Chapter 17:

A New Contract

The Symphonia of Erde (DISCONTINUED) (ARCHIVED)

"Cow Missing; paying 20 coppers for anyone who finds my cow..." Jakob read one of the notices on the notice board.Bookmark here

"Need help guarding my garden..." Marie read another.Bookmark here

The two bounty hunters were searching for some good-paying contracts to fill up their party's income. Apparently, the time spent adventuring here and there had cost them a decent amount, and with most of it being voluntary without pay, the party was left what with quite the financial trouble.Bookmark here

Because of that, they stopped at a nearby village to look for work that could help fill up their pockets with coins. Claude would open up his clinic as usual, but his policy of "pay only if you could afford it" made his clinic an unreliable source of stable income.Bookmark here

Henceforth, we now see the two hunters standing in front of a notice board right outside a village inn, looking for the right job with the right pay. Unfortunately, all they saw were wrong jobs and wrong pay, which was quite expected from a rather downtrodden vill.Bookmark here

"Hmm, at this point we could earn more if we work as a dishwasher at that inn or something," Isaac remarked, having join the two hunters looking for contracts or bounty hunts.Bookmark here

"Ahh! What the hell! We're more likely to find gold coins in a pile of cow shit than finding good contracts here," Jakob commented, unsatisfied by the outcome of their search.Bookmark here

Contrary to what he said though, Marie spotted a notice that promised good pay. She nudged Jakob's shoulder and pointed it out, but the hunter was instead much displeased upon seeing it.Bookmark here

"Oh hell no! We are not doing that!"Bookmark here

"Oh come on... It's been a while since we did 'Murderous scum'. " Marie replied with a smug look on her face.Bookmark here

"We're desperate for money yes, but not that desperate!"Bookmark here

"Sorry to butt in to your conversations, but what's this 'Murderous scum' thing?" Isaac interrupted the two with a question.Bookmark here

"You already know at this point, us bounty hunters tend to make tons of enemies due to the nature of our jobs-" Jakob paused briefly to take down the wanted poster for his head from the notice board- "as such, it's no question if, some way or another, we managed to get our faces into the "Most Wanted" poster."Bookmark here

"This could be a good thing sometimes. For example, if you need quick and easy money," Jakob continued. "Just have your buddy to surrender you to the authorities, collect the reward gold, and bust you out before they hang you on the gallows."Bookmark here

Marie suddenly snatched Jakob's wanted poster from his hand. Apparently, the poster promised a lavish reward of 400 gold for his capture, dead or alive.Bookmark here

"Since we're in a rather poor village right now with only two imperial guards, it's likely they'll hang Jakob first at some random tree and THEN bring his dead body to the capital," Marie added, analyzing the poster thoroughly, "which means-"Bookmark here

"The guards 'll pay you like a hundred golds while they claim the rest of the reward from the capital." Jakob finished her sentence. "Still, money is money, and 'Murderous scum' works if you need it instantly, in which our case is nOAGHK-"Bookmark here

Marie gut-punched Jakob out of nowhere with great force. The hunter fell to the ground wincing in pain, while Isaac and pretty much every other villager there was confused and shocked by the hooded maiden's sudden action.Bookmark here

"Hah! You'd think you could get away this time MURDEROUS SCUM! " Marie taunted, "Guards! I have caught this wanted man you've been searching for! I demand my reward!"Bookmark here

Marie yelled as she lifted the wanted poster of Jakob proudly for everyone to see. Immediately, the two guards stationed at the village attended her and thanked her for capturing the bounty hunter.Bookmark here

Just like what Jakob had explained previously, the guards simply offered Marie a pouch of a hundred coins, but she had more tricks up her sleeve.Bookmark here

"Just a hundred!? Not only did you two not reward me as promised by this poster, but the fact that you two had the audacity to offer such little amount after my hard work of tracking him down!?"Bookmark here

"Look lady, I know it's not much but we simply don't have that much coins with us right now." one of the guards tried to make up an excuse.Bookmark here

"Fine then. I'll just go to the capital myself! I've got a horse and a carriage with me-"Bookmark here

"Oh no please! We need to deliver him ourselves so we could get the reward money too-" the guard was abruptly slapped on the back of his head by his fellow guardsman after spilling out their secret.Bookmark here

"Then you better increase my pay then! 200 coins!" Marie demanded.Bookmark here

"But that's like half-"Bookmark here

"I don't give a flying a f**k if you two had to split half your losses after this! Or maybe I'll just report you two to the capital too for cheating the law? They'll probably reward me for that too~"Bookmark here

"Alright! Alright!" the guards gave up and handed Marie another pouch of a hundred gold coins.Bookmark here

Satisfied by the pay, Marie handed both guards a rather pissed off Jakob as they immediately cuffed him to a pillory. Isaac was quite impressed after witnessing Marie's haggling skills, but now another curious question popped into his mind.Bookmark here

"So, what are we gonna do with Jakob now?"Bookmark here

"Yes, about that-" Marie placed both pouches into her inventory sack- "look, the guards are dragging Jakob to the corner of the village now. They are going to do a public execution where they could then deliver his body, claim that it was their kill and get themselves the bounty reward."Bookmark here

"And we're supposed to bust him out from this?"Bookmark here

Marie took out some throwing knives from her inventory sack and placed it on her chest sheathe, "Yep. Just have to cut those gallows rope before it choked the air out of my friend."Bookmark here

A crowd of villagers was seen following after the two guards that dragged Jakob. They were pretty excited to see this execution despite not knowing who the criminal is, as if it was important to them anyway. Regardless, Isaac and Marie joined the crowd as well to witness the apparent execution of their friend.Bookmark here

"Well, I hope the tree branch is strong cuz I just had a large breakfast," Jakob joked much to the guards' annoyance.Bookmark here

"Say whatever you want criminal, but we'll get the last laugh once we get our pay for your head!"Bookmark here

The three men arrived at a withered tree with a single noose hanging on one of its branch. However, they did not stop there and instead continued onwards walking past the noose-tree.Bookmark here

"Uhhh sirs? Aren't y'all supposed to hang me or something?"Bookmark here

"Not with that outdated ancient thing," one of the guardsman replied. "We're using this instead!"Bookmark here

Lo and behold, it was a guillotine, freshly crafted and commissioned by whatever government that sovereign the current area.Bookmark here

"We honestly have no idea why the capital built this here out of all places, but I guess you got the honour of being the first victim from it."Bookmark here

'Shit' was the word both bounty hunters simultaneously uttered inside their minds. Marie's original plan of throwing her knife to cut the noose rope was completely thrown out of the window, and now she must quickly come up with a solution out of this unexpected mess.Bookmark here

In the meantime, Jakob tried struggling out of the pillory only to be received a punch to his guts to quiet him down. The guards wasted no time fastening him down on the guillotine as one of them went to the front of the stage to deliver a short speech to the crowd.Bookmark here

"We gather here today to execute this criminal; Jakob Fowlhunter, for the crimes of murder, extortion, trespassing, property damage- Bah! What the hell!- Point is, he's a criminal and the capital wants him dead for some reason."Bookmark here

"Feel free to pull the lever Mike!"Bookmark here

'Mike' gave his friend a thumbs up as he reached for the lever that will release the guillotine blade and chop Jakob's head. Right as he touched the lever, a loud thunder boomed all of a sudden, followed by a violent flash of lightning.Bookmark here

Immediately, something crashed directly at the guillotine blade like a cannonball, destroying the wooden frames into a bajillion splinters whilst sending the blade flying all the way out from the village. The crowd panicked as the sky devolved into a blanket of black thundering clouds, whilst the guardsmen shamelessly fled from the scene.Bookmark here

Amidst the chaos of people scrambling here and there, Marie got up the stage and freed Jakob from his restrain. She received a chop to her head from the pissed off Jakob before they both left the scene as well.Bookmark here

In the end, all's well that ends well as the two fled the village while everyone else there scrambled back to their homes in fear. They met up with Isaac, now in his electro-skeleton form, somewhere at a lone tree quite the distance away from that place.Bookmark here

"Welp, that went well." Isaac was the first to comment.Bookmark here

"Hey, we still got 200 gold from this!" Marie proudly pulled out one of the pouches of gold with a happy grin on her face. "And Jakob came out alive too!"Bookmark here

"Yeah sure, I'm alive. And now we have tons of explaining to do to Claude because now we have to cut our stay there short."Bookmark here

"Yep, Claude's not gonna be impressed when he hears this," Isaac remarked, much to his distaste to their current situation. "Guess we have to sneak back in to the stagecoach huh?"Bookmark here

"Seems like it. But bad consequences aside, I found this-" Marie pulled out what seemed to be a piece of paper similarly found at the village's notice board from her inventory sack.Bookmark here

"Apparently there was another contract on the notice board we missed. I took it right after handing Jakob to the guards, and this one promised wayyy better pay!"Bookmark here

"Better pay you say?" Jakob's curiosity peaked as he took the paper from Marie's hands and read it for himself.Bookmark here

" 'A hit contract from the baroness in power; Baroness Cortana-' hmm, I don't like working personally with people of power but- HOLY SHIT! 3000 GOLD REWARD!?"Bookmark here

"Right? We could last a few months with that pay!"Bookmark here

"That's quite the amount sure, but who the hell screwed up so much to have a hit that high on his head?" Isaac asked innocently.Bookmark here

"The contract didn't mention the target's name apparently. Instead, it wants us to meet the baroness personally for further discussion-" Jakob folded the paper neatly and handed it back to Marie- "whatever it is, I guess it's worth checking it out. We still got some sunlight for the day and Baroness Cortana's place should be....-"Bookmark here

"-that way!" the three of them spoke pointed at a decent looking mansion some distance away at the same time.Bookmark here

With that, the three of them visited Baroness Cortana's mansion for further discussion about the hit contract.Bookmark here

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"So in short, Fiore killed your son in a duel in which both sides agreed on, or at least that's what your servants said, and you still want him dead?" Marie summarized the baroness's story.Bookmark here

"Indeed, that is what happened."Bookmark here

As to now, the two bounty hunters and Isaac were seated comfortably on one of the velvet couches of Baroness Cortana's reading room. The trio were welcomed and treated with full hospitality by the baroness's servant after letting know of the purpose of their visit.Bookmark here

The baroness shared the entire story of her son, and the tragic downfall that led to his death under the comfort of tea, soft couches and fireplace fragrance. As summarized by Marie, the baroness's son; Alexandre, was killed after a supposed formal duel between him and a fencer named Fiore.Bookmark here

It's obvious now who the hit was meant for.Bookmark here

"Hold on, I'm sorry if I end up sounding rude-" Isaac butted into the conversation- "I don't know much about dueling customs in the first place, but if both sides agreed to do it to the end, and well, 'the end' unfortunately happened, won't it be dishonourable for your son to have his opponent killed after him for winning the fight and square?"Bookmark here

Baroness Cortana glared at Isaac, who realized now the mistake of asking such questions. The baroness got up from her seat and walked to a nearby table stand at the corner of the room. On it was a vase of beautiful crimson roses, and the baroness proceeded to pluck one of it from the bouquet.Bookmark here

"I woke up one morning to the sounds of clashing blades and painful grunts," the baroness started her dialogue, "I had no idea my son would partook in such savage acts, thus my heart trembled when I arrived at the main hall. The clashing sounds had stopped by then, and all that was left for me to witness was Alexandre lying on the floor, bathed on his own pool of blood."Bookmark here

"His opponent was on his knees, head laid low as I assumed it was a bow of respect. When he noticed my presence he immediately introduced his name and told me about the agreement of their duel, how he died in honour and such, but I paid no heed to all of that as my eyes was only fixed to my dead son-"Bookmark here

Baroness Cortana clenched her fist, crushing the delicate rose she just plucked, and threw it across the room. Her actions startled Isaac but both Jakob and Marie were unfazed.Bookmark here

With tears streaming through her cheek, the baroness continued her story between her sobs, "I don't care what that man said about my son! It's already hard that I'm a widow! But now, that man Fiore Dei Nero took away my one and only family and made me a vilomah as well!! "Bookmark here

In grieving anger, the baroness took hold of the vase of roses and smashed it to the floor in front. Shards of the vase flew everywhere thanks to her deed and one of it pricked right back to her hand. Her servants nearby were shocked by her sudden compulsion and immediately, one of the handmaidens attended to her but was quick to be shoved away.Bookmark here

On the other hand, Jakob managed to catch one of the vase shards and simply tossed it into the fireplace. He casually inched forward from his seat to pick up his cup of tea.Bookmark here

"I appreciate the story you've told us baroness, and I'm sorry for what happened to you and your son. But right now I'd appreciate more if you could describe in greater detail of this 'Fiore' person," Jakob spoke before taking a sip from his tea. However, he stopped midway when he realized a small shard of the broken vase had made it way into the drink, thus he had to put it back to the table.Bookmark here

"His background, how he looks like, where he is now or at least where you think he is. Those kind of things, no offence intended, are far more valuable to us than the backstory of our target in discussion."Bookmark here

"Yes, I could see the logic behind that-" Baroness Cortana returned to her seat after having wiped the blood on her hand- "I truly apologize for my dramatic acts just now. It's just-"Bookmark here

"Ahem."Bookmark here

"Right. Our target; Fiore Dei Nero. For his background, all I know is that he is a well-known fencer of some sort. I believe you could look it up on others easily if his status is indeed true to what I've heard."Bookmark here

"For his whereabouts, the last person I've hired, who failed to capture him, said that he was heading to port city of Pouiratt. His reasons was not made clear..."Bookmark here

"Pouiratt? That's only a few days from here isn't it?" Isaac interrupted, earning a nudge on the shoulders by Marie who demanded him to remain silent.Bookmark here

"As for his appearance, I need not to describe for I have a better way to help you with that-"Bookmark here

The baroness raised her hand and on queue, a servant entered the room holding with him a scrolled piece of paper. The paper was handed to Jakob and he immediately opened it up for him and his friends to see.Bookmark here

It was a well drawn full-body sketch of Fiore Dei Nero. Based on the drawing, he wore a black and white striped gambeson and a simple steel chest plate. He carried a lot of swords with him; three on the left hip, two on the right alongside a pistol, and three longswords sheathed on his back. His hair was suggested to be greyish or ashen in colour, and another portrait was drawn beside the full-body picture depicting him wearing a ceremonial mask with a distinct moustache design on it.Bookmark here

Other small details such as his black cavalry boots and cape was noted before Jakob rolled the paper back and passed it to Marie for her to place it in her inventorial sack. With that, they sealed their contract with a simple handshake with the baroness. Jakob refused any forefront pay from the baroness, a common practice for the bounty hunter who generally disliked working with people of power in the first place. It was also for safety measure in case they had to ditch the contract somehow, though with such lavishing reward, it's unlikely they will commit to that anytime now.Bookmark here

They have two weeks to make work of Fiore, and if those two weeks passed without any signs of their success then the baroness is free to assume they had failed their contract.Bookmark here

And thus, the three of them left the noble's mansion satisfied with the outcome of their meeting, except for one-Bookmark here

"I'm aware that I'm still new to this whole bounty hunting thing, but I kind of don't like where this whole contract is going," Isaac spoke out of the blue.Bookmark here

"And why's that? You've killed people before right?" Jakob replied with a question. There was a brief pause between their conversation as they made their way home pass vineyards and wheat fields sowed within the baroness's endlessly spanning estate.Bookmark here

"I've killed people yes-" Isaac finally broke the silence- "but the people I killed- I know well the evil things they've done and about to do, and even then I'll refrain as much as possible, which is pretty difficult when every punch you do could break a boulder. Point is though, I kill people who deserves it, people who are a threat to society."Bookmark here

"I understand lady Cortana's anger. I wouldn't want to imagine what my mother's reaction if she heard someone just offed me, but the baroness said it herself; her son died in a fair duel. I don't see any reason this Fiore guy should be punished for that."Bookmark here

Jakob sighed after hearing Isaac's excuse. With that, the hunter came up with a rebuttal for the Storm Revenant to hear.Bookmark here

"Sure that's what she said but think about it, she never knew her son was about to engage in a duel in the first place. All the stuff about the duel being an agreement was told by the servants and maids after the murder took place, and from my experience, nobles don't treat their servants too well or so I've heard."Bookmark here

"Perhaps, all of this was a huge scheme. Perhaps, Fiore was hired by these people to kill her son as an act of revenge. Perhaps, Fiore paid these people beforehand to tell her the version of the story he wanted just to excuse himself for killing his son-" Jakob dropped one baseless theory after another before wrapping up the conversation- "in conclusion Isaac, there's ton of possibilities as to how the actual story plays out. We could investigate further if we want to but not only would it be a waste of time, but things tend to spiral out of control once you dive too deep into the rabbit hole."Bookmark here

"I try not to think too much about my targets. Because when stripped down to its bare essentials, every bandit is a brother, every thug a friend, and every scum is a mother's son or daughter. The contract wants us to bring Fiore Dei Nero dead or alive, that's it, end of story. No need to overcomplicate things anymore."Bookmark here

With that, Jakob's short speech came to a close. Isaac was left with mixed feelings about the whole thing as on one hand, his friend brought up good points to excuse their upcoming actions but on the other, his personal feelings and sense of morals prevented Isaac from accepting it.Bookmark here

"But hey, if you don't like where this is going we're not gonna force you into this," Jakob spoke after seeing the discomfort state of his friend.Bookmark here

Contrary to what he said though, Isaac decided to stay with them regardless. Apparently, he's curiosity towards their job overwhelmed his sense of morals. That, or he's curiosity towards the whole situation, telling him to investigate further of what actually happened. Perhaps he'll investigate deeper into the real situation behind his friend's back, or perhaps not. Only time will tell.Bookmark here

That being said, the trio finally arrived at their horseless stagecoach home right as the Sun was about to set. They had to sneak in from the backdoors though after the chaos they had made from the nearly botched 'Murderous scum' . They were greeted happily by Anna, who was now part of their little adventuring crew and proved helpful doing household chores and such, and met with a sour helm-faced Claude, who knew all too well what they had done during the day.Bookmark here

"Welcome back my friends!" Anna spoke in a cheery voice, as well as a big smile on her face.Bookmark here

"We need to talk," Claude spoke in a not-so-cheery voice, as well as big frown on his helm-like face.
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