Beam this story into your brain.
Ziverius the mage and Sleepy the pegacorn are wandering through the Thunderhead Wood when they hear footsteps. Ziv edges against a tree and peaks around.
“It’s just an orc,” Ziv whispers. “He’s by himself. Blast him.”
Sleepy charges and emits a death ray from his horn. It finds its target and the orc crumples. The only sound comes from Sleepy’s horn; once it’s done doing its business it makes a ding like a timer on a toaster oven. Ziv goes to the body and pulls a cellphone from a still warm hand.
“He was texting when I shot him,” Sleepy says. “Didn’t even see it coming.”
Ziv scrolls through the messages.
“What a nasty little prick. He’s been catfishing one of these Thunderhead elven chicks.”
“Yeah?” Sleepy says.
“These messages go back like two centuries,” Ziv says. “Poor girl.”
“That’s the danger of online dating,” Sleepy says. “You never know if you’re going to get an elf or a troll.”
“Think we should tell her?” Ziv says.
“Do you really think it’s our place?”
“Yeah, I really think it is, Sleepy. It’s not fair to leave this girl who’s been waking up to good morning beautiful texts every day for the past two hundred years wondering why it is the hunky elven hunter she met online suddenly doesn’t love her anymore.”
“Well have fun telling her,” Sleepy says.
“Let’s camp here for a bit so I can put some thought into this text. I don’t want to seem callous or uncompassionate.”
Sleepy trots in a short circle and then sits straight down on his ass. Ziv leans back on a tree, his thumbs performing a fast-paced jig across the screen, writing, editing, revising. A few minutes in and the phone buzzes and shuts off.
“Dammit!” Ziv says. “The phone died.”
“Great,” Sleepy says. “You’re going to turn this into a quest, aren’t you?”
“The Thunderhead Meadows are only a couple of miles out of our way, Sleepy. Think of it as less of a quest and more of a quick errand.”
Ziv and Sleepy went from the tavern to the grocer’s to the tailor’s to the alchemist’s looking for a Mariana that was in an online relationship with a hunter named Hank. Those names and the description of Mariana’s pictures from the phone were little to go on, but the Meadows weren’t a metropolis and the elves who lived there all knew one another quite intimately. However, none of them knew of any Mariana in their midst. The duo was just about to give up when a street musician with a holographic violin overheard them talking.
“You guys looking for Mariana?” she says, sawing softly on her particles of light.
“You know her?” Ziv says.
“Mhm. Moved here from Spritesburgh last Fall. Ask for her at the potions shop.”
Ziv and Sleepy made their way to the building. Ziv entered and opened up the front window for Sleepy to stick his head in. A haggish looking woman with wrinkled skin, one eye, and white, stringy hair was brewing something in a cauldron behind the counter.
“What can I do you for, dearies?” she says.
“We’re here to see Mariana,” Ziv says.
The hag stops stirring and stiffens up.
“I’m afraid she’s out for the day,” the hag says.
“Could you tell us where she is? It’s quite urgent,” Ziv says.
The hag puts up her ladle and walks to the counter.
“She’s back home visiting in Spritesburg and will be for some time, I’m afraid. But if you leave your message with me, I’ll be sure she gets it.”
Ziv looks to Sleepy, who snorts and stamps.
“We’ve come to tell her that her boyfriend, Hank, has passed away,” Ziv says.
“What?” the hag says in a small, almost childlike voice.
“An enemy met him in the woods today, and he is no more,” Sleepy says.
“Please tell her we are immensely sorry for her loss,” Ziv says.
The hag grabs her mouth with a shaky hand.
“Was he…was he in pain?” she says.
Ziv’s eyes widen for a moment, and then he puts on a sympathetic smile.
“He didn’t even know it happened.”
The hag begins to weep in silence, her body heaving and great tears dropping from the only occupied socket. Ziv puts a hand on her shoulder.
“Tell Mariana that the last thing he ever saw was a heart emoji,” Ziv says.
“He died with a smile on his face,” Sleepy says.
The hag breaks out into very vocal full-force sobs and runs around the counter. She puts one arm around Sleepy’s head and the other around Ziv’s. The pegacorn rubs against her gently and the mage pats her back, the only consolation they have left to give to a woman bereaved of a charming lover.
Earnest Nadim is a Lebanese American living in West Virginia. He works as an online ESL teacher and spends much of his free time learning the language of his father so that he may one day become a translator. This story is dedicated to his stunning wife, Taylor Elyse, who taught him what a catfish was.