Pumpkin King

Chapter 72

They were completely surrounded. There were people staring at them from every angle, giving them no openings to flee or maneuver.

Three were stationed close together. The first was a large, muscular, bald man. There was a scar running from his right eye to his left cheek. He was encased in bulky, black armor that looked too heavy for a normal man to wear. On his back, a large sword was sheathed in a scabbard that looked to be made of the same material as his armor.

On either side of him were two younger looking people. They looked to be around Crest's age. On his left was a girl with brown hair. She was clad in black leather with a red cowl that covered her face. Her fingers crackled with green lightning. She had to have been the one to attack them in the hallway. And to the right of the man was a boy spiky salt-and-pepper hair. He wore a black leather jacket with crimson pants and black sneakers. There were a few strands of darkness hovering around him. He must have been the one that turned off all the lights.

There was a woman that stood away from everyone else. Her bangs were clipped back and there were blue streaks going through her, long black hair. There was a black arrowhead tattooed under her left eye and piercings in her ears. Her top was dark blue, sleeveless, and high collared. He legs were hidden in black leggings and tall black boots with silver buckles. There was a black coat on her shoulders.

Peeko let out a caw as he flied towards the girl. It landed on her shoulder and started preening her hair. She was surprised by the crow's affection, but didn't move him.

"Ohoho." Jack laughed merrily. "It has been a long time since our conversation in the cornfield, young lady." He said. Then he gestured at the people around them. "But I must say, as one who hates wizards, you do keep strange company."

Emery scoffed at him as she gently picked up Peeko from her shoulder and held him in her palms. "Don't get me wrong, I hate wizards more than anything. These guys are just a means to an end. Once they get worn out from killing you, I'm going for them next."

Peeko cocked his head at her before flying back to Jack and perching on the stem of his pumpkin. "Quite a bold declaration considering everyone can hear you. I wonder if your plan will work since they know what your agenda is." He smiled up at her. "It's not too late you know. You aren't really aligned with Nightmare's Begin. You have the choice of leaving. No need to get mixed up in Guild wizard affairs. Or if, you really must fight, fight with us, not against us. Nightmare's Begin have ruined more lives than Pumpkin King ever has. If someone must truly be hurt, it is they."

Emery scowled at him. "No. I won't be joining you filthy wizards. I've already thrown in my lot with these ones. If I went back on my word, it would make me no different than you scumbags." Her eyes narrowed. "No matter what side I'm on, not one of you wizards, Pumpkin King or Nightmare's Begin, will leave here alive."

Here and there, three others were dotted around the trapped Pumpkin King wizards. They looked very similar, like they could be brothers. Erk recognized one almost immediately.

"Milo?" He asked suspiciously. It was definitely Kilo from Demon Horn. He had heard that the boy hadn't been found when the members were arrested, but he hadn't expected to see him here. There seemed to be something off about him though. He still looked the same, with his tall, broom-like hair and the scythe in his hand but his eyes seemed…empty. The malevolence and hate that he remembered weren't there. He looked the same but it wasn't the same person.

"Milo what are you doing here? How did you escape from the Magic Council?" He asked. But no matter how loudly he shouted Kilo wouldn't answer him.

"Oh you will have to forgive my dear brother." An eerily familiar voice said. "You see, he's not much of a talker, being a soulless puppet and all."

Both Erk and Becky turned to see the man they both saw in their nightmares.

"Jilo you bastard!" Becky screamed at the pale man. "I've finally found you."

Jilo just laughed at the red head. "Why hello Becky!" He cheered. "Long time no try to kill you." He put his hand on his forehead like a visor and scanned the area. "But where's Latran? I don't see him anywhere." He fell into a fit of giggles. "Oh that's right. He's dead! Ahahaha!"

Becky roared with rage at the taunt. She didn't wait for permission or for someone to stop her. She lunged at the bomb wizard. "Take Over: Serpent Soul!" With a flash of purple light, she transformed into a large, winged Amphithere. Her purple scales glistened in the light as she hissed and bared her fangs at her enemy.

But Jilo was one step ahead of her. "Pressure Bomb!" A red magic circle appeared around Becky and a metal ring started circling her midsection. It never touched her skin, but it hovered around her. She kept flying, but the ring seemed to be attached to her by magic. She couldn't get it off.

She was about to start shaking around to see if she could knock it off, but Jilo shook his head. "Ah, ah, ah. I wouldn't do that if I were you. That's a pressure bomb. The moment something touches it," he made a gesture with his hands, "boom!"

Becky hissed in irritation but she didn't try to shake it. She simply circled Jilo in the air, ready to strike the moment she found a chance.

"Now where was I?" Jilo asked himself. He snapped his fingers. "Oh yes. You see, my brothers and me." He gestured at Kilo and then the other one. His hair was a shaggy red. He wore a simple loincloth and nothing else and his chest a large tattoo of keyhole on it. He lifeless eyes gazed at them without thought. "You see, we aren't exactly human. We're just soulless puppets created by our Master." He said sadly. Then he perked up. "Except for me of course. I may be a puppet now, but I was once human. Now I just pass my soul between these puppet brothers. Haha!"

"Enough Jilo." A voice thundered. Everyone's attention was drawn to a man who was standing on the tallest of the mounds. There was a lacrima sticking out of the top like a tower, it was on this lacrima that Hyde was perched. "You talk too much. Informing them of your body might have given away a weakness for them to exploit." Done with chiding Jilo, his eyes landed on Jack and smiled. "It has been a long time. A very long time…Jack."

Jack didn't return the smile. His mask didn't change at all as he watched his enemy. "Seedlings." He said after a long pause. "Say hello to Hyde London…my previous Master."

Everyone was startled by that bit of news. Jack had told them about the mercenary guild he had been a part of, but to actually meet his old Master…and under these conditions. Hyde had a commanding presence. He wore dark green pants with large boots. His chest was bare save for two straps that made an 'X' over his chest. The straps were attached to a heavy green cape with white fringe. His silver hair was cropped short. There was an aura about him that caught the eye and held it there.

Hyde chuckled deeply. "I haven't been your Master for many years now. Not since you left and started your own Guild." There was a sound of bitterness in his voice as he said it. And that bitterness changed into anger. "And then soon after MY guild was disbanded by the Magic Council."

Jack shook his head. "Don't go blaming me for that. It's your own fault you got caught dealing in forbidden jobs." He chuckled mirthlessly. "Though I can't say I'm too surprised to find you here. I had been wondering who it was that could have known about the Valmagus. There were only a few people who even knew about the job. The Magic Council, the representative who gave us the job, Rosemary, Bertrand, myself…and you." His voice hardened. "You were one of the only people to know that my team and I had gone to fight the Valmagus."

Hyde smiled over him. "Indeed. I always was quicker you." He gloated. "No matter how smart you thought you were, I was always one step ahead. I was always the Master while you were just my subordinate."

Jack shook his head. "I never liked that about you, Hyde. That disgusting way you run a guild either." He spread his arms out to encompass his seedlings. "A Guild isn't a place filled with a Master and his subordinates to do his bidding. I remember the times with you. If a guildmate was injured during a job, they were to be left behind. If someone was no longer able to work and forced to retire, you tossed them away like last night's leftovers." He lowered his arm and clenched his fists. "A Guild is a family. When one of us falls, the others pick them back up." Images of their time at the Guild began surfacing in the Pumpkin King wizards at Jack's words. "If someone is hurt, we carry them to safety." Dante remembered rescuing Lorelai from Demon Horn's web. "When we win, we win together." Charlotte remembered her victory against Lupus alongside Erk and Crest. "When we're sad, we cry together." Erk remembered the tears they all shed at Latran's funeral. "You're cruel way of running things are brutal and heartless. Hearing that your Guild was shut down is nothing but music to my ears."

Hyde scowled at him. "I'll never understand," he started, "how my most ruthless killer could have such a sentimental heart." He folded his hands behind his back and studied the group in front of him, like he was trying to decide which of them was even worth fighting. "There's only one thing you've beaten me at, Jack. And that's your body count." He said darkly. "As Guild Master I couldn't really go out in the field as much as I liked, but even so you have an astonishing number of kills compared to me. I wonder how you're 'seedlings'," he said the word with amusement, "feel following a full blown murderer into battle?"

"Ohoho." Jack chuckled. "If you think you can shake their faith, you are highly mistaken. I told them everything about my bloody past, yet they still followed me here." He looked back at his precious seedlings and smiled underneath his mask, his green eyes shining with pride. They were all smiling confidently around him. Erk snapped his goggles over his eyes and smiled. Dante already had his gauntlets ready, giving his Master a large thumbs up. Charlotte looked a little nervous, but she had one of her Celestial keys in hand, ready to summon help. Becky hissed her affirmative from her place in the air, her eyes never leaving Jilo. Crest's armor shined warmly as he took in the enemies around him. Will's candles flickered eerily, ready to burn anyone who would get in their way. Jack nodded to them as he slowly raised a hand to grab the stem of his pumpkin mask. Peeko cawed in annoyance from being moved from his perch and fluttered into the air, leaving a small shower of black feathers.

Jack slowly pulled on the stem, pulling and pulling until it extended into a long, gnarled shaft. It was about as long as Jack was tall before the mask began pulling away from Jack's face. Though 'pulling' wasn't exactly the right word. It was almost as if the mask was melting. And as it did, Jack's face was revealed. It was the first time any of the guild members had seen it. His pale skin was accentuated by the ink black hair that fell to the small of his back. His green eyes flashed impishly in the light. The melted mask swirled and danced above his head until it condensed and solidified, creating a long, wicked scythe. The top half of the blade was pitch black while the lower half was pumpkin orange. If one looked upside down, it would almost like the scythe was grinning at them all, excited at the chance to end their lives.

And just as the scythe fully formed, the landscape began to change. The area around Jack erupted with magic. Gravestones burst out of the ground, almost knocking some of them over by the suddenness.

"What the hell is this?" Dante asked aloud. There was moss covering the gravestone near him. He rubbed it off to try and see the name that was etched on it, but the letters were so faded that he couldn't make them out.

Hyde's knuckles popped at the sight. "Hallowed Realm. That annoyingly useful magic of yours." He said darkly. A vein on his forehead started to pulse with his annoyance. "So that's where you were keeping it all this time. Even as your Master, you never told me where you kept it. I searched everywhere for it, hoping to turn you in after you left my Guild." He started shaking with barely suppressed rage. "Of all the places to put it, only you would hide it in your mask!"

Jilo grinned as Hallowed Realm spread around the room. Gravestone grew out of the ground like weeds where ever he looked. And near him was one grave that looked particularly fresh. His smile only grew and laughter escaped his throat as he read the name on one particular grave. 'Wave'.

Jack stamped his scythe on the ground and glared coldly at his former Master. "I kept it there because I knew what you were like. If the opportunity ever arose, you would inform the Council of the graveyard's whereabouts and use it as leverage against me."

Hyde didn't look happy at the accusation, no matter how true it was. "I was your Master! I had every right to know where you hid those bodies! Your only purpose was to do my bidding. If I wanted to sell you out, you should have just shut up and accepted it!" He eyes the scythe in Jack's hand hungrily. "Even that scythe, the A-Rank magic item 'Pumpkin Head', should have been mine. You stole it from me shortly after joining my Guild!"

Jack smiled maliciously. "All you wanted it for was as a trophy. 'Pumpkin Head' is a weapon. It is meant for battle, not gathering dust on your mantle. You could have taken it back at any time but you saw how useful it was in my hands." His muscles tensed as he readied himself. "If you truly want it back…then try to take it!" He leapt at Hyde, jumping from gravestone to gravestone to propel himself.

Hyde raised his hand in the air as Jack came ever closer. "Guns Magic:" he yelled viciously, "Arsenal!" Grey magic circles appeared on every surface of the room. And out of these circles came guns of every shape and size. On the walls, on the floors, on the mounds of dirt, even on the lacrima, guns cocked and loaded themselves, ready to fire at the nearest enemy. In Hyde's own hands appeared a large rifle, made out of some sort of black metal.

When Jack collided with him, scythe raised, Hyde parried him with the barrel of his rifle. "Fire!" He shouted.

Those word marked the beginning of the battle. All around the room, guns started firing. Wind bullets, light bullets, fire bullets, earth bullets, even bullets that bounced off the walls were shot into the room. Both the Pumpkin King and the Nightmare Begins wizards were forced to spring into action. The guns closest to the Pumpkin King wizards fired the most, shooting at them the moment they passed by a barrel. It forced them to duck and weave in an attempt to escape the barrage of magic bullets.

Crest was the first one to meet his enemy. The bald man in the armor unsheathed his giant sword and brought it down on top of Crest, hoping to cleave him in two.

But Crest was prepared for such a thing. He brought up his shield and caught the blow, making the sword skid to the side. In retaliation, Crest roared as he raised his own blade and cut into his adversary's side. But the armor he was encased in proved too thick for Crest to do much damage.

"Impressive armor." The man said gruffly. "They call me Samuel. I'm a wizard of the Dark Guild Steel Fist." He brandished his blade once more at Crest. "While I may not be a member of Nightmare Begins, we share a common goal: the downfall of the sanctioned Magic Guilds."

Crest's face didn't so much as twitch. "I couldn't care less who you are or which Dark Guild you're from." He readied his sword and shield, the magic bullets raining down on him being repelled by his armor. "So long as you threaten my friends, I'll judge you with this blade of mine."

Erk and Dante ran in the same direction, only to find themselves blocked by the two that had accompanied the bald man. The boy grinned cockily at the while they had to crouch to avoid a barrage of wind bullets from the guns scattered across the gravestones. "Hey there. My name's Rey, and this is my sister Raina." The girl, Raina, giggled and waved at them at the introduction. They could see her smiling underneath her veil. "And I'm sorry to say this, but we'll be taking your lives this evening." As he spoke, tendrils of darkness encased his hands just as green lightning sparked from his sister's fingertips.

Will moved slowly through the gravestones. The bullets didn't bother him much. Whenever one got close, the nearest candle flared and burned the magic in a puff of blue fire. He never so much as felt them. He kept his eyes on Jack and Hyde as they exchanged blows. He wanted to help his Master in some way, but he didn't know how to do it without getting in the way.

Before he could come to a decision, he found his path blocked by Jilo's 'brothers'. "DESIGNATION: MILO." Milo said robotically. "ANALYSIS: WILLIAM TORCH." His eyes swept over both Will and the surrounding terrain. "ATTACK PATTERN: DUAL MACHINA. PARAMETERS NOT OPERATING AT MAXIMUM EFFICIANCY. CHANGING WEAPON." He raised his scythe and swung it in the air. A black magic circle encased it and began to spin. As the circle spun faster, a light flashed over the weapon and it changed. The scythe scattered into pixels before reforming at the center of the circle. When Kilo lowered his weapon, he now held a large axe in his hand instead of a scythe. His eyes never moved, but when he spoke it was clear he was speaking to his brother. "DESIGNATION: KILO. ATTACK PATTERN: DAUL MACHINA. CONFIRMED?"

Kilo suddenly twitched into motion. His voice was deeper than both Jilo and Milo by far. His what one actually thought a robot would sound like, despite looking as scrawny as he did. "ATTACK PATTERN: DUAL MACHINA CONFIRMED. INITIATING."

The two sprang at Will, Milo with his axe raised and Kilo with his bare hands. Milo ran ahead and slashed at Will's legs, but Will jumped to avoid the low cut. When he landed he sensed Kilo to his right and turned to deal with the second attacker. But instead of finding an attack, he saw Milo crouching to the ground with the palms of his hands pressed into the soil.

"BINDING MAGIC: SISYPHUS HELL." A red magic circle appeared at the palms of his hands as well at Will's feet. The earth and nearby gravestones moved towards him, as if pulled there by some force. The clumps of earth and stone wrapped up his legs and locked him in place, preventing him from moving as Milo attacked him with his axe, again aiming for his legs.

When he swung, Will was suddenly engulfed in his own ghostly flames. The bindings on his legs crumbled to dust just in time for him to jump away from the attack. He landed on a gravestone and studied the two puppets before him. "This may be more difficult than I thought." He muttered. His candles flickered in agreement.

Becky continued to circle above Jilo, who wasn't even paying attention to her. He was more focused on the battles that were taking place before him. Out of everyone there, he was least interested in fighting it seemed. But that wasn't going to stop Becky from ripping his throat open. No bomb was going to stop her either. "Ssserpent Sssoul: Mamba!" In a flash of purple light, the winged Amphithere was gone, replaced by a small black mamba. So small in fact that she managed to form herself outside of the pressure bomb's clutches. She aimed her fall for Jilo as she fell, her fangs bared. "Die!" She yelled just as the bomb hit the floor and exploded behind her.

Charlotte was the only one who hadn't run when the shooting started. She had managed to find a blind spot in the guns firing range. Where she stood, nothing shot at her. But standing outside of the battles like that exposed her.

"Shadow Strike!" The shadows cast by all the gravestones erupted from the ground and shot at Charlotte. She gave out a yelp as she ducked just before she was impaled by the shadow spikes. Looking up, she saw Emery standing on a hill in front of her.

"Time to die, wizard scum."

The war had finally started.

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