Elemix passed out shortly after the battle. His friends dying. But he had ignored Athos’ temptation and chose the girl over himself. When he awoke, he was in a makeshift bed. Emmeline and Typhon were also in bed. The priestess and Leeta could not be seen. Emmeline saw him and walked over. It looked like she had several broken ribs that had been tended to. Poor Typhon was highly bandaged up and very unconscious.

Emmeline welcomed Elemix back awake. She explained that the priestess was now free and she had told Emmeline her story. Her name Mother Phair and she was a Valara of Ilmarah; the last of a long line of priestesses of her tribe, the Najaree. It seems that Skall had used Phair’s love a Najaree tribal prince to manipulate her many years ago, putting her into power power her tribe. In later years he came again after she and hers (including Ixian and Hudmeel) were overthrown and manipulated her to grasp for more power – a ploy somehow related to Skall’s ultimate revenge against the Duke and the aftermath. Emmeline hinted that despite all of this, Phair was remorseful and had a plan to recover the blessings of her goddess, save Leeta, and perhaps more.

The priestess came in. She was a matronly beauty, perhaps a fifteen years or more older than Elemix. She spoke in a voice sweet as honey but cold…,

“Thank you Elemix. Your dreams connected to mine and you did not kill me but freed me from Skall’s master’s shackles. It is as if a great weight has been lifted from me. My power is lesser now, but I feel better for it. I have been in this holy place, slowly defiling it with human sacrifice in my goddess’ name, but with the hatred driven by what Skall did to me, what my lover did to me, what the Unnamed one did to me. I fear it is too late for most those I killed. It is also too late as I already brought Skall back from the depths of the Syvvys and he walks once more in anger in this world. That is the last time I will be used by him. For over a decade I have been under the charms he placed on me, but it is my fault and my ambition that fed those shackles. It was my one last ambition that fed my beloved – who betrayed me, to the Temple of Hate six months ago. Regardless, in a short time, the girl there will turn into an abomination. That too is my fault – in a way. For she was once Skall’s apprentice when he walked under the name Master Trahir, the alias I knew of him when I first met him. I have much to correct and little time to do it. Emmeline, perhaps you can explain better than I?”

Em nodded. “I will try. Phair proposes merging her life with Leeta’s. The intent is to change Leeta’s destiny so the change does not overcome her. Phair would have to give up her life to do so, and therefore this has to be Phair’s decision and Leeta’s, alone. This is also Leeta’s last chance. Her birthday is only a few days away.

“Phair is faced with half a lifetime of wrongs she did to people, thanks to Skall’s manipulations, deceptions, and Phair’s own willingness to believe him and desire for power. But Ilmara has never given up on Phair. Never turned away. And now she is free of the terrible geas, she sees that. Because of her past crimes, Phair can’t return to her home. They all remain without a priestess.

“But all these things can be mended. If Leeta accepts Phair’s gift, then she will go to Phair’s village to become their new priestess. It’s a chance for both of them in a sense, to give back. I believe Phair would like to start with Hudmeel, raising him back. Then she will sacrifice herself to save Leeta, just as Elemix saved her. Leeta will return to Phair’s village to become the new priestess. The circle is complete and things are returned as they should be.”

Phair added, “Unfortunately I may not be able to raise Hudmeel until it is done. Leeta’s choices are stark but it is what it is. Once it is done I do not know how much of Leeta will be me. I do know that Leeta’s parents have long lost a child and that child must be avenged – though in truth some of her memories may remain with Leeta. I also know that Skallagrim lives still. Poor Hudmeel set off his traps and barely escaped with his life, until I killed him. Skallagrim will know his magics are broken. He will never return here. His library is yours, take it. I know he has another one and a new face as well, or so he said. trust no one.”

She then said, “I do not even know for certain if the goddess will answer. I just know there is no other choice.”

Elemix listened intently and nodded. “That seems to be a sound plan.” Then he recalled something.

“What of Ixian? We need to help him if it isn’t too late.”

“The Old Men may turn over his body, if they killed him. If he lives, we may yet be able to help, but it is evening and cold.” She answered.

“And,” Em added, “we have lost our tracker. We may never find them due to the storm, or worse we could get lost.”

Phair asked, “lost your tracker? Ixian?”

“Well Ixian, but also we had another person with us, a young lady who is really good at getting us through the wilderness. She was called away,” Emmeline explained.

“Can you call her back?” she replied.

Emmeline shook her head. “I wouldn’t do that, if I even could. What she is doing is very important, too. As you would serve your goddess, I would serve my mistress as well. And Renee serves her now to fulfill a promise she made. What Renee does now serves my mistress’s goals and therefore also mine.”

Phair nodded, “and so it shall be. I do not know if my call to the goddess will even be answered. I do not know if she will grant my wish. I do not want to die, but if that is my penance, so be it. If it saves an innocent, so be it. But…I don’t know if it will work.”

“You must have faith that she will listen,” replied Elemix.

“I have different beliefs than you, but my faith tells me that sacrificing oneself to save another is perhaps the greatest measure of faith one who is mortal can display. If you are true in your beliefs and your intentions, I have to believe that actions like that would be noticed by any god.”

Elemix realized that Emmiline might be surprised by such comments coming from Elemix. And while he would admit he wasn’t the most openly religious person, Elemix had a strong core belief in Aurith and her benevolent nature. That much had been firmly instilled in him by his parents. He had thought about his own religion a lot recently – especially since he made the decision about the girl. He had been in a kind of moral quandary. It was his strong faith, he finally realized that had put him in that quandary in the first place, and he took a measure of comfort from that realization.

Phair said, “very well then. I will take the girl for a walk. We will be gone all day. We we return, you will know our mind. Do any of you have any objections?”

Emmeline shook her head. “None.”

Elemix had no objections either.

Phair nodded and silently left. Elemix could discern she was talking to the young Leeta. Emmeline could hear too, after a fashion. Within a few minutes they had put on their winter clothes and they departed the temple area. If they returned…if they were a success at all, they party would only know in a day or two. Meanwhile they had to wait…

Epilog – Temple of Ilmara
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