Sh'ra opened her eyes. Had she slept? She wasn't sure. She had closed and opened her eyes several times. She knew she should have slept, but how was she supposed to do that before the most important day of her life? This day would determine everything, the entire course of her future.
She had not been perfect in the trials so far, but she had done enough. That had always been her goal: make it to the final trial. And now, she was here. Her mind raced with the possibilities.
She sat up, crossing her legs. The wind stung her skin as it whipped past her. Her arms and legs ached from the previous day. She breathed deep, closing her eyes to thank the goddess. She sought to still her mind by concentrating on her toes, then her calves. Up to her chest, then down her arms to her fingertips. Her body was exhausted, but brimming with energy. She had stinging cuts on her hands. Her right shin was scraped, but had ceased bleeding. The climb yesterday had been brutal. She had pushed herself hard, but she hoped not too hard. She had destroyed them, scaling the entire rock face in a single day. She smiled. The others had been forced to camp on the wall as the light faded. Climbing in the dark was beyond a death wish. The goddess did not protect the foolish from their deserved fate.
A sudden, irrational fear that she had overslept shot through her. She opened her eyes briefly and released her breath, relieved. It was still pitch black. As quickly as it had come, the tension eased out of her. No one would have begun climbing yet. Still, she had no time to waste. She stood, rolled her blanket and packed it away. She checked her campsite, making sure the small fire she had lit was completely put out. It would be her luck to win the competition, but burn down the entire sacred forest in the process.
Everything was in its place. She stretched her arms and legs, pulled on her pack, and walked for the drop site. As the first contender to arrive, she would get first pick of the supplies waiting there. Specifically, a bow and arrows. There would be only one of those. All her work yesterday and up to this point, was to ensure she was the one to claim them. She let herself smile again. The breeze slowed as she moved further from the cliff face. As the first rays of the sun crept skyward, she quickened her pace to a slow jog. It would be a few more hours still before it was high enough for the climbers to safely continue.
Sh'ra was not the fastest runner. She would have had no chance to get to the bow first in a foot race. Almost any one of the boys would quickly outpace her. But in the climb, she held the advantage. The extra weight of the boys slowed them. She was not the scrawny girl of her youth, but she remained lighter than any of them, with limbs grown whip strong through years of training.
There was the clearing, a hundred paces ahead. Stopping, she scanned the ground for trip wires glinting in the dawn rays. Her heart raced beyond the exertion of the run. No wires reflected the light. She stood again, then immediately dropped to one knee, pulling her belt knife. Something crashed through the forest to her left.
The impossibility of it froze her longer than it should have. She knew who it was even before she saw him - Shin. Her thoughts sprang in a thousand directions, heedless of her attempts to rein them in. How had he made it up? The wall remained in darkness until at least an hour after sunrise, the mountain blocking the light. Had he continued in the dark? Unless, he had... was all she could think before he burst through the trees. The undergrowth slowed him, but not much. He did not stop. He did not check for traps. It was reckless, but it was a calculated risk for him. Getting to that bow before she did was his best chance to slow her down. She ran.
He was faster, but he was on uneven ground, blocked by fallen trees and wiry vines. She was on the trail. Until they reached the flat ground of the clearing, she still had a chance.
She darted glances toward him as they ran. This was foolishness of course. The trail was flat, but any errant stone could break an ankle. She couldn't help herself. He was breathtaking. Even with his face pouring sweat and blood seeping from a hundred small cuts. He looked back at her, flashing his wide, goofy grin. It made her stomach swim, but she was not going to let him beat her. A few more strides and she would be in the clear. She was going to make it.
Her left foot hit the wire. She almost caught herself, but only succeeded in falling hard on her right shoulder instead of flat on her face. She raised herself up onto her hands in time to see Shin reach the cache of supplies. He looked back at her as he raised the bow above his head, but not in victory. The anguish in his eyes filled her with dread.
Holding one end, he swung the unstrung bow down hard against a sharp rock to his left. It rebounded off the stone, apparently unharmed. She was on her feet. He brought it down again, splintering the wood. And again, breaking the bow in two.