Tracking (Not What She Expected XXI)
Kestyn silently followed the men. There was no longer anything that he could say about Xev. The man was confusing. While he seemed unconcerned about his men’s lives, the man also refused to abandon any of them when they were in need. Kestyn still couldn’t figure it out. Why did Xev order the men to engage the creature? Why did you stay behind to fight,, when when and his men could’ve easily snuck past, unnoticed? Why did he waste time to save the guy that showed the most vocal resistance to his leadership, when his sister’s chance of survival dwindled with each passing minute?
What did the man have to gain? He already had the group’s respect and loyalty. Even if he wanted to ensure that they didn’t suddenly have a change of heart, Kestyn had no doubt that a simple excuse… a reasonable explanation would be enough to placate the men, especially as they had been fighting alongside the man for years. Reaching into his pocket, Xev pulled out the amulet and held it out on his palm. Furthermore, if he wanted to satisfy the rest of his men, why did the man quietly give him the amulet and grant him the ability to leave at any point in time?
Everything that the man did just made everything more confusing. If Xev had really stayed behind out of concern over the well-being of his men, then why would he continue to lead them on a trek to their deaths? There was simply no chance that the man’s sister was still alive. Still, despite his doubts, Kestyn tucked the amulet away, and continued following the man.
Although Kestyn had been aware of Xev’s reputation for combat prowess, he hadn’t fully believed the rumors before witnessing the man’s skill for himself. Their first encounter with the worms was almost a week ago, and Kestyn could still see the speed and strength of Xev’s blade flashing before him. Furthermore, with the encounters only getting even more common, he was beginning to see the man’s other strengths. Not only was he able to deliver critical blows, his strategies were also exceedingly exceptional. Furthermore, there was just so much fluidity in the way that the group worked together, with Xev issuing silent instructions, and the way that everyone was simply able to tacitly understand and carry them out, and way that every man was able to handle themselves well-enough for the group to act as a single unit. These men, they were not only well-trained, but also shared a complete trust with one another.
Even with his personal skill with the blade, Kestyn would’ve undoubtedly died if not for Xev and his team’s presence. He couldn’t imagine dealing with a creature like that without a supreme tiered swordsman nearby, not to mention surviving multiple encounter with limited or no prior experience in dealing with one. Worse, if he’d properly interpreted the man’s concerns and if Xev’s emotions were to be believed, the petrifying worms no longer needed to bite to infect. If infection could be spread simply with the slightest physical contact, he couldn’t see how Xev could still hold onto the hope of his sister’s survival.
While Xev did mention, at some point, that his sister had some skill and training with the sword, it didn’t sound like her boyfriend could fend for himself at all. With only an inexperienced non-supreme tier swordsman in their duo, he just couldn’t see how Xev could continue to hold onto hope. Sure, it was true that they hadn’t yet encountered any human corpses. That meant that either she was still alive, or Xev had overestimated his tracking ability. However, given the man’s apparent reputation and proven skill in swordsman ship, Kestyn was inclined to believe that it was the former over the latter. But even so, just because she had survived up till this point, didn’t mean that she was still alive. Shaking his head, he paused beside the rest of the men, as Xev kneeled to inspect something.
Despite it all, there was one thing that was certain. Xev was confident in his own ability to find his sister. Apparently, the man had a history as a tracker, specifically, a tracker that was specialized in magical traces. Everyone knew that each and every spell left behind a signature, a trail that could be followed. Crossing his arms, Kestyn focused on Xev and let out a sigh. Judging from his apparent lack of concern, Kestyn could tell that Xev had found more magical residue. Though Xev was dedicated, it didn’t mean anything if the man’s sister continued being a fool. If the girl continued to traverse the forest relying on her warlock boyfriend, she was sure to die before her brother could catch up to her.
While a warlock could potentially fight with their magic, not many would survive in a place where swords spoke the loudest. The very nature of petrification worms meant that they were hard to kill with anything but the sharpest edge, slicing from the correct angles with the correct amount of force. A spell with such precision wasn’t something that every warlock could conjure at all, not to mention attempt to do so under the heat of battle. Being hundreds of times more difficult, there was probably only a handful of warlocks actually capable of completing such a feat. Furthermore, given that most of such warlocks were old men that weren’t super adventurous, he couldn’t imagine the girl’s boyfriend even being the slightest threat to the weakest petrification worm.
Kestyn shook his head as Xev stood, clearly having determined the pair’s direction. It was honestly nothing short of a miracle that girl managed to have come so far. With the number of creatures that their group had stumbled into, the girl had to be extremely lucky. Either that or the warlock with her was already long dead and their target had long since changed to someone or something else. Either way, things were only going to get more dangerous for their group as they progressed, yet Xev showed no intention of stopping this ludicrous journey.
He cursed at himself under his breath. Why did he follow the cursed man into the forest anyway? And why didn’t he leave when he had the chance? At this point, turning around could place his life in danger. He wasn’t familiar enough with the creatures to believe that he could survive an engagement with even one of the weaker ones, not to mention the normal predatory animals that also lurked the place.
The past few days have proven to him that his training meant almost nothing in face of real enemies. There were too many factors of normal combat that training in an average training room couldn’t replicate. For the first time in his life, he understood the significance of experience. Without experience, he was rendered practically useless in front of these enemies.
He let out a sigh. There was no use thinking about it now. What’s done is done. As dangerous and preposterous as Xev’s goal was, following him greatly increased the odds that he would survive this expedition. A goal that, at this point, was more important than anything else. He glanced at the man that led the group, the man that he couldn’t understand. Perhaps, things wouldn’t be too bad. None of the men in the group held any grudges against him for wanting to abandon their party. Not even Xev.
A roar, echoed nearby. He lifted his sword, readying himself for battle. This was no longer the first time that he was dealing with these types of creatures, and it would not be his last. Not if he wanted to achieve his dreams one day. Perhaps, this trip with Xev would be the best preparation for something like that. Perhaps, of all things, this was the sort of push that he needed.