Astlin is chased by Shaiel's Lawbringers, who have Nesshin abilities that counter her flame. She relies on Xander's power, but realizes she is absorbing his soul every time she does so. But Thurif must be stopped, especially now that Mirai's nexus forging is complete.
Hazeroth attacks Astlin from behind, wounding her. Xander offers the use of his gift to beat him, but Astlin refuses, unwilling to lose him. But with no other way to keep Mirai out of Hazeroth's hands, she opens her soul's connection to the Fire Stratum, and relies on Xander's gift to help close it. However, the Flame overwhelms Astlin, consuming her body. Hazeroth relishes his success, until a rose-tinged elemental of prana-infused fire burns him out of the sky.
Sulaiman, Cook, and Tefler find the dead Hazeroth and a now non-metal bodied Astlin. During the fight, she reclaimed her soul from Xander, perfecting her connection to the Fire Stratum - and killing her fiancé once more. The loss weighs heavily upon her, but Tefler talks her into continuing onward. For, according to Thera herself, Astlin can save everyone if she faces whatever Mirai is working on. They reach the Kerioth, where Mirai's workshop is located, and discover the fate of Thurif. But Mirai has been busy, and has raised Thurif's murderer to the godhood, for he is the souldancer of Kairos. Sulaiman recognizes the power and intends to use Mirai to go back in time and kill Elena, Thera's mortal shell prior to the Cataclysm.
As Sulaiman makes his preparations to go back in time, he is attacked by a masked kost, wielding a blade of bluish light and cold. It pierces Sulaiman's heart, and the shades of the dead rush into him. Tefler and Cook remove the blade and drag him to safety, while Astlin confronts the kost, Shaiel's Will - revealed to be her sister Neriad. The kost exhibits her mastery over Astlin's powers, and asks for the fire souldancer to follow her to Cadrys. Mirai ambushes the kost from the deck below. As the fight continues, the ship rises higher into Mithgar's atmosphere, and containers fly through the hold. On reflex, Astlin manages to space Shaiel's Will.
Astlin awakes in the ship's galley, where Cook teaches her a little about cookery and a little about life.
Sulaiman tries to enter Kairos to kill Thera, but is confronted in turn by Th'ix, Tefler, and Navkin before he has a chance to trade swords with Almeth Elocine. With all the obstacles now gone, he makes his was to the Exodus to kill Elena.
Mirai informs Tefler that Sulaiman has failed his assigned task.
Zan attempts to comforts Astlin, before asking if she would die for him. Master Malachi possesses the souldancer and tries to shanghai the crew so he can raze Hell. To save the crew, Astlin opens her Fire Gate once more. Zan withstands the onslaught. But before Master Malachi can accomplish his schemes, Th'ix appears and kills the souldancer with a worked knife.
I've been sitting on the similarities between Xander and Zan for a while, but it strikes me that the better point of comparison is Zan and Deim. Both men were stricken with bad cases of puppy love for their ladies, and both got manipulated by outside forces of the Void for it. Xander loved and dared to lose, and gained his Astlin in the process. The closest either of the infatuated puppy dogs got was a one night stand and soul destroying Void lessons.
The Lawgivers were using Nesshin skills to counter Astlin's flame, similar to Xander's nexism.. Human nexism is supposed to be rare, though. Were these kinsmen to Xander's tribe, or were these skills drawing upon Nesshin souls? I admit keeping track of who is Gen, human, and Nesshin is a bit daunting, especially when I'm also trying to keep track of the various face-heel turns happening as Souldancer speeds towards its finale.
Cook' s chicken soul of the soul scene amused me, but if the lessons he handed out while he was cutting mirepoix with Astlin are anything like his culinary lessons, the fire souldancer would do well to heed his advice. I've written a smidgen of trunk-novel culinary fiction, and, yes, you do use a knife in the manner that Cook says.
At this point, all four elemental souldancers are off the board, with the five others in unknown states.
Up to this point, Souldancer was pretty much self-contained, and could be read as a stand-alone without prior knowledge of the events of Nethereal. With Sulaiman's time-hopping adventure, however, knowledge of Elena and the Exodus is needed to keep track of exactly what is happening. Some of the terminology from here forward, such as the term for Wheel-induced fatigue, is also explained in Nethereal, not Souldancer. As Souldancer has been suggested to be a more natural entry point into the Soul Cycle, it would interest me to know just how confused a reader that has yet to read Nethereal might be here.
An interesting resonance from earlier. Sulaiman, a priest of Midrs, walks the roads of Kairos to go back in time to stop a massacre, only to stopped by Almeth Elocine, a Gen hero who was/will be stopped by a priest of Midras as he sought/seeks to prevent another massacre. In both cases, the quest is forcibly left unfinished. In Sulaiman's case, it explains how he managed to get about the Exodus after he swapped bodies with Teg. Sulaiman did cheat death in Hell, but survived far longer than the crew of the Exodus originally thought.