“Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. Brooks,” the lean nobleman says as he steps out of his large tent. Waving his servants away, the brown-haired man adjusts his shirt collar and pats down his long, button-covered coat. “My name is Lord Orson Bailles and I am the one who has requested your services. It is impressive that you made it here in such a short time considering how far from your home we are. Did you have a nice journey?”
Ichabod drops his backpack and glares at the man, the seasoned adventurer fighting the temptation to strike. Letting out a calming breath, he picks a few leaves out of his hair and takes in his surroundings. The small, but extravagant campsite is on the edge of a forest and there are signs that there were once more people staying in the area. He gets the sense that Lord Bailles is the type of person who would drive others away if they are from any class lower than the nobility. Although, it could be the way his servants scowl at his backside and the pale-skinned man’s pompous smirk that gives him that impression. Ichabod flexes his fingers as the urge to throttle his new employer rises, but years of professionalism helps him ignore the sense of disgust he feels from the man. Taking the signed contract out of his bag, he resigns himself that he cannot leave just because he hates the noble.
“I must point out that this is unorthodox and fairly rude. You sent me a signed contract and spread word that I had agreed to it. That puts my reputation at risk,” Ichabod explains as he hands the scroll to Orson. He winces when the man violently shakes his hand, a brief shock of pain running through his fingers. “If you wanted me to be impressed with your grip then you failed. Break my fingers and I’m off the job. Now, you’re lucky that I still need to work and don’t care if I like my employer. As long as you aren’t having me doing anything that crosses a personal line with me. Can’t really say evil since I’ve taken an assassination job or two. That’s something to keep in mind. What’s the job?”
“Have you ever heard of the Resurrection Bowl?” Orson responds, turning his back before getting an answer. Snapping his fingers at a boy, he impatiently waits for the servant to bring him a wooden plaque. “Created long ago by an immortal father who refused to let his loved ones die, it was lost when his family turned on him. They found a way to kill him and all of that nonsense, which does not concern me. Before they died, his loved ones hid the Resurrection Bowl in a city that has since lost its name. You have certainly heard about the rumors that very few people made it through the front door. Those that have are never seen again or return on the verge of death. The problem is that even if you get inside, the city is a maze of traps and monsters. One needs to know exactly where to go to succeed and I have found a legend that reveals the artifact’s location.”
Ichabod nods his head a few times before saying, “Not interested. Take my reputation, but I’m not going into this nameless city with somebody like you. Yes, I noticed that you changed a part of my contract to make sure I take you along. Still doesn’t mean I agree. I’ve known people who have taken on the Resurrection Bowl challenge. It ended exactly as you heard. No amount of money is worth the risk. So, you either find someone else or do it yourself.”
“Do you still refuse if it means your death?”
“Give me your best shot.”
“I already have.”
“What are you talking about?”
A slight tremor runs up Ichabod’s arm and he notices that his mouth is slightly dry. He takes a quick drink of water, but nearly spits the sip out when the taste turns sour. Glancing at the grinning noble, his eyes fall on the man’s pointer finger, which is adorned with a jade ring. The glint of metal is on the underside, revealing the thin needle that stabbed his palm during the rough handshake. Ichabod checks himself to make sure he is not imagining things, but finds that there is a sore spot near his thumb. Sniffing at his skin, he can barely make out the acrid scent of an unfamiliar poison.
“A man with a family would be inclined to deny my request,” Orson states as he slips the ring off. He tosses it to a passing servant, who yelps when the needle gets her in the finger. “I am the only one who knows where the antidote is. You could run to town to ask for healing, but I know they lack a healer who can undo magical poisons. By the way, how much do you love your wife? You see, when this poison kills you, it does the same to your soulmate. Such an interesting curse since you have nothing to fear if she is not your soulmate. Then again, do you want to risk her life and make your son an orphan?”
“Whoever you plan on bringing back better be worth breaking my seventh rule,” Ichabod growls while drawing an ivory arrow. He aims at the noble’s shoulder, but his arms jerk at the last moment and the projectile sails far into the distance. “Damn it! That arrow would have made you feel the same suffering that I do. Beating you up until I get the antidote doesn’t fall under my promise of creative punishment.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that you can be quite sadistic when your family is threatened,” Lord Bailles casually replies, the sweat on his brow betraying his fear. Clearing his throat, he claps his hands to get his servants to break camp. “My sister recently died from an incurable disease. She was beautiful, smart, and kind, which is why Windemere deserves to have her back. Unlike modern spells and rituals, the Resurrection Bowl has no risk. One need only find it and ask for the dead to be revived. I don’t even need her body to bring my dear Ruth back.”
“Sounds like she would hate what you’re doing to me,” the adventurer mentions, his right eye twitching. Before Orson can stop him, Ichabod snatches the plaque out of his hands and looks at the legend. “Thou can see the dead again. By sitting in the throne. That will show the path. A reunion in the palace. Well, this seems rather simple and clear. The Resurrection Bowl is in the central palace and you sit on the throne to find it. Where did you get this?”
Thrilled that Ichabod is willing to work with him, the noble smiles wide and takes the heavy slab back. “I bought it from a merchant who was passing through Gaia. He said that he had no loved ones worth the risk, but saw that I was in need. Only cost me a thumb-sized ruby, which is nothing compared to the value of my sister’s life. By the way, I was told that the poison kills within seventy-two hours. More than enough time to walk over the city, get inside, revive my sister, and come back. Before you get any ideas, I’ll be giving the antidote to a servant that I will send back to you once I’m a few miles away. Don’t want you coming after me.”
“If you think distance will stop me from making you pay then-” Ichabod starts to say before he violently coughs. He can feel blood on his tongue and wonders if the poison is working faster than Orson planned. “Lead the way since you have the legend and I assume already know where the city is. I want to get this over with as soon as possible.”
“We should really be friendly to each other on this journey.”
“You poisoned me and threatened my family.”
“Only because I feared you would say no.”
“When this is done, I will hunt you down and kill you.”
“Will not stop me.”
The icy glare from Ichabod makes Orson struggle to swallow his next breath. He pulls at his collar and tries his best to maintain eye contact, but the pure hate and anger that he sees sends a chill down his spine. As his arrogant façade crumbles, the noble takes a sip from his jewel-encrusted flask and regains his composure. Snapping his fingers at the adventurer, he turns on his heels and heads into the forest with his servants only a few steps behind. Gripping his longbow and taking up the rear, Ichabod licks his lips and steadies his heartbeat through the few meditation techniques that he remembers from his training days. The thought that his own anger is killing him and wife helps to temper his rage, which he holds just enough of to make sure he can call upon it when the time is right.