Pumpkin King

Chapter 41

The three wizards studied Reese warily.

"No offense dude, but the last time I met some random guy on a mission, he tried to kill me." Erk said bluntly. "So why should I trust you?"

Reese deflated slightly. "Hey now." He stretched his arms out on either side. "Check me for weapons if you want. I couldn't hurt a fly."

Erk and Julio glanced at each other before rising to do just that when Popper hopped up on his desk and said sternly, "Please, please, no fighting in here. You're here to kill a monster, not my guest." When the two wizards begrudgingly sat back down, he cleared his throat and gestured at Reese. "This young man showed wandered into town a few days ago. I couldn't just leave him outside to be attacked by the monster so I invited him to stay here until you guild wizards can deal with this mess."

Reese chuckled good-naturedly. "Invited? Man, you practically forced me inside." Grabbing a chair from the wall, he spun it around so he could rest his head on the back while still looking at them. "He hasn't let me leave once since I got here."

"Well that's probably the smart thing to do, idiot." Julio chided. "You'd have to be touched in the head to be walking around outside when there's a monster on the loose."

"Doesn't that mean you're the one touched in the head since you're going out to kill the monster?"

Julio's mouth open and closed. Then he turned red while Erk tried to suppress his laughter. "Very funny!" Julio shouted. "Just so you know, it's my job to kill monsters! So ha!"

"Oh, very cool." Reese shot back tauntingly.

Popper looked worriedly at the group of wizards. Can I really entrust the safety of my town to these children?

But Charlotte must have seen it. Because she looked at the elderly man and smiled reassuringly. "They may not act very mature, but please believe in them. We'll be able to save your town. I promise."

Nico waved his arms in agreement. "Pun pun!"

Charlotte's words calmed him slightly. At least there's one able one among them. Then he cleared his throat. "Shall we get back to business then?"

Erk swallowed his laughter while Julio crossed his arms and muttered insults under his breath. Once everyone was orderly again, Popper nodded his head. "Okay, the monster only attacks at night, which means that it should be nocturnal." He hopped off his desk and walked over to the window overlooking the forest. "Follow the path in that direction and you should find the clearing where we found the group and petrified hunters. Maybe you'll be able to find a clue to the monster's hideout from there." Walking back over to the group, he looked at them very sternly. They may have been official guild wizards, but in his eyes they were still kids. "Try to catch it while it sleeps during the day, but you must return before nightfall. If you are caught outside when this beast is on the prowl, you'll stand no chance."

The three wizards nodded nervously. Charlotte glanced at the forest nervously while Julio fingered a few notes on his flute and Erk just stared ahead confidently. This was his first real job and there was no way he was messing it up.

None of them noticed Reese watching them with a mischievous glint in his eye.

The sun was still high in the sky. It couldn't have been later than noon. But even still, the group had chills running down their spines. They walked through to forest close together, each trying to make sure they weren't snuck up on.

"So…does anyone else have the feeling we're being watched?" Julio asked nervously.

Both Erk and Charlotte nodded. "I feel it too." The three went back to back, staring in opposite direction nervously. "Think it's the monster?" Charlotte asked, holding Nico tightly.

Erk shook his head. "It should be nocturnal. So I doubt it."

Then they saw some bushes shaking from behind them. Julio instantly raised his flute to his lips and played a few shrill notes. Some blue jays in a nearby tree let out a cry and flew towards the bush with their beaks and talons gleaming.

A boy screamed as the birds attacked him, pecking and scratching at his head and shoulders. He jumped out from behind the bush, flailing one arms at the birds while the other tried to protect his face.

Julio lowered his flute and the three wizards looked at the boy blankly. Then Julio glared at him. "What are you doing here, Reese?"

Reese breathed heavily as the birds finally left him alone to perch in their tree again. "What? Can't a guy go for a walk?"

Erk rolled his eyes. "Right. And your walk just happened to take you in our direction. And what were you doing hiding behind the bush? Taking a leak?"

Reese blushed and averted his eyes. Eventually, he said, "Okay, you got me. I was bored stiff in that house all day." He looked up and grinned. "So I decided to help you guys in your little hunt."

Julio turned him down flat. "No. No way. Do you know how much trouble we'd get in if we let a civilian go with us to kill a dangerous monster? Not. A. Chance."

Reese raised an eyebrow before smirking. "I'm not as helpless as you think I am." He said mysteriously.

At this point, Erk was getting aggravated. He wanted this job to go off without a hitch. And if this guy kept egging on Julio, it was going to make him angry and lead to mistakes. "Fine!" He blurted out. "But stay in the back of the group." He said tensely.

Julio stared at Erk like he just grew a second head while Reese grinned and punched a fist into the air. "Why?" Julio demanded. "He's just going to get in the way."

Erk sighed. "Because even if we say no he'll still follow us. And it's better to just keep an eye on him so in case the monster does attack, he won't get hurt on accident."

Charlotte smiled and nodded in agreement while Julio grumbled and crossed his arms begrudgingly.

Happy to be part of the group, Reese jumped in front of the others and started running. "Come on then. The monster isn't going to wait all day!"

"Oi!" Erk shouted. "I said BACK of the group!" But at that point, Reese was already far ahead, fading into the overgrowth and trees of the forest. He sighed in dismay while Charlotte just giggled.

"We are so going to regret this." Julio muttered. But by then they had no choice but to run after Reese. They couldn't just let him wander around a dangerous forest after all.

They chased after him, ducking under branches and going around rocks and bushes. Erk was starting to think they lost him.

But then they saw him.

He was standing just on the edge of a clearing, staring out into the open space nervously. He looked scared.

The three instantly went on guard. They slowed down their pace slightly and tried to approach as quietly as they could. But then they saw what had stopped Reese in his tracks. On the far side of the clearing, there was a single wooden hut tucked under a few trees. But that wasn't important. Scattered throughout the entire clearing were dozens of statues.

Erk gulped. "Looks like we found the hunting party."

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