The Temple of the Three was an ancient place. Once it had been dedicated to old gods long forgotten, but in days past, the ruin was repaired by the Winter Sisters, a group of cloistered retired priestesses of the Three (the Dreigeist, Gond, Krag, and Ilmar). It was a holy place, where the Valan were selected and the Priestesses trained in the ways of the gods.
It was here that the party brought Vala Mathildë, who inspired by whim of Gond, the fate of Krag, and the rule of Ilmar, asked the Priestesses to switch her fate and that of the young Thora, sister of Typhon Ni. And so it was done, and for a short time sister and brother were reunited.
But on the other side, Mathildë was found out, and the spell was broken. Thora disappeared, and in her place was bloodied, murdered Mathildë, he face scarred, and her right hand – the sign of her dedication to the Bear spirt, blessed of the Dreigeist – was severed and missing.
The party, feeling responsible to her for her gift to Typhon, set about to reverse this fate. First Elemix endeavored to find out if there was a local source for a diamond that would allow for a spell of resurrection. His first results bore no fruit.
Second, Emmeline called on Mara to help. While Mara could not raise Mathildë, she could inhabit Emmeline, cut off her own hand, and gift that (and healing to Emmeline). This would bind Mathildë to Mara/Emmeline in some fashion and her connection to the Three may be severed. It was not known by the priests if the Dreigeist would even allow it, but it could be her only hope.
Third, Typhon, who suffered joy and sadness due to Thora’s appearance and loss, took to a sweat lodge to seek a vision from the Bear Spirit itself. The impression was that as the bear was within Typhon, that should she offer her hand, that may tie Mathildë back to the bear. But, as Typhon’s visions are uncertain, no one knows if this would work.
The priests, believe through divination that any and all would have a result of Mathildë living. They believe that there is a diamond as well that could be found less than a day’s journey. It lies within an old ruin in the high crags, guarded by some beast, one that is thought to be highly dangerous.
The priests say that Gond blesses the fey solution, Krag blesses the beast solution, and Illmar the bear solution. The do not offer details, but a Vala named Gretchen stays behind while the party discusses.
Gretchen says, “our sister is dead. She lies back there. In her soul is the untapped soul of all her predecessors. Should she die forever, then that knowledge is lost. We are fully prepared to raise her, and you all wish to give of yourselves to help this woman you bared know. I am here to answer your questions, sit over her rebirth should you succeed, or provide for her reincarnation should you fail.”
Emmeline wondered if the god, Ilmar, was extra special because it had more syllables than the other two gods. She shook her head, realizing she was trying to distract herself from the matter at hand.
Hand, she reflected. That was funny!
She had to focus. She really, really did not relish having her hand chopped off. It was a huge risk. But at the same time, Matilde took a huge risk for a stranger, too. And Mara said it would be okay. She trusted Mara more than she even trusted herself.
Em was also pretty sure they were on the clock here. After a certain point, it might be even more difficult or even impossible to bring Matilde back. She cleared her throat. It was time to speak up.
“I think you should take my hand. It will not affect my ability with magic. My mothers will help me deal with the loss, too. Our mission can continue. If Tiffanie loses her hand, she loses the ability to wield her weapon and that will have tragic consequences for our mission. I understand that it should somehow regenerate, but I also understand terrible things can happen. Sometimes what we expect is not what happens, especially if it is not the will of the gods. I don’t know Tiffanie’s bear spirit, but I think it’s fair to say we can’t truly know for certain if it will let Tiffanie’s hand grow back.
“As far as seeking the diamond, I think that is a bigger risk than me losing a hand. These are dangerous lands and we could all lose our lives. And then Matilde would still not be whole. Or it might take us too long and Matilde would not be able to be raised in this way after all.”
Emmeline looked around at her friends as well as the priests. Her face was serious. She understood the risk she was taking, but she wanted to do it anyway.
Elemix shook his head. He knew Emmiline would be willing. She had a big heart. “Emmiline, I don’t think we should sacrifice your limb. I understand your willingness to do so, but if there is another way, we should en-devour to try it.
We should all keep in mind that she made this sacrifice willingly. It would up costing her life, but she knew the risks. I don’t say this to be heartless, as I feel for her loss as much as any of you. I say this because she was a priest and her wishes should be given the respect they deserve. She made a great sacrifice because she believed it was worthwhile to do so. I think we should respect her wishes on this matter.
If instead this group decides bringing her back is necessary, than I believe seeking the diamond to be our best option. Yes it is guarded, but at least we would have all of our faculties, skills, experience to bring to bear on the problem. I am confident we can overcome such a challenge if we work together.
Besides, you will no doubt need all of your limbs working for you in the weeks ahead. We all will.
If it is near by as they have said, we must be quick but we should be able to get there and back in time.”
“I get what you’re saying, El,” Emmeline said. “If I was in your position, I’d say the same thing. It’s just this one thing that really makes me feel we are personally responsible. That is, I am not sure at all she knew she’d be savaged like this. It’s one thing to risk your life, but they took time and really tortured her. The level of viciousness here is beyond the pale. They didn’t just kill her, El. They humiliated her, tortured her, took away the thing that made her special, the gutted her to let her die slow. That’s a far bigger sacrifice than just a life — which was already a huge sacrifice just to give a stranger one hour with her sister.”
The horror and sorrow on Emmeline’s face was stark. “Be honest here. Do you really think this has been a fair trade? That Matilde’s sacrifice and horrendous suffering was in any way equal to whatever the city felt Tiffanie contributed to their defense? River? Do you think what happened was fair to her?”
“No it was not,” replied River, answering Emmeline. “In fact you’ll note that the priestesses stumbled over themselves trying to explain it. They could not answer if it was permanent, they tried and lied, and frankly they were not expecting her to disappear and were too proud to tell us. This has been bothering me all along, something is not right with this beyond the horror we witnessed and it is just now clicking. Matildë wasn’t trying to literally switch places – that was beyond her power or her other priests. Think about it! If they could do such a thing, could they not have switched with Emmeline when she was a hostage? And how could they have even known where Thora was? Was that even Thora we saw. No my friends, something wicked is messing with us, and Matildë is the innocent victim. But Emmeline, if you do this, you’ll be drawn into whatever did this’ plans. We should save her, if we can, but personally I’d rather brave the creature in mountainside.”
“I am not saying what happened wasn’t horrible,” replied Elemix. “She couldn’t have known what would happen to her when she switched places. My point is that due to her beliefs, if asked would she do it again, I think she would.
That being said, I am not opposed to seeking out this diamond to bring her back.”
“We should of course do what we can, but did you miss what I’m saying – she didn’t expect to actually switch, I’m sure of it. There is so much more going on here.” added River. “I’m fairly sure she wouldn’t do it again, given that. She’d find another way.”
“We are already drawn into this person’s plans,” Emmeline murmured. “I doubt this is coincidence. River has a very good point. Whatever is doing this has power beyond that of any mortal I have ever heard of. And the things that attacked me back in Estrasia? At least one of them was really, really bad. I don’t know if it’s connected, but whatever the case may be we at least know powerful things are watching us.
“Well,” she said more forcefully, “if I’m outvoted then fine, we’ll risk everyone’s life. But the moment the risk becomes too great, we’re turning around and marching straight back here to do it my way. *If* I’m outvoted. Tiffanie? Ricimer? Do we let them take my hand, which both the priests and Mara promise will regrow, or do we march off in search of this diamond?”
Ricimer was surprised his opinion was asked. “I don’t know who this Mara is, but I wouldn’t trust a priest of a god or gods I didn’t worship. I trust my weapon only. Steel is the only arbiter of destiny that matters. You girl (looking at Emmeline) are driven by your emotions. You care, and that is your weakness. I don’t care at all. I’m paid to protect you all, that is my job. With that in mind, this is my advice – let her die.
“Or, if you must help her out of some obligation or an opportunity for an ally I suppose, do so in a way we all can help and we all profit – that means if we do this, we do this together and share all the risks and all the spoils. Think about it. Sacrifice of a limb for you or ‘Tiffanie’ will make protecting you all the more of a pain. You won’t be able to climb the rough terrain ahead, you won’t be able to multi-task, and you won’t be able to do a lot of things. That is not in my interest. On ‘Bob’s’ idea, the priests here have done half the work, they found what we need. I seriously doubt that only this diamond is there, so from my point of view, that action serves a greater chance for profit that we can share. And if it works, you get an ally.”
Emmeline sighed. “All right, that’s at least three out of five for going and looking for this diamond. We need to find out from the priests how long we have before they can no longer perform this ritual to raise Matilde.”
Talking to Vala Gretchen, she says, “Matildë lies in state. We have some time given the miracle in question. We could raise her now without her limb. If we had the limb, we could reattach that, but we do not. That is the problem. Since it is a powerful calling to the Dreigeist, we have until the full moon, some 19 days from now.”
“Please give us until the full moon. I would like to see her returned whole,” Emmeline said. “We’ll seek what you need.”
“The message has gone out to Vala Hildegarde who must conduct the ceremony. She will be here, then,” Vala Gretchen replied. “The creature lives on a spur of the holy mountain. What it is exactly we do not know; however, you should know we espyed an expedition from the south moving up that spur a year ago. They did not pass back this way and we do not even know if they left the mountain. We surmise they sought the same place.”
Lovely, thought sardonically. Exactly what I had been talking about. She sighed. Although she didn’t voice it, her sentiments were plain to see on her face. But she’d agreed to go along with the majority and the decision was made. “Thank you for telling us about that. I’m sure this will be an enlightening challenge.”
“The mountain draws many,” the Vala said, “some seek power, others enlightenment. You seek a good as your underlying motivation – a rebirth of sorts. Ilmar blesses that. Krag will challenge you, and only Gond knows if it is your doom to succeed, but he rewards valor.”
Emmeline bowed with respect. “I need to tell my mother that I won’t need her aid right now and I’ll return in a few minutes.” Looking to her friends, she asked, “We’ll leave in the morning then?”
“Yes that sounds best,” agreed Elemix.