Asha had remained silent during his narrative. As he told the tale, she remembered the bedtime stories her father used to tell her. Stories of the deviless Belladonna and her fall, how the brave dwarf Bornin believed her lies but in the end saw his own folly and sacrificed himself to put an end to her. How the Primary Control Rod was removed from the wreck of the mountain by her people, the Children of Winter, and kept safe until such a time when Belladonna would raise the dragonforged army again.
She also remembered her father speaking of how it had been stolen in a Corvinian raid some fifty years prior. Its location had been lost to the Children of Winter until just recently. That was the mission her father had been sent on. The Corvinians did not know what they had, but the dragonforged did. That was why they attacked Treeside and Riverview. That was why they pursued her throughout the Corvinian countryside. But there was one thing she still did not know, but fortunately, she did not have to ask.
“If the dragonforged were created by the Corvinians,” Abassi inquired. “How is it the Yeonan’s have their use?”
The Yeonan captain snorted. “The Corvinians were so embarrassed by their near mishap that they buried to the truth. After a few generations, they completely forgot the weapon they had at their fingertips. We did not forget.”
“It took many years of searching,” the paladin added. “But our historians discovered the buried location of the dragonforged army. The mountain range is very close to the ocean. We accessed the mountain by a series of sea caves and slowly over time, removed the surviving dragonforged from below the mountain. But the biggest discovery was when our soldiers found the schematics for both the dragonforged, and the Soulforge that created them.”
“And how did you come upon the Primary Control Rod?” Abassi turned his attention back to Asha. She swallowed.
“She doesn’t remember,” interjected Gray, but Asha spoke simultaneously.
“My people recovered it.”
All eyes turned toward her. The mirrored a cross-section of emotions, and most of them matched her own: Frustration, confusion, surprise, joy… and Adalai looked a little hungry.
“Your people?” Gray asked. Asha nodded.
“I come from a druidic sect called the Children of Winter. After the catastrophe at the mountain, we scoured the ruins for the Primary Control Rod, and once we found it, vowed to keep it safe until Belladonna’s return, so that we would have an army with which to stop her.”
“And you’re suddenly remembering this now?” Abassi asked skeptically. Asha nodded again.
“When I tried to escape from Belladonna, she did something to me… I don’t know what, but it felt like she was sucking the life from me…”
The paladin was nodding. “Erinyes devils can spread an unholy blight with a mere thought.”
“Whatever it was,” Asha continued. “It jarred something in my mind. And I’ve been remembering since we left the fortress.”
“So how did you get a hold of the Rod?” Adalai asked. “No offense, but you wouldn’t be my first choice for its protector. Him maybe,” she gestured to the massive hulk that was Miles. Ashe slowed and closed her eyes.
“It’s all still a little fuzzy. I remember that it was stolen about fifty years ago, and it took the Children of Winter this long to locate it again. When we did, the elders sent my father to retrieve it. I went with him. We got to Treeside and we had managed to get the Rod… I don’t think the Corvinians had any idea what they even had, but that was when the dragonforged attacked the city.”
The Yeonan captain’s eyes grew wider and he exchanged a glance with the paladin.
“What?” Gray prompted.
“There were no plans to invade Treeside at the time we were captured,” the captain answered.
Abassi nodded, suddenly understanding their astonishment. “Which means either the Yeonan high command discovered the presence of the Rod…”
“Or the dragonforged sensed its presence and decided they wanted to be masters of their own fate,” Miles finished the thought for him.
“That was… oddly poetic,” Gray said.
“I’m a man of varied talents,” Miles replied with a grin.
“I have a question,” Adalai piped in.
“Yes?” asked Gray.
Adalai looked at the paladin and the Yeonan captain. “I was wondering why you never gave us your names. Also, why, if all that history stuff was supposed to be a secret, did you tell us?”
The captain and the paladin glanced at each other, and then with lightning speed reached for their respective weapons. But not before Abassi, Gray, and Miles, anticipating the treachery, could react. Abassi dove behind a stalagmite in a roll, and came up with crossbow drawn. Gray ducked below the Yeonan captain’s firing arc and came up well within his guard, bringing the warhammer up in a punishing blow to the man’s jaw, and Miles simply brought his huge hammer up and then down, neatly burying the paladin’s head into his ribcage. A single shot from Abassi’s crossbow ended the Yeonan captain once and for all.
Asha stared at the carnage. “How did you know they were going to betray us?”
“They’re Yeonan,” Miles muttered. “Betrayal is in their blood.”
Abassi walked over stiffly and collected the captain’s quarrels. The crossbow itself had been damaged by Gray’s hammer blow. Then he scooped up the paladin’s warhammer.
“It should not have come to this,” he growled at the dead man.
“It will always come to this,” Adalai said softly. “That’s why we’ve been at war for twelve hundred years.”
To be continued…