Chapter 9:

"That Loki cursed child of a half troll…" Gobber cursed fluently under his breath as he strode purposefully towards the machine shop. Hiccup had forgotten about training, or more than likely, simply chosen not to attend, and was currently nearly an hour late. After finding the dorm hall completely void of any red-haired mechanics-to-be, he set out post haste to the shop, expecting to find her amidst her usual chaos and clamor. Though upon his entrance, Gobber was confronted with quite a different setting.

"What the…" Gobber muttered under his breath as he opened the door to the machine shop and gazed around the eerily silent shop. All the lights in the machine bay were blazing and the hangar door flung wide open to let in a chill morning breeze. But what confused the one-legged mechanic was the lack of the constant buzz that nearly always accompanied the early morning inventive sessions of his young apprentice. Instead, apart from the gentle hum of the lights, it was utterly silent.

"Eeeh…Hiccup?" He called. Nothing. His face scrunched and his wiry mustache wiggled against his nose. Pushing aside dumped out boxes of old tech and scrap, Gobber worked his way to the back of the shop and towards Hiccup's personal workshop. Pulling up the curtain that separated the smaller room from the main, he froze in the doorway.

Tools splayed out on the work surface in front of her. On the table sat part of a dismembered communications array that were outfitted in most planes, along with several pairs of high powered scouting goggles and scraps of an outdated aviator's helmet. Hiccup herself sat at her usual station on a metal stool too tall for her comparatively short legs, dressed in her usual short sleeve green tunic, baggy brown pants, and new looking tunic length black-leather vest that cinched across her chest. The green of her tunic's sleeves stuck out from under the skinnier straps of the vest and around the collar. He would inquire about the vest at a later time.

What caught her mentor's attention today was the mass of leather, wire, glass, and metal that completely obscured her head from view. It looked like she had shredded an aviator's cap, wrapped it in wire, and tied several pairs of goggles overtop, and sat the entire mess on her head.

Gobber's gaze flicked briefly to the massive tarp-covered machine in the center of the room that his apprentice did not know he knew about, then flicked back to his apprentice herself who's head was sweeping from side to side as though she were scanning the room. Uncertain of whether or not she had seen him, Gobber proceeded with caution, shuffling unsteadily on his peg-leg. "Hiccup?" He repeated with a firm hand on her shoulder and gave a light shake.

She whipped around until glass-enlarged eyes frantically found his. "AAAAAHHHH!" Hiccup flailed almightily and flung herself backwards off the stool, toppling said stool, and scattering the mess of pieces-parts in a fearsome flurry of twisted metal bits. The contraption cracked against the floor and one of the goggle's lenses shattered. Gobber echoed her exclamation but managed to refrain from startling in such an extravagant manner. It was silent save for a few metal rings wobbling until falling flat onto the floor with a light tinkle.

Hiccup, still helmeted but breathing fast, lay sprawled on her back for a few moments more before slowly pulling the helmet from off her head. A mass of red hair fell onto the floor and green eyes were revealed, staring wide up at her mentor. Groaning in pain and embarrassment, she rolled to her side and slumped to her feet still holding the contraption in her arms.

"Aaw, it broke…" Hiccup mumbled half-heartedly while inspecting the strange helmet in her hands, rotating it this way and that, nearly forgetting again that Gobber was there.

With an exasperated sigh, Gobber reached out and plucked up the helmet easily in one meaty hand. Hiccup watched almost in a trance as he set the device down one her work surface and his hand returned to his side. Only then did her eyes rise to his, widening with sudden realization.

"Ooooh, oh gods… Uh, h-how late am I?" Pale fingers ran through her hair as she tried to distract herself from the intimidating glower that her mentor was bestowing upon her.

"Nearly an hour," he quickly waved a hand to ward off her long-winded and undoubtedly complex list of excuses as to why she forgot/attempted-to-skip training. "Nah I don't want to hear it. I want your lazy rear end half way to the arena before I make it out of the shop or you'll be cleaning the bellows for a month!"

Hiccup's face paled very quickly and with a squeak and a stutter, she was scurrying around her work room, gathering a few odd baubles into her satchel, strapping on her thick boot, and streaking past Gobber faster than he could blink. He chuckled as her red hair disappeared out the door and down the corridor.

Now she really wished she had stayed in her workshop. Not only had she sprinted all the way to the arena but had nearly passed out in front of the other recruits upon her arrival. Her face was streaked with the usual amount of grease and oil, hair a tangle of fiery auburn, and eyes wider than those of a madman. Needless to say, her reputation, if she had gained any among the group, had diminished severely upon her hasty and undignified arrival.

And now they all stood staring into the arena with expressions ranging from mild amusement to arrogant indifference to horror. From their perspective, all they could see was a mass of metal and heavy wooden structures stacked and pieced together in a chaotic array of walls and ramparts and low ceilings. From Gobber's viewpoint above the arena, he saw the chaos for the beauty he genuinely believed it was: a maze. And not just any maze either, a three dimensional, multi-story, confusing at the least and psychosis inducing at most, work of mechanical genius.

With a disturbingly amused chuckle and no warning for his charges in the arena below, Gobber released one of the cage doors and waited for the screams.

"What was that?" Snotlout was the first to speak, a subtle shaking in his voice indiscernible to all but two, breaking the eerie silence that had built until they all heard the distinct sound of a cage door opening. Whether or not anyone deemed it necessary to respond would remain forever a mystery, because at the moment when anyone would have opened their mouth, a hair-raising screech echoed through the arena, bouncing off the twisted ramparts of the maze before them and scattering into the air.

An unspoken agreement hovered between them as they all took untrained defensive stances in a haphazard circle before the entrance to the maze, their weapons held in shaky grips.

Hiccup's mind quickly kicked into overdrive as she tried to assess the situation. They were untrained, in an unfamiliar setting, going up against an unknown enemy of unknown skills. Well, that last point could be easy enough changed.

"Fishlegs, was it?" Hiccup glanced sidelong at the bulky blond to her left. He squeaked an affirmative. "Can you tell what kind of dragon it is?"

At the opportunity to share his knowledge, he seemed to straighten a little bit as he eased into familiar territory. It was a mistake, Hiccup knew, as he let his guard down, but they needed to know what they were up against.

"Well, were as most dragons have roars, save a few such as the whispering death, there are a few that make distinct noises that cannot really be classified as a roar. The 'squawk' that we just heard is unique to its owner in that it-"

"Get on with it!" Astrid hissed and shuffled her feet uncomfortably as silence had fallen in the maze again.

"Deadly Nadder: classified as a Sharp class until roughly 30 years ago. Its incredible sense of smell and enhanced speed moved it to the top of the tracker class. It also has some of the hottest fire known of dragon-kind, earning a rating of 18…" He trailed off as he realized what he had said, the rest of the group letting the new found knowledge sink in as well.

A tracking dragon in a maze full of rookies; Hiccup felt unease seeping into her gut. It had been far too quiet for far too long.

"Well where is it?" Tuffnut scoffed, lowering his spear and hunching in an almost disappointed manner.

His twin shrugged, "Maybe we scared it aw-"

A terrifyingly close screech cut her off. Everyone stiffened in anticipation. Then it appeared, creeping around the entrance to the maze, its head low and cocked to one side as it gazed at them with large unblinking, distinctly reptilian eyes. It stalked towards them slowly, regarding them with what Hiccup could have sworn was a little amusement but could easily be mistaken for malice.

"Anything else, Fishlegs?" Hiccup whispered without moving or taking her eyes off the emerging dragon.

"Spines are poisonous," he said simply as the raised tail of the dragon rounded the corner and into their field of vision, full of deadly looking barbs all raised and poised to strike. For several nerve wracking moments, nobody moved.

Then with a deafening battle cry, Snotlout charged forwards through the group, swinging his mace above his head. The Nadder reared up in surprise, then squawked indignantly at the approaching boy.

"SCATTER!" Hiccup shouted to the rest of the group. They quickly dispersed, sprinting past the distracted Nadder and into the maze, whether due to her command or their own sense of self-preservation, Hiccup didn't really care. She sprinted by the dragon's raised tail and caught a glimpse of the twins run directly passed the Nadder's face, its gaze still locked on Snotlout as the boy faltered when everyone else retreated. The Nadder didn't even seem to see the twins until they were already passed the entrance to the maze and disappeared into its depths. Filing away the observation, Hiccup followed suit.

Fishlegs disappeared down a ramp into the shadowy lower levels of the maze, the twins peeled left, Astrid sprinted to the upper level, Snotlout on her tail, Nadder on his, and Hiccup broke right. After a few twists, turns, dead-ends and sudden drops that Gobber seemed particularly fond of, Hiccup found herself in the lowest level of the maze hiding in a dark dead-end beside a cowering Fishlegs.

"Hey, Fishlegs?" Hiccup whispered while keeping and ear and eye out for anything out for the Nadder. "So, uh… do the archives have any detailed records of Night Furies?"

Fishlegs made a face that looked somewhere between shocked and horrified, but it went unseen in the dark. "Uh, a bit… but there's really not much… at all… like, apart from the 'unholy-offspring-of-lightning-and-death-itself' bit." He stuttered and Hiccup sagged a bit at the information, or lack thereof.

"Really? There's nothing else?" She turned away from the corner she was peering around to face him. "Ha-has anyone ever caught one napping?" He gave her an indistinguishable look but she missed it, lost in her musing. "O-or snuck up on-"

"No one has ever met one and lived to tell the tale," Fishlegs cut her off, staring at her curiously.

"Well that's not entirely true, I mean Artemus goes up against it almost every raid and-"

"Who?" Both Fishlegs and Hiccup nearly jumped out of their skins, knocking helmets and weapons loudly together in their start. Hiccup whipped around to face the newcomer, holding her tottering helmet on her head just barely. The Foreigner stood in the shadow of the corridor they had just been scouting.

"How did you… where… did you just…Heh?" Hiccup stated eloquently, glancing between the young man and the tunnel she could have sworn was void of life not moments ago. It was impossible to determine his expression with the lack of light but Hiccup thought she felt a smug smirk radiating from the Foreigner. Indignation rising, she hunched her shoulders and glowered as best she could at the intruder. "Don't you know better than to sneak up on people? What if we had attacked you?"

Without missing a beat, he responded coolly, "I had thought you would be able to maintain your focus even if startled to be able to determine friend from foe. Evidently I overestimated your ability." Hiccup just knew his smirk got wider, and his green eyes nearly glowed with amusement. Actually, it looked like they were really glo-

CRASH!

A distant 'AAAAHHH!'

"AAA-" Fishlegs' cry was cut off quickly by Hiccup's hand, and eerie silence fell over the maze again. The larger boy was trembling so badly, Hiccup felt the vibrations all the way up her arm. She shook her head pityingly but couldn't say she fared much better. In other news… the Foreigner had vanished, go figure. Fishlegs noticed this too but his squeak was cut off again by Hiccup.

"Let's just assume that guy's got super powers and focus on our own situation, kay?" She felt him nod beneath her hand and she released him, though didn't give him time to speak. "We are up against an enemy with superior senses and firepower, defense, and maneuverability. The goal is to simply survive, right?" she asked rhetorically. "Yeah, so all's we gotta do is hunker down and be the last ones standing. Oh! I got just the thing! Follow me," she darted back down the hall they had just passed.

Fishlegs followed timidly at first, but quickened his pace when he realized that the girl was leaving him behind. Rounding the corner, he recognized the hall. "Uh-uh, Hiccup? That's a dea-"

"Yeah I know," Hiccup slid to a halt at the dead end and spun around, pulling the large boy behind her and began fiddling with her satchel. "I upgraded the shield. Now it's thrice as powerful and can be… aha! There it is!" She pulled the cylindrical tube out in a triumphant sweep and held it before her. "Look, now we just sit here…yeah like this… and I just do this…" She fiddled with her modified energy shield for a moment. "I made the shield big enough to block the entire tunnel aaaand… OH GODS!" The shield crackled to life in an immense flash of blue light, slicing through the air and several support beams in the walls around them. She hurriedly turned it off, holding her breath and not daring to move as she glanced at the walls hesitantly. "… I think we're o-"

CRACK!

"Oh gods," Hiccup's eyes widened as the crack racing up the wall did. The crack disappeared into the ceiling and she heard it continue up through the upper two levels, splintering supports. There was no ominous pause or deathly silence before the entire maze began to shake and rattle, crumbling bits of wood raining down in a clear warning of the imminent collapse. "Son of a-!" Her colorful string of curses was drowned out by the crash wood against metal and stone and a cloud of dust rolling down the tunnel directly towards them.

The wall directly behind the duo had conveniently collapsed, giving them a clear shot towards a ramp leading to the upper level. Hiccup dragged a dazed and trembling Fishlegs as best she could through the debris, shouting everything she could think of to get the large boy moving on his own. Up the ramp and appearing on the upper edge of the stone pit, Hiccup got a clearer picture of the destruction she had very unintentionally wrought. Half the maze had completely caved in on itself and a majority of the ceilings and floors had fallen in as well, leaving tall freestanding walls… well, not so freestanding as they were all tipping over like massive dominoes.

"Hey look! Astrid!" Fishlegs snapped out of his daze at the sight of the ax-wielding blond currently leaping from one tumbling wall to another. Her path would lead her right to them. Hiccup followed the blond girl's path with a distracted gaze, trying to find the other recruits in the chaos. The twins and Snotlout were easy to find cowering in some rubble above and behind her, Fishlegs was with her, Astrid was almost to their ledge, and the foreigner was undoubtedly slinking about in some shadow like the damn ghost boy he was. So everyone was accounted for then, cool.

"H-h-hiccup!" Fishleg's cry went unheeded as the red-head saw the 'damn ghost boy' scrambling up out of some rubble pursued by a very ornery Nadder. He followed a similar path as Astrid, but was too far behind the collapsing walls to make it to the stone ledge they were on now. He wouldn't make that last jump and would be stuck in the rubble with the Nadder. Astrid, on the other hand, was almost on them, which was where Fishleg's attention was, and the final wall she planned on jumping from was due to fall directly where they stood in less than a second.

Hiccup's mind sped up to unreasonable speeds as she took in the happenings. Moves and actions played through her mind's eye and in the blink of an eye, she acted. She re-activated her shield on its smaller setting and shoved Fishlegs back as hard as she could. It would have to be enough as she didn't have the time or attention to spare if it was otherwise. Astrid had leapt and the wall was following her down. She may have called Hiccup's name, but that too was tuned out as she focused on not slicing the blond in half.

Holding her shield above her and angled to one side, she widened the energy field. The energy cracked the stone as it struck and sliced through the wall above while providing a ramp for the blond to tumble relatively safely down to the ledge. The wall, now sliced in two, fell on either side of Hiccup. One slid down the flat of the shield while the other tipped over the ledge and created another ramp for the ghost boy to scale to safety. And nearly exactly as planned, much to a certain red-head's surprise, the broken wall ramp landed just before ghost boy hit the rubble pile in front of it with the Nadder behind him.

Without missing a beat, he sprinted up the makeshift ramp to Hiccup's side, and just as the Nadder went to follow, Hiccup pivoted her shield above her so the raised edge slammed into the ground in front of the dragon.

Angry shrieks mixed with the crackle of energy in the dust cloud that had erupted where blue lightning flashed faintly. Everyone was still as the dust settled and the shield glowed more brightly, revealing a scene that left nearly everyone speechless in disbelief.

Ghost boy stood slowly from where he had slid to safety beside Hiccup who was heaving breathes. The twins and Snotlout crept out from their hiding place, and Astrid limped slightly over to where Fishlegs was standing a few paces behind the scene. Hiccup held her shield firmly, gazing over the ledge where the Nadder paced behind the cackling blue energy field. Her eyes were wide and her arms shook but a smile slowly made its way across her face. It was so faint that even if she didn't have her back to them, the others would not have been able to see it. But, being right beside her and apparently forgotten, the foreigner saw the relieved and proud smile working its way across that freckled face.

After receiving an equally astounded reaction from Gobber, a half-hearted scolding for destroying the maze, and a hesitant pat on the back for a job somehow well done, the recruits where released for the day. Hiccup trailed back to her workshop in a euphoric daze, the events still feeling a bit surreal, and was aware of neither the green eyes that watched her go nor the smile that mirrored her own surprise and awe.

.:~:.~.:~:.~.:~:.

AN: It is due to the kindly efforts if TenzinGaga for reaching out to me that I have picked up the story once more. I will give you an abridged version of the explanation I gave them: I recently returned from the soul-sucking void that is the higher education system and will be working on quite a few different stories. I am changing my writing methods and will be aiming to complete the entire story before posting anything more the FF.

But to appease the impatient masses, I will vow to post anything I have by the end of summer.

Also, if anyone is interested in the Transformers universe, I hope to have a story or 2 posted by fall as well.

With my most sincere gratitude for your patience and loyalty,

-Faraday