Amber drove west from Fairfax, pushing the car through thick afternoon traffic for nearly an hour. As they drove, Oliver filled her in on his adventure in Iceland.
Everything had gone well, he explained, until he had reached the cave where the shard of cold metal, the object of his hunt, had lain hidden. There, he had nearly been killed by a concealed deadfall and the animated corpses of three Viking warriors. Despite being low on ammunition, and here Oliver treated Amber to a lengthy rant on the difficulty of purchasing ammunition in Iceland, he had dispatched the ghouls and successfully captured his prize. Then had come the unpleasantness with his expedition partners as they had attempted to steal the shard from Oliver, but he had managed to slip away and leave them stranded on the ice.
It was a token of their long friendship and shared experiences in the South American jungle that Amber saved her mockery for Oliver’s inability to secure sufficient firepower and choose reliable partners, rather than his claims of fending off undead foes. Normally, when relating the tale to an editor or acquaintance at a party, Oliver would have excised the supernatural aspects of his adventure, but he knew that Amber would believe him. After all, it was she who had cleaned his wounds after an encounter with a particularly pissed off snake god in the jungles of Brazil.
Amber eventually pulled off the main highway and began navigating along winding roads that wound through rolling hills and deep valleys. Oliver was familiar with this area, if not this particular road, from having grown up on the family estate in Loudoun County, west of Washington D.C. The valleys between the hills were crisscrossed with streams and narrow roads that connected the patchwork of small towns. The hillsides were covered in vast tracts of pastureland for beef cattle and racing horses, as well as the large homes of the wealthy landowners whose political machinations were perhaps even more famous than the products of their pastures.
Oliver had grown up on one of those farms. His parents had made a comfortable fortune breeding some of the best race horses on the East Coast and had carved out a name for the Lucas clan amongst the Washington elite long before he had come along. As a child, he had spent many an evening helping the horse wranglers in the stables and most weekends exploring the fields and woods of the family estate. When Amber joined the family she became his companion in many of those rambles, injecting their escapades with a shot of exoticism from her intimate knowledge of Mayan mythology. It had been a good childhood, and in many ways Oliver regretted not visiting his family more often. The chasm between him and his parents wasn’t very wide, but it was deep and bridges had grown few and rickety over the last decade.
It had all started when Oliver had chosen to follow in the footsteps of his dead uncle and study history and archaeology at the college of William and Mary in Williamsburg, rather than launch a career in politics or finance through studies at Georgetown. His father had taken the news in stride, encouraging Oliver to “dig deep” and learn all he could about the past. His mother, on the other hand, had long hoped that her son would carry the family name to greater heights of fortune and influence, so she took the news rather poorly. He had been a diligent student, however, and had nearly managed to win back her approval when he had fallen from grace with such publicity and force that even his father had refused to speak with him for six months.