1 Missed Call, 1:25am
Sylvia Zou, 1:26am: Are you asleep? This isn’t anything scary but could you call me?
Sylvia Zou, 2:34am: Okay possibly scary. Not about us but I’m freaking out right now. I feel really bad, and I think your phone is down and…fuck. I’d really love your help right now Megan. I know you hate it when people are touchy feely but you help me a lot sometimes
2 Missed Calls, 2:39am
Sylvia Zou, 2:55am: I’m a little better now. I still wanna talk though. Please. Not for any real reason, I think it would just calm me down, or something. I’m really sorry for this slew of texts. Uncool of me.
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You can’t see the cave looming ahead, but you can feel its darkness reaching out to strike.
“Are you sure about this?” you ask. Your hand is tentative on the elder’s arm, and you stumble as he guides you over a rocky patch of ground. The sword and heavy bag swing unbalanced on your hips. “I really don’t think I’m suited for this kind of thing.”
The elder pats your hand gently, patronizingly. “I am certain,” he replies. You wait for elaboration, maybe a few worn-out but generous words of inspiration, but he does not bother.
He slips away at the mouth of the cave, his bone-thin arm unsheathing from under yours. He leaves you with nothing but a murmured “good luck” that sounds more like “goodbye” and a lingering boiled-cabbage smell. You immediately decide that if you die, you won’t miss him. You refuse to miss anyone from your village. You almost hope the monster kills you, so the village will be indebted to your memory and forced to recant every mockery they’ve ever made of you—the price they should pay for trying to make a hero out of you. If you die, they’ll remember your sacrifice, but if you succeed they’ll laud you as a hero. There’s no downside, you tell yourself. Even if you don’t get the chance to do it yourself, somehow your story will be told.
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A groom, in the course of his service to the private stables of a much-admired ambassador, found himself in the vibrating belly of a specialized cargo jet. He was not alone in that place. A veterinarian and an armed guard were there as well, all three men secondary to the purpose of the flight, an entourage for the ambassador’s horses. Three fine hunter mares stood quiet as cargo, neatly slotted into caution-yellow container stalls; a black, a blood-bay, and a sun-golden sorrel, all pedigreed and proven, sound and glossy. In a fourth stall, also breathing grassy warm into the caustically clean atmosphere of the jet’s interior, was a new acquisition of the ambassadorial stables; a piebald pony gelding intended for the use of the great man’s young daughter.
And the plane’s nose pointed east like a weathervane in an unwavering wind, seeking the capital city of the nation of the ambassador’s new posting.
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