Competing Magic (Chapter Twelve)
The time had finally come for the two schools, Merlin Institute and Paladin Academy, to face one another on the field of battle. And by field of battle, an obstacle course in which representatives of the two school will race through, using their skills and magical talents to overcome the challenges and gain glory for their respective schools. Everyone was pumped for this special day. Tensions were high for everyone who couldn't wait to see the opposing school defeated. Volunteers feverishly worked around the clock to make sure that everything went smoothly.
"Wow," said Sarah as she and the others looked around. "I've seen a lot of festivals in this place, but I've never seen everyone so excited before. They're even more excited than the basketball and soccer competitions."
Large crowds were gathering outside, coming together to form a river of people on the roads towards the game field where the competition would be held, coloring it in a mixture of yellow and red. Sarah, Veronica, and Maxwell all wore the same yellow t-shirts as their peers that had a picture of their school's emblem printed on the front and back, having been taken in by the same hype that has permeated the entire school and staff. Ezekiel was the only one, it seemed, to just wear his uniform on a day off. His choice would earn him glares from people with avid school spirit, but he had no regrets. He wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything other than a suit.
"Of course," he said to Sarah. "Those were just regular, boring old sports games. There's not a lick of magic in those games. I don't understand how other people can find them so interesting."
Sarah sighed, rolled her eyes and shrugged.
"There's no helping you, is there?" she said. "You wouldn't last a minute if you said that at the Superbowl." She could just imagine the bloodbath that would follow.
Ezekiel didn't understand how what he said had to do with some bowl or what made it super. But he wasn't going to say that to Wu at risk of looking stupid in front of her. Wu was probably talking about some kind of American thing, anyway.
"Hey, isn't that Madame Duncan?" said Maxwell, pointing toward the woman in purple old-fashioned wear and wide brim, feathered hat.
She looked around for a bit before turning a corner, breaking away from the stream of people who were headed towards the arena where the games would be held.
"Where do you think she's going?" Veronica asked.
A familiar urge surfaced in Ezekiel. One that he could not resist. He had felt it many times these past couple of years, and it has landed him in many interesting adventures. It was his sense of curiosity and suspicion. Some funny business was going on. He was sure of it. At these feelings' pushing, he broke from the stream of people and towards where Madame Duncan disappeared.
"Let's find out," he said to the others before breaking into a run.
"Hey, Ezekiel! Wait!"
Soon the others followed after him, and he led them from the crowded, bustling streets toward a quiet stone courtyard that was boxed by a single old building with flaking paint and moss-stained stone pillars. At the center of the courtyard that was made up of worn, splitting stone blocks was the purple figure of Josephine Desorciere Duncan, bent down as she picked something off the ground.
At the same time as Ezekiel and the others, from the other side of the courtyard came Henry, Verity, and the Desorciere twins. A trio of colorful balloons trailed behind Verity, while a huge red foam hand slipped from Jacques' real hand as it was hit against a pillar.
Hearing footsteps from both sides, Madame Duncan straightened up with a perplexed look on her face as she repeatedly turned left and right, going "Huh? What? Huh?"
"There you are, Josephine!" Alice said. "The headmaster's been looking for you! What are you doing here?"
"And what are you lot doing here, too?" Jacques asked, glancing towards Ezekiel and Co.
Ezekiel didn't like the way he was looking at them and was going to snap at the boy, but Veronica cut in before he could.
"We saw Madame Duncan running off and wondered if something was wrong," she said.
"Yeah, no need for you to be giving us the stink-eye," Sarah said sourly as she crossed her arms and glared back.
"Now, now," said Madame Duncan as she dusted dirt off her skirt. "Today's supposed to be a festival! It's a time where we should be having fun! So no fighting. Please?"
Madame Duncan beamed a smile at all of them, but it had no effect.
"All we're saying is that it's really suspicious how you're all here while our sister was alone," said Jacques.
"Are you saying that we're up to something?" Ezekiel said, glaring at Jacques. There was no way he was going to stand being accused so baselessly.
"Well, it certainly looks like it," said Jacques.
"Hmph!" Ezekiel sniffed. "It looks like you really are a politician's kid."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Alice said.
"Obviously exactly as I said," Ezekiel shot back. "Only a politician recklessly accuse anything and everything of wrongdoing just so they could have things their way."
"Are you calling us liars?"
The twins glared at Ezekiel, and he met their gazes with an angry glare of his own.
"Hey, come on, Alice, Jacques," said Verity. "This is going too far. They clearly haven't done anything."
"Come on, Ezekiel," said Maxwell, placing a hand on his dormmate's shoulder. "Just cool it."
"Hmph," Ezekiel sniffed. "You're right. It's no use arguing with fools who can't see when they're wrong."
"What was that?" Jacques said, stomping up to Ezekiel. Ezekiel pulled away from Maxwell and marched up to meet him.
As the two boys approached each other, magic power rose from their shoulders. For Jacques, his magic took the form of water that glowed orange. Meanwhile, Ezekiel's black smoke, dark magic trailed down over his fingers taking the familiar shape of a sword.
"Hey, Zeke! Stop!" Sarah cried out.
Ezekiel ignored Sarah. There was no way he was stopping. He wasn't just going to let these people continue to insult him. He'll show them all who's boss, starting with the boy with the pretty orange water globes floating by his ears.
Before he could do that, a flash of purple burst between the two boys, taking out a chunk of concrete. Surprised by the sudden burst of magic, Ezekiel double-backed, stumbled and fell on his bottom. He stared at the crater and turned to the source of the energy blast.
Madame Duncan's outstretched pointer finger still had a trail of purple smoke. Her cold stare through the smoke strand sent shivers down Ezekiel's spine.
"I thought I said no fighting," Madame Duncan said. Although she spoke slowly and softly, she spoke volumes how she felt. She was definitely not happy.
"But Josephine!" Jacques began to protest. He stopped short when his sister's hard gaze fell on him.
"Did you not hear me?" she said. "That is enough!"
Ezekiel was hit with a sense of deja vu. The way Madame Duncan talked down to her brother was almost exactly how Professor Wu talked down to him when he was scolding him.
"Now apologize," Madame Duncan commanded. "This time you were in the wrong. I expect you to take responsibility for it. Or are you not a Desorciere?"
Jacques grimaced beneath Madame Duncan's words.
"Fine!" he said. Then to Ezekiel, he said: "I'm sorry, okay?"
"And me as well," said Madame Duncan. "Since these two are my students as well as my siblings, I'd also like to extend my apologies, young man."
"Well, I suppose I can - WHOA!" Madame Duncan suddenly grabbed Ezekiel's wrist and pulled him towards her before throwing him to the ground.
"Ow! Hey! Just what sort of apology is that?" Ezekiel shouted. He picked himself up just as the jaws of a monster snapped where he had been standing. At first, he thought it was a giant dog, but then he realized that beneath the creature's neck was the body of a spider. Its tail looked like a Venus Fly Trap plant.
"What is that?" Henry cried out. He cringed at the sight of the creature.
"Where the heck did they come from?" shouted Maxwell.
Veronica screamed. She had sensed movement out of the corner of her eye and turned around to see another monster show itself. This one looked like a mummy with four arms and spikes growing out of its back. It was about twice the size of a normal man. The four-armed mummy opened its mouth, revealing yellow rotten teeth as it hissed. Each one of those four arms had a barbaric wood club.
"Veronica!" Sarah shouted. She saw the monster raise its four clubs as it came for them and didn't hesitate to push Veronica out of the way, even when it must have crossed her mind that she, herself, wouldn't escape unscathed. Sarah twisted around to face the monster and was just in time to see the clubs come down over her head.
"Wu! No!" Ezekiel found himself shouting as he watched in horror.
He expected to see Sarah flattened into a pancake beneath those clubs and left in a gooey mess. But that never came. A human-shaped, featureless purple . . . creature sprouted from Sarah's shadow carrying a simple round shield. The shadow puppet, for that was what the faceless creature was, raised its shield to defend Sarah. It couldn't be taller than Sarah, but the slender shadow puppet managed to hold its ground as the clubs banged against its shield.
A shadow puppet also sprang from Ezekiel's own shadow. Before he could react, the shadow puppet pushed Ezekiel to the center of the courtyard. More shadow puppets did the same with the others.
"Mark boundary and defend!" barked their creator and commander, Josephine Desorciere Duncan. She stood tall in face of the monsters and was unfazed by the appearance of more of the same two.
The shadow puppets obeyed, forming a ring around the children they herded together. They raised their shields up just as Madame Duncan slipped through them, tearing her purple scarf, make that two purple scarves, from her neck.
As if they had minds of their own, the scarves wriggled and then lashed out at the monsters. The scarves attached themselves to two monsters and used those monsters to club away the others. At the same time, a strange purple light spread from Madame Duncan's feet, covering the entire courtyard and the surrounding buildings. That strange purple light, Ezekiel observed, protected the buildings from damage as the monsters collided against them after being flung or knocked off their feet.
Two mummy monsters managed to get close to Madame Duncan and drummed at her with their clubs. Their clubs were nothing more than distinct blurs, but the magician-slash-violinist danced within the barrage of blows and came out with not a hair out of place. She swiped her right hand left, as if slapping something. A mass of purple followed her hand and struck the two large mummies. Madame Duncan brought her other hand up and down as two spider-dog monsters lunged towards her. They were pressed against the ground by a smashing wave of purple dark magic. Then Madame Duncan clapped her hands together and the monsters all slammed against one another in a big pile midair before dropping down atop one another.
Chains made of amethyst appeared to wrap things up, literally. The chains wound themselves around the monster pile and held tight as a giant, keyhole lock bearing the face of a cat appeared to keep the chain all together.
The children stared dumbfounded all throughout the fight. Ezekiel was amazed at the way Madame Duncan carried herself and handled the whole thing with such calm in her face. Whatever doubts he had about her were immediately wiped away by her performance. She was truly a legendary hero.
"Phew!" Madame Duncan sighed, wiping perspiration from her forehead. She pulled her hat off and used its brim to fan herself. "Is everyone okay?"
Ezekiel was the first to recover his wits. He looked around and was relieved to find Sarah well, albeit a bit shaken.
"We're all well," he said.
"That's good," Madame Duncan said. And she meant it, flashing the children a pleasant smile. "Well, then. Shadow puppets, your work here is done. You may go."
She snapped her fingers to end the spell that brought the shadow puppets into this world, but the shadow puppets didn't go anywhere. They didn't disappear. Only the smile Madame Duncan had disappeared, replaced by a frown. Then the enchanted scarves she had used as weapons suddenly wound themselves tightly around her so she could only stand.
"Oh dear," went Madame Duncan. She was not surprised by this turn of events. It was as if she expected this to happen. "Sorry, everyone. I think I might be in a bit of trouble."
And then the shadow puppets attacked.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Eleven)
Another day, another magic lesson.