Stylo’s ears perked up at the rustling of wings in the trees. He grabbed his bag and his bow and started to run towards the sound. It was two parts sprint and one part glide with a little bit of flying mixed in between. Wind spun around his body. The pine needles softly pricked at his bare feet. Stylo smiled.
He stopped suddenly at the base of a thick tree. Stepping back, he stared up at the branches and squinted. There were around a dozen birds sitting peacefully in the evergreen. Content and unaware.
Stylo reached behind and grabbed his bag. He felt for an arrow inside and threaded it through the bow. Then he picked up a rock. He threw it into the tree and swiftly picked up his bow. The birds, startled, flew out of the tree, calling and protesting loudly. He pulled back and shot the arrow. It sliced through the air and in between two birds. Stylo took another arrow and shot it. This time, it found its target. The wounded bird plummeted to the ground, lost somewhere in the thicket.
Stylo walked through the forest, searching the ground for the bird. He reached a clearing and spotted it–hanging limp in a man’s hand.
Stylo sighed and shoved his hands in his pocket. “Hello, Riider.”
The man strolled toward Stylo. “Don’t tell me you did all that work for one puny bird. You couldn’t have found something larger to hunt, could you?”
Stylo tried to grab the dead bird, but Riider moved it to his other hand.
“Acher put you in charge of hunting,” he continued. “And you come back with this.” The man lifted the bloody bird.
“Acher could have given me hunting duty, but he wanted to give you a chance. What a mistake.” Riider was inches from Stylo’s face, his hot breath sticking to his breath. “Face it, Stylo. You’re no match for me.”
Stylo smiled slightly and spun around. “Now, tell me if I’m wrong, but haven’t you been practicing every day at the range?”
“Getting ready for the Challenges, of course.”
“And I can’t help but notice that in your spare time, you follow me.” Stylo locked eyes with Riider. “I think you’re worried. I am competition, after all.”
“Pathetic competition, might I add,” Riider supplied. His stony expression never wavered.
Stylo ignored him. “It’s time for you to face facts, Riider. I can beat you.”
“Never!” Riider spat. “You can never beat me.”
Stylo scoffed. “Believe what you want, Riider. But the Challenges will determine who’s better.” He turned to look at his rival. “Now, how about my bird?” He held out his hand.
Riider’s face turned dark. He ripped the arrow out of the animal, snapped it in half, and threw the broken arrow on the ground. He handed the bird, now pouring with blood, back to Stylo. “There’s your stupid bird. I’ll see you at the Challenges.” Riider turned and stalked off into the forest.
Stylo stood and listened to the wind. The woods were still. Finally he walked over to a nearby stream and knelt down beside it. He scooped up some cool water and drank.
Riider thought he knew everything, but he was wrong. If only he knew what Stylo knew…
* * *