Epilogue: Introspection

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Once fire began dropping from the heavens, the battle was quickly over. Rank after rank shattered and broken Primiad soldiers began fleeing the battlefield by the hundreds, then thousands. In the space of less than an hour it was finished, the field before the fortress's front gates thickly strewn with the bodies of the fallen.

Kelly could still see in his mind's eye the screaming primiad soldiers as they desperately ran from the battle, many of them on fire. As an elite soldier, he had witnessed a great many horrors, both in this age and far in the distant past. Few were as terrible as what he saw that day.

Then he was giving his head a shake to focus on what was going on in the here and now, some five days after the final battle's fiery conclusion.

Assembled in the alliance fortess' war room were the surviving leaders of the human and fisted nations of Noranda. There, standing side by side and speaking in low voices were Kala Uthon, master of the Order of Grim and Lord Astinar Blacklock, the Lupus leader. Across from them were the handful of surviving Black Princes of the Tigris, talking to General Thompson and members of her command staff. Nearby the remaining members of the Protectorate's guiding council talked with the Ryon king, with Empress Kala of the Kanid standing close and listening intently to their conversation. And finally there was Captain Brax, representing the Ursa federations, in deep conversation with members of Gideon's Conclave.

The topics in those discussions and conversations varied. But they all revolved around two central themes: peace in Noranda and what to do about the continuing Primiad presence in the southern part of the continent.

Kelly frowned as he thought about both issues. Especially in regards to the elves. Thompson and her soldiers had carved out a significant homeland for the displaced super soldiers. If they wanted to, they could consolidate and make use of the resources they had to build a true elven nation.

But the elves were created for war, not peace. It was all they had known, all they knew how to do. It would be nearly impossible for them to lay down their weapons now and become farmers and tradesmen, builders and explorers. Even as his eyes returned to Thompson and the Princes, he could see that their discussion was becoming quite animated, with not a few on either said resting their hands on their weapons as they stared hotly at each other.

At least two former enemies seemed to be getting along, as Uthon and Blacklock appeared to be comparing notes in a most friendly manner. It certainly helped their cause that the two had fought side by side during the siege of the alliance fortress. The discussions between the Conclave and the Ursa was significantly more business-like, as was the conversation involving the Ryon monarch, the Protectorate council members and Empress Kata. He could only hope their discussions would bear more positive fruit.

"Somewhat difficult to be standing on the outside and looking in after all you've done to make this moment possible," a quiet voice dryly commented.

Kelly hazarded a quick look at its owner, who stayed mostly hidden in the shadows gathering in one of the large chamber's corners.

"An understatement that I'm sure you're used to, my friend," he replied in passable Gideonite. A soft chuckle was his answer.

"You know my only concern is the mission, captain," the voice added. "Let the politicians stand in the limelight. I do my best work in the shadows."

Kelly smiled knowingly at that, as it was the honest truth. Then a thought occurred to him.

"Considering that you're supposed to be dead to negate the Conclave's judgement against you." He looked over his shoulder at the shadows.

"What's the Next mission going to be, van Joss?"

Cloaked as always in non-descript colors, the lean operative eased into the hall's flickering torch light just enough that Kelly could see his face now that he'd been named. A faint smile touched his pale, bruised face, his movements careful since crawling out of a Order of the Grim infirmary this morning.

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