Pumpkin King

Chapter 17

Erk and Julio were up in the rafters on Val duty. And they were rather disgruntled about it. While they were fixing up their sleeping guildmate, Tamashi was lying next to them on her stomach and studying Val.

While he was sure she wasn't paying attention to them, Julio leaned over to Erk and whispered, "Why are we doing this? It's her turn for Val duty."

"Because you peeped on me, that's why."

The two flinched as Tamashi stood up and strutted between them to stand over Val, who was snoring softly. "It's a disgusting habit, pervert." She said with a sniff. But then she looked at Erk and lowered her eyelids sultrily. She pulled at the hem of her shirt. "But you look like you actually have something worthwhile in that head. I'd be happy to let you sneak a peek so long as I got something in return."

"Huh!?" That statement caught Erk completely off guard, making him almost fall off the rafter and down to the floor below. "What the hell?" He said, completely red faced.

But she didn't even acknowledge his reaction. Instead, she looked down at Val and scowled. "So why is this guy even in a guild? I haven't seen him do anything but sleep. I've never even seen him awake." She gave him a calculating look, taking in his black shirt and white pants that were freshly cleaned. "What would happen if I woke him up?"

She reached towards the sleeping mage, but Julio grabbed her wrist frantically. "Don't do that!" He practically shouted.

Tamashi glared at him and yanked her arm out of his grasp. "What's your problem?"

Julio looked at Val worriedly and crouched down, holding himself. "When I first joined, I woke Val up as a joke." He visibly shook. "His eyes opened for maybe a second before I passed out." He looked up at them. "I was in a coma for two weeks."

They took a step back from Val in surprise. Erk's interest was piqued. "What kind of magic-." He stopped midsentence. "Do you guys hear something?" He asked, looking around the ceiling.

Julio stood up with a confused look. "I don't hear anything."

Tamashi closed her eyes and listened carefully. Then she heard it too. A whistling noise coming from above them. And it was getting louder. She opened her eyes. "What is-?" Before she finished, she was cut off as something crashed through the ceiling, sending pieced of wood in every direction. And whatever it was, it was coming straight towards them.

"Look out!" Erk shouted. He grabbed his friends by their collars and tried pulling them aside, only to remember that they were standing on rafters. There was no place to run.

Erk gritted his teeth and braced himself for the impact, but just as it was about to hit them, somebody jumped from behind them and into the path of the object. He had only a second to recognize the sleeping face of Val, eyes still closed and still snoring softly, before the wizard swirled in the air and brought his heel down on the object, sending it rocketing off into a different direction and crashing into the floor of the guild.

The three wizards watched in shock and awe as Val fell back onto the rafter, not even stirring from his sleep.

Tamashi shook herself out of it first. She looked down to see the rest of their guildmates gathering around the crater the crash had created in the floor. Without waiting, she ran over to the rope and slid back down, Erk and Julio following close behind.

They ran to the crater and got their first real look at what it was.

"Is that a lacrima?" Julio asked. And sure enough, that's what it looked like. It was smoking slightly as if it had been on fire, but it was definitely a lacrima.

"What the hell is a lacrima doing falling through our roof?" Lucinda asked. Behind her, Sara was holding onto her shirt tightly, pressing herself into her back in fear. She cast a sideways glance at Julio. "Did one of your birds drop it or something?" She asked suspiciously.

"No way!" Julio shouted back.

Rosemary rolled her eyes at them and looked up at the gaping hole in the roof. "A bird isn't capable of dropping something at the velocity needed to have a lacrima do this. No, this was purposely fired at us."

"You're probably right, Rosie."

Everyone turned to see the Master and Bertrand standing behind them. They immediately cleared a path to the crater.

The Master calmly walked past them, not taking his eyes, which were clearly visible under his mask, away from the lacrima. Then he gently picked it up and studied it. "It seems like someone is trying to tell us something. This is a video lacrima."

The guild members looked at each other anxiously. Then they all gathered around as Jack set the lacrima on a table and it began to glow. The image of a man appeared above it. It was fuzzy for a few moments before becoming clear.

He wasn't what they were expecting. His skin was ghostly pale, they could almost see the veins running through his body. His clothes, which consisted of a white coat and tattered jeans, had holes everywhere. His hair was white. The most disturbing thing about him was his smile. It was spread across his face maniacally. He didn't look completely sane.

"HELLO PUMPMKIN KING!" He suddenly announced, his arms flourishing into the air. "It is an anti-honor to meet you all." He gave a mock bow, grinning widely. "You don't know me, but I know ALL about you. We just haven't had a chance to meet…until now. He started pacing back and forth, his hand on his chin and a contemplative look on his face. "You see, I was just hitting the town and enjoying myself. Having a little fun before I started a very important business venture with some colleagues." He twirled in a circle then abruptly stopped and pointed a finger in their direction. "Until this very lovely couple disrupted my fun."

The image flickered and the whole guild gasped. They were looking at Becky. She was dangling by her arms that were bound by something they couldn't see. There was blood running down her face. She wasn't moving.

"You see, after a little examination I found out that the couple who ruined my fun is from your guild." The man appeared next to Becky and he ran a hand over her cheek. "This one was particularly troublesome. All that transforming and don't even get me started on the poison." He used a finger to lift her head and they got a clear look at her face. One of her eyes was swollen and there was a large cut on her forehead that was still bleeding.

"Don't worry, she's still alive…for now." He started laughing hysterically and removed his finger, causing her head to fall back down. When he stopped, he wiped a tear from his eye. "And in case you're wondering, I still have the man that was with her too." He pointed a thumb behind him. "I left him around here somewhere…I THINK he's still alive." He shrugged. "Not as pretty to look at as this one, so I don't really care."

The man suddenly lunged forward so only his face was showing. "You ruined my fun. So now we're going to start a new game." He said, all lightness leaving his voice. "You have two days to save your friends. But if you're even one second late…" He got so close that only his wicked grin was showing. "Maybe I'll leave you enough pieces to bury." He started laughing again. "Let the Life or Death Race of Pumpkin King BEGIN!" The image faded and the lacrima stopped.

There was silence in the guild. No one was saying anything, but there was a mounting tension rising in the air. And it felt angry.

"WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS?" Every single person flinched at the anger in the Master's voice, even Bertrand and Rosemary. There was fire pouring out of his eyes and mouth with such intense heat that those close to him had to back away. "HOW DARE HE HARM MY SEEDLINGS! I WILL SEE HIS CORPSE ROTTING FOR ALL ETERNITY!" He began stalking towards the door, none of the members standing in his path until much to his surprise, Bertrand and Rosemary, his oldest friends, stood in his way.

"We can't let you do this, Jack." Bertrand said firmly, his cane planted in between them. "Council law specifically states that Guild Masters can't get involved in such things.

"TO HELL WITH THE LAW!" Jack shouted back. "That bastard has harmed my seedlings. I will have my revenge! Now get out of my way!"

Bertrand stood defiantly. "I will not! I can't allow you to break the law. You of all people should understand why. If you wish to leave these doors, you must first go through me!"

Jack mustered up all the rage he was feeling inside and shouted. "I am the Master of Pumpkin King! As a member of MY guild you cannot stop me."

At that, Rosemary pounced and grabbed Jack by the front of his cloak. "You may be Master here, but don't forget that you aren't the only one who had to make sacrifices for this guild." She said it with such venom that Jack paused for a moment. She drew him closer. "If you're the Master of this guild then start acting like one."

Jack soaked in her words and seemed to calm back down a little. After standing motionless for a few moments, Rosemary let go of him and he turned to the group of frightened guild members. This was the first time any of them had seen Jack, Bertrand, and Rosemary act this way.

"Erk." The Master finally said in a commanding tone.

Erk jerked at the sudden call but managed to stumble his way forward. "Yes, Master?" He asked.

"Latran and Becky went on a job in Lighten Town to look for some missing villagers. From here, it takes a full day to get there by train. We don't have the time for that. How fast will it take you to get there on your own."

Erk thought about it for a moment. "Lighten Town? Three hours tops."

Jack nodded. "Good." He scanned the rest of the guild. "Take Lucinda and Sara with you. They'll provide support until you find Latran and Becky and bring them home."

Lucinda and Sara walked forward to stand next to Erk and gave him nods. Erk gulped. The lives of his friends were on the line. But the Master seemed to think he could do it. Plus, he had Lucinda and Sara if anything went wrong.

He walked passed Bertrand and through the door. Once outside, he crouched on the ground and took a deep breath. "Steam Engine." A yellow magic circle appeared behind him, but instead of propelling him forward like it normally did, he was restraining it. He gathered up the magic he was producing at channeled it somewhere else. "Passenger Train." The magic circle began to glow brightly and a train whistle sounded. Then a glowing platform appeared behind him, connecting to his back by glowing yellow chains.

Erk glanced back at the guild, where Sara and Lucinda were watching with awe. "All aboard."

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