Chapter Forty Three

"Stormfly, that way" Astrid whispers, pressed close against her dragons scales as she nudges Stormfly's hide with her knees and points down a small, rickety passage between two ramshackle Outcast houses. "Come on Girl," she murmurs into the thick, leathery hide of her dragon; "let's keep this together now".

They're making their way towards the Arena they'd seen, looking out for any sign of the young Hooligan heir they're so desperately searching for clues towards. They'd seen nothing yet but snoring, filthy Outcasts; men and women all as ugly and bearded as each other. They were sleeping amongst the unsightly shamble of rickety houses that jutted out of the dark earth like the ribcages of men after the old dragon attacks; mangled, jumbled messes of stiff broken iron and loose flaps of fleshy dirt-coloured cloth that flap mournfully in the wind.

The earth beneath Stormfly's claws is thick and coarse and gritty; it's the deepest volcanic black Astrid has ever seen and it's so tightly packed into the well-trodden path that the dragon's footprints go unnoticed in the loam, all but invisible on a trail that's been so well used.

Treading softly, they reach a crossroads of sorts, where another path violently intersects their own amongst the jumble of houses. Astrid swings her head left and right, wispy blond plait flying out behind her and her eyes wide and cerulean cautious. But the roads seem empty. Glancing around again and worrying unconsciously at her lip, Astrid wonders if it would be faster to keep going straight ahead or to turn down one of the roads winding out to at her left and right. With a sigh she braces her hands on Stormfly's spines and pulls her legs swiftly up to crouch on the saddle. Then, using her grip on Stormfly as a propellant, she pulls herself into a standing position, letting go of the spines to balance precariously on her dragon's back. Shifting a little bit unstably onto her tip toes Astrid peers out over the tops of the houses as far as she can see in the weak light that the first rays of dawn provide with their wan, watery beams, as they just begin to creep over the horizon. Closer than before, she can just make out the torches of the arena that are still burning brightly around the huge structure. Gathering her bearings and wits about her like a winter cloak, Astrid realises that it's a little more to her left than she'd thought, the winding jumble of the Outcast streets must have thrown her sense of direction off a little.

With another soft sigh, loud enough for only her to hear, Astrid plonks herself back down in the saddle and nudges Stormfly along down the left path of the crossroads with a soft whisper.

"This way girl, come on, quickly now."

Stormfly flits agilely to the left and begins to make her way quickly down the path; trying to keep her footsteps quiet on the loamy dirt. After Astrid's urging, her pace is a little more rapid than before, responding to the worry and anxiety she'd heard in her rider's voice. Shaking her crested head, Stormfly puts on a little more speed again, her claws leaving little rifts in the loam, not quite claw prints, but little flicks of dirt that fly up behind her as she runs.

Astrid presses herself to Stormfly's back, noting the change of pace with a smile. Good old Stormfly. Astrid tightens her grip just in case the increased speed should unseat her and she decides to run the route they had taken to get this far through her head, checking it over with herself so she knows she can show the way to the rabble of Hooligans that are waiting for her back in the beach cave.

As such, she's not paying attention when the huge, black blur darts out of an alleyway and crashes right into them.

Astrid screams as she's thrown from the saddle; suddenly finding herself hurtling through the air towards the black, gritty dirt. At the last moment before she hits the ground she finally gathers her wits, cutting off her voice and tucking her head under to drop neatly into a roll. The impact is still hard and rough on her back as she topples head over heels but she's quickly back on her feet, axe barred and whirling around on her heel to see a huge, black writhing thing attacking Stormfly.

It's all black scales and lithe muscle and brown, softly tanned leather that come to think of it, looks strangely like a... saddle? Her first thought is a panicked; has Alvin trained a dragon? But the dragon, if that's what the seething tangled mess of scales is, seems to have no rider. The thing leaps backward, extracting itself from Stormfly's legs where it had barrelled into them, and straightens itself out, beginning to look more draconic and more... familiar. Astrid quickly flicks her gaze to look at Stormfly, checking if her dragon's alright. She's surprised to see Stormfly ruffled, but standing their regarding the thing quite coolly. Astrid looks back at it as it begins to shake its head as if to clear it; it's obviously reeling from the shock of the crash. It's only when it opens its huge, familiar guilty green eyes to stare at her that Astrid claps a palm to her forehead in berating her own stupidity as she realises of course it's...

"Toothless!"

The dragon has the grace to look a little abashed. He'd obviously been sneakily following behind them on foot. The Nightfury shakes his head once more in the motion of clearing it, but then his luminous eyes dart from Astrid to the left, his nostrils flaring, sniffing the air. His tongue snakes out to taste it, taking a few deep, snuffly breaths as he seems to search for something that only he can smell. Then Toothless, obviously picking up some sort of scent suddenly swings his head to face in the direction Astrid knows the Arena to be. Where she thinks Hiccup is. Maybe Toothless has scented him?

"Tooth..." Excitedly she opens her mouth to ask the Nightfury if he can lead them to Hiccup, but Toothless, as suddenly as he'd arrived, is bounding off along a side alley between two ramshackle houses as if his very tail had been on fire. Stumbling forward Astrid just loses sight of him around the corner of an Outcast shack.

"Toothless! No! Come back!" Astrid begins to run after him, Stormfly just behind, when a deep, booming voice rings out.

"'Oo the 'eck is makin' all that noise out ther! Oim tryin' teh sleep yeh..." But Astrid, frozen in her spot never got to hear whatever insult the voice had planned as there's a loud crash from the direction of the voice and a lot of swearing as whoever the voice belonged to must have tripped over something in his race to get up and find the perpetrator.

Amidst the swearing another voice rings out, then another, and then another. Astrid's heart pounds in her throat, her limbs frozen, locked in place.

"Oi! 'Oose that wakin' us, s'not evin morning yet!"

"Shurrup Grubb! Yer always being..."

"Shurrup yerself yeh great..."

"Oi will yew shut up ye've woken us up too!"

"Yeh and no-one wants teh see yer ugly face this side of the Mornin'!"

"Well I don't want teh see yers either!"

Exactly what the Outcast hollered back after that, is lost on Astrid as right up on the path ahead of her, a burly, ugly brute of an Outcast pushes aside the flap that serves as a hut door and strides out into the street, scowling and blinking blearily in the pale, early morning light.

Astrid, stood right in the middle of the path behind the hairy, hulking brute of the man that's just appeared, doesn't dare to so much as breathe. The Outcast lumbers a step forward, away from her; swaying with the look of a man who's not quite fully awake yet. Astrid's heart is pounding loudly in her ears and carefully, with a hand that she'll never admit was shaking ever so lightly, she reaches out to grip Stormfly's bridle. Astrid, her eyes wide and fearful takes a breath as deep as she can manage silently, and she tries her best to convey the need for silence to her dragon with her eyes and tense facial expression. Taking another breath she turns silently, her booted toes sliding as quietly as possible over the earth as she pulls Stormfly to one side of the path, where they're a little more concealed by a jutting part of one of the ramshackle houses as they back away slowly. Glancing back at the Outcast, Astrid sees him lumbering towards another hut with the fierce scowl and a string of expletives that betrayed a man who was awake when he clearly didn't want to be. Outcasts are apparently not morning people. Astrid summed up, tightening her grip on Stormfly's bridle as she treads softly away, slowly and silently, praying to every god in Asgard that the man doesn't turn around. Suddenly, another angry Outcast voice rings out from a hut opposite hut and Astrid nearly jumps out of her skin at the shock of it. A brash string of ugly expletives burns up the oesophagus of this one too. Not morning people at all. A Small, grim smile creeps up the corners of her mouth at that. She keeps her eyes wide and alert, focusing not only on the man she could already see lumbering across the path, but all around for the location of the second voice. Suddenly, from right on her left is the rustle of inner cloth door flaps. Someone's coming. Swiftly and silently Astrid swings herself up onto Stormfly's back, her heart in her throat, as she quickly, but carefully guided her dragon back the way they came, her eyes fixed over her shoulder and flitting cautiously all around. She's around the corner just before the second Outcast appears and the shouting match begins anew, in the middle of the street, with enough decibels to wake the entire area.

She and Stormfly had to head back to the Hooligan's right away.

Right now.

Before anyone else woke up.

Steering Stormfly away and guiding her into a swift run, Astrid risks a quick glance back in the direction of the Arena, biting anxiously at her lip.

She really hopes Toothless knows what he's doing.

Because he's kind of on his own now.

And Astrid really doesn't want to have to rescue two of them.

Idiots.

...

A.N:I'm sorry for the delay in updates again! I am, first and foremost sadly, a student at Uni and therefore I have a stupid amount of coursework to get done at this time of the year. Buttt, my deadline is only in two weeks, and then I've got the whole summer to write! So don't give up on me just yet folks.

Thanks so much for all your support, you guys are the best and hearing from you is always really motivating and it never fails to really make my day.

Thanks again, your writer,

Lenle