From The Heretic Knowledge Vault
See also Chapter timelines for summaries of start and end dates for chapters.
A pregnant elf (Sarine Elle) worries to her mate about the health and safety of her half elf child in a world where the half elves are sometimes born “wrong” and elves and half elves are at war. Her husband tries to reassure her.
Two thousand years pass. Sarine appears as a mysterious cloaked figure in a western-style town (given the name Bardus Sopora in the reboot, although it doesn't have that name in the original). She asks questions of the locals and approaches a man drinking alone in a bar (Derren Felmel). A short conversation about local murders unnerves the man. Sarine apologizes (to whom is not made clear), then cuts his throat and resumes travel as a mysterious cloaked figure.
A young half elf girl (Meji Hinadori) discusses with her familiar (Ellis) her predicament in school. She is failing and needs a spectacular senior project in order to graduate. In class, she announces her intention of becoming “An Insane, All-Powerful Demigod” and enslaving all of reality. This announcement is greeted with laughter and doubt, rather than surprise or horror. Her teacher, Professor Yukiri, attempts to dissuade her, but gives up when it becomes apparent that Meji has no plan at all, and likely won’t even make it out into the world sufficiently to be in danger.
Angered by being ridiculed, Meji attempts actual research. Thanks to a Deus ex Machina spell, she discovers that precisely the information she needs to accomplish her task may be located in the "Heretic Knowledge Vault" in Veracia. Meji is determined to locate the power she needs to show up her teacher and classmates, so she begins her journey by taking a warp gate to Saus.
Introduction of the Ensigerum, though they are not named in the story yet. A monk (Warrel) times a girl (Sara Amraphel) as she eliminates a room full of men armed with guns. The girl is berated by her teacher for even as a novice allowing one of the Gewehr to so much as put a bullet hole in her sleeve.
In Saus, Meji and Ellis witness several men bullying a naïve young man, and are threatened by the bullies. Meji “resists” the bullies with perhaps excessive force. The young man (Chris) expresses his gratitude at length. Meji and Ellis finally turn invisible to escape the wannabe hero’s chatter and resume their journey only after he’s gone.
Outside town, Meji encounters a group of police searching for a Gewehr assassin. The assassin (Jon Amraphel) attempts to use her as a hostage. Meji electrocutes the police and threatens to turn in Jon for a bounty. He saves Meji’s life and decides to travel with her and pretend to be her bodyguard.
Jon reveals that the reason he is being hunted by the police is that he was turned in after an assassination. He and Meji journey to Emerylon together before splitting up. There, Jon is ordered by his boss to lay low indefinitely, and there is a brief discussion of the recent Ensigerum attack.
Meanwhile, Meji breaks into the church library (setting off a Dispel Trap and having a merry melee with some NPC Guards along the way), only to discover that another half elf (Ian Samael) is already there and he has the book she wants. Upon being discovered by a nun, he and Meji escape the library together. Jon leaves the Gewehr hideout just in time to be informed by a search party that two mages tried to burn down the vault.
Sarine, in Saus as she tracks the errants, has a painful flashback to the death of her husband/mate. This is interrupted by a random townsperson who confides to Sarine that a terrifying mage is on the loose and has trashed some young men of the town (who, of course, were the ones who had tormented Chris, and thus had it coming). The intelligence source gets annoying and is eventually commanded by Sarine to go away, as she tries to get over the flashback.
Outside Emerylon, Jon meets up with Meji and Ian. After a bit of male bonding, they all decide to travel together, and Ian reveals that his reason for wanting the book is to heal his sister and some others from his village who are sick.
Camped down for the night, the trio discusses the prevailing explanations for the existence of the various races in the world. Meanwhile, Sarine terrifies the surviving bully from Saus.
A long, portentous chapter that opens with Ian explaining to Meji why he's on his quest and why he has no use for elves. They start making sense out of the mysterious book, Meji noting that there appear to be coordinates for something and allowing that a battlemage friend of hers (Bani) knows more about the subject than she does. Following a carefully staged but ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Meji to get Ian interested in her "nubile, pert young body" (sic -- drollery from Ellis follows), the party continues to Saus. There, things get lively.
Jon, who has decided to sneak into town via the rooftops, has an unfortunate misstep that leads to an encounter with "Polly," the "seamstress" who busted Jon earlier. While he's disentangling himself from this, Sarine attempts to report back to the elves, but rather than getting aid from fellow rangers, is surprised and annoyed to have summoned Toren, who is an elven military commander, and an elven military unit. Toren rather condescendingly dismisses Sarine and stages an ambush for the half elves, which Ian however detects in time to avoid the worst of the magical assault. Jon, who's still trying to escape from Polly (and vice versa), hears the resulting fracas and goes to investigate...
A violent melee breaks out between the elven military party and Jon and Ian, Meji being incapacitated by the disruption effects cast by Toren. Jon and Meji flee while Ian is still casting mighty fire spells (which have left much of the town in flames), and leave the area via a slow boat to avoid detection. En route to wherever they're going, Jon summons a memory that suggests a possible next step for the group's quest.
Meanwhile, Sarine (whose opinion of the elven raid was never high -- "Well... this certainly turned into a mess" -- and who was not part of the melee) has been healing wounded elven soldiers. She intimidates a Shipping Company Guy into telling her where Jon and Meji are going, but for reasons not yet revealed, chooses to conceal this information when she has an encounter in town with fellow elven ranger Sarna, whose opinion of humans is also not very high. Of course, her opinion of the elven army and the "Lead Dead Moron" (Toren) isn't very high either, and her body language suggests that she doesn't have a high opinion of much of anything. Condescension, we're beginning to learn, just comes pretty easily to elves.
Somewhere in northeastern Veracia, Imperatrix Anita is practicing her fighting skills. She's head of the Ensigerum, an order of fighting monks who lost most of their fighting skills because they don't need them any more. Time magic is so much more convenient. The Imperatrix is not happy with the lack of ambition of her subjects either, who don't care about the world outside except to protect their village. Word of the incident at Saus has reached them, and so has Chris. He's the son of Correl, a former monk who risked his life to leave the order and obviously did not tell his son about the details of his departure. Chris is allowed to join the order, though his prospects are dim.
Over in Farrel, at the city of Taberna, Mandi is running a bar in memory of her father. Business is slow when her long-time-no-see buddy Jon shows up. But his arrival is not unexpected, as somebody had been asking questions about him and Meji. Mandi remembers a thing or two about Jon's good-hearted nature, and a flashback reveals that he was involved in some unspecified activities of which his mother did not approve. He still feels guilty about letting his little sister Sara down, but is living in denial.
Finally, the inquisitive hooded stranger shows up to have a chat. It's Sarine, whose beautifully pointed ears trigger a fierce reaction with Jon. Sarine is particularily interested in the book that was considered important enough to be hidden not only from humans and errants, but also from elves. Too bad it went missing in Saus, along with Ian. Jon's plan is to go chasing old wives' tales with Meji, for lack of something better to do. Sarine states her intention to help, though she is not very specific about it. During all this talk, Meji had been moping upstairs, travel sick or for some other reason. Her reaction to Sarine's ears is even fiercer than Jon's.
Jon and Meji leave for Thranel, with a new twist: Sarine is coming along. Meji is not too fond of this, while Jon is not too fond of using a warp gate. Sarine displays her usefulness by giving Mandi an explanation for her destroyed guestroom, magical nocturnal emissions. Her attempt to disperse Jon's uneasiness about his first time by explaining the scientific details of warp travel is met with less success. At the warp gate in Taberna, Jon seems to be lucky since Thranel has no such device. After Meji throws a tantrum over travel runes, alternative means of travel are discussed, including Ellis transforming into his true form, which is not helpful. Eventually Port Lorrel is chosen as the next stop, for having a warp gate and being in walking distance from Thranel.
Arriving in Port Lorrel, Meji bumps into her old schoolmate Bani Igaaru. Childhood memories arise... Bani being the new girl in school, making friends with the undergrown outsider Meji at the age of 14. We learn that not all familiars are winged cats, but some are micro tentacle monsters with password protected adult modes. Meji grew up in the house of her grandfather, who was also very supportive in jumpstarting her school career. Bani pointed out some future advantages of Meji's delayed aging, like dancing. Nowadays, Meji admits feelings for Ian, kind of.
Meanwhile, Jon and Sarine have an intimate talk at a nearby bistro, revealing not much of anything.
Meji, Sarine, Jon, and Ellis travel from Port Lorrel to Thranel. Meji is cranky because they are walking - except for Ellis who is flying - but Jon doesn't like horses. Ellis pisses everyone off, getting a flashy X-ray style spell in return. Sarine pisses everyone off as well, by using weird-ass names in her speech like everyone is supposed to know what they mean, which probably marks the first time that Jon and Ellis are in agreement about anything. The following short lesson in elven races is learned best by investigating the Heretic Knowledge Vault (not the real one - this one).
Sarine and Meji have a talk about Meji's roots. Her father Rarune, an elven ambassador showing up in Tsuirakushiti every twenty years, is not likely to be pleased about meeting his daughter. At night, Sarine is having a bath in some kind of river while Jon is guarding her against lurking perverts, not minding possible consequences. Meji is still moping occasionally, when she isn't causing explosions. Just when Sarine is about to start a really long lesson about elven history, the chapter ends.
Sarine narrates elven history -- at length. The four elven races were at peace with each other. It was their golden age, when dwarves had faded away, trolls were driven away, and the gods had walked away. An expedition looking for the dwarves instead stumbled across a new race, the humans. They were primitive, fragile, easy to impress, and looked vaguely like elves. The elves took the humans back home with them, for protection and study. They turned out to be quick in learning and reproduction, so they filled out the jobs in elven society for which there never was enough manpower before. Both races flourished.
Humans also turned out to be genetically compatible with elves. The elven fertility rate had always been marginal, so there was another gap that humans helped to fill. Compared to humans, half elves were stronger, faster, healthier, lived longer, and had more talent for magic. So, in order to improve on the human race, intercourse was intensified. Half elves took over most of the jobs previously filled by humans, which in turn retreated to manual labor. The only humans that were still teached directly by elves were gladiators, who received their training from the Viradior, an elven military elite force that had nothing else to do in those times of peace. Sarine herself was one of those Viradior training human gladiators.
Sarine explains, with just a hint of personal involvement, that direct coupling between humans and elves was still in fashion at the time. One of the reasons for that is that the human had the decency to die before the elf could get tired of the relationship, which is the closest analogy to love for an immortal. While many elves still had reservations against bonding with humans, those did not apply to bonding with half elves. As the number of half elves being born increased, it became apparent that some of them had physical, magical, or psychological deficiencies. Those half elves were called errants. Magical treatments were mostly useless because of the half elves' natural resistance against magic. But since only few Errants were born, half elves continued to incorporate themselves into elven society and their achievements rivaled those of the elves.
Malacia, the capital of one of the elven races, was a city built upon an artificial island floating in the sky. Elves, half elves, and humans joined their forces to build a new city based on the same principle, to become the first true half elven city. Some elven religious fanatics were raving against the half elves, but they were mostly ignored until... the strongest half elven mage alive, Kiyan Nizami, went bananas and within a quarter of an hour damaged Malacia to the point that it had to be abandoned and sunk into the ocean. The vibe was tense afterwards, but construction of the new city continued for another year, mainly driven by half elves and human mages. It was already floating in the sky when it suddenly B4ed, disappearing for 1800 years (to reappear as Tsuirakushiti).
Elves, half elves, and humans were all very upset after these two disasters. A motion suggesting to "put errants out of their misery before they have a chance to become dangerous" triggered arguments, which became violent, and blossomed into a civil war. At the beginning, it was between those who "wanted the best" and those who wanted to avoid a genocide, but that gradually turned into a war between elves and half elves, the latter now all considered errants. This lasted for centuries, destroying almost all of elven society. When finally nobody was willing to fight anymore and all half elves were dead or scattered, the remaining elves retired into their only city still standing. They blamed the humans as the cause of all misery, threw them out of the city, and created a magical barrier keeping everyone out. This barrier would last for 1500 years, until Veracia sent Luminosita and made contact with the elves again.
Meji, Ellis and Jon are not exactly satisfied with this excursion in elven history. But since Sarine took all day, without even explaining what this problem is that she was hinting at, nobody dares to ask questions.
The action starts with a sparring bout between Chris and Sara, much to the former's disadvantage. Paul scolds Warrel for allowing it to go on, then learns that Imperatrix Anita has traveled to visit the Veracian Church, to his displeasure and concern. As the scene shifts, Anita intimidates Jeramel into supporting her vendetta against the Gewehr Wraiths.
Meanwhile, Meji and Jon are discovering that although elves may have poetic music of a sort, it doesn't necessarily sound good when rendered in the human language, at least by Sarine. Sarine's music (such as it is) leads her to a painful study of the (by then) sleeping Meji that reminds her of her long-lost daughter, launching a soliloquy that awakens Jon. The two engage in an impassioned exchange about pain that ends with an unexpected yet long-anticipated
roll in the hay sex scene, to the disgust of the foraging Ellis, who finishes the chapter with a great throwaway line.
The morning after the night before dawns with a certain bit of awkwardness (misinterpreted by Meji, who's dispatched on an errand to get her out of the way) between the overnight bedmates Sarine and Jon. Sarine, made uncomfortable by Jon's fumbling attempts to discuss the tryst, casts a Mind Wipe on Jon so that he forgets it. (Ellis, who was an inadvertent witness to proceedings, complains that he's going to be left with the memory for the rest of his life, but Sarine still doesn't mind-wipe him, just Jon.) Eventually the party resumes traveling to Thranel.
The scene shifts to the Ensigerum Village, starting with a flashback sequence chronicling the death of VIP Connel at the hands of a little old lady (who we later learn is Anne, a member of the Gewehr). The failure of an unnamed monk to prevent the assassination, we learn, has to do both with Anita's elevation to the role of Imperatrix, and her own personal vendetta against the Gewehr. The conservative Paul muses on recent events and counsels Anita to go through channels (i.e., himself) in dealing with the Veracian Church, and to continue the Ensigerum's historic policy of keeping a low profile in the outside world, interfering only when the village's interests require it. Anita, of course, doesn't listen ...
En route to Thranel, Jon, Sarine, Meji and Ellis discover the burning wreckage of a wagon and its late occupants, apparently the victims of bandits. Sarine and a seething Jon (who, we learn, doesn't like bandits) have a subdued but angry exchange about each other's professions and ethics, during which Jon reveals that he knows Sarine messed with his memory, although he doesn't know exactly how and why. Eventually the party reaches an inn in Thranel (the Well Traveled Woman) and notices "Dennis," a huge man with his face wrapped in bandages. Leaving Meji and Jon to their thoughts and doubts, Sarine discovers that "Dennis" is actually the elf Melrin, who's been living in the Thranel area for ages and uses the bandages as a disguise to hide the fact that he isn't aging like a normal human. Following a guarded exchange of information, Melrin apparently agrees to guide the party as they search the neighboring forest. However, as Sarine leaves the inn to continue negotiations where she and Melrin won't be overheard speaking in elvish, we see Melrin on a rooftop preparing to fall on her with a disturbingly glowing weapon. Sarine, we see, is walking into an ambush ... and the chapter ends.
Most of the chapter is taken up by an extended melee between Sarine and Melrin, who's lured her outside with promises of information about the enchanted forest. Striking from a rooftop ambush, Melrin wins the first round (using a Durus Flamma weapon, which by elven convention is only supposed to be used in duels and other ceremonial combat), but is gradually overwhelmed by Sarine's prowess with spell and sword, and eventually succumbs to a thrust through the gizzard with his own weapon. Badly battered but still alive, unlike her late opponent, Sarine uses an Illusion spell to slip back into the inn and tell Jon and Meji what happened and why. After sleep and some serious healing, the party leaves town, although not before Ellis "helps" another cat who's in heat.
In the Ensigerum village, Sara, who's doing nursery duty as a punishment, is chatted up by monk-wannabe Chris. She shatters his high hopes for monkhood by explaining his father's past, and also, why the instructors are being so hard on him: they want him to fail -- and die. He retreats with his metaphorical tail between his legs as Sara resumes baby-sitting. Meanwhile, Meji, Ellis, Jon and Sarine venture into the forest outside Thranel, where they are tailed by bandit Jim. Sarine captures Jim with a bit of magical distraction, then uses a Domination spell to get him to spill his guts on the location and activities of the bandit camp and other oddities of the forest. (This doesn't set well with Jon, who's figured out by now that Sarine tampered with his memories the morning after the night before.) The bandit camp is wiped out through a joint attack by spell and firearms, and Jim too is found disposable and disposed of, after a brief discourse by Jon on Farrelian civics. The party eventually reaches the Elven Anti-Human Device that Jim had warned them about; Sarine disarms it, and the party beds down for the night.
The party penetrates deeper into the forest, delayed by a powerful ward system that stops Sarine in her tracks and pains Meji -- but lets her and Jon pass and disable the system. Sarine is awestruck by the sophistication of the wards, but the party presses forward until they discover a portal, leading who-knows-where. After some experimentation using the reluctant Ellis, they pass through the portal to discover a Giant Magic Potato on the far side as Sarine's awe grows constantly deeper. Tentative, careful probing is interrupted by an outburst from Ellis that summons two odd fairy-like creatures who call each other "Nookie" and "Kawaii," although we learn later that those aren't their real names. Sarine is stunned to realize that despite their inexplicably child-like behavior, Nookie and Kawaii are two of the Paedagogusi, servants of the elven gods Anilis and Senilis, but the chapter ends before she can learn anything more about them.
A crucial and dizzying chapter, as Meji (and Ellis), Jon, and particularly Sarine (whose religious beliefs are taking a serious hit) continue to struggle to make sense of their encounter with the Paedagogusi Nookie and Kawaii, whose behavior is considerably less, well, dignified than Sarine expected. After some rambling exchanges of information, during which Sarine reveals why she mind-wiped Jon and it comes out that someone else had visited the Giant Magic Potato recently, Nookie counsels the visitors to stay put and not touch anything, but of course Meji doesn't listen, and slips away from the reeling Sarine to find something to touch. The thing she touches, however, turns out not to have the expected Anilis within. After a moment of non-fatal but scary violence, the party escapes via the portal and returns to Thranel.
Back in the inn, while Meji mopes in her room, Sarine tries to get Jon (who's consuming beer at a prodigious rate) to explain exactly why Meji has dragged them all off on this peculiar quest. He's uncommunicative, but Ellis spills the beans, eliciting doubt and concern from Sarine, who explains the difference (as she sees it) between "real" gods like Anilis and Senilis, and the bogus magical construct that is Luminosita. Their discussion is interrupted by a commotion upstairs (which has also attracted Meji's awed attention), so they go up to investigate ...
wait for it ...
... and Ian does it.
The entire chapter is a flashback to Ian's journey since his decision to leave Santuariel (and his nearly catatonic mother), during which we learn that the tales he spun to Meji and Jon are true: he's looking for healing magic to help his sister Evelyn, who's resigned to an early death from just the kind of physical problems we've been told characterize Errants. Leaving Evelyn and his mother in the care of his friends Riley and Leah, he relives his nearly fatal battle with Toren, struggles to get into a warp gate, outwits (and outfights) the band of bandits that would later be exterminated by Jon and colleagues, and finally has a chaotic yet gentle encounter with Kawaii, who doesn't know how to handle a sugar rush. From there it's on to see Anilis, where ...
... something ...
A man claiming to be a disappointed official in the Veracian Church approaches the Gewehr Wraiths with a business proposition regarding one Winston Maurel, recently elevated to the rank of Cardinal. After a deal is struck, it is revealed that the Ensigerum have a hand in the arrangement, as part of Anita's plan to destroy the Gewehr. The scene shifts to where Jon (whose name came up in side conversations during the negotiations) is having a not-too-tearful parting scene with Sarine, who thinks Jon underestimates the seriousness of whatever happened to Ian and Meji and implores him to help sort it all out. He wants no part of it and goes off to meet with Gabriel and his sidekick. En route to the briefing, Jon tries to unload Ellis, who has tagged along (and who fills us in on Tsuirakuan homeland security concerns), on a Tsuirakuan soldier, but he isn't buying. Meanwhile, Sarine reluctantly returns home, to be met by what certainly looks like an ambush ...
Sarine narrowly avoids slaying her young (by elven standards) friend Misa, who's picked a most inopportune time for a playful mock-ambush. Chastened, Misa agrees to do a small favor for Sarine and moves on. Sarine, who has made clear her dislike for Praenubilus Astu and the attitudes found there, locks horns with some members of the Elven Council over their concealment of the resting place of Anilis, in a verbal sparring match where both sides know more than they're saying. After trading barbs with the Council over preparedness and foresight (and carefully concealing any mention of Meji), she leaves the Council to plan their next move, doing a little intelligence gathering on Rarune while she's at it.
A short chapter that opens with Sarine having yet another painful flashback. Her friend Misa comes calling with the news that the elven powers-that-be are mobilizing forces to deal with the Anilis situation. We learn that Misa knows about Sarine's ambivalent views regarding errants and shares them, at least to the point that Misa wants to partner with Sarine on the search, but Sarine would rather go it alone, as usual. Meanwhile, Ian exults in his mysteriously new-found powers, while Meji considers how to turn them to her advantage...
Sara and Warrel engage a band of trolls unexpectedly close to the Ensigerum village (with disastrous results for the trolls), prompting some reflection on the part of the Ensigerum leadership. A possible test of Sara's loyalty to the Ensigerum is identified, ominously for Jon, who's been summoned to Gewehr headquarters to prepare for the Winston Maurel job. (Gabriel, leader of the Gewehr, suspects this gig is a trap, but he's sufficiently ticked off at Jon for blowing his cover on his previous job that he doesn't really care.) Ellis concludes this short chapter by having his "magic kitty butt-raising button" (sic) pushed. In the middle of it all, we receive another Poe-ish warning about physics and catgirls.
In trance, Sara reflects on how she came to the Ensigerum, but is interrupted by Warrel who reviews her impending pre-initiation mission/ritual. Sara's cold, lifeless eyes indicate that she understands the implications all too well. Meanwhile, Jon prepares for the Winston Maurel hit, only to be surprised by a disturbingly cheerful Sarine. Sarine's attempt to dissuade Jon from the job, in favor of a more altruistic mission, fails, but Warrel saves Maurel's life, provoking a confrontation. (Paul, back in the Ensigerum village, wonders whether this was as good an idea as Anita thinks it is.)
An extended melee breaks out between Jon and Sarine on one side, and Warrel and Sara on the other, as Sarine fails to intimidate the arrogant Warrel into talking rather than fighting. At first the fight goes dangerously badly for Sarine, who has underestimated the power of the Ensigerum's time magic. However, Jon, despite being stunned to discover that his adversary is his long-lost sister, succeeds in distracting Warrel just long enough for Sarine to strike a fatal blow. Chastened and badly wounded but surviving, Sarine engages in some half-hearted repartee with Jon (who has subdued Sara and is taking her along for the ride, to Sarine's dismay, and ponders the idea of a juicy reward from Sarine) as they leave the church.
Somewhere in the Northern Confederacy, Riley's unusual anatomy provokes a bar fight that she escapes with the help of a bluff by Leah, whose respiratory problem makes itself known. As they return to Santuariel, Meji and Ian are arriving by way of Ian's supercharged capacity for flight, which however leaves him exhausted and then in an odd, drunken-like state. He sees Riley's and Leah's wagon in the distance and decides to bum a ride to Santuariel with them, first to their consternation as they can't believe that the straight-arrow Ian can be in the drunken state he meets them in, then to their horror as they realize that he is heading straight for some very bad news. On arrival he is enraged to find that his house has burned down and his mother and much-loved sister are dead. He casts mighty magic at Leah that appears to have some seriously bad effect rather than the healing spell he intended, but the chapter ends before we learn exactly what that effect is.
Ian grows increasingly comfortable and proficient with his Healing skills, after making peace with Leah, who was not entirely thrilled with the pre-emptive Omega-Heal she got. As Riley (whose backstory begins to emerge) has spilled the beans about his power, Ian discovers a gaggle of townsfolk waiting to be healed while Riley describes exactly what's wrong with them. He heals the townsfolk (he's curiously unable to help the unhappy Susan, and Riley decides she likes herself as she is) until collapsing from exhaustion, and Meji makes the rest go away by threatening to create more things needing healing. When Ian comes to, he wants to see where his sister and mother are buried. (Meanwhile, Leah runs for the first time without fear of dropping dead afterwards, and the earth moves for her and Riley.) Ian ponders whether his powers are enough to resurrect Evelyn and decides, to Meji's horror, to give it a try. However, he discovers that it's one thing to resurrect a body, but quite another to restore a departed soul, and the chapter ends messily.
In the Ensigerum village, a nervous Paul informs Anita (who acknowledges that she doesn't take bad news gracefully) of the failure of the Winston Maurel trap. The two ponder the significance of having an elf appear in the middle of this battle to kill Warrel, being unwilling to accept that it was coincidence (as in fact it was). After exploring a number of possible explanations, Anita decrees an acceleration of the campaign against the Gewehr Wraiths, combined with intensified intelligence gathering by way of the Veracian Church.
Meanwhile, Jon and Sarine have escaped the scene of the melee and are considering what to do with their captive, Jon's sister Sara, whom Sarine has secured with manacles (or so she thinks -- Jon's opinion of this gadget is not high). Jon attempts to mend fences with his resentful sister, but with a notable lack of success. Sarine tries a different approach: a duel. What starts out as grim and earnest combat between Sarine and Sara turns into a bout of jousting and trash talking (mainly by Sarine) that's interrupted by Jon. After some dominance games, Sara stays with the party and the weapons are sheathed. Throughout, Ellis keeps up his usual running line of sarcasm and sass.
In Tsuirakushiti, a dejected Meji tells her young friend Etsuko what happened in Santuariel. Etsuko tries to cheer her up, then to talk sense to her about the need to actually try in school, but leaves in a huff when Meji won't listen. Meanwhile, Sarine, Jon, Sara and Ellis arrive at the Tsuirakushiti warp gate, to be detained by a suspicious portal mage whose suspicions are allayed by an artful (and, as it turns out, unexpectedly credible) fabrication by Sarine. Sarine stays behind for a briefing by the portal mages, who treat her with unusual respect because of an impending ambassadorial visit, while the others go looking for Meji.
The party finds Meji at the home of her mother (whose name, we learn, is Miyo Hinadori) as mutual antipathy between Miyo and Ellis emerges amusingly. While the others make awkward small talk, Sarine puts Jon in the picture on the ambassadorial visit and the need to hide from the accompanying goons. Sarine discovers, to her distress, that Miyo is still carrying a torch for Meji's long-absent father (Rarune) and is ecstatic to hear that he's coming to Tsuirakushiti for a visit. However, she gently convinces Miyo to let the party occupy Meji for a while so that Miyo can renew her acquaintance(?) with Rarune and tell him that he has a half-elven child. The party goes to ground in the home of Meji's friend Bani Igaaru to hide, while visiting dignitaries (Miyo and Meji's Grandfather among them) receive the elven party at the warp gate amid an exchange of diplomatic pleasantries.
The headquarters of the Veracian Church in Emerylon comes under sudden, devastating magical attack, soon revealed to be caused by a floating, deranged-looking Ian. Patriarch Jeramel's entourage desperately erects magical defenses, which do not, however, keep Ian from entering Jeramel's chambers. As a last chance, the Veracians summon their god (or pseudo-god) Luminosita to fight Ian, but the latter casts a quiet Dispel that "banishes" Luminosita, leaving the Veracians stunned and horrified. Ian returns to Jeramel's chambers, treating his protectors roughly, and starts to interrogate Jeramel about the Church's connections to the elves, to find out where they are now. The incongruity of this question causes Jeramel to laugh hysterically, which (among other things) buys time for a debilitating sword strike on Ian by the captain of Jeramel's guard. The captain in turn is struck down by the lurking newcomer Sandel, who's infiltrated the Church as a spy (probably for the Ensigerum, although it isn't explicitly stated) and escapes with the body of the incapacitated Ian using his time-ninja powers.
Meanwhile, back in Tsuirakushiti, the floating city takes a brief, disconcerting dip as a result of the energy pulse released by the banishment of Luminosita. Sarine, who has joined Jon, Sara, Meji and Ellis in their hidey-hole in the apartment of Meji's friend Bani Igaaru, recognizes the pulse for what it is and deduces that Ian was responsible for it. Bani's dad, also introduced in this chapter, reassures the party about the reliability of the Levitation Devices used to keep the city afloat, amid a remarkably cordial exchange of pleasantries with the "scary, armed individuals" who have followed his daughter's best friend into the apartment, and goes off to watch the news.
Meji, in hiding at the flat of her friend Bani Igaaru in Tsuirakushiti, still longs to see her father Rarune, and hatches an ill-conceived plan to at least see him from a distance at the embassy party in progress. However, on arrival at the party, she and Ellis are rapidly abducted by an elf in the honor guard. Bani's father Toshi, who spoke to Meji as she was leaving the apartment (getting a transparent lie as to her reason for leaving), mentions her departure to Sarine, who instantly understands the implications and gathers up Jon and Sara to try to keep Meji out of trouble (interrupting some fantasizing on Toshi's part regarding Sarine). Unfortunately, they first look for her at her mother's place rather than at the party. On arrival they find Miyo drunk and heartbroken, apparently having been thrown over by Rarune at the party.
Shortly after they arrive, two elves appear at the door: an unnamed soldier in heavy armor, and Peregin Barin, who brings the "news" that Meji's father has "invited" her to accompany him to Praenubilus Astu and that she has accepted this "offer." Of course, this doesn't fool Jon or Sara (not to mention Sarine, who's departed hastily through a window), and Sara attempts an ill-advised ambush, first being flattened by a "reactive shield" spell and then slammed against a wall and pinned by a Force Bolt. The elves try to figure out just what is confronting them, and also to bully Jon into submission -- which is a disastrous error, as immediately after Barin leaves to report back to the elves, Jon shoots the soldier point-blank in the belly. He succeeds in extracting the real story from the dying elf, sends Sara back to the Igaaru apartment to hide, and goes in search of Sarine, who makes telepathic contact with him to convey the news that the elves have already left Tsuirakushiti. The two plot their next move as Jon suggests it might be a good idea to get out of town for a while anyway, although he doesn't tell Sarine why.
In the Ensigerum village, Ian dreams of his childhood, apparently happily, but the dream turns into a terrifying nightmare involving Anilis (maybe). He wakes up in a violently enraged state, scaring the watching Nessie badly, but is calmed down by Anita with an offer of a pair of pants(!) donated by the surprised Eben. Anita, Ian and Paul enjoy the scenery of the village as Anita explains why the Ensigerum is there, mentioning in passing that she knows what's been happening with the errant hunts and that she doesn't like the elves either. When Ian can't give a good explanation for why he behaved the way he did in Emerylon, Paul flies into a rage and threatens to kill Ian, who's oddly willing to go along with it. Anita stops Paul (who leaves in a huff), explaining Paul's connections to Emerylon, and makes a quiet overture to Ian implying possible buy-in to his anti-elf crusade.
Meanwhile, Sarine, Jon and Sara begin their journey to Praenubilus Astu, with Jon trying (with some success) to embarrass his sister while Sarine expostulates on the technology of travel platforms. Jon makes jokes about a fanciful elven history, only to learn from a half-annoyed, half-saddened Sarine that his jokes have altogether too much basis in fact. (Sara makes her own joke about this, stunning Jon and Sarine, since Sara never jokes.) They travel to a site outside Praenubilus Astu, where Sarine begins to make plans to get the humans into the city; however, a large elven party emerges from hiding and captures the adventurers as the chapter ends. (Meanwhile, Meji and Ellis sing the jailhouse blues somewhere in elven captivity.)
The confrontation between the rescue party and the elven patrol continues, as the officious Rhee first blusters at Sarine for bringing humans so close to Praenubilus Astu, then has his nose broken in a time-ninja attack by Sara. Sarine defuses an increasingly dangerous situation with some artful
diplomacybluffing, during which Sara stuns the elves (both literally and figuratively) with the realization that she speaks Elvish and wears a uniform with symbols of the ancient Ensigerum. The rescuers proceed into Praenubilus Astu under escort as Sarine searches for a Plan B and Jon, who doesn't speak elvish and can't comprehend the tense negotiations between Sarine and the patrol, wonders what's going on.
Meanwhile, in the Ensigerum village, Ian, who's increasingly aware of the mess he has made of things while in an Anilis-possessed rage, reaches a momentous decision: he's agreeable to helping Anita fight the elves. Anita engages Ian in a brief sparring bout (the invitation to which Ian briefly misinterprets ... "You want to have a go at it?" ...), landing a few pulled punches on him before Ian's magical temper reappears and he slams Anita into a wall. Anita reproves him for his loss of control, and Ian shame-facedly realizes that some behavioral changes on his part are going to be necessary for the new partnership to succeed.
Back in Praenubilus Astu, Sarine and the Amraphels are "guests" in a consulate -- for whom is not revealed -- where Sarine searches for a plan, while exchanging witticisms with Jon to frustrate the bugs and scrying devices she knows are in their quarters. After defeating the bugs and scryers, she falls asleep, to be awakened by a knock at the door. It's her friend Misa, who's heard rumors of humans in the Skyless City and come to investigate. Misa is fascinated to learn not merely that an Ensigerum monk is present, but a female Ensigerum monk, which strikes her as "incredible." Sarine takes advantage of the rumor mill, and Misa's child-like enthusiasm at meeting humans (particularly Sara), to formulate a new plan for rescuing Meji (although we don't know yet what it is), and sends Misa out for some shopping and errand running as the chapter ends.
An unusually difficult chapter to summarize, as events in multiple locations develop simultaneously and push toward a great confrontation in Praenubilus Astu. In the consulate, Misa (who's delivered a surreptitious message to Meji alerting her that Jon, Sara and Sarine are nearby) brings the supplies requested by Sarine, including the only remaining Inanire 312, the function of which Sarine explains. Sarine, Jon and Sara get in costume for their appearance before the Elven Council, and proceed to the meeting with the high and mighty (where Sarine notices one of her "relations," most likely her mother, to their mutual discomfort). After an exchange of pleasantries, the participants, including the newly-introduced Nisotta, get down to business ...
But a disruption is coming, as in the Ensigerum village, Ian is honing his Anilis-enhanced magical skills, with the particular goal of figuring out where Meji is. After some false starts and a curiously innocent exchange with monk-wannabe Chris, who's functioning as Ian's orderly/servant, Ian succeeds in making telepathic contact with Meji, who describes her predicament. Ian predictably flies off the handle, melts a hole in his quarters' wall, and flies away to come to Meji's rescue, leaving Chris wondering what happened.
Back in the council chambers, Sarine's efforts to convince the elves to release Meji, or at least treat her well until she is exchanged for Barin (still captive in Tsuirakushiti), go increasingly poorly. First, Nisotta politely discloses that the elven power elite have already decided to squeeze Meji for information about the errant who attacked Emerylon, and then an unidentified councilor starts to attack Sarine for her heterodoxy and for having revealed sensitive information exchanged during her previous visit to the council chambers. As the calumny becomes ever more strident, Sarine angrily begins her defense (and counterattack against the secrecy in elven high places), but her riposte is interrupted by an earthquake that can mean only one thing: Ian has arrived in town.
And so he has. He breaks into the confinement vault where Meji and Ellis are being held, messily dispatching an elven guard or two in the process, and rips the cell door off so that Meji and Ellis can escape. More carnage ensues as the three make good their escape, but before Ian can get Meji out of harm's way, she persuades him that Jon also needs "rescuing" based on the message that Misa delivered earlier. Ian begins the process of locating Jon through magical means as the elven gore flies, but as he opens a wall so that they can pass through, he's surprised by a large elven force that demands surrender ... and the chapter comes to a particularly precarious close.
Practically the entire chapter is occupied with the titanic battle in Praenubilus Astu between the Anilis-supercharged Ian and practically any elf who can be pressed into service against him, under the command of Commander Nisotta. At first the battle goes badly for the elves, whose magic isn't nearly a match for Ian's. However, the timely use of an Inanire 312 anti-magic grenade gains time for a lethal-looking sword thrust against Ian as he screams at Meji to run for her life ... but the sword thrust isn't as lethal as it looks, and a horrifically maimed Ian continues the fight.
Meanwhile, Sarine, Jon and Sara are arriving on the scene (to Jon's puzzlement) to try to rescue Meji, who's been buried under a pile of rubble, and to talk Ian down -- or so Sarine, somewhat unrealistically, hopes. At first the elf warriors take umbrage at the intruders, but Nisotta pauses to reason with Sarine, calmly and remarkably sympathetically given that Nisotta knows something about Sarine's attitude toward half elves. Sarine sadly concedes that the situation is beyond her power to influence, and turns away to aid the injured Meji, leaving Nisotta to continue, and apparently win, the struggle with Ian. However, with his last gasp of magical energy and an apology to Meji, Ian launches from the scene to who-knows-where as the chapter ends.
Sarine leaves Meji (and Ellis) and the Amraphels in their "guest rooms" at the consulate so that she can watch a tense session at the Elven Council, where elven military leaders Nisotta and Yenhael engage in angry finger-pointing over the disastrous battle with Ian. Councilors Skena and Masaki, the latter introduced in this chapter, defuse the confrontation with help from Sarine, and direct Sarine to return Meji to Praenubilus Astu. However, her satisfaction at this step is dampened considerably when she learns that not only do the elves know the location of Senilis' resting place (via information left by the dwarves), they are seriously considering waking Senilis to join in the struggle against Ian.
As Sarine leaves the council chambers in disgust, she is accosted by Rarune, who has been stripped of his position as ambassador to Tsuiraku and blames Sarine for his disgrace (since she had revealed the fact that he was Meji's father to the council). The two come to blows after an angry exchange of words, much to Rarune's disadvantage. Sarine stops short of killing him outright, but warns him that if anything bad happens to Meji, she will kill him, even if he had nothing to do with it. She then returns to the consulate to tell Meji and the Amraphels what has been going on.
On arrival, however, she discovers that Sara Amraphel is missing. It develops that Misa, who's been behaving like a fangirl ever since Sara arrived in Praenubilus Astu, has invited Sara to engage in a friendly mock combat, so that she can test her skills against an "Ensigerum warrior." At first Sara only fends off Misa's attack, but when Misa becomes angry at being coddled (just as she is by all the elves), Sara uses her time-ninja skills to administer a punishing but non-fatal blow to Misa's midsection. This causes Misa to break down in tears, berating herself for her cowardice (she had dodged the battle with Ian) and ineptness as a warrior. Sara tries awkwardly to comfort Misa as the chapter ends.
In Santuariel, Leah and Riley are startled by something crashing through the roof of their house. It's Ian, who's seeking shelter there to recover from the damage he sustained during the big battle in Praenubilus Astu. Leah reproves him for what he did to Emerylon as Ian admits that he has behaved "impulsively." Leah and Riley reluctantly allow him to stay with them overnight as they marvel at his restorative powers, directed not only at their roof but his own pants.
In the morning, a refreshed Ian considers staying in Santuariel to help the half elves, and wonders whether more townsfolk are lining up for Omega-Heals. However, Leah and Riley break the news to him (after he detects their attempt at evasion) that some of his Omega-Heals are having long-term undesirable consequences -- notably to the young Jason Darrow, who died some time after Ian healed his blindness. Even as Riley points out that many other half elves (Leah prominent among them) are still seeing benefits from his work, Ian berates himself for the harm he did to young Jason, concludes that there's only one thing he's good at (presumably death and destruction), and flies off after a tearful farewell.
Meanwhile, in Praenubilus Astu, Sarine is explaining the elven plans regarding Senilis to the Amraphels, Meji (and Ellis), and Misa. Sarine points out that there has been only one elven birth in the last 2000 years -- Misa's -- and calls that one "probably just a fluke," which leaves Misa looking less than happy. The group discuss their future plans as the Amraphels agree to join Sarine and Meji; however, a contrite Misa declines to join them, preferring to stay behind and discharge her duty to help defend Praenubilus Astu against Ian. As Sarine gives her young (at least by elven standards) friend a warm goodbye hug, Sara notices two newcomers to the scene: ranger Sarna, whom Sarine last saw in Saus, and another, unidentified elf. Sarine and Sarna engage in a highly snarky dialogue about the mission that Sarna has been called back for and other responsibilities, with Sarna getting the last word -- a pointed allusion to the bad stuff that happened the last time Sarine got involved with humans -- as she and the other elf head on to the underground city.
In the Ensigerum village, Paul interrupts a meditating (or sulking) Anita to review what happened in Emerylon, Paul taking the opportunity to remind Anita that the damage was caused by Ian Samael -- her "new friend." Their ruminations are interrupted by the appearance of none other than Ian himself, who announces his intention to attack the elves. Paul and Anita react angrily, and Anita starts to do her time-ninja thing, but is stopped by a spell-word from Ian. While she is held in place, Ian repeats his intentions and further discloses his intention of doing away with himself after destroying the elves, as Anita points out that Ian's behavior has cost him pretty well all of his potential allies. Paul sarcastically suggests that he might find allies among the trolls -- and gets a quiet assent from Ian as the scene shifts.
Meanwhile, Sarine, the Amraphels and Meji travel back to Tsuirakushiti, where Meji's Grandfather is waiting at the warp gate for what amounts to an exchange of prisoners. The Tsuirakuans send Barin back where he came from, after an exchange with Sarine that's equal parts angry (on Barin's part) and smug (on Sarine´s). While Meji is reunited with her mother (accompanied by Bani Igaaru, to Meji's surprise and pleasure), Sarine attempts to persuade Councilman Hinadori and the newly-introduced General Izayoi to help her stop the elves from waking Senilis, which Sarine is convinced would be a Very Bad Idea. While it isn't completely clear what Sarine is hoping that her pleas will accomplish, it is clear that the Tsuirakuans are reluctant to cooperate, although they are contemplating military action -- definitely not what Sarine had in mind. The chapter ends with a curt offer of political asylum to Sarine, combined with a warning that she'd better not try anything stupid.
Sarine, in exile in Tsuirakushiti, rages about her inability to keep the Tsuirakuans and elves from clashing as the elves try to revive Senilis, but is stunned to learn that things may not be so hopeless after all: Meji mentions that, when Ian visited Tsuiraku earlier, he fenced the book of the Lorenzel Excavations, which contain the warp gate coordinates that Sarine needs. Sarine begins hatching a plan (as Jon rolls his eyes) to use the Tsuirakuan warp gates, with an improvised connection to the elves' own travel platform network, to get to Senilis' resting place before the elves and Tsuirakuans do, drawing on Bani's knowledge of how the battlemages guarding the gates work.
Sarine and Meji visit the Arcana Unearthed bookstore/curio shop to try to buy the Lorenzel Excavations book, eventually overcoming the proprietor's reluctance when Sarine offers an elven knowledge crystal bearing the works of playwright Smerilon in exchange. The party continues to the warp gate, where Sara poses as Bani's country cousin to create a distraction. More bartering with an elven portal receiver overcomes the hostility of two portalmages abducted by Sarine to tinker with the warp gate, while Bani and Sara "distract" battlemage Jiro. The deception is eventually discovered, and battlemages rush to Warp Gate Twelve just in time to see the party (now including Meji and Ellis, who weren't supposed to be making the trip but badgered their way into it) gate off to parts unknown.
Sarine, Meji and the Amraphels emerge from their improvised travel platform journey at a set of ruins somewhere in the unnamed far north. Meji and Ellis have an exchange about Meji's "attack of conscience" (terminated by a sharp rap on Ellis' head by Sara), as Sarine explains some of the history of the ruins as she knows it (an earthquake was involved) and notices that others have been here recently, presumably the elves en route to awaken Senilis. Sarine tries to find a safe hiding place for her fellow travelers as she goes to check out the ambush that she suspects the elves have arranged for them.
And indeed they have. Sarna is waiting for the group, and particularly, for Sarine, whom she engages in a typically snarky exchange over responsibility for what has been going on. As both sides refuse to yield, the verbal fencing turns into grim (if still snarky) combat via swords and sorcery that is still in progress at chapter's end. By that time, the fighting has spilled over to include the Amraphels, Meji, and Sarna's fellow rear guard; this too is in progress as the chapter closes, although Jon appears to have taken a significant but non-fatal hit.
The battle between Sarine's party and the elven party in the Far North continues, starting with long-distance sniper fire by Jon directed against the main elven rear guard and vice versa. The elven leader tries to buy time so that elf warrior Rainae can reach the area containing the Amraphels and Meji, but Meji, with unexpected help from Ellis, buys time for Jon to reach a new sniping position. From here he inflicts a nasty wound on elven spellcaster Elanin that (possibly with a magical assist from Meji) knocks down the Binding spell with which she had immobilized Sara, freeing her to slay Rainae in the nick of time.
Meanwhile, Sarine's one-on-one combat with Sarna also continues, with both sides drawing blood. Eventually Sarine strikes a killing blow and the combat ends, leaving her horrified at having killed her oldest friend as Sarine makes a desperate, unsuccessful attempt to revive her. Meji and the Amraphels have gained the upper hand against the surviving elven rear guard, but before they decide what to do with their vanquished foes, Sarine appears and demands an end to the killing. Unfortunately, an even larger elven contingent emerges from hiding at this point, and takes the party captive, threatening to try and execute Sarine -- and to get some use out of the humans in the party. Meji's bluster about the impending arrival of a Tsuirakuan party via airship only hastens the elves in moving their captives back to camp as the chapter ends.
Somewhere near the Ensigerum village, a ritual execution performed by a band of trolls on one of their number is interrupted by the arrival of Ian Samael, Anita and Paul. Following a surprising (to the trolls) casting of a Translation spell, Anita and the chieftess of the trolls reach an equally surprising understanding regarding the trolls recently killed by Sara Amraphel and the late Warrel. However, this isn't the main purpose for the visit; rather, Ian attempts to recruit the trolls for his war against the elves. His impetuous advances backfire badly when the trolls speculate, and he confirms, that he is a "Marime" -- which turns out to be a dangerous, chaos-inducing part of troll folklore. The chieftess and the other trolls want nothing to do with the Marime or his collaborators, and leave the scene as Ian performs alarmingly successful necromancy on the executed troll, which gives him the idea of seeking similar troops elsewhere (we are not told where).
Meanwhile, in the Far North, Sarine, Meji and the Amraphels have been taken captive by a band of elves under the villainous High Commander Yenhael. An unnamed human, recruited by the peregin Endryn, lies dead beneath the guns of an ancient anti-intrusion system, and Yenhael and the elves coerce a reluctant Jon into trying to defeat it, as he did the comparable system protecting the Giant Magic Potato. While he's doing so, Sara escapes her manacles via a grisly sleight-of-hand trick (so to speak), and she, Meji and Ellis make a break for it. They succeed in getting away from the elves for the moment, but in so doing, reveal that the ward system is down, and a band of elves takes off after them as the chapter ends.
Jon, who has opened a small lead on the pursuing elves, finds himself looking into an immense dish-like structure, at the center of which is the portal believed to lead to Senilis. He's joined shortly by Meji, Ellis and Sara, who warn him that the elves are right behind them. Following an exchange of fire and bluster, the party somehow triggers the portal and emerges in a complex maze of catwalks, moving quickly into it to get away from the expected pursuit. Indeed, the elves aren't far behind, but move more cautiously into the maze before encountering a small, winged figure. It's the Paedagogusi Concussion, who's crying for reasons unclear -- but when the elves start to talk to her, she gets up with madness in her eyes, and uses her hammer to inflict a messily fatal blow on elven High Commander Yenhael. Summoned by the ruckus, more Paedagogusi show up (Nookie, Kawaii and Chicanery, seen for the first time) to subdue Concussion and try to talk sense into the elves so that they'll leave. At first this appears to be succeeding, as the elves claim they just want to "see" Senilis, but they double-cross the Paedagogusi and immobilize them with Binding spells. They are just in the process of reviving Senilis, with a mighty flash similar to what happened earlier at the Giant Magic Potato, when the chapter ends in a honker of a cliffhanger.
The action resumes in Senilis' chamber, where a mass of energy, presumably Senilis himself, swirls around the intruders, eventually passing through the elf Silman, who's harmed by the passage but doesn't retain any of the god's essence. Chicanery and Nookie explain that elves are "hard coded to be unable to interact with Senilis in that way," so the elves try to induce Sara to absorb Senilis, much to her displeasure. Senilis, however, chooses instead to enter (so to speak) Meji, to just about everyone's (including Meji's own) horror. She proves unable to do the kind of grossly enhanced magic that the Anilis-enhanced Ian has made infamous, at least for the time being, but she and the Amraphels succeed in escaping the chamber, with Nookie and Kawaii in hot pursuit as a vengeful Chicanery detains (and prepares to clobber) the elves.
Back at the elven camp, Sarine is being held in a tent under the guard of Elanin (who's partly but not completely mended from the head wound she received earlier from Jon) and other elves. Their discussion of Sarine's situation is interrupted by the arrival of the party from the chamber, led by a pistol-waving Jon. As Sarine regains her senses from the Sleep spell under which she was being held, and Jon and the Paedagogusi exchange snarkage and woofing, the group heads out of the ruined city, but they don't make it very far before being caught in a spotlight beam coming from above. It's the Tsuirakuan airship fleet, which has finally made it to the Far North and is checking them out, but the actual encounter between party and Tsuirakuans is left hanging as the chapter ends.
The Tsuirakuan airship fleet has taken control in the Far North, "freeing" Meji and "capturing" Sarine and the Amraphels, but its commander is puzzled by what they see there, which doesn't match well with his orders. When interrogations don't prove enlightening (even though Sarine regretfully offers to submit to a Mind Probe so the Tsuirakuans will see she isn't holding anything back), he orders Divination equipment to be set up, revealing an enormously powerful energy source in the vicinity. Of course, it's Meji, in her Senilis-possessed state. When the Tsuirakuans realize this, they hastily decamp with their captives, leaving a number of unconscious elves at the site to find their way home. Meanwhile, Ian grumps over the slow progress being made by Anita and Paul in mobilizing monks for his army, and has a testy exchange with the inept Chris, who's serving as Anita's courier to Ian. This almost ends fatally for the novice as Ian throws him off a wall, but Ian relents, slows his fall, and drives him away, privately hoping that the boy will avoid the carnage to come.
Following the fleet's return to Tsuirakushiti, Meji's grandfather (who, we learn, is named Ichiro Hinadori) frets over Meji's locked-down state, although he is much less sympathetic to the plight of her fellow travelers. He goes to consult with new elven ambassador Lucian, but things don't go well, as Lucian berates him and an unidentified councilwoman for the Tsuirakuan intervention. At first Ichiro listens calmly, but when Lucian contemptuously dismisses Meji as an Errant (whom she calls "it"), Ichiro flies into a rage, blows up the conference table, and starts with some invective of his own. The "negotiations" end badly as the chapter ends, with Lucian promising repercussions as she departs in a huff (and with singe marks).
Meji, who's still being detained in Tsuirakushiti and is dejected about her lack of magical power after the encounter with Senilis, gets a sudden telepathic message from Ian, who apologizes for what he has done and starts to reveal his plan to destroy the elves. The mental "conversation" turns tense as Meji expresses doubts and Ian accuses Meji of being a "spoiled bitch" who doesn't know how bad the situation is, but something (unknown) breaks the mental connection, leaving Meji reeling and semi-comatose, and Ian also somewhat the worse for wear as he confronts a skeptical Anita. After some exchange of snarkage, Ian flies off to the mountains, where he shears off the top of a mountain and brings it back to act as a transport to get the Ensigerum monks (including the fatalistic Paul as well as Anita) to Praenubilus Astu.
Back in Tsuirakushiti, Sarine and the Amraphels are stoically enduring their own captivity, but Nookie and Kawaii, who have accompanied them and been passed off as atypical familiars, are getting bored. Nookie decides to go in search of Meji/Senilis, and after first getting stopped by a magical ward, simply blasts through it and out into the city. She eventually finds Meji and defeats the guards outside her cell, dismembering a pair of golems that they try to use to stop her. She is horrified at Meji's condition and accuses Ellis of having something to do with it, which of course he denies -- truthfully, as far as we can tell.
Meji still appears comatose, but at the same time, she's regaining consciousness on some plane of existence other than in her holding cell. A pair of figures in the far distance approach, and to her astonishment, prove to be an older, mini-skirted version of herself, and a buck naked Ian. The older Meji reassures the younger one that she isn't dead, and claims that things are making more sense to her now, but the younger Meji remains completely flummoxed as the chapter ends.
Meji's weird off-plane conversation with the older version of herself and the inexplicably naked Ian continues, as Nookie and Ellis try frantically to bring her back to consciousness, under the eyes of several nervous Tsuirakuan guards. The older Meji makes generally reassuring noises (while Ian grumps about how he's been treated) before wandering off with Ian, the pair exchanging snarkage that makes it clear that there's some dishonesty involved in the encounter. As Meji regains consciousness, she is horrified to discover that something (presumably Senilis) is in her mind after all; she's just been too busy to notice it. She is all but consumed by a blast of magical energy as another off-plane episode takes place, this one between two beings who may or may not be Senilis and Anilis, but are acting very much as though the former is in danger of dying if they don't do something. Nookie and Ellis gradually become functional again after the magical blast, the latter discovering to his horror that he's been transformed into what can only be described as a catboy, while Nookie has had some weird alterations of her own.
Meanwhile, real-life Ian and the Ensigerum have arrived at Praenubilus Astu, and Ian prepares for the climactic battle, having anticipated a tactical objection raised by Anita and planned an as yet unrevealed counterstroke. Either this or the weirdness with Meji interrupts a wrathful teleconference between the Elven Council and Ichiro Hinadori, who has been told that something happened to his granddaughter and is, quite understandably, in no mood to be conciliatory with the elves (who, for their own part, are angry about Tsuiraku's interference in what happened in the Far North). General Izayoi informs him that his missing granddaughter has been located, as indeed she has: at Sashi Mu Academy of Thaumaturgy and Conjuration, Professor Yukiri is working late, and discovers a crazed, magic-radiating Meji in his office, destroying textbooks and other things. She informs him that the contents of the books are "all wrong" as the chapter ends.
Professor Yukiri's horror at finding the Senilis-possessed Meji Hinadori in his office leads him to say some unwise things that provoke her to some violent magic, although she merely pins him to the ceiling rather than killing him outright. Meji discovers that not only is he not interested in having her "correct" all the mistaken texts that he was using to fail her; he wasn't planning on passing her anyway. This understandably angers her, but before she can do anything terminal to him, a guard force shows up, and she feigns a faint to calm the situation for a moment, although it's clear that it won't last.
As Ian and the skeptical Anita start the attack against Praenubilus Astu, which will use zombies made from re-animated elf corpses, Ichiro Hinadori comes to the realization that he needs the jailed Sarine, the Amraphels, etc., in responding to the elves' plea for help. After some typical snarkage, also including Sarine's description (to Jon and a bored-looking Sara) of the long-ago deaths of her daughter and husband, Sarine devises a plan to get a small party into Praenubilus Astu using a concealed and long-abandoned warp gate somewhere in or beneath the skyless city. With some assistance from portalmages, they, some Tsuirakuan soldiers, Kawaii, Nookie and Ellis (now in catboy form and not happy about it) manage to gate into Praenubilus Astu, to find the landing zone eerily quiet. However, Sarine and Jon quickly discover that there has been terrific carnage beyond the walls of the building they gated into, with a hint that the Great Statue of Anilis has been seriously damaged. They are still trying to decide what to do next as the chapter ends.
The battle in Praenubilus Astu is well under way. An elf confronts a hissing, re-animated corpse and is appalled that the blow he levels, sufficient to cut it in half at the waist, doesn't prevent the parts from continuing to attack. Meanwhile, a force of elves under Commander Nisotta is opening long-distance fire against Ian, who is floating above the fray. When conventional magic fails to accomplish anything, the elves prepare to launch Inanire 312 anti-magic grenades at him, but are surprised and slaughtered by an Ensigerum squad led by Paul, Nisotta perishing in the process. A surviving elf manages to find the party consisting of Sarine, the Amraphels, Ellis and Tsuirakuan battlemages, who have found, and been horrified by, the dismembered zombie seen earlier. He points out that he is being shadowed by an Ensigerum monk, but rather than attacking, the monk turns tail, leading to some observations by Jon as to how "boned" the party is.
Back in Tsuirakushiti, Meji slowly emerges from her catatonic state -- whether self-induced or not is unclear -- as her grandfather inquires anxiously about her status. She's in considerably better shape now than when she was seen in Professor Yukiri's office, and there follow some surprisingly tender moments as Ichiro tries to get her back to her room for observation. This ends following an exchange of Sleep spells (the one he casts on her does nothing, unlike her own casts), after which Meji leaves.
A short time later, Meji locates her friend Bani, who is loading an airship for the expedition to Praenubilus Astu and is shocked to see her friend flying. General Izayoi, who is supervising the preparations for the expedition, gruffly orders Meji back to her room, but this doesn't turn out any better than Ichiro Hinadori's earlier commands did. Rather than attacking, however, Meji simply teleports all the supplies onto the airship, leaving Bani, Izayoi, and the other soldiers gaping. Izayoi immediately realizes that bluster isn't going to solve this problem, and instead, changes plans: now he will join the expedition, to "supervise" Meji (who has made it clear that she's going along) -- and Bani will be going along too, to her considerable chagrin. Before the airship departs, however, the chapter ends.
The battle in Praenubilus Astu continues. As Jon rather theatrically laments the destruction of the Great Statue of Anilis (and one of the Tsuirakuan battlemages makes an awestruck examination of certain of its anatomical features), the party picks up intruders cloaked by an Invisibility spell. A battlemage blasts away with a Yuuki staff before Sarine can stop him, only to realize that the intruders are elves trying to escape the carnage, Sarine's friend Misa among them. Misa explains the situation while Sarine tries to keep the friendly-fire incident from getting worse and the fried elf (which smells like "really good bacon" according to Ellis) is healed to the point of at least being out of immediate danger.
Sarine takes charge and splits the group of refugees in two; one group, escorted by Misa, will try to escape using the travel platform that Sarine's party had used to enter the city, while the others mount a rear-guard delaying action. At first Misa takes exception to this plan, feeling that she's once again being treated like a child and kept out of harm's way, but she settles down when Sarine emphasizes to her the importance of having the escapees led by someone Sarine trusts. Following a typically ambivalent, yet ultimately rousing, pep talk by Sarine (and a long-awaited kiss between her and Jon), the groups set off on their journeys, as Jon has an idea for a plan to delay Ian that just might be crazy enough to work.
Elsewhere in the city, Anita is ready to declare victory and go home, but Ian won't hear of it until the last elf is dead. Their dispute is interrupted by a monk bringing an unexpected, human prisoner: Jon, who not only is human in a place where no human should be (except for the Ensigerum), but is also a declared member of the Gewehr, which Anita has vowed to destroy. The meeting between Ian and Jon is curiously chummy at first, until Anita points out, reasonably enough, that there are probably grounds to be suspicious about what's going on. Ian gets the point, but is unimpressed, asking whether the weaponless Jon is going to shoot him -- whereupon Jon does "shoot" him with a cocked finger and a "bang," discharging not bullets but Nookie and Kawaii, who have been lurking in his sleeve. The resulting blast of magic (we do not know yet whether it's terminal for Ian, but Jon at least escapes, spirited away at time-ninja speed by his sister) is correctly interpreted by Sarine, who launches the elves on their counterattack.
Meanwhile, the Tsuirakuan airship fleet is en route, but not fast enough to satisfy the impatient Meji. She horrifies her friend Bani, who's been assigned to watch her, by flying effortlessly off the airship. Commanding officer General Izayoi doesn't like this either, but he and Bani rapidly realize there's not much they can do about it. Meji opens some manner of hole in space, into which the airships are seen disappearing as the chapter ends, their destination left open (although there can't be much doubt that it's Praenubilus Astu).
The battle in Praenubilus Astu rages on. Anita gets the drop on Jon and Sara, but opts not to kill them herself when Sarine shows up and, in essence, challenges her to a duel. Instead, she leaves the Amraphels to Paul, but a combination of a Dispel by Sara and traditional gunplay by Jon eventually kills him. Sarine uses the last Inanire 312 to defeat Anita's time-ninja skills, but is chagrined to find out that the Imperatrix is an even match for her even moving at normal speed. Fortunately, Sara arrives at time-ninja speed and kills Anita before the grenade's effects can wear off. Although Jon has (providentially) lost one of his guns, the trio heads off to help the elves escape, or try.
Meanwhile, Ian is being harassed by the Paedagogusi and Ellis, causing him no significant harm but considerable inconvenience, which he meets by encasing Nookie and Kawaii in magical blocks of ice, and dispelling Ellis entirely -- which however proves to be a fatal mistake. It's fatal because at the same time, the Senilisized Meji and the airships she commandeered are emerging from a wormhole outside Praenubilus Astu, and Meji senses that Ellis has been destroyed. Enraged, she tears through the magical barrier encasing the city and collapses it to a much smaller bubble with just enough room for her and Ian to have a final confrontation, earning unexpected admiration from Sarine for her cleverness in the process.
Ian pleads with Meji to join him in his crusade against the elves, but to no avail, as she can't forgive him for killing Ellis. A violent but short fight ensues, but Meji "turns off" magic in the area, depriving Ian of his main weapons -- and he's not much of a hand-to-hand fighter. She stuns him with a head butt, then finds the pistol that Jon had dropped, and a crushed Ian tearfully speaks his last words: "I just wanted to help." Meji is touchingly sympathetic, but still fires the fatal shot.
As things begin to return to normal (Sarine has noticed that the barrier is gone and that the elves can therefore flee the city, and the surviving Ensigerum monks have fled), Meji appears with Ian's dead body, only to be met by one last bit of stupidity from the elven leader, whoever he is: Meji will receive amnesty if she releases Anilis and Senilis, but if she doesn't, the elves will hunt her to the ends of the earth if need be. She calmly points out that she knows how many elves are in the city, and if they don't knock it off and quite persecuting the half elves, she will simply cause their hearts to stop -- all of them. Whether this riposte finally beats some sense into the elves isn't yet clear, but in any event, Meji levitates away, leaving the survivors wondering what comes next as the chapter, and the main part of Errant Story, finally comes to an end.
This brief Epilogue (which opens with a stunning image of a long-haired, serene Sarine) is mainly a reminiscence by Sarine that summarizes what happened to the main characters after the battle in Praenubilus Astu was won. Meji disappeared for a while, then unexpectedly surfaced in Emerylon to try to undo the damage Ian had done. At first this didn't go well, but eventually she was able to help. Then she moved on to Tsuirakushiti and got them to build a warp gate in Santuariel, among other things, giving the half elves there some added security. Becoming dissatisfied with all this, she then (with the help of Nookie and Kawaii) raised the city of Malacia from its watery grave and started to set it up as a new, model country, although Sarine hints darkly that that didn't end well. Finally, Sara became a world traveler who occasionally dropped by to regale Sarine and Jon (by now the proprietors of "Two Ships Passing in the Night," an inn or B&B or something like that) with tales of her adventures.
There, the reminiscing ends, as a sad Sarine literally closes the book on them and shifts her attention to Jon's grave. The tombstone gives a death date 35 years after the Praenubilus Astu battle (so Poe reminds us), and describes him as a "loving husband and father" -- and the wedding ring Sarine is wearing leaves no doubt as to exactly whose husband he was. The father part also becomes clear, as newly-introduced Mari Amraphel interrupts her mother's mourning, and on the story's final page, the two women go off together to whatever new adventures await them -- about as happy an ending as Sarine, and Errant Story, could ever have.