Three months ago. Union.
“You summoned me, father?” Gerath of Riviera stood at the doorway into his father’s study. The white doors were wedged open and the curtains were pulled back, letting in the spring sun. Howard of Riviera the Third sat at his large oak desk, pouring over reports and documents relating to his struggling enterprises across Union and beyond. Gerath had tried to suggest how to improve both relations and profits with their holdings but his father demanded he leave it alone.
“Yes, I did,” Howard replied. His voice was still strong even after years of grief and loss. At one point, Howard had five children; now he only had one. He stood from his chair, bringing a report with him. “I see here that you have requested funds to pay for an excursion from Lord Gregory Un’Tirest, Lady McKrerry, and attempted to gain an audience with the Archduke herself. What is the meaning of this?”
“Well, I have decided to undertake a long journey,” Gerath tried to smile but the intense anger from his father forced it to wait in the wings. “I plan on hiring a group of well-armed and noble individuals who will then accompany me to seek my fortune.”
“Fortune?” Howard scoffed. “You don’t need to seek a fortune. Your request is denied.”
“I’m sorry to say this, father, but that is not up to you.” Gerath straightened; this was a dangerous and definitive path he was about to embark on. Howard paused in pouring his drink and looked over to his last son. “I have made these requests on my own. As you can see, they bear my seal.”
“Your seal is a mockery of this house,” Howard quietly replied. He took his drink and gulped it down. “Do you know what I told your brothers before they left this house?” He did not wait for a reply. “I told them that the wars they fight, the battles they win, the damsels they rescue, all represent this house; this lineage.”
“And how many of my brothers came back?” Gerath asked. He knew that his father was not entertaining his first drink of the day. “How much of this family’s money did you squander on bribing generals and heroes to train my brothers and then send them off into the wilderness to die cold, tired, and alone? What were you trying to accomplish? Who were you trying to impress? No other noble house sent their children into the dangers of the world just so they could vicariously relive their glory days!”
“You watch your tongue, brat,” Howard glared at Gerath. His hand not carrying a glass of wine slowly ventured to the sabre at his belt. “Or I will cut it out.”
“Tongues and noses and eyes!” Gerath screamed. What few servants remained in the house could no doubt hear him. But everyone knew the House of Riviera was slowly dying thanks to a washed up hero who could not return to the world behind walls. “You have threatened to cut out each one a score times over and yet here I stand able to hear your threats, see your failures, and taste the blood in my mouth when you blame me for your short comings! I may not be a great hero of old, father, but I will make my journey, find my fortune, and return to Union a powerful noble who will bring the House of Riviera back to its days in the sun. That, I promise to the gods.”
“You are no son of mine,” Howard pulled his sword and staggered forward. Gerath, while not the best of swordsmen, had experience in dealing with drunken brawlers. After all, he was a man of the theatre. “My son would not speak to me in this way. My son would be welcome in my home. My son… all my sons, are dead. I hereby banish you from my sights, my land, and my purse. You are not worthy to represent the name Riviera, boy. Get out.”
“Father…” Gerath tried to back step. He had gone too far, let his temper get the better of him.
“I am not your father!” Howard barked, a tear starting to stream down his cheek. He slashed at the air with his sword, knocking over a vase. The crash was the exclamation mark. Gerath paused for a few moments, staring at the broken pieces on the ground. He turned and walked back into the corridor. They’las, the elf butler who had been with the House for decades, stood down the hall. Gerath walked towards him, clearing his throat and straightening himself.
“They’las,” Gerath managed to choke out. “I require a carriage. Could you be so kind as to fetch one for me?”
“Of course, sir,” They’las bowed and motioned for the servants to fulfill the request. “If I may be so bold, sir, where will you go? Surely you have friends in the city.”
“I do,” Gerath stared at the front doors. His mulled over who to trust; who to go to until remembered Muse mentioning someone in the city that could help him. At the time Gerath hadn’t realized what his old friend could have meant but now he did. “Actually, I need to find a visitor in Union; Queek Ekino of Bladweb.”
“I did not expect a local lord to visit me,” Ekino smiled as her servant poured the tea for herself and her guest. The drow servant watched the visitor with suspicion; it was something that made Gerath very nervous. “Especially one so young. So you are of the House of Riviera?”
“Yes,” Gerath returned the smile once the servant stepped away from the pair. He picked up his tea and sipped. “My goodness, this is lovely! What is it?”
“A concoction from my homeland; you probably don’t want to know exactly what it is.” Ekino smirked and took another sip. “Rumors are spreading through the local houses that your father has forsaken you.”
“Well, rumors can be a bit harsh,” Gerath tried to play it off but the intense gaze from the drow queen made him rethink his strategy. “However, in this case, they are quite right. My father and I had a falling out very recently and I am in need of assistance for my expedition.”
“An expedition.” Ekino echoed. She sipped her tea again and glanced at the servant. As if taking an order, the servant bowed and stepped out from the room, closing the doors behind him. “Tell me, Gerath, where is this expedition intended to go?”
“Well,” Gerath swallowed more tea. “A long time ago, I got it into my head to take a journey to the old caverns in the Free Marches… to where the Great Lizard resided.”
“Kragh.” Ekino spat; her voice and face changed with the mentioning of the name. “You wish to venture to Kragh’s nest to… what? See if there is anything left to plunder? I doubt the scavengers and adventurers have left anything of worth after a decade.”
“But surely there must be something left.” Gerath put down his saucer and cup and leaned forward. “I believe that with all the power and influence he had, there must still be something to find down there; some treasure that will be a great fortune for us all.”
“And get you back into the good graces of your father.” Ekino smirked.
“That would be a desired side-effect.” Gerath lamented.
“I will help you.” Ekino set down her tea and stood. Almost on cue the doors opened and the servant returned with a large tome. He set it on a pedestal and Ekino started flipping through it.
“What’s that?” Gerath tried to peer over and see what the Queen was staring at.
“Insurance.” Ekino glanced back. “I will fund your journey and even provide you with the hired help you need.” She stopped on a page, seemingly finding what she was looking for. Whispering a few words, she stepped back over to the young noble. Gerath suddenly realized she was holding some kind of document in her hand with various signatures on it. She spoke suddenly and Gerath was struck by a pain on his left shoulder blade. “There, that should do it.”
“What did you do?” Gerath asked, trying to rub the sore spot.
“Like I said, insurance.” Ekino closed the book and handed it back to the servant. “Do know that we now have a pact with each other, and I will aid you as long as you aid me. Go to the Dragon’s Nest and seek your fortune but I want you to look extra hard for an orb about a foot in diameter that is milky white; almost like clouds are trapped within. Can you do that for me?”
“Am I supposed to bring it back to you?”
“No,” Ekino sat. “I suspect you won’t find it; but that’s what I need: confirmation.”
“Yes, of course.” Gerath swallowed. “Out of curiousity, who are my companions on this journey?”
Ekino smiled and told him the address.