He kicked the fallen leaves in his path as he walked. He couldn’t believe that man. One of the country’s indispensable talents? An invaluable member of human society? One of the best generals of the country? What a joke. What kind of general leads his men to die? What kind of leader acts without consideration of his followers?
Had their country fallen so far? To have to depend on the likes of him? What kind of future awaited a country that had no better alternative than rely on selfish men? He shook his head. Disappointed.
But surely, the other men would now understand the kind of man they chose to follow. No sane man would continue following a leader that didn’t think for them. Perhaps he was an admirable figure in the past. Perhaps he was worth following in the old days, but those days were no more. With an attitude like that and an unwillingness to listen to the men around him, the men that were supposed to follow him, Kestyn suspected that either Xev had always been this way or the petrification caused him to suffer some sort of brain damage that affected his decision-making ability.
He paused, waiting for someone, one of the men in the group, to catch up with him. Certainly, he wasn’t the only one considering desertion. Though deserting came with a steep cost, It was definitely better then paying one’s life for such a pointless purpose. An unappreciated one at that. He snorted, as he looked back. Surely, the other men couldn’t be that dumb…
After a wait that seemed like forever, he started back toward the place where the group rested. Stopping behind a tree, and taking a peek, he found himself gaping in shock and confusion. The men were relaxing by the fire. They were sitting, eating with no apparent intentions of leaving, and they were laughing! Didn’t several of them silently agree with him moments ago? What happened?
His eyes searched the scene, before falling on Xev’s unabashed smile. That man really had no shame in leading his men to their deaths did he? And these men were surprisingly stupid enough to follow through with it. He turned to leave, before a voice called out to him.
“Kestyn!” The voice called in a jovial tone. Was the man really elated at the prospect of being led to his death? “You joining us?”
He shook his head without turning, and continued walking. Unexpectedly, he received a clap on the back.
“You’re not deserting.” The man said, now beside him. “ Xev gave anyone that wanted to leave, freedom to leave as they wished. He even instructed us to take some of his rations directly from his pack, and share them with you if we could find you and you still wanted to leave.”
“Why?” He asked, suspicious.
“Old veterans like us need to take care of the newbies.” The man answered. “Xev was always like that.”
“But he’s trying to lead the lot of you to your deaths all for a futile task that has nothing to do with the country!” He exclaimed. Were the other men fed some kind of poison, potion, or drug that kept them in line?
“If he was, then he’d be going to that death himself, wouldn’t he?” The man calmly inquired. Without waiting for a response, he continued. “People aren’t perfect. Everyone has emotions. Each and every person has their moments of strength and their moments of vulnerability. Xev is no exception. To be honest, I’d rather follow someone that demonstrates himself capable of emotion, a man that clearly values those close to him, than a man that makes all his decisions by logic.”
“Even if he’s dragging all of you down an entirely pointless path?” Kestyn asked, hearing his voice increase in volume as he spoke. “By the time you get to her, assuming you can even find her, nothing would be left but a rotting corpse! No, not even that… with even the best luck, you’d likely finding nothing but a set of bones! Would you really be willing to sacrifice your life for a chance of finding bones?”
“Yes.” The other soldier answered without hesitation.
“Why?” Kestyn demanded, reeling. It didn’t make any sense.
“I hope you’ll never come to personally experience it. Sometimes, all you can do is hope and pray that you’d make a difference, that because of your interference, things don’t reach the worst case scenario.” The man said, looking into the sky as he spoke, as if trying to hold back tears. Then collecting himself, he returned his attention to Kestyn. “Sometimes having a little bit of faith is necessary to keep you going. I’ll go get the packs.”
Kestyn watched in confused silence, as the bearded man disappeared back into the crowd of men. Within moments, the man returned with two packs. One he recognized as his own, and the other that unquestionably belonged to Xev.
“Xev said you’re free to take anything you want from his pack.” The man said, before turning back in the direction of the crowd. “Give me a holler when you’re done.”
“Wait!” Kestyn shouted.
“Yes?” The burly man asked, turning.
“What’s your name?” He inquired.
“You see that’s one difference you have from Xev. He always made a point to remember everyone’s name, whether they were new or otherwise.” The man answered. “Name’s Albirtos.”
With that, the man turned and walked back towards the rest of the men, who seemed happily gathered around a fire seemingly in celebration, leaving Kestyn alone in the darkness of the forest’s shaded canopy staring at the two packs sitting before him and too many unanswered questions swirling in his head.