"I will destroy you all!"
Erk and Sara gaped at the bomb that was floating in the air. It was the size of a house and it looked like it was sucking in all the light around it. The sky and air around it was going dark.
"Destroy destroy destroy!" Jilo made a crushing gesture with his hands and the bomb began compressing and getting smaller.
"Should we stop him?" Sara asked worriedly while they watched.
Erk groaned as he straightened himself so he wouldn't have to lean on Sara anymore. "He's completely insane and he has a giant bomb. Not sure about you, but I don't want to try anything that would make him set it off." He studied it as it continued to shrink. "Besides, you learn a few things while working on trains. And one of those things is that when you compress steam or air, it reacts violently if it's suddenly released." He looked at her seriously as the it became increasingly darker. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to find out if light reacts the same way."
Sara's eyes widened at what he was saying. "But something that large…"
"Could probably wipe out this entire town in a heartbeat."
They looked back at the bomb to see that it was only the size of barrel now and the area around it was so dark that they couldn't see the town behind it anymore.
With a crashing noise, it fell to the ground, creating a crater.
"Hell that thing's gotta be heavy." Erk said nervously.
They instantly went on guard. Because of all the darkness, they couldn't see Jilo anymore.
"Destroy." They heard footsteps over the sound of the rain. "You broke me. So I'll destroy you. Pumpkin King will be no more!" Jilo screamed viciously and they heard him running. But before they could figure out where he was coming from, they heard a hissing noise followed by Jilo giving a strangled scream. There were a few small explosions that lit up the area, but they only lasted for less than a second, not enough for them to get a good view of what was happening.
"What happened?" Erk asked, trying to get the spots out of his eyes.
"I'm…not sure." Sara replied, looking around. She couldn't see anything but she could still hear the hissing sound.
"The cavalry has arrived!"
They instantly perked up. "Hey, isn't that-?"
"Wahoo!" With a laugh, a hole opened up in the air and Lucinda came barreling out of it. "Hey guys. Miss me?"
"Milady!" Sara shouted in joy.
Lucinda gave them a piece sign and grinned. "How's it going, kiddies?"
"Somebody's feeling cheeky." Erk said flatly. "I'm older than you, idiot. And weren't you supposed to be, you know, looking for our friends?"
Lucinda rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. "Tch. Somebody's in a bad mood. What's the matter, get your butt kicked?" She didn't wait for him to answer and flicked her wrist and pointed into the darkness ahead of them. "And for your information, I did find them." A dark looked creeped into her eyes. But it was gone before Erk or Sara could figure out what it was. "Just wait for her to get back." She said with a suddenly smug smile.
Erk and Sara looked at each other confused until they heard another hissing noise, this time closer. "I've been wanting to do thisss for daysss."
Sara seemed to take it well, but Erk nearly jumped out of his skin when a large hazel python slithered into view. Once his heart was beating at a nonlethal rate, Erk finally asked, "Becky? Is that you?"
The snake's tongue flicked out and she nodded her head. "Yesss. Although I'm ashamed to admit that I wasss sssubdued ssso easssily." As she slithered closer, Erk burst out laughing as he saw Becky's tail completely coiled around Jilo's body. He was kicking and screaming, but Becky's tail was holding him tight. "I need more training." She said seriously.
As Erk was pointing at Jilo and laughing, Sara was busy checking over Lucinda for injuries.
"I'm fine, really." Lucinda said, waving her off as she checked her head for cuts.
Sara lowered her arms from her and took a step back. "If you say so, milady." Then she looked around worriedly, first at her, then at Jilo and Becky. "But may I ask? Where's Mr. Latran."
Erk stopped laughing at Jilo at that. "Yeah, where is he?" And evil look appeared in his eyes. "I'm never letting him live this down until he's given back every penny he's taken from me in poker."
The dark look appeared on Lucinda's face again. She refused to look any of them in the eye as she said, "He's in the lighthouse. You'll need to get him, Erk. I…couldn't carry him on my own."
The laughter faded from Erk's face. "What do you mean? What happened?" He grabbed Lucinda's shoulders. "What did he do?" He asked frantically. But no matter what he said, Lucinda refused to answer him.
Erk took a step back and turned to the lighthouse before running as fast as he could, leaving the others behind. When he reached the entrance, he practically kicked in the door and ran in. The room was completely made of stone with a staircase leading up in a spiral around the wall. In the center of the room was a tall glass cylinder that reached up straight up to what Erk guessed was the top of the lighthouse. In the center of the glass was a glowing lacrima that was casting a soft glow in the room. "Latran!" He shouted. Looking around, it was like the place they saw in the lacrima. Going up to a pillar, he put a hand on it. It looked just like the place they saw Becky.
"Erk?" A weak voice said. "Thank goodness it's you." The air behind the pillar began to shimmer and move, like a mirage. When the glow faded, Erk found Latran leaning against the other side of the pillar on the floor, half of him shrouded in the shadow cast by the pillar.
"Whoa!" Erk jumped back in surprise. "What is up with you guys in surprising me? Do you have some kind of fetish or something?" After he caught his breath, Erk scowled at him. "How long have you been there?"
"The entire time." Latran replied weakly. His normally slicked back hair was a complete mess, as were his clothes. And for some reason, Erk could smell something burning around him. "The Master of Illusions, at your service." He said with as much flourish as he could manage.
Erk took a breath of relief. "Well if you have enough energy to make jokes, I was worried for nothing." He looked at the door with an annoyed look. "Lucinda made it sound like you were dead or something." He stuck out a hand to help him to his feet.
Latran smiled sadly and placed a hand on the leg that was hidden in the shadow. "I'm afraid…that walking is beyond me now.
The joking manner melted from Erk's face. He ran around to the other side of the pillar and got a closer look at his leg…and almost immediately recoiled in horror and revulsion. He had found the source of the burning smell. The left leg of Latran's pants was completely torn away.
Revealing his leg to be almost completely black from being covered in burns.
"It doesn't hurt anymore unless I put pressure on it." Latran explained sadly. He put on a smile, but it was laced with sorrow. "If I leave it alone, it almost feels like nothing's there."
Erk gulped to keep himself from getting sick. "Why…"
"I'm afraid I wasn't the most courteous of guests." Latran said, shifting slightly to keep the pressure off his leg. "He tortured Becky." His voice was darker than the sky outside. "I was helpless as he did horrible things to her." He looked Erk in the eye, almost desperate for him to understand. "I did the only thing I could. I created a connection between me and her and fed her my magic." He reached up and grabbed Erk's arms. "It was all I could do to keep her alive. A steady flow of power to keep her body from failing." He let go and looked down and gestured at his leg. "Unfortunately, it left me rather defenseless. When he found out, I couldn't do anything as he did…this to me." He took a breath. "After Lucinda found us, it was all I could do to create that simple illusion in case Jilo came back."
Erk stared at the leg for another moment before closing his eyes and smacking his cheeks to snap himself out of it. "Well we've got him now." He said brightly, trying to keep a smile up. "So we can go home now." He bent over to put one of Latran's arms over his shoulders. "We'll fix your leg up then you can give that asshat a few good kicks."
Latran groaned in pain loudly as Erk lifted him to his feet. Erk winced. "Yeah, this isn't going to feel nice. Just try to keep from stepping with it."
Latran just bit down on his lip to try and ignore the pain. But after only a few steps, his lip was bleeding from biting in an effort to keep from screaming. His face was a ghostly pale but he didn't complain. But their progress was going to be incredibly slow.
In an effort to keep his mind off it, he began talking. "You know, I wasn't always a Pumpkin King wizard."
Erk chuckled. "No duh. It's not like you were born there."
Latran cringed at the movement the laugh made. But he ignored it. "No…But what I meant was, I used to belong to a different guild. A…darker one."
It took a second for Erk to get what he was saying and when he did, he nearly stopped their already slow pace. "You were part of a dark guild?" He asked, barely above a whisper. He'd heard about dark guilds. And they made him sick to his stomach. "Which one?"
Latran nodded his head in shame. "It was a lifetime ago…a different me." He was silent for a moment. But then he said it, barely even a whisper. "Grimoire Heart."
Erk did stop at that. "Grimoire…Heart." He said, barely believe what he was hearing. Everyone knew who they were. The strongest dark guild in history. "B-But I thought they disbanded!"
Latran smirked. "We did. After we lost in a battle against the Fairy Tail guild and Master Hades went missing, many of us tried escaping." He sighed as the memories came back. "I was the top saboteur. I used a mixture of illusion magic…and bomb magic." Erk's eyes widened. "It was a high position. I would sneak into my mark's house, plant a bomb, and hide it using my illusions. I take no pride in saying that I was very good at my job. I tailored each bomb and each illusion to make it seem like an accident. And not once were we ever connected to the killings. Hades often complimented me on my ingenuity."
Latran hissed and grimaced in pain. And to Erk, it seemed more like the memories hurting him than his leg. But nonetheless, he started the slow pace back up.
"My hands are covered in so much blood…but I didn't care back then. I took a perverse joy in doing it." He looked at Erk, trying to judge his reaction. "And then I met Master Jack. I was still on the run from the Magic Council. One of my old guildmates ratted me out and gave them my identity. Needless to say, they were rather keen at apprehending me." His face actually brightened at the memory and he gave a small laugh. "He offered me a place in his guild. He would give me a new life, a new name, a new me. In exchange, he wanted a lifetime of service to Pumpkin King."
Erk hadn't watched where they were going so Latran's leg bumped against the side of a pillar, causing him to hiss in pain. But he kept on with his story. "I saw no other choice back then. I was close to being found. I accepted his offer as an escape. Afterwards, he added another condition. I had to swear off bomb magic for the rest of my days. Never again was I to take the life of another." He lowered his head. "It didn't matter. It kept me out of prison so I agreed. And for the next few years, I was a Pumpkin King wizard. I hated it at first. I saw the others as weaklings who's only hope of survival was to grovel at the feet of the stronger members."
"But over time I began to change." His lifted his head and his eyes were shining. "Everything was filled with so much light. So much warmth. Despite my history, never once did any of them treat me differently. Never once did they treat me with anything but kindness."
"It was only then did I realize that Master didn't just give me a chance at escape. He gave me a chance at redemption. A chance to wipe away some of the blood that stains these hands."
They had reached the entrance of the lighthouse at that point. And Erk was trying his best to gently lift Latran's leg over the threshold. Once they were outside, they were greeted by a small group of people, who were blearily trying to get their bearings.
"What?" Erk said. Looking around he saw Lucinda going around breaking off the chains that were tethering the people to the lighthouse, using her portals to get the ones higher up.
Erk and Latran slowly made their way through the crowd and over to where Sara and Becky, still in snake form, were watching over the still kicking Jilo.
"Mr. Latran!" Sara greeted as they got close. "I'm glad to see you're s-." She stopped and gasped when she saw his leg. She put her hands over her mouth. "Oh my…"
"It looks worse than it is." Latran lied. "Just a bit numb is all. Makes it a bit hard to walk."
Sara calmed down slightly at that, but Erk noticed that Becky didn't say a word. She kept her eyes firmly on Jilo. And if he didn't know any better, he'd think that she was squeezing him a lot harder than earlier.
But despite that, Jilo was laughing maniacally as he struggled. "You think you've beaten me! You don't know how wrong you are!"
If he hadn't been holding up Latran, Erk would have gone over and kicked his head. "Well where I'm standing, you're the one being restrained by an angry looking python, not me."
Jilo's head snapped towards Erk, giggling to himself hysterically. "But. You. Forgot. Something." He said in a sing song voice.
Erk scoffed. "We aren't forgetting…any…thing." The blood drained from his face. The sleep spell on the villagers seemed to have stopped. Many of them were waking up and slipping out of their binds. But that didn't mean… "It's still dark."
Jilo grinned widely. "Looks. Like. He got it."
Erk immediately dropped Latran, making him scream in pain as he went to the ground, and ran over to where the darkness was thickest. He nearly fell into the crater, but he found it. Despite the darkness, he could see it pulsing with light when he got close. The red lines that ran over it were pulsing as well.
Turning around, Erk quickly ran back to the others. "The bomb's still active!" He shouted.
At that moment, Jilo sprang into action. "Blasting Bomb!" A green sphere appeared just above Becky's tail. But she was quick. Becky immediately uncoiled herself from Jilo morphed back to her normal red haired self, jumping away just as the bomb detonated, sending her flying back towards the lighthouse.
Jilo quickly got to his feet and jumped away from them, brushing off his white coat. "Hahaha! Looks like I'M going to win, Pumpkin King!" He raised his hands in the air, laughing hysterically. "It's still ticking away!" He leered at them. "My Reality Bomb."
Latran gasped. "That's…impossible." He managed to managed to bring himself to one knee, his other leg hanging uselessly under him. "You can't possibly know that spell."
"Oh it's possible." Jilo taunted. "And you shouldn't be surprised. I'm your successor after all." He grinned at Latran's pale face. "I know all your spells. Including your greatest work, the Reality Bomb." Then he suddenly ran forward, knocking Sara and Erk aside in surprise and kicked Latran onto his back. With a victorious scream, he slammed a hand over Latran's heart. "Failsafe Activate!"
Latran screamed in pain as red lines appeared over his heart and spread across his body. The lines pulsed with red light once before fading into his skin. "What…have you done?" He asked weakly.
Jilo laughed loudly. "Now none of you can disarm it!"
Erk got up and snapped his goggles on angrily. "Then I'll just have to kick your ass and make you stop it."
"That won't be necessary."
Before anyone knew what was happening, several beams of light streaked through the air and wrapped themselves around Jilo, the edges digging into his arms and pinning them in place.
Jilo's eyes widened. "It can't be!"
The beams of light pulled Jilo backwards. And as they did, a figure seemed to materialize out of the darkness. He was wearing a black cloak with the hood up so it shrouded his face.
Jilo was dragged straight towards him, kicking and screaming. "I apologize for the interruption." He said calmly. "But I'm here to apprehend the criminal known as Jilo."
Erk looked slightly annoyed while Becky ran back over and Sara checked over Latran. "And who the hell are you?"
"I'm with the Magic Council." The man said. Jilo started screaming again so with a flick of his wrist, the beams of light tightened and coiled upwards, covering his mouth. "I've been tracking this man for a while now. He never stays in the same place for long." He gave them all a polite bow. "But thanks to you, he stayed here long enough for me to track and capture him."
Becky looked at suspiciously. As Jilo stopped struggling to glare at the man. "If you are from the Magic Council, then you should know that that man has set a bomb to destroy this entire town." She gestured at the townsfolk, who were starting to gather around them, watching the scene. "It's your duty to save these people. So you need to disarm the bomb."
The man didn't even bother looking at the townsfolk. "I know the entire situation. But I'm afraid I'm only a scout. I don't have the magic needed for such a task." He turned to leave, one hand firmly grasping Jilo's arm. "But there should be a man with you who is capable of such a feat."
"So you're just going to leave us here!?" Erk shouted at him.
The man looked back at him. "Like I said. I cannot help in this matter. I have completed my task so now I must transport the prisoner. He forcefully made Jilo take a step forward and they started walking into the darkness.
Then, loud enough so only Jilo could hear him, he said, "I'm only doing this on Master's orders." He moved his head a fraction of an inch to look at Jilo. "If you jeopardize the mission again, I'll kill you myself." Then the two of them vanished into the darkness, leaving the townsfolk and Pumpkin King wizards behind.
There was a moment of silence before the all the people of Brighten Town were around them and Lucinda staggered over and collapsed next to Sara and Latran, completely out of breath.
Then Erk ran over to Latran and grabbed his shoulder. "What is it?" He asked frantically. "What's the Reality Bomb?" Latran stood dumbstruck until Erk shook him. "Latran!"
The illusion mage blinked. "It's a spell I created." His eyes shot up to meet Erk's. "The ultimate bomb that'll destroy everything in a twenty mile radius. Not even a particle will be left behind. Everything it hits…will simply be wiped from existence…from reality."
Erk stared at him in shock while Sara gasped. Lucinda managed to sit up as she digested what he said while Becky remained quiet. But the townsfolk heard everything. And they did what people always do when hearing that kind of news. They began to panic. People started screaming while others started running, pushing anyone that got in their way.
But Becky immediately took control. "Everyone remain calm!" She shouted in a commanding tone. Her clothes were in tatters, but she still had an air of respect. People stopped running and turned to look at her.
"How can you expect us to stay calm?" One man said. He waved an arm around frantically. "You heard him, we have to get out of here!"
"If you were listening than you should also know that there's no way any of you can run for twenty miles." She turned to Latran, who Erk was helping to his feet. "How long do you think we have till detonation?"
Latran thought about it for a second. "Maybe fifteen minutes if we're lucky.
Becky nodded. "You heard him. Running would be pointless. But anyone feeling stupid enough to try is free to do so." She waited but not a single person started running. "Good. Now we're going to try and disarm the bomb. Everyone just remain calm until then." She straightened herself. "As Pumpkin King wizards, we will get everyone out alive." She turned to Sara and Lucinda. "Go make sure nobody is hurt."
The two nodded. "Right."
Then she turned to Latran and Erk. "You two come with me." She grabbed Latran's other arm and together with Erk, they managed to carry him over to the crater where the bomb was.
It was still pulsing with light. But when they got close, Latran stepped out of their grasp, ignoring the mind numbing pain that shot through his leg. He put his hands up to the bomb and a small glowing screen appeared in front of it. He scanned it quickly but then he slammed his fist against the ground.
"So that's what he did." He growled.
"What?" Erk asked worriedly. "What's wrong?"
Latran looked up, in his eyes was the look of defeat. "The Reality Bomb has a failsafe that can be tripped to stop the it from detonating." He lifted his shirt, revealing five red lines that were wound across his heart. He looked at them sadly. "When he hit me earlier, he placed the failsafe inside me. So long as I exist…so does the Reality Bomb."
Erk's eyes widened. "So…there's nothing we can do?"
Latran sat motionless in front of the bomb for a moment before slowly straightening himself. "I never said that." He said. Turning around he looked at Erk with a strange calm in his eyes. "Can you manage to take all these people to safety? With your magic, can you carry them away from here."
Erk ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath. "No." He finally said. "I just don't have enough magic to carry THAT many people in one trip. It would take me hours to get them all away."
From where he was sitting, Latran reached up and grabbed both of his arms. "You have to Erk." He said seriously. "I can't stop this bomb, but maybe I can slow it down and reduce the blast radius. But if any of those people are to survive, YOU must carry them to safety." He looked at Becky beseechingly. "Make sure he does it." He grabbed her hand. "Make sure."
Becky realized what he was saying and opened her mouth in protest. But Latran stopped her. "You've always been intelligent. This is the only way." He looked her in the eye. "It's either one or all." Becky closed her mouth and after a long pause, she nodded her head.
Erk took a staggering step back as the situation became clear to him. "W-What are you doing?"
Latran didn't answer him. Instead, he turned to the bomb grabbed it from both sides. The bomb glowed brighter at his touch. "Oh, you've missed me, haven't you?" He said soothingly, as if the bomb were a living being. Then he said to Erk, "I told you, I'm going to slow it down." He grunted with the effort, but he dragged the bomb close to his body until he was holding it against his chest. Then the groan turned into a yell as he pressed it even closer, making it glow even brighter.
Erk's eyes were wide and he was shaking as he watched the bomb started sinking into Latran's body. Before long, the entire thing was pulled inside his chest, making Latran's whole body crackle with red light.
"Go!" He yelled, keeping his arms crossed over his chest, which was glowing from where the bomb had entered.
"N-Not without you!" Erk shouted back. His eyes were wide with disbelief.
Latran shook his head. "That would defeat the purpose." His whole body shook but he kept himself together. "Jilo fused the failsafe to me so I fused myself to the bomb." He managed a small smile. "Hopefully this will buy you enough time to get away. Now GO!"
Becky never took her eyes off Latran as she grabbed Erk's arm. "Let's go." She said quietly.
"But we can't just leave him!" He protested.
"We have to!" Becky shouted back. Then she closed her eyes and calmed herself down. "He's sacrificing himself. His life…for all of ours."
Erk shook his head, but eventually turned with Becky. "S-See ya." He managed to say.
Latran managed a real smile. "Farewell, my friend."
Then the two of them were running back to the others. "Everyone get in a group!" Becky shouted as they ran. Lucinda and Sara ran to meet them, but Erk and Becky each grabbed one of them and kept running back.
Erk didn't waste any time once they got there. He let go of a struggling Lucinda and lined himself up with what looked like a town exit. It was hard to tell with all the darkness and rain. The townsfolk and Lucinda and Sara were all shouting, trying to figure out what was going on, but he blocked them all out. "Steam Engine." He said quietly. "Passenger Train." Golden chains appeared around his waist attached to a small yellow platform. But that wasn't big enough, not nearly big enough. He focused everything he could, all his magic, every last drop was focused into the platform with one thought in his mind. Bigger. His entire being was put into that single command. Bigger.
Steam began literally pouring from his body in waves. The platform began sparking until it finally started growing. Bigger. Sweat began beading his brow, only to evaporate into more steam. Bigger. The platform was growing even larger, longer. "Not…enough." Erk breathed out. Then he felt someone's hand on his shoulder. He turned his head to see Becky reaching out and touching him.
"Take everything I have." She said calmly.
Then Erk felt another flow of magic inside his body, it was weak but he could feel it. Then he saw Sara and Lucinda reaching out as well. "We don't have much left." Lucinda said wearily. "But you can have it."
Then much to his surprise, Erk saw a random man from the crowd of townsfolk come up and reach out as well. "I know a little magic too. Use all you need." Erk watched wide eyed as several other people ran from the crowd and joined them, all reaching out to him.
He could feel so much magic inside him. It felt like too much. Too much power. Too much pressure. But he forced himself to take it. Bigger. He forced it all into the platform, making it grow. Bigger!
"Overhaul!" With a deafening whistle, the steam pouring off of him shot into the air and the platform shot out in every direction, growing large enough to fit every single person in Brighten Town.
"ALL ABOARD!" He shouted. He shouted it so loudly his voice went raw.
He felt them platform shake as everyone rushed to get on. There were bags under his eyes and sweat was still beading his brow, but turned when every single person was on to look at the crater that Latran was in.
Then Becky but her hand on his shoulder again. "We need to go." She said quietly.
Erk took a shaky breath and nodded, quickly turning away so no one would see his eyes starting to mist over.
It took all his strength, but he managed to take a step forward. It was so heavy. All those people. But after that first step, it all became easier. In moments, he was charging straight into town. He knew immediately that the platform was too big. The buildings would block their path. So he braced himself and kicked up as much speed as he could.
And the moment they made contact with the buildings, they broke right through. The impact slowed Erk down slightly, but he yelled in defiance and kept on going.
Soon he could see the last line of buildings and when they finally crashed through, he really picked up speed. He squeezed out what little magic he had left and put it into a burst of speed.
Back in town, Latran managed to crawl his way out of the crater to watch them go. He smiled sadly. "I wonder," he said to himself, "if I've made amends." With a groan, he sat back and looked at the direction Erk had gone. Then he shook his head. "No. I've done some horrible things. But…perhaps been able to do enough good...to make a small difference." A spasm shook his entire body, red light arcing off him. Images of his time with Pumpkin King floated to the surface of his memory. "That guild." He said with a true smile. "So full of light and warmth." He looked up at the sky as his entire body sparked and began to glow with red light. "From above or below, I'll always watch over them."
Then his body pulsed with one last burst of light.
And as Erk ran, the ground began to tremble and he heard his passengers screaming as a huge wave of light and heat radiated from behind them.
All he could do was keep running...and ignore the tears.