No more questions. Get out of here, quick, or you'll have to think on that last. The elite cadre of heroes waiting to be the hope of the human world during the next crisis was recruited by who? No Jackie. Bad idea Jackie. Don't ask, Jackie. "Why do you trust them so much?"
She paused. Was she waiting to give me a chance to withdraw the question? Was she giving me time to prepare myself for the answer? What was her third reason for sitting still, breathing, and saying nothing? "As I ended my time as a human changeling, the Earth's ecology was being threatened by several groups of industrial pollutants, each set threatening a different disaster. Both major political systems were verging on collapse. The 'minor' nations were starting to get nuclear weapons, including military dictatorships and fundamentalist religious states. The humans cannot be allowed to dominate the planet. The elves are required to force them to maintain the ecology. The trolls bleed off inter-human hostilities by giving the humans an outside threat to unite against.
"If the Trolls dominated the planet, they would destroy the only thing that gives them a good time, which is enemies. They'd have to war on each other. Ugly place, that world. If the elves convinced themselves it would be elegant and beautiful to rid the planet of ugly sentients, they would eventually breed themselves to their limit. With fertility reduced, they'd stagnate and rot. It would take many millennia, but they need the ugly races. Don't laugh at this threat too much. While the elves seem less aggressive than the humans or trolls, if they decided to make the Earth a more beautiful place by eliminating the other sentient races, they might be able to hurt one race really bad before the other two had time to get their act together for a response.
"The dragons find trolls crunchy and meaty. They believe elves make elegant and beautiful things, among the most worthy of gifts. They find humans to be endlessly diverting toys. Dragons have a population limit enforced by turf fights, which stimulates and challenges them rather than causing stagnation. I don't entirely forget the smaller but still potent groups like the Sidhe, Olympians and Amerind spirit people. Still, alone among the four populous races spread widely about the globe, a dominance by dragons would not bring disaster to the other races. If there is one safe race among the four currently in balance, it is to the dragons I have to lean.
"Finally, four is a minimum number. One race, excepting the dragons, is disaster. If there are two races, one will eventually dominate the other. Three races, and two will gang up on one. Soon there will be two. Four races is stable. Barely. I hope. My major task, inherited from the Dark Lord, is to make sure at least four races vie for power at all times. Imyr would find the world less interesting if I failed, though he gives the impression of confidence that the one dominant race in the end would be his. Naturally, he would give that impression, whether the confidence is real or pretense."
"They say you come not to bring victory, but only to block defeat?"
"True enough. Oh, I'd like to help the humans. I'd like to help the elves and the dragons too. I'd even help the trolls, given the chance. I've certainly prepared interesting enemies for them, which is what they want, much though King Gorumthar denies it. He thinks he wants victory."
"You can hold it at four?"
"I think so. The dragons and elves know the wisdom of four, and are unlikely to start an elimination. The dragons and humans are too splintered to start anything. Everybody is conditioned to stomp on trolls, so Gorumthar will have trouble getting going. While I expect the unexpected, the largest known trouble is stagnation. When nobody believes they can win anymore, the Trolls will get frustrated, the humans complacent, the elves will fade into artistic daydreams, and the dragons will get bored. We've even got a solution for that one, though."
"Do I want to know?"
"I doubt it."
"You're going to tell me anyway?"
A clever smile crossed her face. "I get to retire. The Dark Lord comes back, and shakes things up again."
"I thought he was dead!"
"Lots of people think he's dead. Even more hope he is dead. There are very few who really understand the Dark Lord, and I love them all dearly."
"You're going to defend the Dark Lord now?"
"I really shouldn't bother. Let's just say that I might be able to hold his scheme together. I doubt I have the strength of will to do what will have to be done if it breaks." She shuddered. I thought of World War III, and shuddered too. She smiled, sadly, and continued. "Forget it. You'll likely never see the real Dardan, anyway. His public persona is pure asshole. Even I want to kick him when he gets into his act, and I should know better by now."
"Just what is his act?"
She got a little pensive. "Jackie?"
"I only brought the one lunch. Are you going to try to starve me to death?"
I tried to laugh. "Have I just managed to defeat Talora Elafayin in a talking duel?"
She succeeded in laughing a little better than I. "I will concede you the honor. I'll claim the right to a rematch, if you press your claim too widely. I do have a reputation to maintain! More importantly just now, it may not be entirely polite to keep a dragon waiting."
Does she always have to be right? We exchanged hugs, and I went back to prep the horse. In spite of my 'victory', she did manage to get in the last word. "Luck!"