A boy stood on a set of old, rusty train tracks. All around him were old trains and broken parts, piled high enough so that you'd have to climb the piles of junk just to see the horizon. The only place clear of any debris was the track in front of him.
The boy had spikey brown hair that was always messy and deep brown eyes that were covered by a pair of goggles. He was wearing a white shirt that had a black wing printed on it and his gray pants were torn and smudged with oil.
His face was scrunched in thought. But after a moment, he grinned widely as he finished his calculations. "Nothing too hard." He said, readjusting his goggles. "Let's start with a simple two hundred yards." He tugged on the worn leather gloves on his hands and smiled. "Conductor, we have a go."
"Speed Magic: Steam Engine!" A large yellow magic circle appeared behind him with the sound of a train whistle. With a burst of speed, he ran down the tracks. Piles of broken parts and old trains were blurs as he sped past them. "Whoo!" He shouted with joy. "It works!"
He let out a laugh as he felt the wind rushing past him as he gained more and more speed and momentum with each passing second, his magic protecting him from the worst of it. Looking ahead, he noticed himself rapidly approaching the main train terminal.
"Okay." He said, suppressing his mirth. "Let's slow it down a little." He tried slowing his pace to a jog. "Uh oh." He muttered. His eyes widened. He couldn't slow down. His legs just kept on running, picking up even more momentum. His magic would protect him from getting too hurt, but he wasn't sure where the limit was. With a sense of panic, he looked up to see a train sitting on the same track he was running on.
"This isn't going to be good." He said. He tried turning off the track, but his legs stubbornly kept going forward. He had lost control. At the terminal, he noticed a small crowd of men gathering on the platform where they were repairing the train. They were pointing at him and yelling.
Then an older man whose hair was white with age stepped out from the group. He had a full beard that went down to the center of his chest and he was wearing a pair of blue overalls. His grandpa. "Erk!" He shouted. "Slow down!"
Erk could only shake his head and yell back. "I can't!"
His grandpa started gesturing at the train and yelling at his men. No doubt telling them to try and get it moving. But Erk knew better. Even if they got it up and running, it wouldn't be able to move fast enough before he hit it. He braced himself. Hopefully he would survive with just a few dozen broken bones.
As he neared the train, he made eye contact with the repairmen that were watching him with fear in their eyes. Then he did what any train worker would do when something like this happened. Right before he hit it, he yelled, "Train wreck!"
His head hurt. That was the first thing Erk thought when he woke up. He was lying on a bed, but other than that, he had no idea where he was. Without opening his eyes, he groaned. "Am I dead?"
"No, but you gave it your best shot." A high pitched voice said joyfully. Not recognizing the voice, Erk opened his eyes…and promptly screamed. There was a jack-o-lantern staring down at him, complete with a wicked grin and slanted eyes.
"Calm down, idiot." The jack-o-lantern said, his voice definitely sounded like a man's. Its mouth didn't move, but the voice was definitely coming from it. "Your body hasn't recovered yet."
It was only then that Erk noticed a body connected to the pumpkin. He was shrouded in a black cape that covered his body from neck to foot, but Erk could still tell that the man was slender, and by the way he was towering over him, very tall.
"W-who the hell are you?" Erk asked, sitting up. "And where am I?"
The pumpkin head stood up, making him seem much taller than Erk originally thought. "The names 'Pumpkin' Jack." He said, extending a hand from under his cloak. His sleeve was black, but other than that, Erk couldn't see anything else from under the cloak. "But people around here just call me 'Master'."
"Master?" Erk asked, shaking the proffered hand. "And what are you the master of? Weird masks?" Now that he was awake, his snarky attitude was coming back. "I mean, who wears a pumpkin on their head?" Erk laughed a little at his joke before stopping. It was then that he noticed that there was only blackness behind the eyes of the jack-o-lantern. He couldn't see a face or eyes.
The jack-o-lantern's face suddenly changed into a questioning look. "What's wrong with pumpkins?" He asked. Then the face went back to normal. "And if you really want to know, I'm the master of a wizard guild."
Erk tensed. "The master of a wizard guild? You?" He started laughing. "This has to be some kind of joke." He kept on laughing until he realized something. "Wait." He looked around the unfamiliar room. "Is that where I am? Am I at a guild?"
"Ding, ding, ding!" Jack yelled. "Give the boy a prize!" He gestured at a door on the side of the room. "Let's take a walk. There are a few things I should tell you."
Erk hesitantly stood up and followed Jack to the door. When he walked through, he was bombarded by the sound of people talking. Looking around, he saw people scattered across a circular room, some sitting on stools at a bar, others sitting at tables that were lined up in the center of the room around a small bonfire.
Noticing them, a girl in a black corset and red skirt waved at them. "Master! What do you have there? A new recruit?" Her wavy black hair was tied up into a pony tail.
"Mind your own business, Lucinda!" Jack yelled at her playfully.
Next to Lucinda, a girl wrapped in a dark grey cloak and had sandy blonde hair tied into a French braid tugged on her arm. "We shouldn't bother the Master while he's talking." She said softly. She noticed Erk looking at her and quickly hid behind Lucinda's back.
"Geez Sara, you're no fun." She stuck her tongue out at Jack before walking away with Sara following close behind.
"Don't mind them." Jack said, continuing towards the main door. "Some of my seedlings are nuts."
"Seedlings?" Erk asked. He was really starting to wonder if this guy was crazy.
Jack didn't answer him as they walked out of the guild and into the open air. It was still light out, so Erk couldn't have been unconscious for more than a few hours. Looking behind him, Erk blanched. The guild was in shaped like a pumpkin. Above the door was a large sign with the words 'Pumpkin King' carved into it. The guild symbol was right underneath it, a jack-o-lantern whose face was carved in the same shape as Jack's. There was a crown on top of it. And to top it off, the entire building was surrounded by a giant pumpkin patch.
"What is up with all the pumpkins?!" Erk yelled in frustration. "Pumpkin this, pumpkin that! Even your guild has 'pumpkin' in its name!"
"Pretty cool, huh?" Jack said, obviously proud. There was a sudden caw, making both of them look up to see a crow flying towards them. With another caw, it dived at them, only to pull out of the dive and slowly land on the stem on top of pumpkin on Jack's head.
"Peeko!" Jack yelled with joy. "So this is where you've been hiding." Reaching up, he used a finger to pet the crow's head.
Okay. Erk thought. Pumpkins and crows. This guy's obviously got some weird interests. He cleared his throat. "Hey, Pumpkin Freak. What did you want to talk about?"
Jack took his attention away from Peeko to look at Erk. "Aren't you wondering why you're here?" He asked suddenly. As Erk watched, Jack's eyes slowly came into focus from behind the pumpkin. "Aren't you wondering what happened after you got into that wreck at the train yard?"
Erk narrowed his eyes, suddenly suspicious. "Yeah." He said slowly. "The last thing I remember is running into that train."
Jack wandered over to a pumpkin that was growing near the side of the guild and sat down on it, Peeko still perched on his head. "It was quite something. You're lucky to be alive. That wreck should have killed you." He eyed the boy. "What kind of magic were you using? When you're grandfather brought you here-."
He was cut off as Erk asked. "Grandpa? He brought me here? Why did he bring me here instead of to a doctor?"
Jack shrugged. "You were injured using magic. And since we're a guild, he thought we'd be able to help you better than a normal doctor. He only had enough time to give me the basics before he left." He said, changing the subject. "It was some kind of speed magic, wasn't it?"
Erk grinned and pulled his goggles up so that the rested on his forehead. "Yup. It's called Steam Engine." He said with proudly. "I created it myself."
Jack's eyes didn't leave Erk. "Impressive. But...it doesn't look like you have much control if you got into an accident that bad." His eyes became very serious. "I went to the train station while you were unconscious. I learned the whole story. The train yard was a wreck. An entire line of trains completely lifted off the tracks." He leaned forward. "You hit them with enough force that you crushed an entire car before you stopped. It's a surprise that you're alive, let alone that you can even move."
Erk smirked. "My magic protects me." He eyed Jack and grinned. "The way it works is, the longer I run, the more momentum and speed I pick up. Like a train." He adjusted his goggles awkwardly. "My magic protects me if I hit anything…but I'm not sure where the breaking point is."
"That's dangerous." Jack said seriously. His joking attitude was gone. "You need to learn how to control it or you could hurt yourself. Or worse, you could kill somebody. You need training. Which brings me to our next subject." He stood up and stared down at him. "I want you to join my guild."
Erk blinked once. Then twice. "Are you serious?" He asked excitedly. "You want me to join your guild? That's awesome!" He started jumping in joy, but then he remembered something and his heart immediately sank. "But I can't. I've got stuff I've got to do."
"Like help your grandfather to keep his job." Jack said. Erk looked up at him in shock, but the guild master kept on going. "I know all about it. That's why he couldn't stay once he dropped you off here. Because every moment he isn't working, there's a bigger chance that he'll lose his job."
Erk tensed and clenched his fists. "Then you know why I need to go back. Grandpa is old. He can't do things like he used to. He needs my help." He turned to leave. "So thanks, but no thanks." He started walking away, but Jack stopped him.
"You haven't let me finish." He said, his voice become light again. He grabbed Erk's shoulder and started leading him back toward the guild doors. "I made a bet with your boss."
"A bet? What do you mean?" Erk asked with a raised eyebrow.
The smile on Jack's face widened. "He was pretty angry that you wrecked one of his trains, you know. He was this close to firing both you and your grandpa. But I made a bet with him. I bet him that if I could get the Magic Council to recognize your 'Steam Engine' magic in one year, then he'd have let your grandpa keep his job."
"You did that?" Erk practically shouted. "You mean my magic could be REAL magic, like officially?"
Jack nodded. "Yup."
Erk whooped and started raised his arms into the air in celebration. But then he stopped himself. "Wait. What happens if we don't make it in time?"
Jack let out a laugh. "Then you have to pay for all the damages you caused to the train yard." He said lightly.
"What!" Erk yelled. "I don't have that kind of money! And me and my grandpa are poor as it is." He hung his head. "We're doomed." Then he thought of something. "What if I don't take the deal? Then I can just work off the damages."
"Too late!" Jack said cheerfully, the pumpkin changing to a happy face. He poked Erk's chest. "We've already sealed the deal."
Erk's stomach dropped. He quickly lifted his shirt to see a yellow Pumpkin King guild symbol printed on his chest.
With a laugh, Jack lifted Erk by the back of his shirt and slung him over his shoulder like a sack. "You belong to me now." He said happily. "And over this next year, we're going to train the hell out of you." Peeko cawed from on top of Jack's head as if in agreement.
"You can't do this!" Erk yelled. He started flailing around in an attempt to get out of Jack's grip. "I don't want a pumpkin freak like you to be my master!"
"Too bad!" Jack said cheerfully, not even bothered by Erk's flailing. He started walking towards the guild again. "Welcome to Pumpkin King!"