After driving off Grandmother Blight, the three paragons spend a little time setting things right in Silken Prism. They dissolve the webs with more alchemy, help get the people back on their feet and more organized, and enjoy the gratitude of the local populace. Pia is tearful when it finally comes time for them to leave.
They stop back in Alabaster, where they make a few inquiries about the ones that got away. Specifically, Mirror Smoke is an object of curiosity, as is the whereabouts of Dr. Archimedes Griffon. Both targets are lying fairly low, it would seem.
Eventually the three wind up at the Peach Typhoon teahouse, speaking with Arantella Sands. The Hexagunner knows a few things about Mirror Smoke and his associates, but can’t answer precisely why they’d be allied with Grandmother Blight (if indeed they are), or what they’d be doing if it’s one of them who impersonated Sands back in Diamond.
As the conversation continues, Gemma’s ears suddenly prick up. She becomes aware of a figure leaning down from the teahouse’s eaves, a split second before said figure throws a large projectile into the establishment. She has time enough to register that the expanding sphere is some kind of fungus. Then she snatches a tablecloth from a nearby table, and quickly wraps the puffball in it. The fungal projectile detonates partway through, and she accidentally inhales a dose of the the semi-liquid agent.
Valakar takes to the air in pursuit of the mysterious assailant. He isn’t able to notice the stealthy intruder, but he does see a munin-bird fly from a nearby building toward the Peach Typhoon. Scanning the location where the bird emerged, he sees a figure in a green hood slip into the crowd below. Doel hangs high in the air, attempting to tail the figure, but the mysterious individual looks up and sees him. The target quickly detonates a smoke bomb of some sort, surprising and agitating the crowd. When the smoke clears, he’s nowhere to be seen.
Back at the tea-house, Lupine looks over Gemma and the signs of the puffball’s payload. She appears to have been dosed with day-and-a-night, a poison that rapidly accelerates the victim’s metabolism after 24 hours. He recalls that the stuff is hazardous even to paragons, who tend to be consumed by their own powers. Then the munin-bird enters the teahouse. It spots the two of them, perches nearby, and delivers a message in a thick accent — a voice they immediately recognize as Count Jaeger Drakenvalt.
“My dear Doctor Lupine and Miss Fleetwind,
“My apologies for such an impersonal means of extending an invitation, but I fear you would decline without obvious inducements. As you may no doubt discover, you have been poisoned with day-and-a-night, which has precious few antidotes. I would be happy to offer my assistance. I have… recently cornered the market on dreaming silvertassel, and I offer it as a prize to the winner of a little contest.
“Come and participate in the Running of the Terrorgarden. Reach the center, avoiding me and my guests, and the herb is yours. I do not recommend storming the garden — the flower is terribly fragile. It would almost certainly be the first thing to go.
“My man will await you in Queenslace. He will guide you to the garden. Do be punctual. I would hate for our association to become a casualty of tardiness.”
The Tiger Generals set sail for Queenslace. Along the way, Dr. Lupine uses one of the ship’s recently outfitted alchemy labs, along with Captain Doel’s help, to devise an antidote for the night-and-a-day. They present Gemma with the cure, and when the ship reaches its destination, all three of them are healthier than they let on.
The small wooded town of Queenslace is clearly not used to airships. When the Tiger Generals descend, the locals keep a respectful distance. The only one to approach them is a gorilla Hanuman in livery, who introduces himself as Torgo, the Count’s man. He offers the three a coach ride to the gardens, and they accept.
Over the course of the coach ride, the group speaks with the evidently cultured Torgo. The Hanuman expresses some remorse at the Tiger Generals’ fate, but seems to have a largely clear conscience — to obey is his lot, and his master’s word is law. The three are unimpressed by his reasoning, if perhaps respectful of his loyalty.
The coach arrives at a massive stone gate with spiked wooden doors, a somewhat refurbished but still overgrown forest ruin. They enter the doors, and disembark. A massive stepped pyramid dominates the area, with a gateway to either side into what seems to be the elaborate garden labyrinth. On the lowest tier of the ziggurat stands Count Jaeger Drakenvalt, flanked by two “guests” — one an unknown Pridefolk woman carrying a pair of shotel-like swords and various other bits of hunting gear, the other the infamous Teind archer known as the Sparrow.
Drakenvalt receives his guests, or rather his prey, with gentility and no small amount of arrogance. The Tiger Generals banter for a few moments with him, before dropping the ruse. Doel announces that they’ve already cured themselves of the night-and-a-day, and now it’s time for the knaves to receive a proper beatdown. The announcement does not impress nor please Drakenvalt.
Hostilities break out immediately. Gemma charges for the three, dodging an arrow launched by the Sparrow that seemed to be aiming for her shadow, as well as Drakenvalt’s whip. Doel flies forward, but the Pridefolk hits him with a blunted throwing iron that sends him reeling. Lupine uses the distraction to leap among the three would-be hunters.
Gemma manages to get a solid hold on the Sparrow’s bow, much to his surprise. She wrests it free from his hand, to his further surprise. Quite perturbed by the turn of events, the Teind assassin turns and flees.
The Pridefolk is made of sterner stuff. She switches her swords to the blunt edges, and begins tearing into her opponents. Count Drakenvalt is no slouch himself, handily standing toe-to-toe with the alchemist werewolf. When Lupine rakes Drakenvalt, he pulls back a burning hand — the Count’s vest is laced with silver.
Valakar rejoins the fight, and a battered Dr. Lupine takes the opportunity to leap away for the woods. “You want to hunt me?” he roars at Drakenvalt. “Here I am!”
The Count is clearly conflicted. Finally he turns and says “Sekhmet, I leave these others to you.” He then races towards the gates to the forest. His action leaves the Pridefolk in a bit of a lurch, as Fleetwind begins assailing her with wind-swift unblockable punches. Like the Sparrow, she decides on the better part of valor.
Lupine advances on Count Drakenvalt, and Doel moves into a flanking maneuver. A thunderbolt smashes the Count into the coach. As he begins to pull himself free, Gemma races over to steal his whip, and uses it to hogtie Torgo. Lupine then aims an axehandle smash at the Drakenvalt. It misses him, but smashes the coach such that it effectively launches the aristocrat free. Valakar takes the opportunity to blast the knave into a wall.
Once it’s clear that the Count is subdued, the Tiger Generals prepare to ship him off to Diamond to stand trial — certainly the Count will be stripped of his lands. But in the process, Captain Doel considers the possibility of speaking up for Torgo. While the Hanuman will certainly have to face his share of debt to pay, his loyalty and bearing was impressive. Perhaps he would make a fine addition to the crew…