Legend of the Tiger Generals

16 - Cracking Shells

The voyage home crosses paths with an unlikely pursuit.

The Tiger Generals arrive at the Ruby Palace, where an honor guard of Cardinals escort them into the throne room of the Phoenix Majestrix. The huge phoenix on the back of the throne shrinks and reforms itself into her woman’s form, and the Phoenix Majestrix greets the Tiger Generals. The Heaven-assigned patron of Cinnabria thanks the three for their vigilant aid during their time on the southern continent, and asks what she can offer them as a boon.

The three respond humbly. Captain Doel says that there’s little he’d ask for save assistance in having the piecemeal airship fully repaired so that it could carry them home to Chalcedon, as well as ensuring that the castaways reach what homes are waiting for them. The Majestrix replies that Cinnabrian shipwrights are already at work on the vessel. As the Generals muse awkwardly, she brings up the topic of the fight against Pandaemonium. If they are intent on striking at the Pandaemonic gate-hub, then she will pledge a phoenixship and several of her Cardinals to assist. The Tiger Generals thank her for that, and depart the palace with pledges of ongoing alliance and friendship.

Sure enough, the repairs to the piecemeal ship have been extensive. The vessel retains its mismatched charm, but the weak points have all been repaired, and its most tattered components replaced. Once the ship is fully provisioned, the Tiger Generals say their farewells to their Cardinal hosts, promising to return for another festival where the Silverjay plays. Then they hoist anchor and set out to the northwest for Cinnabria.

They pass a variety of ships, first airships and then ocean vessels as they reach the coast. The trip is peaceful, idyllic even, until they spot a familiar silhouette on the horizon — the Tempest Tree. Somewhat alarmed, Doel has Skaff plot an interception course. As they close in, Valakar hurls a lightning bolt as a means of identifying himself. The ship raises a simple message in its flags — “PURSUED.”

Skaff sets a course to pull alongside the tree. Doel flies over to get the story from Rask. The first mate explains that they were attacked while docked by Grandmother Blight, and that she’s sent a ship after them. A pair of warriors tried to hold them off — some kobold with a huge sword, and a male hyena-Kin. Rask didn’t know their names, but it seems clear it was Sir Belarius Ironpaw and perhaps Kiba, the son of Bouda Khan. Valakar loads his fellow Tiger Generals onto the tree, and dispatches the others on a separate course. He then turns the helm to face their pursuer.

Soon enough, the pursuer heaves into sight — an airship, covered in webs like those of a tent caterpillar. The Tiger Generals stay back and wait to be boarded. A small contingent of Maggot Men comes across on spun lines, and then five Pupa Soldiers — all of them distinct. The small weevil-coated Soldier carries a large sword, and has the right proportions to be Sir Belarius Ironpaw; another mantis-faced one might well be Kiba. The hovering wasp-woman, armored shieldbearer and locust-like grenadier are unfamiliar. But in the initial exchange, they learn the names Elytron, Paper Wasp and Blasthopper — then the fight begins.

Gemma waits until the Pupa Soldiers move in, then grabs a coil of rope and ties up Paper Wasp before the flier can react. Blasthopper sends out a scattering of explosive spheres. Rahatesh charges Elytron, and the two shield-bearers test one another’s defenses. The others choose to focus on the small weevil-armored fighter, and with a few decisive blows, manage to crack the shell away from him. As they suspected, Sir Belarius is underneath. “I have been gravely misused!” he cries once the armor is fully removed.

But Gemma finds herself having to deal with the mantis-armored Soldier, and he seems well-versed at fighting speedsters. She launches a legsweep that he counters with a throw; she rolls out with a gale-speed kippup, and then catches him with a second legsweep. Neither one is able to gain an advantage for long — until help arrives. A thunderbolt from Valakar helps to crack the armor, revealing Kiba within. Valakar and Gemma then turn their attention to Blasthopper, who’s already ragged from Lupine’s attentions.

As the last Pupa Soldiers are subdued, the webship pulls away. Valakar overcharges his gauntlets and hurls a parting thunderbolt that punches entirely through the hull, sending the ship limping for a safer port.

The group then works to free the last of the Pupa Soldiers. Though Paper Wasp is a woman they don’t recognize, Elytron is revealed as the Scaled Folk champion Plastron. And confirming a few suspicions, under the Blasthopper persona they discover Jin Woo, the Powder King. Rather pleased, they prepare to ask a few questions once the Brigand recovers consciousness.

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