“What then?” Miles sat back. The dwarf had given him a huge keg of homebrewed ale, which he was clearly enjoying as much of as he could.
“Who were you talking to?” Asha asked Adalai. Adalai blinked.
“Just now? The ants. I was telling them they were not welcome here and they should go away before I magic missile them into oblivion.”
“I think she meant when you asked for divine intervention,” Gray said with a laugh.
“Oh, your grandfather,” Adalai explained. “That scrying bowl is a powerful thing. Lasted a lot longer than I had anticipated. I took a shot that he was still watching and could maybe possibly do something.”
“He’s not my grandfather and for the last time, not all halflings are related!” Asha insisted. The Miles and Gray both guffawed at this, but Adalai waved a dismissive hand.
“Rubbish,” she replied.
“What else, Asha?” Gray prompted, wanting to leave this subject before it blew up into an entire argument. Asha took a deep breath.
“Why did Abassi sacrifice himself like that?” she asked, tears springing to her eyes. “Why didn’t he just take the Rod do it himself?”
They all paused. This was the question Miles and Gray were dreading.
“Tactics,” Miles said gently. “He wanted to draw Belladonna out so if it came down to it, you’d know where the shot would be coming from.”
That, thought Gray, and he didn’t want to be responsible for the potential genocide of an entire race.
“How did he know Belladonna was there though?” Asha pressed.
“He didn’t,” Miles answered. “But as we’ve discussed, Belladonna probably put something in the dragonforged makeup to make them on some level loyal to her. Even without the Primary Control Rod, they would have followed her. That was what he was banking on, and he was right.”
Asha seemed to process this slowly. Then she nodded. “Okay,” she said, breathing shakily. “Last question. Did that destroy all the dragonforged? I mean… even the ones that weren’t there?”
There was a long pause before anyone answered.
“I don’t know,” Gray said, truthfully. “We may never know. It is safe to say that most of the dragonforged in country were there at that location, judging by the numbers Adalai was talking about.”
“But there were more than a few in the Yeonan capitol,” Miles said. “Who knows? But if they did, we still have the Rod.”
“About that,” said the elderly halfling as he entered the ring of tress that surrounded them. “It is my feeling, and the other elders agree, that the Rod must be destroyed. If any dragonforged remain, this will give them the freedom to choose their own fate.”
Miles seemed about to protest, but then shrugged and took a long swig of his drink.
Asha reached into her pack and removed the Primary Control Rod, giving it to the liver-spotted hands of the elderly halfling. He smiled kindly and moved away.
“So now what?” asked Adalai.
There was another pause.
“There’s still a war to be fought,” said Miles. “I figure I’ll head to the Corvinian capitol, see if they need another fighting hand.”
“I will remain here,” Asha said quietly. “Continue my studies to become a full member of the Children of Winter. I have much to learn… and much to atone for.”
“So wait, that’s it?” Adalai asked. “We just… go our separate ways?”
“Looks like,” Miles said. “Not saying that the mortal peril wasn’t fun and all, but all good things and that….” He grinned widely.
Adalai turned to Gray, who had yet to speak, her eyes beseeching. Gray sighed.
“I’d like to say that I’ve lost my taste for war,” she said softly. “But I haven’t. It’s what I’m good at. Perhaps that is the trouble. We are two nations who are so good at killing each other that we just… accept it. That’s the way things are. This war, apparently, started out as a war of ascension, but now we’re just fighting because that’s all we know how to do. In one thousand two hundred and seven years, we’ve become so hardened to the reality of warfare that we do it out of… out of habit. And that,” she breathed in. “That is just wrong. So I think… rather than simply fighting a war that no one can win, I am going to find a way… to end it. To end the war. It isn’t going to be easy. I may never succeed, but perhaps I’ll inspire someone else to try. And they will inspire some else, and so on and so forth until one day both countries wake up and realize what took me most of my life to figure out: War is pointless.”
“And I’ll come with!” Adalai announced. Miles laughed and raised his glass.
“And I, cat-person!”
Asha looked to the ground. “And perhaps… one day, when I am ready… I could join you?”
Gray laughed. “Of course.”
Asha glanced up and met Gray’s eyes. “I’m ready now!”
The group laughed. They laughed long and they laughed hard. And for the first and last time in a very long time, it was good.