In Salorien, Astlin continues to offer the hospitality of her house to Xander. The outcast has nightmares, and although Astlin tries to comfort him,the couple manages to render mutual offense to each other. Soon after, Xander sneaks out, but runs into Inspector Culvert, who questions him about Astlin's father. Xander returns to Astlin, who is spooked by word of the inspector's presence.
Szodrin has found Xander's life chord amidst nexism flashes caused by a higher order being. He follows it into a shattered high rise and runs into Damus in the process. He convinces the Day Gen to join his search for Xander. They find a pile of withered and scorched bodies, but Xander's is not among them. They ascend higher in search of the source of the corpses. A metallic being with brilliant blue eyes greets them. She is the Flame that must be quenched to Save All Souls. She begs them to leave.
Xander wakes from another nightmare and finds Szodrin in Salorien. Before he can grill the Night Gen, Inspector Culvert captures Astlin and a stand-off ensues. After the clash of nexism and guns ends, Szodrin points out the flaws in the world around Xander. The Nesshin exile sees through the illusion of Salorien. The real threat is Astlin, the illusion weaver. She seeks someone who will close the wound in her soul, from which the Fire can escape. She asks for Xander's help - and a piece of his soul. Astlin floods his mind wit visions of people ripping out part of her soul. Szodrin tries to get Xander to leave the Souldancer. Instead, Xander manages to bind up the wound in Astlin soul with his nexism and part of his own self.
Xander comes to, yet again, this tie in the ruins of the Tower Graves. He learns from Szodrin that the Night Gen deserter knew his mother and saved him because of that relationship. Before the two of them can sort out more details, including where the Night Gen forces have imprisoned Xander's father and his caravan, more isnashi werewolf Gen attack. Astlin meets them in battles and her Fire consumes them. The danger shifts from attacker to the Flame, which wants to burn even more. With an exertion of will, Astlain and Xander manage to force the Flame back inside the Souldancer's soul, and seal it within. Against Szodrin's judgment, Astlin joins the party.
Take a second look at the Souldancer from Final Fantasy VI, and compare it to Astlin's description. Xander's Souldancer is known for her red hair, brilliant eyes, and brass body, all colors and characteristics from the game sprite. As we've seen elsewhere, Brian is willing to alter the design to better fit his story, as Astlin's eyes are blue and she wears what looks like a black stillsuit. Soul Cycle is influenced by many sources, but synthesizes the influences into something new instead of rehashing and repeating them like many writers are wont to. (Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim omes to mind as such a rehash, of Ranma 1/2 and its 1990s fanfiction scene in particular.)
The discovery of Astlin as a souldancer attuned to fire upends the understanding of the epilogue from Nethereal. Instead of the fiery Cataclysm coming from Thera's rebirth and refilling of the White Well, it came from Astlin arriving in Ostrith somehow (possibly from the Guild prisons or labs?). It took nine sheered souls to create Elena's to revive Thera Souldancer, and one was Astlin's. Where are the other eight and what were they doing during Nethereal? Besides Vaun, that is.
RIP Jemai. He did not survive the Journey to Save All Souls. Fortunately, an outcast finally sated the Flame.
Soul traps are strangely common in the universe of the Soul Cycle, whether in rubies, Souldancer workings, or Hell itself.
Xander certainly wakes up in new in strange situations a lot...