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By Iulian Ionescu
Barphos loved to climb up his favorite oak tree after dark. Not so much climb as disappear and reappear there, since magic was still allowed on the Academy-owned land. It was Joffan that made him walk the path every time. 'For health,' he'd say. Barphos didn't care about health. He just wanted to be away so he could vent.
"That's a big load of oxen feces," Barphos exploded. "I can't believe there's no gold for new wands. All of a sudden, no gold."
Joffan turned a raised brow. "Oxen feces?"
"That's how they talk over the mountain, at the Palace." He glanced down at his feet, dangling from the oak branch. "Look at this. We can't even afford new boots." He spat a ball of tobacco on an arc and flicked his finger toward it. A flash sparked from his nail and the ball morphed into a sparrow that flew away into the night.
Joffan smacked him over the shoulder with the back of his hand. "You did learn it!"
Barphos laughed. "I'm full of surprises, my friend. Which reminds me, did you get yourself a globe?"
Barphos sneered and wiggled three fingers in front of his eyes. "We got three more years in the Academy and we'll be out there, by ourselves. Would you like to be known as the weirdo wizard without one?"
Joffan blew a raspberry instead of an answer. His face was barely visible in the dark night, and Barphos knew he was turning himself darker when he was uncomfortable. Now, he'll change the subject.
Joffan glanced toward the path. The castle's lights were disappearing one by one. He elbowed Barphos. "It's time. If we get caught one more time, three years will turn into four."
"I can't take that, brother." Barphos pushed himself off the branch, levitated for a few seconds, then glided down onto the grass. He snapped his fingers three times and they both reappeared at the main entrance, since the Academy walls couldn't be crossed with transportation spells.
The gate was closed and Barphos was about to push it open when a silhouette materialized at his right.
"Well, well," the old wizard said, waddling toward them, hands behind his back. "I'll be a son of a blind dragon if it's not Sir Barphos of Kir and Sir Joffan, son of Olaf. Again."
Barphos clenched his teeth. He hated being called 'Sir.'
"We were just coming—"
The wizard spawned a third hand wielding a red wand and smacked Barphos in the head. "I guess curfew means nothing to you...Sir Barphos?"
The young wizard bit the inside of his cheek and looked down.
"Move," the old man shouted, red in the face, "back to your rooms!" He thrust his finger toward Joffan with an icy glaze. "If I catch you one more time hanging out with this hooligan, I'll be calling your father."
The wizard held his stare for a few seconds and vanished, leaving a white cloud floating in his place.
Barphos raised his fists. "Who does he—"
"Shh!" Joffan grabbed his hand and pulled him back. "He can still hear us. Let's go."
The cloud disappeared with a pop and the young wizards ran through the gate.
They sprinted up the academy stairs, Barphos still puffing and muttering under his breath. Up on the third floor, he kicked the dorm room open and stepped in, gesticulating like a windmill.
"I don't get why—Aaaa!" he screamed when he saw two dwarfs in the middle of the room, playing cards on the floor. "Mother of Faeries, what are you doing here?"
Clax, one of the dwarfs, threw him a glance from the corner of his eye. "What's it to you, troubled soul?"
The other dwarf didn't move his eyes from his cards. "Play," Drominger said, "I don't have all day."
"Man," Joffan said, throwing his hands in the air, "we just got our wands handed to us by Morlick. Are you crazy sneaking in here again?"
Drominger thrust his palm toward him. "Hold on to your skirt, little girl. Adults are busy."
Barphos walked over, shook Clax's hand and smacked Drominger gently behind his head. "Adults should not hold on to the King of Peaches for so long."
"Shut up," Drominger exploded and threw his cards down. "This game's ruined."
Joffan closed the door and ran to the window to look outside. "Guys, I'm serious, the old man is after us, no joke. If he catches us bringing dwarfs in the Academy again—" He turned a red face toward them. "Last week he failed me at cat revival. Cat revival! I can revive any cat, even if it died nine times, and he fails me—"
Drominger jumped up to his feet. His head was a little over Barphos' waist, and he wore a white, knitted hat. "Morlick's a royal pain and he'll never change. Stop whining like a little baby girl and live a little."
Joffan grunted, but Barphos grabbed the dwarf in a tight hug. "This is why I like this guy. He knows you so well."
"Jerks," Joffan uttered. He snapped his fingers and a carafe of red ale appeared on the table. "I know that's why you're here."
Drominger showed a toothy grin and opened his arms wide. "Joffan, my friend." He grabbed a cup and filled it to the top. "I came because I love you, man. You and I have a love-me hate-me kind of deal. You know, like when you wish you could see a fat fairy, but if you did, you wish you haven't. You know what I mean?"
Barphos laughed and sat down. The others joined him, Joffan still holding an icy gaze. "My father absolutely can't find about this. I'll lose my castle."
Clax scoffed. "Bu-hu-hu, the little prince loses his castle. I live in an underground cave and you don't see me complaining all day long."
Barphos waved his hand over the table and four burning red candles popped up. "We need to do something about Morlick," he said in a deep voice. "With him here, I guarantee we won't graduate, not soon at least."
"Like what?" Joffan said.
"I don't know," Barphos responded with a shrug.
Drominger raised his mug. "While you little faes argue about your hairdos, I am going to pour this sweet juice down my throat and remind you life is meant to be lived. The more you think about living, the less you're living, you get it?"
Joffan snapped his fingers just as the liquid touched the dwarf's lips, and the liquid turned into five butterflies that flew out of his mouth.
"Damnit, man," Drominger shouted spitting angrily, "you know I hate those foul creatures."
"Yes," Joffan responded with a crooked smile, "I do."
The dwarf grabbed the carafe and refilled his mug. "That was unnecessary."
"Guys, stop this nonsense and let's talk real solutions here." Barphos replenished the carafe with a wiggle of his wand. "I have an idea that might work. What if we become so famous and useful that we become untouchable?"
The others paused, gazing at him with blank eyes.
Drominger cleared his throat a few times. "I thought the stories about your mother dropping you on your head were made up—"
Barphos cut the air with his palm. "Shut up and listen. How many people do you know? In general?"
The dwarf raised a brow. "Much more than you, and they all wear short skirts."
"No, I mean it. How many?"
"I don't know. A lot!"
"What if I need your friends for something and I have to ask you to introduce me—"
"I'd tell you to go revive a cat. My friends are my friends, you wrinkled skull."
"That's my point."
Joffan crossed his arms. "You lost me."
"People need people," Barphos said, raising his palms up. "For example, wizards need dwarfs to take care of their lawn—"
Clax wiggled his middle finger. "Prick—"
"You know what I mean. People need people and we constantly have to find them through others."
Drominger cracked his knuckles. "Is this going to be a long story about how your parents never loved you, or are you getting to some damn point soon?"
"Picture this," Barphos said and opened his arms wide. "The Hut—the place where everybody knows everybody."
He looked at the others in silence for a few seconds.
Clax refilled his mug. "I thought wizards were not allowed to smoke poppy seeds."
"No, no, just think about it, man."
The dwarf pulled on his ears with a smile. "I'm all ears, professor."
Barphos clapped his hands. "We have Fantasium—"
"I don't have it," Drominger shook his head.
"Well, every decent being in the fifteen kingdoms has one—"
"I don't have it," Drominger repeated with a shrug.
"It's the cheapest tool available and everyone should have it," Barphos protested, raising his voice. "Even Joffan said he'd get one—"
Joffan nodded reluctantly.
"You can get yourself a globe from any wizard store," Barphos continued, "or you can get a porcelain cube from Master Pear, if you feel fancy—"
"You said they're the same," Joffan intervened.
"The cube is slicker," Clax said. "Plus, it doesn't roll off the damn table."
"My point is," Barphos said, "you can get a cheap medium and tap into Fantasium anytime as a regular common person. Without magic! That's what's great."
Drominger shook his head. "You seem to be very happy to become useless in this society."
"Fantasium doesn't replace wizards, you minthead. Fantasium is built from the wizard's energy. It's shared so everyone can use it--"
Clax chortled. "And the High Magi fill their pockets with gold nuggets—"
"It doesn't matter. My point is: people can use it. That's when we come in with The Hut."
"That name is more unfortunate than my first nanny's name," Drominger said. "And her name was Pissela. Perhaps we would all be more interested if you'd explain your genius idea."
"That's the idea: we use the Fantasium to interconnect the mediums. Fantasium can be manipulated through spells. We create the spells and lock them in one big glass globe and make it such so it communicates with all the other mediums, keeping track of everything."
"I still don't get how that's useful," Drominger said.
"Let me put it in words that you'd understand. When you need to buy a girl, what do you do?"
The dwarf shook a finger in the air. "This dwarf doesn't buy a woman, my unfortunate friend—"
"Fine, when you just need a girl for the night."
"I go, grab her by the waist and bring her home." He snapped his fingers. "Like a gentleman."
"But you have to know where she is. And if she's not there, you need to go find another."
Drominger smashed his fist on the table. "What's you damn point? I'm getting horny."
"My point is, you can use your medium to scout all your friends and see who's available, who's around. When you need somebody, you can tap them."
"Tap them?" Clax said.
"Yeah, you just use a tap spell we create to send a sign to their medium—"
Drominger thrust his hips into the side of the table. "Can I poke them instead?"
Joffan rolled his eyes. "Yes, Drominger, you can stick your fun parts inside the medium and poke your friends."
Barphos stared at the ceiling with a pause. "Actually that's not such a bad idea--"
Clax raised his mug and clacked it with Drominger's. "I need to get out of here, man. These guys are obviously on something and I don't want to be here when they start hallucinating."
Drominger drank his mug and jumped of his chair. "Whatever you do, my friend, remember one thing: good stuff sells with effort, outrageous stuff sells by itself." He tapped him his temple. "If you want to make something successful, make sure it's outrageous."
The dwarfs walked to the door. Drominger stopped in the door frame and turned his head. "Drop the 'the'."
"Huh?" Barphos said.
"Make it My Hut. Drop the 'the.' The name is everything, my friend. Call it 'My Hut' and it becomes personal, close, and friendly. Get it?"
Barphos nodded. "That makes some sense."
The dwarf backed out of the room. "Good night, little girls. Don't forget to put on clean underwear."
Joffan thrust his palm forward and the door shut with a bang.
Barphos clicked his teeth. "Most of the times, yes, but he did make some sense."
"So, you're seriously going to work on this crap? I thought you just wanted to drive them away."
Barphos put his hands behind his neck and floated gently toward his bed on top of an azure cloud. "We are going to work on this, my friend. We're going to need some of your father's gold for this to work."
Joffan burst into laughter. "That's a good one."
Barphos stared at him with pursed lips.
"You're serious." Joffan took a deep breath, vanished and reappeared on his bed. "This is going to be a tough sell."
The end of the last semester at the Wizard Academy was approaching fast and Flavius, the Master of Spells, had a good feeling about the next year's budget.
"We've been strapped for gold since forever and now, with this new thing, the court is going to love us."
Morlick gave him a look of disbelief. "I don't know—"
Master Flavius raised his brows. "Have you seen it, Morlick? It's out of control. Everyone wants it. And this academy owns the rights."
"I don't get it." Morlick gnarled. "These younglings do nothing but play and suddenly they're everyone's heroes—"
"I'm asking you to see it and then judge," Maester Flavius said and walked to a round table by the window. On the table, on top of a folded cloth was a glass globe polished to perfection. "They started with a simple idea to make a world more open and connected. Watch this."
The wizard put his hand on the globe and colorful streaks started to travel inside it, swirling in circles from one edge to the other. After a few seconds, Master Flavius' face appeared, red and smiley.
Morlick shrugged. "See what? Your face?"
The old wizard approached his face to the globe. Master Flavius pointed his finger over a series of bright circles. "See those circles? If I touch them—"
Master Flavius pressed on the first circle and a different face appeared in the globe. "Now I can see my friend, Yoshi. And you know what?" Flavius took a pause, staring at Morlick. "He lives twenty days on horse down south. And yet, I can send him a good word from here."
Master Flavius opened his arms wide. "Come on, even you must see the value in this."
The old wizard got up, his mouth in a slight frown. "All I see are a bunch of hooligans who managed to charm all of you with a stupid toy. We'll see who's right in the end."
Morlick glided toward the door and stopped one step outside. "I guarantee you this will not end well if it's nothing but a prank."
"Just give it a shot," Flavius shouted after him.
"Maybe I will," the old wizard said and vanished in the air.
The Hall Guardian struck his spear into the floor and spoke in a loud voice. "The Master Dean Wizard, Dark Master of the Cloak Arts and Master of Organic Gardening, Stratovario The Sixteenth."
The door opened and the oldest wizard at the Academy entered the room, face red as the inside of a tomato. "What is this?" He shouted and shaking a scrunched up paper in his hand.
The three wizards in the room got up from their chairs. Gashanel, the youngest of them, took off his hat and bowed. "Dean?"
Master Stratovario waddled toward them and smashed the paper on the table. "What in the name of the fairy godmother is this?"
Master Flavius, as surprised as the others for this sudden interruption, picked up the paper. He straightened it between his palms and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "To all officials at the Wizard Academy of the North," he read, "it has come to our attention that your very own Morlick Lompius The First and Last, he who runs the administrative affairs of your delightful establishment, used the spells in My Hut to establish a direct contact with Princess Elisabina, daughter of our Highness, King Sebastian, the Enlightened one—"
Master Flavius paused and gave the Dean a look under his glasses. "Establish contact?"
Dean Stratovario slapped his palm on the table. "He sent the princess an image of his wand! His wand!"
The three wizards recoiled and Master Gashanel covered his mouth. "One shall not use one's wand image to persuade or influence."
"It's unheard of," Master Flavius added.
"It's embarrassing," the dean shouted. "Read the next paragraph. Just read it."
"He sent a text message—" The wizard paused again. "A text message?"
Master Gashanel snickered. "It's that thing when you write it in special ink, and you plaster it on your globe and then you use an incantation so the message just goes through the Fantasium waves and appears on the other side, sometimes in people's dreams, other times written on the walls—"
Master Flavius shook his head. "That is bizarre... Young people these days." He turned his eyes to the paper. "The message read: Dearest flower of my eyes, I have been watching you since you were just a child—" The wizard rolled his eyes.
"See what I mean?" the Dean said, hands in prayer.
"So what do we do?" Master Flavius said.
"We have to get rid of him. Today!" The dean threw his hands toward the ceiling. "Argh! The news travels so fast with this damn Fantasium. I heard they used birds now too! That's even faster."
"I heard," Master Gashanel added. "A separate language, they say, a special one. The birds just tweet it between each other."
The dean waved his hand as if to chase a fly. "We'll do what we have to do. Damage control. The king will be all over us. Gather the Council." He leaned forward, a red vein pulsating on his forehead. "This ends today!"
Barphos took a long gulp from his cup and made it fly back on the table. After graduation, he just couldn't wipe the smile of satisfaction of his face. The rented a whole inn for the night and the four waiters were hovering around the table, making sure there's enough food at all times. In the corner, the local band was replaced by a famous group from the North, playing instrumental music.
Life was good again. Barphos raised a glass to his friends.
Drominger raised his as well. "How does it feel to be the king of the world, my friend?"
Barphos laughed loudly. "All I wanted was to graduate, that's all. And with Morlick out—" he paused to allow everyone to sip from their drinks—"I have graduated."
"This guy is small potatoes," Drominger said. "You own the future, clown. Information is the future."
Barphos snapped his fingers and changed the table cloth's color from yellow to red. "See? Now I can do this in public. That's all I wanted."
Drominger got up from the table and snapped his finger at Clax. "You little pansies can sit here and enjoy this elf music. We gotta go find some ladies. I'll tell you one thing though. You had a good idea, my friend. Too bad My Hut will turn into something fit to destroy lives and make fun of your friends. Aren't all good things turning bad eventually?"
Barphos chuckled and raised his wine cup. "To Morlick, may he rot in the dungeons forever." He lifted his right brow toward Drominger. "By the way, you never told me: how did you get access to his wand?"
The dwarf chortled. "You, my friend, unleashed a beast which you are unable to control. So it's up to the likes of me to make good use of it. What's done is done. It won't be the last time My Hut ruins somebody's life and turns another one's into glamor." He lifted the glass over his head. "The world as we know it has ended, my unfortunate looking friends. It's now our turn to shine. Long live My Hut."
"Long live My Hut!"
Iulian was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania, where he earned his Bachelor's in Finance. He moved to the US during 2001, and became a CPA (oh, the excitement!). Despite his career choice, Iulian always harvested his creative side, toying with it since childhood. He finally decided to turn his craft into something more serious, so, at this point he calls himself an aspiring sci/fi and fantasy writer. He published several short stories and is currently working on two novels. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and son and he blogs at FantasyScroll.com and IulianIonescu.com.