“So… this is the little waif that all the excitement is about?” The old woman was so wrinkled that only her eyes were barely visible, shining as beads of obsidian in her face.
Callindra was surprised, but hadn’t expected civility from this or anyone here by now. Even their holy woman had no reason to treat her with respect… she wasn’t sure that she deserved it herself. “I suppose I am.” She said, wondering why the Maalrah didn’t have the same accent the rest of her people did. When she spoke, the other woman’s eyebrows raised in surprise.
“Well, let me see that palm and perhaps we can get to the bottom of things then.”
Callindra removed her glove and held her hand out. The Maalrah took it in her own and frowned, “It’s like a child’s hand. This skin is new…”
While she knew she hadn’t been used to hard labor and wasn’t ashamed it, Callindra could tell this wasn’t the normal abuse she’d been enduring before the battle. This woman was actually saying she was younger than she appeared.
“I only have memories of the last three or four weeks.”
“So they tell me.” The woman grumbled, “That appears about right.”
“However, it should be quite apparent that I am substantially older than that.” Callindra said.
Ignoring her, the crone leaned closer, “I can see three seperate lifelines. One is so jagged that it is clear you nearly died dozens of times. Once when you were no more than a girl. What a reckless thing you must have been. Yes, it’s clear that without the protection of your God and his siblings you would be quite dead.”
“How can you see all that from my palm?” Callindra asked, surprise and skepticism fighting for dominance.
“Hush, it’s hard to concentrate with distractions.” The Maalrah retorted, “But there is a darkness that follows you. Has always followed you. One by one those who are close to you fall to this darkness. Here it even becomes too much for your spirit and you fall.” She pointed to a faint line where it came to an end.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Callindra asked, “You mean that I…”
“I mean that you killed yourself.” The crone said bluntly, “Now, through the power of your God, you are once again saved. This time, the line comes back stronger. You have conviction and drive. There aren’t any side branches, no deaths close to you and you begin to repay the Gods for their numerous gifts to you.
“There is still something missing though. You have the will to persevere, but somehow you lack the power to survive, in spite of the fact that you carry it with you. Again, you die, but this time you die fighting, spitting in the eye of your enemy.
“The vessel is destroyed, leaving only the power. You shine with power and these Isles tremble at your coming.” The Maalrah’s voice grew troubled, “However, the will and drive seems to be lessened now. Where once there was focus, now there is distraction and the darkness crowds closer than ever before.”
“What, may I ask is that supposed to mean?” Callindra asked, “That I don’t care for my people? That I cannot focus on helping them?”
The crone looked up at her with one eyebrow raised, “Nae lassie.” She said, the Isles accent finally coming out, “Ah mean tha yeh care a bit much. Ere yeh ha a choice, yeh see?”
“No, I don’t see.” She was starting to doubt this woman’s so-called powers and her irritation began to creep through into her voice.
“Righ’ ere.” A gnarled finger jabbed her palm at a point near the bottom of her palm where the line split. One way branched into a forest of lines that spread past her wrist. The other ended in a slight dimple. “In one life, yeh ha a family. Mor children than stars n th sky.”
Callindra’s beat a touch faster in spite of her skepticism, “And in what of the other?”
The Maalrah shrugged. “In th other yeh save th world.”
“WHAT?” Callindra was astonished, “You expect me to believe that I have died twice, that my family and friends died all around me because of some ‘darkness’ and that after all that I have to choose between happiness and the fate of the world?” The wind picked up outside, rattling the shutters.
“I’m supposed to believe that this power is a gift from the Gods? That I’m some champion of divine righteousness?” She demanded, “I have seen what this power does. I am a MONSTER, not a hero, and I am certainly not the savior of the world!”
“I see what I see.” The old woman said, her accent gone as though blown away by the wind. “You aren’t the first to doubt me. Since you are having a hard time believing me, I will use the bones. They may tell me more.”
She thrust a roughly stitched leather sack at Callindra, “Pick one. The one that feels right in your hand.” When the girl took it, she turned to the hearth. There was no peat laid down to burn, but at the wave of her hand a fire burst to life within.
Callindra’s brow knitted in confusion when she reached a hand into the sack. It was much larger on the inside than on the outside, and there was quite the wide variety of bones to choose from. Finally, she found one that was smooth and felt like it fit into her hand. When she pulled it from the bag, it fell from her hand in shock. It was a femur, and she was fairly certain it had come from a human leg.
Not wishing to appear as squeamish as she felt, Callindra quickly retrieved the bone and handed it to the Maalrah. “Here.”
“Interesting choice.” She said, and threw it on the fire, “Once it begins to crack I will be able to read the greatest event or events in your life. The deeper the cracks, the more violent and terrible your life shall be. I will also be able to read something important in the marrow that is revealed.”
Callindra leaned forward with interest just as the bone exploded into shrapnel that flew apart with enough force that the arcane flames the crone had summoned were extinguished. One of the fragments cut a delicate line under Callindra’s right eye.
“Never have I seen such a ting.” The Maalrah whispered, “There must be something else at work here. Some other power that wishes your future to remain in shadow.”
“Or maybe when you throw a bone on magic fire it explodes?” Callindra said acidly, “I could have lost an eye!”
“You could see the flames?” The other woman asked in surprise.
“Of course I could see the flames! There is nothing wrong with my eyes.”
“Weel lass. Tha’s mos interestin ain’t it?” She said, “Ah dinne ken nother wha’s seen th fire.”
“What is with your voice changing all the time anyway?” It was a rude question, but Callindra was frustrated and frightened by her near miss.
“When I speak in my native tongue, I do not have an accent. This is my first spoken language.” The things that came from her mouth weren’t words. They were the sigh of a gentle ocean breeze, the whoosh of a gusting wind, the sound of a stiff clipper through a forest. “What I would like to know is who taught you Auran?”
The Maalrah took her head in a surprisingly strong grip and stared into her eyes. “Ahhhh…. it becomes more clear to me now. You claimed to be a monster. As a matter of fact you aren’t entirely wrong. While I would say ‘monster’ might be a touch harsh, you certainly are not human.”
“I beg your pardon?”
The crone counted things off on her fingers, “You have strange powers, the wind changes at your whim, you speak the language of the Elementals of Air and you can silence a room or create a thunderclap of destruction.”
“Who told you about that?” Callindra whispered.
“You must learn to control yourself. Once you understand your powers, you will begin to master them.” She smiled mysteriously, “I have a feeling that there may be a more that have not manifested themselves yet.”
Callindra couldn’t stand listening to this old hag spelling out her supposed responsibilities, powers and future. What could she possibly know? She opened her mouth to say as much, but the Maalrah spoke first.
“Even now, you are reacting to the storm that is brewing off the Sword Coast. I have learned to control myself, but I can still feel the pull of Njordi when he is in a rage.”
Now that she paused to consider it, these bursts of temper were not like her at all. Callindra took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling the tension drain from her like sand through her fingers. With it, went the anger that had been seething in her breast.
“Very good. Whomever your teacher was, she trained you well. Of course you don’t remember her, or her instruction but some things are too ingrained to be forgotten, even when all else has gone. Even after the body has died.”
Callindra still didn’t like the woman, however she could respect her and now understood that she needed her help. The Maalrah had knowledge that she felt would be essential to her survival. “I do not remember her. Can you help me?”
“No.” The crone said shortly, “Without knowing how you were trained before anything I could show you would likely put both our lives in danger. Most of us have a focus… I can suggest learning any sort of martial skill you can. When you condition your body, you condition your mind.”
“How do you know about this?” Callindra asked, “Why do you have similar… abilities?”
“Because.” Said the Maalrah, her voice dropping to a whisper, “I am not precisely human either.”