Pumpkin King

Chapter 49

Bertrand was sitting on top of the Pumpkin King building. From that angle, he was able to view the entire area surrounding the pumpkin fields. He watched intently, adamant that they not be taken off guard again. Especially with so few of them left.

Below him, Reese was leaned up against the door frame with his arms crossed. Every now and then, he glanced inside through the hole in the wall. He had a bad feeling. And in all his travels, his bad feelings usually turned out true.

Sighing, Reese took a step inside to look at Julio and Lucinda. Sara was still kneeling at their side. He took another deep breath and paced around a little. Sara, Bertrand, Tamashi, Rosemary, and himself were the only ones that stayed behind to protect the guild while the others were away.

He looked at Rosemary. She was sitting near the fire, staring up at Val. Or should he call him Valmagus? In truth, the whole thing made his head spin. He hadn't been in the guild long enough to really understand everything. But still, he was a Pumpkin King wizard now. The guild was being threatened so he needed to defend it.

Then he felt a surge of irritation. Rosemary couldn't fight. And he, Sara, and Bertrand weren't made for straight up fighting. So where the hell was Tamashi? Without her, they didn't have any magic strong enough to repel any serious threats. Yet despite that, she ran out saying she had to look for something.

He stopped pacing and looked out the window in the direction the others had left in. They were probably arriving by now. With another sigh, he started moving chairs and tables to make the room easier to move around in. Might as well prepare instead of sitting around.

Jack stood at the front of the crowd. To his left and right were Crest and Will. The rest of their group was standing anxiously behind them. In the distance, they could see a towering, dome like structure sitting in the middle of a field. The grass everywhere was dead and crumbled at a touch. There weren't any trees either, though they did come across some dead, rotting trunks lying in the grass here and there. There was no wildlife. Not even birds flew overhead. Even atop his perch on Jack's head, Peeko was hesitant to approach.

Nature was dying here. Evidence of a large amount of dark magic.

"Are you sure this is the place?" Jack asked.

Crest nodded. "The Magic Council themselves sent scouts to look for this place. Recently, a large amount of wizards have gathered here. Many of them wanted criminals." An angry fire grew in his eyes. "One scout reported Alec going inside."

Jack straightened up. "Good. I knew it was the right decision to contact the Council after he left his little 'message'."

Will stepped forward and held up a lacrima. "The problem is this though." Holding the lacrima higher, a bright light shined from it, reaching across the field towards the building. But just before the light reached it, a shining barrier erupted forth, halting its progress. The barrier circled the whole building, even enclosing the top. The entire structure was sealed inside.

"This lacrima can reveal magic barriers and defenses." Will explained. "During my time in Demon Horn, we used this to make sure our target guild didn't have any traps before a raid."

"For which, I'm sure, earned you quite a few enemies." Jack replied. "An underhanded method, but we need all the help we can get. We would have walked headfirst and expended a lot of magic trying to punch through that."

Crest grunted. "We know it's here. But that doesn't solve our problem. We still need to find a way through it."

Jack thought about it and turned the group. Erk, Dante, Lorelai, Becky, Charlotte, Azusa. All promising wizards. Bright futures every one of them. "So many talented wizards…but all of us skill based." Everyone studied him intently as he spoke, the tension enough to make their hairs stand on end. "It would take a lot of power to break that barrier. And power simply isn't something we have."

"What do you mean?" Dante asked. "We've beaten every villain we've come up against. We put down an entire Dark Guild!" He glanced at Will. "No offense."

Will nodded in acceptance. "We're not saying you aren't strong. This isn't a matter of magical strength. Magic won't work on a barrier like that. We need raw power. Raw force. Something physical that the barrier simply wouldn't be able to stand against."

Becky looked enraged. "Are you saying we should give up?" Will wouldn't meet her eyes, which only served to make her even angrier. "Alec is in their!" She said, looking at Crest and Charlotte. "And – and…the man that killed…Latran." Her voice trailed off at that.

"Jilo." Erk said. "You think Jilo could be here?"

Becky looked up, shocked that she had said what she had been thinking. "Just think about it. Even Alec ended up here. And if this guild or whatever Nightmare's End call themselves are targeting us…well Jilo knew a lot about Latran. He might be here."

Jack and the rest of them were silent. Until Jack said, "You want revenge." It wasn't a question. It was a fact.

Becky stared straight back at her Master. "Yes." She said simply. "He died because he used all his magic saving me. If he had a little power left, he might have survived. It's my duty to avenge him."

The two stared each other down. Silence hung over them. Each trying to think of a way to resolve this.

Then Erk smiled. They didn't have power….but maybe…it was a very long time ago. Almost over a year. It all started when he made mistake. He had learned so much since then. He'd become a proper wizard. He'd made friends. But…that mistake. If they needed power, maybe that's just what they needed. A mistake.

He laughed and jumped forward. "Ladies and gentlemen! Peeko your attention please!" He stood in front of them, the dark dome behind him could be seen in the back. "We need power right? Well you're looking at enough power to rip right through any old barrier." He said pointing at himself.

"Nice try." Dante said dryly. "You're one of the scrawniest guys I've met. You don't have what it takes."

Erk just grinned. "Master. How did we first meet?"

Jack thought for a moment. "You were brought to the guild because you had-." He stopped and looked directly at Erk. "You crashed into a train and destroyed an entire train yard." He shook his head. "No. It's too dangerous. You were lucky you got out alive the last time."

Erk rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but I have more control now. If I increase my barrier's strength, I could break that wall wide open."

Jack didn't say anything. At that point, Crest stepped up. "Master, he has a point. If he built up enough momentum, he could get us inside."

"But the risk is too high." Jack replied. "It could kill him."

"Not if I protect him." Crest said. "With my magic, I can brunt the worst of the impact."

Erk raised an eyebrow. "What you mean with another shield or something?"

Crest smiled. "Not exactly." He put a hand palm forward in front of Erk. "Armor!"

A red magic circle appeared underneath Erk and he started to glow. With a flash of light, Erk was encased in a suit of steel armor from head to toe.

Erk raised a hand to look at himself and was annoyed by how heavy the suit was. "You've got to be kidding." He protested. "This thing weighs a ton! You can't expect me to get enough speed in this thing."

Jack shook his head. "Take it or leave it. Either you wear the armor, or we head back to the guild and think up a different strategy."

Erk groaned. "Can't you just put up a shield around me?"

"Not without hours of practice." Erk replied. "At your speeds, I would need a lot of practice to sync up with the barrier you already have around you. Otherwise our two shields would be fighting against each other which would make them that much easier to break when you hit their barrier."

Erk moaned in complaint. But seeing as he had no other option... "Fine. But I'm going to need to back up a ways if this is going to work."

They retreated a few miles from there, the other sure to stay well behind Erk and Crest as they prepared. Erk got into a position to run a sprint, which wasn't easy since all his joints were restrained by the armor.

Crest got into position next to him, focusing on Erk. A red magic circle appeared under him as he gathered up his magic. "As you run, I'll channel more magic into the armor to keep it sturdy against the force of your speed."

Erk nodded. He couldn't see Crest since the helm on his head blocked his peripheral vision. "Let's just hope this hunk of tin doesn't slow me down and I don't end up a red smudge on the wall."

Crest smirked at that as he finished gathering his magic. "Ready when you are."

Erk smiled. "All aboard." He said under his breath. "Steam Engine!" He shot forward with the familiar sound of a train whistle, but not nearly as fast as he would have if it weren't for the armor.

The suit made it hard to run, but he did his best, the clanking sound of the metal making him feel even more irritated at the armor. He was picking up speed…but not nearly enough to make him feel comfortable.

"Faster." He told himself, almost forcing his legs to move.

Back from his starting point, Crest and Jack were watching Erk move. "At this rate, he isn't going to make it." Jack said worriedly.

Crest gritted his teeth together. "It's my fault. I'm slowing him down." He put more magic into his connection with the armor. "Come on, Erk." He shouted after him. He knew he couldn't hear him, but he still shouted. "Keep going!"

Erk could hear something, but it was swallowed by the wind before he could tell what it was. The metal of the armor was banging against his legs. At first he could ignore it, but the pain was building up. So he took a deep breath and focused more on running. "Faster." His pace quickened slightly. "Faster." A little bit more. "Faster!" He shouted against the pain. His friends needed him. If he could do this a year ago, he could do it now.

"Keep going!" Crest kept shouting. "You can do it! Don't give up. Pumpkin King wizards never give up!"

The two sucked in deep breaths and shouted together. "FASTER!"

They both felt it. A change in the magic. The pull from Crest became stronger to the point that what magic he had was quickly being drained. But he didn't stop it. Deep inside he knew what was happening. So he just roared in defiance against the barrier protecting their enemy. They were going to get past this wall and bring them down.

The armor began to glow and change shape, molding itself to Erk's form. The joints expanded to give him more room while the legs constricted to the form of his legs to prevent the metal from banging against his knees. The arms changed and became less bulky and sleeker so that there was less wind resistance. The helm protecting his head became almost blinding as it remade itself. The face guard melted, taking the shape of a train pilot, something Erk knew well. The entire suit of armor shifted from something burdening to something that almost forced Erk to move faster.

His speed double instantly. Then it tripled. He was going so fast that the grass around him was nothing but a blur of color. He was moving faster than he had ever gone before. He could feel the pull of momentum behind him as he ran and he smiled as the barrier grew ever closer.

Then he did what any train worker would do when something like this happened. Right before he hit it, he yelled, "Train wreck!"

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