The Dwarf looked absurd sitting behind the oversized desk in the middle of an equally oversized office. The room was modern to the point of appearing sterile. The large desk was all shiny black metal with a spotless white work surface. Shelves, also black metal and filled with neat rows of electronic media, spanned the length of one wall. The only decor on any of the bleached white walls was a painting opposite the shelving. Zak recognized it as a famous Dwarven work of art, an oil painting of the Temple of Bha Kalhan. The actual temple was located deep within the southern ranges of the Bakkhen Mountains and was the central point of the Dwarven religion. Although he recognized the painting, he couldn’t remember the name of the famous Dwarf who had painted it. He figured it to be an original work though, based upon the luxurious atmosphere that surrounded it.

Everything in the room spoke of money, including the Dwarf. His shaggy red beard fell from view below the desktop, hiding most of the expensive dark blue suit he wore. He wore gold on all his fingers and when he stood and held out a hand in greeting, a thick gold chain bracelet dangled from his right wrist.

“Ah, Mr. Milliandur,” the Dwarf greeted him in a booming voice. His face appeared as leathery as the expensive chair he had been sitting in. Combined with a large nose and long bushy eyebrows, his face looked almost like a mask. He was obviously standing on some sort of platform hidden behind the large desk; he stood nearly as tall as Zak, his knees peeking over the desktop. “I am so glad you could come. Tobias Grimrok, at your service!”

“Actually, I believe he prefers to go by the name Harris. Isn’t that right, Zak?”

The voice correcting the Dwarf came from a man Zak hadn’t noticed when he entered. He was standing at a window behind Grimrok’s desk, his hands poised behind his back as though he were leisurely taking in the storm that raged beyond the plate glass. Zak froze as he reached out to take Grimrok’s offered hand. A shattering crack of thunder emphasized the suspended moment. He knew the voice instantly.

After a dramatic pause, the man turned to reveal a less than friendly smile.

“It’s good to see you again, Zak.” The smile took on a malicious edge and his tone made it clear that he didn’t really mean what he said.

“Yeah,” was all Zak offered in return.

Dorjan Vennhim was a predator. Although he was middle aged, he had the well-toned body of a young man. His lean, clean shaven face reflected a cruelty that was confirmed by his cold dark eyes. Even the simple act of walking to the edge of the desk to stand beside Grimrok was carried out in slow calculated stalking motions. His short brown hair was neatly cut and combed. The dark blue suit he wore, although off-the-rack, was impeccably worn, without a trace of a wrinkle or crease or even a hint of lint. Everything about him spoke ex-military, including the parade rest stance he assumed next to Grimrok’s chair.

Grimrok let his hand slowly fall to his side. He studied Zak with a calculating smile.

“Ah yes, of course,” the Dwarf said, his eyes never leaving Zak. “Your mother’s maiden name. I’ve heard you and your father had your differences. Pity, really. Your father was a great Elf.” Grimrok’s brown eyes suddenly seemed more penetrating, staring out from beneath those bushy brows as though they could read every secret Zak possessed. “Of course, that does not change your blood line, laddie.”

“He’s right, Zak,” Vennhim said. “That fair complexion of yours, along with those pointy ears, are a dead giveaway. There’s no getting around the fact that you are Elf.”

“Half Elf,” Zak said evenly. “I am sure you didn’t bring me here to discuss my family history. I must admit though, I am now even more confused as to why you called me here. You hardly need my services if the Department is involved.”

“Mr. Vennhim is no longer with ASID,” Grimrok replied, motioning for Zak to take a seat. “He works for Grimrok Corporation now, as head of security.”

“What happened, Vennhim, did you finally cross a line even the fanatics running black ops couldn’t ignore?” Zak’s smile contained a hard edge. He remained standing.

Vennhim chuckled, shaking his head. “Zak, buddy, come on. There’s no need for hostility. Can’t we put the past behind us? I regret what happened in Bh’ag Mur. It was unfortunate, but I was only following orders.” His words were as insincere as his laugh.