Erk was lying in bed. It had been a week since Will joined the guild and he was slowly adapting to the new swing of things. Erk along with Julio and Dante had taken to targeting him with their lasted line of pranks…luckily he was a good sport about it. Even after they buried him up to his neck in the pumpkin patch and painted his face like a jack-o-lantern while he was sleeping.
He chuckled in his sleep with a perverted look on his face as a naked Tamashi danced through his dreams. But then some part of his subconscious gave him a mental smack to the face in the form an enraged Rosemary grabbing him by the throat beating him to a bloody pulp.
He woke up with a jolt, breathing heavily.
"Aw man." He said after he calmed down. He turned over on his pillow. "I was having such a nice dream….oh god." He sat up with a horrified look on his face. "I dreamed about naked women….I'M TURNING INTO JULIO!"
He grabbed his head and growled in irritation. He was contemplating hitting his head into the wall when his grandpa barged into the room with a panicked look on his face. "Erk, m'boy. Quit that racket and get yerself cleaned up. We have company!"
Erk looked at his grandpa confused. They never had guests. First of all, their house was tucked away in the back allies of the city. Secondly, they didn't have the money to entertain guests. But by the way his grandpa was acting, it had to be important. There wasn't much that got him worked up.
So he quickly dressed himself, avoiding the piles of spare parts and train schematics scattered across his small room, and grabbed his goggles before heading into the living room. What he found there certainly wasn't what he was expecting. There was an old man wearing a very expensive looking suit sitting on the couch drinking tea. He wore half-moon glasses perched on the top of his nose and a giant mustache that covered most of his mouth. The man's hair was neatly combed back, giving him an elegant look that contrasted with the dirty rag, oil cans, and spare parts that littered the house. Erk's grandpa was sitting in an old, warn brown armchair across from him.
Upon seeing Erk, the man put his tea down and smiled warmly. "You must be Erk." He said kindly. He gestured at the house. "You have a very lovely home here." Erk blushed and straightened himself. "Err…sorry about the mess. We weren't expecting company." He said, embarrassed.
The man simply laughed and waved him off. "No, no. A home needs to be a little messy. Gives it character and depth." He sighed readjusted himself into a more comfortable position. "This place has seen a lot of living in it. That's what truly makes a house a home."
Erk could only gulp the frog that was lodged in his throat and stand next to his grandpa's chair. "Uh, thank you sir."
Pleased with the answer, the man nodded. But before he could say anything, Erk's grandpa cleared his throat. "I'm not sure who ya are, ser, but I'm feelin that ya ain't here ta give us a home evaluation." He leaned forward in his chair. "So if ya don't mind me askin, what brings ya here?"
The man laughed. "Of course. No time for chat, straight to business." He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and pulled his glasses off, cleaning them while he spoke. "My name is Dilliard Grisgewelt. I'm a representative of the Magic Council. Mainly, I deal with issues concerning the evaluation and prohibition of newly discovered magic." He placed the spectacles back on his nose. "During your grandson's recent help in taking own the dark guild Demon Horn," he looked at Erk, "fine work, by the way, fine work, it came to the Council's attention that he was using a magic as of yet unrecorded in our archives. And after taking into account the service he's given the Council, I was personally sent to give the evaluation."
Erk stood in stunned silence. After a few moments, he found his voice again and said, "A-Are you saying that…that my magic could…"
"Become an official magic certified by the Magic Council." Dilliard finished. He had a rather pleased look on his face. "You do wish to become certified don't you?
"Yes!" He practically shouted back. "I'm mean, yeah." He said at a more moderate tone of voice.
"Good." Dilliard said, standing up. "Then let's get started." He looked at Erk's grandfather. "I hope you don't mind me borrowing your grandson for a few hours."
He held up a hand and shook his head. "Not at all, ser. M'boy's been dreamin of this fer a long time. Take all the time ya need."
The man chuckled good-naturedly. "Then let's get a move on. Follow me, young Mr. Travel."
Erk could only flash his grandpa an excited smile before following Dilliard to an open plain just outside the city. "Well now, this seems a good place." He turned to Erk. "I know that lately you've been using your 'Steam Engine' mainly for battle as of late. So let's start out with that. Show me some of your moves."
Okay. Erk told himself to fight off the butterflies in his stomach. This is no time to get nervous. Just practice like you always do.
Taking a deep breath, he concentrated his magic. "Steam Engine." A yellow magic circle appeared behind him with the sound of a train whistle. He took off running at a fast pace, kicking up dirt and dust behind him as he ran in a large circle around Mr. Grisgewelt. Once he picked up enough momentum, he started mixing it up a little. "Rail Change!" He started jumping from place to place, from on the ground and into the air, showing the different ways he could approach and surprise an enemy.
He was at it for almost an hour when Mr. Grisgewelt told him to stop. "Very good, lad. But now I need to observe your other ability." He had a curious glint in his eye when he said, "I believe you can carry passengers and take them to their destinations?"
Erk smiled. Then he asked, "Where to?"
The old man smiled somewhat sadly. "Well, how about a place you've been before. Please take me to the ruins of Brighten Town."
Erk froze in place. The smile melted off his face. He wanted to go anywhere but there. Despite having put it all behind him, images of the bomb going off still haunted his dreams. But he couldn't let an opportunity like this pass by. He may not be get another chance to prove himself until the year Master Jack wagered with his grandpa's boss would be over. He clenched his teeth and turned himself in the direction of Brighten Town. "Yes, sir."
Magic welled inside him as he said, "Steam Engine: Passenger Train." With the sound of another train whistle, a yellow platform appeared behind him large enough to fit Dilliard and golden chains wrapped around Erk's waist, attaching him to the platform. There was little joy in his voice as he said, "All aboard."
Dilliard stepped onto the platform curiously and sat down cross legged. "I assume you could create a bigger platform to accommodate a larger amount of people?"
Erk just nodded his head and answered plainly, "Yeah. The more magic I put into it, the larger I can make it."
Dilliard nodded back. "Noted. Now then, shall we be on our way?"
Erk didn't say anything as he started moving. He was slow at first, mostly due to the added weight of another person, but also because of the dark memories of what happened in Brighten Town. They weighed him down more than Mr. Grisgewelt. But it took only a few seconds before he was able to start running and gain speed.
From where they were, it took roughly two hours for them to reach the rainy ruins of Brighten Town. And it passed mostly in silence aside from the odd comment or two from Dilliard about the speed and performance of Erk's magic.
"A very smooth ride." He commented. "I can't even feel a single bump. And I estimate that we're going over the average speed of most trains." He put a hand to his chin. "You know, we could possible use this magic to replace trains in the future. With this magic, we could-."
But he got cut off by Erk as he ran, his words being filtered into the barrier that protected Mr. Grisgewelt from the wind and momentum. "No." He said sternly. "This magic is useful, but it could never replace a real train. People can ride in comfort on a train instead of sitting on a floor. And I can only move until my magic runs out." He turned his head back to look at him with an eye. "What would happened if I were to run out of magic in the middle of nowhere? Or what if I lost concentration and the barrier protecting you failed?" He shook his head. "Steam Engine is very convenient, but real trains, actual trains are much safer."
Mr. Grisgewelt raised an eyebrow. "Not words most would say during an evaluation. That could be grounds to dismiss your magic altogether if it has safety issues."
Erk couldn't bring himself to muster up the energy needed to feel angry about it. The closer they got to Brighten, the lower his spirit felt. "It's the truth. We're perfectly safe because I've been fine tuning my technique for years. But if someone without the proper training tried it, there could be accidents."
Dilliard rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "As is the way with most magic. It may appear helpful, but without good instruction, people would get hurt." Then he looked up at Erk. "But I see your point. For now, we'll focus on today and leave the future for later."
After that, they rode in complete silence.
They knew they were close when storm clouds appeared above them and it started to rain, the barriers keeping them dry. It took only minutes before Erk pulled up beside the crater that had been created by Latran's bomb.
After Dilliard stepped off the platform, Erk dispelled his magic and the two of them headed down the crater to Latran's tombstone.
The stone pumpkin was marked it proudly as Erk placed a hand on it in silent remembrance. Dilliard bowed his head before the grave marker, giving due respect.
It surprised Erk when he said, "I was born here, you know."
The boy turned in surprise to the older man. There was a look of sadness on his old features. "Brighten Town was my home throughout my entire youth. I lived here until I was not much older than you when I joined the Magic Council." He sighed and looked much older and tired than he had before. "I wanted to come here during the funeral to pay my respects, but my job didn't allow me the time."
Walking up to the tombstone, he placed a hand on the stone pumpkin. "I mourn the loss of my hometown, but I'm eternally grateful to both Latran and you for saving the townsfolk." He looked at Erk and smiled. "My son and his wife, along with my grandchildren owe you their lives. They were on your 'Passenger Train' on that day. They watched as their home was destroyed, but they survived. And that is much more important than some buildings…It's a debt this old man can never hope to repay."
He gave a silent prayer before starting to walk back up the crater. "Come, young master. Let's get you home. We have much to talk about."
Dilliard, Jack, and Erk, along with his grandfather, were standing in Pumpkin King in front of all the guild members. After returning home, Dilliard had grabbed Erk's grandpa and urged that the three of them should head over to the guild so he could speak to them all.
And now that they were there, nerves gnawed at Erk's insides. His solemn mood from visiting Latran's grave gave way to nervousness throughout the journey. Whatever Dilliard said now was going to effect Erk for the rest of his life. An official wizard or a failed one, this was going to be the turning point for either.
Finally, Dilliard cleared his throat and spoke to the guild. "As I'm sure you've all been told, today I've been observing Erk Travel on the performance of his 'Steam Engine' magic. I've taken measure on many things regarding it, ranging from magic output to the possibility of injury to the user and passengers. And I've come to a distinct decision."
Practically the entire guild was holding its breath as he stopped to gather his thoughts. If it wasn't for the fact that it would look extremely lame and embarrassing, Erk would have thrown up from pure nervousness.
Then Dilliard spoke again. "Services to this guild and the Magic Council withstanding, I must say...that I'm disappointed." Erk's heart felt like it dropped into his stomach. And it must have shown on his face. Several of his friends were looking at him in sympathy. Even Rosemary and Bertrand looked saddened by the words. Fredrick put a hand on his grandson's shoulder to console him.
"That the Council wasn't informed of this magic sooner."
Erk looked up in surprise to see Dilliard smiling at him. "Not only has it proven valuable for both uses in battle and transportation, but you've shown knowledge and forethought in practical and complex procedures. And for that, I commend you."
He reached inside his suit and pulled out a piece of parchment and showed it to the guild. Something warm and excited started building up inside Erk. "As such, I, Dilliard Grisgewelt, am hereby honored and privileged to give this document of approval signed by all ten seats of the Magic Council. Congratulations."
Cheering immediately started up in the guild. Dante and Julio were jumping up and down in excitement, whistling and yelling as loud as they could. Lucinda and Sara grabbed hands and the two of them were spinning around, cheering just as loudly as Dante and Julio. Crest and Charlotte were laughing and clapping while Tamashi rolled her eyes gave a confident smile, like she knew the outcome the entire time. Lorelai had grabbed Becky and was laughing and cheering while the Take Over wizard simply rolled her eyes. Bertrand was saying something about having no doubt in the 'young whippersnapper'. Rosemary just offered a smile and raised a glass of wine in acknowledgement. While not as loud as the others, Will was clapping his hands with a smile on his face. Peeko was flying around the room cawing just as loudly as the others shouted while Jack just laughed in a pleased way.
Erk took the paper as Dilliard handed it to him, too stunned to say anything. Then he looked at the older man and said, "If this was already going to be given to me…why did you have me do those tests?" He would have bitten his own tongue if he wasn't too stunned. He should just accept it and leave it at that.
But Dilliard looked like he had expected that question. "Because just because a magic is useful doesn't mean it should be used. I've met some exceptional magic, but I've withheld that very document from their creator's on the basis that it wasn't going to be used for good." He walked closer and looked him in the eye. "You have a lot of talent but, more importantly, you have a good heart. Had you been evil, your magic would have become corrupt. That is my job. To look and see if the creator is a good human being. And you, young master, are a very good man." He shook Erk's hand. "It has been an honor meeting you."
Then Erk felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning around, he found his grandpa pulling him into a hug with tears of pride in his eyes. "M'boy. I always knew you were destined for great thing. And I'm glad as a feller could be that you've proved me right." He separated from the hug and looked Erk up and down, not bothering to wipe away the tears. "Yer parents would be proud of you today. Just as I am, m'boy."
As Fredrick pulled his grandson into another hug, Jack could only smile. "Looks like I've got a deal to collect on." He started for the door. "But of course I knew that the moment I made the deal."