Chapter 26: Unable to sleep, Teg mulls over the nightmares that have grown more frequent since the Exodus arrive in the Nine Circles. He finds clarity through alcohol. Startled by a loud noise at the bar, Teg fires two shots. Investigating his handiwork, he finds two shots in Crofter’s body, center mass, however the newly deceased is still conscious. Navkin, in her role as doctor, confirms that Crofter has no heartbeat or breath.
Stochman walks the bridge, plotting out how to regain control of the Exodus from Jaren and his pirates. The thin man in black appears before him, and offers to help Stochman so that Jaren won’t upset an agreement with the lord of the Eighth Circle.
Odd that it is noise and not the lightning-struck souls flying past the Exodus’s windows that startles Teg. If the dead are rising, will Craighan and the scouting team return?
Once again, Nethereal takes inspiration from the Inferno. In Dante’s poem, souls are punished for lust in the Second Circle by storms that whip them through the air to be pelted by rain and lightning. Nethereal’s Second Circle has the damned enduring the same punishment, although it never stops to ask any soul its sins. Since Stochman is chasing his desire for authority over Jaren, it will be interesting to see if he will suffer a similar fate.
The thin man mentions a deal with Lord of the Eighth Circle, a tithe, and that the Souldancer courts Jaren’s underlings. It is clear that the Arcana Divines have their own agenda and that their cooperation with Jaren will be revoked if he works at cross-purposes to their plans. Also, Souldancer is one of Therea’s titles. Perhaps talk of her abandoning the universe is premature.
Chapter 27: Navkin returns to the Wheel to discover that the Exodus has come to a stop in the eye of an infinite cyclone. She starts searching for the next gate. Jaren talks to her about the motives of the makers of the Nine Circles as well as how Navkin’s new abilities allow her to find the gates. The gate to the Third Circle opens, and Navkin follows a winged being through. The Exodus emerges above a massive battlefield, where two might hosts hack into each other with enough savagery to cause the air to rain blood. Jaren orders the Exodus to leave. Navkin sets the ship into motion, but not before the ship is boarded by intruders.
What’s a pirate story without a “repel boarders” action scene?
While we’ve known that Navkin had something special about her, saying that the Nine Circles are her home was a surprise. In the mold of the three chapter revelation pattern that description much of how Nethereal paces out its exposition, the next two chapters develop Navkin's relation to the Nine Circles even further.
There is a danger to reviewing books, especially with an eye for details. It is too easy think up a just-so-story to force the book into a preconceived idea, regardless of the evidence. At best, it is an embarrassment to the reviewer, at worse, it leads to silly hash tag harassment like the fujoshi who recently castigated J. K. Rowling because she ruled out their favorite imagined romantic couple. In my case, I am sorely tempted to say that the Third Circle in Nethereal is patterned off the Fifth Circle of the Inferno. Both realms feature widespread battle atop rivers, Styx for the Divine Comedy, blood for Nethereal, where the wrathful rend and tear at each other. However, the next couple of chapters cast doubt on the ideal that the Third Circle of Nethereal host an eternal battle, instead, it may be the site of one of many brush wars between Circles. While previous Circles have mapped to their counterparts in the classic Inferno, others have been unique to the setting. Places like Limbo have no theological counterpart yet revealed in Nethereal’s mythology, thus their absence. The yin of Thera and the yang of Zadok drive the mythology, which also shapes this version of Hell to fit. Thus I am not convinced that mapping Nethereal to the Inferno in this instance is useful.
Chapter 28: Teg sneaks through the ship’s halls towards the armory. Chimerical beasts, of a different form from those seen on the forest world, fight the Exodus’s crew and each other throughout the ship. As the way to the armory clears, Teg runs for it, but is captured by a monster who forces a tube down his throat. Using his freezing blade seen in Chapter 5, Vaun cuts Teg free. The crew in the armory use a salamander flamethrower to clear the halls of the invaders.
Jaren and the bridge crew listen to the fighting outside the secured hatch, complete with the scratching of claws against the walls. The scuffle intensifies until a human-like knocking could be heard on the hatch. Jaren opens the door, and the surviving crew takes refuge on the bridge. Of a crew of 90, only a third still live.
A messenger of Ball Gibeah knocks on the window before phasing through the hull. He demands the thousand souls in the cargo hold. Navkin screams in defiance at the messenger, who recoils from her in horror. Naming her as Zebel, consort to Baal Mephistophilis, the messenger laughs as demons join him on the bridge.
There are certain revelations in this chapter that, when paired with myth, throw open some of the mysteries of Nethereal. I will wait until they are revealed in the test before discussing them.
Mephistophilis is known to those familiar with the legend of Doctor Faust as the devil whom Faust makes his contract with. Gibeah is the site of a particularly gruesome Biblical atrocity, described in Judges 19, which led to battle. When faced with his own impeding rape and murder by a crowd, a man sends out a concubine in his place. In the morning, he finds the woman dead, butchers her corpse, and sends the pieces to the tribes of Israel as a summons to war. The resulting battle was a two-sided slaughter that ended in genocide. Zebel might be a reference to the famed wicked queen Jezebel, who contested with the prophets over who was more powerful: God or Baal.
Navkin’s oddities now are attributed to an infernal origin as she bears the silver eyes of Zebel. Yet she also looks like depictions of Thera.
Teg’s attacker reminds me of the facehugger of Alien or the trilobite of Prometheus, although in human form.
Chapter 29: Jaren and the full complement of the Exodus’s crew wake up in the middle of a sandy desert. Stochman immediately confronts Jaren, blaming the Gen captain for the demons stealing the Exodus. Jaren points out that with the ship gone, he has no need for Mithgar’s sailors. He then checks on Navkin, who is treating the living members of the crew. When the demons attacked, she used her new Hell abilities to move the crew away from the Exodus. Now 90 able-bodied crewmembers, dead and living, surround them in what appears to be a different Circle. Jaren starts plotting how to reclaim the Exodus.
Later, raiders overwhelm the Exodus’s crew and march their captives away. The few lucky enough to hide, including Navkin, Deim, Teg, and Vaughan, regroup and resolve to rescue Jaren and the other captives.
The dead in Hell keep their minds, desires, and memories, even as the normal demands of a body, like breathing, no longer affect them. But after Pirates of the Caribbean, the idea of an undead pirate crew amuses me. Like those pirates, nothing can harm the dead in Hell, except for the venom of Navkin’s bite and her blade.