Chapter 13: Mortal Flame
After Orion and El survive the cleansing mortal flame, he looks up at her with genuine appreciation and love, but they are swarmed by students before they can speak. El leaves while everyone asks Orion to retell his heroic deeds from the mission. El heads to the freshly re-stocked workshop, where she grabs a forge apron and supplies for Aadhya. El returns to her room to sleep but is visited by Chloe before she can do so. Chloe offers a sincere apology for her prior actions, and El returns the bracelet that linked her to the New York mana reservoir. When El again declines an invitation to the New York enclave, Chloe tells El that she would still like to be her friend.
After some sleep, El is visited by Liu and Aadhya, who have also acquired supplies. Liu shares that she has several mice and can train them to be familiars, which will protect Aadhya and El while they sleep. El tells them about Orion kissing her, and they all joke about the dangers of becoming pregnant while at the Scholomance.
Orion visits El and expresses his feelings toward her. Orion wants El to be a part of his life and wants to date her, but he doesn’t want that to push her away from him. El declines his dating offer, but she does assure him that she will continue to be a part of his life. Afterwards, El and Orion head to the cafeteria for the induction ceremony, where new freshmen are teleported into the school.
The freshmen come to the hall with letters from the outside world. El has never received a letter, because it is expensive to pay someone to carry one. When a freshman announces that there is a letter from Gwen Higgins to Galadriel, many students realize that El’s mother is a famous healer. The letter, a tiny, rolled-up strip, contains only one line…
“My darling girl, I love you, have courage, and keep far away from Orion Lake.”
The theme of the complicated nature of privilege is further explored in the final chapter when El returns the power-sharer to Chloe. The stark contrast between Chloe’s appearance and El’s symbolizes their difference in social status. While Chloe has freshly cut hair and a new outfit, El’s clothing is threadbare and her hair a mess. In this moment, each of them comes to a deeper understanding of the effects of becoming accustomed to privilege. El, who has been resentful of the enclavers supply of mana, must make an effort to return the power-sharer. Chloe, as she apologizes for mistreating El, acknowledges that she has always avoided questioning whether the system she benefits from is fair. Realizing that Chloe’s apology is genuine forces El to admit to herself that her own values aren’t truly incompatible with the privileges the enclavers enjoy. This moment brings complexity to the novel’s treatment of privilege.
The motif of good versus evil appears once again in Liu’s decision to turn the mice that she initially planned to use as a sacrifice into familiars instead. Liu’s choice to use her affinity for animals in a positive way demonstrates that she is capable of making crucial decisions about her future. Friendship also plays a significant role, as Liu’s alliance with El allows her to make this choice without abandoning her duty to her family (El’s access to a phase-control spell will allow Liu’s family to establish their own enclave, something they have long sought). By embracing her own strengths and desires, Liu is also able to provide familiars to her younger cousins. Choosing the path of good ultimately allows Liu to become a more powerful witch while helping her family on her own terms.
At the end of the novel, El’s transformation from a distrustful loner into someone who can be depended upon and who depends on others is complete. Though El still resists vulnerability, she demonstrates true growth as she shares her mother’s healing note with her friends and the freshman who brought it to her. Aadhya also shares the protective spell she receives, while Liu shares her grandmother’s balm to prevent poisoning, further solidifying the importance of their friendship and alliance. The induction scene represents a moment when mutual bonds of protection unite the students with each other and the outside world. In contrast, the note El receives from Gwen advises her to stay away from Orion, who has become one of her strongest friends and allies. The novel ends on this cliffhanger, implying that El will continue to face conflict in her relationships in the sequel.