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Competing Magic (Chapter Four)
"That is weird," said Sarah, after Ezekiel told everyone about the whispering. "Since when did you have the power to copy other people's powers? And when did you copy mine?"
They were all gathered at the library with homework strewn across the round table. It was there that Ezekiel decided to tell everyone what happened. He honestly didn't know why, but he felt like he should for some reason. Actually, he had always been baffled about why he hung out with these people so frequently. Was it because Veronica and Maxwell were both heirs to very important people? Whenever Ezekiel thought that was it, he always felt like something was wrong. Sarah and Veronica seemed attached to each other, so it was a given that if one were to hang out with Veronica, one would also hang out with Sarah.
"A long time ago," Ezekiel replied. "Last term. And it was an accident. But getting back to the voices I've heard . . ."
"What's there to discuss?" Sarah asked, shrugging her shoulders. "Isn't Madame Duncan one of the Seven Star Mages? You know? Those famous magicians who beat a lot of different bad guys over the years? James used to talk about how he, May, and the other five had gotten into a lot of serious kind trouble when they were kids. Maybe what you heard came from an old enemy of theirs."
"That is true," Ezekiel had to admit. "But given what we know that is happening around us, it might be too soon to just dismiss them like that. In the previous year alone, how many times did we end up in serious trouble of our own?"
"What's this about trouble?"
Everyone turned around as Verity and Alice walked in with books in their hands.
"Oh, nothing," Ezekiel said. "It's just something that happened in the past is all."
"If you're talking about trouble you got sucked into because of some beef someone had with your super famous magical sibling, then trust me, I've been there," Alice said.
"Madame Duncan can get pretty clumsy with her magic powers," said Verity. "I heard that it was one of the reasons why she stopped being a mage in the first place. I mean, one time, she accidentally turned the entire music hall into one of those weird, senseless surreal rooms where there are stair cases that are upside-down, gravity is all over the place, and rooms end up leading to impossible places. It was enough to make your head spin."
"Yeah," Alice said, nodding in agreement. Then her smile faded and her face turned thoughtful. "Wait a minute. Wasn't that your fault?"
"Huh?" Verity said, looking surprised.
"You found one of Josephine's old spell books and decided to mess with one of the spells there," Alice said.
"Really?" Verity replied, turning away from her friend. "I haven't the faintest recollection."
She finished with a nervous laugh that may as well be her saying that, yes, she definitely was the one who warped the music hall. Just what kind of spell book did she read to learn something like that? Ezekiel wanted it.
"So, here to do your homework?" Sarah asked.
"Yeah," Alice said. "Henry and Jacques should be here soon, too."
And speak of the devil, there they came.
"Hey, fancy meeting you here," said Jacques. "What a coincidence!"
"Yeah," said Maxwell. "Really weird."
"Well, since we're all here, we might as well get on with the project," said Ezekiel. "Anyone care to share some ideas?"
"Wow," said Sarah. "You're actually going to let others have a say before you do? What happened during the summer to change you into such a gentleman?"
Ezekiel shot Sarah a dirty look, but, as always, she just ignored him and turned her attention elsewhere.
"Well, I was thinking . . . " Verity said, but she stopped and began staring at something behind Ezekiel. Puzzled by how her face fell, Ezekiel followed her gaze over his shoulder and saw a woman in a purple dress walking around, wearing a giant mascot rabbit's head, wandering around and looking lost.
"What in the world?" went Sarah.
"Josephine?" went Jacques.
The woman stopped.
"Jacques?" said the woman beneath the mascot mask. Her voice was slightly muffled. It was definitely Madame Duncan. "And James' sister. Oh, good! Can one of you go fetch either Rose, or James, or maybe May, please? I seem to have gotten myself stuck in this helmet for a costume I came across while sorting through my things."
"You have a rabbit mascot costume?" said Maxwell. "Why?"
"It was from volunteer work I did with the others back when we were around your age," Madame Duncan explained. "I drew the short end of the straw, so to speak, and ended up passing balloons to little children in that mascot costume for the school during their carnival event. I must have accidentally packed it with the rest of my things then and never realized."
"You never realized that there was a rabbit mascot costume in your luggage for close to a decade?" Maxwell said with disbelief.
"The luggage is enchanted," the woman shrugged. "I have over ten years worth of bad exams and report cards buried in there, along with statuettes, clothes, dolls, toys, and souvenirs from my travels."
"By the way, where's Aloysius?" asked Alice.
"Aloysius?" Ezekiel said out loud. "Who's Aloysius?"
"Aloysius Duncan is my son," Madame Duncan explained. "He's with an assistant who was kind enough to watch over him for me while I went to find one of the others to help get this mask off of me."
"Why don't you do it, yourself?" asked Maxwell. "Even if you quit being a mage, don't you still have your magic powers? How'd you get stuck in that mask anyway?"
"When I found the mask, I thought I'd try it on for old times sake, but then I sneezed," said Madame Duncan. "That triggered my magic to make it so the mask could not be taken off. I would use a spell to get the mask off, but the last time I tried something of that nature, I ended up reducing a house to smoldering ashes. But if you insist . . ."
"No!" Jacques, Alice, Henry, and Verity cried out.
"I'll go find someone to help you, okay?" Alice said. "Just don't use any magic, please." Then to her brother, she whispered: "Keep an eye on her, will you?"
"I'll come with," Sarah volunteered. "I know where James and May are usually around at this time."
Everyone stared at her. She stared back.
"Yeah," she said. "Right. To May, then. Follow me."
With nothing to do while the two girls searched for Mrs. Wu, the rest of the team decided to get on with their homework. Or at least they tried to. Ezekiel, at least, couldn't really concentrate with a giant bunny mask staring at him. He sometimes found his eyes rolling sideways to the woman sitting patiently at a table beside theirs. With her face hidden beneath that mask, it was hard to tell what she could be thinking. And it didn't help that she was attracting stares from people all around them. Although, a lot of the red jackets just gave her passing glances. Apparently, her clumsiness with magic was well known to everyone of Merlin Institute.
And then she sneezed.
Purple fog quickly spread from her feet, shrouding the floor. A closer look at the fog revealed distorted phantom faces letting out soundless howls of despair. Ezekiel felt a chill go down his spine that made his legs feel numb as the fog brushed around his ankles. Startled by the sudden presence of strange, purple fog, several library-goers leaped onto chairs and tables, breaking the library rule to be quiet.
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Madame Duncan. "So sorry, everyone! I'll fix it in a jiffy!"
She got up to her feet and raised her hand. Purple energy sparked from her fingers. Just as she was about to cast a spell, she stepped forward, and then slipped backwards. Flying from the purple fog with her feet was a pencil, which was probably the cause of the accident.
"Whoa!" she cried out. As she fell, the purple sparks flew from her hand, bounced off a ceiling lamp and struck a bookshelf. The bookshelf trembled and bounced, sending tomes showering towards the floor. Seeing the commotion, everyone fled, including the nearby librarian.
That coward! Ezekiel thought with a scowl as he watched the library running toward the exit.
"Yikes!" Veronica cried out as the bookshelf bounced towards her. She shrank away from the moving furniture but it was already almost upon her.
Ezekiel didn't hesitate. Black mist shrouded his right hand which he placed on the table. He lifted the table with great ease, as if it weighed no more than a few ounces, and tossed it to the bookshelf. The table struck the bookshelf, pinning it down, but the books continued to fly out, soaring above their heads.
As the books dived down to attack, Verity, Jacques and Henry raised their arms and shouted an incantation. Green metal, orange ice and yellow wind swirled together to form a shield, protecting everyone from the aggressive books. Maxwell created a shield of his own with blue water. He lifted it above his head and kept himself in front of Veronica. He held his ground as books battered against the shield. Ezekiel silently commanded the black mist to take the form of eight hands that moved to swat away whatever books were smart enough to fly around the shields the others had conjured.
Hearing rustling behind his back, Ezekiel turned around and spotted Veronica as she pulled a wood stirring spoon from her book bag. He remembered that Veronica had obtained it from a game for mages she took part in. With one glance, he could tell that it was no ordinary spoon, not like the usual everyday objects that mages carry around to focus their magic powers. The spoon was something forged with great magic. And Ezekiel had a feeling he knew who the artist (or artists) who crafted it was.
Golden light wrapped itself around the stirring spoon. Veronica raised the spoon above her head and its brilliance was unleashed. For a moment, Ezekiel thought he saw an exotic bird appear within the blaze, but then it was gone. The explosion of light pushed the purple fog away, burning it into nothingness.
Ezekiel was awe-struck by the brilliance of the light. He could feel warmth envelope his entire being. And to his astonishment, the light not only banished the fog, it also turned the shields and hands that were conjured into nothing. Around them, the books dropped with clatters onto the rug.
"Where did you learn something like that?" Maxwell asked, looking at Veronica with a dumbfounded expression.
Veronica gave Maxwell a confused look of her own.
"I don't know," she said. "I wanted this all to stop. I don't know how it just happened though."
Ezekiel, on the other hand, thought he might have an idea. He stared at the spoon in Veronica's hand, interest drawn.
"Hmm," went Madame Duncan, rubbing the bunny mask's chin thoughtfully. "Well, all's well that ends well, as Sage would sometimes say."
Everyone just glared at her.
"Hey, we're back!" Sarah announced as she and Alice returned. The girls froze when they saw what a mess the library was.
"Whoa, what happened here?" asked Alice.
A pale Asian woman with rosy cheeks, dressed in business attire, her hair held in a bun by a pair of decorative chopsticks, walked in, took a look around, and then put her hands to her hips as she turned to Madame Duncan.
"What?" said the music teacher. "It was an accident!"
Mei-Ling "May" Wu sighed, rubbing her temples.
"That makes it the third time today," she complained.
"Oh, so you've heard about the incidents at the lunch room and the stationary store?"
"James filled me in," Mrs. Wu replied. "He was whining about how he kept getting interrupted from watching his shows during his breaks."
That definitely sounded like something Professor Wu would do, Ezekiel thought to himself. He was certain the others were thinking the same thing.
"Well, I guess I should go apologize to him later, then," said Madame Duncan.
"For that, and a whole lot more," Mrs. Wu said. Her gaze sharpened, like piercing razor daggers. "I'm sure you haven't forgotten."
Now what could she be talking about? Ezekiel's interest was piqued.
"No, I haven't," Madame Duncan said.
"As long as we're on the same page," said Mrs. Wu.
As she approached her old friend, she unfurled a large folding fan made of metal pieces that revealed Asian art of a flying swan, and waved the fan around the bunny mask. Pink energy trailed from the fan and wafted against the bunny mask. She folded the fan up with a snap of her wrist and tucked it away in her jacket.
"There," she said. "You should be able to get that mask off now. Why do you still have that, anyway? I thought you didn't like that job."
"What can I say?" Madame Duncan said with a shrug, after freeing her head of the giant bunny one. "I was feeling nostalgic about the past. I've especially been remembering about fifteen years ago lately. I wonder why."
- Competing Magic (Chapter Three)
And the first lesson begins.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Five)
Ezekiel gets curious while danger lurks around a corner.