My gosh, it's been months, really, and I'm so sorry for dragging on for so long, but I really, really did not have the time nor the energy to flesh out this chapter earlier.
So here it is; the big race. Hope you enjoy it! =)
"Funny thing is, a few months ago I'd call ye bloomin' mad if ye told me we'd
be holdin' a dragon race, of all things."
-Stoick the Vast to Gobber the Belch, moments before
officiating the first ever dragon race.-
There was something to flying amongst the skies that Astrid never found herself getting bored of.
Even sailing had its repetition when the tides were merciful (stormy waters gave a little kick to that but she wasn't looking forward to those). But it was the sheer thrill of soaring above land, once a feat that was only limited to the privileged few that the Valkyries would carry across Bifrost to Valhalla.
And there was this perk about it. Just like taking the journey on her own two feet or across the waters, competition could be made out this transportation.
And Breaker was just as much into it as Astrid was to win it. Neither of them were quitters, and they were both intent in letting the other racers aware of that.
The second the large horn went off (causing a little instability amongst the dragons on their lift-off) Astrid and Breaker broke out amongst the rut. The first leg of the race over the waters of Berk meant that it would be a straight sprint, perfect for the both of them. And just when she thought the trophy was that much closer to her grasp, a certain golden blur shot out past her in mere seconds. She wouldn't have any of that.
Although Hiccup and Toothless were not allowed to participate, no one said anything about Camicazi and her Mood Dragon, Stormfly, partly because her dragon was just so unique that no one knew just how fast she could go.
Surely now they knew.
"Odin's saggy left-!" the disembodied voice of Snotlout yelped from somewhere behind Astrid. "Did you see how fast she went?"
"Duh, troll-brain. She just passed *all* of us," Ruffnut drawled as the twins' Zippleback overtook Snotlout and Firelout.
"I estimate the Mood Dragon has a plus twelve in speed. We're, at best, five points behind!" Fishlegs yelped as Rolling Thunder drew level with Snotlout too, much to the brunette's chagrin. Why was everyone passing him?
Astrid wouldn't have her fate in the race decided on some numbers though. The blonde shield maiden gestured Breaker to gain speed, intent on catching up to Camicazi.
Said Bog Burglar was almost only a golden speck in the distance but Breaker, on her own steam, growled fiercely before letting out a burst of speed that almost blew Astrid right off.
"Whoah, Breaker! Slow down!"
She didn't even know *why* she said that.
The Nadder found it necessary to ignore the complaining girl. It wasn't her fault humans weren't built to fully sustain the speeds dragons could achieve. And the dragon they called Stormfly was beginning to be a real bother.
The Golden One has proven itself to be not only unique and more elegant(something Breaker generously acknowledged), but faster too. She had enough time as it is tolerating the Night Fury. She did *not* need another mountain to claw over.
So the Nadder humbly thought the Mood Dragon needed to eat her wing dust.
"We're gaining! Atta girl!" Astrid excitedly whooped. Breaker understood the need for humans to belt out cries of encouragement but predatorial-wise, her rider was being surprisingly daft. Wasn't absolute silence needed when approaching a prey?
Lucky as they were, neither Camicazi nor Stormfly seemed to hear them coming. Astrid had it pointed to Camicazi just being too arrogant to think there would be a close second, but she was prepared for otherwise.
"Come up close from under them. We'll bust our way from under and take 'em on by surprise," Astrid said, Breaker nodding silently. The Nadder motioned herself to fly close to the Golden One's tail, matching their wing beats.
The heavy salt in the air and the strong oncoming wind meant the Mood Dragon couldn't really sense the Nadder, and Breaker scoffed internally. Was the Golden One so haughty at her lead that she forsaken her basic instincts?
"We'll catch them at the turn," Astrid almost hissed her whisper to Breaker, indicating at a group of offshore rocks that marked the first leg of the race. They would have to bank to the right and proceed over the dense forests of Berk.
And that was where Astrid would pull off a stunt she knew any of the boys (and Ruffnut) would approve of.
"Slowly..." She urged the Nadder as they inched their way closer to the leading duo, Breaker's wing beats still matching with Stormfly's even at this distance, much to Astrid's pride.
Without any further words needing to be conveyed, Astrid and Breaker began to slow down as Camicazi and Stormfly edged closer to the rocks. Astrid anticipated the Bog Burglar to thoroughly pass by the rocks before making the turn, but the Hofferson lass knew these waters better and would just make the turn now and beat Camicazi to the path.
And with that they banked hard to their directional north-east and Breaker broke into a sprint, not caring for all the juicy, cold cod in Berk about matching wing flaps anymore. By now Camicazi and her golden dragon must have noticed the blur of yellow and blue zip past them and Breaker couldn't help but wonder; what color did Mood Dragons take when they got the dragon's equivalent to a slap on the face?
"Just keep going, girl. We'll lose them in the path," Astrid said. The short amount of seascape beneath them began to ebb into the dark grey rocks of the cliff sides as the approached on of the denser jungles of Berk. There was a very distinct clearing amongst the canopies as earlier this morning several riders aboard Timberjacks carved out a winding, tricky path for the racers to weave through. Astrid could see several dragons with riders in tow hovering over the canopies, referees to make sure no one cheated by just blatantly flying over the path.
"Ready girl?" Astrid asked, Breaker giving a hard nod. "Then let's do this."
With that Breaker descended into the path, both rider and dragon not caring how close Camicazi and Stormfly could have been.
The path itself was generously wide, Astrid discovering Breaker had more than enough room for her to fully spread her wings. In fact, there was enough room, she daresay, for two dragons to go head-to-head, although she wouldn't welcome such a prospect.
The sun-drenched brown of the ground below served as a waypoint for Astrid to more or less navigate their way through the path without really compromising on speed. There were several sharp turns that almost got them off-guard, though, but Breaker's flighty build and powerful wings allowed her to stop more abruptly and make tighter turns that she knew Firelout or any other Nightmare, with their larger mass and looser wings would have had trouble with. They, however, knew they needed to put more distance between themselves and Camicazi.
"C'mon, no time to get complacent!" Astrid cried as Breaker sped forward even faster, still wary of the ever-present twist and turns about this path.
After awhile, Astrid felt the slightest bit of dread creeping up her as she found herself slowly beginning to lose track of what's in front of her, due to the ever-increasing speed Breaker was maintaining and the hair-pin turns and sharp corners that they seemed to come across every time Astrid blinked.
Astrid was used to the abrupt turns, twists, banks and turn-tails that became prerequisite with riding a dragon, but this was beginning to make her dizzy and nauseous. She was trying her level best to keep her eyes open, the forest being nothing more than a flurry of green and brown blurs.
"Just a little more, girl, then we're outta this," she found herself saying, and not entirely sure whether it was directed more to Breaker or herself. The Deadly Nadder let out a squawk that Astrid very well knew was a gesture of reassurance, and held tighter around the dragon's scaly neck as she closed her eyes shut. The urge to throw up was beginning to get the better of her.
It wasn't too long before the sharp turns stopped and Astrid waited for a good three seconds before leaning back on her saddle, daring to finally open her eyes. Instead of the walls of green that surrounded her peripheral vision, she was greeted with large open splashes of blues and lighter shades of green. They were in the wild grasslands near the southern side of Berk, the large, clear sky and lush grass an awkward but welcome respite to the harrowing forest. Picturesque as it was, both dragon and rider were still committed to the race, so Astrid coaxed Breaker once more to push forward harder, the Viking lass making a mental note to try and find this area again at a later time.
"Pretty nice scenery, isn't it?" boomed a voice from behind Astrid, one she was not really expecting to hear.
Astrid was pretty sure she did not see her second eldest brother amongst the other racers during the starting line-up, and her suspicions immediately kicked in that he must have snuck his way in somehow between checkpoints, hard enough as such a feat was.
"Easy, 'Striddy. Me and Rolfie started in this race the same way you did. No tricks, honest," he said, hands up in mock surrender, his green Nadder trying to keep its rider aloft safely.
"Whatever," Astrid growled, not missing out that Breaker was picking up their speed subtly. Atta girl. And then it hit her.
"Did you pass by a gold dragon and her rider on your way here?" she asked, Eirik raising an eyebrow.
"Gold? They come in gold these days? Wow,'" he mused, scratching his short blonde hair. Astrid resisted the urge to slap her own forehead and instead just let out a sharp breath of air.
"I did fly by this cutie arguing with a purple dragon, though. Not a breed I've seen before, I'll say that."
And for the second time today, a golden blur zoomed by Astrid and her brother, causing Breaker and Doombeak squawking out in little fits of panic. "What in the-?" Eirik swore midway.
"That's her!" Astrd cried, Breaker getting the cue to increase her speed ever much more as Camicazi and Stormfly began to shrink further into the distance, Eirik hollered in defiance.
"How could that be possible? That dragon was purple, I swear!"
"It can change colors!" Astrid yelled back, uncaring as to how she was leaving her brother in the dust. All that mattered now was catching up to Camicazi, and she was losing ground with every second.
Through the earlier briefing before the race, Astrid could reckon they were more or less halfway done with the race. The brief open space they were currently in was only a prelude to the next dire set of obstacles: The uneven and unpredictable ocean rocks edging the southwestern end. Hiccup once told her that both he and Toothless had a very unfriendly encounter with those rocks during their maiden test-flight.
"Think you can catch up, 'Striddy?"
Camicazi was positively grinning from ear to ear, all the while bent over as Stormfly did nothing to compromise on speed.
Astrid understood that the blonde Bog Buglar loved to taunt others while in the midst of battle to rile up her opponents and make no mistake, Astrid knew how to deal with mind games like these. But it was that incessant nickname, one she really did not enjoy hearing from her brothers but otherwise tolerated, and here was this pint-sized munchkin (low blow, certainly…) using it too? Wait, how long could she have been eavesdropping?
"Let's blow her off this gods-damn race, Breaker. Hyah!" Astrid said as she clicked her heels at Cloudbreaker's sides. The Nadder gained that much momentum and speed that Astrid could see Camicazi coming closer with every wing and heart beat.
"That's my girl. C'mon, faster, faster!" she cried as they began to approach a sharp turn, their line of sight blocked by a mountain wall. "Not this time!" she heard Camicazi say as Astrid could hear the very air shift around them. Her entire lower vision was changed to a large splash of gold as Stormfly flew by from beneath them, cutting them short on the turn.
"Odin's great ghost!" Astrid cried out as Camicazi shot past, the blonde Buglar shaking an index finger. "Language, 'Striddy! Don't think the big guy up there can't hear you!"
Oh, that girl is so dead when I'm through with her.
Camicazi and Stormfly banked hard to the left to avoid the layers upon layers of sea rocks, but Astrid knew it meant they would have to take a slightly lengthier route around said rocks. And the time difference of even a few seconds would work to Astrid's favor.
"Let's go through it, girl." Astrid suggested as the first opening amongst the rocks appeared. If Breaker had any doubts to the plan, she'd better voice/squawk them out now. But no such thing came, Breaker lowering her neck and shortening her wingspan slightly, all to increase her mobility. This was not going to be a mean feat, but Breaker could see her rider so elated with the prospect of winning, and she needed to show the Golden One who was boss here.
Astrid gripped the leather straps of her saddle so tight that she could have sworn her knuckles at turned chalk-white, praying hard to Odin, Thor and whoever else listening that the force that Breaker was using for these great turns wouldn't fling her off her own saddle, regardless of the sturdy safety strap currently latched firmly to her flight vest. Hiccup had adamantly insisted she wore them for this race, and she could see why. Sometimes she wonders where his wonderful foresight was most of the time.
But for her part, Astrid tried to bank with Breaker every time they made a tough turn, and it helped, somewhat. The wordless cooperation was beginning to feel advantageous as they negotiated the narrow openings and gaps in the rocks, and she felt they were making good time. But through the dizzying array of rocks and walls, Astrid could not make out where Camicazi or Stormfly were. She refused to look behind, in fear that if she turned forward again she might have been greeted face-first with a rock wall.
"Got any idea where they are?" Astrid asked her dragon, Breaker giving a brief nod. The Nadder's enhanced sense of smell could pick up the slimmest traces of the Mood Dragon and her rider's scent. For one thing, the small human was practically drenched in an unnaturally sweet scent that irritated the dragon's nostrils. "Are they ahead of us?" Astrid pressed on. The Nadder nodded again. They were ahead, yes, but the way their scent was thinly dispersed over the entire area troubled the dragon. There was no point of concentration. Unless…
The Nadder suddenly shot straight up, much to Astrid's surprise. The Viking girl let out a shriek that was completely un-Astrid-like as she almost fell backwards, the harness hanging taut against her vest. "Breaker, what the Hel has gotten into you?"
Cloudbreaker ingnored her rider's yelp as she broke for the roof of the rocks, and true enough to her suspicions, the girl called Camicazi and the Mood Dragon were there, cruising through their own fair share of death traps, but in no way as daunting as the one they were just in.
"Damn, so this is where they were…" Why doesn't it surprise me that they'd take the easy way out?
"Caught on, did ya?" Camicazi suddenly turned back and asked, still with that gleeful tone that was beginning to be irritating. Stormfly then leaned hard to the right as they ascended over the rocks, almost to the final leg of the race. Astrid wasn't that far behind, her patience running thin with the other blonde. She seemed to be two steps ahead of everything they did, and it wasn't so bad if Astrid could see the Buglar and her dragon at said two steps, but they were coming and going as they pleased and it was infuriating. The mind games were actually working.
Taking in a lung-freezing breath of cold air, she tried to calm her already raw nerves down as they caught up again with the lead pair at the large turn towards the smaller forest near the village. Both rider and dragon were utterly silent as they lowered to try and cut off the Mood Dragon at the end of the turn, a mimic of the move that took them by surprise earlier.
"Nice try, Astrid, but you can't out-trick the trickster," Camicazi said without even changing her position, and it caught Astrid off-guard, long enough for the golden dragon to break away first at the end of the turn.
"Gods damn it! How does she always know when we're behind her?" she hissed into Breaker's spiked crown, said dragon grunting her agreement. Both the small human and her dragon's body language betrayed no sense of surprise or knee-jerk alertness when they approached the pair, but were more relaxed, as if they were aware of the Nadder and her rider much earlier on.
The forest in this leg of the race didn't have a trail that needed the racers to go through, so it was more of a full-on sprint to the finish line. Astrid felt relieved that this meant Camicazi would have little to no chances of pulling off another one of her tricks, but it also meant that Stormfly, who was proving to be even better fliers than Nadders would have no obstructions whatsoever. This was do-or-die for Astrid.
"Let's show them what we Berk girls are made of, eh?" Astrid asked as Breaker sped up, the Nadder not showing the least bit of fatigue. Just out of curiosity, Astrid turned back to see the first of the other riders begin to emerge from the turn. She could more or less make out Fishlegs, the twins, no Snotlout, Eirik, and several others. At least they weren't too far behind.
Astrid then poured her entire focus onto beating that prissy princess and wiping that stupid grin off her face for good. Coming up close, she took the several seconds she had to analyze Stormfly a little better. Her wingspan wasn't as large as a Nadder's, but her more streamlined body made the dragon easier to cut through the air. Astrid did, however notice that the Mood Dragon glides for awhile after several wing beats, even if they were sprinting. Was the dragon just being arrogant again, or….
She doesn't have the stamina for a full-on sprint.
"Breaker, go, go! Stormfly can't keep up with you!"
The brilliant blue dragon gave another burst of speed and soon found themselves neck and neck with the leading pair. The stalemate remained for what seemed like too long as Astrid's eyes locked with the Camizi's. That confident smirk was still plastered on the girl's face but the slightest trace of surprise betrayed her façade and Astrid took notice of that. "Try and keep up now," Astrid challenge and for the first time today, surpassed Camicazi. There was no outcry, no burst or rage from the blonde Buglar as Astrid and Breaker sped on with abandon. They could already see the watchtowers ebbing into view; it wouldn't be long before they reached the village. There was no reason to give it any second thought, no reason to look back. Even if Camicazi could match up with Astrid again, there was nothing much they could do about it besides just to go faster.
Never had the wind stung so much in Astrid's eyes, her braided hair flailing about wildly as her very skin felt pressed hard against flesh and bone. At this rate they would barrel right through the finish line and wouldn't be able to stop in time, but that who cared?
And a sudden, violent jerk from her left broke her train of thought.
"Ow! Hey, watch where you're flying!" Camicazi cried out as Astrid tried to make head and tail of what just happened. Camicazi and her dragon were uncomfortably close to them, so much so that each dragon's wing flaps were fanning bigger gusts of wind against both girls' faces.
"You watch where you're flying, klutz!" Astrid countered. It was quite evident that they collided earlier and she had to thank Odin above that it didn't cause both riders and their dragons to come tumbling down hard onto the trees below.
She could understand if both girls were so focused forward that they neglected to see what was beside them, but she couldn't fathom how both dragons failed to see each other.
"Just a bit more, Storm. You can do it!" Camicazi encouraged as Stormfly let out a roar that seemed to throaty. Was it a cry of exhaustion? Breaker didn't need to wait for any coaxing as she sped up more, trying to level up with the gold dragon that was surprisingly maintaining her speed.
Astrid may not be able to read the body languages of dragons as well as Hiccup could, but she knew the Mood Dragon was growing tired. The subtle signs like the sharper takes of breath or the way the dragon's head was slightly drooping downwards were giveaways, yet the golden beast tried her best to keep her lofty composure. Pride amongst dragons was some of the things Astrid could relate to humans alike. And the slightest bit of respect on her part went out to the dragon.
"Faster, Breaker!" she commanded, knowing very well her partner could take it, no problem. The Nadder obeyed and pushed harder, making very sure to steer clear of the Golden One unless- Tiamat be damned- they wanted to crash into each other again.
And then it happened.
As they were making yet another turn across the watchtower to fly into the village outskirts, a greenish mass shot past them at the exact same time and it caught both pair of racers off-guard. The rest happened in split-seconds that Astrid could almost literally see every frame of it. To avoid hitting the green mass –a dragon, surely- Stormfly, who was flying on the outer end of the curve almost lost control and barely missed crashing into Breaker, the Nadder spiraling slightly out of control but keeping them both aloft.
All in all the fracas lasted for a mere two seconds before they recovered, but it was two whole seconds wasted as the green mass -clearly a Nadder now that Astrid could discern things properly- got a good lead, one that they would have to make up for in spades. The worst part was that it was painfully obvious who the damned rider was. Only two munge-buckets in Berk would ever have the gall to pull something like that on her.
"Eirik!" Astrid yelled, slamming her fist down on Breaker's armor-like plates. It didn't matter that screaming like that caused her throat and lungs to hurt so much, all that mattered was that her chances on winning the race were slowly shrinking along with the form of Doombeak. Astrid ushered Breaker to keep up anyway, hoping against hope that they could catch up. Screw coming in as a close second. It was first place or nothing.
And she was so hoping to have that golden medal with the dragon motifs on it to hang from her dresser.
She wasn't sure if it was from the anger or the impatience, or the semi-resignation to the fact she may not win, but Astrid was now very aware that Camicazi was again neck and neck with her, but the Buglar traded no banter, no taunts, and no silly grins.
"You know him?" Camicazi asked with an unnaturally serious tone, Astrid snapping her head to Camicazi's direction. The smaller girl wasn't looking at Astrid, but just glaring straight ahead at the green Nadder.
"He's my brother," Astrid casually replied, earning a scoff from Camicazi. "Why am I not surprised…" she muttered, pursing her lips. It was more matter-of-fact than offensive, and Astrid didn't really have any spite to spare on Camicazi anyway. Right now throttling her brother until he turned the same shade of blue as Breaker was the best idea she had in mind.
But as she finally paid a little more attention to their immediate surroundings, the more Astrid felt her stomach plummet. They were now racing along the outer village and with her their current speed, it wouldn't be long before they were at the finish line; the shipyard docks.
She could hear the faint cheers and hoots of encouragement from the people below, almost unintelligible with the speed they were at as they zoomed through houses. It felt unnatural to her, really. Even in her earliest memories when Astrid was greeted with cheers, it was when she was actually winning something. Not coming in second place. Astrid Hofferson never came in second.
But there's always a first time for everything.
Gods damn it, that voice in her head can be the most pessimistic bugger ever sometimes.
As they dove downwards to the direction of the docks, the cheering grew louder and wilder, an intensity only matched by the drakkar races. And every one of those cheers pelted Astrid like a hurled insult. Eirik would have crossed the finish line by now, pumping his fists hard into the air –his usual victory pose- as the crowd would have celebrated the first ever victor of the dragon races.
And true enough, once they broke through to the docks, flocks of people were massing around a certain point that was in between two finish poles carved roughly but uniformly from tree trunks. Eirik had his fists in the air, Doombeak was wearing her snout high and mighty with a red ribbon clamped between her beak-like jaws. Astrid could see the two tied halves of large, red ribbons around the finish poles. Great, a winning ribbon was there for the taking. Way to rub things in.
Astrid landed at the first clearing on the docks, far well away from any of the crowd. She could tell that Camicazi was landing nearby as several women, all adorned in proud armor and jewelry, rushed to greet her, Bog Burglars all. This brought her mind to Hiccup. It would have been sweet of Hiccup to have been waiting to greet her too. She felt like she needed –dare she say it- a hug.
Well that was convenient.
A dark silhouette blocked out the sun for the entirety of a second before landing smoothly somewhere near Astrid, wings withdrawn but still looming slightly above the girl. Toothless lowered himself even in the midst of Hiccup unlatching his prosthetic from the stirrup, his elated grin beaming on Astrid.
"Astrid, you were great out there," he said, strangely just as out of breath as she was, his skin also just as flustered.
"Yeah, thanks," she said with half-commitment. Internally, she was beyond relieved to see him, that silly notion to want to hug him growing stronger by the heartbeat, but another part of her wants to just be moody and grumpy about not winning. Basically, she just wanted some attention.
"Astrid?" he had to carefully tread. It was obvious that she was mad about not winning. In the inside Hiccup was downright terrified because Astrid never lost at anything. Anything.
"Is everything okay?" No, of course everything's not okay! She lost, she came in second, to her own brother no less. How do you think she feels? He had to ask. Saying something like 'It's okay Astrid, you did your best,' was like assuming for her that she was upset about losing. That, and an empty consolation like that could have warranted a hit to the gut.
Of all the… Astrid gave Hiccup a look like the boy had lost all form of intelligence for a second, then look downwards as it hit her. At least he bothered to ask you.
"I'm fine, Hiccup," she said, too neutral in her tone. Something was definitely not okay.
"You're sure?" he asked, taking careful strides as Toothless, capable of practically smelling the grumpy mood from Astrid cocked his head at Cloudbreaker, a simple question about what got the girl into such a mood.
The Nadder let out a short but audible breath of air, explaining that her human was displeased about losing the race. The winner was her brother. Surely sibling rivalry was something universally understood amongst dragons too.
Toothless shrugged his shoulders. Humans wear their emotions too frequently for a dragon's liking, but it was what made them so passionately resilient, he openly wagered. A silky agreeing statement came from Stormfly's direction, much to Cloudbreaker's ire.
Astrid had to hand it to Hiccup. He asked if she was sure instead of blatantly calling out her bluff. He was being patient, diplomatic with her. He was being the best kind of friend she needed.
And she wrapped her arms around him in one single step.
Hiccup, not really expecting that of all things, let his hands hover lifelessly at his sides for a good few seconds, his entire posture ramrod straight in all the awkward positions against a hug. Toothless rolled his eyes at his hatchling's cluelessness. Would he have to help the boy wrap his dangly arms around her for him?
Hiccup got the clue and gently began to embrace Astrid, one hand gently caressing her neck as the other held her lower back delicately.
"Icouldhavewon," he heard a muffled voice say. "Come again?" he asked. What in Odin's name?
"I could have won," she said with finality, but still maintaining the embrace.
"I know. And I'm proud of you, regardless. You did an awesome job," he said with gravity to his tone she rarely sees, or hears.
"No really, you did. I saw the way you made that hairpin turn on Camizazi earlier, or how you-"
"Just shut up and hug me, Hiccup."
Kinda short for my ending, but I needed to get this underway and hence, it lacked the steam if would usually carry.
So hey guys, I won't be able to reply to your critiques for this round (time constraint), so so sorry, I'll try to answer them in the next one, kay?