Competing Magic (Chapter Three)
As much as Ezekiel wanted to, he could not get that vision he saw out of his thoughts. It was what consumed his mind all throughout the morning as he made his way to Emrys Hall. Not even the random, mismatched chaos of inside the dark-stone building was enough to distract him from it. Although the building was only three stories outside, inside, it was much, much larger. The lobby, alone, overlapped five stories.
"Huh?" said Maxwell as he marveled at their surroundings. Above their heads, all manner of flying beasts (from mere pigeons to pterodactyls) hovered and soared. Rubber balloons drifted in the air bearing electronic announcement boards ringing around them. There were even miniature plastic skeletons dancing while being hung from the ceiling by thin, near invisible string. "The lobby's much shorter and neater than last time we were here. They must have straightened the place out while we were gone."
Ezekiel didn't notice. He turned toward the left where the elevators were, choosing one that looked like a glass vacuum tube, and got on.
"Good morning, Mr. von Ghoul," said the bronze bust of a goblin wearing an academic's hat. "Good morning, Mr. Beckman."
Ezekiel ignored it. It was just a robot programmed to greet everyone who happened to pass by, just made with magic instead of by hands with wires and circuit boards, and junk, anyway.
On the other hand, Maxwell returned the goblin head's greeting with a cheery one of his own.
Once he was in the elevator, he pushed the button to the fourth floor and felt himself get lifted up from his feet. Only a second passed before he made it to his floor. His feet had already stepped on a red oriental carpet when the elevator chimed. Another elevator chimed beside him, and a cross Maxwell stepped out.
"Would it kill you to wait?" he snapped.
Ezekiel made like he didn't hear him and continued to walk straight toward the double doors with the bronze sign plate beside it which read: 413. The numbers were welded in intricate cursive. Scowling with the thought that such careful craftsmanship was wasted on a room used by a man who enjoyed tomfoolery, Ezekiel walked into the room.
As usual, number cards were placed all around the tables that curved along with the room into a semi-circle. It was how Professor Wu would call others out without having to learn their names. At the center of the half-circle was a long rectangle table with a microphone where the teacher would conduct his work. Professor Wu was already seated behind the table, leaning back on his leather chair as he waited for the room to fill up. His shadow cascaded over his desk and beyond, thanks to the sunlight pouring in from the window to his back. Jiggling in his hand was his cell phone while some sort of adventurous music played from it. Sitting nearby with a chair of her own was Miss Woods munching on junk food. She was wearing a green gown much like how Professor Wu wore a silver one over her suit.
"Well, they certainly look like they're enjoying themselves," Ezekiel grumbled to the others as he joined them.
"Tell me about it," murmured Sarah. As usual, Ezekiel and Maxwell joined her and Veronica at the bottom-most seating, closest to the teacher's desk. "You should have been here five minutes ago. James did a little dance after getting a new high score on his video game."
"Hey!" whispered a boy who was sitting nearby. Like Sarah, he was Asian. He had a jovial face and a bowl haircut. His red blazer looked a bit tight around his belly. "Is your teacher always like that?"
"Pretty much," Veronica reluctantly replied.
"Yours too, I imagine," Ezekiel said with a smirk. His eyes rolled back to Miss Woods who was flipping the pages of what was clearly a comic book. "Ezekiel von Ghoul. And you are?"
"The name's Di. Henry Di," answered the boy. "And as you can tell from my red jacket, I'm from Merlin Institute."
"Hey," went Sarah. "I'm Sarah. This is Veronica. And that's Maxwell."
"Salutations," said Veronica.
"Yo," Maxwell greeted with a small salute.
"Nice meeting you," said Henry.
"How rude of you, Henry!" exclaimed a nearby girl, also wearing the red blazer of Merlin Institute. "Aren't you going to introduce us, your closest friends?"
Ezekiel glanced up to the girl sitting above him. She flipped back one of her twin tails of strawberry blonde hair and crossed her arms while glaring indignantly at Henry with ice blue eyes.
"Right," said Henry. "Sorry, Verity."
"Apology accepted," said Verity. "I'm Verity Blake. I suppose you are all familiar with my father, Gerald Blake?"
Sarah and the others exchanged looks and shrugged. It was enough to make Ezekiel sigh in exasperation and roll his eyes.
"Gerald Blake is the famous American business tycoon, is he not?" he said for the others' benefit. "He heads a business empire that stretches all across the four corners of the globe, amassing an enormous wealth of riches, connection, and influence. One could even consider him a king of sorts."
"Oh, come on," went Verity. "He's not that great. Well, he's actually greater than that."
"Well, my father is - !" Ezekiel was about to say before Verity cut him off.
"Manfred von Ghoul, right?" she said. "I heard about him. He was one of the pioneers behind applying the Dark Arts for rescue missions in natural disaster zones. Turning something negative like magic that feeds off of dark emotions like fear, anger, and panic to make a positive outcome like saving lives in the face of hurricanes, floods and such was genius of him."
Ezekiel couldn't decide whether he should be offended at being interrupted so rudely, or proud by the way his father was described.
"Hey, if we're showing off who we're related to, maybe we can top you," said another nearby boy. He and the girl who sat next to him both had auburn hair and hazel eyes. They were about the same height, and the same complexion. Ezekiel surmised that they were probably twins.
"Yeah," said the girl. "You know Josephine Duncan?"
"Of course," said Veronica. "She's the really famous violinist who happens to teach music at Merlin Institute now. Wasn't she at the assembly yesterday?"
"Well, she's our older sister," said the boy. "I'm Jacques Desorciere."
"And I'm Alice Desorciere," said the girl. "And she's not only a famous violinist. She's also a very famous mage, too!"
"We know that, too," said Sarah, not looking all that impressed. "She's one of the seven Star Mages, right? So's my brother."
The foursome from Merlin Institute gaped at her.
"Who?" the twins demanded to know. "Who's your brother?"
Ezekiel could see the hesitation on Sarah's face. Well, it's understandable really, since that same brother was now sitting at the teacher's desk playing video games.
And this is where the phrase "saved by the bell" comes into play. As Sarah struggled to get words out of her mouth, and looking like a nervous wreck while doing that, a loud chime signaled the official start of the day's lesson.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ezekiel could make out flashes of green and silver light. When he turned to see where those lights came from, the mess that the two teachers had made while lounging around had disappeared. And instead of a comic book, sheets of papers were held in Miss Woods' hands.
Suddenly, Professor Wu snapped his fingers. Silver sparks flew from his hands and swirled around the room. Window shutters slammed shut. Locks from the doors clicked. And all lights were blocked out, sending the entire lecture hall into complete and utter darkness.
"That's a bad sign, isn't it?" Ezekiel could hear Henry whisper.
And then -
"BOO!" A giant, silver hologram of Professor Wu's head suddenly burst from the darkness, taking over a full third of the room. Everyone screamed. And they screamed again when a giant alligator appeared and swallowed that head whole.
The windows flew open, letting in sunlight, and there were Professor Wu and Miss Woods standing there laughing their heads off.
That seriously wasn't funny! Ezekiel thought as took deep breaths to calm his rapidly beating heart.
"Ah, you've got to love extraterrestrial alien technology," Professor Wu said as he tossed the box with pulsating blue lights aside.
"If you like that, you're definitely going to like what I ordered off of the Galakorian tech catalog!" Miss Woods said.
Everyone glared at them, but they ignored them and just moved on (Finally!) to the lesson.
"Good morning, everyone," Professor Wu said as he adjusted his blue tie, a vain attempt at looking smart and proper. "Welcome to the new term. Or, to some, welcome to the new semester. In case you don't know or forgot, I'm Professor James Jing Wu."
"And I'm Miss Rosalyn Woods," said Miss Woods, pointing thumbs to herself. "You all can call me Rose, if you want. I don't really care about anything like titles and formality and all that. Anyway, this year's going to be an interesting one for all of you, thanks to us from Merlin Institute sharing the classroom with you from Paladin Academy."
"This is the perfect opportunity for you all to make new friends and have an amazing learning experience with people from a different school," Professor Wu said with a grin. "In other words, I don't want any sort of competitive spirit snowballing into some kind of catastrophe. Especially not in my class. Understood, paladins?"
There was a scattered number of grumbling that didn't sit well for Professor Wu. The animosity between competitive Paladin Academy students and Merlin Institute students, all with genuine pride as part of their schools, was plain for everyone to see. Ezekiel could sense that even the friendly ones of Merlin Institute were shifting uncomfortably.
"And just to make sure you all know how serious I am, I declare that if I catch any kind of trouble happening my way, I'll make you clean up this place for a week," Professor Wu said.
"The same goes for all of you Merlin Institute folks," said Miss Woods.
Both teachers had their hands to their hips and solemn scowls on their faces to replace the childish glee after playing a prank disappeared. Having been his student for a good year already, Ezekiel knew for sure that Professor Wu was serious. The man liked to act a fool most of the time, but he could certainly play the stern teacher when the situation called for it. And that other teacher could also become just as stern when needed.
"Anyway, in case any of you were all wondering, yes, me and James are friends," Miss Woods said. "We were actually part of the same group when we were apprentices in the IGM. That's short for International Guild of Magic, by the way, in case you forgot."
Ezekiel perked up. Well, he knew that the two must have been friends, but still . . . If she was in the same group as Professor Wu was when they were kids, then that must make her - !
"That's right!" Miss Woods proudly continued. "I'm one of the Seven Star Mages too, just like Josephine!"
A huge uproar exploded from the Merlin Institute students. Probably none of them knew who their magic teacher had been. Many of them looked like they genuinely couldn't believe it. Well, if her personality over the past few days were something to go on, Ezekiel wasn't really surprised. He was the same way, inwardly, about Professor Wu when it came out that he was a legendary hero. However, Henry, Verity, and the Desorciere twins didn't seem to share the feelings of surprise with their peers. They all probably knew a while back that their magic teacher was someone famous, probably having heard from the twins' sister.
"Well, now that that's all out of the way, let's get on to business," Miss Woods continued. "First off, for this term, you all are going to team up for the term's project and . . ."
While the teachers got on, finally, to doing teacher stuff, whispering of an unearthly sort reached Ezekiel's ears. And Ezekiel could tell that it was unearthly because of how the whispering seemed to echo. Unearthly voices from out of nowhere always seemed to echo for some reason. It's an established fact.
He glanced around to check to see if anyone else was hearing them, but just as he thought, no one seemed to but him. Could it be Sarah's power running amok again? He was starting to think that she had the right idea by letting her brother seal that power up.
The whispering sent chills down his spine. But it wasn't just because they were whispers from out of nowhere, which was unnerving on their own, but because of the malicious feel that Ezekiel got from them.
"They'll see," the voice seemed to say, "They'll all see. I'll show them what I can do! They will rue the day they interfered!"
Words like that could only be taken as a bad sign. Those, and the maniacal cackling that joined them.
For some reason, the whispering seemed to be coming from behind him. Curiosity getting the better of him, Ezekiel snuck a glance to the exits, where he spotted one of the doors that Professor Wu had supposedly locked opened ajar. Peeking in was Josephine Desorciere Duncan. Now why would she be peeking in like a spy on a mission? And was that a baby in her arms?
Being a bit far away, Ezekiel couldn't be sure if she was smiling or not. But she definitely saw him. Ezekiel didn't know what to think when she put a finger to her lips before closing the door. A Wisp of purple was all that was left of her presence. And when the wisp was gone, so, too, were the voices.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Two)
A new semester begins with the introduction of new people.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Four)
Nothing like a good mystery to bring a group together.