Competing Magic (Chapter One)
Ezekiel von Ghoul sat in the dark limousine wearing a bored expression on his face as the car made a turn through the bronze gates with the wriggling fretwork. Although it was not mandated for returning students on Arrival Day, the tall, pale boy was already wearing his school's blazer uniform, freshly pressed and free of wrinkles. After all, he was the son of Manfred von Ghoul, a proud member of the world's elite class, and a powerful sorcerer hailed as a hero back home. There was nothing that Ezekiel personally wanted more than to live up to the von Ghoul name.
While stepping onto pavement, Ezekiel smoothed down the front of his yellow jacket and straightened his green tie. After checking the hem of his black trousers, he followed the tree-lined path others his age were taking. Behind him, the hard luggage case with all of his belongings followed after him, enchanted so that it could roll by itself. Some of the younger students broke off from the collection of students and headed towards the area where a cluster of tent stands stood. He needn't follow them as he was not a new student, instead, following the others toward the left where the dormitory buildings and resident mall area laid.
Along the way, he noticed two familiar figures nearby. They were Sarah Wu, the tan, Chinese girl from Hawaii who also happened to be the younger sister of one of this school's teachers, and Veronica Waldenburg, the child genius who managed to skip four years of education, making her a second high school year like Ezekiel and Sarah were, despite her youth.
After spotting Ezekiel through the crowd, the eleven-year-old Veronica flipped back her strawberry blonde hair and waved to Ezekiel with enthusiasm. Ezekiel gave Veronica a less enthusiastic wave in greeting, and gave a curt nod to Sarah, who greeted back in kind.
Despite her family's low social status, Sarah Wu was able to attend this school for the elite, Paladin Academy, thanks in no small part to her hard work in attaining a scholarship into the school's magic department. Knowing how strict the qualifications are for getting that scholarship, Ezekiel could not help but feel a bit of respect for Sarah as a fellow mage. Even if she didn't have the superior talent for magic like he and her brother had, she made up for it with the dedication and hard work that true magicians have.
Thinking "Why not?" Ezekiel strolled on over to the girls.
"Salutations," he said. "I hope I find you all well?"
"Just peachy," Sarah Wu grumbled. As always, when not in uniform, she wore drab commoner's clothing: an old, overlarge t-shirt, baggy jeans, and worn-out sneakers. Though, he doubted that's why she was in a sour mood. The reason for that was most likely -
"Professor Wu was being mischievous again, it seemed," Veronica Waldenburg whispered to him.
Yeah, Ezekiel figured as much.
Professor James Jing Wu. For the entirety of the previous school year, the Chinese magician was the trio's magic instructor. Although his way of teaching isn't all that abnormal, the man had the maturity of a crass American teen of the commoner's variety. And that was honestly no exaggeration. Take for example, this:
"What did he do this time?" Ezekiel whispered back to the young girl.
"He cast a spell that made frogs that were summoned from a faraway swamp rain in her bedroom," Veronica replied.
Yes, that sounded like the sort of thing that Professor Wu would do. And because of the way Professor Wu often acted, it remained really hard for Ezekiel to swallow that the man was once considered a really powerful sorcerer and a legendary hero, one of seven.
And speak of the devil . . .
"What's this? Is someone talking about me behind my back?"
"Yikes!" Veronica exclaimed.
Ezekiel felt his heart leap high.
The bespectacled Asian man wearing a white suit beneath the silver gown who snuck up on the pair smirked at their startled faces. Beneath the slightly tinted blue lenses of his oval-shaped spectacles, his eyes were filled with laughter.
"What do you want, James?" Sarah asked her elder brother with a scowl on her face.
"I was just passing by and thought I'd say hi," was his reply.
Sarah put her hands to her hips.
"Didn't May say that you had something important to do today?" she asked.
"Ah, I always have something important to do around this time," he said, waving his hand down. "Besides, I still have time. I don't have to be at the gates until Eleven o' Clock."
"It's Eleven right now," Sarah said, pulling out her phone and showing its screen to her brother.
"Ooooooh," went James. In case anyone wondered, he was making his "I'm so in trouble" face. "Well, it was good seeing you all. Here's to another good year. Bye."
He flashed the peace sign, snapped his fingers, and disappeared in a flash of silver light. A gust of wind marked the way he fled at super speed.
Ezekiel shook his head in disgust. It is super, really hard to believe that that man once helped push back an army in a noble effort to protect a village with just six others when they were all teenagers.
"I take it that he's off to meet the delegation from Merlin Institute?" Ezekiel asked the girls. "Honestly, whose bright idea was it to make him one of the greeters?"
It was time once again for the two schools, Paladin International Academy of All Sciences, the school whose uniform that Ezekiel wears, and Merlin Institute of Magic and Other Studies, to come together to compete for supremacy. The competition happens once every four years and spans an entire semester. Students representing both schools challenge each other to a series of games and competition ranging from sports to the sciences. Various board games such as Chess and Checkers are also included in those competitions. There are even video game competitions as well. This time around, Ezekiel was aiming to join the competitions in the magic sector. He wanted to use the opportunity to show to the world his superior magical skills and power.
"Actually, I heard he volunteered to be a greeter," she said. "Apparently, someone he knows is a teacher at Merlin Institute."
Ezekiel's interest was piqued. Of course it would be. One of the people coming from Merlin Institute was someone that Professor Wu, a powerful, legendary hero knew.
"Huh," went Veronica. "I wonder what they'll be like. I'm especially curious about the magic teacher."
"To be honest, as long as they're not anything like James, I don't care," Sarah said dismissively.
Ezekiel shared her sentiment. One Professor Wu was enough of a headache. Two would just be a pure, living nightmare.
The dormitory area where the students would live for the year was split into four separate blocks with its own cluster of buildings, with a mall and market street at its center. Each cluster of buildings were interconnected to each other by roofed halls that led to a center building, called the common building. By the large, glistening glass structure that was the common building of the south block, Ezekiel bade the girls farewell for the day and parted with them, heading south while the girls headed east.
As he walked by, he took in the cool afternoon scene. He and all other students had the founders to thank for the comfortable weather for choosing the perfect spot to build the school. Many are already taking advantage of the nice weather, lying on the grassy courtyard, reading beneath trees, or playing with friends. It was a scene that Ezekiel would have to become accustomed to again, after spending an entire summer at his family's summer mansion a ways from a town on an island in the pacific.
He made his way through the lobby of the dormitory he had stayed in before. One of the perks of being a returning student was Ezekiel didn't have to wait in the really, really, really long lines at the receptionists' desk to get assigned a suite since he had already been assigned one the previous year. Smirking at those unfortunate souls and grateful he didn't have to go through that same torment again, he strolled over to the elevators and took one upstairs where his room for the semester awaited.
Admittedly, the room was smaller than he thought acceptable for someone of his family's standing, but as a future head of the von Ghoul family, he gritted his teeth and bore with it in the past year. Now, he was actually feeling happy to be back. Well, he did make some minor improvements to the room such as enchanting the size to be bigger on the inside, made it look like a glittering, lavish chamber like one would find at a castle of the British royal family, and replaced some of the furnishing with some stuff he brought with him from home, such as his bed, couch, and television set, all of which popped out of his small luggage case at the snap of his fingers as billows of black smoke swirling about the room until they found their place.
Satisfied with the refurbishing, Ezekiel finally sat down on his favorite leather armchair, put one leg over the other and glanced up to the huge wall-mounted mirror which showed a pale, blue-eyed young man smiling at a job well done. Just as he finally got to relax after a long flight and drive, the door opened and brown hair poked in, followed by the tall, dark boy it belonged to who dragged in a large blue luggage case. He swept sweat off his brow above his hazel eyes and let out a breath of relief after letting his luggage drop with a clatter on the floor.
Scowling, Ezekiel said: "Please mind the carpeting. I just got it perfect."
The boy looked up from his bending over, giving Ezekiel a scowl of his own.
"I see you made yourself at home," the boy, Maxwell Beckman said looking around at Ezekiel's handiwork.
Maxwell had been his roommate during the previous year. He was . . . tolerable to Ezekiel. It helped that Maxwell was actually the prince of a small kingdom. The laws and traditions of Maxwell's kingdom was that, as a prince, Maxwell had to go to some boarding school. Part of those laws and traditions also held that he had to change his name for his time as a student and hide the fact that he was of royalty. So, Maxwell was just a fake name. His real name is Maximillion. It was a pretty troublesome law, if you asked Ezekiel, but he wasn't going to complain since it was thanks to that same law that he was now sharing a room with royalty. There was no telling the benefits that would come from forging a friendship with an actual prince.
"How was your summer?" Ezekiel asked, feigning interest.
Maxwell scowled, as if he saw through Ezekiel's ruse, but answered anyway. "It was okay, I guess," he said with a shrug.
"No trouble from the Chaplins and the Montgomerys?"
The Chaplins and the Montgomerys were two families from Maxwell's home country who had been at war at each other, and that war spilled over to Paladin Academy, because two members of those families ran away to become husband and wife. It was a bit of a Romeo-Juliet kind of thing, but a lot less tragic. Richard and June Starlington, formerly Richard Montgomery and June Chaplin, found their way to Paladin Academy, where Richard worked as Professor Wu's assistant. Anyway, because of those two, Ezekiel, Maxwell, Veronica, and Sarah got pulled into the conflict between the two families the previous semester.
Maxwell shook his head.
"After what Mrs. Wu did to Lord Montgomery and Lord Chaplin, I doubt we'll have to worry about those two families for a really long time," he said.
Because the mess got innocent students (namely Ezekiel, Sarah, Maxwell, and Veronica) in harms way, Mrs. Wu, Professor Wu's wife, used her authority as a High Master of the International Guild of Magic (IGM for short) to effectively ban the two nobles from the IGM. The reason she could do something like that, of course, was because the two nobles were bound by the same magical contract she and every other member of the International Guild of Magic was bound to. She also had them put on the Watch List, a public list of problem magicians normally passed along to every member of the guild, as well as posted online for the whole world to see, which sent their reputations down rock bottom. And while a reputation isn't everything, with a bad reputation like they're now getting, there was no way anyone would be willing to help Lord Montgomery or Lord Chaplin with whatever they needed.
"I take it they're having trouble with the other lords?"
"Yeah, no one would listen to them during the meetings about new laws and other important government stuff," Maxwell said. "I gotta say, it made sitting through those meetings a bit more interesting."
"What about Starlington and his wife?"
When the battle had escalated thanks to the arrival of the villainous Winston Thornton, traitor to the International Guild of Magic, and former mentor to Professor Wu and the other legendary Seven Star Mages, Richard and June got caught in the crossfire and ended up being teleported to who-knows-where. No one knew where the two of them ended up.
"Didn't Sarah tell you?" Maxwell asked. "She said Professor Wu, Mrs. Wu, and some of their old friends from the IGM managed to find them and got them together again. Richard somehow ended up in some monk's monastery in China, and June somehow landed in the middle of Texas. They're in Italy now, working at an IGM branch office at Venice."
"Well, good for them."
Although Ezekiel seemed nonchalant about the whole thing, in truth, he had been anxious about the couple all throughout summer, wondering how they were doing, or if they had been rescued yet. Sometimes he would listen in on his father until late at night just to find out if there was any shred of news on them. Obviously, he was going to keep all that to himself. It would be too embarrassing if anyone found out how worried he was of them.
Inwardly relieved, but outwardly cool, Ezekiel got up from his seat.
"Well, here's hoping that this time around will be a dull semester," he said.
"If we're lucky, the only excitement we're going to get will be from the games with the lot from Merlin Institute," said Maxwell.
Yes, if they were lucky.
- Competing Magic (Chapter Two)
A new semester begins with the introduction of new people.