Syphacia ran with her bow up. As she rounded the corner, she sighted down a nocked arrow. The succubus was now in front of her, but where there should have been one, there were six. Syphacia had seen the mirror image spell used before, and knew that the only way to defeat it was through luck and tenacity. She picked an image and fired at it. The shot was true, but the target was false. The succubus stared imperiously down through a swirling mist.
Syphacia felt a hard punch in the small of her back as she drew from her quiver—an enemy arrow launched down on her from above. She ignored the pain as she fired again at the demon.
Mallisun’s thoughts were a shout in her mind, Behind you!
“I know,” she gasped as she fired again. The arrow went wide. The succubus leered.
There was another sharp blow to her back, and then another. The arrows burned where they touched, extinguishing like white-hot pokers drowned in flesh. Syphacia fought to stay on her feet as she reached for another arrow. Behind her she could hear the thundering charge of giants. She heard Redgar praying desperately through an incantation. Razan struggled forward with Aramil’s lifeless body slumped over her shoulder.
Mallisun’s urged desperately, Run!
Syphacia put the arrow to the bowstring. She tried to pull back, but her arm wasn’t working right. There was blood in her eye, she could barely see beyond the bow. Her body seemed so heavy. A burning arrow missed her by inches from her right. Another found a soft spot above her knee.
Mallisun thoughts roared, RUN!
But Syphacia knew it was too late for that.
She said to her bow, “Please…”
Another black arrow pierced her before she could draw. It caught her in the back of the neck and punched through below her chin. Syphacia tasted blood for a moment…
…and the world went dark.
She woke to the rough sandpaper of Mallisun’s tongue. His voice said, “Open your eyes.”
Syphacia did as he asked.
She found herself in the shade of a mighty oak tree, deep within a sprawling forest. She laid curled into Malliusn’s furry side, dressed in light clothes and warm from the noon day sun. There was no pain in her now, no bite of injury or taste of blood. She felt rejuvenated, as if waking from a welcome slumber.
Syphacia sat up slowly, and as the world turned she touched Mallisun on the back of the neck to steady herself. She looked around slowly, asking him, “Where are we?”
“Someplace nice,” he replied.
Syphacia turned to her cat with wide eyes. The response he had given hadn’t been in her mind…it had rumbled up from his throat as if voiced from a throaty roar. She gaped, “You can talk…”
Mallisun didn’t look surprised. As he licked at his paw he said, “I can here.”
Syphacia just stared for a moment. Her mind tumbled with unrecognizable thoughts.
Mallisun closed his eyes and bumped his head lovingly against her. He said above a familiar purr, “This is where we get to play.”
“Where?” she asked.
But suddenly she knew the answer. The thought was terrifying…and yet it didn’t terrify her. It only made her sad. It broke her heart.
She said to him in trembling words, “I tried Mal…I really tried. I did what Ketephys asked. I tried…”
Mallisun rumbled at her side, “I know.”
Syphacia embraced him and felt her tears wetting his fur. She sobbed, “I didn’t want it to end this way…I didn’t…”
He said warmly, “But it hasn’t ended.”
Mallisun drew back from her here, and turned to look off into distance. There, between the trees, a firepelt the size of an elephant prowled on long, slow steps. Beyond the giant cat, other wondrous creatures frolicked among the laden trees, their calls, howls, and roars combining to a song of unimaginable splendor.
The world seemed to open around Syphacia like a wondrous gift. It was almost too beautiful to stand.
Mallisun stood, and then helped Syphacia up with a nuzzle at her side. He said to her, “Let’s go play.”
And Syphacia followed him into a land of dappled sunlight.