Chapter 55: Malachi rushes to an appointment at the prison complex. He passes a strange trio, and almost stops to question them. But he is late and must hurry on.
Navkin, Teg, and Jaren walk into the prison, disguised by Eldrid’s nexism glamers. They find Vernon, emaciated and unresponsive. Using Eldrid’s disguises, they walk him out of his cell. Malachi sees through their disguises, but lets the Shibboleth’s crew escape.
A winged Elena drags Vaun inside his own mind so that Elathan won’t overhear. To pay her debt, she tells Vaun to cut out her heart. After her image fades, he follows her orders, extracting a ruby-like jewel from her chest. The facets sing with many voices, including his own.
A new magical art has been introduced, nexism, which draws its power from neither prana nor Teth. Before the soul-trap of the Nine Circles was created, souls went to the Nexus upon death. It is likely that this is linked to this third way of magic.
Souls and stones have been linked throughout Nethereal, with the Gen soul stones, the legend of the kost who hid his soul in a jewel, and now Elena's gem heart.
If the hints that Elena will become Thera haven't been prominent enough, she now sprouts wings in Vaun's headspace, just like the goddess's. Also of interest is that Elena is hiding her plans from Elathan, the one eyed god of shipwrecks, who, like Thera, has also abandoned Nethereal's universe. Allegedly. Previously, Elathan was mentioned in passing by Teg and others as sort of a Davy Jones figure, not fully believed in, but part of the folklore. Instead, Elena's caution reveals him to be yet another player in the plot.
I have been trying to figure Master Malachi's role in the plot of Nethereal, as he remains outside of Hell where the main action occurs. Malachi's reactions to seeing Jaren finally pinned his role in place. He serves the same role that Inspector Zenigata does in Lupin III. Both are highly competent lawmen obsessed with chasing down their individual targets. They never manage to capture their prey for long, yet are enough of a threat to foil their plans, driving Jaren and Arsene Lupin III to take jobs that lead to the main adventure. They disappear while the main characters get double-crossed by their new employers, then reappear, usually in a state of disgrace due to their obsessions, to complicate the showdown where the main characters settle the score with their betrayers. Both men glory in the chase. If Nethereal follows the Lupin III heist formula, at the end, Master Malachi will clean up Jaren's mess - and receive the credit for foiling the Arcana Divines' scheme. However, Zenigata is a comedic yet honorable foil, while Master Malachi is ruthless and kill to enforce it.
Nethereal takes the heist adventure template and fills it with characterization straight from pirate tales. Additionally, heist films focus on the leader of the gang as the primary viewpoint character, while pirate tales tend to use crewmen like Navkin and Teg as the viewpoint characters to preserve an air of mystery around the captain.
Chapter 56: Navkin and Teg wheel Vernon to the infirmary. After exhausting a battery of tests, Navkin tries her telepathy. While probing Vernon’s thoughts, she learns that Thera must return to Tzintzum, as well as the techniques used to create Elena. Using that knowledge, she sets out to save Elena.
Teg takes a moment to knock some sense into Jaren in front of Eldrid.
Navkin uses her telepathy to enter Elena’s mind. She helps Elena to calm the fragments of her composite-soul, allowing the girl to reincorporate the fragments into a new whole.
I presume the Arcana Divines harvested Navkin's eggs while she was in captivity, prior to her escape and involvement with the Peregrine clan.
The crew can rightfully be called Elena's now.
The crew can rightfully be called Elena's now.
Chapter 57: Elena wakes up and confronts Vernon. Between pleas for mercy, Vernon lays bare the intent of the Arcana Divines: to foil the Shadow Caste and to make Elena more useful to their other schemes. Like the goddess she is supposed to be the vessel for, Elena murders her father.
Jaren tells Randolph to rally the rebels to Bifron, where Caelia Station once was, in preparation for an assault on the Guild stronghold. Once away from the sailors, he slumps over, wracked by the never ending buzzing in his ears. When Navkin finds him, Jaren tells her to round up the senior crew, Elena, and Vaun.
Kelgrun Narr is the puppet master of Nethereal. He set in motion the construction of the Exodus and Elena, controlled the Arcana Divines, leaked information to the Guild, taught Navkin the techniques needed to pilot the Exodus through Hell, and, through Navkin's friendship with Jaren, manipulated the Gen resistance to the Guild. He is at the center of all the thread that make up the Working centered around Elena and the Gen souls. It is known that he has extended his life, whether through Teth or Nexism, so just how long he has been spinning history into this Working is uncertain. This secret king remains mostly in the shadows. But is he working according to his own plans or another's? I doubt the demoness Zebel would easily agree to create a child.
Chapter 58: To make the voices plaguing the crew will stop, Jaren decides to return to Hell and kill Mephistophilis. Vaun protests, but ultimately choses to follow the Exodus wherever it goes. Jaren tells Elena to ready his ship. Instead, she claims it as her own, warning that their adventures so far have been part of a giant Working. Jaren reasserts his leadership before informing the rebel fleet that the Exodus will return. He also entrusts Eldrid with the stones, telling her to hide them, even from him.
Under Elena’s supervision, the Exodus jumps into hell. She has transported them straight to the Eight Circle. Jaren rounds up everything he has to throw at Mephistophilis, including Vaun’s new Void made flesh form.
Deim is of the bloodline of a hereditary Thera priesthood.
The Spaceship Girl is a common trope. Examples in anime include Canal from Lost Universe, Melfina from Outlaw Star, Eve in Megazone 23, and Sasami in Tenchi Muyo!Ryo-Ohki. It even appears in Western SF, as Rommie from Andromeda can attest. Elena joins their ranks in full here, as she grows from the passive battery girl into the mistress of her ship. Jaren has to remind her that she is not the commander, though.
Chapter 59: Vaun’s ritual to regain his soul goes wrong, flooding his being with Teth. His body vanishes, leaving only a living shadow in a mask.
With Vaun’s Void abomination in tow, the crew of the Exodus bursts into the temple at the heart of the Eighth Circle. Inside, they find an oracle altar that speaks to each of them in turn, except for Teg. Before his fortune can be told, Mephistophilis possesses the swordarm. Eldrid appears, reveals herself to be Zebel, and holds up a gem made from the compressed soulstones of the Gen – with a leavening of the Freeholders who were supposed to help her move the stones. She sacrifices the gem to the oracle before taunting Jaren with the soulstone of his father. The delivery now complete, Mephistophilis releases Jaren and his crew from his service. Instead of leaving, Jaren shoots the Baal.
Zebel is not Navkin’s mother, but her father. This creates a symmetry soon to be revealed.
Eldrid, Elathan, Elena. In hindsight, the El- prefix signifies divinity in Nethereal’s universe as well as our own.
Nethereal’s Eighth Circle is a city around a temple with an image of Thera. The Inferno’s Eighth Circle is a series of ten protective moats ringing the final circle. The correspondences to the Inferno ended at the Fifth Circle.
Ydahl might be better off in the Fourth Circle than trying to escape with the Exodus. So far, every Freeholder who tried to escape with Jaren's crew, except the one sailor now in the Mithgar Navy, has perished in the Middle Stratum.
Vaun's new form reminds me of Kain in Tenchi Muyo in Love, although white-masked living shadows exist in other works.
For a story that plays with the idea of yin and yang, it is curious that the genders are reversed from the Chinese philosophy. Yin is dark and female, while yang is light and male. In Nethereal, Elena represents the light of prana and the White Well, while Vaun represents the darkness of Teth and the Void.
Chapter 60: The crewman from hell deserts the Mithgar Navy. He betrays the Navy’s plans to Master Malachi, as well as Jaren’s return to hell. As a reward, Master Malachi shoots him, but when the sailor revives, the Guildsman uses his Workings to vaporize the traitor.
The last dead soul to try to escape Hell is now dead.
The Exodus is described as a headless crow with one green eye…