[flashback to 4 Flamerule 1372]
When Markus arrives at the Academy for his next duel, it is clear that word of his dramatic exploits are starting to spread throughout Silverymoon. He receives several cheers and hearty handshakes from the small crowd that has gathered outside the arena to watch him fight. His next opponent, however, is not impressed. The heavily-armored dwarf, Urist McBronzebottom, tells Markus that his flimsy rapier will never land a single hit. The two make a small wager, and soon thereafter the Duelmaster, Artula Porolos, proclaims the rules of the match. She explains that this contest will test the participant’s ability to discern when to strike and when to refrain, and to use timing to their best advantage. Artula herself will participate in the challenge, and the winner between Markus and McBronzebottom will be the first to vanquish her in battle. The two can attack each other at any time, but if Porolos defeats them both, they both lose the duel.
For this match, the arena is composed of a large room that contains a multi-tiered structure in the center. Artula takes up a position at the top, while McBronzebottom and Markus start at the bottom. When the match begins, the two males quickly decide that climbing is too risky as each would leave himself vulnerable to the other! Artula casts several defensive spells and watches as her two opponents engage each other in earnest! Despite the dwarf’s enormous tower shield, the point of Markus’ rapier does slip past and score a hit. Most surprisingly to those watching, however, is that the young swordsman becomes almost feral at times, scratching and even biting his opponent! Clearly, Markus has been changing—but why or how, no one else knows.
Artula decides to climb down to join the fighting, but slips several times in her heavy armor. By the time she reaches the other two, both are badly hurt. A true free-for-all results, and for a moment it looks as if McBronzebottom’s bastard sword will drop the exhausted priestess of the Red Knight, but she ducks at just the last moment and then Markus leaps in and lands a vicious swipe with nails as sharp as claws! Artula falls to the ground unconscious, and Markus is proclaimed the winner. McBronzebottom acknowledges the swordsman’s victory, and Markus invites him to the celebratory party he plans to throw himself at a nearby festhall. The two end up having an enjoyable night drinking ale and singing dwarven tavern-songs.
[7 Flamerule 1372 continued]
Back in Thay, Myst and Ralkin are returning through the rain- and wind-swept streets of Bezantur when they notice something odd. Across the street from the red-brick inn where they’ve been staying, the vendor of a stall selling meat-pies is making discreet gestures to get their attention. When the two adventurers approach, the vendor (a young man with brown hair flattened by the downpour), starts putting his wares away in an adjacent cart while whispering that he wishes to speak with them in a nearby alley. Ralkin and Myst are understandably wary, but follow the main to the mouth of the alleyway. With Ralkin (in Myst’s body) keeping watch, Myst (in Ralkin’s body) moves in to converse with the man. He says that his name is Renold, and that he knows the two are companions to the sorceress who has come to Thay to find Cain. Renold is clearly agitated, and says that they must hurry to rescue the cleric before it’s too late. Myst is cautious not to incriminate himself or fall for some sort of frame-up, and says he doesn’t understand but will pass Renold’s message along to Mellia and perhaps return tomorrow to find out more.
A few blocks away, in the Flaming Brazier, Mellia and Fargrim (in Dolcetto’s tiefling body) have reached the third terrace. Waves of heat wash over them from the massive firepits that line the broad corridors. Both persevere, however, and soon find their way to the Tendril that oversees this terrace. The Immolator is a burly man clad in heavy armor of a type similar to that worn by Cain. He stands before a blazing furnace and explains to a group of petitioners that those seeking a boon from the Great Lord of Flames must show their devotion by sacrificing something beyond mere worldly value. If the flames in the furnace consume the sacrifice, the petitioner will find favor, but if black smoke billows forth, the offering has been rejected. A grey-haired woman offers a locket that she explains was the last thing given to her by her husband before he joined the Legion and never returned, twenty years ago to the day. The locket is consumed by the flames, and the Immolator says her request to learn what happened to the Legionnaire will be granted. The second petitioner is an obese man wearing silk clothes and sweating profusely. He offers forth a signet ring which he says is a cherished family heirloom, but when smoke fills the chamber, the Immolator says that the ring is a fake and orders the man taken to the Chamber of Punishment. The third petitioner, a Rashemi peasant, offers something intangible but priceless: the memory of the happiest day of his life, in the hopes that Kossuth will cleanse his daughter from the plague. The sacrifice is accepted, and the man leaves in gratitude.
Having witnessed the types of offerings accepted and declined, Mellia and Fargrim are next in line for the ritual. Mellia offers forth her daughter’s favorite doll, left in the girl’s bed the night she was taken by a mysterious dark figure, and something that Mellia had hoped to return to Allia when they were reunited. The offering is accepted, and the Immolator says that Mellia’s request to take the test of purification to ascend to the fourth terrace will be granted. Fargrim, however, seems nervous and unsure what to offer, and quickly decides that his journey here is at an end. “Excuse me—I think I was in the wrong queue,” he tells the Immolator before departing.
Mellia proceeds to the test of purification. The staircase leading up to the fourth terrace is covered in burning coals, and the diviner weighs climbing it slowly but with a focused will, quickly in the hopes that the pain won’t register until success has been gained, or strategically by jumping to the areas of the path that look to be the coolest. She chooses the third route, but misjudges a jump and cries out in pain, instinctively retreating. The warrior-monks overseeing the test state that she has failed, but may try again upon the morrow. Frustrated and angry, Mellia heads back towards the inn.
That evening, Syd stays outside and exults in the raw, natural power of the Ride of the Furies. Using a nearby pool of water, he scrys on Daisy and his animal companion Garry, and sees that both are well and are still in the Silverwood. Inside the inn, Mellia sends a telepathic message to Cain, stating that she has made it to the third terrace and will continue. The response comes in a tone that can only be described as focused and backed by strength: “Then you have chosen to follow the path of true belief, and I will greet you with honor when you reach your goal.” Elsewhere in the inn, Pirith continues trying to gather information about the portal that brought the adventurers from Silverymoon. She obviously thinks the Guild of Foreign Trade will be very interested in its existence. Dolcetto, in Fargrim’s body, manages to distract her, however, by talking about the best way to obtain books on the Zulkirs that rule Thay.
During the night, the terrible nightmares that wrack Fargrim’s sleep return, no longer held at bay by the ancient wards of Silverymoon. The warrior dreams about a great battle outside the gates of Nesme. Protected by a giant dome of ice, the armies of the Frostmistress, Auril, throw down the Witch-Queen and force the Dread-Knight to flee the battlefield. Fargrim feels the bitterness and hatred that radiates from the Dread-Knight, and knows that his thirst to vanquish every living creature from the Evermoors will only grow.
[8 Flamerule 1372]
When morning dawns, the storms that accompanied the Ride of the Furies festival have ceased and the reliable, if dull, weather wards of the Red Wizards have been restored. Over breakfast, Fargrim talks about the nightmares that disturbed his sleep, concluding that the forces of the undead will redouble their efforts to destroy Nesme. Mellia surprises the table by saying it a good sign that Fargrim is still having the nightmares. Despite taking on more mannerisms, and even the accent of Dolcetto, the warrior’s spirit must be intact, she argues, if he is still suffering from the affliction of dark visions. After Myst mentions his encounter with Renold the day prior, Mellia says more information would be useful. Fargrim offers to find out what the fellow is all about.
That morning, Syd and Dolcetto keep Pirith busy and away from the inn by asking for her help navigating the vast markets of Bezantur in search of histories of Thay and its rulers. When Pirith tries to turn the conversation to Multivar’s portal, Dolcetto insists on visiting a nearby gladiatorial arena in the hopes of fighting an owlbear! Forced to remain pleasant and helpful, the Guild’s “guide” can only go along with his wishes.
Mellia returns alone to the Flaming Brazier and is permitted to reach the third terrace and take the test of purity to enter the fourth. This time, she draws upon all of her willpower and walks slowly up the burning coals. Although sore and blistered at the end, she passes the test and gains entrance to the fourth terrace. She finds herself in an unexpected environment: a large workshop where many of the most clever Tendrils are busy experimenting with novel ways to create and disperse fire. The priests are supervised by the Flamemaker, a bearded gnome wearing stained robes. He has little time or interest in Mellia’s quest to find Cain, but hurriedly administers by rote a series of questions about the nature and qualities of fire. Mellia answers them each correctly, but then faces a practical test of her ability to harness it by either using flint and steel to catch a spark on a damp pile of leaves, or create flame by combining certain esoteric alchemical compounds. She decides to try the latter method, but her knowledge of alchemy is slim and the unlabelled bottles are confusing. Her attempt to create fire fizzles and results only in a foul odor, leading the Flamemaker to absent-mindedly inform her that she can try again tomorrow.
Fargrim keeps his promise to find Renold. After being led through a circuitous route to throw off pursuit, Renold talks to Fargrim in a darkened cellar that serves as his bolt-hole. Renold says that he’s been a friend of Cain’s since childhood, and, after hearing through sources in the church that the cleric had returned to Thay, he’d tried to visit him. However, Renold continues, Cain is officially a non-being in the church and, again according to unnamed sources, is being held in dungeons underneath the Flaming Brazier. Renold says that urgent measures must be taken to rescue him, as a secret society of church inquisitors named the Order of the Black Flame will soon interrogate Cain, and he may not survive the process! Renold says he knows of a secret passage into the catacombs under the temple, but needs help making it past the Disciples of the Salamander, warrior-monks of Kossuth that guard the area. Fargrim commits only to again passing Renold’s message along to Mellia.
When Fargrim does so, however, Mellia quickly dismisses the notion of rescuing Cain through stealth or force. She says that Cain clearly wishes to remain a cleric of the order, that her approach is working, and that a risky rescue plan, even if it succeeds, will only lead to certain reprisals. Dolcetto, however, hearing the discussion, suggests that there is a risk to *not* acting quickly. Everyday they linger in Thay, she argues, is a day less of the unknown and perhaps random period of time they have left before the portal pulls everyone back to Silverymoon. If Cain isn’t rescued before then, the group would have to go through the entire journey all over again, and Dolcetto is clearly dubious that most members of the party have any interest in doing so. In the end, however, Mellia is afforded more time to see if her progress through the terraces continues.
That evening, Pirith finally acknowledges how interested she and the Guild of Foreign Trade are in the possibilities presented by Multivar’s portal. Because the Guild has been trying to establishing trading enclaves in many cities throughout Faerun but have not been allowed to do so in Silverymoon, and because teleportation spells inexplicably but constantly fail in the city’s vicinity, Multivar’s portal could be a valuable tool for the Guild. Mellia says that the secrets of the portal’s operation might be made available, if Pirith can use Guild influence to help her ascend the terraces of the Flaming Brazier more quickly. Pirith is not optimistic about the Guild’s ability to influence internal church rituals, but holds out hope that perhaps the adventurers will still allow a Guild representative to return with them to Silverymoon.
[9 Flamerule 1372]
Shortly before dawn, the adventurers are awakened by the inn’s chamberlain rapping hastily on the doors to their rooms. The man seems frantic, and explains that a member of the Order of Evocation is awaiting their descent to the common room. Syd cautiously tiptoes down the stairs to see a Red Wizard pacing back and forth, clearly furious. When the halfling describes him to the others, Fargrim and Mellia recognize the man instantly: Felix Ruul, the evoker responsible for kidnapping Cain in the first place!