Erk was practically jumping with excitement. He was standing in front of the mission board scanning all the jobs available. This was going to be his first job as a full-fledged wizard. So he wanted it to be a good one.
But none of the jobs look particularly interesting. Looking for a lost pet, participating in a sports event, locating a mysterious herb for experimentation. Nothing exciting.
"You've been prancing in front of the board for, like, ten minutes now. Hurry up and pick something!"
Turning around, Erk found Charlotte and Julio standing behind him. Charlotte was giving him an encouraging smile, her lavender hair done back up in a bun. She had Nico in her arms who just stared at him making his "Pun" noise. Julio looked a bit agitated with his green vest flapping as he flailed his arms around.
"If you can't make up your mind, get out of the way and let someone else look!" He yelled.
Erk raised an eyebrow. "Yeesh. Is something biting you on the ass? What's the hurry?"
Julio gritted his teeth together and turned away with a slight embarrassed look on his face. "I pulled a prank on the Master and now he's punishing me. Either I have to take a job or…" He shuddered. "Pumpkin duty."
Erk winced. "Ouch." He glanced at Charlotte. "Are you looking for a job too?"
Charlotte nodded. "Yeah. I ran out of sewing materials so I need to get some money to buy new ones." She pulled a small stuffed dog out of her pocket. It had a tear leading from its eye to its ear that had fluff pouring out of it. "I want to fix this little one…"
Erk grinned. "Well then why don't we all go on a mission together?"
Julio raised an eyebrow. "Huh?"
Charlotte smiled. "That sounds like a good idea."
Julio looked between the two before deflating and sighing. "Fine. Whatever. Just pick a job already."
Grinning, Erk scanned over the mission board again. Now all he had to do was pick a fun one…
"Aha!" He swiped a page off the board and held it out to his two teammates. "How about this one?"
The two blinked at the paper. In bold letters, the top read, 'KILL THE MONSTER OF THE FOREST'. There was a black picture underneath it that had two glowing red eyes staring out of the page.
Julio snatched the paper out of his hands and read it. "A monster has been turning townsfolk to stone." He whistled "200,000 jewels. So basically we have to find the beastie and kill it before we end up statues."
"Sounds like an exciting job." Erk grinned. "So are you two in?"
Julio lifted his flute and pointed it at Erk. "Count me in!"
They looked at Charlotte who seemed a bit hesitant. "Fighting monsters isn't something I'm good at…but if we're helping people I guess I can try."
Nico lifted a paw and nodded his head. "Puuuuun."
Erk jumped in the air. "Wahoo! Next stop, Melodia!"
The three friends stepped off the train and onto a very small platform. Charlotte and Nico were looking around curiously while Julio stretched. "Hurry up, Erk or we'll leave without you!" He called back into the train."
It took a few moments before Erk stumbled onto the platform with them. "It's been way too long since I was on a train." He sighed heavenly and hugged the outside of the train. "I missed it." He cooed.
Charlotte giggled at him while Julio rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You love trains, I get it." He stretched his legs. "But why couldn't you have brought us here? It would have been a shorter trip that way."
Erk's eye twitched in irritation. "Gee, I don't know. Why didn't you have your birds fly you here? I wanted to ride the train!"
Julio sweat dropped. "Okay, okay."
At that point, the train whistled as it began moving again. Once it passed, it revealed a…very quiet town.
The four looked around nervously. "Where is everyone?" Julio asked nervously.
The town was completely empty. Windows and doors were all shut and stores had closed signs out. There wasn't even so much as a stray dog wandering around.
Erk, Charlotte, and Julio gave each other wary glances before slowly walking into town. "I don't see any birds around." Julio noted.
"Great." Erk groaned. "That means you're useless."
But before they could really get into arguing, Charlotte screamed and fell backwards, clutching Nico in her arms. Erk and Julio ran closer only to take a few steps back.
There was a human statue staring at them. It had a sword raised with a gleeful look on its face, like it was excited that it was about to cut someone down. "That's…creepy." Erk said.
Walking forward, he examined it more closely. All the features looked pristine. But there was grass and weeds beginning to grow around its feet. Small vines were starting to climb up its legs. "It looks so real…" He gulped. "You don't think that…this is one of the townsfolk do you?"
Julio's eyes narrowed and he tensed as he helped Charlotte to her feet. "Think the monster raided the town or something?"
"No. That statue has been here before Melodia was built." A voice said.
The three almost jumped out of their skins at the sudden statement. Nico didn't seem too surprised. He just turned in Charlotte's arms to look over her shoulder at something.
Erk and the others turned around to see a small man standing behind him. He was only tall enough to reach Erk's stomach, but he wore a very tall top hat that went up passed Erk's head. His hair was beginning to grey and he had a handlebar mustache that covered his mouth. He wore a simple black outfit with his hands placed calmly behind his back.
He noticed the Guild marks on Charlotte's hand and Julio's shoulder. "We don't often get visitors here nowadays. Might I assume that you're here about our problem?"
The three glanced at each other then back at him. "Are you the one that commissioned the job?" Erk took the paper out of his pocket and handed it to the man.
He didn't even bother looking at it. "Indeed." Then he turned around and started walking off. "Please follow me. We'll discuss more details at my office."
The Pumpkin King wizards didn't have any choice but to follow the older man thought the town. The noticed the occasional window being opened and curious eyes staring at them, but no one came out to greet them.
Eventually, they reached a building that was slightly bigger than the others. The old man hopped up the stone steps to go inside, not even bothering to make sure they were following. Inside they found themselves in a room with a large, ornate desk that had papers and books scattered across it. There were hallways on either side of the room leading to the rest of the building, but the old man just hopped into the chair behind the desk and studied them.
"You must forgive us for our lack of hospitality." He said sadly. "These are dangerous times for us. Most don't even dare leaving their homes for fear they'll turn to stone." He took his hat off and placed it on the desk, revealing a bald spot in the middle of his head.
"It's…alright." Erk managed to say. He cleared his throat. "But, who are you? He asked bluntly.
The man nodded his head. "Ah yes, I've forgotten to introduce myself. My name is Popper. I'm the mayor here."
"Right." Julio said. "Nice to meet you." He stuck his hands in his pocket. "So were here about killing a monster?"
Popper nodded again. "Yes. A terrifying beast that turns all who look upon it to stone." He sighed woefully. "But before getting into that, it would be best to give you a brief history of our town." He gestured at some chairs that were resting against the wall. And once the three wizards moved the chairs in front of the desk and took a seat, he went on with his story.
"This town is called Melodia, but in actuality it is the second Melodia."
"The second?" Charlotte asked.
Popper nodded. "Yes. Ten years ago, the first Melodia was burned down by bandits." He picked up a paper on his desk and scanned it over before grabbing a pen and signing it. "That statue you saw was one of the very bandits that burned the town to the ground."
"So…the monster turned him to stone?" Julio asked.
"Precisely." Popper agreed. He signed another paper. "Rumor has it that when the bandits were raiding the town, their rowdiness woke up the monster from its home in the forest." He looked up from his papers and out the window to his left that looked out to the forest that surrounded the town. "In its rage, the monster rampaged around the town, turning all it saw into stone. It only stopped one every single townsfolk was turned to stone." He shook his head. "But that time, the buildings of the town were not but ash from the fires that the bandits lit upon it. So a few years later when we found this place, all that was here were statues. We thought they were a curiosity at first, thinking that maybe a sculptor had lived here at some point and left his creations behind. But the statues were too heavy to move so we simply built the buildings around them." He looked back at the group. "We found a book near one of the statues telling the tale.
At first we thought it was a simple fairy tale, something to tell the children to keep them from causing trouble. We even renamed the town Melodia based on the story. But then about two years, some hunters out in the forest went missing. They'd been gone for nearly a whole week with no return. So we sent out a search party to find them." His grip on his pen tightened. "We found them in a forest clearing near an old abandoned cabin. Statues…each and every one of them turned to stone."
"Was there any sign of this monster?" Erk asked.
Popper shook his head. "None. We were so scared that we fled the scene immediately and haven't been back since. Not even the village children dare to wander out into that forest anymore." He sighed forlornly. "And then a few weeks ago, people around town began turning to stone. It always happened at night. When people woke up in the morning, we would find our friends and family turned into statues."
"Sounds to me like you've got a monster running around at night." A voice said to their right.
The group turned to see a man with a white top with baggy orange shorts. He had light brown skin and forest green hair that went down to the middle of his back and was tied into a pony tail. He had a lot of bracelets and anklets covering his wrists and ankles. He had simple brown sandals on. Going from his right hand up to his elbow were a bunch of intersecting, vine like tattoos. He had a build a lot like Erk's, very lithe like a runner even though he looked a couple years younger than him.
He grinned at the widely, his eyes were shining excitedly. "That was one hell of a story, pops. Why didn't you tell it sooner?"
"Ah, Reese, I thought you were resting in your room." Popper responded surprisingly.
Reese walked into the room to stand next to the desk. "I heard voices and decided to come check things out. This town is nice and all, but everybody keeps sulking. Tends to make things boring."
Erk was feeling a bit annoyed at being ignored. "Oi." He said blandly. "Who the hell are you?"
Reese turned and smirked cockily at him. "Name's Reese Meadows. And I'm here to help."