout leaned forward giving a great roar that sounded very much like a Monstrous Nightmare and resounded across the island. Spica started, ducking down and leaning against a tree as though it would protect her. When Snotlout finally ran out of breath, he coughed and wheezed a bit, turning away while he tried to catch his breath.
"Well, that was interesting," Hiccup said. "While that may have stopped her, it may've also turned her back into the terrified castaway she was when we found her!"
"Excuse me!" Snotlout gasped, hand on his chest while he huffed and puffed. "I was getting bored! If I didn't get to do some scaring before we went back, I was gonna go berserk!"
"Looks like you still did!" Hiccup retorted, gesturing to Spica. "Look at her!"
They turned their attention to her, seeing that she'd looked up at them, her wide eyes seeming to glow in the darkness. She looked like a cornered animal being hunted, but she also retained her human appearance. Hiccup sighed at himself as he felt his caution toward her give way for a bit of empathy, and approached her. "Sorry about that," he told her. "By now, you know that's just him. He's known for sneaking up on people like you and me."
Spica took a deep breath and stood, still lightly clinging to the bark of the tree as her attention turned to Snotlout. There was a very long silence as Snotlout tried not to look at her, and she stared with her wide brown eyes at him as though peering into the very depths of his soul. Hiccup gave a small shiver and quietly began backing away from her. Her silence and stillness almost made her look like a statue in the darkness. Had it not been for her disturbingly deep eyes, the boys might've thought she had been turned to stone.
Finally, she blinked and began to smile. The boys didn't know whether to be relieved or further unsettled. That is, until she spoke. "Well, if this spot is good, I'll take my turn now!"
As she closed her eyes and gathered her breath, Hiccup and Snotlout jumped and ducked behind the trees, tremors shaking them both. Spica shrieked with all her might. The boys had to cover their ears because of the piercing sound, but found that the terrible noise got through anyway, even if it wouldn't damage their ears now.
Minds stopped working. Hearts raced until they skipped beats. Breaths were held for incredible periods of time. Neither had known many things that were more blood-curdling than her scream.
Spica had to find them in the darkness without having seen where they'd gone to urge Hiccup to perform his scare so that they could head back. Hiccup did his very best to roar, and she jumped and applauded for him, but there was little to be done to break the terror that settled on him now.
They returned to the Great Hall in silence. Once there, they worked to convince Spica that they didn't need to go out scaringing all night, lest they damage their voices. That was not the reason, you can imagine, but she agreed politely, not seeming to notice the real reason.
All of Berk was sleepless that night, waking up screaming with a case of nightmares that spread like disease. Hiccup never got the chance to have a nightmare, however, sleeping rather lightly while Spica laughed in her sleep right after each scream that night. By the next morning, Hiccup was exhausted rubbing his eyes anytime no one would see him. Spica was particularly lively that morning, though, practicing a growl that sounded like a different animal each time she tried. She danced through the village, scaring the rest of the living daylights out of the people, and asking Hiccup and his friends why they weren't trying to scare people too. No one would answer her.
At about sunset, people were already going on scare patrols around the island, just to get away from the terrifying guest. Hiccup and his friends settled on a cliff to relax and try to calm down after watching Spica all day. She looked at all of them as they leaned against their dragons or laid on the ground, holding her knees while waiting on them, her wide eyes still too incredibly deep to be normal eyes. "I've had so much fun here!" she said, smiling. "I would never have imagined Berk to be such a fantastic place! I'll be so sad to leave this evening."
"This evening?" Fishlegs piped, half-excited as he looked at her.
Everyone gained a bit of energy back at this mention. It was about time she left.
"That's right," Astrid said. "You're only here until the end of the Winter Nights celebrations. Then you can go back to… where?"
Spica's smile fell as she pursed her lips. "Well… I was told… my brother would come for me tonight," she said, dodging the subject slightly. "He promised."
"And he's one to keep promises?" Snotlout asked, eyebrow twitching once.
Spica gave a slow nod. "He sent me here, after all," she said. "I think he keeps a good many of his promises."
It was unsettling to be near her. Even as the group felt just a little sorry for her, hearing that she'd been sent here by her own brother, they made no move to approach her, or even really speak. Her wide eyes trailed across them once more, bringing about a round of shivers before she finally turned to just look at the open sky. Just like that, she all but disappeared, allowing everyone a moment of peace. Dragon saddles were adjusted as needed. Costumes were straightened. Tiny pranks were played, with semi-playful shoves following a few of them.
Hiccup lingered beside Toothless, his back turned to the others while he knelt and continued toying with the belt on the saddle. No one else seemed to notice. But, Snotlout had been all but waiting for this moment. Unusually quietly for him, he approached Hiccup from behind, raising his foot up off the ground. Astrid turned from Stormfly, eyes going wide as she saw what was about to happen. "Hiccup!"
It did no good. Snotlout swung his foot forward, landing it right on the seat of Hiccup's rear end, causing him to jump up in pain and alarm. He held the sore spot without turning to see who'd done it, groaning and keeping a hunched posture for a moment. Instead of turning, however, he straightened up slowly, his aura becoming stronger somehow. "Is that all you've got, Snotlout?" Hiccup asked. "Not even a decent scare left in you, just a bit of surprising violence?"
Snotlout raised his head indignantly, but fought to keep his triumphant grin. "It scared you, didn't it!" He said, poking Hiccup in the back. "It's still frozen on your face, I bet! Go on! Turn around already!"
He reached over and grabbed Hiccup's shoulder, yanking on it to force him to turn around. Snotlout jumped back with a startled yelp as he saw Hiccup's face painted up to look like a Gronckle, and Hiccup unleashed a nasty series of gagging, roaring, choking sounds that, altogether, sounded terrible. Snotlout stumbled back until he hit the ground. Everyone else jumped once, but, at Snotlout's reaction, quickly calmed down to laugh at him. He'd terrified everyone at this time of year since he was very little, and they were glad to see him get his just desserts.
"Make this the end of you telling Meatlug she isn't scary!" Fishlegs said, pointing at Snotlout to emphasize his demand.
"Bravest Viking on Berk, huh?" Ruffnut asked, snickering.
"You got scared by the least scary Viking on Berk!" Tuffnut cackled, snorting.
"Way to go, Hiccup!" Astrid said, slapping him on the shoulder. "Ready to take that to the skies?"
Hiccup grinned, rubbing at the paint on his face, turning it into a smudged mess of green and brown before pulling his helmet on. "Let's go!" he said.
Everyone mounted their dragons, even Snotlout though he grumbled and muttered all the way up Hookfang's back, scowling as though someone'd spit in his food. On Toothless' back, Hiccup finally blinked and spotted the figure they'd all forgotten because of her unnatural stillness. "Spica? Did you want to go with us?" Hiccup asked, put in a good enough mood by his successful scare that he felt he could put up with Spica's odd behavior now.
She blinked, turning to look at him with a surprised and confused look on her face. "Go? Where?" she asked.
Hiccup pointed up at the sky, rubbing Toothless' head. Spica looked up and then back down, getting to her feet. "You mean… fly? Dragon back?" she said.
"Why not? You're only here for a few more hours," Hiccup said, looking around at everyone, silently letting them know of his confidence even though he saw no such feeling in their faces. "Let's make them the biggest, most explosive hours of your time here!"
Spica looked around at each person as she moved toward Hiccup and Toothless. Awkwardly, she straddled the ebony dragon behind Hiccup, putting her arms around Hiccup's waist without any hesitation. Astrid leered at her briefly as Hiccup had Toothless approach the cliff edge. Everyone followed suit, forming a line atop that cliff. Out on the water, they could see boats beginning to cast out with hordes of people on each one. "What's going on?" Spica asked, pointing at the boats.
"It's the Final Scream," Fishlegs said. "A Berk tradition. Everyone goes out on the water however they can, howling and growling as far as we can go before the sun sets, and then we turn around and head back, screaming and screeching, sometimes waving a weapon around, until we get back into the village. It helps ensure there aren't any evil spirits left in the area when the day is through."
"That's what the Final Scream is?" Tuffnut asked. "I thought it was an excuse to hit Ruffnut with a bludgeon!"
"I thought it was a signal for people to start spearing people, like I did to Tuffnut's foot last year." Ruffnut added.
"Of course that's what you two would think." Astrid said, looking to Hiccup. "We're going to go farther than anyone ever went before tonight. Let's see who goes farthest, huh?"
Hiccup looked up at her, his smile indicating that her challenge was gladly accepted. Everyone agreed to the challenge, eagerly tensing up to begin the race.
A horn blew from the docks. That was the signal Stoick had arranged for them. With cheers and whoops of excitement, the riders had their dragons dropped from the cliff. Fingers held tight to saddles or dragon horns. Legs tucked in tightly and bodies leaned forward against their dragons' for maximum speed in this dive. The rocks bellow seemed to reach up, eager to claim them. But, just inside the highest-reaching spray of the ocean hitting those rocks, hollering in triumph though the game had only just begun, everyone pulled up just in time, going straight ahead as fast as they could.
Hiccup peered back at his passenger, noticing how she was clinging, but not screaming. Somehow, her eyes were wider than they'd ever been, and her mouth was open with a bright smile. She laughed… and, as though the sunset light seemed to reveal the more natural her, it sounded normal. She screamed out with everyone, and she scared no one this time. Her hands flew up in the air a few times, and she leaned her head back so that her hair would stop slapping her in the face. Hiccup had to tell her to hang on and help him lean around tall rock formations that jutted from the water below like jagged teeth.
Astrid looked over at Hiccup while he repeated orders to his passenger, who seemed to keep forgetting them as she complied, and suddenly found Spica wasn't such a nuisance anymore. "Betcha two people is too heavy for the quick as lightning Night Fury to keep up his infamous speed!" she taunted, urging Stormfly to go faster. "Looks like I'm winning this one, Hiccup!"
"Hey! Don't count me out!" Snotlout roared ahead to her, flying almost directly behind Toothless.
"I'm winning this thing!" Ruffnut cried.
"Yeah, in your dreams!" Tuffnut sneered. "If anyone's going to win, it's me!"
Ruffnut punched him on the shoulder for this comment.
"Don't give up, girl," Fishlegs urged Meatlug. "We have our fair shot, too!"
Hiccup looked back at all of them, wondering about his chances in the race now that he saw how energetic everyone was. Anyone of them could have the stamina to surpass them, especially now that Hiccup had someone riding with him.
Spica looked around as well, and then looked ahead at the horizon. "We will win," she said.
Hiccup gave her an odd look. "You're awfully sure," he said. "Have you got some kind of plan?"
Spica nodded, her wide eyes honest but also a bit clouded, obscuring her thoughts. "Just fly with Toothless as you would any other time," she told him, patting Toothless' side. "Pay attention to nothing but the speed. You will win."
Hiccup hesitated briefly, confused and wondering why her plan sounded a little too simple to actually work. But, spotting Astrid as she began to pull ahead, Hiccup decided that the middle of a race was not the time to bother with Spica's weirdness. He shook his head, leaning forward until his chin nearly touched Toothless' head, shifting the gear that controlled Toothless' tale, slightly. "Let's go, bud!" Hiccup said.
Toothless roared out into the horizon, zooming forward, firing one of his white-hot plasma blasts toward the sunset. Hiccup ducked his head toward his chest, calling out to Spica, letting her know to be careful of the flames. He paid no notice when she gave no answer. On the dragons soared, Toothless and Stormfly neck-in-neck, fighting for first place. The sun slowly sunk away. By the time it was dark, no one could see any of the Berk ships behind them. They turned to head back. Toothless and Stormfly had gone the farthest, but it was the return trip that would determine the winner of the race.
"Here we go, Toothless! You're doing great! Just hang in there!" Hiccup cried over the roar of the air as they tore through it at blinding speed.
Astrid peered over at Hiccup briefly, squinting in the darkness to try and figure out how he was keeping up with her. She could only spare a few seconds to look, but, in that few seconds, she hadn't seen Spica. Did he lose her? Astrid asked herself. Did she point out her brother's boat and drop into it? Or, is it just too dark for me to see her?
In her distraction, Astrid missed it as Hiccup and Toothless began pulling ahead until the island was in sight once more. With a gasp of disbelief, she nudged Stormfly's side with her heel. "Hurry up, girl! They're ahead of us!" she cried, firm but unsettled by the potential loss ahead of her.
Stormfly complied, flapping her wings harder, pushing her head as far forward as it would go, closing some of the distance between her and Toothless.
Hiccup could hear them coming, and fought to tune them out. The idea that they might be gaining on him again was nearly enough to drive him mad while he continued pressing for the winning spot. "Spica, lean down as low as you can! We need all the speed we can get!" Hiccup called back.
Toothless flapped his wings hard, his body bobbing up and down as he fought for speed. Astrid was now level with Toothless' tail fins. She was getting close. Hiccup held his breath, watching as the village came into view. No lights could be seen there. No one was quite there, yet. He had the chance to be the first back to the village. The pressure built up, urging him to release his held breath, but Hiccup forced it to stay in as he prayed to the gods that Toothless would hold out until they got there. Over the rocks… past the cliff… Astrid roared out with the intensity of the race. Hiccup began to yell, not even sure why, he just had to… and, suddenly, Toothless shot upward, firing into the sky, lighting it up with the white light of his inner fire. Hiccup was gasping for breath as he looked back, spotting the village directly below them. A smile touched his face. They'd won, and Toothless was using the ascension to slow down so that he wouldn't throw himself into anything.
As Hiccup regained his breath, he began to laugh, patting Toothless' neck. The pressure and excitement of the race had been almost enough to break him, he was sure of it. He smiled, raising his arms up as Toothless leveled off, letting out a great howl that rang across the island. Toothless roared with him, slowly beginning to descend once more. "Great job, bud!" Hiccup said. "You can tear into whatever food you like tonight!"
Hiccup turned to look back, seeking his friends. He saw them flying in… but was paralyzed by what sat between him and them. Spica sat upright on Toothless' back, eyes closed, hair unmoved by any sway of the air, seeming unaware of anything going on around her, including the fact that her body was completely translucent!
She blinked her eyes open, her body returning to normal as she looked around, beginning to cheer as she saw that Hiccup had won the race.
Hiccup turned to look ahead as Toothless alighted in the village, but he was deeply shaken and wasn't actually thinking about the landing. Once on the ground, Spica hopped off of Toothless, bouncing with joy, laughing and congratulating Hiccup and Toothless, hugging the dragon around his neck. Hiccup slowly dismounted, staring at her for a while, waiting on her to get the message that he was disturbed. His friends landed in the village before this happened, taking notice of his face before looking at Spica. They knew she'd done something strange again.
She was clapping rapidly, congratulating the others for being good competition before turning to spot Hiccup's eyes wide open with slight fear and great confusion. Her clapping slowed and her laugh became weaker and weaker until she finally stopped, looking at the others for an answer at first, then at Hiccup. "Did… we not win?" she asked.
Hiccup shook his head, incredulous. "What was that up there?!" He cried, gesturing up to the sky to make his point.
Spica followed his hand with her eyes before looking at him, pulling her hands behind her, eyes wide with an innocent expression. "What was what?" she asked.
"Your body! I could see through you! Litterally!" Hiccup went on, still rather loud for his usual tone of voice. "Is that how we've been losing sight of you so often? Is that why you sometimes lose your shadows and reflections? What is it?!"
Spica blinked once, tilting her head to one side. Her eyes swiveled around like she was thinking about it, and she bobbed her head back and forth, blinking once as she shrugged and turned away.
Hiccup reached to stop her. But, right in front of their eyes, to everyone's alarm, Spica took one small leap forward, and disappeared entirely.
No one could move. No one knew what to think of this. Those who were not prone to deep thought broke free of the dumbfounded trance first, rushing forward to wave their hands around the place where she'd disappeared, seeking Spica, or some sign of how she'd disappeared.
Astrid half-mindedly approached Hiccup, blue eyes wide, her voice quivering as she spoke. "Did that just happen?"
Hiccup took a deep breath, now beginning to consider what would happen next. She was a spirit… That's for certain… And I just let her in on the secret that the monsters of Berk are just people trying to scare her kind away! Hiccup thought, horrified. She might've just left to tell other spirits about this… I've doomed Berk…
The other villagers returned in an army, storming through, yelling and bellowing, swinging weapons, making this the last hurrah before the Winter Nights celebrations were done. The Vikings of the Dragon Training Academy were the only ones who were absolutely silent, knowing how useless this was now. They felt doomed either way.
Time ticked on with the scaring slowing to a stop and the partying starting up in the midst of the village. Hiccup found himself a dark corner to just sit, looking around, trying to think of what he could do when the spirits came while he avoided his father and everyone who would surely question him about Spica and the spirits. Nothing was coming to mind, and Hiccup was beginning to feel sick for it. He couldn't eat. Though he was tired, he knew he wouldn't sleep. Not in his state of mind. Not with spirits on their way to demolish Berk as he knew it.
The festival continued on for several hours before people finally began heading home, or falling asleep where ever they were. Hiccup waited until the only people around were the ones who'd decided to fall asleep outside before beginning to creep through to get home. He didn't know what he'd do, but, he hoped his father would be asleep when he got there. Quietly calling Toothless from his hiding place, the two slowly stumbled home, hearts heavy and heads spinning. "Some night, huh, bud?" Hiccup whispered, running his hand over Toothless' head. "I finally got a really good scare, we won a race… and I doomed Berk, all in one night. I should've listened to you when you were growling at her that day. We might've been better with her thinking we were all monsters… that was the idea, anyway."
Toothless blinked, staring on into the darkness as Hiccup's house came into view. Suddenly, his ears perked up. Hiccup looked at his dragon, and then ahead at the house, stopping in his tracks.
Spica turned away from the house to look at him, seeming to glow in the dark now, despite her dark colors. She didn't move beyond that, and her expression was softly blank. Hiccup waited just a moment before continuing on, wondering what she was doing here.
When Hiccup stopped three feet from her, Toothless continued on to nose her hand, comfortable with her where he'd once been threatened by her. Hiccup gave the gesture its due attention before meeting Spica's eyes, feeling his insides stir at the still unsettling depth of them.
"I've thought the people here were monsters for the longest time," Spica said, rubbing Toothless' nose. "The fact that there were wild fire beasts that they fought well, beasts that were said to burn up a soul all too easily only added to my fear… When I met you, I was sure you'd be the same. Ruthless and terrifying like all the stories I'd heard… but, you weren't."
Hiccup straightened just a bit, not sure where this was leading. Spica reached up to brush a lock of hair from her face. "While some people sort of behave like the stories, you showed me their true natures, and why they acted like the monsters my people fear… I understand," she continued. "There are many people I know who would want to hear what I've learned. Whether they would want to lay waste to the island… or experience the fun and excitement I have."
Hiccup nodded as she paused, letting her know that he understood. She was doing the same as his people, after all. Pretending to be a live human so that she wouldn't be attacked.
Spica stepped forward out of the shadow of the house, letting the moonlight fall on her, the light seeming to turn her transparent once more. "Many would give anything to know the secret of the monsters on earth," Spica said. "But… I think I'll keep it my little secret. I like this place, and I hope to be welcome… to return next year. And for many years to come."
Hiccup watched her for a moment, still rather stunned by her unearthly appearance. He had no control of her. As soon as she left, she could head straight to the spirits who wanted to attack Berk with this secret. And still… she hasn't shown any hostility toward us. Hiccup realized. She was scared, but she never hurt anyone on purpose… And Toothless is right there practically flirting with her and he knew all along about her, I'm sure… So…
Hiccup extended his hand toward her, his solemn expression softening. "We have a deal." He told her, allowing himself a tiny smile.
Spica took his hand, holding it firmly with her chilly see-through hand as she shook it. The experience was odd, but, Hiccup accepted it.
"For what it's worth… though the others don't seem to think so, you were very scary!" she said.
Hiccup gave a little smirk at this, shaking his head. She was the only one terrified… I've just met my goal for the Winter Nights!
A gentle breeze blew by. Suddenly, Hiccup felt that strange feeling, like when someone enters your house, invited or not. A new aura was colliding with the home-aura of Berk. Spica looked toward the beach, eyes bright. "That's my brother," she said. "He's here to take me home. Shall I be distraught when I meet him? Or should I have bravely fought for my life here on Berk?"
Hiccup hesitated, giving that some thought. "Uh… maybe a little of both?" he said, unsure.
Spica looked at him, smiling. "Alright, then!" she said. "I'll see you next year!"
Off she went, sort of leaping, as though gravity gave way to let her just jump long distances where ever she went. Hiccup and Toothless followed her to the beach, taking cover when they saw her embrace her brother and run to the boat with him. As they cast off toward their home in Valhalla, both Spica's original boat and her brother's boat began slowly descending into the sea, the water stirring roughly, their eerie glow slowly fading away in the darkened water until they were no more.
Hiccup looked to Toothless, still confused but at peace.
"What did she say?"
Both looked back to see Astrid had arrived, apparently having seen and heard most if not everything that went on. Hiccup got up from his hiding spot behind a bush, sighing. "She won't sell us out," he said. "She knows why we do this every year, after all. And she wants to come back next year."
"You think she'll keep her word?" Astrid asked.
Hiccup shrugged, reaching over to touch Toothless' head, remembering how fond he'd grown of Spica in just three days. Every time she'd made a promise, she'd kept it. She'd promised to go through with the penalty of losing the bet which brought her here. Hiccup breathed deeply, turning to look at Astrid once more. "Yeah, I do."
And she did.