Competing Magic (Chapter Six)
Of all the auditoriums that Paladin Academy hosted within its vast grounds, none were more impressive than the ones of the Music Hall where students gathered to master the musical arts. Each auditorium could fit hundreds in an audience. And the stages were built to fit an entire orchestra ensemble. Every detail of architecture right down to the base materials for the walls was carefully selected to enhance musical performances as far as humanly possible. Only the most expensive supplies were used. Not a penny was spared.
Well, at least that's what the brochure said. Ezekiel's mother, an expert on the quality of buildings and furniture, thought differently. The design and everything was okay, according to her when she toured the place with him. But what was put into the building was definitely not the most expensive. Not that that was a bad thing, according to Mrs. von Ghoul. "Just because it's expensive, doesn't mean it's good," she would always say. Ezekiel had seen his mother be right countless of times enough not to doubt her wisdom. Still, he wondered, where did the rest of the money left over from the building go?
That was something he was going to have to think about later. Now, it was time for the music lesson.
Many of his classmates were looking forward to the lessons to come. All of them being music enthusiasts (why else would they be here?), were understandably excited to learn from a famous musician like Josephine Desorciere Duncan, whose performances have been praised as topnotch. Ezekiel was also curious to see what kind of lesson a mage-turned-musician would hold. This curiosity turned to worry when he saw how most of his classmates in red jackets looked like they were going mountain biking instead of learning to play instruments. They all wore helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, everything. One person was even dressed like a baseball umpire.
"Okay, I'll bite," Sarah said. "What's with all the protective gear?"
"Are you kidding?" went Verity. "You saw what happened at the library with Madame Duncan, didn't you? If we don't take this much precaution at least, who knows what would happen?"
"I cast some special spells on mine," said Jacques, bumping his fist against his umpire armor. He had a grin on his face, as if proud of what Ezekiel could see was shoddy magic work, just what you'd expect of a second-rate magic learner.
"Oh, come on," Sarah scoffed. "It wasn't that bad at the library. Try living as the sister of James Jing Wu for an entire summer."
"Or being a student of James Jing Wu for an entire year," Maxwell added.
"What are you talking about?" asked Jacques. "We've heard the stories from Josephine, but he didn't seem that bad."
Oh, to be blessed with ignorance, Ezekiel thought to himself as he listened to the others talk, while he assembled his flute.
"That was just the first day," said Veronica. "Trust me. He gets much worse."
"Yeah, well, it can't be as bad as Josephine being a literal walking disaster," said Alice. "Sometimes her magic gets so bad that there has to be a mage with her at all times to make sure nothing happens. Speaking of mages, where is he, or she? Actually, I wonder who the guys at top have for the job. Normally, it'd be either Sir Quimbly or Ms. Woods who'd be watching over her, but I heard that those two are both busy with something."
"Well, whoever it is, I hope they're ready, because chances are, they're in for a rough day," said her brother.
All the doors flew open, banging against the walls as Josephine Desorciere Duncan stumbled in through the one to the left of the stage. She was breathing heavily and sweating, telltale signs that she had been running to get here.
"I'm . . . sorry I'm . . . late," she managed to get out in between gasps for air. "I needed . . . to get . . . my son . . . to the . . . daycare. Well, that, and I was having a rather riveting conversation with Mr. Skull here."
As she spoke, she pulled out what was clearly a plastic human skull.
"Isn't that right, Mr. Skull?" she said.
The sound of scraping against wood echoed from the stage as chairs were pushed back away from the woman talking to the plastic skull. Seriously, thought Ezekiel. Why is it that almost every famous hero he meets ends up being a complete and total weirdo? With Mrs. Wu being an exception, of course.
"Hey," Sarah said. "I just had a really horrible thought."
A horrible thought? Now what could that be? Ezekiel wondered.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I just thought that for a former High Master, another High Master would be the best person to look after Madame Duncan, you know, with her magic going crazy," said Sarah.
"Well, yes. But what's so horrible about that?"
"Well, I heard that May was going to be at a meeting today, and if both Sir Quimbly and Ms. Woods are busy too, then that would leave . . . "
Ezekiel could see where Sarah was going with this, and he really didn't like it. He hoped with all of his might that she was wrong. Because if she was right, then this morning's lesson could only end in disaster.
"Please stop," said Maxwell, who happened to be listening. "I seriously don't want to think about it. One literal walking disaster in the classroom is bad enough. I don't want to even think what having two literal walking disasters in the same room for two hours would be like."
Unfortunately, fate would determine that he and everyone else would find out exactly what it would be like.
The floor and wall boards all creaked with Madame Duncan's heavy breathing. Ezekiel could feel the rumbling on his feet, and he began to worry that something like snap beneath them.
Something did snap. But it wasn't from below. It was from above.
The ceiling gave way and a man crashed through with broken pieces of wood, plastic, and concrete. Now, it was obviously who the man was. It was Professor Wu, up to his usual antics. He fell several feet before curling up, rolling, and landed on his feet. He did a pose as if he were a hero making some grand entrance in a villain's lair. All around him, chairs were being pierced by slabs of wood and metal, their magenta cushions whitened after a storm of dust.
After straightening up, he pulled out his smartphone, checked the screen and then did a fist pump.
"Yessss!" he said with a long hiss at the end. "Made it! Oh, hey. It's Mr. Skull."
"Oh, boy," Ezekiel heard Sarah groan.
Ezekiel sank down in his chair, wishing that he thought to bring body armor like the Merlin Institute guys. Maybe there's still time for him to conjure one up.
"Whoops!" Professor Wu said, looking around at the mess, and then toward the students. While patting debris and dust off his suit jacket, he said: "Don't mind me, everyone. I'm just here to make sure everything's in tiptop shape."
"More like make sure everything ends up in ruins," muttered a boy just a few feet away from Ezekiel. He wore the red jacket of Merlin Institute.
Oh, he really shouldn't have said anything, Ezekiel thought.
While the boy and his friends snickered, there was a flash of light at his feet. The boy looked down and yelled out in shock and disgust, retracting his feet away from the floor where snakes slithered. Those around him quickly flew out of their chairs and backed away, screaming. Only most of the Paladin Academy people remained calm. They had mostly gotten used to their magic teacher's antics, so something like snakes on the floor wasn't surprising anymore.
Ezekiel turned around and saw that Professor Wu had his long fountain pen drawn out while wearing an arrogant smirk on his face. The magic teacher waved the pen around, drawing Chinese characters in the air. The silver light tracing the movements of the pen tip flashed and then swarmed around the auditorium. Within seconds, the destruction that the magic teacher had caused vanished, and the room was returned to its former glory. And the snakes flew from the floor to Professor Wu's outstretched hand, coiling around his wrist before being vacuumed into his watch.
"Come on, you guys," he said, putting his hands to his hips. "What are you doing? It's lesson time, so settle down and pay attention."
Everyone glared at him with distaste, but he paid them no mind at all. Instead, he sat down on a nearby audience chair and lifted his feet up, resting them on the chair in front of him.
"Right then!" Madame Duncan said, setting the skull aside on the conductor's podium. She clapped her hands together, as if everything that just happened in front of her was perfectly normal. A purple lightning bolt flew from her fingers, but a bolt of silver light bolted from Professor Wu's pen and clashed with the lightning, destroying it with itself. Again, Madame Duncan didn't seem to notice and carried on. "Let's finally begin today's lesson. Please return to your seats."
They all stared at her, probably wondering how she could be so much of an airhead. But slowly, everyone returned to their seats with instruments on their laps. Many kept shooting sideways glances towards Professor Wu, who took out a video game console and began playing with it while wearing a dumb look on his face.
"Now then," said Madame Duncan. "Since this is your second year, I'm sure many of you already know why your school required you to take this music class in order to graduate from the Magic Department. But for those of you who don't, let me give you a recap. There are a lot of different ways to use magic, just as there are a lot of different ways you can use science. One of these ways, of course, is through playing a musical instrument. You see it all the time in television of magicians playing music to call up storms, make flowers bloom, and banish evil spirits. In this class, we're going to get you all familiar with musical instruments, which will help you in your magic classes that will have you experiment with music magic."
"And not a moment too soon," Professor Wu cut in, eyes still glued to his video game. "You all better pay attention, because this term's final exams are going to include music magic. Oh! Score! I just got a super rare weapon!"
"To show you what music magic is like, allow me to perform a magic spell with this violin," Madame Duncan said, pulling out the elegant instrument from its purple case. At a glance, Ezekiel could tell that, despite being old and weathered, it was well tended to.
"Wait, what?" went Jacques. He wasn't the only one startled. All of his Merlin Institute peers wore faces filled with horror.
"Oh, I do hope nothing terrible happens," Madame Duncan said. "It has been a few years since I last used magic this way, after all."
A walking disaster of a magician who couldn't control her powers was about to use magic that she hadn't used in years. That was definitely not something that Ezekiel wanted to hear. But at the same time, he was curious to see what would happen once she started playing.
Many of the Merlin Institute people started to panic and duck for cover, while Ezekiel's Paladin Academy peers watched in bemused silence. Ezekiel sat up straight and stared ahead, all attention on Madame Duncan. As mentioned before, he was curious to see what kind of performance the magical musician would make. But before that, he put up some spells of protection, just in case. Unlike the others, his magic casting was a cut above the rest. None of the others even noticed him casting protective charms on them as well. And he was certain that they'd be able to withstand whatever could be thrown at them, at least better than what those other people have cast. Maxwell had ducked beneath his music stand, and Sarah was one her feet ready to defend Veronica like a knight in shining armor.
Josephine brought the bow to her violin's strings, and began to play. She started out slow, but soon the passion behind the music began to flow. A gentile tune filled the room, everyone's ears, and even into their hearts. At least, that was what Ezekiel thought. Any tension he had left his body, and he was filled with an incredible warm sensation.
Calmed, the others slowly straightened up and returned to their seats. But just as they did that, wafts of purple rose from Madame Duncan's feet and spiraled around her. Worry returned to the faces of Ezekiel's peers from Merlin Institute, but soon that was replaced with amazement and awe as the wafts of purple took the shape of children frolicking around the room. Ezekiel recognized one of those shapes at once, as should Sarah and the others, he assumed.
The children ran around the violinist, laughing and looking like they had the time of their young lives. Animals burst from the lake of purple at the woman's feet and scattered throughout the theater. They were doing nothing special. Just animal stuff, but many of the students couldn't help but gape at them in wonder. And then the walls were swallowed by purple, and everything changed. Suddenly, everyone was in space. They were all in the middle of the void of space, sitting in their chairs with instruments in their hands. Galaxy spirals decorated the blackness around them. Stars twinkled and meteors soared. And don't forget all the wonderful, strange, cute, and beautiful space creatures appearing from those stars and meteors, flying and dancing around just like the children that still frolicked around the woman. One child, an Asian boy with glasses, was fleeing from a girl wearing her hair in a bun. He had a large grin on his face, laughing while the girl gnashed her teeth and snapped at him angrily.
Ezekiel had heard of magic like this before. Well, magicians come and go from his home all the time thanks to his father's work. If he remembered correctly, this sort of magic brings forth what held sway in the caster's heart. He could feel exhilaration and bliss, as if he was having the time of his life. But these weren't his own feelings. These were the feelings of the mage playing the violin. She must have had numerous amazing adventures. Well, she was one of the legendary Seven Star Mages. It would be weird if she didn't have an adventure or two. And apparently, one such adventure involved going into space and meeting whatever these creatures were.
"Huh?" uttered Veronica, snapping Ezekiel out of this elation. "What's that?"
Ezekiel tore his eyes away from the talented, magical musician and turned his gaze towards the space Veronica pointed towards. A shadowy mass was there with writhing tendrils. It was slowing creeping towards them. Chills went down Ezekiel's spine as he watched. Being a smart boy with common sense, he knew that a shadowy mass slowly approaching was a bad sign. And judging by the dumb smiles on everyone else's faces, Ezekiel thought that it was safe to assume that he and Veronica were the only one to notice. He would have missed it himself, if Veronica had not pointed it out to him.
"Oh, no," he said. "We have to warn the others!"
But before he could shout a warning, everywhere exploded with silver light, startling everyone, and probably blinded too. Colorful spots filled Ezekiel's field of vision and would not go away for several minutes. After blinking away the last of the spots, Ezekiel saw that everything around him was back to normal.
"Well, that's enough of that," said Madame Duncan, putting away her instrument. "Please practice the scales on Page Ten of your music books. Keeping oneself familiar with an instrument is an important part of a musician's job, no matter how talented one might be. Slacking off would allow your rivals to catch up to you. This is a truth in all things, like sports. Maybe in half an hour, we will start playing something simple together. And then we'll be done for . . . the day. James, where are you going?"
Professor Wu stopped just as he was reaching for the door handle. He turned around and replied: "I have a thing that I need to do. You seem to be handling things fine here, so I thought I'd just be away for a couple of minutes to take care of that thing."
"Is it really such an important thing that you need to skip out on your duties, even for just a few minutes?" Madame Duncan said, hands to her hips.
"Yes, it's an important thing," Professor Wu said. "A really important thing that can't really wait."
"Well, why didn't you take care of this really important thing before the lesson? You had at least three hours worth of free time to sort things out."
"That's because . . . it's a thing that couldn't be handled during those three hours," Professor Wu said. "But now, it can be handled, and it needs to be handled. Anyway, I need to get going. So, stay out of trouble while I'm gone. I'm looking at you, Mr. Skull."
The plastic skull did nothing. Of course it did nothing. It was a skull made of plastic.
Professor Wu opened the door and left.
"Seriously, what was that all about?" Jacques wondered aloud.
"It's probably just James being James," said Sarah. "Just pay him no mind. It'll save you the headaches. Trust me. I know from experience."
Buying Sarah's shrug-off, the others let it go and started practicing their scales, joining in the eruption of musical chaos.
Ezekiel, however, was hesitant to move on. Despite how he openly looked down on Sarah Wu, deep down, he could not dismiss that she had brains. But for her to not notice how something was up, maybe he should reevaluate how he thought of her.
That was what he thought, but then, she nudged him with her elbow, and went: "Hey. Did you see what was in James' hand?"
Maybe, he should consider apologizing to her for how he nearly underestimated her. That was not likely to happen, but at least he considered it. But anyway . . .
"Yes," Ezekiel replied.
What Professor Wu had in his hand was not the handheld game he was playing with earlier. Instead, the magic teacher had been holding his pen, the same pen he used to cast his magic spells. And it was still glowing when he tucked it into his pocket.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Five)
Ezekiel gets curious while danger lurks around a corner.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Seven)
Professor Wu is hiding something, and Ezekiel wants to know what it is.