Galin stared at the stone steps leading down into the darkness below the living quarters in Donek Buldan’s fortified workshop. The void below filled him with a dread that the dangers encountered by the group up this point had not. Not the army of orcs above them, not the insane giant hovering at his shoulder, not even the mysterious chain creature suspending orcs on hooked chains like fetid sides of meat. If he was going to come clean, he’d better do it before whatever was down there ushered the elf and his secret into the great beyond.
Deciding to commit himself before what little courage he possessed left him, Gavin spoke, “Before we descend, I have a confession.” His sharp ears could practically hear the eyerolls. “I know you have been suspicious of me from the start and your suspicions are justified. I did betray Donek.”
A flash of steel and the heft of a ridiculously large hammer caused him to take a step back. Galin made what he hoped was a placating gesture. “But not for the reason you think!”
‘I’ll give them credit,’ thought the elf, ‘Ananzi’s goons are a disturbed, violent lot, but at least they are curious enough to hear me out. I may yet live through this.’
“He was planning to defect.” Galin took a deep breath, “There was an incident a while back, between Donek and the giants. A minor thing, really, but he was insulted – like the Stewards were taking advantage of him without giving him his due. Dwarves are obstinately proud and easily slighted, but Donek’s pride … ” Galin shook his head, “I was the closest thing he had to a friend, and I couldn’t stand him. This place, for example – who makes a ‘secret’ facility with 30 foot towers on a hill? No. He wanted everyone to know he had something that was his and his alone…” Galin caught himself, he was letting past irriation get him off-track.
“One night, while in his cups, he said to me, ‘Those great louts think they can call me up and wave me away like a blasted djinn! I bet the Dark Lord treats his generals better. I bet they’d show more than a little interest in having me around. ‘Specially since I’m the one been keepin’ ‘em out of our cities. Prolly make me a general or a legate or something.’ ”
“As we prepared to travel, I let slip the details of our journey in a rather unsavory tavern.” Galin’s shoulders slumped, “I had no idea – Donek’s been dodging assassins for years, I thought that’s how it would happen: quick and quiet and he’d be remembered as the hero he had once been, not the traitor he was becoming.”
“They slaughtered the entire caravan. And, as I lay buried in the mud beneath the burning wreckage of our coach, I watched Donek beg for his life – heard him offer up the secrets of this sanctuary of his – to the Dark Lord. The legate – for that is what I believe the man shrouded in black was – placed his hand on the dwarf’s head. Donek screamed in a way I have never heard and pray I never hear again; then fell over dead.”
Galin looked around, he could see skepticism in the eyes of his audience. “Aye,” he said, “He was dead. He fell facing me; his eyes but smoking cinders. The legate whispered some fell thing over his body and I watched as an unholy light came back into those charred ruined sockets. Slowly, deliberately, the body of Donek Buldan climbed to its feet and followed its new master into the shadows.”
The elf paused for a moment; his memory of the event was still far too fresh, and likely would be for some time.
When he had gathered himself, he continued, “There is a good chance that in this study or workshop or whatever it is Donek has hidden down here, among the plans and contraptions and-” Galin glanced over at the four hulking forms, still and silent behind them, “… weapons he has built, is a diary or some sort of evidence pointing to his intent to defect. Everything else can – and should – go to the stewards, but I want to expunge any hint of this corruption. Please, let him be remember as a defender of the upright.”
Finished, Galin bowed his head and turned back to stare into the gaping maw of the stairwell. He almost hoped the mercenaries would strike him down; being professional killers, he’d probably be dead before he knew it. It was almost certainly preferable to whatever hidden horrors Donek had prepared for them down below.
Behind him, Ananzi’s agents began a whispered discussion. The next few moments were going to be most interesting …