Competing Magic (Chapter Twenty-Seven)
Ezekiel still had a hard time deciding how he should feel about how the case closed. On one hand, the case was closed. The bad guys' schemes were ruined, and the chief bad guy this time around was captured, so he should be elated. But on the other hand, it took being rescued by his teachers (again), and cost one of those teachers unfathomable suffering (again).
No one had seen Madam Duncan for days after the battle against Thornton and Trent. Not even Jacques and Alice heard anything, except that their sister wasn't feeling well. Still, even with just that, having gotten to know the violinist and seen her in action plenty of times already, Ezekiel knew that Madame Duncan was probably facing backlash from the magic she had used that day. And it must have been very serious because Professor Wu was not his usual, childish self.
For four days straight, it was just lecture, after lecture, after lecture. All he did was recite what was written in the slideshows he projected from his computer, word for word. There were no transforming into some ridiculous cartoon character, no popping out from nowhere to scare the living daylights out of someone, no stories from his past that involved him doing something stupid or just plain weird, and no blatant misuse of magic power like flooding the lecture hall with foul-smelling slime. He just acted like any normal teacher, which was just downright weird to everyone who's ever had a class with him.
With all that going on, to say that things had gone back to normal would be to lie.
And even though the case was closed, there was still something that Ezekiel had yet to confirm: who was the one responsible for that disaster at the science convention all those years ago that started this whole mess that Madame Duncan had to endure? According to the Desorciere Twins and their friends, Sir Quimbly had a lot in common with the mage that was really at fault back then, since they both had magic that was the color sky blue, and was the light element. And he was with Madame Duncan the first time that scientist struck. But that still wasn't enough for Ezekiel, who knew that the color blue was a common color of magic for mages with the light element to have.
"If it's bothering you that much, why don't you just ask him about it?" Maxwell said while they were just hanging in their dorm room before turning in for the night. His eyes were glued to the handheld game console in his hands. Karate yells and what sounded like laser blasts played softly from the speakers.
Ezekiel, who had a book in one hand while looking up in deep thought (because he's high class and sophisticated), turned to his roommate and scowled.
"There's no way I can ask Sir Quimbly that!" he said.
Ezekiel sighed, rolling his eyes. Sometimes Maxwell could be such a simpleton. It was hard to believe that he was actually born royalty.
"Letting the adults know what we've been up to, alone, would get us in a heap of trouble," Ezekiel spelled out to Maxwell. "Bringing something like that incident up with Sir Quimbly, whether we're right or not, would be the height of rudeness!"
"And digging into someone's past behind their back isn't?" Maxwell asked, looking up from his game console with a raised eyebrow.
Ezekiel deigned not to answer.
He got off the bed, stretching his limbs with a loud, exaggerated groan.
"I'm going to go get a drink downstairs," he announced when he was done making his spinal joints pop.
"Oh, mind getting me a lemon soda?" Maxwell said.
Ezekiel scowled. He had said he was going to get a drink downstairs. Where in that could he possibly mean that he was taking orders?
Letting out a sigh, he said: "Very well. You're lucky I'm such a nice person."
Honestly, Ezekiel thought, being too nice was probably his one and only flaw.
At this hour, the three nearest snack shops and the dining hall were closed. Curfew time forbade students from wandering the grounds outside of the dorm building after dark, except for special events. However, there were a variety of vending machines stationed throughout the dorm building for any students feeling peckish for a late night snack or drink.
One such station was just a few feet from Ezekiel's dorm room. But, unfortunately, those vending machines didn't have the particular drink that Ezekiel wanted. Most of the things the vending machines provided on his floor were much too beneath his station as a proud member of a prominent magical family. As such, he just had no choice but to journey to the bottom floor of the dorm building, toward the vending machines stationed at the lobby. His life was just an endless stream of trouble and hardships.
He reached the lobby in a matter of minutes through the elevator. Clenched in his right hand was the golden credit card his father had granted him to be spent as he pleased. At night, only one light every couple of feet were left on in order to conserve energy, so while he could see, the pillars of darkness shrouding sections of the wall, floor and ceiling would give most normal peons a rather chilling impression.
Luckily for Ezekiel, he wasn't like most normal peons. But rather than waste his time lingering in the dark, he quickened his pace. After all, he wanted to finish the book he was reading before going to sleep tonight. That's the only reason for being in a hurry. Definitely.
Although there was a huge window at the section of the lobby where the vending machines had been placed, Ezekiel could not see outside. It was as if the clear glass had been replaced by an infinitely black polished stone that he could see his reflection in. Even late in the night, he was wearing his school blazer uniform, and looked neat in it.
While admiring his stunning appearance against the darkened window, a flash of blue shown in the distance. Seeing the flash made him think back to Sir Quimbly and the mysterious mage from the science convention all those years ago.
What was that? Ezekiel wondered as he tried to look outside. No matter how hard he squinted though, he couldn't see a thing. It was all just pitch black, save for his own reflection. And then, blue light flashed in the distance again. It flashed again and again, like a beacon with no set rhythm.
Something strange was going on. Ezekiel could just feel it in his bones.
Once again, he was overcome with an irresistible urge to investigate. The only problem was how he was going to sneak out. As much as he'd like to just run out to see what was going on, that would be almost impossible with the magical defenses and sophisticated security systems put in place to keep both the children safe, and to make sure no one's sneaking out when they weren't supposed to. Even Ezekiel, for all his wisdom and talent, would have a hard time getting past them.
"What to do? What to do?" the curious boy said to himself while tapping his chin thoughtfully.
Well, he could always use that mirror spell and turn into Professor Wu. But there was no telling what he'd do if he transformed into the teacher again. Borrowing the teacher's power through that spell also meant borrowing his personality, after all. And most importantly, Professor Wu already knew about the spell and would not let Ezekiel off lightly if he used it again.
That was when a stroke of luck came his way.
The flashing blue lights had been getting bigger and brighter for a while. Whoever was causing it was coming closer. Suddenly, the whole field outside was bathed in blue light. In the middle of the grassy field outside, was a man with his arms and legs spread apart as if making the shape of the letter "X". Blue light gushed out of his outstretched hands, hitting somewhere above before spreading out over the school grounds in waves. It was Sir Quimbly.
"Now what could he be up to this late?" Ezekiel muttered to himself aloud.
Sir Quimbly must have been pretty preoccupied with whatever he was doing, because when he looked down and saw Ezekiel staring back at him, he abruptly stopped, took a step back, stumbled and fell.
The two stared at each other, both at a loss for words. And then, Ezekiel raised a can of soda, pointed to it, and held it out to the teacher. He could see Sir Quimbly roll his eyes up, nodding his head side to side as if debating with himself, before shrugging his shoulders.
After getting back on his feet, Sir Quimbly clapped grass off his hands, and rubbed them against the seat of his pants, probably to wipe away the nighttime moisture. Then he strolled over to the dormitory like nothing was wrong. He came in through the front door, walked over to Ezekiel and accepted the can of soda that Ezekiel had offered before the two of them sat down on a nearby cushioned bench, popped their respective soda cans open with chorus of delicious hisses and took their flavored, carbonated water into their mouths.
"So . . ." Ezekiel started things off. "What were you doing at this hour?"
"I could ask you the same thing," said Sir Quimbly. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"
"It's only Eleven," said Ezekiel. "And what I was doing should be evident."
"Hmph!" The Merlin Institute teacher sniffed. "I suppose so."
He took another sip of soda before finally answering Ezekiel's question.
"I was reinforcing the protective magic around the school," he said. "There's no way I'd trust such an unreliable fellow like Wu to handle magical security."
"Which Wu?" Ezekiel asked. "Professor Wu? Or Mrs. Wu?"
"Obviously the former," replied Sir Quimbly.
"Can I ask why you wanted to reinforce the school's protective magic?"
"I think I just answered that question," said Sir Quimbly.
"Yes, but hasn't the danger passed?" Ezekiel said. "They've caught the culprit, haven't they? All that mess with Doctor Smith and his otherworld monsters should be over now. It shouldn't be necessary!"
"Not necessary?" went Sir Quimbly. There was something about his tone that made him sound bitter to Ezekiel. "I suppose. But it's better to be safe than sorry. Josephine has had a bad habit of sticking her nose into trouble, and it's gotten her . . . well, I'm sure you already know by now."
Ezekiel did know. The memories of what happened to her after she used her magic were still very fresh in his mind.
"But why would you go so far for her?" Ezekiel pressed further. "Could it be . . . ?"
Remembering how Sir Quimbly was a match for the magician that was involved in the science convention fiasco, he wanted to say "Could it be because you felt guilty?" But he went quiet when he remembered what he, himself had said to Maxwell just a few minutes earlier about asking those sorts of questions.
Sir Quimbly gave him what Sarah would describe as the stink eye. The whole room went silent save for the hum of the air conditioner, and the buzzing of the lone ceiling light.
"You're a nosy one, aren't you?" the magic teacher said.
"I-I get that a lot," Ezekiel said in response.
"You're in Wu's class, aren't you?" Sir Quimbly said. "Are you one of those kids, he and Josephine had been talking about who always seem to find themselves in some kind of trouble? You've been poking into Josephine's troubles, as well, haven't you?"
Ezekiel didn't answer, which was all Sir Quimbly needed.
The teacher sighed.
"Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to say anything at this point," Ezekiel heard him grumble.
Ezekiel couldn't believe his ears. Did he just say what he thought he just say? Lady Luck was really smiling down on him tonight, he thought.
Afraid that Sir Quimbly might change his mind, Ezekiel swallowed down his excitement, and kept a serious and attentive look as Sir Quimbly
"I don't know if you know this already," Sir Quimbly began, "but Josephine and I are cousins. Which means, I'm also cousins with Jacques and Alice Desorciere.
"Back then, our respective families were in a bit of a spat, competing over some inheritance. To call it an ugly rivalry would be an understatement. Our two sides of the family basically hated one another. Of course, I was swept up in the fervor as well. Because of that, I basically saw Josephine as my rival and enemy.
"By some coincidence, I and Josephine both became apprentices in the same magical order. But Josephine has always had the upper-hand. She excelled in the magic arts, earning merit badges and awards by the dozens! And she wasn't even trying! It was as if she was loved by Magic itself! You can imagine how frustrating that was to me who worked my fingers to the bone to try and produce the same results. But no matter how hard I tried, it was never enough. It vexed me to no end! I remember just pounding my fists into my pillow every night that I lost to her, just throwing a childish tantrum."
Ezekiel tried to picture a younger Sir Quimbly throwing a pillow around with his face all red like a crying baby. Sir Quimbly was always looking so high, mighty, and serious that Ezekiel just could not imagine it.
"I think it was when my parents made their own frustrations in our rivalry known, that I got rather desperate" Sir Quimbly continued. "When I was around ten or eleven years old, I had heard about a group of kids my age in the International Guild of Magic who earned praise as heroes who managed to stop a villain from causing a devastating disaster."
Ezekiel had a good idea who those kids were, but he kept his mouth shut to let the magic teacher continue on with his story.
"After learning about them, I decided to going off on my own, looking for trouble. I thought that if I did something just as great, I would finally have something over Josephine.
"However, finding trouble was harder than I thought. I kept my eyes peeled in case an opportunity ever fell on my lap, but none came. All the places that I had been able to go to were devoid of such things as crime. And even on the rare occasion that something happened nearby, I couldn't do anything since my teachers always kept me on a tight leash. And in all that time, Josephine was steadily getting further and further ahead.
"Because of that, my desperation reached its peak," Sir Quimbly said. His face got slightly darker as his shadow cast over his front with his back arched to the lighting above. "I think that was the reason why I started having trouble controlling my magic power.
"You see, there was a mage convention that I attended as a kid, where mages from all around the world and from different magical guilds and companies gathered to show off their accomplishments and hopefully become inspirations for the next generation of magic users. There were wizards from China, Onmyouji from Japan, warlocks from Wales, and magicians from America, all in elaborate costumes, like they were superheroes from comic books, or as if they had traveled forward in time to today from eras long passed. They had all come together to show everyone that their magic was the superior one. That year, it was being held side by side with a really big science convention. A day before that, I had realized that I was having a hard time keeping control of my magic power. That scared me, which only made my magic control even worse.
"As a proud member of the Quimbly family, I couldn't let others know about this. I managed to hide it well enough in the morning of the convention. But as the day wore on, I found my control slipping further and further. Before I could lose control completely, I excused myself from my friends and took a stroll in the one place I knew wouldn't have any mages: the science convention.
"Next door at the science convention, I took my time to admire all the fancy machinery and almost artistically beautiful displays. It was as if I had time travelled into the future. One thing I noticed while I was there, was that there were a lot less people in lab coats than I thought there'd be.
"A lot of effort must have been put in those displays spread out tightly throughout the convention floor, because even the lectures the scientists at their booth gave held my interest. I had no idea what those machines did, and I didn't understand a word those scientists were saying, but I still got interested.
"Suddenly, while I was in the middle of admiring some kind of green square thing they called a computer chip, there was an announcement about a big, revolutionary invention being showcased. Everyone started buzzing around excitedly. Of course, I was swept in and followed them all to the grand stage."
"A grand stage for a revolutionary invention?" went Ezekiel. "Don't tell me it's - !"
"That's right," said Sir Quimbly. "I see. You've been nosy over Josephine's troubles, so you must have heard about the incident that preceded Josephine's kidnapping. The invention being presented to the world was a doorway to other worlds. They got that infernal thing out, which looked like a giant metal 'O' with two legs and just started it up when I arrived. Electricity charged the air around us all, making the hairs on my arm stand and sent shivers down my spine.
"That, I think, was probably what triggered it."
"Triggered what?" Ezekiel couldn't help but ask. "What did that electric charge trigger?"
"It triggered my magic to go out of control!" Sir Quimbly replied. "My magic exploded from me, sending out an energy wave that caused almost ever piece of sensitive machinery in the area to go out of control. The doorway was no exception. It started building up energy, sparking everywhere, and glowing ominously red. Anyone with eyes could see that it was going to explode. Someone even screamed about it. They yelled out: 'It's gonna blow!'
"Panic ensued. Everyone ran around everywhere. Lights were blinking, and all the electronics started making random noises, adding to the confusion and caused me a major headache to go along with the dizziness I felt from having expelled almost all of my magic power. I could barely keep my wits about me. But I knew that something had to be done about it. And that I had to be the one to do something, since I was the one who caused it.
"I mustered whatever magic power I had left and created a force field around the machine. By some miracle, I managed to keep the force field going and keep the explosion inside it. I don't remember much after that. The next thing I knew, I was outside of the building, sitting on a park bench with Josephine standing in front of me, asking me if I was okay. I don't know how I got there. Perhaps in my stupor, I managed to slip away in the confusion.
"I was still in a daze and didn't know when Josephine showed up. The moment I got my wits back, She was already pestering me with questions about where I was and what I was doing. Thinking she was trying to dig up dirt to get me into trouble, I just shook her off, said I was fine, and returned to my group while keeping up the appearance that nothing was wrong.
"You know what happened next. On the second day of the magic convention, monsters attacked with someone's voice coming through from some box being worn by an ape, demanding to know who was responsible for ruining his life. From what he was saying, I could tell that he must have been one of the scientists who worked on the machine I destroyed. Josephine suddenly stepped forward without any hesitation, claiming that she was the one. The rest was history."
Ezekiel quietly listened as Sir Quimbly concluded his story.
So, Sir Quimbly really was the one who stopped that explosion, he thought. Deep down, he had figured that it was just a coincidence that Sir Quimbly had the same kind of magic as the person who created that force field all those years ago. But not only was he the one who saved everyone at that convention from the accident, he was the actual cause of the accident.
Finally, after gathering some courage, Ezekiel asked the question burning in his mind.
"Why didn't you say anything? I thought you wanted to become famous like those kids you mentioned. You could have kept quiet about being the cause of the fiasco. From what I could dig up, you'd have become a celebrity just like the Seven Star Mages!"
"Ha!" went Sir Quimbly. "Why, he asks! Shame! That's why I didn't say anything. I was ashamed at what I had done. It may have been an accident, but I nearly hurt over a thousand people! I definitely ruined a couple dozen lives that day. And my shame was only doubled, nay, tripled, when Josephine took responsibility and suffered for it. Why would she even do something like that? It should have been me being thrown into that nightmare world! I should be the one to have his hair turned completely white!"
Ezekiel might have an idea.
To sum up everything he had figured out so far: 1) Sir Quimbly, as a kid, was jealous of Madam Duncan's success, and that caused him to lose control of his power. 2) That out of control power made a really powerful machine go out of control, which meant that the mad scientist had been telling the truth about sabotage. 3) Sir Quimbly fixed the mistake he made, himself. 4) Madam Duncan probably figured out what happened when she found Sir Quimbly in a daze back then. 5) When the mad scientist attacked the magic convention, knowing everything, Madam Duncan took the blame for the science convention fiasco out of a misguided sense of kindness and selflessness, gaining a twisted arch-enemy in the process.
Madam Duncan, Ezekiel had come to realize was someone who cared about others so much that there was barely any room for her to care for herself. She has already helped Ezekiel and the others plenty of times at great expense to herself, after all. She probably never even thought about the rivalry between her family and Sir Quimbly's and simply wanted to protect her cousin.
"Even now, I can still picture Josephine trying to fight those monsters off with every spell she could think of. I'll never forget how that ape suddenly grabbed Josephine and threw her into a working portal machine" The can in Sir Quimbly's hands popped as his fingers made dents against its surface. "It'll stick with me for the rest of my life."
Ezekiel had never seen a grown man look so dejected. Sir Quimbly's shoulders were trembling so much, he thought that the magic teacher might burst into tears at any moment. Since he wouldn't know what to do, Ezekiel prayed hard that that wouldn't happen.
But then Ezekiel realized something.
"Wait a minute," he said. "Sir Quimbly, you said that Josephine, Madame Duncan, fought back with magic. Is that true?"
"Huh?" went Sir Quimbly, looking up. "Of course it's true. I was there. I definitely saw her fire purple dark magic at those freakish monsters. But at the time, she was just a kid who only knew a few basic self-defense spells. She was much too weak against those things."
"But if she used her magic, then wouldn't that scientist have realized that she was lying?" Ezekiel pointed out. "Everyone knows that the mage who was at the science convention had blue magic!"
Sir Quimbly straightened up.
"He probably didn't see it," he said. "He wasn't even there, after all."
But even as he said that, Sir Quimbly didn't look convinced.
"Even if he wasn't there, he could have seen the whole thing on video," Ezekiel said.
"Then the video probably wasn't in color," said Sir Quimbly. "Otherwise, the man, himself, was colorblind."
That could explain it, Ezekiel thought. But was Doctor Smith colorblind? Ezekiel didn't hear anything like that.
Sir Quimbly got up with a groan.
"There, happy?" he asked. "Now off with you. You have school tomorrow, don't you? Get back to your dorm."
The magic teacher bade Ezekiel a good night and quietly exited the dormitory. After seeing the teacher disappear into the night, Ezekiel finished his soda, tossed the can into the recycle bin and returned to his dorm room.
Upon entering the dorm room, Maxwell looked up.
"Took you long enough," he said. "Where's my soda?"
Ezekiel had completely forgotten.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Twenty-Six)
Once more, heroes rise to action!
- Competing Magic (Chapter Twenty-Eight)
Ezekiel gets close to the truth.