Pumpkin King

Chapter 16

Erk was walking towards the guild as usual in a particularly good mood. He had helped his grandpa repair the engine to one of the older trains and it was finally in working order again, which meant it would be back on the tracks in the morning.

He was in such a good mood, he was humming to himself. And as he was humming, he noticed the strangest couple walking towards him from the guild.

"Hey!" He shouted, waving at them. He ran forward and stopped in front of them. "Becky, Latran? What are you two doing together?" He asked.

Latran smirked and opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Becky said, "Latran's skills are inadequate for the job he took. So he had to come to me for help to complete it."

Latran sweat dropped and his smirk turned into a shaky smile. "Must you always be so blunt, dear Becky?" Then he turned to Erk. "I accepted a job to find some missing villagers. But while subterfuge and infiltration are my strong points, I lack the muscle power to take on any serious foes. So I asked Becky to be my companion this evening."

Erk tried not to laugh. "Well don't let this bozo slow you down." He said to Becky while pointing a thumb at Latran.

Becky seemed to have taken his joke seriously. "Don't worry. If he does, I'll leave him behind to fend for himself while I go finish the mission."

She said it with such a serious face that both Latran and Erk believed her.

"W-Well we better be off then. We have a job to do." The suit wearing man said. He gestured for Becky to take the lead before they started off down the road. "Try not to get into too much trouble while I'm away." He called back at Erk.

Erk only grinned and shook his head before he started walking towards the guild again. But he didn't make it far before something caught his interest. There was someone hunched over in the pumpkin field. And as he got closer, he could make out a green vest on the figure. That could only mean one person.

He snuck up behind him and peered over his shoulder. "What are you doing, Julio? Did you get put on pumpkin duty again?" But as he looked, it wasn't a pumpkin Julio was looking at, but a lacrima.

Julio whipped around with a scared look on his face, but when he saw who it was, he calmed down. Then he smirked mischievously.

"Oh, hey Erk." He moved so Erk could get a better view at the lacrima and laughed. "I'm just enjoying the view."

Erk scrunched his eyebrows together as he leaned closer…and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head. It was a little steamy so it was hard to see, but he could definitely make out four figures in a hot spring. And those figures were Lucinda, Saraphina, Tamashi, and Lorelai…bathing…naked…in full view of the lacrima.

Erk's jaw dropped and blood nearly shot out of his nose. After a moment of collecting himself, he looked at his friend. "You're messed up." Then he was crouching on the ground next to him. "Now scoot over."

Julio grinned widely. "I knew you couldn't resist." He scooted over so Erk could get a better look at the lacrima. "They're at the springs the Master built at the other end of the fields. And I've got a bird flying over it with a lacrima."

Erk nodded while keeping his eyes firmly planted on the lacrima. Years ago, Master Jack had built a hot spring in an outcropping of rock on the far side of the pumpkin fields. It would have taken a lot of effort to remove all the stone so instead he repurposed them. But for some reason, he only let the female guild members use it.

In the lacrima, Tamashi was sitting on the edge of the spring and stretching (much to the pleasure of Erk and Julio). Then she looked over at Lucinda and said something to her and Lucinda immediately said something back with an irritated look on her face, but Erk and Julio couldn't hear what she said.

"Hey, why can't we hear anything?" Erk asked.

"Hey, this is only a vision lacrima. Video lacrima that have sound too are expensive."

"What are you two doing?" An angry voice suddenly said. The two instantly froze and slowly turned around to see an angry Jack with flames coming out of his eyes and mouth holes. "You know the rules!" He shouted. The flame grew even higher. "Nobody peeps on the hot springs!" The two were sweating and shaking at this point. They had to resist the urge to hold each other in fear. Then suddenly, the flames were gone, the anger vanished and Jack was crouching next to them in front of the lacrima. "Without me."

Erk and Julio just went, "Eh?" in confusion as Jack looked closer at the lacrima.

"Oh, nice set up." He said gleefully. "This ought to be good." Erk and Julio just stared at their Master before he turned and said, "If you just sit there you're going to miss all the good stuff."

The two stared for a moment before smirking and going back to the lacrima where they saw Lucinda splashing water at Sara. "It is truly a garden of Eden." Jack said happily.

Julio put a hand on his shoulder with a serious look on his face. "I didn't realize we were like souls, Master…and if you were interested, I have recordings of other…gardens."

The Master turned and put his hand on Julio's shoulder in return with tears flowing out of his eyes. "You are truly a man among men."

"Hey, guys." Erk said, waving at them. "I think something is happening." Julio and Jack scrambled back to look into the lacrima. And as they watched the steam from the spring started thinning out…revealing much more than they thought they would see.

"Oh!" They crowded together to get as close as possible but when the steam finally dissipated the lacrima was suddenly covered in blood.

"What the!?" Erk and Julio turned to look at Jack, who had blood coming out of where his nose would have been. "How the hell are you having a nosebleed? You don't even have a nose!"

Jack tried wiping away the blood. "What are you talking about?" He said, clearly flustered. "This isn't blood. It-Its pumpkin juice."

Erk hurriedly wiped away the blood from the lacrima but was surprised to see that instead of the hot springs, the lacrima was looking at the sky. "Uh, I think you're bird is flying upside down or something."

"Huh?" Julio responded. He and Jack looked back at the lacrima only to see the image spin slightly…before the image was the three of them squatting in the middle of a pumpkin field.

"So it's you three."

The three froze. "I mean, I'm not too surprised about the Master and the mini perv. But you Erk? I thought you were better than that."

The slowly turned around to see the four girls all draped in towels and still dripping wet. Sara and Lorelai were hiding slightly behind Lucinda and Tamashi. Lucinda was holding a small crow that had a lacrima tied to it.

Tamashi and Lucinda glanced at each other before sauntering over. "Give us one good reason why we shouldn't kill you and bring your bodies back for a tea party." Tamashi said while nonchalantly examining her nails.

There was a moment of silence before Jack put his hands on Erk and Julio's shoulders. "It has been an honor serving with you men." He said respectfully. Then he shouted. "Troops dismissed!"

Then the strangest thing they had ever seen happened. Jacks entire body was sucked into the pumpkin on his head. The whole thing. A light seemed to flicker on inside it as it fell to the ground. They all suddenly heard a caw and the looked up to see Peeko fly out of nowhere, grab the stem of Jack's pumpkin, and fly off with it towards the guild.

They all stared at Peeko as he flew off before Erk and Julio fearfully realized something. They were now alone. The four girls were staring at them like cats would a couple of mice.

"We are so dead." Julio looked over at Erk in dismay only to find his friend missing. He whirled away to see Erk fading away in the distance, the yellow magic circle on his back propelling him forward.

"Traitor!" Julio yelled after him. Then someone grabbed his shoulder.

Erk heard him scream but steeled himself and kept on running. "Sorry." He said under his breath as the wind rushed past him. "But you would have done the same to me."

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