Upon their return from Cinnabria and the Underworld, Captain Doel, Gemma and Dr. Lupine have much to share with their peers. They recount their various experiences, but the foremost item of business is clearly the possibility of targeting the Pandaemonium gate-hub. With the Phoenix Majestrix pledging a phoenixship and several Cardinals to the effort, it seems encouragingly possible. The question is then raised: can the Tiger Generals garner pledges of support from Azuros and Ebonheim as well?
It seems worth trying. The gate-hub is sure to be well-defended, possibly by factions of all five Overlords. Valakar, Gemma and Alec are nominated as the obvious choice: they know the most about the operation, and transportation won’t be a problem. After a bit of time to rest and resupply, the three Tiger Generals prepare to make the trip to Ebonheim.
Captain Doel has visited the northern continent before, albeit with a different vessel. It’s no trouble to plot a course. Given Ebonheim’s reputation for law and order, though, he expects some level of challenge. After a flight over the northeastern seas, his expectations are met. It’s not long at all after reaching the northern continent that a tortoiseship hails them and tells them to stand by.
A gangplank extends from the tortoiseship, and a pair of armored Magistrates cross over. Valakar recognizes their armor as Zodiac models, effectively making each Magistrate a low-powered paragon. The senior Magistrate in Gemini armor is more stiff and formal, introducing herself as Lin Chuyin; the junior is Toren Cyprus, a more affable man in Capricorn armor. The two defer to the Tiger Generals’ rank, and agree to smooth things for their mission. But before the conversation is ended, Magistrate Chuyin receives word of a distress call. Anthracite is apparently facing some form of danger. The Tiger Generals offer their assistance, and both ships set out immediately for the city.
They soon arrive at the town, one of Ebonheim’s centers of industry. The anomaly is easy to pick out — a tempest tree, very like Doel’s, hovering over the city. An entire building is wrapped in the flying tree’s roots, and a clock tower atop a detached stone island stands by the building as if docked with it. Lightning crackles all around the tree and its roots, keeping the Ebonheim authorities at bay.
Magistrates Chuyin and Cyprus make contact with the city’s Magistrates. The building in the tree’s roots is a gearworks, ripped free while its workers were still inside. Several of the locals have attempted to penetrate the defenses, and are time-locked. Witnesses report that the tree seemed to grow almost instantaneously around the building. These instances verify that the clock tower is almost certainly that of the powerful chronomancer Methuselon Epoch. But where he might have obtained a seed or sapling of another tempest-tree is beyond anyone’s ken.
During the exchange of information, two paragons bearing the black star arrive — Ebon Legionnaires, the northern champions of the Tablets of Justice. The two Ebon Legionnaires introduce themselves: Lancer Quadra, a human soldier with an elemental forge embedded in her chest, and Arbalest, a Myrmidon archer with a double crossbow and several quivers.
The paragons devise a plan. Dr. Lupine quickly brews up a salve from the sap of Doel’s tempest tree, designed to be redolent with its scent. It should theoretically render them “invisible” to the new tree, and allow them to bypass its thunderstorm. While the Ebon Legionnaires run a distraction and buy time for an engineering solution should the gearworks fall, the Tiger Generals will go inside, rescue as many as they can, and see about breaking Epoch’s hold over the tree.
The first part works like a charm. Valakar carries his friends skyward among the roots, and the three slip into the gearworks. There they find some of the artificers at work. The captives tell them that Epoch has commandeered the facility in order to have repairs made to his clock tower. Once that’s done, though, they aren’t sure what will happen. The Tiger Generals are left with the conundrum of how to stop a powerful chronomancer, or at least wrest his objective from his grasp.