Stylo tore off a piece of meat with his teeth. The bird was delicious. He sat back and breathed in the warmth of the crackling fire.
Someone walked over and joined him in the light of the campfire. Stylo looked up.
“Hey, Syth,” he said.
Syth acknowledged him and put his hands closer to the fire.
“What have you been up to?” Stylo didn’t really care for Syth–he didn’t talk much and he rarely smiled–but he did enjoy the company.
“Fighting down at the range,” Syth said quietly.
“Riider.” Syth turned his arm to reveal a nasty gash. “I hope you beat him, Stylo. He has no compassion.”
Stylo smiled. Even if he lost–a microscopic chance–everyone was on his side. Riider’s lack of sympathy gained him no friends.
The two gazed into the fire without speaking. The camp was quite peaceful.
“So,” Syth said out of the quietness. “Why are you here?”
“What do you mean?”
“At the camp. Why’d you join?”
Stylo’s hand automatically went to his right ear, something he did more out of habit that anything else. He felt along his ear, tracing the bumpy scar that travelled from the top to the outer side. He closed his eyes to try to block out the memory that was attached.
“Survival.” Stylo opened his wet eyes to look at Syth. “This promised food and shelter. I had no options.”
Syth nodded, as if he understood. As if anyone could understand Stylo’s past.
“What about you, Syth?” Stylo stood up, shook off the pain, and went to grab some more wood.
“Oh, you know–circumstances,” he said quickly. “Like many of us.” He kept his eyes on the flames.
Stylo glanced at Syth as he threw a log on the fire. He was obviously hiding something. Stylo almost wanted to yell at him, demanding to know his story. He had, after all, told the truth of his past.
Instead, he sat back and grabbed his knife and a straight stick. He began to carve the stick with the blade, replacing the arrow Riider had broken.
“They remind me of freedom,” Syth said after a minute. He was still gazing at the campfire.
“The flames. They dance however they want to dance. No rules. No regulations. They’re almost flying. “
Stylo nodded, even though he didn’t really know what he meant.
“And we’re stuck here.” Syth grabbed a rock and threw it into the fire.
Stylo looked at him.
“Ever notice the fence around the camp? We’re not allowed to leave.” Stylo knew of the fences, but he always believed it was for their protection, to keep others from intruding.
“You know how they said if anyone tried to leave, there would be consequences?” he continued. Stylo nodded, vaguely remembering the long speech given soon after they joined. “The consequence was death, Stylo.”
“What?” Stylo looked up from his carving.
“I tried to run away once. Someone caught me, a fellow friend. He saved my life.”
“Why is it so bad to leave? We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Syth shrugged. Stylo finished the stick and put it back in his bag. He would ask for a new arrowhead later.
After a while Syth left, leaving Stylo staring into the dancing flames, the coals bright and mesmerizing. The sky began to darken.
Stylo was lost in thought. Why did Syth want to leave the camp, anyway? There was nothing wrong with it–a sense of adventure and a home for those without. But what are we even training for? he wondered. All he had been told when he signed up was that it was for the “greater good,” whatever that meant. He sighed. Exhaustion was slowly settling in, and he knew that nothing made sense when he was tired.
Stylo got up, picked up his bag, and left the fire. The coals continued to dance.
* * *