“What kills your brother makes you stronger.” --minotaur proverb
Tough times make tough heroes, and no one is tougher than the Herd.
After making their way back to the city, the exhausted and bloodied adventurers nurse their wounds and rest for the night.
Sfiros stays at the High House of Wonders, preparing Sleipnir’s body for tomorrow’s raise dead ritual. The cleric’s itchy burlap penance robes overpower his fatigue, and he never leaves the sorcerer’s side all night.
The other, unrepentant adventurers all wake up the next morning feeling stronger. On a scale of one to twenty, with one being how they felt at the beginning of the season and twenty being how they’ll feel if this series goes for a few years, they feel like something around a three.
The raise dead spell requires a valuable diamond reagent. The stinkier the dead, the more valuable the diamond required. Sleipnir’s grungy corpse requires a diamond worth at least 500 gold pieces.
Tallest, the most bejeweled of the Herd, opts to do the diamond shopping at Calim’s Jewel Emporium in Little Calimshan. Caeus and Harken tag along, for there is no such thing as a Herd of one!
“Umm… I can’t see anyone,” Caeus says to the coat rack. “I have some loot that needs investigating while we’re out. Plus, I would like to try to fix my vision”
“Can’t you just make yourself some robot eyes or something?” Tallest demands as he reaches for a box labeled ROBOT PARTS.
“I would prefer to try to find a cure of some kind,” Caeus says as he backs away. In the tinkerer’s vision, every living thing is replaced with a void. Internet bullshit drugs are the worst, sometimes!
Tallest drops the spare parts on the spare floor and decisively says, “The Guild sells purple lotus flower, and they have operations in Little Calimshan. We can ask around when we get there.”
An ostentation of peacocks loudly passes by, prompting Tallest to add, “And watch out for all the birds and beasts-of-burden!”
Tallest, Caeus, and Harken pass through several districts of Baldur’s Gate on the way to Little Calimshan. Each district has its own identities and subcultures; the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.
The Herd suffers no shade in their own district, the Steeps. Their ‘hood has heard the word about the Herd and they inferred not to get these furred-nerds stirred.
Next, they pass through the familiar middle-class Heapside. The foreigners flooding from the inns and makeshift encampments have their own business to mind. No one gives a second glance to the group of horned adventurers passing through the Basilisk Gate out to the Outer City.
The Outer City is an unorganized addition to Baldur’s Gate, located entirely outside the city walls. The infrastructure is sprawled and unplanned. The people are slovenly and uncouth. The unsavory and unwanted find a home here, if not a refuge.
The first district in Outer City is Stonyeyes, which reeks of stables and sin. The doors of a nearby tavern burst open, and a group of five Flaming Fists officers stumble out in a drunken stupor. They have ale-stained uniforms, but no ale-stained nametags.
The head goblin officer glares at Harken with disgust and inebriation. “I guess they let anyone on the force now, huh?” he slurs.
“Yeah, look at you,” Tallest judges. “How long have you been up? You look wasted. That is not a proper salute, sir!”
The Flaming Fist officer dismisses Tallest’s banter and says to Harken, “You! Who made you a deputy!?”
“I made them deputies,” Harken says.
“Who made you a deputy?” the officer clarifies, emphasizing the word with extreme second-person singularity.
“Some fuckin’ slag,” Harken replies rudely
“I see how it is,” the officer mocks. “The cult attacks must be getting pretty chaotic if it means your crowd is needed.”
“Listen mate, do you want the help or not?” Harken spits.
“I don’t like your attitude!” the officer sneers. The rest of the Flaming Fists go wild.
“I don’t like your fucking face,” Harken mocks back.
“Who talks like that?” the officer mimics Harken’s fake accent. “What’s all this ‘Hello, my name is the red man with horns on his head!’”
The crowd laughs.
“What?” Tallest asks. “That’s a good one. You’re red and have horns, and you kind of sound like that.”
“Who’s your captain?!” the officer demands of Harken.
“He doesn’t have to answer that,” Tallest says, which is fortunate, because Harken does not remember. “You guys are clearly intoxicated. Are you normally allowed to be this drunk on the job?”
“Off duty,” the officer shrugs. “Shift ended hours ago. Figured we’d support the community.”
“Ok, well, have at it. Do you need anything from us, or are you guys just being assholes?” Tallest says.
“Whatever, I guess we’re comrades now,” the officer says and starts to walk away.
“Wait!” Tallest calls back. “What is your name?”
“Nevio,” the officer slurs.
“Can I get your autograph?” Tallest asks.
“No!” Nevio yells.
“I’ll just forge it then.” Tallest pulls out his list of names and sets to work, because like Sfiros, he is also a forge-working minotaur.
Atop the list is the title, beautifully illuminated in the style of Sfiros’s holy books. It reads: Here are the people I have met and what I assume their handwriting looks like.
Tallest scribbles “Nevio” beneath “Dur-Dur-Dur.”
Caeus remembers when Sfiros saw that book and recommended it as a ticket into Candlekeep. “Rumor has it they won’t let you in if you don’t bring them a book they don’t already have.”
“Oh I’ve got a cursed-ass book that they almost certainly don’t already have in their collection!” Caeus says as he pulls out the book with the strange eyeball lock on the cover. “Wait a minute… this cursed book has an eyeball. Who has the key? Maybe it will fix my vision!”
“We all have it!” Tallest says holding up one fifth of a key.
Where did they get that key? Unkh’s shrine!?
“Can we get that re-assembled please?” Caeus asks the Tallest-shaped-void.
Caeus then realizes his curse could actually be used to detect mimics, so he shoves his head into the bag of holding and does a quick inventory check. He can still see everything. The bag is mimic-free!
After Stonyeyes, they enter Norchaple. What was once a quiet, wholesome district is now overwhelmed by refugees, cutpurses, and ill-reputed vendors. Guards keep watch at most Norchaple residences, and destitute crowds wander aimlessly through the streets.
“Any of these guys look like they know about the stuff?” Caeus says. The voids of living things all just look like voids.
Tallest looks around, but the sun is bright and his heart isn’t really into it. He can’t pick out any of the humans, elves, dwarves, and others as Guild members or otherwise, which is just a fancy way of saying that he rolled poorly on an insight check.
They finally pass through Norchapel and arrive at the wall outside Little Calimshan. As before, the local Calishite guards stop Harken before he even looks like he’s approaching.
“What the fuck, mate?” Harken yells.
“Remember what Nevio said,” Tallest explains. “They can’t let just everybody in. If any of your contacts know anything about this purple lotus flower, this would be a good opportunity to look into that.”
“This would be a good opportunity to fuck off!” Harken smacks back.
“Good idea,” Tallest agrees. “I will fuck off. Goodbye.” The tallest minotaur walks off without hesitation.
People turn to gaze up at Tallest as he walks by. Several onlookers remember onlooking at him during his previous visit. Tallest stands out, even for a minotaur; he waves to the starving masses, showing off his silver horn-rings and bling. They love him for it. Right?
He flashes the jewelry at the entrance to Calim’s Jewel Emporium. The security team recognizes him as the tall minotaur who pays for things with missions.
Tallest steps inside, tailed by life-blind Caeus. The tall horns hit the welcoming bells atop the entrance, announcing their presence to the business.
“Ah, my favorite customer!” the jeweler shouts his catch phrase. “Welcome back, my tall minotaur friend. I trust you seek more wares?”
“Absolutely, but I finally remembered what I keep forgetting,” Tallest says. “What’s your name?”
“My name, good sir, is Ukola,” the jeweler says.
“Ukola, will you sign my autograph book?” Tallest pulls out the book.
“What is an autograph?” Ukola says.
“It’s where you write your name in this book. It’s a list of people I meet and like,” Tallest explains. “It’s so I can say, ‘You’re ok, in my book!’” he laughs to himself.
“It’s like an art project,” Caeus says, facing a different direction.
“That is fine! I will be happy to leave my name and contact information for any future purchases!” Ukola pulls out a quill and eagerly adds his ad. He pulls his quill back in surprise, eying the names already listed. “You have met Dur-Dur-Dur!? The hero who stopped the Death Curse!?”
“Yeah! He’s the King of Omu,” Tallest rumors. “You didn’t hear this from us, but he’s in a secret society with Zanzibar the Magician! Have you heard of Zanzibar?”
“Who has not heard of the hero Zanzibar the Magician?!” Ukola brightens up at the mention of the wizard born in his hometown Kinchasa. Zanzibar has that effect on some people.
“They call him Lefty these days,” Tallest says. “Did you hear that?”
“One-Hand Jack!” Caeus adds.
“Leftybar!” Tallest laughs.
“Did you hear this from Dur-Dur-Dur?” Ukola asks.
“Yeah, that guy does not know how to keep a secret,” Caeus says.
“I will be sure to tell everyone I see about this!” Ukola eagerly gossips. “Why do they call him Lefty? What is with these strange names?”
“His hand is missing!” the minotaurs say.
“Speaking of Dur-Dur-Dur,” Tallest focuses his rage on the mission quest. “He told us we can use raise dead to bring our dead friend back to life. But it needs a valuable diamond. Do you have such a reagent?”
“Also, I can’t see a living thing!” Caeus asks the jeweler. “Do you have anything to fix that?”
Ukola looks at Caeus talking to the wall. The jeweler turns back to Tallest. “If a diamond is what you need, a diamond is what I can provide!”
“Also my thing!” Caeus adds.
Ukola assumes this other minotaur is part of some other conversation. He continues, “What value diamond are you looking for?”
“At least 500 gold,” Tallest recites.
“500!?” Caeus gasps, finally faces the correct direction.
“It’s your little brother!” Tallest yells. “Don’t you want to see him again?”
“I can only see him now,” Caeus huffs. “When he comes back alive, I won’t be able to!”
“If he were here right now, what would he say?” Tallest asks.
“I don’t know, probably asking about rumors,” Caeus says. He turns to the clothes that Tallest’s clothes are talking to. “Do you know any rumors?”
Ukola thinks for a moment, doing anything to close the sale. “The Hellriders are coming to town tomorrow?” Ukola portends. “Let me get that diamond!” The jeweler rushes off and comes back with a diamond on a satin pillow and a marvelous silver case. “A fine diamond! I will even throw in the case for free.”
Caeus sees the diamond and the case. “I can see it. It’s not a mimic.”
“That’s a good use of that!” Tallest exclaims. “Don’t cure your eyes.”
“Maybe I’ll cure just one,” Caeus says.
“That might make you have two different colored eyes,” Tallest says.
“I already have two different colored eyes!” Caeus points at his eyes.
“Now they have a purpose!” Sleipnir’s ghost haunts.
“I never noticed,” Tallest says. “Maybe this is why you have two different colored eyes.”
“You sound a lot like Dur-Dur-Dur’s bear,” Caeus says. “Did he give you something?”
“Anyway, I would like to exchange this gold for that diamond,” Tallest says. He takes the diamond and safely tucks it with his belongings. He then leans in as close as he can to the jeweler while retaining maximum tallness. “Do you know how to cure... purple lotus?”
“...What would you know about the purple lotus?” Ukola asks clandestinely.
“I took that shit and it messed up my sight!” Caeus screams. “Listen to me, listen! I met Dur-Dur-Dur! I did drugs with a celebrity! That’s cool! He’s a cool guy!”
“Look for Rilsa Rael, perhaps?” Ukola tries. “I do not deal in purple lotus flowers. I earn gold the good old fashioned way: blood diamonds!”
“Blood for the blood diamonds,” Tallest nods. “RIlsa Rael. Do you know where she is?”
Ukola shrugs. “She tends to stay on her own with no fixed location. She’ll find you before you find her.”
“Ok, cool.” Tallest is fine with Rilsa doing the searching. “Nice doing business with you, Ukola.”
“Put out word that the Herd is looking to do rails,” Caeus says.
“Business is business!” Ukola smiles. “Let’s do more business.”
“When we get this vision thing sorted out,” Caeus pitches, “if you need us to come back and do some celebrity endorsements, we are The Herd. We’re building up a rep. Local celebs. That sort of stuff.”
“Thank you, thank you!” Ukola tries his best to end this conversation and waves them goodbye. “The youngest candle burns the brightest!”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Caeus yells.
“Don’t be rude!” Tallest says as the two minotaurs leave the jewelry shop. They wade through the sea of refugees lost in conversation.
Harken is unhappy and left behind, as always. He sighs and curses and accepts his lot, as always. If there’s one way Harken can contribute to The Herd, it’s through sleazy dealings at a bar, as always.
The bard backtracks through the Lower City and into Heapside. If anyone knows the right person to cure purple lotus flower, it will be Lala Stout because she’s a real snitch.
In Elfsong Tavern, a ghostly elvish tune laments her lost love . The two bouncers give Harken a nod as he walks in. He recognizes Klank, an animated suit of rusty armor, and Skoona, a gruff half-ogre.
Harken doesn’t see Lala anywhere on the first floor. “Maybe she got abducted again,” he laughs to himself.
Harken remembers what Caeus once told him, “You should get in tight with Klank! That dude sounds dope as hell!” and the tiefling walks back to the animated suit of armor.
“Oy, what’s up, you bucket o’ bolts?” Harken banters.
“Casual joke detected,” Klank states. “Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Welcome, Harken.”
“Oy, this one’s joke node is all fucking broken,” Harken says.
“What can I do for you, today?” Klank asks.
“There’s give and take in bipedal conversation, mate,” Harken instructs. “I say something funny, they laugh. You say, ‘Look at this guy, he’s kind of funny,’ and everyone laughs. You know.”
“Yes,” Klank lies.
“Stop talking to him!” Skoona snarls at Harken. She grabs Klank and puts him back to work. Of the two bouncers, Skoona is by far the bounciest!
Harken pats the armor on the pauldron. “Don’t ever change,” he says.
Upstairs, Lala Stout the halfling troublemaker is sitting at her own tiny couch. She’s digging through a tiny ledger book with a tiny mountain of coins next to her.
“Oy, Lala, what’s up there, mate,” Harken saunters up to the halfling.
Lala looks up from her ledger. “Harken!” Her eyes widen until she sees Harken’s Flaming Fist badge. Then her eyes narrow. “Don’t tell me…”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Harken laughs. “Somebody had the bright idea to make me a deputy!”
“Does this mean when I get in trouble, you can bail me out... again?” Lala smiles.
“Again, again…. Again, again, again, yeah,” Harken admits. “But don’t take it as a fucking invitation, there girlie!”
Lala stashes her coins in her purse and scoots over to the end table. “Have a seat. You wouldn’t be looking for me unless you wanted something.”
“I’m looking for someone who is in the business of poison and the like,” Harken says and takes the empty couch.
“Who are you trying to kill?”
“Just the opposite this time, unfortunately,” Harken explains. “One of those dunderhead cows got himself a little bit of an eye problem. Black ichor or lotus potion or some shit like that.”
Lala nods. “More of an antidote?”
“I’ll take both, if they’re offering, “ Harken says.
“Have you ever thought of going to see a doctor?” she asks. Doctors are so neat! They’re like Intelligence clerics!
“I mean… I’m the closest thing to a doctor I trust,” the musician who fights with bagpipes says. “Do you got anyone you recommend?”
“I usually go to Doctor Thinster, but he’s not here anymore,” Lala says casually.
Harken chokes on his tongue and coughs it out. “Oh, I think I’ve heard of that one. Anyways…”
“Purple lotus flower is peddled by the Guild,” Lala says. “Go to talk to them. The kingpin in Heapside is Earless Earl.”
“Why do they call him Earless Earl?”
“He was born without ears. Sometimes you’re born without ears!” she clarifies.
“What is he? Humanfolk?” Harken asks.
“Yeah, just because he don’t have ears don’t make him a monster,” Lala says. “I don’t know how much you’ll be able to talk to him with that.” She points to the Flaming Fist badge.
“I guess I could hide the badge,” Harken says. “No reason not to.”
“Now whatcha going to do for me?” Lala holds out her palm.
“Let’s think back to a few days ago. When I saved your fucking skin,” Harken says.
“Ok, fair enough,” Lala says and ends the dialogue.
Harken follows the halfling to a back alley, and the ghostly elfsong lingers behind them, melancholic and enchanting. Lala fishes a coin out of her pocket and holds it up to her mouth.
“Hey, Earl, got a kid down here interested in a purple lotus flower cure. Send one of your boys. You know where to find me: just look down,” she says. She puts the coin back in her pocket.
“Oy, that’s a neat trick!” Harken says.
“Earl uses them to keep in contact with people,” Lala says. “And to spy on people.”
“Remind me not to take any of your fucking coins, then,” Harken tells the little loan shark halfling.
“Yeah, that’s the idea.”
A few minutes later, a sturdy dwarf woman walks up to the conspirators.
“Lala,” the dwarf nods, then takes note of Harken. “What’s going on?”
“I got a client.” She looks at Harken. “Tell her what you’re looking for.”
“Uh, purple flower lotus antidote or some shit,” Harken says. “One of my minotaur friends got himself the blindness.”
“Oh, he overdosed?” the dwarf says.
“Yeah, I don’t think it was intentional,” Harken laughs. “He’s not that smart. Or that dumb. He’s very… average.”
The dwarf nods. “I think I can set you up for it. 75 gold.”
Harken winces at the price, then remembers that it ain’t his damn eyes that need curing. “I’ll need to get with my big-horned compatriots…”
“The Herd?” The dwarf has heard.
“Yeah, unfortunately, I’m rolling with them,” Harken says. “Meet us at the workshop this time tomorrow.” Harken once again invites people to Caeus’s home.
In the High House of Wonders, Sfiros finally dozes off after spending the entire night standing vigil by Sleipnir's broken body. He starts to dream of Gond, finally getting some rest when—
A massive gong smashes directly over Sfiros’s head, aggressively and abruptly ending his slumber.
“Penance! Penance! It is your penance morning!” a young acolyte shouts with his hands full of gong. “Wake up!”
“Oh my Gond,” Sfiros awakens.
“Your first act of penance shall be ensuring the forges are properly stoked!” the acolyte orders. “Do you have your stoking tool?”
Sfiros reaches under his pillow and presents his stoking tool in accordance with the rituals and traditions of Gond.
“Yes, that is a glorious stoking tool! Please, step into the Great Forge and begin your stoking!”
Sfiros enters the Great Forge, eagerly stoking like he has never stoked before. But Sfiros has not stoked in so long! The cleric feels the consequences of neglecting his stoking duties! His enthusiasm does not make up for his exhaustion and his inexperience, and he spills hot coals all over the stone floor.
“Watch where you’re stoking that thing!” another penitent complains. “Who taught you how to stoke!?”
Sfiros apologizes profusely. He moves to stoke another forge where he is promptly reprimanded. “Don’t you see the sign!? No stoking!” another acolyte shouts. “This is a secondary forge! My Gond! No one stokes the secondary forges during the season of Vengeance! Not until Summer, or mid-Hatred!”
Sfiros is overwhelmed with shame. It has been so long since he last penanced, he has gotten terrible at it. Did he just fuck up at fucking up?
Sfiros drops to his knees and prays to Gond, “Give me guidance. You teach us to create, but part of creation is learning from others, and aiding them in their creations. Help me. Teach me to stoke again, my lord.”
The heat melts Sfiros’s words right out of his mouth, and they drip onto the head of a tiny, nearby gnome.
“Ex-excuse me?” the gnome starts. Penance requires an exact height, so the gnome’s penance hat is very tall to match the height of Sfiros’s hat. “Are you the new stoker?”
“I am doing penance as well,” Sfiros musters.
“Come with me,” the gnome guides Sfiros to a good forge. “I’ve been stoking a long time. I do penance a lot, you see. If you come with me, I will show you how to stoke the proper way!”
“I appreciate it, small one,” the minotaur says humbly.
“What’s your name?” the gnome asks.
“I am Sfiros Dimirgos,” Sfiros declares.
“My name’s Techie,” the gnome smiles.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Techie.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, Sfiros,” Techie grins. “Do you have your stoking tool?”
Sfiros shows Techie his stoking tool.
“I hope, Techie, that your stoking tool is working better than mine. Because mine is not working well today. And I’m not sure if it’s the tool or the master.” Sfiros looks down in shame.
“Do you need me to teach you how to stoke?” Techie asks.
“Please. I require stoking lessons,” Sfiros confirms.
Techie snatches Sfiros by the wrist and pushes him closer to a forge. “Now, we will stoke together…”
Back in Little Calimshan, Caeus and Tallest are in the middle of a conversation.
“Why don’t we have Numuru in The Herd?” Caeus asks. “He’s a minotaur! He’s in Baldur’s Gate.”
“Do you really want to hang out with that guy?” Tallest says. “He’s boring until he’s angry.”
“He is old and boring,” Caeus agrees. “But he is a minotaur!”
“That’s fine,” Tallest says. “He can be a minotaur. Old Grandfather of The Herd or whatever. But he doesn’t have to hang out with us!”
“He’ll be our Cranky Kong.”
“Which one are you?”
Caeus does not consider this. “We’ll have to figure out a personality algorithm later. I’ve got to fix my sight! Where’s Harken?”
Tallest does not consider this. “Let’s go back to the House of High Wonders and get your brother back. I’m sure we’ll have some ideas on how to fix your eyes by then. We could also be on the lookout for Rilsa Rael.”
Tallest looks around the crowd and shouts a single time, “Rilsa Rael!” She will find him if she wants to be found, so Tallest doesn’t bother to search further.
“I can help!” Caeus lies. “I can see clothes.”
“You don’t know what she’s going to be wearing today,” Tallest points out.
“Clothes make the minotaur, Tallest,” Caeus says.
“Is that why you change clothes every day?” Tallest asks.
“Yes! It’s called fashion!” Caeus invents a new word. “Look it up!”
“But if they make the minotaur, and you change them everyday, you’re changing who you are every day,” Tallest says. “Why not be yourself?”
“I am large,” Caeus says. “I contain multitudes.”
“Oh yeah,” Tallest agrees. “Well, I think your clothes look extra nice today, Caeus. I meant to tell you earlier.”
Caeus is wearing Sfiros’s old chainmail.
“Just wait until you see what it can do!” Caeus foreshadows level three-ishly.
Back at the holy temple, Sfiros is learning how to stoke the forges. He still has a lot of learning to do.
“You got to stoke harder, Sfiros!” Techie cheers him on.
“You’re so good at stoking, Techie!” Sfiros moans.
“You got to stoke up! You got to stoke better!” Techie wails.
“I don’t know how!” Sfiros says.
“Give me your stoker!” The gnome grabs Sfiros’s tool. “I’ll stoke for the both of us!”
Sfiros hands over his tool and casts guidance on Techie.
Like a master artist upon a blank, virginal canvas; like a devilish chef before a sizzling cut of succulent, juicy meat; like a simile, Techie stokes the hell out of these forges. Smoke billows up in the High House of Wonders as the forges kick off with flames. The little gnome hops from forge to forge, dual-wielding stokers.
Sfiros envisions Gond personified in this stoking gnome’s work. The forges are going full blaze, and Techie strides back to Sfiros.
“Sfiros?” Techie says.
“Yes, Techie?” Sfiros says gently.
“I want you to have my stoking tool,” Techie presents the red hot tool to the cleric.
“I don’t think I could take a master’s tool!” Sfiros says humbly.
Techie looks Sfiros in the eyes. “Sfiros, deep down inside of you, is what I call a master stoker. He just needs to find his way to the surface. And sometimes, to find your true self, you just need a better stoking tool. I’m already there. I don’t need it anymore. It’s yours now. Your stoking tool.”
“My Gondness...” Sfiros is speechless. “I’ve learned so much from you.”
“Goodbye, Sfiros! See you next penance!” The gnome slowly fades away.
“Don’t go, Techie!” Sfiros yells, but it is too late. The cleric stokes alone.
Sfiros casts artisan’s blessing to create a new stoking tool as a gift for Techie. He doesn’t know where Techie went, but he guesses the gnome has a short alimentary canal and must frequent the latrines often.
Sfiros goes there and places the new stoking tool with a bow and a card that says, For Techie, From your most grateful student.
During lunch, Sfiros has to sit at a fold-up kiddie table in the corner, away from the seating area for the pious, proven clergy. An acolyte presents Sfiros with a dome-covered dish. “Sfiros Dimirgos?” the acolyte states.
“Yes?” Sfiros says.
“Your penance lunch is to be served and eaten!” The acolyte sets the dish in front of the cleric. “It has been served. Ensure that it is eaten!” Then the acolyte whisks away back to the cafeteria.
Sfiros lifts up the dome and reveals bits of raw iron.
Sfiros is confused. “Surely he does not mean eat the iron? There must be a hidden meaning here.” Sfiros casts guidance on himself and ponders what to do.
Something tugs on Sfiros’s burlap robe.
“Hey, you gonna eat that?” Behind Sfiros is a fat, smelly, hairy dwarf. The dwarf’s penance hat is bent and falling off. “Are you going to finish your iron ore?”
Sfiros sees a solution. “I am to ensure that it is eaten. It was not…” Sfiros wonders if this loophole would violate his penance. “Oh, man…”
“Is this your first time going through the lunch portion of penance?” the dwarf asks.
“Yeah, it is,” Sfiros readily admits. “Could you help me out here? Do you know what I’m supposed to do?”
“Oh yeah!” the dwarf reassures him. “I’ll show you what to do. Don’t you worry!”
“Do you penance often?”
“All the time!” the dwarf says. “When I can. My name’s Wassshn. You ever eaten raw iron before?”
“I haven’t,” Sfiros says.
“You gotta swallow it whole! You can’t chew it. Just put the whole thing in your mouth and slug it down. Watch.” Wassshn grabs the biggest iron and shoves it in his mouth. It scrapes some of its teeth as it slides down his throat.
Sfiros picks up the smallest piece of iron on the plate, gingerly sets it on his tongue, and gulps it down. He rolls poorly on his Constitution save, and he chokes on the small chunk. The minotaur’s eyes bulge as he gasps for air!
“Oh, I know what to do!” Wassshn runs out of the room and comes back holding a stoking tool with a bow on it. “Hold still, man!”
He pulls Sfiros’ mouth open and plunges the stoking tool deep down his throat, dislodging the iron ore. After much choking, poking, and stoking, the iron finally dislodges and plummets into Sfiros’ stomach.
“Good thing there was that stoking tool in the latrine!” the dwarf throws the stoking tool off to the side. “Otherwise I would have come back with the plunger.”
“I made that,” Sfiros chokes out.
“You made what? A scene?” Wassshn asks.
“I made the stoker,” Sfiros manages.
“That’s what you care about right now!?” Sleipnir’s ghost haunts Sfiros. “That you made that? Gosh!”
“Look,” Wassshn says. “I can’t eat all your iron for you. But we can do this together!” The dwarf snacks down another iron ore chunk.
Sfiros finds the next smallest piece and swallows it as the blood in his throat lubricates the ore.
The dwarf easily downs another, then hands a large one to Sfiros. “Here, man. It's a big one! You’re going to have to try harder on this one!”
Sfiros tries to swallow the ore, but he chokes again as he rolls a natural 1 on the Constitution save!
“I’ve got to give you mouth-to-mouth!” The dwarf hops on top of the minotaur. He blows furiously down Sfiros’s throat. The dwarf huffs and puffs like he’s blowing up a balloon, hard enough that it dislodges the ore!
They fall to the ground together, struggling to catch their breaths.
“Wassshn, you’re amazing,” Sfiros says.
“No, Sfiros,” Wassshn puts his hand on Sfiros’s shoulder, “you’re amazing! In fact, I want you to have this.” The dwarf reaches into his own mouth and plucks out a tooth. “My iron-ore-eating tooth!”
“But Wassshn, I can’t take your tooth! That’s how you eat the iron!”
“Don’t worry, Sfiros. You’re brand new to iron-eating. You need the tool. I don’t. I’m a master.”
“I appreciate you, Wassshn.”
The dwarf leans in closer. “It’s ok to be afraid sometimes.” Wassshn hops up and wolfs down every last bit of iron ore on the plate. Handful after handful, the dwarf shovels the iron into his mouth. The ferrous chunks shatter within the dwarf’s maw!
“But Wassshn, your iron tooth!” Sfiros shouts.
“I don’t need the iron tooth!” the dwarf garbles through a face full of metal. “I am the iron tooth!” The entire dish disappears as Wassshn stands victoriously at the kiddie table. “It was great eating iron with you, Sfiros.”
“It was an experience I’ll never forget, Wassshn,” Sfiros says.
“Goodbye, Sfiros!” Wassshn disappears in a puff of smoke, and Sfiros catches a glimpse of the fat dwarf jingling down the hall.
With a sigh, Sfiros relaxes as the lunch portion of penance is over.
Outside the temple, Caeus and Tallest continue their conversation.
“I mean, we could trade him out for Harken! He’s not even a minotaur,” Caeus says.
“Trade him out for what?” Tallest asks.
“Numuru! He’s more hip than Numuru, but Numuru is at least a minotaur.”
“And Numuru can cast level 5 spells,” Tallest says.
“But he is really lame. And he’ll scold Sfiros all the time,” Caeus says. “We’ll table this.”
“He’s good for where he’s at,” Tallest says, knowing that some NPC’s are best left outside of the adventuring team. “But we’ll table it. On the way here, did you manage to fix your eyes?”
Caeus checks and still can’t see any living thing. “Uh, no.”
As they’re talking, Harken saunters up with a sly grin on his face. “Guess what I found out?!”
They do not guess.
“I found out for 75 gold, we can cure this one here’s eyes!” Harken says.
“How’s that?” Tallest asks.
“An antidote for the purple lotus,” Harken says
“Has it been tested?” Caeus asks.
“Did anyone test the purple lotus before you took it?” Tallest says.
“I’ll try anything once, I guess,” Caeus says. “Yeah, I’ve got 75 gold. Let’s do it.”
“Should we get Sfiros first? Is it far?” Tallest asks.
“They’re going to meet us in the workshop tomorrow,” Harken says.
“We need to go home and make banners!” Caeus remembers.
“Why?” Sleipnir’s ghost asks.
“We need banners for when Sleipnir comes back! ‘HERD LOVE SLEIPNIR’”
“He won’t even know he was gone. He’s dead,” Tallest says.
“I’m making banner!” Caeus declares.
“I’ll help you hang it up, but I’m not making it,” Tallest says.
“That’s fair,” Caeus agrees.
They head into the temple to do the thing they were supposed to do. Forgers and smiths clang away as steam and smoke billow through several vents in the ceiling. After bumbling through narthexes, antechambers, naves, vestibules, ventricles, and a most confusing apse, they finally find Numuru’s office. Sleipnir’s robes cover his lifeless body on top of an altar.
“Have you brought the reagents for the incantation?” Numuru welcomes them with horns and arms held wide.
“We have, sir, but we have a favor to ask you first,” Tallest says.
“Yes?” Numuru asks.
“Will you sign my autograph book?”
Numuru raises an eyebrow at the request. “I suppose so…”
Tallest takes out his book and quill, presenting them to the high priest. “Look, this one was Dur-Dur-Dur’s!”
“I see, it’s very… artistic,” Numuru exaggerates. “And crayon.” Numuru signs his autograph and receives the diamond from Tallest.
“Hold on, I want to look at Sleipnir a bit longer,” Caeus says. He approaches his little brother’s corpse. Caeus carefully removes the wraps around Sleipnir’s face, and gets a good look all to himself. He then gingerly replaces the face covering.
The room darkens.
“We shall begin the first step,” Numuru says, closing his eyes and raising his arms high into the sky. He takes a deep breath, then shouts into the air, “Begin resurrection penance!”
Sfiros barrels into the room, and Numuru shoves the diamond into his hand.
“What’s happening?” Caeus says, still only seeing clothes.
“That’s Sfiros,” Tallest whispers. “He’s got the penance robe on. And Numuru is talking to him about something.”
“Sfiros!” Numuru booms, his voice echoing within his chamber. “Chant the Great Words of Resurrection!”
“I will chant the Great Words of Resurrection!” Sfiros obeys, face beading with sweat as he struggles to recite the liturgy. “What are the Great Words of Resurrection?”
“You do not know the Great Words of Resurrection?!” Numuru blasts, appalled at Sfiros’s insubordination.
“I have not participated in resurrection magic yet, master,” Sfiros admits dejectedly at yet another penance challenge he is utterly unprepared for.
Something tugs on Sfiros’s penance robe. He turns and looks up to see a seven-foot-tall half-elf trying to get his attention. The half-elf is so tall that his penance hat hangs down to a matching height with Sfiros’s.
“First time ever seeing a dead body?” the half-elf guesses.
“No, actually,” Sfiros replies. “My first time trying to raise the dead, though!”
“Oh, you’ve never raised the dead before?” the half-elf says. “It’s my favorite part of penance!”
“I will say, the previous parts of penance have been pretty rough…” Sfiros feels the iron ore in his gut and the absence of stokiness in his stoking hands.
“This is going to be a heck of an adventure! What you gotta do is say the words!” the half-elf clarifies.
“Do you know the words?” Sfiros asks.
“Repeat after me,” the half-elf says. He places his hand on Sfiros and guides him to raise the diamond high above his head. “GET UP!”
“GET UP!” Sfiros repeats.
“STAY UP!” the half-elf shouts.
“STAY UP!” Sfiros shouts.
Sleipnir’s body doesn’t stir. Sfiros looks back to Numuru, and the minotaur priest shakes his head in disappointment.
The half-elf pulls Sfiros closer to him and says, “Now, listen, now. There hasn’t ever been no resurrection penance that good old Y’all’diddn’t’ve couldn’t end with success!”
“What did you say your name was?” Sfiros asks reasonably.
“Y’all’diddn’t’ve!” Y’all’diddn’t’ve says proudly.
“Y’all’diddn’t’ve,” Sfiros tries.
Y’all’diddn’t’ve starts speaking in an Elvish Creole. The melodies and harmonies of his deep voice bounce against and with one another. The rhythms of the words fill Sfiros with a holy radiance, climaxing on a powerful “You gotta tell ‘em to GET UP!”
“GET UP!” Sfiros beams. He shoves the diamond high into the air, and the words radiate out of the penitent cleric. Fractures appear throughout the diamond. The words and fractures and magic converge in a cacophony of pulsating, utilitarian leylines!
Numuru opens his hands up, grabs the tips of his horns, and bellows a loud ”OOOOOOOO!” as he chants the magic words to complete the spell.
Caeus and Tallest moo in agreement.
The magical soundwaves visibly radiate around the room, amplifying the spell into a mighty crescendo of cattle calls, “GET UPS!”, and whatever profanity Harken is adding.
Y’all’diddn’t’ve reaches into his pocket and hands Sfiros a torn slip of paper. Sfiros unfolds it, realizing that it’s a piece of a birth certificate. At the end, Sfiros can see the last bit of the half-elf’s name. The “n‘t’ve” part.
“Listen,” the half-elf says, “my ability to say complicated weird things has made me one of the best resurrection penancers. But, I don’t need this tool anymore.” He closes Sfiros’ hand over the paper.
“This tool is one-third of your birth certificate?” Sfiros asks. Clearly there’s a holy book of Gond that he skipped in his early days of Gond school, and damn is that decision biting him in the ass today.
“Yes,” the half-elf says. “You can have my ‘n’t’ve.’ And I’ll just be Y’all’didd.”
Sfiros stares at Y’all’didd, absolutely baffled at the ever-increasing levels of bat-shittery lurking within the annals, rhetoric, and sacraments of his order. Is it too late to multiclass?
His legal name is now Sfiros Dimirgosn’t’ve. The Herd all twist their tongues trying to pronounce it.
“If you learn to say that name, then with this tool you will be able to conjure any of our incantations,” Y’all’didd glows humbly. “I don’t need it anymore, Sfiris Dimirgosn’t’ve.”
“Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me, Y’all’diddn’t’ve,” Sfiros starts. “Or Y’all’diddn’t. Y’all’diddn? I don’t know what to call you. I didn’t know what to call you a minute ago, and now I really don’t know what to call you,” says the character whose name already looked like someone dropped a coffee mug on a keyboard.
“Minutago?” Y’all’didd says. “Isn’t that what you are?”
“No, no, minotaur,” Sfiros corrects him.
Maybe the half-elf needed his pronouncing tool more than he thought. Better skedaddle before anyone notices!
“Good-bye, Sfiros Dmirigosn’t’ve!” the half-elf walks away unconcealed.
Numuru’s long chant ceases. The resurrection magic that Sfiros conjured with his third and final task of penance coalesces and fuses with Sleipnir’s corpse.
His soul is being summoned...
On the outskirts of the Material plane, within the Astral mass—Sleipnir’s disembodied spirit floats among shadows and spectral flashes. Time stands still, and the broken minotaur struggles to decipher this new realm… but the shimmering flashes coalesce, condensing into familiar shapes: a face, a body, and towering horns…
A sleepy-eyed, monolithic humanoid rises within the aether, eclipsing the plane itself as shapes clash together to apply a semblance of understanding: a familiar for the unfamiliar. The massive, horned titan peers down at the sorcerer.
“HELLO, LITTLE ONE,” the titan rumbles.
“Hello!” Sleipnir greets him.
“HOW DID YOU REACH THE SILENT WORLD OF SHADOWS?” the titan asks.
“Rumor has it, trying to protect my herd,” Sleipnir says.
“A NOBLE THING TO DO,” the titan says. “BUT I AM STILL SLEEPING...”
“Oh, sorry to disturb you,” Sleipnir says.
“PLEASE...” the titan yawns. “CALL ME BROM.”
“Yes, Brom. I am Sleipnir.”
“I KNOW,” he says... “I KNOW...” his voice cracks and stutters. The ancient being distorts out of existence and fades away.
With a blur of light, the extraplanar forces drag Sleipnir out of his shadow world and into a kaleidoscope of spiraling light exploding in every direction.
“This is awful!” the dead shadow sorcerer wails.
From the light, a static void forms in front of him. This presence is vile and conniving, a spiritual stain that burns at his soul..
“Hello, Sleipnir,” the static says.
“It’s too bright!” Sleipnir covers his eyes and puts his head down. “Hello!”
The bright void reforms, coalescing into a broken, dimensional pocket resembling an asylum’s common room. A foreboding title forms above this floating scar in reality: DR. THINSTER’S OFFICE.
“You are here now,” the static says to Sleipnir. “How did you leave the mortal world?”
“In battle!” Sleipnir shouts at the foe.
“I believe you will return, but…” the static materializes, taking a human form. Arms and legs peel from the chaotic mesh of static, and a white lab coat stitches itself into existence over the static’s new form. The face remains unchanged: the doctor stares at Sleipnir with a visage of scraggly lines.
The static steps over the tile floor, moving closer to Sleipnir.
The minotaur tries to move, but he realizes he’s fastened to a wheelchair with leather straps. Something flutters in his vision, and he glances up to see a plastic tag hanging off one of his horns. The tag says “SLEIPNIR.”
“I am glad to see you with us today,” the twitch-faced doctor looks down at him.
Dark, opalescent windows gloom menacingly behind them as the room tries to materialize into reality, but flickers like heat lightning in bursts of energy.
“You are here because you are sick. It is good to see you lucid, but your history is not clean. You were slain by Chaos.” The doctor takes out a syringe. “And thus, you will be touched by Chaos.”
Dr. Thinster plunges the needle into Sleipnir’s arm, and as he injects the fluid, Sleipnir wakes up!
The shadow sorcerer finds himself on an altar in the High House of Wonders surrounded by his minotaur friends, Harken, and a retinue of temple members.
Caeus sees the corpse suddenly vanish into nothing, leaving behind clothes wrapped around a void. Sleipnir dresses in full body robes, so he still just looks like a pile of blankets.
“Herd love Sleipnir!” Caeus welcomes his little brother back to the world of the living. “Happy Existence!”
“Everything hurts!” Sleipnir moans. “Rumor has it, I feel like death.”
“Funny story about that!” Sfiros pipes up.
“You smell like death,” Caeus reminds his brother.
“You are death!” Sfiros says. “Or were death. Were death.”
“I had the craziest dream!” Sleipnir says.
“You better wake up fast, we’ve got to meet Dur-Dur-Dur at Candlekeep like he told us,” Tallest interrupts.
“Dur-Dur-Dur?!” Sleipnir fawns.
“We met Dur-Dur-Dur!” Caeus taunts his recently dead brother. “He said he came to meet his penpal. Some guy named Sleepy.”
“I’m Sleepy!” Sleipnir cries.
“Let’s go to bed, then,” Tallest laughs. “What time is it?”
“Dur-Dur-Dur was really here?” Sleipnir asks again.
“Yeah, you totally missed it,” Sfiros says. “He only showed up after you died and left before you woke up.”
“What all did he say about me?” Sleipnir asks. “Did he get my letters? He never wrote me back.”
“He came and saved all of our lives,” Caeus says. “It was really cool.”
“He saved us specifically because of you,” Tallest says.
“I can’t see living things anymore!” Caeus says.
“What?” Sleipnir asks.
“I did drugs with a celebrity! That’s cool!” Caeus brags.
“I have got to write in my journal about this!” Sleipnir says. “Did anyone get his autograph while he was here?”
“Yeah, I got a couple.” Tallest pulls out several pages of his autograph book. “You should’ve seen what he wrote on his axe. It looked like this.”
“He never signed any of his letters like that,” Sleipnir says.
“When we were chained to the wall, he told us a very long story. It was two and a half hours,” Caeus says.
“Did you write it down?” Sleipnir asks.
“We were chained to the wall,” Caeus says. “Why didn’t you write it down?”
“I don’t think I was alive at that point,” Sleipnir says. “Or else, I was dreaming. There was a doctor who tried to give me a shot. And he didn’t have a face. And that was right after I met a gigantic minotaur guy!”
“I had a crazy dream that one time” Caeus mentions and does not elaborate. “But I was just passed out.”
“Maybe I was just passed out, then,” Sleipnir says.
“No, I could see your face,” Caeus says.
“You cost us 500 gold,” Tallest says. “You have to pay us back, by the way.”
“Did you see the banners?” Caeus asks.
“No, where are the banners?” Sleipnir asks.