After another day of exploring the various eateries and laboratories Ruby has to offer, the TIger Generals and their Cardinal hosts meet at the Brass Table for dinner, along with Gyre and Delilah Crimson. Mephrodisia comments that they’re glad to see Valakar and Gemma are still well. She elaborates that in the last week, a number of paragons — all with wind, thunder or storm powers — have fallen ill and have yet to recover.
The curious Tiger Generals collaborate with the Cardinals to map out the cases. The sicknesses erupt in a line, zig-zagging across the land in what appears to be a specific path. Gemma decides to investigate, traveling to the city of Carnelian where the first case was reported. Doel reserves her a dessert, threatening to eat it if she takes too long.
It takes a couple of hours for Gemma to return, given that finding people to talk to was more involved than simply running the distance. She reports that the afflicted all fell ill at night, and there were signs of forced entry at an inn where one of the victims was staying. The Tiger Generals are convinced that the malady must be deliberately inflicted. They decide simply to go to bed, figuring that they’ll be effective bait and trusting the Cardinals to provide the extra security. The Cardinals agree, and note they’ll post Blackbirds to watch over the sleepers.
That evening, the Tiger Generals are alerted by a ruckus — someone attempted to enter Gyre’s room late at night, and the thief-turned-Exemplar was ready for it. They spot the presumed would-be assailant fleeing across the rooftops, but he isn’t nearly quick enough to outpace Gemma, who intercepts him and ties him up with borrowed curtains.
The captured intruder is revealed to be Epitaph, a Cinnabrian saboteur and assassin. They take him in for questioning, and Valakar manages to intimidate him into revealing something about his employer.
The jeweled hand reaches out
Carnelian at dawn
The threat is serious enough to merit a powerful response. Corundus Starcatcher is a lich, and a lapidary of impressive skill. The issue is time. The Cardinals can muster a strike team of a dozen or so, but will need to take a phoenixship to Carnelian, which would place them there long after dawn. The Tiger Generals volunteer to be part of a smaller advance, which can contain everyone still healthy and possessed of wind or storm manipulation. Gemma already knows the way, and can travel under her own power. Valakar, Gyre and Mephrodisia have to make other arrangements, and wind up pairing up with thunderbird riders from the Majestrix’ Aerie.
They arrive at Carnelian just at predawn. In the dim skies they spot a massive hovering structure, with a thick mist pouring out of it and settling to the ground. As they draw nearer, they recognize it as a shrine to the Four WInds. The thunderbirds drop them off at the spires of the shrine, and then are forced to veer away — one is struck by a pale beam from the shrine, and begins icing over. The thunderbirds continue to circle, though, in an effort to draw Corundus’ attention.
Gyre tries to blast away the miasma, but his initial attempt creates an unintended backdraft that brings some of the stuff to his hand. He manages to clear an area of good air, but with one of his hands now growing numb, he finds it difficult to contribute more. The group passes a number of monks of the Winds, each one numbed and half-conscious thanks to the miasma’s effects.
The group of elementally charged paragons make their way into the main area of the shrine. Hovering over the central altar is a tremendous storm pearl, crusted with some kind of hardened, tarry muck and set with gems that pulse with magic. The miasma pours out of the pearl as they watch. Then a pool of sludge surrounding the altar pulls itself up into roughly humanoid form. They recognize the renegade ooze-elemental Terror: Sluth, Scum of the Earth.
Gyre continues to expand the zone of clear air while the Tiger Generals roll into action. Valakar blasts Sluth with lightning, drying out some portions of his body, while Gemma avoids him and begins kicking at the gems on the storm pearl. She breaks one and moves to another as Valakar swoops in and strikes Sluth with a lightning-charged punch. The muck-Terror’s body reacts with a burst of glop that temporarily slows the hawkman, and Sluth smashes Valakar hard before the captain can break free.
Captain Doel responds by overcharging a thunderbolt, which seems to disrupt Sluth, blasting him into an oozy equivalent of “prone.” Gemma kicks off the last gem from the storm pearl, which stops the miasma generation. Mephrodisia completes her treatment on Gyre’s hand, and the Exemplar conjures a small cyclone that sucks up Sluth and then jettisons him from the shrine entirely.
The disarming of the storm pearl and loss of the miasma is enough to discourage Corundus. With no time or opportunity to restore the complicated spells, the lapidary lich blinks away. The shrine’s monks return to their senses as dawn breaks.
The Tiger Generals, Gyre and Mephrodisia spend time ministering to the recovering monks and cleaning up the last of the unwanted stuff. Within a few hours, an imperial phoenixship appears, with a dozen Cardinals aboard. The Cinnabrian champions are openly pleased to see the matter largely resolved, and offer congratulations. The hawkwoman knight Aria Equinox further informs the Tiger Generals that the Phoenix Majestrix is sure to want to speak with them personally.