Syphacia stood perfectly still in front of the ruined building, purposely slowing her heart and calming her breaths. Her eyes closed, and for a moment the world was gone.
Then, sound by sound, an image of her surroundings returned. A smoldering fire crackled in the rubble on her right. Men shouted and heaved as they dragged buckets of water up from the docks. A horse whinnied as its owner coaxed it with a whip to pull away a felled beam from another ruin. Every sound cast a thousand echoes, and every echo built puzzle pieces into a sightless picture. Syphacia turned these extraneous noises away to interrogate the ruins before her. She focused her senses and…
A voice spoke from beside her, “Can you hear anything?”
She pursed her lips with frustration, “Not without silence.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Quiet,” Syphacia growled. Beside her, Mallisun echoed her tone with his own deep voice.
Syphacia scolded the cat over their mental link, That goes for you too.
Mallisun swallowed the rumble in his throat.
Syphacia settled her breaths again, focused…
…and heard it—a whisper of a human voice. Her eyes snapped open. She strode confidently into the rubble.
The wreckage of the house beneath her had been felled by a boulder tossed through the upper floor. The stone had splintered the main support beneath the roof, and without it the structure had folded in on itself like a house of cards. The man beside her had told Syphacia that there were two children on the upper floor when the building fell. It could have been a child’s voice that she has heard.
Sypahcia knelt amidst the splintered pinewood framing and put one ear down to the ruin. She listened, she waited, until the voice returned. It was closer now. She turned to the gathered crowd.
The men and women of Sandpoint came forward eagerly to help, hoisting shovels and prybars to move the rubble aside. Syphacia directed them as they pulled the structure apart, lifting and pulling herself where it would help. Mallisun returned to her side to assist as best he could, sometimes slinking in beneath a fallen plank or door to lift it across his back. With all of their efforts together the ruins of the collapsed building quickly peeled back like an opening flower.
As a team of men lifted what remained of the attic trestle, Syphacia slipped underneath to where she had heard the child’s voice. She found a gray-faced boy there, his legs trapped beneath the weight of a crushed armoire.
The boy’s eyes remained unfocused as she said softly, “It’s okay now.”
There were tears at the boy’s eyes and blood at his mouth. He couldn’t seem to find words to reply to her.
The attic framing was thrown away with a final heave, and others joined her at the boy’s side. Syphacia directed them to lift the armoire away, adding, “Do it slowly, he’s pinned beneath it.”
Two men, a woman, and Mallisun moved together to lift the broken cabinet. As the pressure let up from the boy’s legs, he began to scream. Syphacia was quick to comfort him, saying, “It’s alright, it’s alright. I know it hurts. Drink this.”
Syphacia produced an elegant crystal flask from a pouch at her hip and poured it carefully between the boy’s lips. The ice blue liquid glittered as a trickle leaked from the corner of his mouth, cleaning the blood and grime away where it touched. The magic liquid had similar effects inside of him, and within moments the bones in his legs were repairing themselves before her eyes.
A woman with dirt and tears at her cheeks pushed Syphacia aside to embrace the boy, her breaths choking in her throat as she pulled him tight into her bosom. Syphacia stood back to let them embrace, her chin puckering slightly as she fought to control her expression. It had been a long day, and even Syphacia was beginning to feel the emotional burden of the battle’s toll.
A worry-eyed man came to face her, “What about the other boy, Jason? Where is he?”
Syphacia shook her head, “I didn’t hear him.”
“He was in the house,” the man insisted.
“I didn’t hear him,” Syphacia repeated somberly.
The woman was wailing now as she held her injured son. Her cries crescendoed and fell like notes of a piercing symphony.
The stricken man looked to the others around him, “Keep digging, he must be here. He was upstairs when the boulder hit. He was—”
Mallisun’s voice was a dull throb in the back of Syphacia’s mind, He’s here.
She turned, and saw Mallisun pawing at the side of a felled beam. Syphacia rushed to join him, and soon there were four others helping her to lift the obstruction away.
They found Jason’s tiny body crushed beneath it.
The boy’s father collapsed to weep. A second man fell to join him and a third moved up to stand by their sides. Syphcia stepped away as their despair manifested in seething marches of bitter tears.
She walked away with her eyes downcast, past a gaggle of villagers trying to right an overturned ox cart. The six of them together did not have the strength of the Giant that had overturned it. It was no wonder that the town’s defenses had folded so easily, and no surprise that so many had lost their lives in the chaos that followed. Syphacia had heard that the town’s sheriff was counted among the dead. She was sad for that—he had been one of the more sensible of them.
Ahead of her the roads came together, and what remained of Sandpoint’s temple stood charred and broken against the azure sky. The red dragon’s fire had burned away the building’s roof, leaving the stone walls to stand alone with nothing but cinders within.
In the yard before the temple were dozens of bodies covered with plain white sheets. Soon the child they had found would be among them, waiting for burial and internment behind the ruin. Syphacia wondered vacantly if there would be enough room in the town’s tiny cemetery—the same cemetery where her friend Emmalyn had been laid to rest. She wondered if Emmalyn’s spirit would be weeping this day.
She turned from this miserable thought, and found herself facing something even more abhorrent to her. They were the bodies of two dire bears and a great wolf, warbeasts brought by the Giants to aid in their attack. All three had been charred by magical fire, and then had been crushed and maimed by the combined attacks of her allies. All had arrows standing out from their battered hides— her arrows. Syphacia made herself go closer to retrieve them.
She drew out the arrows with a practiced hand, grasping close to the wound to keep the arrowheads from slipping off in the flesh. As she pulled the arrow points free, the beasts’ blood stained her hands an ominous crimson, and tainted her clothes with the smell of death. Usually she had no need to be so close. Not this day.
“They died for nothing,” Syphacia said aloud, her tone brittle and sharp.
They died for their masters, Mallisun countered.
This brought a scowl to Syphacia’s lips, “Only a fiend would send an animal to die in their place.”
But I would die for you.
Syphacia looked down at the cat. The firepelt’s golden eyes were wide with concern. His tail swished to and fro with fast, nervous jerks.
Her expression softened, “You know I would never ask that of you.”
You won’t have to.
Syphacia knelt down to Mallisun and touched his chin with one slender hand. Her voice became firm, “Mallisun, if I ever fall in battle, you are to run. You are to escape. You will not die for me. Do you understand?”
The firepelt’s thought tingled with defiance, I will die as I like.
“You will do as I say Mallisun,” Syphacia ordered sternly.
Syphacia pursed her lips. She wanted to be furious with the cat, but she couldn’t find her anger. Through their link she could feel his fear for her, his concern, his desire to protect—all the stubborn emotions that came from deep love. In this, Mallisun’s thoughts were perfect mirrors for her own feelings. She knew then that neither of them would ever give in.
Syphacia cursed softly as she reached out to scratch at his neck. She shook her head in surrender, “Cats…”
He bumped against her with the crown of his furry head, Elves…
Syphacia stood, and again surveyed the death and destruction that had come to Sandpoint. She said resolutely, “Mal, I swear we’ll punish the ones who did this.”
Yes we will, Mallisun agreed.