She clenched her fist, ignoring the rope digging into her wrists. Xev would’ve never let her escape. She should’ve known. Her brother had always been firm with his decisions. With the way that she’d previously abandoned him to join Sylin on his quest, she shouldn’t have been surprised by his lack of trust. If anything, she’d probably deserved his extra precautions.
With the number of men that her brother had walking around her, any potential escape routes were immediately closed off. Worse, with her brother walking ahead of everyone, any hope of making another attempt at negotiating with him were immediately smothered. Her brother wasn’t going to give her an opportunity to speak with him again. He wasn’t going to give her a chance to choose again.
As they walked, she found herself glancing back in the direction where the tree disappeared under the horizon. A tree that she’d once been prepared to raid. A raid that she’d never took part in. Even while out of sight, she couldn’t help but stare in the general direction where it vanished. A destination that she’d once shared with Sylin, but shared no longer.
She closed her eyes, holding back tears. This time, regardless of how she put it, she was abandoning a friend. She was leaving behind a precious person in her life to save her own. Would he understand? She thought back to the pained expression that once decorated his face. Would he believe that she chose her brother over him, yet again?
She forced herself to take deep breaths, before a jolting force shoved her forward. Lost in her thoughts, she’d inadvertently slowed down her pace.
“Hurry up, will you?” One of her brother’s men said with a scowl. An unfamiliar face. She’d been gradually introduced to her brother’s troops over the years. This man, he was new. And like her, he didn’t seem happy about having to travel with the group. Strange. Her brother wasn’t the type to compel someone to join any of his missions. As far as she knew, Xev had always taken volunteers, regardless of whether they were assigned to his group. Perhaps that was one of the perks of his rank.
Though she’d continued to observe him, the annoyed man didn’t give her any more attention. As they continued to move along, she let out a sigh and turned away. Perhaps he was someone sent from her brother’s superiors to supervise this expedition. Suddenly, it occurred to her that her brother was probably also paying a price for coming to find her. The fact that he had brought his men with him indicated that he’d already reported back to the camp. The others were already aware of his waking and his health status. That meant he’d already returned to his post. Was he deserting for her?
Regardless of her brother’s standing in the military, she couldn’t see the government being willing to let so many men come into the forest without another assignment. At least, not when so many of these men were long-time veterans. Suddenly, she didn’t know how to feel. By leaving with them, she was permanently leaving Sylin behind, but by abandoning her brother, she would also be permanently leaving his entire group behind. Finally, she could understand the other soldier’s annoyance. Whether he was new or not, in his eyes, she was probably the most ungrateful and foolish sister ever. In his eyes, she probably wasn’t worth her brother’s sacrifice.
But perhaps, she really wasn’t. It had taken her this long to realize what her brother had done. How could she say that she was worthy to be considered his sister? But by following them, she would also be abandoning a friend that had followed her and sacrificed many times for her sake over the years. A friend that stood by her side, regardless of the sun or the rain. She raised her bound wrists to her face, and pressed the back of her thumbs against the her forehead. What should she do? If she could choose again, what would she do?
Could she really choose one over the other, knowing how much each of them planned to sacrifice for her sake? Could she really choose one over the other, knowing that leaving any of them behind was equivalent to sentencing that party to death? They were both so important to her. Her best friends. Her family. And her brother had all of those men. Men that could’ve chosen to be left out of this entire situation… How could she sentence her brother’s loyal followers to death, simply because that they were loyal?
Thunk! Lost in her thoughts again, she hadn’t realized that the man before her had stopped. She’d walked right into his pack. Straightening, she quickly assessed her surroundings. The men. Each of them had stopped. Weren’t they all in a hurry to leave the forest not so long ago? Why did they all stop?
Leaning to get a better look, she found that it wasn’t just the men. Her brother had stopped too. His hand was raised in a gesture, clearly telling the men behind him to halt. What had happened? She strained to see further ahead, but all she could see was her brother carefully observing the surroundings. Beyond him, was a shaded darkness beyond her abilities to discern.