Pumpkin King

Chapter 11

Erk, Crest, and Charlotte were walking silently down a dirt road. The farmland behind them, the three were surrounded by forest. In Charlotte's arms was he Nicholas spirit Nico. It was awkwardly quiet. Crest stood in between Erk and Charlotte. Erk had originally been in the middle, but things had become…awkward.

After they set out from the guild, Charlotte had quickly summoned the little spirit. And Nico immediately stared at Erk. Erk tried lightening the mood with some jokes, but it was hard with Nico staring at him and making his little 'pun' noise.

Crest glanced curiously at Nico and then at Erk before going to stand in between them. But other than that, nothing was done. But despite the man in between them, Erk could still feel eyes on him. So, his curiosity getting the best of him, he leaned forward and was immediately creeped out. Nico was still staring at him.

A shiver ran down his spine. "So," he said trying to break the ice, "it's a good two more hour's walk to the town we're going to."

"Valleydale." Crest reminded him.

"Right." Erk agreed with a nod. "And since we're going on a job together, I thought we could, you know," he tried thinking of a better way to say it but decided to just be blunt about it, "learn more about each other." He was answered with silence, the only sound coming from Nico who was making his 'pun' noise again.

He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Like you, Crest. Other than the perverted amount of pleasure you seem to get running me to the ground when we train, I don't know much about you. "Crest smirked slightly at that. "And I don't know a thing about you, Charlotte." When the girl didn't answer him, he jumped in front of them to stop their pace. "We're guild mates, but I feel like a total stranger around you."

That seemed to do the trick. Crest's fact softened and he opened his mouth to say something. But before he could, someone yelled, "You there!"

They all turned to see a man walk out from behind some trees on the side of the road. He was ragged. His clothes were dirty and torn and his hair was tangled. His eyes were bloodshot and it smelled like he hadn't bathed in a few days.

"Pardon me." He said huskily, staggering towards them. "But can you spare a man a few coin?"

Erk was going to reply, but Crest put his hand in front of him to stop him. His body was tense and he was staring into the treetops suspiciously. Something was wrong.

"If it was only coin you wanted." He muttered. Then he shouted, "Why don't you quit hiding and show yourselves?"

There was a startled silence before the ragged man growled and pulled a knife out of his pocket. "Sharp eyes, that one. Let's take 'em down boys!" Several voices shouted and people began dropping from the trees to surround the three wizards, all wielding some sort of weapon.

Crest and Erk tensed and eyed their opponents while Charlotte let out a whimper and hid in between them. "Any idea what's happening?" He whispered, trying to keep as many men in his view as possible.

Crest grunted. "Slavers by the look of them. Probably wanting to capture and sell us on the black market."

"And right you are." The ragged man, probably their leader, said. He had straightened himself and his voice wasn't as husky. He leered at Charlotte. "This cute little bird will fetch nicely." He licked his lips. "Yeah, we could get a very good price for her." His men all laughed and hooted, making Charlotte wince and hide herself behind Nico and Crest. "And that weird dog of hers ought to catch the interest of some fanatic somewhere."

"Apparently not very smart slavers." Erk snickered.

The man ignored him and eyed Crest. "And look at this one. Build like a warrior." He tilted his head slightly. "Maybe a knight. Ever serve big guy?" Crest visibly stiffened and his eyes narrowed, but he didn't answer. The man tsked and waved a disinterested hand at Erk. "This one might not even be worth taking in. Too scrawny. But some people aren't too picky on their slaves so might as well."

Erk's jaw dropped. "That's…that's…that's just inconsiderate!" He yelled angrily, waving his arms around. "I'm not scrawny! I could kick your ass up and down this entire forest if I wanted!" He pulled his shirt off, revealing the guild mark on his chest. "See this?" He asked with a smirk. "This means you've just gotten into a world of trouble."

All the men stepped back looked at each other worriedly. "What are we going to do boss?" One of them asked. "They're from a wizard guild."

The boss' forehead started beading with sweat. "It doesn't matter where they're from!" He pointed his knife at them. "Just get 'em nice and quick!"

The men cheered before rushing at them. But they were ready. Crest grabbed two men and threw them back into the trees. Another snuck up behind him and stabbed down but Crest whirled around and, with a raised hand, created a shield that caught the man off guard. While he was open, Crest punched him hard in the gut, causing him to go to the ground with a groan.

A few men were slashing at Erk with swords and knives, but he was nimbly dodging them and kicking out when he could, catching a few of them in the chin. After one man's clumsy swing, he crouched to the ground. "Steam Engine!" He'd never tried using it crouched like that before, so when he shot forward he only managed to barrel into one of his attackers and knock him out cold. Erk stood up and shook his head. "Hehe. Well that was fun. Who's next?"

A single man, smaller than the others came at Charlotte from the side. Charlotte didn't move, but Nico's head whirled around to stare at him. The man skidded to a stop as the spirit kept on staring, never taking his eyes off of it. Then before he could react, Nico shot out of Charlotte's arms at him, keeping pencil straight with his pointed nose gleaming in the sunlight. The man let out a screech of pain as Nico's nose stabbed into his hand, causing him to drop his knife. Nico went, "Pun pun!" triumphantly as the man ran away, holding his hand.

But while Nico was celebrating, he didn't notice the boss sneak up behind Charlotte, practically drooling. "I've got you now, pretty bird." Charlotte turned around and screamed.

Nico whirled around in surprise and quickly ran at the man. But he didn't get far before the boss kicked him hard, sending him rolling backwards. Nico looked at Charlotte weakly and gave a small 'Puuuun' before he vanished a puff of smoke.

Both Crest and Erk turned and saw what was happening. "Charlotte!" Crest yelled worriedly. He tried pushing past the men surrounding him, but there were too many.

"The broad's on 'er own." One of them sneered. "You have us to deal with."

Crest shouted angrily and threw a punch at the nearest man. "Out. Of. My. Way!" But no matter who he hit, another just took his place.

Glancing up, he saw the boss lick his lips. "Maybe I'll keep this one awhile. I doubt any buyer would mind if they got you used." He laughed hysterically as Charlotte let out a cry of fear. Then he smiled and raised his knife. "I'm sure a little damage won't be bad either." With a laugh he stabbed down.

Crest's eyes widened as Charlotte stood there, paralyzed with fear. He should've known this would happen. She wasn't ready for another job yet. But just as the knife was about to meet its target, there was movement in the corner of Crest's eye. And the next thing he knew, Charlotte had been pushed to the side and a screaming Erk stood in her place. With a knife in his arm.

"What the hell?" The boss said. "How'd you move so fast?"

Erk's breath was ragged, but he managed to pull the knife out of his arm and throw it on the ground. He took a few shaky breaths before glaring at the man. "You messed with Pumpkin King. You attacked my friends. Right now, I can do anything." He straightened up and gave the man the darkest look he could muster. "And that includes wiping a few slaving bandits off the face of Earthland." He was completely bluffing. It probably looked cool, but after pulling that knife out, his arm was starting to go numb. He doubted he could even move it if he tried.

But the threat seemed to be enough. The boss glanced at him and then at the knife before taking a small step back…and right into Crest. Shaking, the man turned around to find the human wall popping his knuckles and behind him were the groaning forms of his men.

"P-please don't hurt me."

Crest grinned evilly.

The three were just outside Valleydale. The town wasn't large, but it was surrounded forest, giving it a full and vibrating air. The entire place was teeming with life. Every house looked like it had at least one tree near it. Some houses were even built into the trees.

After they made sure that the slavers couldn't escape until someone could pick them up and take them to jail, Charlotte had bandaged Erk's arm. And, much to his and Crest's surprise, she even gave a small, "Thank you. For saving me." But other than that, she didn't say anything else. The walk to the town had been quiet, but it didn't feel awkward anymore.

Erk's arm still felt numb, probably from some sort of poison on the knife, but as they walked he slowly got some feeling back in it.

"So," he said, his mood a lot better after the fight. "This is it." He stopped in front of a small house. It didn't have any paint on it, but it looked like it had been covered in bark. "The request said that the guy's name is Iver. Hopefully he's home."

Letting Erk lead the way, Crest and Charlotte followed him to the door. He only had to knock once when the door swung open, revealing a wiry man with leaves sticking out of his black hair. "Oh, hello." He said with a soft voice. "How can I help you?"

"Uh, we're from Pumpkin King. We accepted your job request. The one about the key?"

The man raised an eyebrow. "Pumpkin King? Never heard of you. And I already have a wizard here who wanted the job." Then he shook his head, a sudden purpose in his eyes. "But no matter. The more people working on it, the sooner we'll be rid of this curse." He pointed a thumb into his house. "Please come in. The key is already being examined, but we can have him take a break so we can go over the details."

The three followed him inside, the hallway looked the same as the outside, brown and covered in bark. As Iver rounded a corner he called, "Master Alec. Some guild wizards are here to lend a hand so why don't you take a quick break from your study."

If Erk had been watching, he would have seen both Crest and Charlotte go rigid as Iver mention Alec. And as they walked into the room and saw who was in it, they both froze. Charlotte let out a cry and put her hands to her mouth. Her eyes began to immediately fill with tears.

Crest stood in pure shock. "A…lec."

Erk looked at them confused. "Huh? What's wrong?" Then he glanced at who they were staring at.

Inside was a man with jet black hair that looked oily and clung to his head. He wore a thin, black jacket and dark green pants. His green eyes had a cunning look in them and they widened in surprise as he saw them.

He cleared his throat, a calculating look going over his face. "Well, well. If it isn't my old friends Crest and Charlotte." He extended a hand to them and he smiled slyly. "I hope you aren't holding a grudge over our touching farewells."

That seemed to snap something inside Crest. Erk could almost feel the hate radiating off of him. He launched himself forward, rage filling his very being. "ALEC!"

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