Caeus Anacos dances his fingers over the surface of his power armor. He works the metal like a potter molding clay. His movements are graceful and deliberate, manipulating the armor with clinks, snaps, hums, and buzzes.
The gem on the armor’s chest splits in two. The right shard flashes with captured thunder and charges his gauntlets. The left shard travels to his palm and illuminates the room with a green glow.
The artificer’s adjustments slowly transform his sleek armor back into the form of a hulking guardian. The ritual ends with a satisfying KA-CHUNK. Caeus admires his work and steps into the armor.
Deep below the Dog and Bastard inn, where the forgotten underground of Baldur’s Gate rots away, memories of plagues and treasures haunt the Herd. The last time they were here, they fled from a swarm of plagued captives, locking them away. The carnage they abandoned outside the vault is undisturbed.
"Forgive us," they remember, and again the Herd refuses. There is no forgiveness to be found. Only treasure and XP.
Gradually and then all at once, they open the door. Tallest leads the way; Caeus and Elisin close behind him. Sleipnir and Sfiros stand back, readying the good spells. Harken watches the door.
Caeus’s green jewel illuminates the dark vault. He shines corners and behind tables to reveal slumbering clusters of plague-infected people. The crusty, boil-covered creatures gurgle and snore in their hibernation, oblivious to the lurking minotaurs.
Tallest traces a rune engraved on his nose ring. A surge of magic embiggens the tallest minotaur, making him bigger than big and taller than tall. He attacks the nearest creature with a swing of his warhammer.
The pustule monster crumples into a mushy heap. Its boils splatter plague juices all over Tallest and Caeus, poisoning them.
“That wasn’t a good idea,” Tallest retches. “You guys shoot ‘em with your spells. I’m… not going to do that again…” He starts to vomit.
Sleipnir shoots a necrotic beam at a monster, but the pestilence in the room dilutes the energy. The monster turns and stares at Sleipnir.
Sfiros shoots a radiant beam at the same monster, and it slices through the putrid air. The creature does not take its eyes off Sleipnir.
Caeus charges up his power gauntlets to thunderpunch one of the dormant monsters, but his armor overcharges and he misses wildly. The gauntlet drags Caeus helplessly around in circles.
Tallest coughs out the last bit of puke and implores, “Guys, come on. They’re going to hurt me if I hit them.”
Caeus fixes his gauntlet and regains his composure. “I’m getting used to this thing,” he says. “It’s different.”
The crowds of plague monsters all look up and stare directly at Sleipnir. Then the clusters turn to face each other.
“Guys...” Sleipnir starts, but is silenced by an eruption of violence.
All around and in vicious enthusiasm, the plague monsters attack each other. Horns, claws, teeth, and talons rip out tongues, eyes, tumors, and organs. The creatures continue to tear at each other, slaughtering vast swathes of themselves without the Herd having to raise a finger.
“I can control them!” Sleipnir cheers.
The vault fills with severed limbs, guts, and black ichor as the plague monsters slay each other.
“You can control them?” Caeus asks.
“Yes,” Sleipnir says.
“Tell them not to get in my way while I steal some treasure,” Tallest says and shoves toward the treasure pile.
“Bring me the champion!” Sleipnir orders as the plague monsters fight to the death.
“You are the champion,” the surviving plague monsters tell Sleipnir.
“They’re so nice,” Sleipnir smiles. “I like them. They’re little pets. Let’s find some more of them.”
“Your favorite pets are the ones that immediately genocide themselves?” Caeus asks.
“If I ask them to,” Sleipnir explains.
Caeus considers this. “You probably couldn’t train a dog to do that.”
The Anacos household should not have pets.
“Stay,” Sleipnir commands.
The monsters stop moving.
“Dance,” Sleipnir says.
The monsters try their best.
The cursed Nurgle brand on Sleipnir’s arm heats up as he delivers more commands.
“Ooh, my arm’s getting hot!” Sleipnir cries. “This is uncomfortable!”
“You can control these gross rats, but it makes your arm get hot?” Caeus asks.
“May I suggest,” Sfiros says, “professionally, do not use this magic power.”
“I still am in favor of removing the arm,” Caeus says.
“I’m even more in favor of removing the arm,” Sfiros agrees.
“The arm is fine,” Tallest decides. “It’s the corpse magic that’s the problem.”
The monsters start to walk forward and toward the door.
“Go, my pets,” Sleipnir commands them with glee.
“NO!” the Herd moos in opposition.
Sfiros, Caeus, and Tallest destroy every monster that gets to the door. Sleipnir thinks of another command, and the remaining monsters find various places in the room to hide.
The Herd seals the door and confronts the accursed sorcerer.
“You’ve had a lot of bad ideas, and that was the worst one yet!” Sfiros shouts.
“It’s ok,” Caeus pleads with his brother. “This is the nightmare cave, and we’re going to keep all the nightmares in here. It will be fine. They won’t get out.”
“You can play with them here,” Tallest agrees. “This is your nightmare room. But you can’t take them outside.”
“If anyone ever tries to take this from you, you can stop them,” Caeus says.
“Darkness!” Sleipnir drops a globe of darkness in the vault, blinding everyone except him. The plague nightmares skitter away contagiously, using the darkness to hide.
“I’m gonna hit Sleipnir,” Tallest decides. He swings his hammer where Sleipnir should be, but the sorcerer blocks with a magical shield.
Sfiros traces the wall and finds the door. He opens the vault to escape the darkness, but several monsters leech out as well.
“No, no, no,” Sfiros says reasonably as the creatures bolt towards one of the tunnels leading to who-knows-where beneath Baldur’s Gate. He casts spiritual weapon, and his spectral stoking tool manifests out of radiant light.
Unfortunately, these escaping creatures are champions in the battle to the death, and a single stoking tool isn’t enough to stop them.
“I think they’re contagious, Sleipnir,” Tallest says.
“So was the fire that burned down our house!” Sleipnir argues inexplicably.
Elisin wastes no time arguing. She hears contagion, and she runs out of the room to restore the quarantine with violence.
“This sounds like Chaos influence,” Caeus says. “We need to contain this. You can control these little monsters in this room. This is the nightmare house, we’ve already established this.”
“What makes you think these things aren’t controlling you to let them escape?” Tallest tries.
“That’s not how it looks like…” Sleipnir starts. “They told me I was their father.”
“But if they were controlling you to escape, isn’t this how it would look to you?” Tallest litigates.
Sleipnir considers this. His arm burns. “Hm… maybe.”
“Ok, so bring them back,” Tallest decides. “Err on the side of caution over contagion.”
Elisin sprints past Sfiros, her Shatterspike sword eager and focused. The cleric chases after her, poking and stoking.
Sleipnir hears something. “You’re hurting them!” he cries. “How about this? We don’t kill them… but I don’t send them outside, either.”
The Herd cannot tell if his fingers are crossed, because he never has any fingers drawn.
“That’s what we are saying,” Tallest agrees.
Sleipnir dismisses the darkness and dashes to the passageway where Elisin and Sfiros are slaughtering the remaining plague monsters.
“Ok, don’t kill them, and I won’t send them outside,” Sleipnir says. “Or else I’ll send ‘em to the Temple!”
“...’or else you’ll send them to the Temple’?” Tallest repeats slowly. “Oh my Gond.”
“That’s not the way to get me on your side right now,” Sfiros sneers at Sleipnir. The cleric stokes another monster.
Elisin decapitates the last escaped creature and throws its head at Sleipnir. “This is an issue that Gond and Tyr agree on. Our gods are not rivals in this matter,” Elisin says as she stares up at the shadow minotaur. “The plague must be contained.”
“How about this?” Sleipnir tries, then turns to the monsters. “Tidy up. Clean our area,” he commands the remaining nightmares.
“Let’s give it a trial run,” Caeus compromises. “Let’s have them clean up the vault and see how they do. If they do well enough, maybe we can replace Harken.” Caeus gestures towards the oblivious tiefling.
“If you clean up this whole place, we’ll get you a treat,” Sleipnir tells the monster. “What do you like to eat?”
“Brains,” the monster moans.
“Brains,” Sleipnir confirms. “We’ll get you some brains. What’s your name?”
“Plaguebearer,” the monster replies.
“Pleaguebearer,” Sleipnir nods.
“See?!” Caeus finally gives up. “This is why! No!”
“This is Jimmy Plaguebearer,” Sleipnir introduces his new pet to the Herd.
They all take multiple steps back. Tallest does not take out his autograph book.
“Plaguebearer, I want you to know, if I die, it was probably Sfiros’s fault,” Sleipnir foreshadows, which is the best kind of shadow magic.
“Or mine,” Elisin also foreshadows.
Now that the Herd successfully defended itself against its own member, it’s time for loot. After an hour of scavenging through the treasures, they find quite a hoard stashed within the vault of the old Tenebrous Hand crew:
50 gold pieces in an oak coffer
51 gold pieces in a mahogany coffer
A green porcelain mask depicting Nurgle worth 100 gold.
10 vials of exotic perfumes worth 10 gold each.
a large mirror worth 100 gold
a raw amethyst worth 100 gold
a jade dragon statue worth 100 gold
a blue velvet bag with 104 gold pieces in it
two ornate silver clasps worth 100 gold each
a silver crown worth 400 gold
a medallion engraved with fishlike imagery worth 1000 gold
Two gold necklaces worth 600 gold each
untold fortunes: a bundle of rumors and blackmail regarding several prominent members of Baldur’s Gate
a scroll of cure disease
a bronze key engraved with the number 99
a map of the sewer system beneath Baldur’s Gate
They gather all the loot into a pile. Sfiros casts detect magic on their treasure, but this loot is as mundane as it is ornate… and holy crow (no pun intended, Sfiros) is it worth a lot of money!
After a few hours, Tallest translates the infernal writing on the map of Baldur’s gate to ‘The Cathedral of Rumusque.’ They realize that the map of Baldur’s Gate shows several potential locations they can travel to.
They gather the rest of the treasure and decide it’s time to go shopping.
They go upstairs of the Dog and Bastard, finding the secret path to the bathhouse from before, and they open the trapdoor carefully. The stained glass windows within the bathhouse are boarded up, and the baths are dry.
“This is ours now,” Tallest decides. “We found ourselves a bathhouse.”
This is where Harken was deputized, and the Herd remembers him. They send him to find Captain Bedieve and to turn in the sewer cultists mission quest, since they kind of forgot all about that what with all the Hellriding and coconut snatching they’ve been up to.
“Ellie, you don’t want to be seen by the Flaming Fists,” Caeus says. “Work on some banners for the new base. Really express yourself. Be creative.”
Elisin accepts the arts and crafts supplies, but she eyes the Herd warily. “Are you sure you want to be seen in public?”
“We’re just going to the store. What bad could happen at the store?” Caeus foreshadows.
“I’m going to make this banner,” Elisin says, “but I’m going to do it downstairs.”
Caeus creates a pair of sending stones and fastens them to wristwatches. He hands them to Elisin and Tallest.
“Testing, testing,” Elisin talks into her watch, and Tallest’s watch mimics the sound.
“I can hear you loud and clear, Elisin, Hellrider of Kinchasa,” Tallest says into his watch.
“We need nicknames,” Caeus says. “You can’t just say ‘Elisin, Hellrider of Kinchasa.’ It’s too much.”
“Call me... Meepo!” Elisin smiles.
“The safeword is pineapple,” Caeus says.
The Herd leaves the bathhouse and walks through the Heapside district. Passersby notice the minotaurs and avoid them, ducking into alleyways and running into shops to get off the street.
“People are starting to hear about the Herd,” Caeus says.
“How do they even recognize us?” Sfiros asks, dressed like a cow. “You guys notice this is happening more often lately?” He smiles at a woman and her child, and they scamper away in the opposite direction.
“It’s probably a good sign,” Caeus says. “That’s what happens when you get famous.”
“Do they do that?” Sleipnir points at a pair of dwarves climbing a roof to get farther away from them.
“In my experience, when a lot of people know you, they gravitate towards you, not away from you,” Tallest says. He sniffs. “We have not showered in a while…. I bet we stink to high heaven. We were just in a bathhouse....”
“We’re already out, we already smell,” Caeus says. “Let’s just finish shopping.”
They step to the Heapside town square and enter the nearest shop, and the patrons exclaim and dash out of the way. A dwarf shopkeeper sees them and shouts, “Fugitives!” The dwarf pulls out a crossbow and levels it at the Herd.
“Where?” Sleipnir asks.
“Let’s get them!” Tallest says.
“I want no trouble from you,” the dwarf spits.
“Why would we have trouble?” Tallest asks.
“We’re just here for capitalism,” Caeus says.
“You killed the Duke’s sons!” the dwarf shouts.
“No, we didn’t,” Caeus says. “And it was self-defense if we did.”
“I don’t care,” the dwarf screams. “The bounty's out on your head. Get out of my shop.”
“There’s a bounty? How much?” Tallest is flattered.
“I’ll pay double!” Sleipnir says.
“No,” Caeus puts his hand up. “We’ll leave after you buy this crap.”
“I want no business with you,” the dwarf shakes his head.
“Give me your money, then!” Sleipnir demands. “And I’ll give you some goods.”
“Yeah, if you know we’re fugitives, then you know we’re big scary boys,” Caeus says.
Out in the town square, four Flaming Fist soldiers approach the shop. They’re armed with shields and spears, and several citizens are pointing them in the direction of the Herd.
“Oh good, the police,” Tallest walks over to the Flaming Fists and points at the dwarf shopkeeper. “That guy pulled a crossbow on us.”
The four soldiers level their spears at the Herd. “Stop in the name of the law!” their leader demands.
“Yeah, put your crossbow down,” Sleipnir says to the dwarf.
“Minotaurs, you are under arrest in the name of Duke Vanthampur,” the leader shouts.
“We’re free sovereign citizens of the world,” Caeus points out.
“I didn’t vote for them,” Sleipnir says.
“You’re under arrest!” the leader shouts.
“I’m under only the sky!” Tallest shouts back. The tallest minotaur embiggens, growing much larger. He charges forward, knocking away their spear attacks and smashing through their shields.
The four Flaming Fists respond in kind and immediately remove half of Tallest’s hit points by squaring up into attack formation and lunging with their spears.
“I hope you guys have got healing,” Tallest says.
Caeus does have healing, and he runs up to the melee. Instead of healing, he misses with his thunder gauntlet and buffs up his own hit points with a defensive field.
“Murderer!” The Flaming First breaks the field with his spear and stabs the loudest minotaur.
“This is a bad idea!” Sfiros cries from afar. “I don’t like this. Can we talk about this?”
The Flaming Fists ignore him. If anything, his pleas make them angrier. On a scale of 1 to 20, Sfiros’ pleas are something of a critical 1.
Sfiros wishes he had prepared calm emotions, but that wasn’t one of the good spells this morning. The devout minotaur raises his Holy Symbol of Gond above his head and whispers a prayer of strength. The spirit of Gond flies out of him and blesses the Herd.
A radiant light coalesces into the cog symbol of Gond above their heads and in Caeus’s visor HUD.
“Ooh, the UI is really good,” Caeus remarks.
“Pineapple!” Tallest shouts into the sending stone wristwatch.
“This is Meepo,” the watch mimics.
“We’re being attacked by the Flaming Fists at the marketplace in Heapside,” Tallest says as he blocks another spear attack.
The Herd focuses their rage on the leader of the soldiers. Tallest and Caeus swing and punch in melee, and Sleipnir blasts from a distance. Absolutely no one heals anybody. All around them, the peasantry and other NPC’s dash away in fear at the brawl with the police.
Sfiros does not wish to do anything illegal, like fight a cop. “I cast aid,” he says, and he raises his Holy Symbol of Gond. This time the radiant light coalesces into a blacksmith’s hammer hammering on a flexed metal bicep.
Glowing with Gondish buffs, Tallest scores a solid hit. “Go to Gond,” he commands.
“Oh no, I hate it,” Sfiros wails.
“We couldn’t have done it without Sfiros,” Sleipnir cheers.
“Don’t say my name out loud!” Sfiros cries. The cleric shouts more holy prayers and sacred whines.
Tallest and Caeus face down the soldiers, and Sleipnir shoots beams of magical nonsense from a safe distance.
Sfiros wanders into melee range with his bickering, and one of the Flaming Fists gets really annoyed. He stabs Sfiros twice, breaking the bless concentration and cancelling the Gondish glow.
Caeus sends Sfiros a swarm of nanobots as sanctuary, and he turns back to the brawl.
“Go with Gond!” Sfiros healing words himself and runs to a corner.
Tallest smashes the soldier and activates his fire rune. Chains of fire burn the Flaming Fist and shackle his fists together.
“Who’s a Flaming Fist now?” Tallest mocks.
The fire chars at the soldier, searing his wrists. In pain, the soldier exerts his strength and breaks the fire chains. He rushes forward and stabs Tallest in the leg.
“Don’t we have some healers?” Tallest asks again.
“You bought a potion,” Caeus says in between punches. He jukes to dodge Sleipnir’s blasts, and the soldier stabs him.
Sfiros does have healing. “Grab life by the horns!” The cleric sends a healing word to Caeus, not Tallest.
“Who did you give the healing word to?” Tallest asks as he matches his enemy's blows.
“Like this,” Caeus says as he drinks a potion of healing.
Sfiros shrugs and says, “In for a copper, in for a gold.” A fiery burning symbol of Gond appears in his hands, and Sfiros directs the sacred flame to the nearest soldier.
The fire engulfs the soldier and his face melts off.
“Oh no!” Sfiros the cop-killer screams.
Caeus zaps his soldier, but he takes a spear to the gut and falls to the ground. The soldier laughs.
“Healing!” Sfiros shouts another healing word at Caeus. The tinkerer gets up and runs to a corner.
Tallest sighs and takes a potion of healing and heals himself.
One soldier breaks off to chase the spellcasters, the other two duel Tallest and Caeus. One spellcaster after another falls, gets up, falls again.
The marketplace is pandemonium as the echoes of battle reverberate. Innocent bystanders scream, running out of buildings and away from the tents.
Tallest swings down with his warhammer and crunches the largest soldier’s skull. “Yeah!” he cheers as the soldier crumbles to the ground. That’s two down! Two to go! Speaking of people who are down...
Sleipnir and Sfiros are down, and Caeus maneuvers past the remaining soldiers to reach them. He rummages through Sleipnir’s belongings and feeds him a potion of healing.
Tallest’s embiggening wears off, and he shrinks back to his usual unusual height, not longer at his tallest-est.
The two remaining soldiers attack the tallest minotaur. One spear stabs to his right. Tallest moves to block, and the second spear finds an opening to his left!
A figure leaps from the alley and intercepts the attack.
Elisin blocks the spear with Shatterspike, a searing of hatred in her eyes.
“Hellrider!” the soldiers scream at the new dueler. Both remaining soldiers furiously attack the young woman, leaving the Herd be for a while.
Elisin uses lay on hands to restore herself as the soldiers throw all of their attacks into her. She raises Shatterspike, and she chants. Tyr’s scale of justice appears in front of her and tilts to one side as she casts shield of faith on herself.
The soldiers attack Elisin through her spell, greatly damaging the Hellrider of Kinchasa as they focus their fury on her. Still, she buys the Herd a bit of time to lick their wounds.
Elisin strikes back with a divine smite, and a hammer of Tyr crashes down on the soldier. A horse in the background neighs in delight, but though the soldier may beaten, there’s still one more. The last soldier overwhelms Elisin, and she drops to the ground.
Caeus rushes to save her, but he can’t manage to stabilize her. The soldier attacks him with a war crime.
“I’m a medic!” Caeus cries and falls to the ground under the soldier’s strike.
Elisin stops breathing.
Tallest roars as a spear slices his legs, and he tumbles down. The final soldier is a bloodied mess, but he’s determined to vanquish these minotaur foes and any allies that may stand alongside them.
You’re all alone, Sleipnir...
The last soldier chases Sleipnir all through the market. Up stairs and under tables, through tents and across the plaza, the sorcerer runs, zaps, runs again. One wrong step, and he’s a goner.
Sleipnir takes one wrong step.
The soldier impales him, and the accursed sorcerer dies again.
The last Flaming Fist, beaten and bloodied with only 4 HP remaining, gathers the bodies in a pile and smugly admires the mayhem.
A crowd of onlookers gather around the carnage. Sleipnir is dead again. Caeus, Tallest, and Sfiros are all unconscious, but alive. Elisin’s corpse looks out of place among the minotaurs.
The crowd parts as more Flaming Fists arrive on the scene.
“Out of the way! The captain’s here!” one of them shouts.
A figure pushes through the crowd and sees the pile of bodies.
“Oy, load the fuckers up, mate,” The living members of the Herd hear as they fade deeper into unconsciousness.