Pumpkin King

Chapter 28

Erk felt sullied and unusual. They marked him. A black demon's horn was printed on his stomach and it made him feel like he was going to be sick. It just felt wrong.

They had left the room and he almost sighed in relief that the spider wasn't there waiting for them.

They didn't go far before they entered another room. This one was large and cavernous like some kind of audience chamber. It was made entirely of stone with a stone platform at the far end. There were about a hundred chairs lined up in rows.

Sir Pixelton and Bligoro led them to the front and gestured for them to take a seat.

"The others won't be long now." Picksy said in his too happy voice. "So why not relax for a moment? You've had a busy day."

Erk studied the chairs dubiously. He didn't trust these people. The memory of Divana being dragged away was still too fresh. Luckily, he was spared the need of sitting as another group of people walked into the room. The first was a tall woman. She wore a dress made of some type of white material. It took him a moment to realize it wasn't a dress at all. She was wearing spider webs, layered over each other to resemble clothing. A shawl covered her face and Erk shivered in disgust. It was made of spider webs too.

Behind her walked a group of four girls. "Tamashi!" Erk shouted before he could stop himself. He ran to her and even though he barely knew her, he was glad to see her.

Tamashi rolled her eyes at his approach. "Oh, it's you. They didn't kill you, huh?"

Erk faltered as Divana flashed through his mind again. "Y-Yeah." He answered tentatively. He glanced at the rest of her group, a trio of girls who looked exactly alike, short blonde hair that looked as if they spent a lot of time making it look nice and tanned skin. They even dressed the same. They had red stockings going up their legs that were oddly cut off at the feet and jean shorts that were so small Erk wondered why they even wore them. They had white and red striped T-shirts on that formed to their curves a little too much.

Erk started sweating nervously as he realized they were eyeing him like cats do a mouse.

When they saw him looking, they giggled to each other and sauntered over to surround him, one standing between him and Tamashi.

"Who's this cutie?" The front one asked in a silky sweet voice. And as she spoke, the other two spoke as well. The same sound, the same tone, the same voice, it was like they were one person instead of three. It was a bit creepy to hear them.

The front one turned to look at Tamashi while the other two draped their arms around his shoulders and got a closer look at his face. "He isn't yours is he?" The all asked in unison.

"Tch." Tamashi said, walking away. "Barely know him." She made a dismissive gesture. "You can have him."

"O-Oi." Erk said flustered as two of them pressed themselves closer to him. He had no doubt he was blushing an impressive shade of scarlet. "You're just going to leave me here?" He practically shouted at her.

She didn't even look back. "Why not? It's fun to watch you squirm."

Erk couldn't even answer as the third one pressed herself against his back, driving any witty retort from his mind. They giggled together. "I like squirmers." They whispered to him secretively.

Erk wanted to run, but his legs weren't listening to him. Then one of their faces was in front of his. She giggled coyly before leaning in to kiss him. Erk suddenly felt afraid. Very afraid. Some instinct inside him was telling him to run. Run as fast as he could. But as she kept leaning forward, he realized they were doing something to him. They weren't planning on just kissing him. He strained as hard as he could, but his muscles were locked in place. He couldn't even move his head away. And he could hear the two behind him laughing to themselves.

He looked around her head and mentally shouted at the people near the platform. But no one was paying attention to him and his three assailants. Picksy and the spider lady were talking quietly to each other while Bligoro stared dumbly at the stage and Ulrich and Tamashi were sitting in chairs with their backs to him.

She was close enough that he could smell her. Her scent was intoxicating. She smelled nice and sweet and…deadly. His instinct kicked into high gear and he finally managed to raise a shaky hand to push her away, but then one of the others grabbed it and rubbed it against her cheek.

"There's no point fighting it, cutie." They said seductively. "Just sit back and enjoy."

He couldn't move. And no matter how hard he tried, he could get away. She was about to kiss him when-

"Hot damn!"

The girl's lips stopped mere centimeters from his own. He could taste her breath when she let out a sigh of exasperation. She pulled her head away and gave a rueful glare at someone over Erk's shoulder. "It's not polite to interrupt a girl when she's with a man." They said together.

Erk couldn't tell who, but in the corner of his eye, he saw someone slick back their hair. "Sorry ladies. But it looks like my friend there is a bit uncomfortable."

Erk recognized the voice. Dante!

The shaggy haired wizard flexed to make himself as muscular as possible. "Why don't you give a try? I'm more than willing."

There wasn't a second's hesitation before the girls detached themselves from Erk. He would have shouted out in joy, but the moment they were gone, it felt like all the energy had been drained out of him. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath. His vision swam and his head felt like someone had rung it like a bell, but he managed to turn himself enough to see the three girls surrounding Dante like they had him. He didn't seem too bothered by it.

"Don't…let them…touch you." Erk managed to warn between gasps.

But it was too late. One of them traced a muscle on Dante's arm seductively, much to the earth wizard's pleasure.

"Eww!" The three girls shouted, the one pulling her finger away and staring at it in horror. "You're covered in dirt!" They complained. She kept her finger as far away from her as she could. Then one of them sniffed the air quietly and they exclaimed in disgust, "And you smell like mud."

Dante grinned cheekily. "I'm a man that gets down to earth. And a little dirt never hurt anyone."

They turned their backs to him. "Well I'm not interested in stinky, dirty men." Their eyes landed hungrily on Erk again. "I prefer someone more cultured and clean." They began to strut towards him. "And he looks good enough to eat."

With each step, the urge to run grew stronger and stronger. He didn't want them anywhere near him. They were dangerous.

They licked their lips as they approached with ravenous gleams in their eyes as Erk finally gathered up enough energy to stand. He groaned at the process and was about to run when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder.

"That won't be necessary." A voice said to Erk.

Erk turned his head in shock. He hadn't heard anyone getting behind him. But there stood a man with fading grey hair and matching eyes. A strip of black cloth was wrapped around the lower half of his face with the word 'Sealed' written in choppy white letter where his mouth was. He couldn't have been more than thirty years old. He wore a mismatched pair of pants, one leg white and the other leg black and a misty grey long sleeve shirt under a patchwork cloak. It was originally black, but there were grey and white patches sewn randomly into it. Oddly, he had pockets riddling his entire outfit that had candles sticking out of them.

The girls narrowed their eyes at him, as if contemplating whether or not to continue. Yet there was a hint of uncertainty in their eyes where the hunger had been.

The man seemed to sense this and said darkly, "Don't think to test me." At his words, the candles all over his body flickered on one by one with a ghostly blue flame. Erk half wondered how his clothes didn't light on fire. "I've put you down once and I can do it again just as easily."

That seemed to knock the fight straight out of the girls. As a whole, the shuddered and hung their heads. "Sorry…Will."

His rescuer, Will, seemed to accept that. He nodded his head and, still keeping a hand on Erk's shoulder, turned to look at the woman garbed in spider webs standing next to Picksy and Bligoro. "Spindel, keep your apprentice in line."

Spindel didn't acknowledge Will's words, but she turned to look at the three girls. Her voice was husky and raw, like it wasn't used often. "Sissy, come."

The three girls gulped and did something very strange. The ones on the right and left walked into the one in the middle. The single girl kept her eyes cast down as she walked to stand with the older woman. "Yes, madam." She said, suddenly very meek.

Once she was passed them, Will pulled something out of a pocket and handed it to Erk. "Eat this." He said reassuringly. "It'll help you regain your strength."

Erk looked at it. It was a small candle about the size of an eraser. "You want me to eat wax?"

"Eat it."

The tone left no room for argument so Erk grimaced and popped it into his mouth. And was surprised to find that it tasted sweet, like candy. And Will had been right, as he chewed it, he could feel his strength returning to him.

"Sissy secretes a kind of poison through her skin." He started explaining. "It numbs the body and cuts off the brain from the nervous system, effectively keeping her victims in place." He helped Erk to his feet. "You did well trying to fight her off. It was more than most other men I've seen could do."

Erk blushed. "I just…didn't want her to kiss me." There was no point lying to him. For some reason, Erk trusted this man. And he had a feeling he'd be able to know if he lied. "I'm not strong or anything."

Will studied him closely. "Perhaps. But you have good instincts. Not many realize the danger of her kiss until it's too late. She would have drained every drop of magic from your body until you were not but a husk of your former self."

He gestured at Dante and lead the two of them over to the chairs near the platform with the others, being sure to steer clear of Spindel and Sissy. "But, I'm-I'm not a wizard." Erk tried to explain as they walked.

"That is yet to be seen. Bligoro examined you and judged you worthy. If you did not possess at least some ability with magic, you wouldn't be here right now otherwise." He had them take a seat next Ulrich and Tamashi.

Erk grew somber after that and sat in silence between Tamashi and Dante. He vaguely heard Picksy saying something to Will, but he didn't bother listening. His head was pounding, just like when he remembered his name. He could feel something deep inside him. A feeling that he shouldn't be there. He wasn't sure what it was, but before he could figure it out, Dante was shaking his shoulder. When he looked at the taller boy, he saw him looking up at the platform.

While he had been thinking, Picksy, Bligoro, Spindel, and Will had lined up on the platform, all with serious looks on their faces. Then, much to the shock of the others, a hole opened up on the floor just in front of them. As they watched, a man and two teenagers rose from the hole before it sealed itself.

The first was a boy with electric blue hair that stood up straight on his head, like a broom. He had a single scar on his jaw and his eyes were as black as coal. He wore a ragged pair of black pants that had metal studs running down the legs and a black shirt that had a skull and crossbones on the front. The letters "DE" were in one eye socket of the skull and the letters "AD" were in the other. He had a wild look in his eyes that made Erk's skin crawl.

The second was a girl with long, wavy coal black hair that had white tips. She had on a plain black and white t shirt with a black leather jacket, black and purple skirt, and fingerless gloves. She had a rose pin in her hair. She didn't have any emotions showing on her face.

But nobody was paying much attention to them. The man held an air of command that demanded attention. He had wiry black hair that fell to his shoulders. His clothes were all black, a pair of rugged pants and a holey shirt under a vest, except for a white demon's horn mark that was on each sleeve of shirt. The vest was the only thing on him that wasn't damaged in some way. And like everyone else in the room, he wore no shoes. But the thing that attracted the eye the most was the puckered scar that covered the left half of his face.

One eye looked sealed shut from the scar, but his good eye scanned the people in front of him. He studied them intently, Sissy, Ulrich, Tamashi, Erk, and finally Dante. Then he smirked knowingly and half turned to the girl, keeping his eyes on them.

"How many do you think are going to survive what's to come?" He asked. "Tell me which one's you think are going to die, Lorelai."

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