Competing Magic (Chapter Two)
Time came for the first assembly of the term. Everyone was gathered in the posh auditorium with its warm colored furniture and artistically superior ceiling. The air conditioner was set to just the right amount of cool, much to Ezekiel's satisfaction. He adjusted his tie and marched to find a free seat. As his eyes roamed to find a suitable place for him, he caught sight of the girls, dressed in their uniforms, cheerfully chatting about whatever it was that girls talked about.
Curses! He thought to himself as he strolled over to them. They got here before him. How? He was certain that he came here fairly early. There were still large patches of empty seats here in the auditorium.
"Hey!" Sarah Wu said with a proud smirk on her face.
Ezekiel could feel his facial muscles twitch. This woman definitely came here earlier than he did just to annoy him. He just knew it.
"Hey, guys," said Maxwell from behind Ezekiel.
"Hey, Max!" said Sarah. "Want to join us? We still got a few seats over here."
"Sure! Don't mind if I do."
Ezekiel watched as his roommate struggled past the girls and sat down beside them.
"How about it, Zeke?" Sarah said. "There's still plenty of room here."
"Yeah, come join us!" said Veronica.
Ezekiel regarded the girls with an apathetic stare down, and then went "Hmph!"
"Well, since you are so eager for my company, I suppose it wouldn't hurt," he said with a shrug and snide smile. Sarah scowled, but moved back all the same to allow him space to move past.
After a torturous wait, and the auditorium was filled with yellow and red blazers, the lights dimmed, an the deputy headmaster stepped onto the spotlight. His footsteps on the wood stage echoed throughout the chamber as he approached the podium. Once there, he leaned toward the microphone and began to speak.
"Greetings, everyone," said Dr. J. D. Hoffman. "I hope all of you had a productive summer, and I look forward to see how your young minds continue to shape now that you are all rested. This year will be a special one for all of you. It is an experience that will likely only happen once in your life here. As I'm sure your teachers have informed you the previous term, every four years, students from Paladin Academy and Merlin Institute come together to compete against one another as a way to test their mettle and show to the world what they, you, have gained as students of these wondrous schools.
"This time around, the games will be held here. Such is the reason why there are those among you who do not wear the colors of this fine school, but the colors of Merlin Institute. To our visitors from Merlin Institute, I humbly welcome you to our school. I hope in this coming year, your experiences here will be one to remember throughout your whole life.
"Now, let us greet the teachers from both Paladin Academy and Merlin Institute who will have a significant impact in your education and the games in the coming year."
A bald, wrinkled round-faced man with a black pencil mustache and beard replaced the deputy headmaster at the podium. Because of his short stature, he needed to stand on a stepping stool. Being one of exceptional eyesight, Ezekiel could make out the emblem on the man's breast pocket as that of the visiting school: where a purple lion and a red dog circled around each other in a shield.
"Thank you, Dr. Hoffman," he said in a low, gravelly voice. "It is an honor to grace these hallowed halls of education, once again. To everyone, I bid you all a wondrous hello. My name is Dwayne Forester, and I am the headmaster of Merlin Institute of Magic and Other Studies. I look forward to seeing how all of you work together to further your knowledge and wisdom, and learn from one another. I find events such as these games to be very important, and the key to shortening the gap between people of all places by the forging of bonds of friendship. Now then, please welcome the representative of our magic department, Rosalyn Sofia Woods."
"Hmm?" went Ezekiel.
"What's up?" whispered Maxwell.
"It could be nothing," said Ezekiel, "but for some reason, that name sounded familiar."
A Hispanic woman dressed in a green pantsuit stepped forward. She flipped back her single long ponytail as she took to the podium, and placed her tanned hands on its surface.
"Hey, what's up, everyone?" she cheerfully called out. Her accent was American through and through. "Like Headmaster Forester said, I'm Rosalyn Sofia Woods. But you can all call me Rose."
Ezekiel was not surprised when the applause and commotion abruptly stopped. It was not everyday that a teacher of such a prestigious school would take the stage with such a casual attitude. Even Professor Wu upheld some sense of formality on occasions like this. But then again, he was also the sort of person who would leave writing on walls as if they had been written in blood, unleash a whole variety of stink monsters in a lecture chamber, and casually transform into outer-dimensional monsters just to scare the living daylights out of people. So, maybe Rosalyn Woods would be normal compared to him.
"One thing I like are giant robots," she said with a big grin on her face. "Like the ones on TV that are taller than buildings. Those are awesome! I used to use my magic power to create lots and lots of giant robots, enough to build an army of them!"
"Okay," Headmaster Forester cut in, snatching the microphone off the podium. "Thank you, Miss Woods."
"Huh?" went the woman. "But I'm not done yet! I was just going to get into the mechanics behind magically conjuring up golems as giant robots. Hey! Fine!"
"I feel your pain," everyone heard Dr. Hoffman whisper to Headmaster Forester. The two of them turned toward the Hispanic woman as she gave the Asian man in the silver gown a high-five. Professor Wu also gave Miss Woods a small salute in greeting. It was fairly obvious to Ezekiel that the two knew each other.
"W-well," Headmaster Forester said. "Next up is another representative of Merlin Institute's magic department, please welcome Francis Quimbly."
Next to approach the podium was a gaunt gentleman in what were obviously really expensive-looking clothes. His entire pinstripe suit looked tailor-made. The shine of his shoes against the spotlight was visible even from far away. Standing before all the students was clearly a man of privilege, class and power. Even the way he surveyed the audience could serve as evidence of his high standing, like a stoic king surveying his gathered subjects.
"Thank you, Headmaster Forester," he said, the words just rolling smoothly off his tongue. He swept back a strand of blonde hair before addressing the school. "To those of you of Paladin International Academy of All Sciences, I thank you for your gracious invitation. I am Sir Francis Quimbly, once of the British Royal Order of Court Magicians. Like my colleague, Miss Woods, I am a representative of the magic department of Merlin Institute of Magic and Other Studies."
Next came the teachers in charge of the math, chemistry, etc. departments. Ezekiel tuned them out, finding know interest in such things. Although he did understand how those kinds of departments could lead to exciting things, such as those giant robots Miss Woods ranted about, those just weren't for him, who was a magic person through and through.
"Now, finally, allow me to introduce to you all the second representative of the music department, Madame Josephine Desorciere Duncan."
Ezekiel perked up. He knew that name. Wasn't that the name of one of the Seven Star Mages, which made her both one of the most powerful sorcerers in the past decade, and a close friend to Professor Wu?
Stepping up to the podium like the other teachers was a short young woman with long, shocking white hair. She was dressed head-to-toe in old-fashioned purple clothing. Beneath one arm, she held a wide-brimmed purple hat with a large feather attached, that looked like the sort of thing a medieval bard would wear.
"Thank you, Headmaster Forester," said Madame Duncan. She was surprisingly soft-spoken for a renowned performer. "It is a pleasure to be here, not just because this is such an honorable school, but also because it has given me the opportunity to meet with old friends. As a teacher in the musical arts, I look forward to seeing how the future musicians of our two schools flourish in the coming year. And as greeting and thanks, I would like to perform a piece, if that is okay with you, Dr. Hoffman."
"By all means," the deputy headmaster spoke through a spare microphone.
A violin case flew from beneath a chair across the stage toward the hand Madame Duncan stretched to her left. As it flew, the case unclasped itself and its contents flew out. The glistening, elegant instrument and its bow was gently caught by its musician. When she was ready, steadying the bow over the strings of the violin, Madame Duncan began to play.
Ezekiel had never been so captivated by classical music before. He could feel his heart moved by the gentle tune as it lulled him into a sense of warmth that he thought that he hadn't felt in ages.
Then the voices happened, and Ezekiel's mood soured.
Yes. That's right. Ezekiel heard voices in his head. But no, his mind wasn't going marbles. It's just that, after Sarah Wu had used her powers to peek into memories of places and things, Ezekiel had accidentally assimilated that power for himself. Ezekiel had learned a powerful spell that allowed one to copy the powers and skills of other people. No one, not even his own father knew about it. If his father had found out, it would be pretty terrible for Ezekiel since the spell he learned came from one of the books that Manfred von Ghoul absolutely forbade Ezekiel from even touching. Also, although it was certainly useful, copying someone else's abilities definitely didn't mean a guy becomes good at them. An example of that would be when Ezekiel copied the skills of a professional basketball player, only to end up losing against some scholarship student again and again, and again. That was humiliating.
Anyway, back to the voices.
So, he was hearing a lot of voices, mostly those of kids laughing and having a good time. Most people would find that creepy, but after realizing that it was just memories of the past . . . Nope. Still creepy.
"James Jing Wu!" screamed what sounded like a really, really, really angry girl. It was thanks to that voice that Ezekiel realized that the voices were coming from the past. "Come back here!"
Another kid just laughed like an imbecile. That must have been the boy version of James Jing Wu. Even as a child, he was, to put it lightly, a mischievous scoundrel.
Experience in the past year taught Ezekiel that since the voices were here, soon to follow would be the visions. And sure enough, he was no longer in the auditorium listening to a skilled musician's violin music. Instead, he was sitting in what looked like a dining hall, or a cafeteria to some people. The room certainly resembled one from a American commoners' school. Two Asian children ran, swerving around the round white tables. The girl had her hands outstretched toward the boy looking determined to wring his neck. They couldn't have been older than Veronica of the present. Ezekiel wondered what could have made the girl so angry before he spotted the orange and black-striped tail and the bunny feet.
Sitting at a table, a large boy with cream coffee skin, sighed.
"Isn't it a little too early for this?" he grumbled over a bowl of cereal.
"My, you are all such a lively bunch!" exclaimed the girl with long, auburn hair sitting opposite of him. She was dressed in an old-fashioned blouse and skirt which was a stark contrast to the modern t-shirts, jeans, and khaki shorts of her peers.
"Eh . . . Well . . . " went the large boy as he picked up his glass of milk and turned away. "That's one way to describe it."
"I really envy you," said the girl.
The boy looked up with a baffled look. "Say whaaaa-?"
Suddenly, the two children running around the dining hall stopped. For some reason, they turned towards the windows with wide-eyed expressions. Everything after that happened so fast that Ezekiel didn't have time to process. Suddenly, all around him was consumed in darkness. He couldn't see anything. Not a single thing, save one lone girl with auburn hair that turned white right before his eyes.
"Zeke! Hey! Zeke!"
Ezekiel awoke with a start. He turned toward a startled Maxwell, feeling the loud drumming of his heart against his chest.
"Are you okay, man?" his roommate asked.
"F-fine!" Ezekiel quickly replied. "Just fine. I must have dozed off."
Maxwell didn't look convinced, but he dropped the subject and returned his attention toward the stage where the deputy headmaster made one final speech.
"That is all for today," Dr. Hoffman said over the microphone. "Thank you all for being here. And have a productive term."
- Competing Magic (Chapter One)
Once more, we return to another installment of the Paladin Academy Chronicles.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Three)
And the first lesson begins.