Competing Magic (Chapter Fourteen)
Ezekiel didn't see the gang from Merlin Institute for the rest of the weekend. After Miss Woods took Madame Duncan away, he and the others went stadium. With no one else to turn to, they decided to go talk to Professor Wu who was probably watching the competition with his wife and the rest of the school's staff. But neither Wu could be found. They were last seen rushing to the restrooms to change the diapers of their daughter and Madame Duncan's son who was left in their care while Madame Duncan was busy with errands. They never came back.
Sarah tried calling them on her cell phone, but they didn't answer. They even went to the faculty residence area where the teachers and their families lived, but no one answered to let them in. After scouring around the school, they eventually found Mrs. Wu standing guard outside of the school's own hospital.
That's right. The school had its own hospital. That's just how big and exclusive the school was, and how important and rich, the students' parents were.
No sooner did they approach her, Mrs. Wu immediately told the gang to go away.
"But-!" went Veronica.
"No buts," Mrs. Wu barked, fiercely glaring at them. "Go back to your dorms. Now!"
Ezekiel flinched. The way she ordered them away was almost like how his own mother used to tell him off. And judging by the way Sarah flinched, her mother was also probably the same way.
Knowing that Mrs. Wu probably wouldn't budge, they left.
For the remainder of the weekend, Ezekiel would stew over his frustration. Nothing could get him to relax. With nothing to do, he just laid on his bed, going over what happened over and over again in his head. He wondered who that voice belonged to, and how he could have gotten inside the school. Professor Wu's magic should have prevented anyone with evil plans from getting in. And Mrs. Wu was in charge of security. Both of them personally saw to the upgrades to the school's security system. And given that two big incidents had already happened under their watch, Ezekiel doubted that they would do things halfhearted at this point. They were even doing nightly patrols around the school.
And then there was this.
Between his fingers was a small purple bead that had its own light. There was energy in it that made the hairs on his arm stand. This was definitely a magic item, although Ezekiel did not know what it did. As far as he could see, there weren't any runes or magical instructions. It was as if it was just made to give off magic energy.
"I wonder," he said aloud to himself, "could this be a clue?"
He found it on the floor at the courtyard and picked it up after that mess with the monsters and the shadow puppets. Ezekiel remembered that this was what Madame Duncan had picked up, only to drop it again when the monsters showed up. But unable to think of what it could be, there was only one thing that Ezekiel could do. And that was to ask a teacher.
With the end of the weekend came the start of lessons. It would be the first time Ezekiel saw Professor Wu since what happened during the weekend. The magic teacher carried on as if nothing had happened, presenting a slideshow to the class while reading from it almost word for word. No one really listened. Why would they? He was just going to post the slideshow online later anyway, so there was no need to.
"Hey," Ezekiel heard one of his peers whisper to another. "Don't you think Professor Wu's a bit . . . well . . . normal?"
"Yeah," the other classmate replied. "He's usually a lot bubblier than this. You don't think he's trying to get us all to let our guard down so he could pull some big prank, do you?"
"Nah," went Seat No. 24. By the way, Ezekiel's seat was No. 14. "I heard that he hasn't been pulling any pranks lately. Rumor has it, one of his friends is in the hospital."
"Yeah! You remember Madame Duncan, right?"
"The violinist? Oh, yeah! I heard that she got really sick or something like that! So, you're saying he's worried about her or something? Wow. I guess even heroes like the Seven Star Mages got their gloomy days."
Ezekiel snuck a glance back to see their idiotic smiles as they gossiped. He sniffed in contempt and turned away.
"And that's it for today," Professor Wu concluded. "Oh, but before you go, Seat Number 24, and Seat Number 25?"
The two boys beneath Ezekiel looked up.
With a devilish smile on his face, Professor Wu said to them with dark, menacing glee: "Prepare thy selves for thy fate."
Yep. He definitely heard those two boys talking behind his back. Once more, Ezekiel was reminded of the reality that his teacher was no ordinary man. This was something he just has to remember, lest he suffer Professor Wu's wrath just as the boys were.
Number 24's jaw dropped while Number 25's pencil slipped through his fingers. Both of their faces were drained of color. While they probably didn't understand what that meant, and Professor Wu didn't have any real meaning behind his words, it was enough to scare the boys witless, and keep them on the edge of their toes for at least a couple of days, really putting a damper on their week. Not that Ezekiel cared. To him, they got what was coming.
After giving the boys their just desserts for gossiping in his class, Professor Wu headed towards his office behind the lecture hall, laughing like a villain who was just victorious. He had beneath his arm his laptop which he used for his lectures.
"You lot go on ahead without me," Ezekiel said to the others as Professor Wu closed the door behind him. "I have some questions about the assignment that I need to ask Professor Wu."
"Huh?" went Maxwell. "Okay."
"You had better not take so long," said Veronica. "You don't want to be late for the next class."
"Who do you take me for?" Ezekiel said with a huff. "I won't take long."
As the others left Ezekiel behind, Sarah glanced back at Ezekiel, looking like she wanted to say something. She opened her mouth, but seemed to change her mind, closing it again before hurrying off after the others. Ezekiel could see her eyes roll left and right, wary of her surroundings. Ever since the start of all these strange events this year, no, the last two years, Sarah Wu had slowly begun the habit of looking over her shoulders wherever she went. Well, it's hard to blame her after being held hostage by magical supervillains, being kidnapped by a misguided noble trying to help his friends, and being turned into a statue by the fighting between two wizards.
Ezekiel walked over to the office door, but soon realized that he was followed. He turned around to see Alice and Jacques standing behind him.
"Do you have business with Professor Wu?" he asked.
Well, that was a dumb question. Of course they had a question for Professor Wu. Miss Woods had left Professor Wu completely in charge of the class and disappeared off somewhere, and no one knew where the main security office was where Mrs. Wu worked. And Madame Duncan was still recovering, according to the nurse, so she wasn't allowed any visitors. By process of elimination, that just left Professor Wu as the best person they could talk to about what happened.
The door flew open before the twins could give their answer. And out of the office came a fanged fish monster in a tuxedo, roaring its head off.
"BWAAAAAAAAH!" screamed the twins.
Ezekiel remained calm. He definitely didn't scream in fright like the twins did. Definitely. Seriously, he wasn't scared. Okay, maybe he was startled a little. But only a little!
Laughter replaced the fish monster's roar. Its entire appearance broke apart into silver sparks. Beneath those sparks was Professor Wu whose face was red from laughing so hard. Tears welled at the corners of his eyes.
"You, you should see the looks on your faces! Man, I am funny!"
Ezekiel could feel his cheeks turn hot. It took every ounce of his willpower to resist trying to wipe that smile off the moronic teacher's face. Every ounce!
"So, pfft! What do you want with me?" Professor Wu said.
"Never mind!" Jacques said. He and his sister had identical angry glares.
"We'll just take our leave!" Alice finished.
"Wait! Hold up!" Professor Wu said as the twins turned around. "Look. My bad. If you're looking for an update on Josephine, she's doing fine. Rose already took care of most of the curses infecting her."
"Really?" asked Alice.
"Really," Professor Wu replied.
Alice and Jacques exchanged relieved smiles.
"But the curses have already taken a serious toll," Professor Wu added, his face now serious. "The doctors say that she needs time to rest, so it'll still be a couple of days before Josephine's back on her feet. That's why it's best that you don't bother her for now. Just let Rose take care of everything, okay?"
The twins nodded.
"Good," Professor Wu said, nodding back. "So, what about you, Number Whatever?"
"It's Ezekiel," Ezekiel retorted. "I just wanted to show you something."
"Show me something?"
Ezekiel pulled out the glowing purple bead from his jacket pocket and held it up to the teacher. Puzzled, Professor Wu took the bead into his pinching fingers and bent down for a better look. Ezekiel could see his eyes roll side to side, probably reading off of his glasses' computer features.
"Well this is strange," he said after a few minutes of silence. "This is a Beacon Bead."
"A Beacon Bead?" went Ezekiel. "What's that?"
"Basically something you create with magic to act as a beacon," said the teacher. "You know how mages can be tracked from their magical signature, right? If a mage ever ends up lost in the middle of the wilderness or something, they leave out these beads with some of their magic in it like a trail of bread crumbs so it's easier for someone to find them. And unlike breadcrumbs, no dumb animal would eat them."
"Whose Beacon Bead is it?" Jacques asked, taking the words out of Ezekiel's mouth. He and Alice had been listening and couldn't help but cut in.
"That's the strange part," Professor Wu said. "It's Josephine's. But this bead's over fifteen years old! Josephine couldn't have been older than ten years when she made this thing."
"You can tell how old that bead is?" Ezekiel said, incredulous.
Professor Wu scowled.
"Who do you think you're talking to?" he said, puffing his cheeks out indignantly. "I'm the great High Master, the Silver Wolf Mystic! I update the divination spells on my glasses almost weekly. There's no doubt about it. This bead was made exactly a month before Josephine joined the IGM with me and the other Star Mages. A month . . ."
"Er . . . Professor Wu?" went Ezekiel. Suddenly, Professor Wu looked deep in thought. "Is something the matter?"
"Huh?" went the magic teacher, suddenly looking up. "Sorry. I was just thinking about something."
"Yes, I could see that," said Ezekiel. "What were you thinking about?"
"N-nothing," said Professor Wu. "That's for me to know and you to mind your own beeswax, Mr. Detective-Wannabe."
Ezekiel couldn't help but scowl. But there were some things that Professor Wu said that couldn't be ignored. Something that Madame Duncan had made years ago before she joined the IGM was at the scene of the crime. This was definitely the thing that she picked up off the floor. Beacons were made to lure things or people. Maybe someone managed to get their hands on this particular beacon and used it to lure Madame Duncan into a trap.
"Professor Wu, you said this was made before Madame Duncan joined the IGM," Ezekiel said. "Do you happen to know what she was doing before she joined? Or do you know where and why she learned to make something like this?"
"No," said Professor Wu, crossing his arms over his chest. "I have no idea. I never asked. If you want to know, you can ask the twins over here. Or better yet, ask Josephine herself."
The twins he spoke of scowled at him. They probably didn't like the way he jabbed his thumb at their direction as he talked about them.
"Oh, by the way," went Professor Wu, stopping just as he was about to leave. "One of the kids competing for our school in the magic tournaments had to drop out for some reason. Since there's no one else to take his place, I volunteered you, Ezekiel."
"Oh, okay," said Ezekiel. "Wait, what?"
Did he just say what he thought he said? And he did it without his say?
"You said okay, so I'll tell the guys from the meeting you've agreed."
"And . . . Sent!" Professor Wu had his cell phone in his hand.
"Listen to me!" Ezekiel shouted.
"Oh!" Professor Wu exclaimed as the phone pinged. "I just got a text from your dad. He says he's looking forward to seeing you compete."
Ezekiel could feel the color drain from his face. There was no getting out of it now. As much as he would like to show off his prowess, Ezekiel had better things to do than compete in some school competition. And more importantly, his father was going to watch him? Now that was pressure Ezekiel could do without.
Behind him, Ezekiel could hear the twins snicker at his plight. They turned away grinning when he shot them a dirty look.
"And twins, I heard Rose signed you up to replace a pair of contenders who left for a family emergency."
That wiped the smiles of their faces.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Thirteen)
The magic spells Madame Duncan casts backfires! How will she escape her plight?
- Competing Magic (Chapter Fifteen)
Ezekiel gets training.