“Everyone, welcome our newly elected official: Duke Stevenson!” Duke Portyr announces. The patriar families applaud, and a human man stands up. The Herd recognizes the man as the father of Valour Stevenson, the Hero of Chult and restorer of the Hellriders.
Ellison crosses her arms proudly, and for the first time since she went to Hell, she truly smiles.
“This will conclude our business for the day,” Duke Portyr continues. “We shall discuss the absence of Grand Duke Ravengard on the morrow. Until then, one big change of power at a time.”
The patriars chuckle. The Herd doesn’t get the joke, but a few of them pretend they do and chuckle along.
With the council meeting concluded, the patriars stand up and begin casual socializing.
The consensus from the chatter is that the ousting of the devil worshipping Duke Vanthampur is a net positive. A few patriars greet the Herd, congratulating and thanking them.
“Congratulations!” one fancy woman says.
“Thank you!” an even fancier woman exclaims.
None of the patriars are minotaurs, or any ungulate humanoid for that matter. The ruling class’s praise for the Herd is a complicated blend of derision, bewilderment, and insouciance. This could be any group of minotaurs, for all they know. Some group of minotaurs calls itself the Herd, and these guys might as well be them.
Ellison does her duties as a Hellrider and shakes hands with the elites. Her eyes keep finding Duke Stevenson and his elf wife, Uul’Sariel.
“Ah, our…. Companions,” Duke Portyr approaches the Herd through the crowd. “This would not be possible without you.” He gestures to Dukes Stelmane and Stevenson to join them.
“Hey, Tallest,” Caeus whispers. “These are like the people in the city. These are the people who run things. We should be getting autographs! This is what the autograph book is for.”
“You think?” Tallest considers this. “These people don’t look very tall. Look how old they are. That one’s decrepit.”
“Which one?” Sleipnir asks.
Tallest sighs. “All of them.”
“They have tall energy,” Caeus says. “They wield power.”
“They have tall ages,” Ellison tries, finally getting the hang of minotaur culture.
This is enough to convince Tallest. He passes his book around and collects signatures from all of the Dukes.
“If anything, we should be getting your autographs, too!” Duke Stevenson gladly pulls out a quill.
“Do you have an autograph book? Let’s trade,” Tallest says.
“I don’t have any autograph book, but I do have this ledger,” Duke Stevenson says and pulls a large ledger out of his adventurer’s pack.
Soon, everyone is passing around books, ledgers, pamphlets, and banners.
“I know who you are,” Duke Stevenson notices Ellison smiling at him.
Ellison lights up. She regales the Duke with tales of his son Valour, the paladin who went to Kinchasa and helped her, and who taught her the path of Tyr.
She shows the Duke her Hellrider armor, and tells him how Valour reestablished the order. She shows him Shatterspike, and tells him how she earned it.
“Have you heard from him lately?” Ellison asks.
“I don’t believe our boy has contacted us within the past few years, to be honest with you.” His eyes glassen. “I’m sure everything is ok,” he assures the young woman whose entire city was destroyed by a black star. “He’s one of the Heroes of Chult. I’m sure everything with the Heroes of Chult is going perfectly fine, right now.”
Nah, just kidding!
Duke Portyr, eager to leave, arranges a luncheon for the Herd at his villa.
But first, they have a lot of loot and gold. The Upper City has all the best shops, and they find the nicest, fanciest place in the city to trade items.
They offload all their treasure and purchase plate armor for Caeus. The tinkerer immediately sets to work manipulating it into his new power armor.
They buy some reagents and a scroll of revivify, and then spend every last gold piece on potions of various healing.
“Sfiros, can you identify this sword you gave me?” Tallest asks. The sword is giving off weird vibes for sure.
Sfiros fiddles with his iron tooth, identifying that instead. The tooth is a mundane, weird chunk of iron that does not benefit him in any way. He keeps it, and Caeus makes it glow.
“However, I hate the birth certificate,” Sfiros says as he rips it up. “Being on a mission from Gond, I’m changing my name to Sfiros of Gond.”
“How do you spell it?” Caeus asks.
“Sign his book,” Sleipnir suggests.
“Technically, we’re all famous now,” Caeus says.
“You guys can all sign it,” Tallest says and passes the book around.
They all sign it with their names, and Sleipnir adds “I signed your crack” along the spine.
“Sfiros, is this sword you gave me cursed?” Tallest asks again. He feels something from the sword, some screaming mix of agony and rage. As though a manipulating entity within is bashing against the walls of a planar prison, dead set on seeping out into the mortal world.
“I don’t think the real Numooru would give us a cursed sword,” Sfiros says inexplicably.
The Herd moos.
“He specifically told you it was cursed!” Sleipnir screams, waving his cursed scythe Silence around.
“He said take it and never come back!” Caeus yells.
“Didn’t he task you with a mission to stop this cursed sword?” Sleipnir asks.
“He did not say ‘cursed,’” Sfiros explains. “He said it contains the soul of Tzeentch’s champion.”
“If that doesn’t scream ‘cursed’, I don’t know what to tell you,” Sleipnir says.
“Identify it and find out,” Tallest tries again. The sword is pulsating blue and purple.
“You don’t even know how to not get cursed,” Sfiros shouts at Sleipnir.
“That’s how I know it’s cursed!” Sleipnir says.
Sfiros reluctantly identifies the sword.
It’s totally cursed.
Sfiros discovers that the sword contains the soul of another entity, Gargauth, just like Sleipnir’s scythe Silence.
“What a revelation,” Sleipnir says sarcastically. “We only saw it happen.”
“Not so tall now, are you?” Tallest mocks the Gargauth’s soul in the sword.
Sfiros also discovers new information about the sword. It is the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta, a legendary scimitar. It’s a +2 weapon of celestial origin, grants +1 to spellcasting and immunity to charm effects. It also has charges for casting misty step and alter self.
After deliberation, they decide to let Tallest use it. For now.
No one mentions what the curse is, and no one asks again.
This pleases Gargauth.
But they don’t know that.
Which also pleases Gargauth.
After several half hours, they make their way to Duke Portyr’s villa and to his courtyard. A mist sprays from the fountain and cools the hot Vengeance air. Beautiful native trees wall the area, blocking the courtyard from the sights, sounds, and smells of the city.
They find Duke Portyr under a gazebo that hangs over a pool. He’s enjoying a pitcher of wine, vegetarian charcuterie, and a variety of fruit.
In the center of the courtyard, they pass an imported sapling. Tallest pauses by the tree to pay his respects for the plant that will eventually tower over even him.
“Sit, sit, recuperate,” Duke Portyr says. They gather around, and the Duke gets to the point. “I’m assuming you won’t be staying here in Baldur’s Gate. You have a bit of a traveller’s purpose about you, isn’t that right?”
“We have the whole manor now,” Sleipnir says.
“We are staying in Baldur’s Gate, but we have tasks that will take us elsewhere,” Caeus says. “But the Herd will return. Don’t have anyone thinking we won’t be coming back, and our turf is up for grabs.”
“Also, why do you ask?” Sfiros asks.
“Also, who are you?” Caeus asks.
“I’m Duke Portyr,” Duke Portyr says. “If you set out, it will give people enough time to enter a calming period. We’ve had lots of energy, lots of ire. Lots of death. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too terrible for you to seek your fortune and fame before returning to the villa. I am familiar with adventurers, which I believe you are well on your road to becoming.”
“Are you an adventurer?” Sfiros asks. “Were you an adventurer?”
“I’ve had my fair share of camping and being noticed on wanted boards,” the Duke smiles and gestures to his home. “And look at what it has brought me.”
The Herd admires his home.
Duke Portyr looks down at a magic chronometer on his wrist.
“Should be happening right…” he starts. “Ah, I’d like to introduce you to my daughter, Commander Liara Portyr.”
Duke Portyr gestures to the sapling in the center of the courtyard. The tree itself opens up and glowing arcane magic seeps out. A plated greave steps out of the magic from inside the tree. A second greave emerges, then more armor. Finally, the full humanoid appears out of the sapling.
She is wearing a full set of plate armor, a Flaming Fist cloak, and a stern look. Her badge identifies her as several ranks taller than her actual size.
“That was so cool,” Tallest beams.
“Dad, it’s good to see you,” Liara says. “These must be your new champions.”
“The Herd,” Caeus corrects her.
“Can we get your autograph? That was so cool. How did you do that?” Tallest asks.
“A little help from an adventurer back home,” Liara says as she signs his book.
“Where’s back home?” Caeus asks.
“For the past nine years, I have been commanding Fort Beluarian,” she explains. “It’s a Flaming Fist fort stationed in Chult. As the people of Chult have been able to reclaim their land, it has become in our interest to relocate and allow that peninsula to be annexed to the natural owners.”
Liara looks over at her father and continues. “With Grand Duke Ravengard missing, I have returned to lead the Flaming Fist. There are two ships of my soldiers from Chult returning here.”
“Congratulations on becoming the Lord Commander of the Flaming Fists!” Sfiros says.
“I absolutely would have voted for you,” Tallest says. “You walked out of a tree.”
“That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen a member of the Flaming Fists do, and that guy’s in the Flaming Fists and he’s one of us,” Sfiros points at Harken who is shining his bagpipes, not listening.
“Are you all planning on staying here in Baldur’s Gate?” she asks.
“No, your dad was pretty clear that we need to ‘F’ off,” Sfiros says.
“He was trying to sponsor our voyage,” Sleipnir adds.
Duke Portyr orders riding horses, a mule-drawn cart, food, supplies, and full pardons. He also agrees to set up the Vanthampur Villa as a refugee shelter in their name.
“Feel free to have a wonderful night in your new villa that you have obtained by the ancient law of mea dibs,” Duke Portyr says as he waves them away.
On the way to their villa, Sfiros of Gond casts continual flame on his Holy Symbol of Gond necklace.
The villa is bustling with refugees, and everyone welcomes the Herd with genuine warmth. The top floor is saved for them for the night.
Tallest grabs Mortloch’s room because it’s the biggest. Harken takes Amrich’s room because it’s the sleaziest. Sleipnir puts the gossamer sheets he stole from Duke Vanthampur’s suite back on her bed, then puts himself on the bed. Caeus claims Thurstwell’s room and broken bed as a fixer-upper. Sfiros finds a nice sofa in the library to do some reading until he falls asleep.
That night, Caeus places his new armor next to his old armor. He magically bangs on the old splint armor, and the nanobots shimmer off the splint and onto the plate.
The tinkerer takes off his spinning hat and puts it on his makeshift workbench. He fiddles with the wiring, manipulates the energy, adds a wing here, thermal binoculars there, and voila!
He’s turned his hat into Gizmo, a homunculus servant in the shape of a spinning hat that is also an owl.
The owl flutters around and greets Slobberchops. the flying cat who the Vanthampurs owned until they all died somehow. The cat growls.
They wake the next morning feeling stronger than ever. They receive a missive from Duke Portyr stating there are horses and a cart for them at the Basilisk Gate.
This gives Caeus an idea.
Before they leave, they set up a small business with the villa as an operating point. They will sell disses in missive forms to the common folk.
They hang up banners outside that say ‘DisMissive,’ and leave the rest to the NPCs.
While this is going on, Sleipnir gives Leone a hearty farewell.
They all meet their rides at the Basilisk Gate.
The horses are splendid and match each member’s personality and size. The Duke was even able to provide a chalicothere from Chult for Tallest to ride. The massive, ancient proto-horse towers over them all and greets the minotaurs with respect.
The cart is stockpiled with 120 rations, a bag of 100 gold pieces, a traveler’s kit, a dungeoneer’s kit, and they DO NOT each get another magic item or weapon of their choice, Jacob!
They pass through Baldur’s Gate with the horses and cart. They see refugees in every district they pass. Fewer guards stand watch around Calimshan than they’d seen all adventure.
They pass the final bridge southward out of Baldur’s Gate officially starting their five day journey to Candlekeep. They hope to find answers to the puzzle box.
Everyone keeps their eyes forward, eager to solve the mystery.
No one looks back at Baldur’s Gate.
No one turns around and sees what happens.
It’s probably nothing.