It had been five years since the downfall of Nightmare's Begin. Things had been…rocky at first. The guild had been more or less destroyed by the attack and extensive repairs had to be done. For a while, they couldn't even take jobs from there. One of the nearby cities had to lease them the use of an old abandoned building on the outskirts of town.
But after a few short months, the old place was up and running again. They had thought about building on additions, but the idea was turned down. They were still a small guild. They didn't have the funds to make any major changes anyway. Besides, Jack was adamant that the guild remain looking like a giant jack-o-lantern.
They had all grown since then. Even now, Erk sat in the familiar building. It had been over five years since he joined the guild. Five long…irritating…wonderful years. He honestly wouldn't have traded that time for anything. The friends he'd gained along the way were invaluable to him. With his grandfather's train business taking off, Erk could have probably quit the wizard thing. But what would be the fun in that? Besides, his friends wouldn't have forgiven him if he had quit…though he doubted Jack would ever give him the chance to leave even if he did want to.
The years had been good to Erk in more ways than one. With all the running he did, he had gained a physique that was envied by many of the men he met. He had become quite the looker, if the praises made by women he met were true. What could he say? He kept in shape.
But even though he had his fair share of propositions and date invitation, he didn't go with any of them. The reason was the woman sitting next to him.
Tamashi had grown as well, though not as drastically as Erk. Her red hair was longer now, falling down to the back of her knees. Hair that long would usually get in the way during a fight, but she liked it so who was he to judge? The two had started dating not long after the Nightmare's Begin fiasco. And about two years or so ago, they moved in together. They managed to save up for their own place not far from where Erk's grandpa lived. Tamashi found the sounds from the train yard to be annoying, but Erk found it very soothing. Besides, they got it cheap since it was always so noisy in that area.
In hindsight, he was glad they had gotten their own place instead of having her move in with him and his grandpa. She had a rather…large appetite. If they lived with his grandpa, it wouldn't have been long before he found out that the two of them were…active.
That aside, the two of them made a rather effective team. Tamashi would ride on his passenger train and he would help her sweep the area for corpses to possess. He could keep her a safe distance away while the zombie's took care of their mark. It was a good strategy, but it lacked the close combat that Erk had come to like. But he knew better to argue with his girlfriend. The strategy worked, who was he to try to change it? Besides, if he wanted to mix things up, he would always go on a job with Julio.
He used to go on jobs with Dante as well, but he had been preoccupied the past few months.
Said Earth wizard was currently groveling at Erk's feet.
"No." Erk said flatly.
"Pleeease?" Dante begged. His hands were clasped and he was on his knees in front of his friend. "All we need is one night. Tulip is driving us nuts! We need a break." Dante hadn't changed much the past five years. The only real difference was that his shaggy hair had grown even shaggier. Oh, and the wife and kid.
"You reeeally aren't helping your case there, buddy." He replied with the same tone of voice. "Why would I want to watch a kid who screams so much?" He wasn't kidding. He had watched the little girl before. Her lungs were impressive even by his standards. And he worked with trains.
Dante groaned. "We think she's developing some sort of innate sound based magic." He rubbed his eyes, which had bags under them. "We talked to Sara and she says that she'll look into it." Then his chest puffed up with pride. "She thinks that if it's developing this early, she'll have extremely strong magic."
Erk rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. You and Lorelai should be very proud of your daughter." Dante had been singing her praises since she was born. While understandable at first, it has begun to grate on some people's nerves. He took a drink of the beer sitting in front of him. "I learned my lesson last time. I'll need earmuffs otherwise I'd go deaf."
At that point Lorelai came over. Her eyes were starring lovingly at her daughter who was being held by a doting Jack.
The little girl was only eight months old but she had already captured the hearts of everyone in the guild. She was dressed in a bright yellow shirt that had a red tulip printed on the front. She also had brown shorts on. She already had brown hair covering her head with deep brown eyes. There was a large smile plastered on her face
Their Master had gained a granddaughter when Tulip had been born. He took every moment to watch and play with her. Tulip loved him. She always laughed at the funny faces on his pumpkin mask...but Lorelai and Dante didn't like him watching her for very long. The last time they let him, they came back to find Tulip in a pumpkin mask. They weren't pleased.
Like Dante, Lorelai hadn't changed much, though she did cut her hair shorter after she got pregnant. She wanted to look like a proper parent and all that. She tried to get Dante to do the same, but asking him to cut his hair was like trying to get the sun not to rise.
Lorelai put her hands together next to her husband. "Please Erk?" She asked with a smile. "It would mean so much for us." She looked at him innocently. "You can even watch her with Tamashi."
Erk choked on his beer and immediately glanced at Tamashi. Her eyes were sparkling as she stared at Tulip. There was a red light going off in his head screaming 'DANGER, DANGER, DANGER!' After coming into contact with Tulip, Tamashi had decided she wanted a child of her own…and since Erk was her boyfriend, it was apparently his duty to make that happen. He had never thought of Tamashi as motherly, but seeing the baby had flipped some sort of switch inside her.
It wasn't that Erk didn't want kids of his own someday, he just wanted to wait is all. Get a little more money stored up and maybe move to a better house…he'd probably need to propose before he could think of starting a family. He had mixed feelings about that. On one hand, marrying Tamashi didn't seem all that bad. On the other hand, that means that vicious woman would become his wife. He didn't want to end up whipped like some men were when they got married.
"Come on, Erk." Tamashi said, as if reading his mind. "We'll learn all about raising our own child. You do want to learn…right?" That last part was a loaded question. If he said yes, he would consent to having a kid. If he said no, she would turn him into a bloody mess. There was no right answer.
Erk gulped and glanced at Lorelai, as if to say 'Low blow'. She put her hands together and lowered her head, sending back a silent 'Sorry'.
"Fine, fine." He groaned. He didn't have any choice at this point. The moment they pleaded to Tamashi, his fate was sealed. "But I'm charging you if things get out of hand."
Dante and Lorelai let out sights of relief and about cheered. But at that point, Tulip started crying. It was if a sound wave crashed into them all. They immediately put their hands over their ears to block out the noise and all attention was turned to the little girl.
Jack was holding her at arm's length. He didn't seem overly bothered by the crying. "Uh oh!" He said lightly. "Well you're not hungry. Diaper is clean too. Looks like someone is just a little cranky. Head's up, Val!" He arbitrarily tossed the screaming baby at Val, who looked like he had been napping on one of the tables near the bar.
Speaking of Val, there were some odd circumstances concerning him. With the seal broken, there was mass panic in the Magic Council. Considering how he is a demon with the power to destroy kingdoms, it is understandable. The most desired thing to do was to put him back to sleep…But Val was resistant to the idea.
It was a precarious position. Things had to be handled carefully in order to prevent the Valmagus from going berserk. That above all else needed to be avoided. Strangely enough, it was Sara that proposed their current solution.
A probationary period to test him. He seemed disinterested in causing havoc or trouble. In fact, he seemed more interested in the guild than anything. In the end, they decided to avoid a fight. In exchange for keeping his magic suppressed and helping out the guild as an actual guild member, Val was allowed to stay out of prison unsealed. He seemed satisfied with that. Even went on a mission or two with the other guild members, though it was obvious that if this became a permanent thing he was more than strong enough to be an S-rank wizard for the guild. The problem would be keeping him interested though. If he has a relapse…they'll have no choice but to fight him. But while the Council had its doubts, Pumpkin King was optimistic. Val seemed to be enjoying himself as a Guild wizard. Even if he did sleep for more than half the day.
Normally, you would think Lorelai and Dante would be furious that their daughter was thrown like that, but they were used to it at this point. Val's eyes shot open as Tulip sailed through the air towards him. He caught her gently as he blinked the sleep from his eyes.
He stared at the girl blearily as she continued to cry. He didn't seem to mind the loud noise either. Tulip continued to cry for a few more seconds before she opened her eyes and stared at Val. They had something like a staring contest for a moment before Tulip's crying stopped and both of their heads' nodded off. They had fallen asleep. Val's arms sagged as he dropped the sleeping girl in his lap. They would nap like that for a little while.
Most parents would be revolted at the idea of having a demon watch their child. But to Lorelai and Dante, Val was a godsend. Whenever Tulip refused to go to sleep, they would invite Val over or they would go visit him at the guild. Nobody was sure what it was. It wasn't like he was using magic on her to make her sleep. Just something about him made her drowsy. There might be a correlation between Tulip's magic developing early and the large amount of time she spends with Val.
Erk shook his head at the scene with a smile. Val really had become part of the guild. And odd part, but still a part. He can't imagine it without him now. But he decided he didn't want to be in the building when Tulip woke up so he decided to go for a walk.
Getting up, he waved to Tamashi, Dante, and Lorelai. As he walked towards the door, Will came in. At his side was a child. The boy's name was Alladin. He looked around seven or eight years old, though nobody knew for sure. He had white hair and a slight tan. He wore a dark blue shirt with white shorts. He had somehow gotten a hold of Will's old bandana that read 'Silent' and had tied it around his mouth like Will did before he joined Pumpkin King. He had two small candles sitting on his shoulders. There was a blue Pumpkin King mark on his forehead.
"Hey Will." Erk greeted. Then he bent over and rested his hands on his knees. "How's it going Alli?"
Alladin shuffled his feet awkwardly and avoided eye contact. He nodded his head at Erk. He didn't speak often, preferring to communicate through gestures. Erk was used to such treatment and interpreted the nod as him saying he was fine. "That's good." He ruffled the kid's hair. "I think Master has the makings for milkshakes. If you bug him, he'll probably make you one."
Alli's eyes sparkled at the mention of milkshakes. They were his favorite treat. He took off towards Master Jack in a hurry. He didn't stand a chance when Alli jumped on him and started pulling him towards the bar.
Erk and Will smiled at the scene. Then Erk looked at him. "Any luck?" He asked with a lowered voice.
Will shook his head. "He still hasn't remembered anything but the nightmares have been getting better."
Erk nodded in understanding. Alli was a strange case. Will had found him wandering the alley of a city he had been taking a job in a few years ago. The poor kid couldn't remember anything but his name. Concerned, Will took him to a doctor to get him checked out. Apparently, the memory loss was due to some sort of extreme trauma. Not willing to just let the kid back on the streets, Will sort of adopted him. And when he had shown an affinity for magic, Will started teaching him his 'Ghost Fire' magic.
…But the amnesia wasn't the sole reason for the adoption. In an attempt to help, Will had researched the boy, searching for his family. But the boy didn't have any left. Apparently, his parents had been killed many years prior, leaving him all on his own.
The tragedy of the story was that Will had been the one that killed them.
He remembered Alladin's parents. They had been member of a guild called Carbuncle Queen. They had been a small wizard's guild that Will had attacked while still a member of Demon's Horn. Realizing this, he took Alli in as his own. He had robbed the child of his parents. As atonement, he would raise him in their stead.
"It may be that he never regains his memory." Will said sadly. "And part of me hopes that he never does. As selfish as this sounds, he's become a son to me. If he ever remembers…" He shook his head. "The hate he'd feel for me would be unbearable."
Erk honestly didn't' know what to tell the man. The circumstances were way beyond anything he'd been in before. So he just put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Hang in there. I'm sure everything will turn out right."
Will gave a small smile in reply. He wasn't sure he believed it, but he would hang on to that hope.
Leaving Will to go look after Alli, who was practically dancing as he sipped his milkshake, Erk left the building to breathe in the fresh air. In the distance, he could see Crest watering his plants with Charlotte. His melons had become something of a delicacy in the surrounding areas. Many people came to buy them from all over. Problem was, their fame became so great that some people have tried stealing them in the dead of night in order to mass produce them and sell them at a profit.
Oddly enough, Corvus had been the one to catch the first would-be thieves. He really did love those melons. Afterwards, Crest started keeping a closer eye on his garden at night. Erk almost pitied the thieves that tried to sneak past Crest.
Charlotte hadn't change much during the past few years. With her shyness gone, she had become a much more cheerful person. She had even gone out to try and find some new keys, though she rarely found any. She had thought of buying some new ones, but Celestial Keys were expensive. As of now, the only new spirit she's made a contract with was Musca the Fly.
For some reason, after Nightmare's Begin fell, Alec was nowhere to be found. At first they thought that he had been killed by Jilo's Reality Bomb. However, not long after the incident, rumors started popping up about a slime wizard who had been infected with dark magic. The little rat had someone escaped. Catching him had become one of Pumpkin King's top priorities.
Waving at his two friends, Erk walked around to the back of the guild. There, he saw Rosemary, Azusa, and Angel sitting together.
Released from the burden of sealing Val, Rosemary had taken to spending a lot of time outdoors. She was relishing her new found freedom and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on her skin again.
She had sort of taken Angel under her wing. After Azusa had petrified her, she had worked tirelessly in order to find a way to reverse the process. Ultimately, she had found a way and had immediately freed the little girl from her stone prison. She had tried to do the same for her family back in Melodia, but she didn't have enough control yet to free someone who had been petrified for so long. But she had hope.
Speaking of Azusa, she had managed to learn enough control that she didn't need to wear a blindfold over both eyes anymore. Now, the cloth only covered one eye, leaving the other to view the world without worry.
But back to Angel. After she had been freed, the Magic Council started deliberating on what sort of punishment she should receive for her role in Nightmare's Begin. The problem was her age. She was so young that they weren't sure if they should throw her in jail or not.
Luckily Jack had stepped in on her behalf. He always did have a soft spot for kids. Just as he had done with Latran, Tamashi, and Will, Jack offered to let Angel serve her time in the guild. As a child, it hadn't been her fault that Hyde brainwashed her. She needed guidance to become a good wizard and Pumpkin King was the place for her to get it.
But since Rosemary didn't trust Jack or anyone else in raising a young, brainwashed girl, she took the job. Raising a girl was a good way for her to also get back into the world. She had been confined to the guild for far too long.
In front of the three girls stood two tombstones. The first was Latran's. They had moved it a year ago after a…incident. There's a group called the 'Magic Acquisition Association'. Apparently, they go around the world collecting the residual magic left after wizard battles and Lighten Town was chock full of it. They were currently fighting for the rights to collect all of that excess magic. Pumpkin King, as well as Lighten Town's previous citizens, were putting up a fight to stop them, but the group had some major backing. They weren't above using backhanded methods either. More than once they had threatened to destroy Latran's grave if Pumpkin King didn't back down. So in order to keep it safe, they had it moved here.
The staunchest activist against the MAA was Becky. She fought tooth, nail, and fang to keep Lighten Town safe. She had been put to piece after Jilo died, but this intrusion rekindled her fire. Even now, she was back at Lighten Town fighting off the stooges the MAA sent to collect magic in secret. That place was important to her, she wasn't going to let them defile it.
Erk looked at the tombstone next to Latran's. It read:
FRIEND AND GRANDFATHER TO ALL
Erk put a hand on the stone. Bertrand had passed away not long after the battle with Nightmare's Begin. He was old, very old. His body just couldn't keep up with the damage he had sustained while fighting Corwin. 'Fighting is a young man's game' he had said when they were rushing him to the hospital. He knew his time was up. But that didn't make it hurt any less when he passed. Out of all of them, Jack had been effected the most. Bertrand had been his friend for many, many years, even before he met Rosemary. Losing had torn a hole in his heart that wasn't easily filled. It wasn't until Tulip was born that he had snapped out of it. Having someone as close to a granddaughter had brought him back to his old self. He had been buried with his cane.
"He'd be proud of the guild, I think." Rosemary spoke up. Erk glanced at her. "He always wanted us all to be a family. And with all these new additions, we're more a family than ever."
"That's true." Erk laughed. They had had some more additions…but they didn't last long. After word got out that Pumpkin King had destroyed not one but two dark guilds, there had been a good number of people wanted to join. But most of them didn't seem to mix well with the others. They were under the impression that they were a combat guild, focused on combating dark guilds, but they were wrong. They just couldn't get over the goofiness that was Pumpkin King.
Pumpkin King wasn't too perturbed. They were plenty strong already. If others wanted to join, they wouldn't stop them. And if they left soon after, they wouldn't worry over it either.
But now that he thought of it, many of their members were away. Including Becky who was patrolling Lighten Town, Julio, Reese, Lucinda, and Saraphina also spent the majority of their time away.
After breaking Val's seal, Sara developed a sound based breaker magic. The Magic Council even supplied a tutor for her. As such, they have employed her on retainer for missions that require seals to be broken. She was still a member of Pumpkin King, the Council just borrowed her from time to time. But since her missions were usually dangerous, Lucinda couldn't let her go alone. So naturally she dragged Julio along with them from time to time.
It wasn't like Julio minded. He got to be closer with Lucinda. He was also researching his flute more lately. For some reason, he had gotten it into his head that he wanted to free the phoenix that was trapped inside. Traveling with a seal breaker helped him in that endeavor. He had to keep things quiet though. If his family found out he was trying to destroy their family heirloom, they would probably disown him and take the flute away.
Along with Lucinda and Saraphina, Julio also formed a team with Reese. The two of them spent a lot of time travelling from place to place. Erk had sworn that he wouldn't tell Lucinda that the two of them were also skirt chasing while they were out. All the traveling kept him out of his family's eyes and made it harder for them to keep track of him.
Erk smiled. He really had found a great place. He couldn't imagine leaving this place. It was his home. Hell, maybe someday his children will grow here as well.
He started laughing to himself. "Those are dangerous thoughts, Erk." When Angel and Azusa looked at him strangely, it just made him laugh even more.
"Guess I better go get Tamashi. If I leave her alone for too long, she's probably going to get even more ideas."
Who knows? Maybe they'll go on a job together. It felt like it was time for another adventure.
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