Competing Magic (Chapter Eleven)
"What happened to you?" Maxwell asked his roommate as they were about to leave for morning lessons.
Ezekiel whose face looked like a cat had used it as a scratching post, just shot Maxwell a glare that clearly said, "I don't want to talk about it."
Taking the cue, Maxwell didn't mention it again.
Just before leaving the dorm, Ezekiel quickly cast a healing spell over his face, making the scratches all disappear. He and Maxwell strolled down the courtyard like they always did every morning. After everything that happened the previous night, Ezekiel couldn't help but notice that there was no trace of the monsters from before. No one was gossiping anything strange. And it certainly didn't look like any epic battles took place.
Sir Quimbly must have taken care of the cleanup very thoroughly, he thought as they passed by the street he and Sir Quimbly met on.
Before going into the lecture hall where Professor Wu conducted his lessons, the boys stopped to take a moment to prepare themselves. Entering the lecture hall was like entering into the unknown. You never know what you're stepping into. You could be going out onto a tropical island beach. Or you could be walking into the den of a hideous, ferocious beast. That was just the sort of thing to be expected of a place Professor James Jing Wu sets up shop in.
"Here goes nothing," Maxwell said with a sense of dread.
Ezekiel let him open the door.
All at once, green smoke spilled out of the room. Upon seeing the familiar green haze, Ezekiel jumped back in a panic. Images of the horrific beasts from last night flashed in his mind. Don't tell me there's a rift in there, he thought.
"Whoa! What is this?" shouted Maxwell.
A shrill scream pierced Ezekiel's ears. His blood ran cold while his heart pumped hard. He's heard that scream plenty enough times to know whose scream that was.
"Veronica!" he cried. Did the monsters get to her? Where was Wu? Weren't those two siblings supposed to be protecting her? What was he doing wasting time? He had to go save his friend!
Ezekiel dropped to his knees and reached into his shadow, drawing out an obsidian black saber. He charged into the room without a second thought, only certain that his friend was in danger. Although prepared for any horrors, he was surprised more than he ever had been, or will be for the rest of his life, by what he saw . . .
A normal lecture hall with normal students doing normal things.
Everyone turned around and looked at him, startled by the sudden entrance. Many of them jumped back in a panic when they saw the sword. Some even conjured swords of their own.
"Is everyone okay?" Maxwell called out as he came in. "Huh? Where'd all the green fog go? Veronica? You're okay!"
"Er . . . Yes," said the perplexed girl genius. "Why wouldn't I be?"
It couldn't be . . . an illusion!? Was he, Ezekiel von Ghoul fooled? But by who? Wait, that was a dumb question. There was only one person in this room who would do something like that, and he was the teacher in the room.
"Oh, hey guys!" Professor Wu said with a smile, looking up from his smartphone. "Glad you could make it. Wow! And with plenty of time to spare. You know, I think this is the first time that everyone's here early! What do you all say we get this started already so we can finish early?"
He looked all innocent, but Ezekiel could tell by the way Professor Wu was looking at him, that he was definitely the one who cast that illusion spell. The magic teacher must know about his stroll late last night. But how?
To Professor Wu's suggestion about starting and ending lecture time early, the lecture hall erupted with ayes from both ends. Thinking about ending lessons early took their minds off of the crazy boy that came bursting in with a sword drawn.
"Oh, and Number Whatever with the sword?" said Professor Wu. "Since you started it with the sword and all, you, and just you, will get detention. I expect you here by Three."
He held up three fingers at Ezekiel.
"Wait, what?" Ezekiel exclaimed, dropping the sword. "Th-that's - !"
That was so not fair! That was what he wanted to shout. But Professor Wu wasn't going to listen.
"What's this?" the teacher asked. His demeanor suddenly changed. Once cheerful and mischievous, now he had the look of a stone cold killer on his face. "Are you going to talk back to me? I could make it a week-long detention if that's what you want. In fact, maybe I'll make it month-long."
Ezekiel opened his mouth, but then closed it. There was no use arguing with Professor Wu. That would only make things worse. He grudgingly let the sword disappear into his shadow before taking his seat. Each step he took, he could feel the pressure of anger and embarrassment press up from his chest to his brain. And it didn't help that he could hear and see some of his schoolmates snickering at him.
"Hey," he heard a peer whisper to another as he walked by. "Do you think that something's got Wu riled up?"
"Yeah," the other student said. "Normally, he's not the sort to just hand out detention over something like that. Maybe von Ghoul did something to tick him off?"
Ezekiel bit down on his lower lip as he tried to control himself from retorting at his schoolmates. He despised being talked about behind his back.
"Do you think those guys were right?" Maxwell whispered to him after they got seated and took out their books. "Maybe Professor Wu's really mad at you for some reason?"
"Like I would know something like that," Ezekiel snapped.
But even as he said that, what Maxwell said got Ezekiel thinking. What if Professor Wu really was angry with him? But what did he, Ezekiel, do to make him angry like that? He didn't even do anything! Well, except for transforming in his image and sneaking out at night to test out his powers. But only Sir Quimbly saw him, and that magic teacher was completely fooled.
That's what Ezekiel thought. But then Professor Wu said this:
"Now then, I know that it's a bit out of curriculum, but today we're going to be talking about MIMICRY magic for the first half of today's session, followed by a review of RIFTS into other worlds."
Yep, Ezekiel thought to himself as he broke out in cold sweat. He didn't know why or how, but he was totally, and completely busted.
A time skip through boring school routines later, Ezekiel hesitantly made his way to Professor Wu's lecture hall. He dreaded what Professor Wu had to say to him. Sneaking around at night was an offense grounds for expulsion. Ezekiel couldn't imagine what his father would say about this, either.
Professor Wu was already there, waiting for him. He sat behind his desk, socked feet on the tabletop, while slouching in the leather office chair.
"I'm here, Professor Wu," Ezekiel said, bracing himself for . . . well, anything. This was Professor Wu, after all. What will he do? Maybe the magic teacher will make it rain frog guts over his head or something. Or worse yet, maybe he'll suddenly pull out a diary with all of his embarrassing secrets and recite them aloud to torture him.
While Ezekiel waited for stuff like that, Professor Wu did nothing. In fact, he barely noticed Ezekiel. His only acknowledgement of Ezekiel's arrival was a brief glance up from his phone.
After waiting in silence until his back broke out in nervous sweat, Ezekiel decided to take the initiative and broke the silence.
"So . . ." he began, "what do you want me to do? This is detention, isn't it?"
Professor Wu looked up and shrugged. He returned his attention to his phone where Ezekiel could hear video game battle sounds from.
Wait, did he just call Ezekiel here just to waste his time? Irked, Ezekiel turned to leave. That was when the magic teacher finally decided to talk.
"Last night, you used some kind of spell to mimic my appearance and powers," he said. "When you did that, did you really think that I, one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world, wouldn't notice? I've made a lot of enemies back in the day, when I was barely older than you. And of course, there are a lot of people who'd do anything to reach the top of the food chain, even stealing or copying my powers. Just about 70% of my day's magic use is making sure that doesn't happen."
Ezekiel swallowed in the face of that menacing glare. The angry look on Professor Wu's face was powerful enough to erase any and all of the dumb antics he always pulled and made him look like a really intimidating force, even more so than his father.
Then he dropped that look. He wasn't smiling, but the angry aura he had seemed to melt away, putting Ezekiel a little more at ease.
"I'm guessing it's the Mirror Mimic spell, or whatever it's called," he said.
"H-how'd you know?" Ezekiel asked.
"I'm not dumb," Professor Wu said. "I just do dumb stuff on purpose because I like it and it's fun. I mean, just last week, I replaced some of my wife's kitchen utensils with trick ones that turn into rubber chickens every time someone tried to use them."
That's even worse, Ezekiel thought. No wonder Mrs. Wu was in such a sour mood last week.
"Since the Mirror Mimic spell would give the caster my personality, it's one of the few spells I ignored," Professor Wu continued. "I know what I'd use my powers for, so there's no need for me to worry about it.
"Knowing and using the spell, itself isn't an issue, since your magician's permit covers spells of that level. It's how you used that spell to sneak out at night that's a problem. Normally, after-hours strolls outside would land you two out of three strikes to being kicked out of school, which would lead to a conference with your parents. You understand that, don't you?"
Ezekiel could feel a lump rise to his throat at the mention of being kicked out of school and getting his parents involved. Two things no student ever wanted to hear.
"I wasn't - !" he was about to say but was cut off.
"Yes, I know," Professor Wu said. "You probably didn't plan on going out, but my personality probably changed that. That's why I'm just letting you off with a warning this time. But I managed to talk it over with the deputy headmaster to just let you off with a simple warning."
Hearing that calmed Ezekiel's nerves a little, but only a little.
"That's good to hear," he said, trying to keep a cool face. "You have my thanks."
"Don't mention it," said Professor Wu. "I was just doing my job as a teacher. But just so you know, this is your only chance. If this happens again, I'll personally call your father and tell him that you're at risk of being expelled. Got that?"
"I understand, sir," Ezekiel replied.
"And as for that Mirror Mimic spell, shelve it," said the magic teacher. "That's not the sort of spell you use willy-nilly. Save it for emergencies, ONLY!"
"Yes, sir," Ezekiel quickly said, feeling antsy. He could feel Professor Wu's unusually piercing sharp gaze bore into his soul and just wanted this meeting to be done with already so he could go and escape it. Of all the teachers who could make him feel like a small child when they scolded him, he never thought that it would be Professor Wu.
"One more thing," Professor Wu said.
Exasperated, it took everything Ezekiel have not to burst and shout "Oh what now?"
"Last night, I heard there was a monster attack. You were there, right? You mind telling me about it?"
"Huh? Er, yeah. Sure," Ezekiel replied, perplexed. Why was he asking about that? Didn't Quimbly tell him everything? He finally looked up and gazed back at Professor Wu's piercing eyes, wondering what the senior magician could be thinking. But Professor Wu gave away nothing.
"You helped him take care of it? And even sealed the rift?" was what he asked.
"Well, rather than a collaboration, it was more like a friendly (sort of) competition between me and him," Ezekiel said.
"And how did you know about the rift?" Professor Wu asked.
"How did I know? You should know that better than anyone, Professor Wu," Ezekiel said. "I was you, after all. One of your divination spells told me that there was trouble, and I couldn't ignore it. That's why I went outside last night. You must have noticed it, yourself."
"Me? I didn't notice anything," said Professor Wu. "I was asleep. I think Quimbly probably told you, but me and the others are taking turns keeping an eye out at night for trouble makers. It was Quimbly's turn last night."
"Oh, right," said Ezekiel. "Wait. But that means you've also been on patrols at night. Didn't you see anything then?"
But Professor Wu shook his head.
"All my patrol nights have been quiet," he said. "But if it's true that something's going on, and I don't doubt that, then whoever's behind it is probably doing his hardest to make sure he doesn't run into me. Not that I mind since it means less work for me."
That would make whoever was stirring trouble really smart, then, thought Ezekiel.
"I think we've talked enough," Professor Wu said. "You can go. But seriously, no more night time walks. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," said Ezekiel.
He didn't wait for Professor Wu to say anymore. While keeping as cool a face as he could muster, Ezekiel turned around and rushed out the door, nearly slamming it shut as he left.
After watching his student flee through the courtyard through his window, James Jing Wu let the fabric curtain slip through his fingers and close over the glass.
Then to no one in particular, he said his thoughts aloud.
"Rifts and monsters, huh? Sounds familiar. I wonder why."
- Competing Magic (Chapter Ten)
Ezekiel disguised as his magic teacher must take on an evil in his place.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Twelve)
Things aren't going well between schoolmates.