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Hidden Universe

The Hidden Universe Print Collection

The Hidden Universe Print Collection

Written by: Tao Wong
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Read an Excerpt of The Hidden Universe Print Collection

Simple curiosity. That was all it took to change my world.

My life changed with a black briefcase one spring evening. It had a 1960s design, a perfect rectangle made of black leather with a number-combination lock, still in pristine condition. It was the fifth and last piece of luggage I had purchased earlier that day at the lost luggage auction—and the most expensive piece. Unless I was really lucky, I might make enough for a week’s groceries from all this. At some point, I knew that I had to find a new job, but lucky for me, retail jobs were a dime a dozen right now. If you were willing to take late-night shifts at least. Still, that was a concern for future me.

Luggage like this always left me wondering about its story. The smell of the leather, the faintest hint as I held it to my nose, told me it was probably genuine. Maybe it was a hipster throwback, a handmade piece for people with more money than sense, but something told me it was the real deal. A genuine 1960s briefcase. That raised a number of questions: Was it an old purchase, set aside and never used till recently? Perhaps given to a new graduate, a present to commemorate their graduation? Did someone buy it at a thrift store, a discarded piece of luggage that wasn’t wanted or needed till it was unceremoniously lost and abandoned again? That was, after all, how it had come into my possession. The airport auctioned off uncollected lost luggage every sixty days after it entered the system.

I sat silently for a time as I ran my hands along the briefcase and made up stories about its former owner, the briefcase, and what I might find within. Small stories, daydreams of the kinds of things I’d find inside—a laptop, a journal, maybe a calculator for an accountant. Business cards, of course. It was a briefcase. I took my time because this was half the fun of buying lost luggage—the stories I got to make up before the inevitable disappointment of reality. And while I thought, I ran my fingers along the numerical lock and attempted to open the case.


Four-six-seven. I idly noted the number that worked before I continued my attempts on the opposite side. It took another two minutes, an impatient two minutes as I found myself suddenly anxious to see what I had bought. When the click came, I held my breath for a second before I finally opened the briefcase to see my prize.

A leather journal, a single, expensive-looking fountain pen, and a capped bottle of ink snuggly fit into an inkwell dominated one side of the briefcase. On the other side, a series of nine small boxes with carved runes on top of them sat in what had to be a custom-made enclosure. I frowned as I traced the runes, never having seen anything like them before. Not that I was any expert, mind you, but they sure were pretty. On the underside of the top of the briefcase was a simple, silver-lined mirror that reflected my image to me.

Wavy brown hair that was about two weeks overdue for a haircut, slanted brown eyes that I had been told were my best feature and thin lips reflected back at me. I rubbed my chin, realizing I had forgotten to shave again and grown a sparse, stubbly goatee. It was a bad habit, but shaving was never a priority when you only had to do it every few weeks. Just another gift of being ethnically southern Chinese. At twenty-eight, I was glad I’d finally gotten out of the “baby face” period of my life, even if I was still occasionally mocked for looking like I was in my early twenties. That was okay, considering some of those same mockers were already losing their hair.

Initial perusal over, I began the process of stripping the briefcase. I started with the book first and found, to my surprise, it was empty. Nothing was on the front page or any of the succeeding pages. It had very nice binding though and high-quality leather. I’d probably make a few dollars selling it online. The fountain pen was an old dip-and-write type, might have been worth something to a collector. I capped the pen and put it away carefully. The ink I pulled out and set aside with the rest of the junk. No money in reselling used ink.

Lastly, I started opening the boxes. And that’s when things started getting weird. The first box held scales; the second, a series of dead beetles; the third, feathers from a single type of bird; and the fourth, old, dark earth. After the second box, I grabbed the garbage and started tossing contents into it immediately. Perhaps this had been owned by a taxidermist? Or a naturalist?

“Oww!” I howled and shook my hand. When I had touched the fifth box, what must have been the accumulated static charge of living in a basement apartment had shocked me. It had never been that bad before, but I made a mental note to get a humidifier… when I had the money.

Gingerly, I touched the box and, finding the charge gone, I opened it, ready to toss its contents away. Instead, I found a simple signet ring made of a dark metal. Or alloy of metals. I frowned as I plucked the ring out and rubbed at it to clean it up, curious to see what it was made of.

As I said, curiosity changed my life.


“Are you done yet?” the blond woman, who had formed in my apartment from smoke, asked me. Clad in a pink bra, tiny vest, and billowy sheer pants, she reminded me of an actress from an old, cheesy TV show, almost uncannily so. Seriously, the blond genie that stood in front of me with her sardonic smile would have sent copyright lawyers salivating at the fees they’d earn. If they could have seen her. And if she hadn’t wished them away.

“You… you’re a genie! But that was a ring, not a lamp!” I spluttered, the ring that the smoke had streamed from still clutched in my hand in a death grip.

“Jinn! And yes, I am. What may I do for you, Master?” the genie said. Turning her head, she looked around my bachelor suite with a flicker of distaste. “Maybe a bigger residence?”

“You’re a genie…” I stared at the blonde, my mind caught in a circular trap as it struggled with the insanity in front of it. After all, genies didn’t exist. But there, in front of me, was a genie.

“Oh, hell. I really can’t wait for this entire ‘enlightenment’ period to be over,” the genie said with a roll of her eyes after I just continued to stare at her blankly. She turned away from me and walked around the room before she stopped at my micro-kitchen to open the fridge. Bent over, she fished inside before extracting day-old fried rice and popping a bite into her mouth. A conjured spoon later, she was digging into last night’s dinner and prodding my stove, flat-screen TV, and laptop. “What is this?”

“Fried rice.”

“I know what fried rice is. And this isn’t bad,” she complimented me, ignoring my mumbled thanks while she pointed at the TV screen and then laptop. “This. And this.”

“TV and laptop.”

“Huh.” She returned to the TV before she prodded at it a few more times and inevitably adjusted its angle. “That’s amazing. I guess your science actually does have some use. Well, outside of indoor plumbing. That isn’t as good.”

My brain finally stopped going in circles after I decided to stop trying to actually understand what was going on. If I had a genie in my house, I had a genie. “So, your name isn’t Jeannie, is it?”

“Do I look like a Jeannie to you?”


“The Seven Seals!” The genie flickered, and the previously blonde creature transformed into a black-haired, hawk-nosed Middle-Eastern woman…with considerably less clothing than before, which should have been a challenge. “Call me Lily. What’s yours?”


“Aaargh!” Lily stared at her clothing and then stared at me for a moment. A second later, she was clad in a T-shirt that said “I Aim to Misbehave” and a pair of jeans. I would admit I found the new clothing options even more distracting, especially since they were an exact replica of what I was wearing.

“I’m Henry. And what was that about?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all,” Lily snapped at me and waved her spoon at my laptop. “What is a ‘laptop’?”

“A portable computer,” I explained.

“No, I’ve seen a computer before. They take up rooms three times the size of your… residence,” Lily said, prodding my laptop.

“Computers haven’t been that big since the fifties. Okay, maybe sixties. And I guess there are supercomputers that are that big these days,” I blathered on. “But most people don’t really need a supercomputer. I mean, all I do with mine is play some games and get on the Internet.”

“Internet?” Lily raised her spoon. “Wait. Stop. Two things: what year is this, and do you have more food?”

“Twenty eighteen, and there’s some pizza in the freezer,” I said. “What year did you think this was?”

“That explains why the enchantments have faded,” Lily said as she finished raiding my fridge. She stared at the pizza and then looked at me imploringly. I sighed and helped her add it to the microwave, which I then had to explain to her. That certainly dated her further, putting her at least into the 1960s, which was around the same time as the briefcase. Once the pizza was ready and the genie was eating, I got back to the important questions.

“What enchantments?”

“All of them, of course. They really should have closed off the runes between the concealment and defensive enchantments. If they’d asked me, I could have told them. But of course, they never do,” Lily said, shaking her head. “Once the enchantment wasn’t being regularly recharged, the concealment rune started draining the rest. Took it about fifty years or so, at a guess. Good thing for you they were sloppy; otherwise, you’d be dead.”


“Oh, yes. Heart attack when you failed the third time on opening the briefcase,” Lily said. “Always a good defensive spell—few creatures can survive without a heart. Well, except the undead, but they wouldn’t be able to even touch the briefcase with the wards against them.”

“I could have died,” I said weakly as I stumbled to my bed and sat down with a thud.

“Blazing suns.” Lily sat down across from me. “You humans are always so damn sensitive about your mortality.”

I sat there in silence and stared at the far wall, my brain refusing to work any further at this new revelation. Genies. Magic. My death. There is a certain point in an individual’s day when one just can’t go on, and I’d hit that point. Without speaking, I flopped onto my bed, grabbed my comforter, and rolled into a ball.

Product Details

Release Date:


Genre: LitRPG FantasyCozy Fantasy

eBook ISBN:

Language: English

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About The Hidden Universe Print Collection

Get the entire Hidden Universe series paperbacks signed!

This includes all the Hidden Wishes series, A Gamer's Wish, A Squire's Wish and A Jinn's Wish and the Hidden Dishes novellas, The Nameless Restaurant and Chaotic Aperitifs. 


Signed by Tao Wong.

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