This final page really spells out what was going on with Aerden (the master) this whole time. My basic take for this whole story was that "May We Die In The Forest" wasn't just a motto, it was a god-damned commandment. This is the lesson that boys must learn -- not just that sometimes you go into the forest and don't come out, but that sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Obviously this is a pretty fucked up way of living and I imagined that this very thought had been weighing on Aerden's mind for some time. When he saw the boys fighting as bravely and valiently as they did in page 4 (at at time when many men would have just thrown in the towel) he decided that it was time for a change and jumped into the fight.
It was this act that made the elders angry and has apparently set in motion what will be a problematic time for the entire Lookouts community. Aerden's act is what Philip K. Dick calls "a quiet refusal" in his speech "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later." There's one paragraph in particular from this speech that really blew me away:
The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.For me, that seemed to really sum up the Lookouts universe. It's a universe in which childhood is extremely fleeting and a result looses the authenticity that comes with it. There's something about the innocence of a child that says, "yeah, I can kick a basilisk's ass". When Aerden saw that, it brought out in him another childish/innocent/authentic sentiment -- "even if it's for the 'greater good', leading boys out into a forest to be devoured by monsters is just plain wrong."
So in a way, this story wasn't so much about the coming of age for these boys, but the return to childhood for Aerden. At one point his final line was something horribly cheesy like "Then let us prepare for war!" but I dropped it instead for the "I have seen far more bravery from boys of late." Basically Aerden believes, like the Lookouts, "yeah, I can kick a basilisk's ass." In fact he believes he can kick the whole forest's ass if others join in his way of thinking.
So there you have it, that's my view into the universe of Lookouts. Hopefully it won't fall apart in two days time. Thanks for reading.