Legend of the Tiger Generals

8 - Tangled Webs

A silken trail leads to Grandmother Blight.

Dr. Alec Lupine, Valakar Doel and Gemma Fleetwind are enjoying another round of drinks at the Trophy Room, discussing affairs of interest with Fletcher Frost and Sir Belarius Ironpaw. The talk turns to the threat of Pandaemonium, and how best to proactively counter it. Though Ironpaw and Frost are not optimistic regarding the logistics of successfully invading an Overlord’s realm, a newcomer expresses a different view. Arantella Sands, the Spinner lawwoman known as the Hexagunner, says that there’s a network of people quite interested in going proactive. She asks if they’re interested; Lupine and Doel answer in the unqualified affirmative.

Then Gorin bursts into the Trophy Room, shouting “Cap’n! We had a maggot on board!”

As Valakar Doel and his allies return to his ship in haste, he explains that it was one of the Maggot Men soldiers of Grandmother Blight. Subsequent investigation reveals that it apparently snuck on board when the crew took on a load of silk cargo for the lightning sails, and that it had meant to perpetrate some sabotage before it was discovered.

The Tiger Generals sail for the village of Silken Prism, where Doel had purchased the silk. As they draw near, they see the village has undergone a frightening change — it is covered with tents of webbing, almost cocooned. Doel confirms this is a clear sign of Grandmother Blight’s presence.

The ship lowers some lines for the group to descend. The three Tiger General land atop the shroud, and Dr. Lupine uses a chemical mixture to dissolve a path in. They drop onto the upper balcony of the village’s principal hotel. Most of the people have been cocooned, while a few Pupa Soldiers stand guard. Lupine slips away to go scouting, while Doel looks around the upper floors of the hotel. Doel finds a small Kin girl, Pia, who’d eluded everyone so far. Lupine finds the silk warehouse, and indications of more activity.

When the doctor returns, the Tiger Generals assemble their knowledge from Pia’s testimony and Lupine’s cluefinding. Apparently the Walking Hive arrived at Silken Prism two days ago, and quickly overcame the place. Blight’s forces assembled the large silk shipment intended for the nearby Monastery of the Celestial Mirror, and sent it out as if nothing were wrong. The group decides it’s another infiltration. They carefully isolate and beat down the Pupa Soldiers watching over the village, peel off the armor, and tell villagers inside to start freeing their neighbors. Then they set sail for the monastery.

The Monastery of the Celestial Mirror is named for the massive mirror held by a colossus that stands on the monastery grounds. When properly turned and aimed, the mirror can reflect and even focus sunlight into a weapon. It’s therefore off-putting to the Tiger Generals as they see that the Walking Hive is resting by the monastery, while the mirror itself has been angled to reflect sunlight down into a massive cauldron. The heat and light seem to be congealing some tremendous waxy lump within the buttery broth, while the hunched form of Grandmother Blight herself stirs the pot with an outsized ladle.

On their first pass, Doel has his ship position between the sun and the mirror. It works temporarily, but a six-armed Pupa Soldier perched on the mirror’s moorings unslings a witchlock rifle and begins firing at the tree. Doel is forced to tack away before the sniper does severe damage to the rigging.

Doel swings the ship around for a second pass. This time he lowers a long chain with a heavy hook from the hull, while Gemma Fleetwind rides on the hook. Lupine drops into the fray, challenging Grandmother Blight. He manages to dodge or resist some of the attacks of her hive-sorcery — calling cicada-like projectiles from underground, clouds of bloodseeking midges — but she’s remarkably powerful, and he isn’t able to do more than distract her. It’s enough, though. Gemma rides the hook down to the cauldron, then slips free and attaches it to the pot’s rim. The chain goes taut as the tree-ship passes overhead — and then it overturns the cauldron entirely, spilling out the liquid and the half-formed colossal larva.

Another Pupa Soldier runs to the base of the statue, and begins to turn the colossus on its pivot as the six-armed sniper angles the mirror. They focus the mirror’s beam at Doel’s ship, which manages to stay just a few yards ahead. But as the tree-ship sails behind the Walking Hive, the Pupa Soldiers avert the mirror’s beam. An idea occurs to Doel, and he gives his crew orders to hold position behind the Hive while he takes to the air personally.

Grandmother Blight lets fly with a small insect that dodges around and locks onto Lupine’s neck. Its drone floods his mind. When the hive-witch gestures at Gemma and says “Go punish that naughty child,” he is compelled to obey. He goes loping after the speedster, who manages to evade his claws until he can reassert mastery over his own mind.

Doel comes flying in at the mirror. He exchanges shots with the sniper, finally managing to arrive and take hold of the massive reflector. Lupine races over to the base of the stature, and begins to shift it as well. The two coordinate until the solar beam sears into the outer surface of the Walking Hive. With a shriek, Grandmother Blight molt-teleports away, leaving her outermost chitin rattling across the stones. The Hive shudders and begins to walk away. It’s badly burned as it limps across the horizon, and the Tiger Generals can turn their attention to cleanup.

They pull off the armor of the Pupa Soldiers who gave them the most trouble, the defender at the statue’s base and the six-armed sniper. The paragons underneath are Janey Irons, the pirate-hunting Flagcatcher, and Arantella Sands. The Tiger Generals are most interested in how Arantella managed to get from talking with them about Pandaemonium in the Trophy Room only hours ago, to captured and converted into a Pupa Soldier just now.

Arantella frowns. “I wasn’t in Diamond this morning.”

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