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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