"Are you so certain it will be war?" asked Sherralitha.
Ruin shrugged. "Has our history ever suggested otherwise?"
"But it came so close." Sherra leaned forward, intent on convincing him. "We had the treaties. They still remember them. And they do revere Saint Margery."
"That didn't stop them from betraying us. And this new king is selfish and vain. We aren't like him, and so he doesn't see us as people. And the human lords listen when he claims that the treaties are forgeries. Or they pretend to believe him for their own gain."
"The humans live in peace with Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes," Sherra said. "They could learn to do the same with us."
"They could," Ruin acknowledged slowly, "but not until we hurt them, not until we teach them that it costs too much to attack us. The Dwarves hold their power below the surface, in the places of stone. Halflings and gnomes keep to themselves, live in small bands at the mercy of the humans. The humans offer them peace because they accept human control, or avoid human notice. Neither of those are options for us."
Sherra sighed. "I only wish I knew how much of this is what you see, and how much is because of what happened to your sister."
Ruin looked away, then looked back at her. "I'm not sure you can separate the two."
"So your answer to the humans is violence and rage?"
"I don't see any other way to answer their violence," Ruin said quietly, "but I don't think rage will be enough. As you said, O my cousin: we can't kill all of them."
Ruin shook his head. "I don't have any good answers. Expect violence. Expect betrayal. Be ready to answer in kind for as long as we must. Watch for opportunities to convince the humans that acknowledging our king and our rights is the better course. Protect our people and teach them to protect themselves. Beyond that... I don't know." He looked away. "Maybe I'm wrong, and the negotiations will succeed, and the humans will concede some part of what they owe in exchange for peace."
Sherra sighed. "I don't think you're wrong."
Ruin snorted. "I'd like to be."