"... why would I do that?..." The Grandmother's words echoed back and forth in my mind. My first impulse, born out of anger, was quickly squashed by the memory of the Schandmaul and the casual threat of a soul-trap the last time I had been here. I forced my gritted teeth to relax so I could ask in an almost normal tone, "You promised us your help. If you are not going to heal Sigmir, I assume you have planned something else?"
She looked at me with a piercing stare, almost a glare but I held it. She had promised help and I wanted her to keep her promise. If she didn't heal Sigmir, we had wasted two months on her stupid, senseless tasks. I felt a pressure building in my mind, at first simply pressure, then more like a migraine.
Lenore squawked in my mind "Break her gaze. Break her gaze or she might break your soul!"
I felt stubborn. Yes, she could kill me. What else was new? If she wanted to pressure me into declining her help or saying that the tasks had helped us grow and the growth was her help to us, she could take a long walk off a short pier.
After what felt like hours, but it could not have been more than a minute, I felt a wetness trickle down my face. At first, only from my nose, then also down my cheeks. The pain was excruciating, but I felt a need to endure, to not let her break my resolve. If she wanted out of this, she would have to kill me. Slowly, the edges of my sight turned dark, and everything got blurry. I would not fail. Not in this. Not for Sigmir.
Suddenly, the pressure was gone, I felt a light-headedness and almost fell but luckily, Sigmir was next to me and I managed to hold onto her arm, using her presence to steady me. She looked down to me and her face turned pale.
“By the Ancestors, what happened?!” she exclaimed and stroked softly over my face. When I saw her hand retread, it was bloody. She turned to the Grandmother and her aura flared in a deep red.
“Don't”, I managed to gasp out and held onto her arm, both to hold her back and to hold myself up. Tense seconds passed until Sigmir's aura faded away.
Finally, the Grandmother smiled and said, “Very well. You passed my tests. I know, at this moment, you probably hate me and are filled with anger. But let me explain.”
With that she gestured to a sofa before seating herself. “When the gods decided that Traveller's would be allowed to venture to Mundus, I was intrigued. Why would the gods do that? What was in it for them? I'm a naturally curious being, so I searched for answers but none were forthcoming. I used my divination, trying to read the future, but I was unable to do so - I can observe Travellers in the present, I can scry their actions in the past, but their future? I can't even divine general tidings.
So I decided that if I meet Travellers, I would test them a little and depending on the results I would act. You are the first Traveller I met and I like what I see. I observed quite a few others but none are like you. You are like a diamond in the rough, brilliant magical affinities, an almost untainted but strong heart, loyalty to those you deem important, the self-control to keep yourself in check, even if you want nothing more than act, mental strength, cunning, ruthlessness and, maybe most important, a nice dose of luck. Or maybe it's destiny, I don't know.” she leaned back in her seat, before continuing.
“I promised you my help and yes, what I did before was another test. But there's a reason why I won't heal your friend. First, I should explain a little about magic and spirits.
Saying that 'Magic' is a complex and unending topic, is an understatement. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of traditions out there, each with different beliefs and abilities. Of course, there are main-streams: Druidism, worshipping Nature and the natural Cycle of Existence, Shamanism, worshipping spirits, either those of their Ancestors or natural spirits, the various wizard-schools - all with their specific blend. The one who placed the malediction was a shaman, worshipping the spirits. But not just any spirits, he communed with the spirits of hunger - some call them Nethersprites but in reality, they are just spirits associated with hunger, death and consumption. In a way, they are the anti-thesis of life, they want to consume it without leaving anything behind for the natural cycle. They are attracted to the teeming life of Mundus, actively trying to gain entrance into our world, wherever they can. Other spirits only come if called or if you are at a place that teems with their blend of Astral Power, like an untamed nexus.
Now, what he did to you is as vile as it is genius. He bound a Nethersprite to something you consumed, I'd guess something to eat and due to the fact that you took food from a trusted hand, part of your inherent resistance was circumvented and allowed the sprite to act within you. By the act of eating it, it came into contact with your soul and as it was a spirit of hunger and you, in part, used it to sate you, it had an easy opening. Due to that bond, it was able to draw in strength from you to sate itself and as it is partially part of you, it was not an external threat you would actively resist, it was just part of you. Something like that can't kill you, it will just weaken you until you are weak as a child.” she stopped abruptly and I saw that Sigmir's aura was once more glowing red and her eyes had a wild look in them. To snap her out of it, I straddled her lap and pulled her into a hug. She was shaking in rage but after a moment, she calmed, gave me a kiss and turned me on her lap so I sat sideways, allowing me to look at the Grandmother again and started speaking.
“Yes, I guess you are right. They never wanted to kill me, did they? They just wanted to use me as a broodmare, strengthening their own bloodline.”
The Grandmother nodded and continued. “That makes sense. Someone with the ability to bind a Nehtersprite like that has probably also the skills to kill. But I wanted to explain why it would not be a good idea if I do the healing. As I explained, the Nethersprite is bound to you. To attack it, you need to be in a position of openness; either you need to fully trust the one doing the casting, or you need to be unaware of it - in deep sleep or coma, for example - and in a vulnerable mind-set.
You don't trust me, and it would be foolish of you to do so. I could destroy the Nethersprite using brute force to gain entrance to the sanctum of you soul but doing so has a good chance of killing you in the process. It’s no solution for your problem.
But you trust Morgana here, don't you? I was able to seal the Malediction within you because she had clumsily done something similar, trying to freeze it but not very successful. It would be best if she did the healing but sadly she lacks the knowledge to do so.
And now we come back to the start of our conversation. You asked me, what form my help would take, didn't you?
You did three tasks for me and I will do three things for you. The first is simple, I will give you guidance about the ritual to heal your friend. The second is more interesting. I will gift you an old book of mine. Some would call it a Book of Shadows, other's a grimoire. What you call it doesn't matter, it contains quite a few interesting and useful magical rituals. I hope you can use it as inspiration but not as a guideline. As I said before, Magic is far too complex to use something so simple as a guideline.” She stood and looked down on me.
“And the third thing might be the most important. I will give you guidance, not guidance on your path but guidance about navigating the currents of the Astral River. Not a course for you to follow but tools and information to find your own path.” she spoke with an aura of grandeur around her.
I was a little overwhelmed. What she said about the malediction made sense, in a way. It also explained a few things I had wondered about - but the offer to teach me? My mind was truly blown.
I stood and looked into her eyes. “I would be honoured to receive your guidance, Grandmother.”