Legend of the Tiger Generals

21 - Reflections, pt. 2
A shady puppeteer pits the Tiger Generals against themselves.

The Tiger Generals and their puppet doppelgangers clash in the middle of the flotilla. Lupine’s simulacrum charges him immediately, and the two engage in a vicious brawl. The puppet Gemma sends up a spray of blinding water at the Tiger Generals, while the authentic Fleetwind goes looking for rope. The water catches Valakar and Gemma in the eyes, forcing them to adapt more carefully. A thunderbolt misses Valakar, alerting him to the presence of his own puppet duplicate.

Gemma dives overboard to wash out her eyes. Her puppet counterpart attempts to go after her, but Valakar intercepts. He manages to tag the zephyr-quick puppet with a lightning-charged punch, blasting her across the boat. Dr. Lupine continues the changeover by teleporting next to the artificial Doel, and smashes the fake hawkman to the deck. Before he can land safely, his own doppelganger blinks next to him, and beats him into the floorboards with a picture-perfect emulation of his own diving kick. The false Gyre attempts to leap into the fray, but is in turn intercepted by the metallic form of Cirra Talonicus.

The artificial Dr. Lupine abandons its original, and pursues Gemma. An accurate strike launches her into a tangle of strung lanterns. The puppet then shifts its attention to Valakar. Lupine blinks back into the fray and exchanges blows with his double, only to be dropped by a vicious claw strike. But as Lupine falls, Cirra returns. Doel overcharges his lightning bolt and strikes the false lycanthrope. The simulacrum teeters long enough for Cirra to strike home, disabling it with a steely punch. The only puppet still moving at that point is the Doel doppelganger — and the first thing Gemma does as she disentangles herself is race over to dance on its joints, putting it down.

The Tiger Generals catch their breath, and in Lupine’s case, regain consciousness. They quickly disable their puppet mockeries for good. Around them they can hear the chaos of other puppets fighting the Exemplars. A quick survey reveals that Gyre, Xiaou-Lin the Keeper of Thunder, Delilah Crimson and Rubican have all been replaced. The Generals decide to trust the Exemplars to handle it, and head for the fireworks barge where Gemma found their duplicates.

Aboard, Lupine scents out the likely culprit: a man dressed in formal puppeteer’s black, carrying a large and fiendish-looking marionette. Gemma immediately races over and aims a sharp kick at the “puppet,” who rolls with the impact as the “puppeteer” collapses with strings cut. The small Pandaemonic — Mephistello indeed — sends out some of his strings to latch on to Dr. Lupine, but it’s merely a delaying tactic, insufficient to protect him before Valakar renders him insensible with a lightning bolt.

They return with their captive to discover that the other rampaging puppets have been subdued. Delphine mentions that it seems possible that the “traitors” that undid the mission in Lupine’s alternate timeline may have been these puppet duplicates. Though it’s still uncertain, the Exemplars redouble their pledge to lend a dragonship and several of their number to the gate-hub attack. However, the spectre of the missing Exemplars and Cardinals hangs over the discussion. The four are likely captives somewhere in one of Mephistello’s “dollhouses,” and possibly guarded by the Cabal of Thirteen. The Tiger Generals insist on being part of any rescue mission, and their part in the festival ends with a pledge of mutual support.

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20 - Reflections, pt. 1
The nature of the traitors is revealed at the Lantern Festival.

The Tiger Generals sail across the central ocean for Azuros. The day before the festival, they arrive in Sapphire, the capital city, throne of the Dragon Emperor, and source of the four grand rivers. There they meet their assigned aide, a friendly river-spirit named Twinkling Pearlescent Droplet. The river-spirit (who ends up answering to “Pearl”) offers to give them a tour of the city and arrange for any diversions or necessities they may require before the festival.

Valakar dispatches Torgo to purchase formal clothing for the Tiger Generals and their “guest” Jin Woo. Then Gemma’s metabolism asserts itself, and the next goal is going out to sample the local cuisine.

They drop Jin Woo off at an island in one of the four rivers, with a trio of Dragon’s Shadows explosives experts. While the Brigand boss expands his knowledge, the others go for a stroll through Sapphire.

During their tour, Lupine notices a guard doing his best to inconspicuously tail the group. The good doctor confronts the suspicious man, but the fellow claims it was unintentional. Lupine has little choice but to release the guard, who heads off in a different direction.

The rest of the afternoon goes without notable incident. The Tiger Generals return to the hotel, where Jin Woo is later brought to them, and change into Torgo’s selections of formal attire. Then it’s off to the festival!

The lantern festival is held on the city’s largest lake, a body of water that curves like a cresent halfway around the palace. All number of boats fill the festival, from tiny craft to squat barges containing fireworks launchers or orchestras. The Tiger Generals briefly note or meet a number of Exemplars: Gyre, Cirra Talonicus, Levinbolt, the Keeper of Thunder, Caligos of Golgotha and Sepultura Harrowgrave. They find that the Cardinals Delilah Crimson and Rubican are also visiting. But of all the Exemplars present, they have the most interest in Delphine.

Valakar arranges for a private reading with the Exemplars’ greatest oracle. The cartomancer agrees to divine the threats surrounding their initiative. The card-reading depicts The Puppet as a central figure, which Delphine immediately interprets as the presence of the Pandaemonic puppeteer Mephistello. She also notes that Mephistello has created puppets of “three colors” — probably in the chosen star-bearer ranks of three continents. His soldiers are close. The Tiger Generals thank her and leave. The grizzled future-Lupine pauses on the way out and makes sure to tell Delphine a specific date in the future — the date that Valakar and Gemma appear with the chronal tower in his timeline, so that she can be able to tell him in turn.

They keep a close eye on their fellows during the festival. At one point they notice Delilah Crimson slipping away. Gemma cuts her off instantly, and brings her back. The Cardinal says that she was worried about the way Gyre was acting, and that he’d headed off to a particular boat.

Gemma runs off to the boat to investigate. However, once inside she’s confronted with a trio of very familiar voices. She immediately runs for it, cutting right across the water. An identical wake appears after hers, as someone just as fast pursues.

Valakar and Lupine confront Gyre, with Cirra Talonicus as a witness. They ask him to show his star, and his response is to conjure a whirlwind that hurls Lupine overboard. The speeders draw near just in time for chaos to break loose.

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19.1 - Back to the Present
The Generals leave the broken future behind -- all three of them.

Epoch’s clock tower falls out of the flow of time and roots itself once more. Gemma and Valakar hasten to the windows, and see sunlit skies over a free Anthracite. Captain Doel’s ship is docked at the sky tower. The second tempest tree is nowhere to be seen, though the gearworks it held aloft is down on the ground again, with a crew of workers repairing its structural damage.

Then there’s a familiar teleport effect, and the older Lupine appears next to them. He shakes his head and says “When are we?”

Gemma tears off into the city in response. She soon finds a calendar and reports back that they’ve landed three days after their departure time — excellent temporal accuracy for the hodgepodge control systems. As to why the alternate Lupine is there — nobody’s particularly sure. The future doctor himself theorizes that his attempt to teleport out was entangled with the chronal fields around the tower, and he was dragged along into this alternate past.

A skyskiff quickly sets out for the clock tower. Valakar sends up a lightning flare to alert his crew that he’s returned. The skiff arrives shortly thereafter, carrying Magistrates Chuyin and Cyprusv. The Tiger Generals explain the basics of their adventure in the lost future, and the presence of alternate-Lupine. They are careful not to mention that the gate-hub siege was betrayed, however — the three have resolved not to tip off any potential traitor’s hand. As it turns out, the infantilized Lupine has given to the care of Ebonheim mages in the effort to undo Methuselon Epoch’s curse. The Tiger Generals decide to leave him there, as the impact of two Lupines meeting is unknown.

They gather aboard Doel’s ship and return to Chalcedon. Along the way they go into the private discussion of who to trust. Lupine notes that Bolt Blitzmark, Bouda Khan and the Exile were among the Tiger Generals dispatched. With the timeline already slightly altered, they consider recruiting Chalcedon paragons without the white star instead, to be sure that if the traitor was a Tiger General they won’t be present. The name of Sir Belarius Ironpaw comes up, but they agree to wait on the final decision until later.

Upon their return to Diamond they arrange for a meeting with Sirius Invictus. If the traitor was one of the Tiger Generals, then it seems prudent to inform the Magnificent Twelve. They meet with Invictus, Scythia Arjun and Ryu Jibang. The royal guard takes their concerns seriously, and agree to coordinate a covert information-gathering operation using the Wild Phantoms. Further, since the three have had such success in Ebonheim (mixed though it is with the substitute Lupine), it seems best that they also be the ones to visit Azuros and secure the fourth pillar of the effort.

The three make arrangements to release Jin Woo into their custody, so that the self-styled Powder King can meet with Azuros’ demolitions experts. As they prepare, they receive a formal invitation from the Blue Dragon Empire. The three are invited to make their diplomatic advances at a star lantern festival, where there will be a number of Exemplars in attendance as well as other imperial officials. The Tiger Generals mark the date, and set sail promptly.

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19 - Bleak Future
Gemma and Valakar visit a future not of their making.

The clock tower comes to rest on the land again. Valakar and Gemma look out on a very different landscape. The city of Anthracite has been built up in clearly Pandemonic fashion, with massive factories belching out smog that coats the sky. Several Pandaemonic skyships hover over the city — transports near the work districts, a smaller vessel by the built-up skytower, and what even appears to be a flagship.

As they’re getting their bearings, a familiar teleport flash appears next to them: Lupine, in wolf form and somewhat grayer around the edges. “It’s about time. You’ve been gone twenty years.”

He explains the situation:

  • The attack on the gate-hub proceeded without them, and it failed; though Lupine was too young to go along, he heard it was betrayed by someone bearing a star.
  • He had a hard time reverting to his original age, which is why he’s younger than he should be.
  • They gained a divination that told them when the clock tower would return; Lupine brought his team (and he warns them they’ll be familiar) in hopes that they could help find a way to change the course of time.

Lupine teleports the group out before the occupying Pandaemonic soldiers can investigate. They’re met outdoors by one of Lupine’s partners — Razor Barjack, formerly of the Purebloods. Whey ask if there’s a way to cloak the tower, Barjack can’t propose anything more effective than finding a very large sheet to throw over it.

“Where’s Kate?”

“She, ah, said she was going to fetch something.”

“Dammit! I keep telling her to follow orders.”

They move through the streets to the safe house. The citizens of Anthracite don’t pay attention to them — many of them wear closed helms that seem to control them, derivations of the Gemini-class Magistrate armor. The safe house itself is sited in a hospital that’s fallen into disuse under the new order. Another member of Lupine’s team is waiting there — Pulsator, the Nexus Pact owl-hawkman, the team’s expert on arcana. Pulsator goes into more detail about the state of the world.

  • The Pandaemonics commandeered the imperial ships, and used them to infiltrate and run an attack on the four capitals.
  • The world is currently in Interregnum: the Tiger Heir is still missing, the Phoenix Majestrix has gone into her egg state, and the Dragon Emperor and Tortoise Regent have fallen into slumber.
  • The Tablets of Wisdom and Courage are sealed, and no new Exemplars or Tiger Generals can be recruited.
  • The Tablets of Justice were taken along with the Ebonheim capital, and the Pandaemonics found a way to place the Ebon Legion under their control.

The talk slows when the final rebel shows up — Smiling Kate, with an older helmed citizen under his arm. She bickers with her teammates over her unscheduled acquisition, and Valakar and Gemma can’t help but raise an eyebrow at the former Pureblood lunatic. “The situation creates strange bedfellows,” rumbles Lupine, and Smiling Kate gives him a swat on the rump for emphasis.

Kate’s “prisoner” turns out to be Magistrate Chuyin, who is able to tell them a bit more once she recovers from her fugue. The helmets used to control the populace are indeed derived from the Gemini armor design, and must receive some sort of control pulse. Local in origin, probably, and they contemplate the possibilities.

Valakar and Pulsator get to work planning a way to make the clock tower travel through time again. Obviously, it’ll need parts to complete the repairs Methusalon Epoch was demanding (and to fix the damage Valakar and Gemma caused). It will also need a power source to replace Epoch’s own power, and a guidance system of some sort to allow a non-chronomancer to steer it. The Pandaemonic airships might offer the latter two options, though it’ll be dangerous.

Gemma complains that she hasn’t eaten in twenty years. The former Purebloods tell her that at least everyone eats under the new regime, though the doughy gray blocks extruded by the feeding stations are less than appetizing. Gemma looks at one and says mournfully “I’m going to stare to death here.” Lupine tells Barjack to give her some of his food, and he brings out a basket of mushrooms that he’d scavenged in the woods.

They decide that an optimal distraction would be destroying the control node broadcasting to the populace. A bit of super-speed triangulation with the modified helmet indicates that the node is in the over-built central government building. Lupine dispatches his allies to gather the raw parts for repairs, while the Tiger Generals move to City Hall.

The three gather a few helmets from the populace and disable the receptor engraving within. They use them for disguise, and bluff their way past the guards. The Pandaemonics are still complacent, and it’s easy to reach the control room. There a massive bull-like officer — Baphomoch, Mulciber’s General of the Land — paces around, accompanied by a helmed woman that seems to be a mind-slaved Lancer Quadra.

A viewcrystal projects the image of a tall, powerful Pandaemonic woman, armored and carrying a number of fine Gehennon armaments. Lupine immediately recognizes Baalona, the daughter of Overlord Mulciber. Baalona informs Baphomoch that the Overlord of the Forge now wants Quadra; it’s finally time to disassemble the elemental engine in her chest and see if it can be replicated. Baphomoch agrees, and once the communication ends, the Tiger Generals lock the door and remove the helms. As Baphomoch takes stock of them, Lupine transforms.

Gemma goes immediately to the crystal, and throws a ferocious kick that cracks it. Quadra staggers, and Gemma shifts to helping Valakar scatter the lesser soldiers. Baphomoch shrugs off the first couple of hits, and starts knocking Lupine around. The good doctor isn’t a match for the Pandaemonic general on his own, but he stalls long enough. An electrical punch and a series of unblockable strikes slam into Baphomoch, and the general reels. Lupine teleports into the air above him, and brings all his momentum into a downward raking slash. The general’s armor holds, and his dense skin isn’t even broken — but he falls forward.

They finish the job smashing the broadcast structure, and with Lancer Quadra in tow, they evacuate. The city is in chaos as the Pandaemonics attempt to regain control of the now free-willed populace. They take the opportunity to steal the smaller airship, as the flagship is erupting in chaos as well — apparently Lancer Quadra wasn’t the only Ebon Legionnaire in town. They park the ship by the tower, where they meet the others with a wagon full of parts.

There’s no time to waste on repairs. Kate offers to run distraction by causing mayhem, and Barjack follows her. Captain Doel is able to make the modifications in record time, largely thanks to Gemma’s high-speed and remarkably focuses assistance. Pulsator wishes them luck and excuses himself as the work nears completion.

The haggard future Alec Lupine also wishes them luck in making sure that a better timeline comes to pass. He then teleports away, and Valakar throws the switch. The clock tower lurches, and then falls backward through time.

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18 - Uprooted, Part 2
An old rival shows his claws, and a chronomancer abandons his scheme.

The Tiger Generals take stock of the various prisoners. The workers tell them that some are in the gearworks machining parts, while others are in the clock tower working on specific repairs. The three agree that evacuating the hostages is the top priority. Under the direction of Doel’s mechanical expertise, they get to work building a makeshift lift to lower the captives to the ground. Valakar is sure to attach grounding cables to it to direct the lightning away and protect the occupants.

In all, the effort is going well when an unexpected face appears. Emerging from the clock tower comes, of all people, Dr. Archimedes Griffon. A burly ape in ancient armor hulks next to him, as well as a pair of clockwork automatons. The herbalist explains that he’s working with Methuselon Epoch for the moment, and that he really has to stop their interference.

Dr. Lupine demands to know what Griffon did with his blood. The knave responds that it was in the interest of duplicating Lupine’s own experiment — to draw out the primal power of a shifter, without even being Kin. Griffon removes his glasses. “But I’ve improved on your transformation. Two aspects to your one. The king of the land — and the lord of the skies!” He transforms into a bestial form — a hulking humanoid with an ursine body and an owlish head and wingfeathers.

The brawl begins immediately. Gemma occupies herself with the clockworks, Valakar takes on the time-displaced ape, and Dr. Lupine naturally engages his admirer-cum-rival. But Griffon is suprisingly quick for his newfound bulk. A powerful claw rake knocks the werewolf sprawling and winded.

Dr. Griffon decides to play the full knave by boasting of his power over the prone form of his rival. He is suddenly interrupted by Gemma Fleetwind, who throws a series of punches to the back of his skull. Griffon staggers, and Lupine takes the opportunity to throw an powerful beast stance attack. The bear-owl shifter goes down in a heap. Valakar knocks out the ape with a final thunderbolt, and it takes them little time to wrap up the clockworks.

With chains aplenty, they manage to secure Dr. Griffon before he stirs back to consciousness. He admits that he was the one to provide Methusalon Epoch with the tempest tree seed — he is, after all, in the top tier of herbalists. He explains that he procured the seed for favors. “Success isn’t about ability,” he says bitterly. “It’s always about who you know.”

The Tiger Generals evacuate the last of the gearworks employees, and lower Dr. Griffon and the ape down as well. They then return to the clock tower, and decide on a course of sabotage. Captain Doel throws a thunderbolt into the cogs, which seems like a promising start. The arcane field surrounding the tower lurches and shifts with every strike.

This, of course, draws the attention of Methuselon Epoch. The chronomancer descends the stairs, an hourglass staff in hand. He warns the Tiger Generals to stop at once — but they respond in a manner suited to the Tablets of Courage.

Gemma finds herself equally matched with Epoch’s speed; he seems to be using time magic to accelerate himself. She is unable to pull his staff from his hands before he targets Dr. Lupine with the demonstration of his signature chronomancy. The herbalist-turned-werewolf suddenly finds himself considerably smaller — and ten years old. The next pulse of chronomancy slows the group’s reaction times.

Tiger Generals are nothing if not persistent. Gemma finally manages to wrest his staff away, while the others hit him with blows. With his staff gone, Epoch scowls and seems to divert half his attention to concentration. The remainder of his attention goes toward completing the spell on Lupine — who suddenly finds himself a small cub, and teleports out of the tower in a panic — and freezing Gemma in a chronal lock.

Valakar decides to stall. He summons up his most commanding voice and asks Epoch to explain his actions, and consider the ramifications. As the chronomancer devotes some of his attention to stressing the necessity that his tower be repaired, and slides his staff free from the Kin’s grip, Gemma attempts to speed up her metabolism so that she’s no longer compatible with the time-lock. She finally snaps free, and joins Valakar on the attack again.

The chronal field around the tower shudders as Epoch reels from their blows. “How long?” he asks. “A day?” They continue to press the rogue chronomancer, and as his concentration wavers again, the tower also lurches in response.

“You idiots,” Epoch growls. “I’m the only thing keeping you here.” He buckles under their attacks, the tower shakes a third time, and then the chronomancer abandons his concentration. He gestures, an aura flares around him, and he is gone.

Without the chronomancer to control it, the clock tower spirals through time. Valakar quickly assesses the mechanisms, and has Gemma help him speedily find temporary fixes for the damage, including their own efforts. Finally, the mechanisms seem to stabilize. The tower falls into solidity, rooting itself in a stable time. The two Tiger Generals look out — onto a world much changed.

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17 - Uprooted, Part 1
A mission to Ebonheim leads to an unexpected yet familiar wonder of the skies.

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.

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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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15 - Dreamtime
The Tiger Generals discover a Pandaemonic target within a knave's memories.

Gemma Fleetwind races through the streets of Ivory, which are strangely clustered and oddly familiar, pursued by Shango the Storm-Binder. She runs up and leaps off a laundry pole to aim a kick at his head. It connects, but when his mask is knocked away, the face underneath is an angry Bolt Blitzmark.

Elsewhere, Valakar watches the cherry blossoms drift down from the flowering tree at the heart of his ship. As his men frolic during the on-deck festival, he remembers that the tree couldn’t be mistaken for a flowering cherry. I’m dreaming, he thinks.

He recollects being awake, and speaking with the Cardinal Aria Equinox about the possibility of a strike against Pandaemonium. Aria had mentioned the possibility that Lady O-Nei could help them. The dream-mage of the Cardinals turned out be able to place them in a shared dream to go through a knave’s memories, specifically one who remembered being part of a Pandaemonic assault. The Tiger Generals agreed to try it.

So it was that they wound up in Lady O-Nei’s parlor, descending into the dreams of the unconscious patchwork undead knave Piecemeal. Valakar remembers being told that each dreamer starts in their own personal subconscious zone, but once they realize they’re dreaming, they can find one another. So he focuses on Gemma, and sails his ship through the rift of light that opens.

When he arrives in Gemma’s dream, he finds her locked in a fritter-eating competition with the imagined Bolt, each one trying to steal fritters from the other’s plate while defending their own. He reminds her that they’re dreaming, and she comes around. Before they leave her subsconscious, she gathers the remaining fritters for the road.

The two push out of Gemma’s headspace and into a strange, Escherian zone between individual reveries. Lady O-Nei’s astral form floats there, strands of her hair reaching out to various gates. She declines the phantom fritter Gemma offers her (one of the last), and pulls up the gate to Piecemeal’s memory.

The two arrive on the gun deck of a huge Pandaemonic skyship — of such size and decoration that it seems to be Heladonna’s very flagship. Valakar uses lucid dreaming techniques to change his clothes to a uniform; Gemma is less successful at concentration, and has to go “borrow” one from a crewsoul. The two of them then ascend to the bridge.

Piecemeal’s memory of the bridge is fairly intimidating. They don’t see Heladonna’s face from the massive wrought-iron throne, but they do see four of her generals standing at attention — Insinner, Rezrael, a hulking brute and what appears to be a surgeon — and a small group of undead paragons farther from the throne, Piecemeal among them. They listen to the conversation, which seems to focus on competition among Overlords for the primary gates.

Looking out the windows, the group sees the five-fold twisted space of Pandaemonium, a world hanging in each nebula-like section of distorted sky. At some sort of center point, where the five skies meet, a disembodied mountain studded with portals hangs in mid-air. The gateways on its surface seems large enough for humanoids or perhaps even Jotun, but chained to the main rock, seven smaller rocks support gates large enough to fly an airship through.

The memory-dream continues with Rezrael and the Embalmer-General deploying to a smaller ship with several paragons, Piecemeal among them. As the smaller ship breaks free and sets its own course, they see the surface of the gate-nexus contort and then split — a massive eye opening in its surface. The voice of Lady O-Nei reaches them, pulling them away as the eye focuses on them.

The two wake in Lady O-Nei’s parlor. She tells them she withdrew them before they were forced to deal with Grotesquerie, a dream-eating nightmare entity that preys on people such as them. The two Tiger Generals thank the Cardinal for her aid, and then agree that they finally have a target. The Pandaemonic gate-nexus, if damaged or destroyed, would severely limit future invasions for a time — and unlike invading an Overlord’s world, the target is small enough to be within reach. But it’s still sure to be a dangerous mission, and they’ll need a good plan.

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14 - Bad Air
A strange miasma must be fought by wind and storm.

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.

Corundus rises
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.

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13 - Comedy of Errors
The Tiger Generals enjoy the sights of the Cinnabrian capital.

The Tiger Generals, aboard the salvaged Underworld airship and accompanied by a pair of Cardinals, finally visit Ruby. The Cinnabrian capital is built in a series of mountain calderas. It’s a beautiful city full of hot springs and flowering trees.

They dock at one of the skytowers and set preparations for the ship to receive a full overhaul such that it can make the journey to Chalcedon without problems. With time to pass in Ruby, the Cardinals make the offer of hosting the Tiger Generals. A Kin alchemist and perfumer by the name of Mephrodisia offers to show Dr. Lupine around the various gardens, and a terra cotta soldier volunteers to play host to Rahatesh. Jae-Soon places himself at Gemma’s disposal, and she accepts, noting that she’d like to do some shopping.

Florentina rounds things out by taking charge of Valakar. She recommends the Chronomaison, a massive clockwork structure that houses numerous laboratories and classrooms, many of which shift their position and function as time passes and the gears turn. The Cardinal is unfailingly polite as she follows Doel for an entire day of his intense focus on the arts of artifice.

Jae-Soon takes Gemma to the grand bazaar, where the wonders of a continent full of artists await. The plainswoman is rather modest in her wants, though, selecting only a few simple souvenirs for her mother, some fine bolts of cloth, and a new outfit for the evening’s entertainment. They enjoy some street food, and then Jae-Soon proposes a visit to the capital’s coliseum and training grounds.

The Coliseum Without Equal has an excellent agility course set up. As they arrive and survey it, they note that it’s already in use; an acrobatic man who seems to conjure small whirlwinds from his palms is making his way through the course, as a woman with weights braided into her long red hair watches on. Introductions are made. The red-haired woman is another Cardinal, Delilah Crimson; the man an Exemplar visiting from Azuros, going by the name of Gyre. A bit of casual chat about their abilities leads to Gyre recognizing a kindred spirit in Gemma.

“So your powers come from the wind?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“So you’re kind of an air elemental?”

“Sure.”

He pauses. “Can you fly?”

“No.”

Gyre throws up his hands. “Thank you!” Delilah rolls her eyes a bit at the protest. It turns out later that Gyre is a bit sensitive to assumptions about his Exemplar status, as he was a criminal before taking up the blue star and doesn’t know how to deal with people treating him as though he were a respectable hero.

Gemma and Valakar, along with their Cardinal hosts, Gyre and Delilah, meet that evening to visit an operetta. Dr. Lupine is still absent on his herbal journeys, and Rahatesh shows little interest in The Bandits of Blush. The operetta is in one of the more middle-class theaters, and the ushers seem quite surprised when a small group of paragons arrives. They take Jae-Soon’s instrument and Florentina’s parasol, clearly nervous at being entrusted with such treasures.

The performance itself is quite well-done, a fairly rustic comedy that has Valakar bellowing with laughter. However, partway through the ushers reveal themselves as robbers in disguise, pulling blastwands that were concealed as rope posts. One even takes a hostage on-stage. It proves to be as farcical an effort as anything the operetta could provide, as they are quite chagrined to discover six paragons are in attendance. Even with Florentina and Jae-Soon disarmed, Gyre causes a distraction which gives Valakar, Gemma and Delilah opportunity to subdue half the bandits and rescue the hostage before the others realize what’s going on. The affair is settled before the parasol and instrument are back in the hands of their rightful owners.

With the would-be robbers delivered into the hands of the constabulary, the Cardinals engage in a tradition peculiar to their order. They enact a performance for the crowd, a way of creating art to reassure that all is well. The Tiger Generals and Gyre find the tradition unusual but join in as good sports, and the gathered crowd is well and truly delighted.

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