“Wizard Willard,” Rowan announced as they entered the room atop the guild hall’s single tower, “your new lackey is here.”
Andrew raised his hand and cleared his throat. “Uh, sir, I am an intern, not a lackey.”
Rowan turned his jaundiced eyes to the young man. “Are you paid?”
“Well, no, but—”
“Are you here to do the shite work that even the foulest and most degenerate of men find too demeaning to perform even for pay?”
Andrew opened his mouth but snapped it shut as the butler bobbed his head up and down.
“Thank you, Rowan, that is all,” Willard said.
Willard did not look up from the alchemy set at which he busied himself as he dismissed Rowan. The wizard made no attempt to speak to Andrew, so the intern looked around the room and marveled at the wizard’s laboratory. The most notable item was the enormous telescope positioned in front of a pair of windows the size of large doors that stood open for an unobscured view of the stars, had it been nighttime.
Andrew peered into the eyepiece and gasped as his face flushed and his heart began to pound at the sight of several naked women frolicking in a hot spring.
“First rule, don’t touch anything!” Willard snapped, finally giving the young man his attention.
“I was just looking, sir.”
“Second rule, don’t look at anything!”
“Y-yes sir! Uh, sir, isn’t that the temple of Amari?” Andrew asked, cocking his head toward the open window.
Willard’s craggy lips writhed like a pair of dried out, mating snakes. “You must have knocked it out of place with your ogling.”
“I swear I did not touch it, sir.”
The old wizard walked over and angled it back toward the sky. Counterweights attached to the telescope with cables and pulleys moved with it. “Probably that vile little man, Rowan, coming up here and doing unspeakable things while I’m out.”
Andrew nodded, but he was not entirely convinced of the weird little man’s guilt. “He is an odd sort. Where did you get him?”
“He came with the building. I tried to get rid of him, but he’s like a tic, buried up to his abdomen and sucking the blood out of the place. Giving us all Lyme disease and God knows what else. Who are you?”
“Andrew Fortney, sir. From the university. I’m here to intern under you for a semester.”
Willard’s bushy, white eyebrows crawled up his wrinkly forehead. “Why?”
“I want to be a great wizard like you! You are one of my biggest heroes. You’ve defended Cornhol from evil countless times. You’re a legend.”
“Those days are gone, boy. Now I’m just an old man who putters around a dank laboratory atop a decrepit building built upon stories that are more fable than fact.”
“But…you work for King Ronald. You’re his closest advisor. You help keep the city and kingdom running. That can’t all be fables.”
Willard shrugged his boney shoulders. “The king still calls upon me for advice, but the days of solving the kingdom’s problems with spectacular feats of magic are gone.”
Andrew wilted. “Surely there’s something I can learn, something you can teach me. Not all of the magic is gone is it?”
“Well, you’re here, so I’ll find a use for you. There is no such thing as useless knowledge. What’s your secondary field of study at the university?”
“Fine arts, sir! I like to draw.”
Willard puffed up his cheeks and let the air out with a pop. “Well, maybe you can draft new coloring placemats at the Friar King when you graduate.”
“But I want to be a wizard,” Andrew mumbled as he stared at the floor.
Willard chuckled, a noise that sound like he was gargling gravel. “You think so, do you?”
“Wizard Willard,” Rowan called in from the doorway.
Willard jumped, startled at the butler’s unexpected return. “I need to put a bell on you. I should have heard you coming up the stairs.”
“Or at least smelled him,” Andrew said with a sniff. “Oh, there it is.”
“What do you want now, Rowan?”
“You have another visitor.”
“Two in one day…That’s two more than I’m comfortable with,” Willard replied with a sigh. “Show him in.”
Rowan turned away, jerked a thumb over his shoulder, and said, “In there,” before descending the stairs once more.
In walked a middle-aged man wearing a black wool, turtleneck sweater, blue cotton trousers, and soft leather shoes. He bore a stern, hawkish appearance as he traveled his eyes around the room, taking everything in at a glance.
Willard scowled, making no attempt at hiding his displeasure of the man’s company. “What do you want from me, Job?”
Job Stevens smiled, the expression doing nothing to make him appear friendlier. “Nothing. It’s what I can do for you.”
“Unless it’s leaving, you’ve got nothing I want. Go hock your idiotic doodads and fake talisman’s somewhere else.”
“Mr. Steven’s, I’m a huge fan of yours,” Andrew gushed. “I took a semester in college learning about how your inventions would shape Cornhol into new era.”
Job’s smile almost achieved a look of genuine pleasure. “I am glad you enjoyed it. I will be creating many fantastic devices to make Cornhol the magitech capital of the world.”
“You’ve fooled a few young, impressionable boobs into buying your ridiculous crap. Don’t oversell yourself,” the old wizard groused.
“Speaking of boobs, how’s that telescope of yours working out?”
“That is purely for the sake of astronomical study!”
“Yes, I’m sure. Especially the ass part.”
“The only ass in here is you, and it’s about to get kicked down the stairs!”
“Wizard Willard,” Andrew said, “they call Job Stevens the wizard of Wonder Street. Or is it the Wonder of Wizard street?”
“It’s probably both,” Job replied.
Willard’s face soured. “Please. This charlatan would claim one of my farts, stick his brand on it, and sell it as his own if he thought he could make a buck off of it. So I ask again, what do you want from me?”
“I have brought you my newest invention. It will revolutionize how the people of Cornhol interact and communicate!” Job reached into a satchel slung over his shoulder and brandished the item he pulled from inside with a flourish. “Voila!”
Willard looked at the small, rectangular mirror sporting several runes carved into the thin, silver frame. “I already have a mirror, and as you can probably tell, I don’t use it much.”
Andrew’s eyes went wide as he gazed longingly at the device. “It’s not a mirror, Wizard Willard, it’s a Scryphone! We spent a week in class talking about it, but it was still just a prototype at the time.”
Willard took the mirror and studied it. “What’s a Scryphone?”
“It’s a scrying mirror that also allows you to talk to anyone else who owns a Scryphone anytime anywhere,” Job explained.
“I live atop a tower just so I can avoid doing either of those things.”
“Then why do you live with the adventurers?” Andrew asked.
“To split the rent. Wizarding doesn’t pay like it used to.” He thrust the Scryphone at Job. “Now, take your ridiculous device and go away.”
Job pushed it back toward the cantankerous wizard like it was a restaurant bill. “I can’t. King Ronald personally asked me to bring it to you. He demands that you have one.”
“Why would he…oh, right. It’s a moronic device built by a moron for morons. Fine. Leave the damn thing here and throw yourself out.”
“I think you mean show myself out.”
“I was pointedly looking at my window when I spoke, but whatever will remove you from my sight will suffice.”
Job chose the door. “You will regret your poor treatment of me one day, wizard. I am going to be the wealthiest, most powerful man in Cornhol. Just you wait. The world will be awestruck with my device.”
“Most of the world is awestruck by motes of dust in a sunbeam. It isn’t much of an accomplishment.” Willard stared at his reflection in the device and sneered. “What an idiotic thing.” A small bell in the Scryphone’s top right corner began to ring, startling the wizard so much he nearly dropped it. “What is it doing?” he cried.
“You’re getting a scry!”
“What do I do?”
“Swipe your finger across the mirror.”
“Are you insane? My mother took a switch to us if we fouled a mirror with our greasy fingerprints.”
“It’s how you answer it.”
With a resigned sigh, Willard stroked the glass. A rosy, wrinkled backside instantly replaced his reflection.
“Ugh! What in the blazes?” Willard cried as he held the Scryphone out at arm’s length.
Andrew sidled around the wizard to take a look. “Oh, it looks like someone butt-scryed you.”
Willard brought the device closer to his face and adjusted his glasses. “I think I recognize that plump, pimply, posterior. I certainly hope Job limited this thing’s ability to just the two senses. Your Majesty, is that you?”
The image flashed, giving the two a flying view of a richly appointed bedchamber before resolving into the ruddy, puffy face of the king. “Wizard Willard, is that you? I was just thinking of you.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t. Particularly when you are not wearing trouser.”
The king glanced down. “Oh, right, sorry about that. Anyway, I am in desperate need of your help.”
“I live to serve, Highness,” Willard replied, not at all sincere.
“Glad to hear it. Last night, I finally managed to sign a trade deal with Jynna. It’s a beautiful deal, but I lost my copy.”
“Can you not simply write another?”
“I don’t know what the political…uh…badness—”
“Ramifications,” Willard replied.
“Right. I don’t know what the political ramifications are beyond making me look like an ass.”
“I certainly got a good preview of that,” Willard muttered.
“I need you to find out for me.”
“Don’t you have lawyers for that sort of thing.”
“Of course, but I don’t trust them. They’re all crooks and liars. Do this for me, Willard. Your king needs you. Let’s make Everbeen great again!”
The Scryphone’s screen returned to its normal reflective surface. “I think I’m going to hate this.”
Andrew asked, “The job or the Scryphone?”
Next: Gargling gargoyles.