Legend of the Tiger Generals

10 - Digging Up Trouble

The hunt for a lost Tiger General goes to dark, dead places.

Gemma Fleetwind and Valakar Doel are summoned to the city of Ghost. While outside Gemma’s usual patrols, the city is known to both of them as a place where there is strong understanding of the more morbid aspects of the supernatural. This reputation is reinforced once they meet the magistrate at the sky docks. With the magistrate are two necromancers — a human, and oddly enough, an Atropos — wearing garments embroidered with a Nexus Pact motif. The Atropos, an oddly genial sort for his kind, introduces himself as Loxos; the human, Thane Tyrshade. Tyrshade nods apologetically as he keeps his gloved right hand against his chest. “Pardon me for not shaking hands. I caught my hand in a door.”

As the magistrate walks, he explains the situation to the group. One of the White Stars has been missing for several years now, and the situation has precluded any sort of search. The Tiger General Rahatesh, Champion of the Unrelenting Sun, had distinguished himself many times, and given his… unliving nature, it was assumed that he was perhaps recuperating for a time. His star has not passed on, and thus the Nexus Pact has been asked to call in help from someone familiar with the situation.

They stop the walk at a cemetery, and Valakar is momentarily a little crestfallen that they’re moving right to business instead of stopping for a drink first. The necromancers guide the group to a fresh grave, the only marker a small square of blank white stone. Thane Tyrshade removes the glove over his right hand, revealing that it’s withered and near-skeletal. He places his palm to the churned earth as Loxos whispers “He really did catch his hand in a door.” Dark energy pulses and seeps into the ground, and then the earth moves. A tall headstone erupts from the soil, followed by a gaunt, not-quite-dead man with long, haggard hair. He shoulders the tombstone, regards the group, and the magistrate steps forward to make introductions.

“Gregory Gronstine,” he nods.

Gregory, an Exemplar of Azuros, volunteers his help with the operation. He has a few things in common with the lost Rahatesh, and given the current state of chaos in Chalcedon, the Dragon Emperor of the East is glad to offer help. He travels with the Tiger Generals back to their ship. Loxos does as well, as his necrodowsing skills will be able to point to Rahatesh. Doel welcomes them both aboard, and explains the new ziplines he’s equipped for the rapid deployment of passengers.

Loxos’ pendulum points south. The journey takes hours, during which Gemma experiments with the ziplines. The trail eventually leads to the Midnight Waste, a desert covered by perpetual cloud. A little way into the waste, they spot a small caravan that’s been overturned and scattered, the fennec-kobold traders waving up for assistance.

Once the ship descends, the Tiger Generals meet with the caravan master, one Ali Alizar. The kobold explains that their caravan was headed on a salvage run to the lost city of Pallor. They were raided by another party, in fine vehicles led by a “fancy lady” who spoke disdainfully to them. The raiders apparently took a portion of the kobolds’ supplies despite having plenty of their own, no doubt out of spite. Doel has his men help repair the caravan wagons, and leaves a portion of food and water for the kobolds before they set out again.

Loxos’ pendulum guides the ship straight to Pallor. The sands have half-buried the faded ruins, making it all the easier to see an active dig taking place. Not only is the caravan that Ali Alizar described present, but something much worse — a large Pandaemonic hovership, marked with the dark metal and skull heraldry of Heladonna, Overlord of the Grave.

Gregory steps to the fore and begins scanning downwards. The undying Exemplar’s ability to see through the earth shows no sign of Rahatesh, at least at this height, but he does spot a tiny pinprick of gold — likely the shield of the solar champion, in an entirely different portion of the city.

Setting the ship down without being sighted is no easy task, and Valakar is sure they’ve been spotted. Nonetheless, it’s child’s play for Gregory to swim through the sand and retrieve Rahatesh’s shield. A small pack of dark-swathed thugs with blastwands, no doubt from the raider caravan, arrives as the Exemplar is returning. They are pitilessly outmatched by the Stars of Destiny — Gemma kicks up a small sandstorm to blind them, and they are quickly subdued.

Wherever Rahatesh is — and Gregory didn’t spot him underground — he’s surely weakened by the lack of exposure to the sun. Valakar decides to remedy this, ordering his men to pull an M-Shift maneuver, breaking through the clouds. The ship takes off and begins its arc, as the Tiger Generals and Exemplar head over toward the Pandaemonic ship.

They overhear some discussion between the “fancy lady” Ali Alizar described, who is apparently coordinating her men in the same search, and the Pandaemonic officer in charge. The officer is a pale-haired woman wearing dark goggles, a somber uniform, and a dark cloak over what appears to be a massive hump on her back. At one point, the human refers to her as “Exhumer-General,” identifying her as Rezrael. The group also spots a levitating sarcophagus on the ship’s pontoon, near the Exhumer-General.

They move out to confront the Pandaemonic, demanding the return of Rahatesh. The Pandaemonic general smirks and sheds her cloak. Huge bone appendages unfold, her “hump” revealing itself as two pairs of giant skeletal arms, as well as a pair of writhing skeletal vertebrae tipped with draconic or Pandaemonic-seeming skulls.

Gemma leaps onto the ship and heads for the large turret, and Valakar immediately engages Rezrael. Gregory uses the distraction to move up to the sarcophagus. With a perfect swing of his tombstone, he smacks the coffin well beyond the ship’s reach. Clearly perturbed by the resistance, Rezrael focuses a measure of necromantic power — and the sands begin to shift. The immense skeletons of reptilian behemoths pull themselves free.

Captain Doel makes it to the Pandaemonic ship’s turret and begins firing alternately at the pontoon and at the dinosaur skeletons. Gemma takes off after the sarcophagus while Gregory engages Rezrael. The melee shifts around with Valakar firing a cannon round into the clouds to temporarily disperse them, before Rezrael bats Gregory away and moves to grapple with the artillery barrel. Gemma pushes the levitating coffin into the shaft of light that comes down and quickly pries it open, all the while with huge skeletons bearing down on her.

Valakar fires a bolt at Rezrael, but she shrugs it off. One of her massive bone talons pulls him free and hurls him well away from the turret. Gregory, having unearthed Rahatesh’s shield, immediately becomes involved in turn. Gemma snatches up the shield and races it across the battlefield to the open sarcophagus. As one of the animated skeletons charges her, a withered arm smashes the shield into its teeth — Rahatesh, Champion of the Unrelenting Sun has entered the fray.

At that point Exhumer-General Rezrael has had enough, and calls for the ship to retreat. It begins to move through the gate into the Underworld. Valakar flies back to the turret, managing to launch another bolt into the outer ring of the turret’s mount. The blast shakes the integrity of the Pandaemonic craft, which begins to come apart. Rezrael catches him in a bony hand. Rahatesh disposes of the last of the bone behemoths, but as he begins to run back toward the main fray, it’s clear he won’t make it in time.

Gemma and Gregory race in to assist Valakar before the ship goes beyond the living world. Gregory tries one last bit of throwing his voice, telling the pilot to go into full reverse — but his impersonation of the Exhumer-General isn’t good enough. They manage to knock Rezrael senseless before the ship passes through the portal, hurling everyone into the Underworld as it comes apart.

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