Chapter 25: Black and Blue

All the teams anxiously sat underneath the main tower. The first rounds were over, and now the judges were declaring who was moving on to the next round. As each nameplate was added to the wall of competitors, there was a small cheer or congratulation to the participant. They had made it through the racers, shooters, and speed racers, but none of those were really of much interest to my clan. I watched as they started placing the names under the training category- and breathed a sigh of relief when Lilo's name was placed near the top. We all patted her on the back, watching carefully for any of the rest of us. It wasn't until obstacle courses that we saw more appear. Mik came up as one of the first, and then Collera. Gothi and Gobber hung name after name onto the board. I waited anxiously, watching for my own name. At the very bottom- Arlan, Asgardnia, Olivia.. I held my breath- Frostfire Markson! I sighed in relief when my plaque appeared as the very last name on the obstacle course space. My team all cheered, and we hugged, happy that each of us were moving on. That left only the dragon fights. Again, it was an anxious time as we watched carefully for any other opportunities. I waited as the names appeared- Yarlo, Vica, CJ the Clumsy- the list went on and on. About ¾ of the way through, I finally spotted my name again. I smiled tiredly, thinking of my promise to hold on long enough to fight CJ in the finals. Gothi hung the last plaque. I turned to Mik and Collera. "I'm so sorry. I knew that you both fought really hard. You both deserved to move on."

Collera shrugged. "Well, its not like I wasn't expecting it. I lost my fight."

Mik barked out a laugh, his voice and demeanor matching shades of gruff. "They don't know what they're doing. I could have moved on easily. But that just means that you'll have to show them what it means to be a Windwalker." I nodded to all my clan. I couldn't voice how proud I was of my team. We had all made it to the second round. Standing there in our matching clan uniforms, I was elated to have them as my team. Looking around, I could tell they felt the same.

"Mik.. Collera.. Lilo.. Isabo.." I nodded at each. "No matter how this competition ends, I can't say how proud I am of each of you. We've come so far from that ragtag group in the woods that first night. We are proud. We are strong." My fist shook up and down with each phrase. "We are a team. We are Windwalkers!" I shouted the final word, throwing my fist in the air.

"WINDWALKERS!" Our clan shouted out, our hands all coming together in the middle. Immediately other clans took up calls of their own, making the air reverberate with "Phantom Lords!", "Firebolts!", and "Loki's Army!" A horn sounded over the clamour. It was time for the start of the second rounds. And all the clans roared in approval!

"Oooh, she's got this!" Mik, Isabo, Collera, and I were seated in the stands as Lilo worked with her nadder below. The second round of training was starting to get demanding. The trainers were all working in one group, having to make their dragons all do the same action at the same time. If they didn't react fast enough, or were too impatient to get started, their commands would be off kilter from the others. The goal was to have everyone flow smoothly at once- but of course that was much easier said than done. Between human reaction time, dragon obedience, and the attempt to do it as a group there were many factors that could mess up your performance. And Gothi's sharp eyes were quick to pick out anyone who's timing was off. We had already dropped to half, with Lilo and her dragon staying strong.

After shrinking to the last ten or so- including Lilo, the judges had them switch gears and gave them free reign. Now we were at the fun part! Trainers did anything they could to show off their tricks and training ability. I started seeing flips, flaming spirals, and sky-diving taking over the field. Lilo and her nadder were currently flying straight up in a graceful spiral while shooting off small bursts of flame and an odd assortment of spines. "Umm, no offense, but there are certainly trainers giving a more flashy performance with better showmanship."

"Isabo, just you wait. Lilo knows what she is doing. She's not going to let us down." I was secretly holding my breath just as much as Isabo seemed to be. Her final performance had been one thing that Lilo had refused to let us see previous to today.

"Trust me. Besides, I want you to all be just as surprised as the rest of the audience. So, what we are doing is our secret." Lilo had said with a wink. And I did trust her judgement. She was the best trainer in our group, and I knew she would never let us down.

At the peak of their flight, Bandit let out an ear-splitting roar, instantly tucking in his wings and turning into a free fall. As they rocketed downwards, his maw opened, filling with flames that never left his mouth... Until they leapt back along the length of his body. Now they were alight, like a monstrous nightmare, but never had a dragon been ridden while there was so much flame, and absolutely never on a nadder. The crowd gasped in awe at the gorgeous flaming star falling swiftly from the heavens, bathed in pure white flames. I could no longer see Lilo on his back and it scared me. What was she thinking?! Why had she pushed so hard?! Bandit's fall grew even more dizzying to watch as he started to spiral around, turning his cloak into a torus of flames. Tail spines flew out around them, impaling into the ground. Even the other competitors had stopped to watch this daredevil stunt. As my awe faded away, I gasped in horror. They were coming in too fast! They had passed the point to safely pull up! Without thinking, I shouted her name, but Lilo would never have heard me over the other gasps and cheers. My fists were held tight against my mouth as I waited for the pair to crunch into the hard earth. The flames cloaked the figures fully, and I winced as I heard the horrible sound as they hit the ground. The fire blasted out along the ground in a spectacular wave, accompanied by shards of nadder spines. Dirt was flying everywhere, hiding the pair from view. I stared intently, needing to know but horrified by what I knew I would eventually see... Lilo and Bandit... standing?! I couldn't believe it! Bandit was standing proudly, his wings spread wide as his fire slowly extinguished. Lilo sat calmly on his back, removing a pair of goggles and waving up at the now hysterical crowd. Gothi and Gobber ran up to them, and Gobber swung her around before sitting her on his shoulder. Everyone was cheering, other than a few competitors, but even they looked highly impressed by the stunt that should have killed them. I grinned giddily at my cheering and whooping teammates. "Well guys, it looks like it's our turn! Let's not let her outdo us!"

The goggles pressed into the bridge of my nose, but I didn't care. This speed, it was exhilarating! It was the speed only a night fury could bring. Left under a tree branch, up over a boulder, around the marker pole and back towards the finish line! This was my final obstacle course, and so far I had been making good, solid times through each track. Though, I wasn't really surprised. Night furies were born for racing, and Glowworm and I had been flying together for almost as long as Toothless and Hiccup. We were screeching down the final stretch, bobbing and weaving through a tight tunnel of rocks. I could hear the other riders enter the other branches of the cave, their wing beats echoing off the walls. I stretched down further and tighter against Glowworm's back, wincing and gritting my teeth as the wound pulled. But I wouldn't let it stop me. Our team had been doing so well today, and I wanted to keep our streak going. As we shot out of the end of the tunnel, I felt an impact on my shoulder, as we were knocked aside. "Olivia!" I growled out between gritted teeth, clutching my side as the boneknapper stroked past us. Glowworm growled as well, her wings moving faster from the heat of competition.

"Sorry, but I'm not going easy on you!" She grinned at me, then tucked in close to her dragon as he picked up speed going into some hairpin turns.

"Neither are we." I ground out, lying as flat as I could to my dragon's back. She let out a competitive roar- a challenge- and performed an excellent corkscrew to take us over the top of the pair and back into the lead. Doooooowwn we dove, towards the sea into another one of the numerous caves. Round about the rocks, dodging left, right, up, dive again! We narrowly, missed a low hanging stalactite before shooting straight up and out of the hole in the ground that was the finish line.

"Fiiiirrssstttt!" I heard Gobber yell as we finally slowed our mad dash and came down to a soft landing. I was panting really hard, rubbing Glowworm to show how proud I was of her. I wasn't fooling her, though, and she trotted over to Gothi, who was already waiting with the next set of herbs.

I slipped off, a little off balance from our flight. It was a good thing that Gothi was quite strong despite her age and size. She held me up, and gently handed me the bundle of herbs that I needed to eat. "Thanks Gothi." I smiled at her kindness as I sighed tiredly. My wound really took a lot of the fight out of me. But I wasn't going to let that stop me from doing my utmost for the team. But, on the other hand, I wasn't going to be stupid about how I handled myself. I had finished my last race, and now I was going to just go rest and recover. After all, I would need all my strength for the final event- dragon fights.