During the fight, Xander nearly downs. In that time between times, he manages to connect with the monster's thoughts, but is pulled back to life. He returns, wounding the monster with his gift. Damus kills the creature, another corrupted Gen known as a pranaphage. Xander reveals existence of his cursed gift, to the delight of Damus and Nahel. But Arcanadeus is missing, likely for sinister reasons...
The trio tracks Arcanadeus into a security vault. Inside, they find a misshapen...thing...in a glass cylinder. Arcanadeus confronts them, revealing himself to be a man known as Thurif. He seeks the Guild's nexism experiments for his own ends. Xander attempts to crush Thurif with his gift, but he resists. Damus attempts to bargain with Thurif, and a bright light carries the impostor steersman and the nightmare experiments away.
While Xander recovers, Damus identifies Xander as a nexist, and theorizes that a nexis-runner ship scooped the two monsters up. To escape this threat, they will need to travel using a Guild gate. Damus intends to seek refuge for Xander with Queen Navkin in Avalon. In gratitude, Xander swears a blood pact with Damus.
Aboard the Ashlam, Szodrin is called on the carpet before his captain for abandoning Sarel's son, a rare human nexist, in the desert. To redeem himself, Szodrin is charged to find the nexist and return him for conversion.
Xander awakens in an opera house under the care of Neriad, an older red-haired woman. After the show, she takes him through the city on her way home. He meets her family, including her younger sister Astlin. Xander and Astlin navigate each other's strange customs, and Xander learns that not only is he not on Mithgar, the Cataclysm has yet to happen.
Damus and Nahel search for Xander in Ostrith, triggering Guild defenses and a Night Gen pack in the process. As the isnashi close in, Nahel covers Damus's escape. A Night Gen shaman binds Nahel in the names of Elathan, Thera, and Shaiel, allowing its pack to kill the malakh. Damus escapes after killing a pursuing Night Gen, and follows a strange perfume deeper into the Tower Graves.
Szodrin traces Xander's life chord, but runs into Ruthven, the captain of the rival ship Kerioth, who is searching for Xander and a Gen ship. Szodrin manipulates Ruthven into opening a Guild gate and then double-crosses him.
Compared to the alien and exotic Nethereal, the scenes and the settings of Souldancer are far more familiar. Ruined chain-link fences, rust-clogged industrial complexes, and abandoned cities can be seen today, whether in that one abandoned lot downtown or by watching shows like Life Without People. This anchors Xander's adventure in a reality most tangible to the reader. It also makes the intrusions of the weird more vivid by contrast, such as the monsters, whirlpools, and Night Gen werewolves.
Per Nethereal, nexism is tied to natural processes in the world of the Soul Cycle. The soul trap that is Hell was built to interfere with this process. Hell still exists, but when Elena became Thera and rejuvenated the universe, did she route the flows from the White Well around the soul trap? Nexism is also a third magic, distinct from White Well prana workings and the magic of the Void.
Sarel's heterodox views of the gods now make sense, as she is somehow connected to the Gen and the Shaiel faction. Was she part of yet another breeding program designed to created nexism users such as her son, Xander? One thing is certain; she is held in high esteem by both Nesshin and the space travelers of the Ashlam. And it is out of that respect that Xander was not harvested as raw materials for whatever scheme is in play.
Part of the fun of the Puppy of the Month club is that the authors tend to stop by and add to the discussion. In addition to commenting here, Brian Niemeier has been going further in depth over at his own site, Kairos. One of the secrets that he let slip is the connection between the bestiary of Final Fantasy VI and the souldancers of the Soul Cycle. This makes me curious to what other creatures might be "palette-swapped" from the game. It's hard to say; Brian is economical with his descriptions, relying instead on one or two quick details that supply just enough information for readers to fill in the rest of the picture. This indirect approach has been championed by horror and weird writers, since no description on the page can match the mind's eye image in the reader's head.
Speaking of Final Fantasy, the opera house is one of the set piece scenes in FFVI. Seeing a nod to it here brought a smile to my face, especially since I view Xander as a nod to Celes. He fits the same role of the World of Ruin magic user and perspective character as Celes, and both have been found in opera houses. Fortunately, we are spared his attempts to sing.
Another red-haired potential love interest? Heinlein's curse strikes again.
Nahel might be dead, but that does not mean that we won't see him again. As I mentioned earlier, the soul trap of Hell is still in place...
Finally, a mentally/magically-superpowered mutated being in a glass tube is a moldy-oldy of anime, somewhat out of favor now since the medium has shifted away from space opera and and science-fiction. Seeing one in the middle of a technology lab made sense and adds to the aforementioned familiarity of Souldancer compared to its predecessor.