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.