When Syphacia had been a child in the Mirenai forest, she had once come across a baby squirrel that had fallen out of its nest. Instinctively, she had brought the tiny animal back to the house and had sought to feed and nurse it until it was well enough to return to the trees.
Syphacia found this task was greatly complicated by her mother’s cat, a fiesty tom by the name of Cayden. The cat was always around when the squirrel was out, always climbing and staring from as close as she would allow. And though Cayden never made an overt move after Syphacia’s squirrel, he never shied from eyeing it greedily, as if saying with his purr, “Oh yes, it will be mine.”
This was similar, but far weirder. For one, she could literally feel Mallisun’s thoughts in the back of his animal mind as he wondered what hedgehog would taste like. For another, the hedgehog was actually Aramil.
Syphacia had placed Aramil in one of the smaller cages from the Sorcerer’s experimentation room, one of only a few that had not been seared badly during the battle with him. As a hedgehog, Aramil had seemed quite scared at first, but through a long routine of cooing, petting, and gentle words, Syphacia had calmed him to a state of mild anxiety. The little beast’s spines were still partially stood up, no doubt meant as a warning to a certain staring firepelt.
Syphacia looked her cat squarely in the eyes, “Mal…stop it.”
Mallisun seemed disinclined to look away from the hedgehog. He thought, Let it out.
“No,” she answered firmly.
Mallisun glanced up at his master, We’ll play.
“No you won’t,” she said in reply, “No, you’re going to sit right there and be a good cat…for once.”
Mallisun settled back on his haunches, I’m good.
“I know what you’re thinking Mal.”
The big cat looked away, pretending to be distracted by something, No.
Syphacia smiled and rubbed between the firepelt’s ears, “Yes I do, so stop it.”
Mallisun let out a low a rumbling purr.
“You wouldn’t like hedgehog anyway,” she added, “It’s probably like eating thistle.”
Elsewhere in the room her allies were trying to find someplace comfortable to bed down for the ‘night’. Redgar was sorting through charred furniture for something worth sitting on, while Coram dug in his bag for a flask to drink. Razan had slumped in one corner, still bloody from the battle that had come before. Masud was on watch—not that there was much to watch. The halls around them were eerily quiet, save for the trickling sound of water from the runeforge’s animated fountains.
Syphacia’s task while they waited was to watch Aramil. As a hedgehog he had lost his human identity—and left to his own devices he would almost certainly flee to some hidden corner to live a hedgehog’s life. Redgar had indicated that he could restore Aramil to his former self, but that he needed time to memorize the spell. Until then, Aramil was trapped as a tiny, prickly mammal.
He had never been so cute.
Syphacia was not embarrassed by the feeling, but she hesitated to act on it. Redgar could not verify how much Aramil would or would not remember when he was restored, so Syphacia fought the urge to cuddle him against her bosom. As a hedgehog he was a little ugly, but it was a cute-ugly, the kind of ugly that was adorable on accident. She wouldn’t have minded waiting a few days to restore him.
She imagined that Aramil might.
So, with a sigh, she settled back against the wall with Aramil at her side. She touched him through the bars of the cage, and felt his tiny teeth as he nibbled at the tips of her fingers. She laughed a little.
Mallisun sent a note of jealousy over their mental link.
She reached for the cat with her other hand, “It’s alright Mal, you know you’re my favorite.”
He leaned into her, I know.
“Now lay down,” she told him, “You need your nap.”
Mallisun lay against her, snuggled close, and fell to sleep beneath the gentle strokes of her hand.