Dawn breaks over Baldur’s Gate. Peacock caws announce the emerging sun, and a faint sound of one minotaur goshing joins the chorus.
“Gosh!” Sleipnir paces back and forth around his brother’s workshop. He holds out his arm in despair, trying to keep the Chaos God brand as far away from him as possible.
Caeus groans at his noisy roommate, tossing and turning in bed. Finally fed up, he activates his power armor to drown out his brother’s cries for help and/or attention.
Eventually Sleipnir’s goshes get so loud they wake up the entire Minotaur District of the Steeps, which means he also wakes up Tallest.
“We have business in the Upper City,” Tallest barges in, fed up with all the goshing. “It is decided.”
Caeus rolls out of bed with his power armor set to infiltrator mode for mobility and a lightning arm-cannon.
They find Harken exactly where they left him: in some street gutter.
“Yup, yup,” Harken says. “Hi.” They make their way to the Upper City quickly to meet Sfiros at the High House of Wonders.
Sleipnir struggles to climb the stairs at the temple of Gond, each step requiring more energy. A mysterious, angry force pushes against Sleipnir’s efforts, and the Chaos brand on his arm pulsates in agony. Sleipnir can go no further: the brand is preventing him from going into the temple!
“You want me to solve that problem for you, Sleipnir?” Caeus asks.
“It depends,” Sleipnir eyes his brother suspiciously. “What are you going to do?”
“I was going to remove the brand,” Caeus says.
“And by ‘remove the brand,’ you mean…?” Sleipnir asks.
“He’s going to cut your arm off,” Tallest says.
“I’ve got a knife,” Caeus shrugs.
“It’ll grow back, right?” Tallest asks.
“That’s my favorite arm!” Sleipnir cries.
“Gross. We still have this cursed eye spellbook if you want to see if that removes brands,” Caeus says.
“Spellbooks are for the lazy,” Sleipnir says. “I can’t do anything with it except put it on my arm.”
“I could make you a new arm,” Caeus says. “Like a magical prosthetic that functions like a regular arm.”
“I’m listening,” Sleipnir says. “Can you ask Numooru if cutting my arm off will work?”
“He specifically said nothing will untaint you,” Tallest says, reading from last week’s write up.
“He didn’t say anything about cutting my arm off,” Sleipnir points out.
Tallest agrees. “I’ll go ask him if we cut your arm off, will that untaint you. We can grow arms back with magic,” Tallest assumes. “I’m going in the temple. Anyone want to go with me?”
Caeus and Harken leave Sleipnir alone and follow Tallest into the temple where they ask random folk about Chaos curses and minotaur whereabouts.
Sfiros Dimirgosn’t’ve sleeps restlessly after a day of penance and a belly full of iron. Groggy and exhausted, the dedicated cleric manages to wake up early. He wants to be the first person at the Great Forges to scrub his plate armor of any traces of the Chaos God, Khorne.
Sfiros heats up the forge, meticulously calibrates the coals, stokes the flames with his stoking tool, and ever so carefully places the armor on the forge.
The armor immediately bursts into flames!
The Great Forge fills with destructive radiant energy, as if Gond himself is focusing his rage on the blasphemous plate. The armor is reduced to a scorched chunk of useless slag.
Tallest runs up to his dejected friend. “Hey Sfiros, have you seen Numooru?”
Sfiros makes a long, sad noise, which is actually an idiom in minotaur that roughly means “No. I am sad.” There really isn’t a good translation in common.
“We gotta see if we can cut off Sleipnir’s arm and grow him a new one,” Tallest explains his plot. “And we can use his old arm and reincarnate it as another Sleipnir, but an evil one cursed by Chaos. What do you think?”
Sfiros emerges from his despair and into intrigue. He glances around to see who heard. A few of the priests turn to listen. “I don’t want to be involved in that plan. Thanks, very much.” The priests turn back, satisfied.
“Come on, it’s corpse magic!” Tallest shouts. “It’s your favorite!”
The priests turn back, scowling.
Sfiros notices them listening and rationalizes the plot, afraid of incurring any extra penance.
“Gond teaches us to try new ideas,” Sfiros explains. “And that sounds like a new idea. It also sounds, and I’m going to be real with you, kind of a bad idea.”
“How much of your holy book have you read,” Caeus asks. “‘Gond teaches us to try new things’? What does that mean?”
“That’s legit!” Sfiros yells. “Gond is all about ingenuity and invention. I have to say, cutting someone’s arm off to create a good version of him and an evil version of him because the arm has an evil brand on it, that’s definitely a new idea that probably no one has tried before.”
“What’s up with Gond kicking my brother out, anyway?” Caeus asks.
“He’s branded with the mark of an evil Chaos god,” Sfiros says. “Speaking of that, I was trying to reforge my armor this morning, and it burst into flames and is no longer useful. Can I have my chainmail back?”
Caeus backs up and tries to hide the power armor that he modded out of Sfiros’s old chainmail. “Oh, um, hmm. I’ve modified it. I don’t think it’s going to fit you anymore. I do have… what was I wearing before?” Caeus fumbles through his bag of holding.
“You threw it in the trash,” Tallest offers.
“I did not throw it in the trash, “ Caeus says. “I had scale mail!” Caeus pulls out used scale mail armor.
“That’s not good for me…” Sfiros pouts.
“How much money do you have?” Tallest asks. “We can buy you some new armor.”
“Or you could forge some, next time you have a B.M.” Caeus says.
“B.M.?” Sfiros asks.
“Bowel movement,” Caeus’s brother says, his voice playing from a contraption on Caeus’s modded armor, but no one hears it.
After going through hallways they finally find Numooru in his office. The old water buffalo minotaur is conducting business at his desk when he sees The Herd barge in. “Oh Gond,” he curses. “What have you done now?”
“We slept, Numooru!” Caeus shouts. “Chill. We’re not always bringing you bad news and stuff.”
“Yeah, but what if we cut off Sleipnir’s arm?” Tallest asks. “Would that untaint him?”
Numooru drops his papers and palms his face in exasperation.
“We’re talking about the arm with the brand,” Caeus clarifies.
“Not the other one, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Tallest says.
“Do both, if it would help,” Caeus offers.
“Sleipnir has a corruption of the soul right now,” Numooru explains.
“Right now?!” Caeus leaps at the implications.
“It is manifesting itself as the brand on his arm,” Numooru explains. “If you remove the arm, he would still have a corruption of the soul, since he passed through the realm of Chaos.”
“You said ‘right now,’” Caeus says. “Does this mean that this can be fixed?”
“I don’t know,” Numooru shrugs. “I don’t have the resources to find out with Baldur’s Gate being in an uproar. Perhaps the scholars in Candlekeep would know.”
“Harken, you know about Candlekeep, right?” Caeus asks.
“Yep, more or less,” Harken says. Oh, he was here the whole time?
“Do you think you can get us in there?” Tallest asks.
Harken doesn’t know. “Yeah, I think I can get us in.”
The Herd is satisfied with that answer.
Sfiros begins his confession to Numooru. “I totally fucked up my armor today. It spontaneously combusted and was destroyed. So, I am looking for some forging tips from you, sir, on how that might be rectified. Any ideas?”
“The armor you had could not be forged in a Gondish furnace because the armor itself was tainted by Chaos!”
Numooru has really been on a Chaos taint binge these past couple of days. “Therefore, no manner of craftsmanship could restore it.”
“Is Chaos more powerful than your deity or something?” Caeus inquiries.
Sfiros backs up in alarm. “Whoa!”
“You keep saying things can’t happen because of Chaos,” Caeus says. “I thought Gond was this big, badass dude. I’m just asking questions.”
Numooru stands up from his desk. His large, old horns dwarf everyone (except Tallest, but definitely actual dwarves), and he says, “Look around Baldur’s Gate. Look at how few of us follow Gond and the efforts we make to lure his precious gaze. Now look at all the masses, the trash, the refuse, who infest this city with their shit morality! Baldur’s Gate is on its way to hell!” Numooru booms. The old minotaur catches himself losing his composure. “Gond is only as powerful as his people allow him to be. And unfortunately, Chaos reigns supreme in Baldur’s Gate.”
“One more thing and we’ll leave you alone for the rest of the day,” Caeus lies. “Do you know anything about a cursed eye spellbook?” Caeus pulls out the spellbook he looted from the Tzeentchian fireball-throwing bullshit lady, as well as one-fifth of the required key.
“Do you have the other four-fifths of the key?” Numooru asks.
“We have them, collectively,” Caeus says. “We’re looking for information. Not looking to make a donation.”
“It’s difficult to know what a book should do without looking into it,” Numooru says.
“You’re saying I should read it?” Caeus asks.
“I’m saying I should read it!” Numooru says.
“We’ll all look at it together,” Tallest decides.
“You’re going to have to come out to where Sleipnir is because he has one-fifth of the key,” Caeus says. “Or you’re going to have to let him in the building.”
“Can one of you bring me his key?” Numooru tries.
“He’s going to be mad...” Caeus says.
Numooru gives up and leads The Herd outside. They find Sleipnir pacing nervously.
“Give me your key,” Numooru commands.
“The key to what?!” Sleipnir cries.
“The eye book!” Caeus says.
“Will it help me fix my arm?” Sleipnir asks.
“Mm-hmm,” Caeus lies.
“Ok!” Sleipnir hands his key over, and the rest of The Herd follow.
“Back to my office!” Numooru turns around, ignoring Sleipnir’s complaints.
Back in Numooru’s office, the old priest assembles the key and opens the book they retrieved from the fireball hag.
Numooru claps his hands in a special way. “Time for cursed-artifact penance!”
A short, stumpy half-orc bumbles in the room.
“Yes, Numooru?” the penitent half-orc asks.
“I need you to turn this key and unlock this potentially cursed book,” Numooru commands.
The penitent half-orc turns the key and the cover flies open!
A wisp of black smoke rises from the pages. It coalesces into a skull that cackles madly before dissipating into the air.
“I don’t really feel anything,” the penitent half-orc says.
“Cursed-artifact penance is now over,” Numooru says. “Return to your previous duties!” The half-orc runs out.
“That was an enlightening experience,” Harken says.
“What does this book do, now that it’s not cursified?” Caeus asks.
“It appears it’s a book of spells,” Numooru says.
“Ooh, I have four spellbooks now!” Caeus smiles.
“Where are you getting all these spellbooks?” Numooru asks the artificer.
“I found them!” Caeus says proudly.
Numooru flips through the spellbook and sees a variety of powerful, dangerous spells. He eyes Caeus and pushes the book back to him.
“Don’t do any funny business with this book,” Numooru says.
Caeus agrees and puts the book back in the bag of holding.
“Have you been dabbling with any other strange books?” Numooru asks.
“Harken, you got that smut?” Caeus asks.
“You need it?” Harken asks, not paying attention.
“Numooru needs it,” Caeus says.
Harken hands him the Fifty Shades of Ulfire and Numooru flips through it. The priest’s eyes widen and he throws the book away.
“Ok,” Caeus says. “We’re going to leave you alone now.”
“Good!” Numooru says.
“Do you know how to find Clem Jhosso?” Tallest asks.
“I don’t know who that is,” Numooru sighs.
“Ok,” Tallest says. “Sfiros?”
“Do we have any backup armor for the righteous?” Sfiros asks.
“Or at least the penitent?” Caeus says.
Numooru scribbles on a piece of parchment and hands it to Sfiros. “Take this down to the armorer. He will see that you are outfitted.”
“Thank you!” Sfiros beams. “You are blessed.”
“I know,” Numooru rolls his eyes. “I better be.”
Sfiros bows deeply to his elder, horns to the floor.
“You are dismissed,” Numooru says about himself and leaves.
The Herd finds Sleipnir where they left him: outside, his least favorite side. Caeus gives him the unlocked spellbook. “Numooru said make sure we do funny business with this eye book.”
“Does it have a joke in it?” Sleipnir asks.
“I don’t know,” Caeus says. “He was very cryptic.”
Sleipnir opens the book and… nothing happens.
“I can’t learn these spells!” Sleipnir says.
“A sorcerer using a spellbook is kind of funny business,” Caeus says.
The spellbook is written in Draconic, and no one in The Herd can read it.
Back in the temple, Sfiros searches for the armorer. He follows clanking sounds down hallways adorned with honorific weapons and armor made in the glory of Gond. Each piece is unique in its decor, with a variety of jade scrawlings and magical enchantments embedded in innovative ways.
The armorer, a slim Githyanki with a long fu-manchu beard, a bald head, and pointy ears, is curating the display and notices the cleric.
“Ah, initiate Sfiros, what brings you to the armory?”
Sfiros extends both arms to hold out the parchment from Numooru. “I have this, from Numooru. He said I could have armor. I think. Pleeease? I kind of borked mine.”
The armorer reviews the note, nods, and moves past the collection and deeper into the armory. He passes one amazing piece of armor after another until he arrives at a damp cardboard box in a corner. He reaches inside and pulls out some worn hide.
Sfiros takes the hide and examines it. He notices it’s made of cow leather.
“I don’t think I can take this…” Sfiros tries.
“It is what Numooru prescribed for you,” the armorer shrugs. “You must still be in penance.” He spits out the word ‘penance.’
“I must be,” Sfiros sighs. “They are going to hate this.”
Sfiros walks out and finds the rest of The Herd.
“Hey, that pattern on your armor reminds me of my auntie,” Sleipnir notices.
“What was her name?” Sfiros asks.
“Mildred,” Sleipnir says. “In fact, she had a burn on her shoulder just like that.” He points at a distinctive mark on Sfiros’s hide armor.
It’s probably nothing.
The Herd discusses their next move. Candlekeep is the best lead to finding a cure for Sleipnir, and they should be able to get in: either through Harken’s backstory, or by donating a book that isn’t in the Candlekeep library. They’ll need a ride, and they could go by land or by sea. Rumor has it, the Hellriders were coming to town today; maybe they could give The Herd a ride. Herdriders? They’ll need finances, so they should visit Clem Jhosso’s estate and collect their not-ransom.
Caeus walks up to random strangers saying, “Do you know who we are?” “We’re The Herd!” “Where’s Clem Jhosso?” and so on.
Eventually he finds an upper class lady with bodyguards who calls back, “Will you please just shut up! The Jhossos run a shop in Manorborn! On the west end!”
“Do we know where that is?” Caeus asks everyone.
“Well the sun’s over there, and it’s Vengeance.” Tallest looks to the sky and points. “West is that way.”
“All right lady, we’ll shut up. But what’s your name?” Caeus asks.
One of the bodyguards steps up. “Lady Bala Ged does not give out her name to just anyone!” he bellows. He thinks for a moment. “Aw, shit!”
“I’m going to write it down in my book!” Tallest takes out his book of forgeries and scratches down her name. “Lady Akunai or something.” It’s a minotaur thing.
Lady Bala Ged swats the bodyguard with her parasol and huffs away.
The Herd moves west to Manorborn. They pass fancy shops and specialty offices, attorneys and bodyguard services and other businesses. Nestled in an alleyway, cozy and humble, a young man stands behind a table with Chultan fruit and a sign that says ‘Jhosso Fruit.’
“Sir, what’s your name?” Tallest asks.
“Ofa Jhosso,” the man tips his hat to the minotaurs.
“Jhosso?” Caeus shouts. “Do you know Clem?”
“I wish I didn’t!” Ofa spits. “He’s my older brother!”
“I understand,” Caeus nods.
“We’re looking for Clem Jhosso,” Tallest says.
“I’m looking for him, too,” Ofa says. “Our two sisters are, too.”
“Have you heard of The Herd?” Caeus asks. “Because we can find him for you!”
“We have to find him again?” Sleipnir says.
“Where did you see him?” Ofa asks.
“The sewer,” Tallest says. “He was being tortured by cultists down in Seatower. We freed him.”
“He said he was going to give us a reward!” Caeus says.
Ofa laughs. “With what money?”
“With your money,” Tallest says and steps forward tally. “You owe us money for saving Clem Jhosso.”
“It was a life debt!” Caeus adds.
“Look, our mother is dead. Our father is dying,” Ofa explains. “All we have left is this little shop. I wouldn’t even want him here to split the inheritance!”
This fraternal callousness does not register as abnormal in any way, and The Herd does not acknowledge it.
“He ate our food!” Caeus says.
“We’ll trade him for missions,” Tallest says.
“Don’t you see the sign?!” Ofa points to a sign that says ‘MISSIONS NOT ACCEPTED. ONLY MONEY’ “What do you think I am, from Calimshan?!”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t see the sign,” Tallest leans down to read it. “It was really low down. But if you see Clem Jhosso, tell him to get a bunch of money and give us some!”
Caeus looks over the Chultan fruit stand. “Give us this coconut, and we’ll find your brother!”
“Look at the sign!” Ofa points to the sign that now says ‘MISSIONS NOT ACCEPTED. ONLY MONEY. NO BROTHERS, EITHER.’
“When did you add that last part?” Caeus asks.
Ofa looks The Herd over. “You guys look like adventurers. Have you ever dabbled with The Guild?”
“They gave us purple lotus stuff,” Tallest says.
“Want some more? 100 gold pieces,” Ofa offers under his awful breath.
“I’m good,” Tallest frowns at the prices. “Do you know how to fix cursed arms? Show him, Sleipnir.”
“Look,” the fruit vendor sighs. “All I can sell is fruit and drugs. And all I can accept is money, not missions. So if you don’t want to buy fruit or drugs—with money—please be on your way.”
“How much for the drugs?” Sleipnir asks.
“100 gold pieces,” The Herd moos at Sleipnir for not paying attention.
“And don’t shout that so loudly!” Ofa looks around at the other shops nearby.
“I have 83 gold pieces,” Sleipnir shouts. “Is that enough to buy your drugs?!”
Ofa starts to collect his wares to head down into the alley. “I have heard of The Herd, and I don’t like them!”
Caeus snatches a coconut, and Sleipnir steals the drugs.
“Police!” Ofa shouts. Harken walks up. Oh yeah he’s here again.
“Yeah, what’s up?” Harken asks.
“He’s got drugs!” Sleipnir snitches.
Harken walks over to the fruit vendor. “Oy, these drugs here, gonna have to take ‘em in by,” he looks at his badge, upside down. “The Waterdeep, uh, oh I’m actually pretty high up!”
“And a coconut!” Sleipnir whisper shouts. “Get a coconut!”
“Waterdeep has no jurisdiction here!” Ofa says.
“Flaming Fist,” Caeus whisper corrects. “He can’t read. You don’t have to be literate to be a cop, ok?!”
“Yup!” Harken fumbles for his badge. “This badge here says I can take what I want, and I want what you’ve got.”
A crowd starts to form as the good guys and their dirty cop ally shake down a poor orphan fruit vendor drug dealer.
“Do you want more witnesses, drug dealer?” Sleipnir sneers. “Or do you want to hand them over and we’ll be on our merry way?”
“Listen, listen, mate,” Harken tries. “They’re really incompetant. They don’t know how to do business with drug dealers. So give us the drugs. Give us a coconut. And we’ll be on our way.”
Ofa hands Harken the purple lotus vial and the coconut.
“Thank you!” Sleipnir tries to snatch them, but Harken holds him back.
“You can have them when we get to a different spot,” Harken says. “I really can’t take you folk anywhere.”
The Herd leaves, and Harken gives the coconut to Caeus and the vial to Sleipnir.
They discuss where to go next. They didn’t get any money, and they still need a way to get to Candlekeep. Perhaps the Hellriders have arrived, and they could recommend transportation. If the riders were in the southeast, they would be arriving there.
As they make their way down an alley in Eastway they hear, “Hey, I’ve heard of The Herd! You’re that big tall one!”
They see another crew of flamboyant gangsters sitting in front of a tavern entrance. They’re wearing matching purple armbands and fabulous eye makeup. Tallest recognizes them from… somewhere private… and knows they’re the Bloomridge Dandies!
“I know you, too,” Tallest glances around coyly. He looks at the elf who called out. They have definitely met before. “You’re the Bloomridge Dandies. What was your name, though? I’m Tallest, by the way.”
“Just call me Elder,” the elf says.
“What are you the elder of?” the tallest minotaur asks.
“The Bloomridge Dandies!” Elder and his flamboyant crew teehee.
“Why aren’t you in Bloomridge?” Caeus asks.
“We’re checking out what’s happening over in Eastway,” the old dandy points to the tavern with mild merriment. It's as though this tavern is very particular and caters to specific crowds. “Can’t be too careful with all those cultists out there.”
“Do you know anything about that? How to cure a Chaos curse arm?” Tallest asks.
The elf is confused. He is clearly misreading Tallest’s nonverbal cues. “No, I do not!”
“If you needed to find out that kind of information, where would you look?” Tallest asks.
“Hypothetically,” Sleipnir adds.
Elder regains his composure. “Rumor has it, the Vanthampurs have been dabbling in Chaos magic. They might know how to cure it.”
“Haven’t we met some Alabampires?” Caeus says.
“We watched someone murder one,” Tallest says. “Rumor has it, Mortloch Alabampire’s mother had him murdered by some guy without a face. Did you hear that? It was in all the papers.” Tallest pulls out his autograph book to show the papers.
Elder is astonished, and he rushes them inside the tavern, away from the open street. They find a private seat and pull up a special chair so Tallest can fit.
“Rumor has it,” Tallest says, “Mortloch was killed. By a knife. Wielded by a man. Without a face!”
“Understand, when we say ‘rumor has it,’ we mean we saw it firsthand,” Caeus clarifies.
“They told me about it,” Tallest says. “He left a note.”
“The guy who killed him is dead now,” Caeus says. “Dur-Dur-Dur killed him! I did drugs with Dur-Dur-Dur.”
“This is a pretty cool place to do drugs,” Tallest remembers.
“Is it? Ok!” Sleipnir takes out the vial of purple lotus flower and downs it.
“This man has been tainted by Chaos,” Caeus says.
Sleipnir squirms and seizes. Acid seeps out of his nose. Not druggy acid. Acid-acid. He drops to minimum hit points, but gains the ability to exhale a useless cloud of acid.
“I bet we could open a coconut with that,” Caeus pulls the fruit out of the bag of holding.
“I don’t want Sleipnir’s cursed snot acid all over my food,” Tallest decides.
“It’s not snot, it’s saliva acid,” Sleipnir spits.
“Stop doing things,” Elder slaps at Sleipnir’s direction and moves away from the sorcerer and closer to Tallest. “What is this about the Duke Vanthampur having her son murdered?”
“He left a note,” Tallest says.
Sfiros takes out the note and shows it to Elder. It details the plot of murder, coup, and destruction.
“This is a coup!” Elder lands on one aspect of the crime he finds most interesting. “She’s trying to take control of Baldur’s Gate! Grand Duke Ravengard is missing, and Duke Vanthampur is plotting to take over!”
“What do you mean? The Grand Duke goes missing, and anyone can just say they’re the new Grand Duke?” Caeus asks. “Don’t we have checks and balances in our government?”
“She’s one of the current Dukes!” Elder explains. “On the Council of Four!” The minotaurs are clueless. “Ok, here’s how government works—”
“Wait, isn’t there going to be an election?” Caeus asks.
“What’s an election?” Elder says.
“We have them in Warcross,” Tallest says. “Ranked choice and everything.”
“We pick based on height,” Sleipnir says.
“She’s doing a coup, sure, but isn’t it worse for Baldur’s Gate if it meets the same fate as Kinchasa?” Tallest points out. “What are you going to do about it, Dandies?”
“She does have two other sons,” Elder gossips. “Amrich and Thirstwill. Thirstwill lives in the manor and doesn’t go out much. He’s a sickly fellow. Amrich deals his trade out of a boat. He’s a money lender and is a scummy fellow. I don’t like him. Mortloch was the brutish of the sons. Maybe he was getting in her way.”
“Rumor has it, she used to be in charge of the sewers,” Sleipnir remembers.
“That’s where her son was murdered,” Tallest says.
“Which son should we go for?” Caeus asks.
“Amrich is in a boat with fewer walls,” Elder suggests.
“Let’s collab!” Caeus says. “The Herd and the Bloomridge Dandies! Who runs your socials?”
“I do,” Elder beams.
“You’re the leader and the social guy?” Caeus asks. “You should delegate. That’s how The Herd does it. Tallest is the tall one. I’m loud and talk about Cred. We all have our place. Even Harken does stuff.”
“Heh, on occasion,” Harken exaggerates.
“He’s our inside man,” Sleipnir says.
“Listen, I’m a random encounter,” Elder winks at Tallest. “I’m not that detailed.” Tallest nods. “Amrich is our mark. He stays in an aging merchant ship. It’s not seaworthy, and it’s converted into a tavern of sorts.”
“Why isn’t it seaworthy?” Caeus asks. “Could an artificer and a forge cleric spruce it up?”
“I don’t know,” Elder exasperates. “Do I look like I sail on boats?” He stares at The Herd with his impeccable makeup.
“Yes! You have a whole pirate vibe!” Caeus shouts. “You guys aren’t doing nautical stuff?” Elder and Tallest glance at each other and say nothing.
“No,” Elder snaps. They are not doing nauty stuff!
“It would be a cool direction! You always have to be looking at your next move!” Caeus says. “Evolving! You know?”
“There’s plenty of room to move now,” Elder says ominously. “Chaos is brewing.”
With that, the Bloomridge Dandies lead The Herd to Eastway. They find the last alleyway to Amrich’s tavern, The Low Lantern, and pause. The Bloomridge Dandies point straight down the ominous alley, bid farewell, and scatter, eager to spread the gossip they’ve acquired. A few Dandies keep watch outside.
A cold front rolls in, and The Herd feels the pressure drop. Clouds creep low into fog, and a sharp breeze chills the adventurers to their bones. They push forward through the unseasonable mist.
When they reach the wharf, the fog parts and reveals a large merchant ship’s tall mast and creaky bulk. The converted ship has rigging, but no sails, and is anchored to the wharf with thick chains. A wooden staircase climbs from the wharf’s edge to the ship’s deck. A lantern on the bow casts an eerie green light to signify the tavern is open for business. A sign reads ‘The Low Lantern.’
Four dead seagulls lie on the deck, and crows squawk at The Herd as they approach the entrance. Caeus turns around, ignores the bad omens, and enters. He shouts behind him, “Watch how a real crew does it, Dandies!”
Inside, they find the busiest part of the tavern. The air is filled with the sounds of people squabbling, glasses clinking, rain pattering, and lightning thundering.
“This is technically a pub crawl,” Caeus says, “because we went from one tavern straight to another.”
The whole place reeks of sweat, rotting boards, cheap ale, and vomit. Three bouncers are positioned around the tavern to keep an eye on things.
Near the bar, an old woman sits with a crab on her shoulder. The woman notices the group of horned adventurers, and her eyes light up at the unusual sight.
“Mhmm yes! Well met!” she leaps up to greet them. “My name is Laraelra Thundriff, but folks around here call me the Captain!”
“Hey Captain!” Tallest interrupts and writes her name in his book.
“Hello!” Captain says. “If you’re looking for a beverage or a place to gamble, you’ve come to the right place! But watch your step! Things can get pretty messy around here.” She points to a pile of vomit and tells a Kenku barback to mop it up.
Sleipnir walks up to the Kenku. “What did she say?”
The Kenku opens his mouth and plays back everything the Captain said.
“That’s a cool trick,” Caeus says.
The Herd looks around the tavern.
“What kind of trouble were we looking to get into here?” Tallest asks.
“We were looking to take a boat, but this doesn’t look like a good boat,” Sleipnir says.
“We’re looking for the vampire boy. Alabampire!” Caeus shouts.
“Downstairs,” Captain shouts back.
They find the stairs and march below. A windowless lounge fills the entire lower deck. It is lit by low lanterns and furnished with opulent couches imported from Chult. The gambling tables are smaller, more intimate down here. Three bouncers are at various places in the lounge, and a small Kenku tends the bar.
At the end of the lounge, Amrich Vanthampur sits enjoying his time and going through his books. Perched behind him, a spiked creature purrs.
Sleipnir walks up first. “Hello! The Herd has arrived!”
Amrich looks up from his books with amused suspicion. “Ah, here for a loan, I assume?”
“Where the hell did you get this hedgehog?” Caeus points at the spiked monstrosity purring on the couch.
“It is not a hedgehog!” Amrich says. “This is Kashara! A gift from my mother.”
“Her name is Kashara? Or the species is Kashara?” Caeus asks.
“Her name is Kashara,” Amrich says. “She is quite dear to me.” He pets her below what could be a chin.
“What’s the deal with all these guys with the white cowls?” Sfiros points to the bouncers with matching cowls.
“Those are Laraelra’s bouncers,” Amrich says. “She keeps some down here to prevent funny business.”
“If there’s one thing we are not about, it is funny business,” Sfiros lies.
“That is great to hear!” Amrich smiles. “What kind of loan are you looking for?”
“We are trying to get to Candlekeep,” Sleipnir says.
“Ah Candlekeep!” Amrich says. “A wonderful place of learning. How are you planning to get there?”
“We need a boat and an escort,” Sleipnir says.
Amrich looks through his ledger and eyes The Herd. “I can loan you 150 gold pieces. 25% interest, paid in 10 days.”
“Let’s negotiate that a bit,” Sleipnir says.
“We don’t want to do business with this guy!” Sfiros says. “His family is evil!” Sfiros pulls out Mortloch’s note and holds it up to Sleipnir’s face. “This guy is her son!”
“Wait,” Caeus interrupts. “Tell us more about this creature you have here.” The tinkerer can’t keep his eyes off Kashara.
“What do you know about Chaos magic and how to get rid of it?” Tallest asks.
“CAN YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH?” Harken asks reasonably.
“Give me 150 gold pieces!” Sleipnir says.
“Why is your family trying to take over the city?” Sfiros asks.
“Tell me more about this pet!” Caeus says.
“Where’s Clem Jhosso?” Tallest asks.
Amrich is too befuddled to be offended. He orders a round of drinks from the Kenku and gulps one down. “What order am I answering these questions in?”
“We decide based on height,” Caeus says. “Tallest first.”
“Where’s Clem Jhosso?” Tallest asks.
“I don’t know who that is,” Amrich says.
Tallest is satisfied. “Caeus.”
“Tell me about this pet,” Caeus says.
“That’s not a question,” Tallest says.
“I would… uhm…” Caeus tries to ask a question in the form of a question. “Would you tell me about this pet? What is this creature? What species is it? Where did it come from?”
“She’s a spined devil,” Amrich says. “And she keeps me safe. From funny business.”
“You’re a devil?” Sfiros asks Kinshara.
“That counts as your question,” Tallest decides.
“She is bound to my service. Yes, she is a devil,” Amrich says.
“Do you take collateral?” Sleipnir offers the spellbook.
Amrich flips through the spellbook. “I’ll take this deal.” He slides a bag of 150 gold pieces to Sleipnir.
“It’s 200, we said,” Sleipnir lies.
“No we did not,” Amrich says.
“Well, it’s 200 now,” Sleipnir says.
Amrich hands back the spellbook and takes back the money.
“Ok. I’m done,” Sleipnir says. “Next.”
Amrich looks at Sfiros. “What do you know of my mother?”
“We watched your brother get murdered,” Sfiros confesses. “He was carrying this note that says that your mother orchestrated the murder to get him out of the way so she could take over the city. Do you know anything about that?”
Amrich does know about that. And now he knows that the Herd knows. He has heard the word that the Herd heard. And that is not preferred.
The Kenku bartender ducks behind the bar, and Caeus activates his power armor.
“Did you not want to talk about that?” Sfiros asks.
Amrich pulls out daggers, Kashara bristles her spines, and the bouncers draw their weapons.
“I had a feeling you might not want to talk about that,” Sfiros says. Sfiros, ever the devout minotaur, attacks first with a headbutt. Amrich jumps out of the way, and the battle begins.
Kashara screeches and spreads her leathery wings. She scampers up the ceiling and sprays a barrage of devilish spines from her bristley tail. The quills impale Sfiros, burning him with the fires of hell.
Caeus raises one of his arms and activates magical nanotech that coagulates into a cannon. “Thunderwave,” Caeus commands. A sonic boom explodes from the cannon and throws Amrich and Kashara against the wall. One of the bouncers responds by hitting Caeus twice with a mace.
Tallest embiggens, growing tallester, largester, and strongester. He swings his giant warhammer and pummels the second thug in the face.
Harken casts thunderwave from his bagpipes, breaking bottles and half full glasses of alcohol. The third bodyguard rubs his ears and punches Harken in the mouth.
Amrich and Kashara share a telepathic rage. Kashara scurries on the ceiling, and Amrich attacks the closest minotaur. He shanks Sleipnir twice, burning both strength of the grave and relentless endurance. Sleipnir gathers his sorcery powers and casts darkness to hide most of the lounge.
Sfiros is surrounded by magical darkness and the cacophony of battle. He sticks his head out of the darkness and shoots a sacred flame at the thug engaged with Tallest.
The thug cranes his neck to see the giant minotaur. He lowers his gaze, swings his weapon, and deals massive damage to each of Tallest’s shins.
Caeus fires his lightning launcher, but it backfires and sparks up like a mistake. The tinkerer furiously fiddles with his suit
Kashara crawls along the ceiling, unperturbed through the darkened lounge. The spined devil meets Sleipnir’s gaze, and his dismay meets her glee. She swipes her spined tail and impales the accursed sorcerer. Sleipnir falls and the darkness poofs away.
Amrich lunges for the embiggened Tallest, pulls out three daggers, one in each hand, and shouts, “No foe is too tall for me!” Two of the daggers cut the fighter to the ground.
Tallest uses relentless endurance and second wind to stay up and heal up. He stares down at the creepy loan shark, raises his warhammer, and smashes with a critical hit! Tallest is beefed up with savage attacks, dueling style, embiggen, and now (surprise!) fire rune on his hammer!
The rune engulfs Amrich in a flaming shackle, dealing over 35 damage to him with one swipe! Amrich looks up at Tallest in surprise. “Wha-?” he cries.
“You know what? Do it again!” Tallest shouts action surge and smacks the loan shark again.
Sfiros casts spiritual weapon, and a glowing, fiery stoking tool manifests from radiant light. It flies in the air, pierces Amrich through the chest, and bursts out the other side.
“GO…. WITH… GOND!” Sfiros cheers.
At the sound of ‘Gond,’ Kashara whips around and screeches in fury. The spined devil thrashes and stabs at Sfiros, puncturing his used hide armor.
“Anybody want to wake me up?” unconscious Sleipnir snores bleedingly while Harken and Tallest and Caeus each duel a bouncer.
“We need to deal with the people who are next to us first,” Caeus says. He smacks his armor’s lightning launcher and it zaps out a critical hit!
Harken dances a magical dance of indescribable characteristics in order to cast mirror image. Three illusory Harkens appear and mimic his motions. Everyone is super confused, which means it’s working.
The bodyguard sees four dancing tieflings with bagpipes and a rapier. He smashes one of them in the face, but it was just an illusion.
The spined devil stabs Sfiros again with a critical hit of her own, but the cleric burns his relentless endurance and refuses to fall.
Sfiros repays Kashara’s anger by stoking her with his spiritual stoker but not the radiant damage. The cleric spent another turn in which he did not heal any of the party members (i.e., himself).
Kashara swipes back, but this time Sfiros manages to block both of her attacks.
The thug near Tallest sees an easier target: Caeus. The thug slashes through the infiltrator armor with two fatal swings, and the tinkerer falls to the ground.
The Anacos brothers meet in an unconscious realm, begging someone to please use a healing spell!
Tallest has no healing spells, but he does have reverse healing: damage. He raises the warhammer and finishes off one of the thugs with a CRUNCH!
With some combatants removed, the remaining brawlers are Kashara—the spined devil—with two thugs, versus Harken—the foul-mouthed devil—with two minotaurs.
“Oy, mate, don’t die on me yet!” Harken says. The bard casts cure wound and bardic inspiration on Sleipnir.
A thug swings at the real Harken, clobbers him down to zero Hit Points, and sends the sideshow to the ground. The thug strikes again, this time finishing off Sfiros.
Kinshara dodges the spiritual stoking tool and stabs Tallest, sending him to the ground, too.
You’re all alone Sleipnir. What do you do?
Sleipnir casts sleep! One of the thugs falls asleep, but the others sneeze out the magic easily.
Harken senses a chance to make a difference! He critically succeeds his death save and stands up! “I heal my friends back and forth! I heal my friends back and forth!” The bard sings happily, two of his illusions mimicking him perfectly back and forth. Harken heals Sfiros with a soothing serenade from his bagpipes.
The thug targets Harken and his illusions. All of the illusions point at the real Harken, and the thug smacks him back to the ground!
Before Sfiros stands up, he reaches out and casts cure wounds on Tallest. Sfiros struggles to stand up, but his spiritual stoking tool stabs Kashara.
The spined devil snips the last spike in her tail and strikes at Sfiros, but the cleric’s shield protects him.
Sleipnir focuses his rage and sends a trio of scorching rays to incinerate the thug. The bouncer combusts, his eyes melt out of his face, a whistle of superheated air escapes from his lungs in place of a scream, and he collapses.
Tallest’s giant form smacks into Kashara. The blows land, but his warhammer isn’t magical, and the devil shrugs off the damage.
Sleipnir rushes to stabilize his brother with a medicine check.
Tallest slams his warhammer into Kashara again. This time the spined devil shrieks one last time and vanishes into a puff of smoke as it is banished back to the spine realm!
Sleipnir takes his time to stabilize Harken, and Tallest patches up Sfiros.
Sleipnir and Tallest turn to the sleeping thug. They shoot him with a scorching ray and hit him with a hammer. The thug’s skin burns, and his bones break. Pop
The lounge is empty of enemies, and thanks to Sleipnir and Tallest, it is quickly empty of loot. The tallest and the shortest minotaur look at their three downed comrades, and decide to get them out quickly.
“They could be drunk!” Sleipnir says, and he throws Harken to float over his shoulder. Tallest’s embiggen wears off, but he’s still able to carry Caeus and Sfiros together.
They make their way upstairs, and everyone in the tavern stares at The Herd.
“Next round’s on me!” Sleipnir says.
“I must say, this bar is crazy!” Tallest says. “If anyone asked who did this, it was the Bloomridge Dandies. They did this.”
Sleipnir gives 2 gold pieces to the bartender. “You keep the drinks going.”
Captain takes the gold and stares at Sleipnir suspiciously. She distinctly remembers hearing two very different sounding thunderwaves, and one was an unforgivable bagpipe. She pockets the money and runs down the stairs to see what happened.
“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Sleipnir and Tallest run out with their unconscious friends. The confused patrons move out of the way.
Outside, a few Bloomridge Dandies stare in shock at The Herd emerging out of the tavern and into the rain. They rush down the steps and into the alley.
But the Dandies are not alone. Someone else has approached Low Lantern. As lightning flashes, a cloaked figure steps up to the wharf. Staring at The Herd from beneath her cowl is a young woman with a stern gaze and a raised eyebrow. The rain patters off her cloak dramatically.
Tallest drops his friends to pull out his autograph book. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“We don’t have time for this!” Sleipnir motions to Caeus and Sfiros on the ground. “We’re one sneeze away from all being dead!”
The young woman loosens her expression, and her voice echoes through the clattering rain and rolling thunder. “My name is Ellison, Hellrider of Kinchasa. I am here to speak with Amrich Vanthampur.”