I am so, so, so, so, so, so, so sorry to all of my very loyal followers for leaving you after I left you with such a cliffhanger ending. I had lost interest in this story, mainly because I couldn't work out how to end it, but I'm back on track with a plan for an ending and an awesome sequel. Hang in with me, I promise to continue with this story.

The Gauntlet Begins

Being cooped up in the Great Hall was no picnic, especially with the combined stench of sweaty men, dragons, and wood smoke permeating the air so thickly you could almost taste. It was not helped by the fact that everyone had about a square foot of space, so, obviously, it was hard to even begin training our new riders. That and the fact that we only had our dragons.

Since I had nothing better to do, I gathered up Aaron and a few other volunteers and began the process of speaking Dragonese. See, the gang and I had lots of time to bond with our dragons and become tuned to their motions so that you could read their mind with a single glance, whereas the trainees would have a few days, maybe a few weeks if we're lucky. I mean, we have all the time in the world, right?

All five of them gathered around Toothless and I, since Toothless was our best linguist as well as the smartest dragon we had. The group included Aaron, Spike, a girl with a nasty mouth and a wicked ax, her brother Slash, who was incredibly strong but very humble about it, Coal, a small guy who packed a wicked punch and also had a good eye for all things mechanical, which I liked, Starlett, who was very vain and always worrying about her hair, and would also put a knife through your side before you could blink if you insulted it from 200 paces, and Axel, a dock worker with a good set of muscles but was most known for his speed, and legend had it he could outrun a Nightmare. Wish I had that a few years ago. It could have saved me from this whole mess.

I started off by telling them the basics of the language, its different sounds and its basic structure and had them practice. It was actually quite hilarious because some of what they were saying could be interpreted as phrases that were altogether hilarious, what with their pronunciation and limited vocabulary. Some of them were so funny it took about five minutes for us to get over it.

After several days of Dragonese, the storm finally cleared and we were able to get back outside. Our first order of business was to find dragons, which, luckily, was rather easy, because Berk held more nooks and crevices than any island in the Barbaric Archipelago, and dragons loved to take shelter in the caves.

Of course, Toothless and I, as well as the rest of the gang, could have flown, but we wanted to stay with our trainees. After all, they were going to be joining us, and we needed to connect with each other. There was no way we could take down the Red Death without a full team effort.

As we walked, the new trainees were very curious about our time away at Lorien. Apparently legends about us had spread since our arrival.

"Actually, there's been legends about the Riders of Lorien from even before you arrived," said Axel.

"From who?" asked Astrid.

"Johann. Other Sailors mostly. I heard most of them working at the docks. The Riders saved many sailors from other tribes, and even from a few wrecks. Was that you?" Axel asked.

I smiled. "Yeah. Inadvertently. Most of the time we were just looking for fish and ended up with pirates. It was also a kind of boredom buster, but I must say, pirates are stupid. Like really stupid," I said.

"Do you remember that one who tried to use his sword as a raft to survive a wreck?" said Snotlout.

"Thick as I can remember. There was one who tried to shoot us with his crossbow while using it to hold himself above a sharkworm infested sea, which then shot him in the hand and he fell. Ah, the memories," said Astrid.

"Sharkworms?" asked Slash.

"Yeah. Named them myself. They're vicious beasts, much like the sharks that plague the waters to the south, but these can climb on land and on ships, and do not discriminate on what they eat. If you see one, run," I said, slashing through the underbrush as we went.

Fishlegs approached me as we walked. "Um, Hiccup, couldn't we just fly everyone up? It would be a lot faster, and we have enough dragons."

I just smiled. "Gauntlet," was all I said, and Fishlegs smiled in recognition before melting back into the group.

The Gauntlet was a network of tunnels that ran under the mountain, most of the times packed with dragons as well as deadly lava pools, fragile ceilings, deep drops, and, of course, ferocious dragons. Lots of boulder class and stoker class dragons liked to hang out at the base of Thor Mountain, with the sharp class taking residence a little ways higher, at the perfect spot that their scales could reflect the sun, giving the mountain a mesmerizing look at sunset. Mystery class dragons liked the woods at the foot of the mountain, Fear class somewhere in the middle of the mountain's height, and then the strike class dragons at the very top. It acted as a symbol of the hierarchy of dragons that existed everywhere, an unwritten code among dragons as to dominance. Strike, the thinkers, Fear, the warriors, Sharp, designers and the equivalent to archers, Stoker and Boulder, the brutes who shared some intelligence with the Strike class, and then Mystery dragons, the outliers of the dragon community who did not fit a specific clique.

As we approached the foot of the mountain, I could hear the telltale sounds of dragons that were inspecting us, trying to tell who we were and if we were a threat. It was mostly Changewings, the predominant Mystery class dragons in the heart of Berk, and they were curious. They could smell the metallic scent of the iron in our weapons, which only raised their suspicions. The only difference was that my sword was infused iron, iron infused with dragon fire, making it nearly indestructible, the ingot formed in a Gronkle's cauldron, molded with the heat of a Night Fury's plasma, and imbued with the paralyzing poison of the Nadder. These were familiar smells that did not excite the Changewings, but the other weapons were not so special. At least, none that we had forged. I had made all of the other weapons for our group with this method, but classic weapons still gave off the tell-tale scent of fear.

The Changewings muttered to themselves as they observed, which caught my acute hearing.

Humans.

Dragon iron.

Warriors.

Friend of foe?

Obviously not the brightest of the bunch, but they were smart enough. As the last one asked the question, friend of foe, Spike answered from the back in imperfect dragonese, "Friend."

The Changewings instantly went silent, and I watched as one materialized right next to her, eyeballing her with those mesmerizing eyes.

You speak the dragon tongue and yet are not dragon. How?

Spike swallowed, and summoned up all of her courage to mutter one word, a word that I had taught all of them.

Dragonfriend.

She extended her hand, and the Changewing seemed confused for a second, backing off slightly, before realizing the gesture, and pressing his face against her palm, and I could almost see the connection form between them right there. Spike's eyes sparkled, and the Changewing looked extremely happy, with a light of freedom in his eyes that I recognized from the very first time I stared into a dragon's eyes, and I knew that they were a pair.

"And that, shield maidens and warriors, is how it's done," I said, applauding. Spike blushed.

"Well, one down and four more to go. Come along, the fun's just beginning," I said.

We hiked for another few hours, stopping for a drink and a bite at a sheltered grove. Once we reached the foot of the mountain, I searched for the entrance, and I found it. A secluded, very dark hole in the mountain, which almost seemed to absorb the light around it and emit only a pure, inky blackness through which nothing could be seen. I had Toothless light a few torches, faced the group, and smirked again.

"Shield maidens and warriors, welcome to the Gauntlet. No more turning back." And then we plunged into inky artificial night.