“My people survived Emberfrost,” Aleph says, his tone awestruck. “This was a Warforged settlement. There can be no doubt.”
“Um, if this place was full of Warforged,” Atone says, “then where are they now?” [Chapter 26: A Shadow on the Forest]
Nubbins considers what to write to Balasar, sucking the nib of his quill. Eventually, he scratches out:
‘Dig site investigated. Now using as hiding place for ex-prisoners we rescued from cultist camp. Come see!’ [Chapter 35: Back to the Far Realm]
It is past dawn when the party emerge from the cave complex and scale the cliff face to Leosin’s hiding place for the final time. They find the monk rested, almost fully healed, and somewhat surprised to see them.
“I had given you up for dead,” he admits. “You said last night that you would return in no more than two hours.”
I knew you weren’t dead, Feathers tells Cyd, coiling around the rogue’s ankles.
“Aww, thanks Feath—”
You’re just slow and easily distracted, the tressym continues.
“—There it is. Gods forbid you should ever have anything nice to say.”
The group ride back down to the end of the valley with lighter hearts than they had on their way up, whiling the time away in recounting their exploits to Leosin and making plans for their pursuit of the cultists to Elturel and Baldur’s Gate. Their good mood increases still further when they reach the dig site and tell the rescued prisoners camping inside that it is finally time to go home.
With twenty villagers in tow, the procession that sets out, at long last, on the road back to Greenest is a raucous one. Only Aleph is quiet, walking Beronal along at the very back of the train of people. After a while, Nubbins slows his own mount until he is trotting alongside the great war horse.
“So, Balasar said that you might be able to help me with this railed way job,” the gnome says.
The words startle Aleph out of his own thoughts. “Yes,” he replies. “That is what has been occupying my mind.”
He lapses into silence, the flames of his eyes dimming. Nubbins looks at him with undisguised curiosity.
“Do you have any ideas about where I should start looking for—”
“I, too, came to Faerun through a portal,” Aleph says, as though the gnome has not spoken. “So did my brothers in arms.”
“Was that after your home city was destroyed?” Nubbins asks hesitantly. “You… don’t talk about it much.”
A shudder seems to ripple through the Warforged’s frame. “It was the day Emberfrost fell,” he answers.
“Thirteen portals were opened to your realm, to evacuate the citizenry. And thirteen phalanxes were appointed to guard those portals till the last man, woman and child were through, and to protect them as they fled.
“My brothers and I were assigned to the eighth of these portals. As the city emptied, we held it for as long as we could against the forces who sought to slaughter our civilians. Not a single enemy soldier made it through the eighth portal that day, but—”
Aleph does not finish the thought aloud. But every member of the eighth phalanx fell defending it, he could have said. Everyone except me. Instead, he steels himself against further reminiscences, wrenching his mind back to the present.
“Emberfrost counted many inventors and engineers amongst its children,” he concludes. “It is possible—even probable—that one of them brought some Khorvairian device or blueprint with them through one of the evacuation portals.”
“Then whoever has the information about the railed way might be a friend of yours?” Nubbins asks, bouncing up and down in his saddle.
Aleph’s eyes glitter with a mournful light. “That is far from likely, Nubbins. Emberfrost fell almost seventy years ago. All my human friends from the city must be long dead by now. And as for my brothers in the eighth phalanx, well…”
There’s another stretch of silence, longer than the first. “But the technology itself may well have survived,” Aleph says at last. “I would suggest that we begin our search at the Warforged settlement we passed through on our way to the raiders’ camp.”
They have not quite reached the abandoned village, however, when something else catches their attention. Cyd notices it first: tongues of white-blue light licking the sky over to the east.
“Looks like there’s a storm ahead,” she murmurs.
But the group draw closer to the flickering light and hear no sound of thunder, nor any pattering of rain. Now, the rogue’s thoughts turn to the blue dragon that breathed lightning over Greenest Keep. She holds up a hand, bringing the convoy to a halt.
“I’m going to sneak ahead and check out… whatever that is,” she tells Aleph, who nods.
Slipping from her saddle, Cyd pads forward, sticking close to the hedgerow that lines the path. She creeps around a bend… and sees something that makes her freeze in astonishment.
The party have been retracing their steps, following exactly the same route back to Greenest as they took on their outward journey. Cyd is sure of this: she remembers that journey well. And she’s also sure that if there had been an eighty-foot-wide crater in the middle of the field just to the left of the path, she would have noticed it before.
Gerard and Cyd boggle at it, trying to understand how such a monumental change in the landscape could have escaped their attention. Cuthbert raises an eyebrow. Nubbins races to the edge and peers in excitement at the odd assortment of detritus that lines the bottom of the hollow. Only Aleph appears anything other than bewildered. He stares at the crater for a long moment. And then he kneels at its edge and murmurs a fervent prayer.
The crater is an odd sight indeed: an eighty-foot circle of scorched red earth, faintly warm to the touch, surrounded by the lush grass and yellow flowers of the Greenfields. Even stranger are the artefacts within it. The objects that the party took at first for random junk have been laid out with care and precision: rows of cogs, sprockets and gears cross avenues of tattered clothing and toys, each item placed with others of the same kind. The periphery of the crater is lined with larger objects, machines and devices that most of the party have never seen before. Between each column of artefacts, wildflowers have been planted in neat strips.
In the centre of it all, half an old suit of armour lists over at an angle, a watering can clutched in one gauntleted fist. And over at the furthest edge of the crater is the device that first caught Cyd’s eye: a cracked stone pyramid from which issues a stream of lightning.
“It’s a lightning elemental,” Nubbins shouts. “Just like Balasar said! That’s what makes the railway go! But that means—” He stares at Aleph.
“Yes,” the Warforged says slowly. “One of the evacuation portals of Emberfrost opened on this site; the crater is the proof. But how I—how any of us could have failed to notice it before is—”
The group glance around in confusion, unsure of where the low and gravelly voice could be coming from. It is Aleph who sees the pale orange flames flickering in the eye sockets of the suit of armour. The Warforged at the bottom of the crater is far bulkier than him, of a different design entirely, but those eyes are unmistakable. As Aleph raises a hand in astonished greeting, his brother Warforged lets go of the watering can he was holding and, using his arms to support the weight of his torso, swings himself along the ground towards the party.
“I am Cahthiph,” the Warforged says. “Cavalry, Heavy: Thirteenth Phalanx. But you may call me Bouncer.”
It’s a short and (hopefully) sweet chapter today, friends; next time, our heroes return to Greenest! If you want to know more about the free city of Emberfrost, check out Aleph’s backstory on our Meet the Characters page. Chapter 11 should also help.
Thanks, as always, for reading – it means a lot to us! 🙂
-Lou & Cam X
P.S. If you have the time and would like to support Tabletop Tales further, we’d be really grateful if you’d consider: