The rising sun blinded Stylo when he opened his eyes the next morning. He glanced around at the other beds. All were occupied, all were asleep. Closing his eyes again, he yawned, rolled over, and mashed his face into his pillow. He breathed in, debating whether to get up.
Finally Stylo stumbled out of bed, silent, and got dressed. He could hear someone starting to wake up. Stylo grabbed his trusty bow, quiver of arrows, and bag. He headed out the door.
Stylo loved the early morning. There was just something about the calming atmosphere, the cool quietness that couldn’t be understood.
The camp was silent. He liked it that way. And Stylo tried to keep it that way.
The largest difference between him and Riider was the way they fought. Stylo fought clenching his teeth and fighting in swift silence. Riider yelled in loud determination with heavy blows. Stylo was a ballerina and Riider was a football player.
The morning air seemed to agree with Stylo. It made his concentration easier, with the ability to fight without the excess noise trembling in his mind. Acher had told him that fighting was half physical and half mental. That was true. Without other people shouting around him, he could focus on what mattered– victory.
“One, two, four, go,” he said under his breath. He gripped his bow, spun his quiver onto his back, and seized an arrow. He aimed, winked his eyes one at a time, and took a breath. He let go of the string. It sailed straight into the center of the target, and Stylo smiled.
Suddenly his world became the target in front of him, and the only resources he had were his bow and quiver. The silence was bold. His focus didn’t waver. He grabbed arrow after arrow until there were none left. Then he ripped them out of the target and did it again.
By the time Stylo was tired of archery, the camp was alive. People were milling around, talking and eating and practicing skills. Stylo spotted Syth eating breakfast alone and Riider bragging to someone about his sword-fighting.
“Hey, Stylo!” Jaya, one of the few girls at the camp, ran up to him. “How’s it going?”
“Pretty good. I think I’m ready for the Challenges.”
Jaya laughed. It was a soft, pretty laugh. “You think you’re ready? Stylo, these Challenges were designed for you.”
“And Riider.” He didn’t like to admit it, but it was true. Sure, everyone participated in the Challenges, but it was actually just an event to determine the better fighter–him or Riider. They were practically even, too. Some years Stylo won, and other years Riider won.
“Do you think I’ll win the Agility part of it?” Jaya asked. “Well, I guess second place, ’cause you’ll obviously get first.”
He grinned. “Of course you’ll do well! And the gold medals aren’t set in stone, you know. There was that time when I couldn’t hit the target for the life or me, and last year when Riider almost sprained his ankle.”
“That’s true.” She looked over and saw a friend waving at her. She smiled at Stylo. “I should go. Nice talk.”
Stylo continued on. It was funny, really. Most years he would gladly let Jaya win Agility, just to be kind. But lately, the rivalry between him and Riider was strong, and Stylo didn’t want to risk losing.
There was another part to it, however. This year, he knew something the others didn’t, not even Riider. This time, he had the advantage.
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