"I'm afraid not."
Erk stood in stunned silence at the answer.
It had started out as a usual day, but instead of training, he had been just lazing around the guild. Crest had told him to take a break since he had volunteered to go with Latran on a mission. But that got Erk thinking. If he could raise enough money to pay off his debt to the train yard, then he wouldn't have to stay in the guild anymore. He could go back to working on trains every day.
So he confronted the Master about it and asked him if he could start going on missions…his answer wasn't what he expected.
"It's a good idea." Jack said, taking a sip of tea. "Raise enough money to get out of debt." He raised the cup and Peeko lowered his beak to take a drink. "But you aren't ready for missions yet."
"Why not?" Erk replied hotly. "I've been training for weeks now! I'm ready for a real mission."
Jack's eyes slowly became visible and his voice became stern. "Really? Tell me, Erk, have you learned how stop without hitting anything yet?" He didn't bother waiting for an answer. "No you haven't. That's all well and good if you're fighting an opponent, but what if you miss? You'll just keep on running until you hit something. And what happens if that something is just an innocent bystander?" Jack set his teacup on the table and folded his fingers together. "You aren't ready yet."
Erk gritted his teeth and glared at his Master. He wanted to say something but he couldn't. He was right…even if he didn't like it.
Jack's eyes faded back into the shadows of the jack-o-lantern. "Hey?" He asked, a lighter tone entering his voice. "Have I ever told you the story of how our guild got it's name?"
"What?" Erk asked, feeling exasperated. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Jack just kept going, not paying attention to Erk's question. "You see, when I was a boy my father told me this story. It was about a small pumpkin that was growing in a patch. And he had a problem."
Erk rolled his eyes and sat down in the seat across from him. "Again with the pumpkins." He muttered.
Jack just kept going. "You see, that pumpkin was the smallest in the field and he always got made fun of by the other pumpkins for it. But he never blamed them for it. Because even though they hurt his feelings, he still had his dream he could rely on whenever he was sad."
"Uh, not to be a downer here, but pumpkins can't dream. And they can't get sad either." Erk pointed out dryly as he leaned back in his chair.
Jack chopped him on the head. "Very observant, smartass. Now can I go on with the story?" Peeko cawed while Erk nodded and rubbed the sore spot on his head. "You see, his dream was to one day be the king of the pumpkin patch. That way, nobody would ever be able to make fun of him again. But one day, he noticed something strange happening. One by one, the other pumpkins in the patch were disappearing." From on top of Jack's head, Peeko cawed and started flapping his wings. Nobody paid him much attention as he rose into the air and flew out the window. "Worried about what was happening, he stayed up one night to see if he could figure anything out." Jack's voice lowered dramatically. "And what he saw disturbed him."
"People were sneaking into the pumpkin patch in the dead of night and taking the other pumpkins as they slept. The next day, he tried warning the others, but they wouldn't listen to him. So he could only watch in despair as more and more of the larger pumpkins were taken. And soon, he was the only one left. He had been overlooked because he was so small." Erk was listening intently now, completely wrapped up in Jack's story.
"He cried in his loneliness. Even though they had made fun of them, he didn't want them to be put in any danger. So one night, he looked into the sky and saw a brilliant star shining above him." Jack clasped his hands together and looked up, his face changing to a hopeful look. "He wished and wished with all his might that he could do something to help all of his friends. Well it seemed the star was listening because in a flash of light, the pumpkin began to change. He grew a body and arms and legs. The only thing that didn't change was his head, which remained a pumpkin. He marveled at his new body, but then he knew what he had to do. He went out and searched for his friends. He went from place to place, town to town in search of the other pumpkins. For some, he was too late. Some had been smashed or cooked, while others had been hollowed out with faces carved on them. But for most, he had made it in time to save them."
"He took them all back to the patch and they were all overjoyed at being home again. They wanted to thank the little pumpkin for saving them so they decided to make the little pumpkin's dream come true. Even though he still held the form of human, for the rest of his life he was called the pumpkin king."
Finishing his story, Jack looked back at Erk. "Do you understand now?"
Erk blinked. And then he noticed something. The entire guild had gone quiet to listen to Jack's story and they were all looking at him expectantly. Erk thought about it for a minute. "Well…I guess the overall meaning of the story would be that no matter what happens, your dream can come true."
"Exactly!" Jack exclaimed excitedly. He stood up and raised his arms with a flourish. "We are Pumpkin King! The guild that turns dreams into reality!" He turned to the rest of the guild, who were watching the scene with smiles on their faces. "No matter how hard, we'll work to make sure every dream comes true!"
All around him, the guild burst into cheers so loud, he was surprised the building didn't shake. Erk looked around to see his guild mates grinning and raising their mugs. Even up in the rafters, Val stirred in his sleep with a sleepy smile on his face.
As the cheering went on, Erk allowed himself a small smile. "We're not so bad, are we?" He turned to see Jack looking at him, his eyes visible in the shadows of the pumpkin. "I understand your need to rush, but you need to take this slowly. Rush into a mission head first and you might mess up." The smile on the pumpkin widened. "If you want your dream to come true, you need to work for it."
Erk cast a glance at the people around him and smirked. "Maybe you're right." He admitted. Then he leaned back in his chair again and closed his eyes. "Besides, I don't want to leave this place yet. It's just getting interesting."
Outside the guild was a girl with dark blue hair that had black streaks in it stood in the pumpkin patch. In the front it went a few inches past her shoulders while behind her it fell to the middle of her back. She was fit, with a slight tan and muscle with freckles all over her body. There was a black arrow head tattooed under her left eye and both of her ears had piercings in them. She wore a black coat over a sleeveless, high collared dark blue dress. She had skinny black leggings under tall blue socks and tall black boots that had silver buckles.
In front of her stood Peeko, who was standing on top of a pumpkin. She leaned down to stare at the crow intently. Peeko returned the stare, unnaturally keeping his eyes trained on the girl. Something glinted in Peeko's eyes, causing the girl to lean even closer, but before she could figure out what she saw, there was suddenly a hand on her shoulder.
"I wouldn't get that close, if I were you."
The girl quickly jumped to the side and pulled two knives from inside her coat. "Who are you?" She asked, ready to throw the knives if needed. The man in front of her was very tall, but she couldn't make out his features because of the jack-o-lantern on his head.
Jack tilted his head and said, "I should be asking you that. After all, this is my property." The girl didn't look like she intended on answering so instead, he said, "My name is Jack. I'm the master of the guild here."
The girl's eyes widened for a fraction of a second and she tightened the grip on her knives. "You're a mage?"
"Yes I am." Jack replied cheerfully. He walked over to Peeko, who cawed and jumped onto his perch on Jack's head. He noticed the girl's reaction and his eyes slowly faded into view. "But you don't like mages very much, do you?" He asked.
"No." The girl answered simply. She didn't offer any more information than that.
Jack chuckled. "But you do like crows." He said. "I noticed your interest in Peeko here." He reached up and ran a finger over the crow's head. "That's something we can agree on." He let silence sit between them for a moment before saying, "But how would you feel if I told you that Peeko was a mage too."
The girl's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Crows can't use magic."
"Of course they can." Jack replied. "Magic is a natural part of our world. Just like the earth and the sky and pumpkins and crows. If people can learn to harness the magic around them, why can't a bird?"
The girl didn't say anything. She just watched Jack with an unblinking gaze. The guild master gestured to the guild. "Why don't you come inside. I can show you that maybe mages aren't as bad as you think."
The girl narrowed her eyes and put her knives away. "Mages are filth." She turned and started walking away. "Why would I want to go into one of their guilds?" With that said, she walked away from the field.
As Jack watched her go, he reached up, took Peeko off his head, and held him at arm's length. The purple magic circles were just visible in Peeko's eyes. "She got a little too close, didn't she? That could have ended badly." He glanced up to see that the girl was no longer in sight. "And she didn't even tell us her name. But I have a feeling we'll be seeing her again." He placed Peeko on his head again and looked up into the clear, blue sky. Then he headed back towards the guild. "Let's go Peeko. We need to get ready. There's a storm coming."