Erk could only say one thing about the scene. Just one word. "Shit."
That seemed to have been enough to spring everyone into action. The girl whimpered at the sound of his voice while Charlotte ran over to the petrified Ursa. "Ursa. Ursa! Say something! Ursa!" Tears began welling up in her eyes.
"Dammit!" Julio swore. "Try dismissing him." He said. "Maybe he'll turn back to normal if he's back in the spirit world."
Charlotte sunk to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I-I can't." She hiccupped. "I can't close a gate on my own. Ursa has to agree to being sent back. And he…he can't do that like this."
Reese raised a hand to say something, but nobody gave him a second look. Charlotte kept pleading with the petrified Ursa while Julio was trying not to panic. Erk was too busy studying the girl cowering to pay him any attention. He rolled his eyes. If they weren't going to listen to him, he wasn't going to give them his help. Then he smirked. Let's see how they do this.
Erk slowly approached the girl. He wasn't sure if she was the one who did this, but it wouldn't hurt to be careful. She could be the monster in disguise. "Excuse me, miss. Are you okay?"
The girl yelped and tried to squeeze herself farther into the corner to stay away from him.
"Go away!" She shouted, flailing an arm to keep him back. "Get out of here before you get hurt." She added weakly.
Erk raised an eyebrow. "How could we get hurt?" He asked. "Is the monster that did this to Ursa coming back?"
The girl froze at the word 'monster'. She stopped shivering and whimpering as she bit her lip to keep silent. As she did, Erk noticed a red light coming from where she was curling in the corner. It was very faint, and if the girl hadn't been casting her shadow in front of her, he wouldn't have noticed it. But as he watched, the red light changed to green.
Once it did, the girl whirled around and stared at Erk with her bright green eyes. Emphasis on bright. When she stared him in the eye, it almost felt like someone shining a flashlight in his eyes.
"Are you here to kill the monster?" She asked in a quivering voice. She looked to be on the verge of tears. But Erk didn't even need to answer. At her question, the entire mission ran through his head. The girl's eyes widened and the tears started welling up in her eyes. Without a moment's notice, she started wailing and crying.
Erk panicked. "O-Oi! What's wrong?" He asked in confusion. He looked around frantically for something that might be wrong with her. But she didn't seem hurt or anything.
Her crying caught the attention of the others. Reese and Julio sweat dropped at the scene while Charlotte managed to wipe away her own tears and look. All the while, the blonde girl kept crying and crying while Erk tried to figure out what was wrong.
Finally, the girl sagged, out of breath and turned back to face the corner. She sniffed a few times and Erk noticed that the green light changed back to red. But then the light vanished as she covered her eyes with her arms.
She muttered something, but neither Erk nor the others heard what she said. So Erk cleared his throat and said hesitantly, "Uh, what was that?"
The girl sniffed again, curling up into a tight ball. Then she said a little louder. "I promise not to go out anymore, so please don't kill me…"
Everything was silent for a moment as the four stared at her in disbelief. Then there was a collective, "Huh?"
The girl stiffened again. "You're here to kill me right?" She asked, not turning around to look at them. "For turning those people into statues…" She trailed off and it sounded like she was going to start crying again.
But then Julio jumped in looking flustered and waved his arms around. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you saying that all those people turning to stone was your fault?"
The girl nodded weakly. Reese, Charlotte, and Erk looked at each other in discomfort. Sure they were there to kill a monster, but this girl was no monster. The idea of killing her…just didn't sit well with any of them.
Charlotte placed a hand on the petrified Ursa's leg before scooting towards the girl. "Um…why don't we start from the beginning? What's your name?"
The blonde girl kept her back to them. "Azusa. Azusa Mei Medusae." She said politely.
Charlotte nodded with a small smile. "It's nice to meet you Azusa. My name is Charlotte. And these are my friends. The one wearing the goggles is Erk, the one with the flute is Julio, and the one with green hair is Reese." She gestured at each in turn, but Azusa didn't turn around to look at them.
Charlotte sweat dropped. Then she tilted her head curiously. "So you are the one turning people to stone, Azusa?"
Azusa nodded again weakly. "I don't mean to." She muttered. "But I can't stop it. Every time I look at someone, they turn to stone."
The blood drained from Erk's face, leaving him as pale as a ghost. "You just looked at me. D-Does that mean I'm about to become a lawn ornament?"
The blonde girl shook her head. "I looked at you with my green eyes so you'll be fine."
The four looked extremely confused. "You're green eyes?" Julio asked.
Azusa nodded. "Yes. Only my red eyes turn people to stone. My green eyes let me read people's minds." She shifted uncomfortably. "That's how I knew you were here to kill me. You were thinking about your mission."
Must be some kind of magic. Erk thought to himself. "So why don't you just keep your green eyes?"
She shook her head. "I get too tired." She said softly. "My red eyes are the only ones that don't drain my energy."
Reese tapped Erk on the shoulder. "Sounds like she can't control her magic. Maybe there's a way for her to turn it off?"
Erk wasn't sure if was that simple, but he decided to ask anyway. "Why don't you turn off your red eyes?"
She stiffened and started sniffling again. "I can't. I've been trying for years, but they always go back to red."
At that point, Charlotte wrapped her arms around Azusa and hugged her. "There, there. It's okay." She said soothingly.
But Azusa kept crying anyway. Erk felt bad for her. "Why didn't you try to find help?"
"I tried." She answered shakily. "But everyone I looked at turned to stone. I ended up petrifying my entire village trying to get help. I've lived here ever since."
"So she was the monster ten years ago too…she couldn't have been more than a little girl back then." Julio muttered.
At the word 'monster' Azusa started bawling again. Charlotte, Erk, and Reese shot Julio dirty looks, making him blush in embarrassment. "Sorry…"
In an attempt to keep her from crying, Reese asked, "So have you been living here all alone ever since?" The moment he asked, he wished he hadn't. Because Azusa just cried even louder.
"Yeeeees!" She bawled.
Julio smacked him on the back of the head. "Nice going idiot." He scolded.
But then she quieted down. "I was fine." She said. "My mom taught me lots of ways to get by in the forest. When the hunters would be close by, I would just hide until they were gone. And with my blindfolds, I wasn't scared of turning anyone to stone."
Erk raised an eyebrow. "Blindfolds?"
Azusa nodded. "Yeah. They were thin enough so I could see out of, but thick enough so that nobody was in danger around me. I was fine so long as I had them. I even snuck into town sometimes to steal cooking supplies." She gestured at the kitchen around her and indeed there were pots and pans and other such things on shelves and hanging from the walls. "But then a couple of years ago, the hunters from town brought some kids with them." Her voice grew angry at the mention of them. "They were horrible little boys. They found me hiding in here and decided to pick on me because they thought I was blind. They stole my blindfolds and ran away. I chased after them, but the moment I got outside I saw the hunters. I accidentally turned them to stone…" She sniffed again and forced back her tears. "I hid inside after that. Without my blindfolds, I went back to foraging in the woods."
She got a little fidgety after that. "But I really like cakes and pastries so I tried sneaking into town with my purple eyes." She looked up from her corner and concentrated. The faint red light coming from her eyes changed to purple and she immediately vanished.
The three boys fell back from her in surprise, but Charlotte just lifted her arms away as Azusa turned to look at them. Only her two purple eyes were visible. "I could sneak in like this, but sometimes I would turn a corner someone would surprise me by almost walking into me and my eyes would turn red again…"
The four friends looked at each other as Azusa turned back around and went back to normal. "I can't kill her. I won't." Charlotte said adamantly. She looked at the three boys in turn, checking to see if they disagreed with her.
But all three of them smiled back. "We can't exactly kill an innocent girl." Julio said, trying to act cool.
Erk nodded. "Right. Maybe if we took Azusa back to town with us, the mayor will understand her situation."
"But what about all the townsfolk that have already been turned to stone?" Charlotte asked softly.
That's when Reese stepped in. He smirked confidently. "Maybe if you guild wizards are willing to let an unofficial guy like me help, you'd find out that I might be able to fix this." The three friends stared blankly at Reese. Even Azusa wanted to turn around to look at him. But Reese just smiled and pulled something out of his pocket.
Erk and Reese were standing in front of a very angry crowd of Melodia citizens. Behind them, a beaming Charlotte and slightly embarrassed Ursa were standing guard on either side of Azusa, who had her hands covering her eyes and was trying her best not to run from the angry shouts of the people. Cowering behind Erk and Reese was a flustered Popper. He was trying to calm down his people, but they weren't even listening to him.
When Erk, Reese, Charlotte, Ursa, and Azusa arrived in Melodia, they had asked Popper to get everyone together so they could explain everything about Azusa. They hoped that they would be understanding…but it was only a slim hope. Instead, they got mad. Really, really mad.
"You expect us to just forget everything that's happened lately?" One man yelled.
A large woman toting a baker's hat waved a rolling pin around madly. "You think this girl is human?" She yelled. "My husband is a statue thanks to her. She's a monster!"
The crowd cheered at that. One man, more muscular than the others, roared in defiance. "We hired you to kill the monster. Not save it! This is what happens when you let children do a man's job!" He turned to the crowd. "If they won't kill this beast, we will! What do you say?" The crowd roared in approval as the man turned to face Erk and Reese, along with the baker woman. "Chaaaaaarge!"
The crowd launched towards them like a wave. Erk quickly slapped his goggles over his eyes and bared his teeth. "Shit! I was hoping this wouldn't happen!"
Charlotte pressed closer to Azusa, ready to lead her away if necessary while Ursa let out a bear's roar, ready for the fight. "Come on then! I'll take you all on!" Popper was glancing between Azusa and his townsfolk. He understood his people's rage but at the same time he couldn't condemn a young girl for something she had no control over.
Only Reese remained calm. He breathed in deeply. With that breath, he let the heat of the people's rage sweep over him. He felt the bone chilling fear inside Charlotte and Azusa as the oncoming flood of citizens grew closer. He felt the inner turmoil inside Popper and the determination inside Erk.
Then he breathed out and it was like a light breeze blew through the crowd. "Let's all just take a breather, everyone." He said pleasantly, his spiky ponytail and his many bracelets waving in the wind.
A strong pulse of magic radiated from him and Erk took a step back from him as it enveloped the entire area. He stared at the green haired boy in wonder as circles began to appear around the hearts of all the townsfolk. The mob stopped as the noticed this and stared angrily at Reese as angry red hearts appeared in the circles.
"What are you up to?" The muscular man shouted. His heart was the reddest and angriest, almost turning black in pure hatred.
But Reese didn't pay him any attention. "Perspective Shift:" he intoned, "Calm."
One by one, the angry faces of the townsfolk changed to first shock, and then calm. At the same time, the red hearts in the circles changed to a light green. As a whole, the crowd grew a calm, collected look. Even the baker lady seemed pacified for the moment.
The only one who wasn't was the muscular man. His heart kept changing from red to green to red again.
Reese glanced at Erk and nodded slightly. The man wasn't used to feeling calm. He was an angry man at heart.
So Erk took a few steps forward and looked directly at the man. "You look pretty strong." He said softly. "I bet you used to be a hunter. Which means those hunters in the forest were you friends."
The man glared at Erk, his eyes bloodshot as he tried to remain enraged. "That's right." He growled. "I lost all most of my good men that day. And you expect me to just give up that anger because of some little girl?" He growled, more loudly, and the heart on his chest changed from green to dark red as the memory stirred the anger inside him.
But Erk wasn't worried. They were prepared for this. Lifting his fingers to his mouth, he let out a whistle that sounded throughout the town.
The crowd looked at him strangely as Reese smirked and Charlotte practically giggled with glee.
Then, from the road leading into the forest, came a shout. "Heeeey!"
The entire town turned to see Julio leading a group of men back into town. The men were looking around in confusion, like they had just woken up from a very long nap.
The baker lady dropped her rolling pin, her eyes wide and her mouth quivering. She was staring at one of the men, a larger man whose face was practically covered in a bushy brown beard. "H-Harold?" She said in surprise. The green heart on her chest changed from light green to bright yellow. "Harold!"
She charged towards the man, who looked up at her in surprise as she bowled him over onto the ground. Throughout the crowd, both men and women were shouting out names and rushing towards the group of men Julio was leading.
One by one, the once angry mob left Erk and Reese and raced towards the men until only the muscular man was left. He stared at the scene as people gathered around the men in joy, their green hearts all changing to yellow. His mouth was open in shock and his eyes couldn't believe what they were seeing. "Those…those are…"
"Your hunters." Erk confirmed.
He turned to Erk and the others. Popper was on the ground, weeping with joy as he watched men reunited with his family. "How?" Was all the man could ask.
Reese smiled and pulled something out of his pocket. It was a small, silver bell with a hammer engraved into it. "This bell is a magic item called 'Gnome's Hammer'." He explained. "I do a lot of traveling. And during my travels I ran into a village that had problems with a monster called a Basilisk that turned people to stone just like Azusa's magic does. They used this bell to cure the Basilisk's victims of their petrification."
He glanced at Ursa who just muttered angrily before pulling a grenade off his belt and dropping it at his feet. "I didn't even get to hit anyone." He mumbled. Then the grenade went off and with a small explosion, Ursa vanished into a wisp of smoke.
Reese just chuckled before looking back at the man. "I helped them once. And in return they gave me one of these as thanks." He handed the bell to him and smiled. "Now you can have it. Use it to restore the rest of your people to normal."
The man stared at the silver bell in his hands and he couldn't stop the tears from streaming down his face. The once angry heart on his chest turn to yellow. A yellow brighter than any other heart in the crowd. He sank to his knees and let his tears fall to the ground. "Thank you."
Reese just smiled. "Don't mention it."
As the man got up, he walked towards his men with a smile. And Erk couldn't help but look at Reese in a new light. "That's some magic you've got there. But what's with the hearts?" He chuckled
Reese nodded and rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. "Red for raging fury. Green for calm serenity." He couldn't help but smile as he looked at the scene. "And yellow for unbridled joy."
At that point, Julio joined with them and he and Erk wrapped their arms around Reese's head in a playful headlock. Charlotte had a few tears herself as Azusa continued to cling to her.
Then Popper sat up, wiping his own tears and bowed to the group, his large hat almost knocking Erk on the head. "You've done a wonderful thing for us." He said. "We can never thank you enough."
The wizards just grinned. "Our pleasure." Erk said cheerfully.
Then Azusa pulled on Reese's sleeve, making sure to keep her eye's closed. "Do you think that bell will work for the old villager's too?"
The joyful look changed to a sad one. He was quiet for a moment. "I'm not sure." He said honestly. "They've been stone for so long…and Gnome's Hammer can only do so much. It's hard to say…"
Azusa's shoulder sagged at the words. "I see…"
Erk frantically tried to cheer her up. "Hey, don't look so down." He thought frantically for a way to cheer her up. Then it hit him. "I know! Why don't you come back to the guild with us?"
Azusa, Charlotte, and Julio looked at him like he was crazy. "Huh?"
But then Charlotte got what he was getting at. "Yes, please do. Our Master could teach you how to control your magic."
Azusa shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know…"
But Erk set his hands on her shoulders. "Gnome's Hammer might not be able to restore your old village, but maybe if you learned more control, you could cure them." He smiled. "After all, if you can encase them in stone, somewhere inside you should have the power to change them back."
Azusa spirits lifted at the thought of that. "I'd get to see my mom again." She couldn't see them, but Erk, Charlotte, and Julio were all grinning at her. "Okay." She nodded. "I'll come with you."
The three cheered. But before they could really celebrate, Reese was pushing them towards the road. "Wahoo!" He said with hurried cheer. "That's great. Now let's get going. Me and Azusa can't wait to see our new guild."
Erk raised an eyebrow. "Wait, hold on. You want to come too?"
Reese smiled as he walked over to a tapestry on the wall of Popper's house and ripped off a piece of it. "Sure!" He said. He went over to Azusa and started wrapping the cloth around her eyes. "I've been traveling around for a while now and it would be a nice change of pace to settle down somewhere." He finished knotting it. "How's that?"
Azusa opened her eyes from under the blindfold. She looked directly Julio, who flinched away but didn't turn to stone. "It's perfect!" She said happily.
Reese clapped his hands together. "Great! Now let's get out of here!"
He started running for the road, causing Erk to call after him, "What's the hurry?"
With an irritated look, Reese backtracked and glanced at the happy crowd while jogging in place. "Fun fact: my magic doesn't last that long. And afterwards, people tend to revert back to their original emotions. Catch my drift?"
It dawned on every single one of them at the same time. The all looked at the crowd to see that the yellow hearts were fading and the effected townsfolk were looking around in confusion before their eyes landed on the group. Then they began yelling angrily.
They didn't give them the chance to mob them again. They ran as fast as they could.
Erk shouted back at a confused looking Popper, "Glad we could help! Just send the fee to the guild. Call us again if you ever need a hand!"
Then the mob was chasing them in full. But Erk just smirked as a yellow magic circle appeared behind him with the sound of a train whistle. "All aboard!"