[10 Flamerule 1372 continued]
Having passed yet another test of purification, Mellia gains access to the sixth terrace of the Flaming Brazier. She finds it necessary to pass through a glowing portal, and discovers herself in a realm of fire and flame. Waves of heat wash over her, and she feels her skin start to blister and burn. She hurries through the cracked and blasted landscape of volcanic rock in the direction of the lone landmark in the featureless land: a high throne, seemingly composed of flowing lava, on which sits a living being of flame. A guttural voice issues forth, “You have come to the Sixth Terrace, human. I serve the Lord of Flames as the Grand Purifier. You have proven thyself worthy in mind and body. Now you must show your commitment to the Great Lord by spreading his purifying flames to another. Open your mind to me, and choose who shall be tested by my minions. Choose who you know to be the most impure, the most deserving of flame and the inner strength that only the Flamelord can provide.”
Mellia sees visions of her closest friends and allies, including her mentor, Gideon, her daughter, Allia, and the adventurers that have accompanied her to Thay. She responds quickly to the Grand Purifier, stating just one word: “Fargrim.” The elemental being nods. “The one you choose will be tested, at a time and place that is most apt. You must speak nothing of this. Consider yourself bound.” The creature of flame then tells Mellia that she may return through the portal, as the final test awaits: obstacles of impurity that must be utterly destroyed.
After returning through the portal, Mellia finds herself at the base of a stairway. First, a creature of swirling air attacks and tries to pin Mellia to a wall. She responds by quickly turning invisible and then evoking powerful magicks of fire and black tentacles of force. Soon, the air elemental is destroyed. Next, an imposing creature of living rock appears and tries to smash Mellia with its fists. She dodges its clumsy attacks easily, however, thanks to her invisibility, and once again destroys it with fire. Last, a resident of the elemental plane of water coalesces. Mellia prepares to contain it with a wall of fire, but her thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a telepathic message from Gideon, stating that he’s finally recovered and that he’s located her daughter’s prison and is gathering information on its weaknesses. The intrusion almost breaks the diviner’s concentration, but she focusses enough to complete her spellcasting and destroy her final opponent. At last, she gains access to the seventh terrace.
Meanwhile, a short distance away in Bezantur, Mellia’s allies find themselves in the midst of general panic. From the inn where they’re staying, they can hear screams and see pedestrians running at full speed. “It’s tearing them to pieces!” one of them shouts, and points in the direction of a squat tower that houses the city’s chapter of the Order of Summoning. As the group watches, a body comes flying out of an upper balcony and lands, broken and bleeding, on the ground below. Dolcetto, in Fargrim’s body, is eager for action and rushes to investigate with Syd, in the shape of a giant eagle, serving as a mount. Fargrim, in Dolcetto’s body, also moves toward the tower. Myst and Ralkin, however, are far more reluctant to intervene but eventually decide to follow along cautiously.
When the adventurers push through the mass of fleeing citizens and reach the grounds of the tower, they hear more screams coming from it. Suddenly, the tower itself shakes and then the upper level explodes, scattering debris everywhere, revealing a massive demonic creature from some foul nether plane! “Foolish mortals!” it growls. “Did you think to contain my might!” It sniffs the air, turns slowly about, and then points directly at Ralkin (occupying Myst’s body). “The stench of magic betrays you!” it shouts, and leaps from the top of the tower to land near the tiefling! The assembled adventurers attack, but Syd’s lightning has no effect, nor does magic slow it down. Dolcetto wields her new body’s strength to great effect and slams a greataxe into the creature repeatedly, but it continues undeterred towards Ralkin. Ralkin drops to his knees and begs the demon to take him into its service, but the denizen of the lower realm gives a wicked smile, says “thank you for making this easy!”, and proceeds to rip the adventurer’s arms off! The body of the tiefling that was once Myst dies instantly, leaving Ralkin’s spirit to an unknown fate.
The demon sniffs again, and this time it catches the scent of Dolcetto’s body, currently occupied by Fargrim’s soul. It starts to move towards it, but Dolcetto, in Fargrim’s body, continues to hack away at it, while Syd summons a giant air elemental to slow it down before calling down fire from the heavens. Fargrim uses his new body’s magickal might to summon a steady stream of giant tainted insects, while Myst, seeing what had happened to his true body, runs and hides. The bloody slugfest continues for some seconds before the adventurers decide the demon is too powerful to destroy and try to escape. The demon gives chase, but is soon distracted by the timely arrival of the Thayan Legion and a contingent of Red Wizards. The adventurers manage to retrieve the body of their fallen ally and decide to head straight for the Flaming Brazier.
Meanwhile, Mellia reaches the seventh terrace: a small chamber made entirely of obsidian. On one side of the chamber is the curtain of fire that serves as a barrier between the chamber and the ziggurat’s outer steps. Above, the roiling sphere of flame known as Kossuth’s Gaze looms large. Mellia is awed by being so close to a manifestation of the divine, and falls to her knees. Although the room appeared empty, a figure suddenly stands before her. The Eternal Flame, high priest of the Flaming Brazier, is a tall man with skin that appears to be made of cracked block rock, with liquid fire coursing throughout. There is only fire where his eyes should be, but his manner is relaxed. “Few foreigners make it to this place. You have been tested, and found worthy. I know why you have come, but the formalities must be respected. Speak of what thou dost desire from the Eternal Flame.”
At his nod, Mellia stands up. She activates the special enchantment woven into her dress when she purchased it in Silverymoon, and it blazes into the illusion of a phoenix. She explains that she has come for a better understanding of the Lord of Flames, and that she seeks her friend and ally, Cain. The Eternal Flame grasps her hand and suddenly the two of them are standing in a darkened chamber. A man, with his back to Mellia, is strapped to a vertical crossbar connected to a winch and pulley. Another man, dressed in the heavy armor of a holy champion of the Flamelord, operates the winch and suddenly the crossbar falls forward, immersing the prisoner’s head in a trough of water. “Death by drowning. The worst and most dishonourable way to die,” the Eternal Flame explains. “We reserve it only for traitors and heretics. But I know you wish to speak to your friend.”
When the Eternal Flame calls out, the armoured figure turns away and removes his helm. It is Cain, head covered in brands and scars, with the holy mark of Kossuth literally burned into the side of his face. “The one you knew as Cain has been reborn in the purifying flames,” the high priest explains. “He is now an archon of Kossuth, a paragon of our faith. You have my leave to go, but you both will be bound to rectify a mistake. The faith of the Frostmaiden cannot be allowed to spread like a disease. You will return to Nesme, kill every priestess of the bitch goddess you find, and raze the city to the ground. Let the rabble flee to spread word of the punishment sent by the Flamelord for their blasphemy!” Mellia and Cain willingly allow themselves to be bound by powerful oath-keeping magic, and are given leave to depart.
As they journey down towards the first terrace, Mellia tells Cain that she now fully understands the appeal of the Lord of Flames. She also begins to tell him about Multivar’s mirror, the death and resurrection of Markus, new allies Syd and Myst, and more, but her complicated tale is interrupted when they step outside and see the others arrive. Dolcetto, in Fargrim’s body, holds Myst’s mutilated corpse. The tale of the escaped demon is related, and the conversation quickly turns to whether the adventurers should wait until the portal brings them back to Silverymoon to have Myst’s body raised from the dead, or whether they should try to have the deed performed in Thay. For his own part, Myst’s mind and soul (in Ralkin’s body) has been stunned by the day’s events and he lets the others take the lead in decision-making.
Cain is terse and dubious when asked if a priest inside the Flaming Brazier will cast the necessary spell, but he agrees to accompany Mellia back inside to ask. In conversation with the Mistress of Torches, Mellia explains that Myst was a scholar and trickster; the priestess says such a being is not worthy of Kossuth’s touch, and suggests trying another temple in the city. As Cain and Mellia exit, Mellia explains about the body-switch and says that Ralkin would be quite useful in their future endeavours. Cain shrugs, stating that a few days’ decomposition will not materially affect the success of a resurrection spell in the future. The two talk about the best way to approach their sworn mission to Nesme. Fargrim, however, overhears some of their conversation, including their commitment to “raze the city to the ground.” He hurries to share the information with Dolcetto, and both remark how much Mellia and Cain have changed. Dolcetto says she wants no part in attacking Nesme, but Fargrim convinces her not to say anything to them until they bring it up.
When the adventurers return to the red-brick inn where they’d been staying, Syd introduces himself to Cain and asks why the cleric hasn’t healed the injuries of their friends hurt by the rampaging demon. Cain says that only the pure deserve to be saved. When Syd confronts Mellia about coming all the way to Thay to rescue someone like Cain, Mellia replies that Cain is worthy because he is pure.
Later, Dolcetto and Syd converse, telepathically. Dolcetto shares what Fargrim had overheard regarding Mellia and Cain’s plans to raze Nesme. Syd exclaims that it can’t be true, and that perhaps Fargrim misunderstood. The halfling says he’ll confront Mellia and set her straight if need be, but Dolcetto says she is a lost cause. The group should focus on retrieving the Crown of Horns. Syd says he will think about Dolcetto’s words.
Meanwhile, Cain and Mellia are having a conversation about Nesme as well. Mellia tells Cain that the others will be useful on their quest, but that they don’t need to know every detail about why they’re doing what they’re doing: “let them think we’re doing it to save the people of Nesme,” she says. Cain replies saving people is exactly what they’ll be doing, in a manner of speaking. That night, alone by the fire in the common room, Mellia talks with Cain about the themes of fire and purity that resound throughout the dogma of the Flamelord. She shares with him an intimate secret of her past. “He hurt me,” she says. “I killed him, and I came out stronger. That’s what the suffering is for, that’s why it happened.” The two continue to talk long into the night.
[11 Flamerule 1372]
At exactly two hours after midnight, as most of Bezantur slumbers, Multivar’s mirror-portal activates and pulls the adventurers back. Mellia leaps to grab Cain to make sure he is not left behind.
A difficult quest has been completed, but a price has been paid. And what lies ahead may tear the group apart.