The west end of the castle is smashed brick and broken wood. The surviving buildings are blackened by soot. In the center of the castle grounds, the High Hall Cathedral stands defiant.
Despite the burnt and broken buildings, this side of Kinchasa seems better off than the other side of the bridge.
“Moo, this is some nice rubble,” Caeus comments on a busted marble gate. “This is the premium rubble. I don’t want to be over there with the rabble rubble,” he rambles.
Near the shattered gate, two humans in plate armor lie dead on the ground. Blood seeps from their bite wounds, fresh and festering.
Thrilled, the Herd loots their corpses. The plate is shredded, so they throw all the bits of it in the bag of holding to try mending later.
Past the gate, the Herd sees two well-fed hellhounds, black and cinder-coated, napping near the entrance to the cathedral. Flames rumble inside the hellhounds, digesting the human flesh. Gore and malice drip from the jaws of the beasts.
“I want to–” Sleipnir starts.
“Do not cast friends,” Ellison blocks the sorcerer’s line of sight.
“We should sneak past,” Harken suggests, remembering that the hellhounds will attack the smallest and weakest enemies first.
“We should kill them,” Caeus says.
“If we killed every evil thing in here–” Harken starts.
“We can have a conversation about each one,” Caeus says. “These two, we kill.”
Tallest, the tallest minotaur, listens to each side’s arguments, considering the risks and benefits of the different strategies. Befriend, avoid, or murder?
During the arguments in favor of murder, Sfiros gesticulates wildly to make his voice heard. The cleric’s motions cast sacred flames at the hellhounds, which ultimately forces the choice.
Once again, murder wins the day.
By decree, Tallest decapitates the hellhounds with only minor burns to himself and Caeus.
“I got ya, bud,” Harken says as he upcasts cure wounds on Tallest. The tiefling’s red hands glow in a strange cyan–inverse of the red glow of his burning hands.
With the hounds dead, they finally reach the cathedral door. Sfiros uses the hand of Gond to jiggle the handle, and the door crumbles to the ground, revealing the massive holy cathedral with really big walls and big curtains and just a whole lot of big ornate shit. But it all got hit by like a meteor or something so there’s ash and soot and dead people all over the place!
Inside, they find four guards partially eaten and entirely dead. See, I told you there were dead people! The guards have no interesting loot and are promptly ignored.
Ellison approaches a winged statue of a female devil. She places her hand on the statue and whispers, “Zariel….”
Harken hears the creepy Hellrider mutterings and whispers back to the Herd, “Oy, boys, she mentioned Zariel’s name when she just did that heebee-jeebee.”
The Herd moos in silence. When a minotaur mentions heebee-jeebee, that means something serious is going down.
Harken claps. “Oy, good talk,” he says and walks away, unaware of the sanctity of heebee-jeebee.
Sfiros finds a suspiciously large curtain near two staircases. He gropes the curtain, pulling it back to reveal an altar to Tyr. Like most Tyr altars, it’s got a big old hammer just sitting there, ready to smack something.
The cleric steps forward and kneels at the altar, and prays to Tyr. “I am a servant of Gond, and we are here as friends. We are here to restore this place and this holy city.”
The altar beams. Sfiros hears the voice of Tyr telling him that each of them may pray here and be restored.
Caeus incinerates a pile of corpses in the corner. His power armor filters the putrid stench of burnt flesh, and he hears whimpering in the corner.
Caeus pokes around the source of the noise and finds a small man choking in the smoke. The tinkerer pulls the man away from the burning pile.
“You’re not one of the devils?” The man stares at Caeus, bewildered by the sight.
“I’m a minotaur,” Caeus says as he reveals his face.
“Baphomet is here?” the man asks.
“I don’t know any Baphomet,” Cajeus says. “I’m from Baldur’s Gate”
The man calms down. “Who are you?”
“I’m Caeus,” Caeus says. “I’m with the Herd. See that guy? Here comes Tallest.”
“What’s your name?” Tallest pulls out his autograph book.
“My name is very difficult to say in the common tongue,” the man says. “But you can call me 🇹🇿.”
“🇹🇿?” Tallest tries.
“Can you spell that?” Caeus asks.
🇹🇿 writes his name in the book. Tallest frowns, unable to read it.
“Wait, does this mean you’re a druid? Can you cast goodberry?” Tallest asks, suddenly remembering all the refugees they left outside.
🇹🇿 nods. “I have been using goodberry to keep the congregation alive for many days. But my connection to my beloved nature grows weaker the longer I’m in this infernal place. I fear I may be unable to cast these spells at all soon.”
“That makes sense, 🇹🇿.” Tallest says.
“What’s your whole deal? Tell us your deal,” Caeus demands.
🇹🇿 gathers everyone around and begins his tale.
“Many days ago, I was tending to the gardens here as normal. When suddenly, a great black star fell from the sky! There was no escaping it. After it landed here, we found ourselves floating above this infernal river. The chains strain against the pull of the black star, and every day we move closer to the river. The devils stormed this area and took over. There are still some patrols around. We have most of our people hiding in the catacombs. Our leaders are missing. Are you here to save us?”
Caeus is puzzled. “Tallest, why are we here?”
Tallest thinks for a moment. Hell is known to affect memories in strange ways. “For Cred. Merch,” Tallest decides.
“I know that, but we could have done that anywhere,” Caeus says. “Why are we here?”
“The puzzle cube!” Tallest says. “We gotta open the puzzle cube and find out what’s inside!”
“We did that,” Caeus says.
“I don’t know why we’re here, then,” Tallest says. “Why did we agree to go to hell?”
“Something about Kinchasa?” Caeus tries to remember. “Oh yeah, to save Kinchasa!” He turns to the druid. “We are here for you!”
“I hear patrols coming!” the druid shouts.
They hear a patrol of bandits and spined devil, and they are again presented with a choice: Befriend, avoid, or murder?
The conversation is much shorter this time, but the murdering takes much longer. They lose themselves in the violence for what seems to be 46 minutes, but when the carnage ends, only 30 seconds have actually passed. It’s as if in hell, time is warped by violence.
With this patrol dead, Tallest worries more patrols might find the refugees they left outside. He and Lulu run outside to fetch them.
Caeus and Sfiros fiddle with a hammer on a statue, and they find a secret staircase under an altar.
The Herd leaves the refugees with 🇹🇿, and they descend the secrets into darkness.
Unfazed by darkness or labyrinthine tunnels, the Herd stampedes down the stairs. They stop at the first sign of loot: a body of a young woman next to a gleaming greatsword.
Sfiros uses the hand of Gond to retrieve the sword, and then ten minutes to identify it.
It’s a mundane greatsword.
Sleipnir sneakily finds a room of sarcophagi.
"Get ready friends, because there might be a ghost in here!" Sfiros calls. He summons the hand of Gond to open the sarcophagus.
Sleipnir does not ready friends.
The sarcophagus flies open, awakening a ragged mummy.
Harken stabs at the mummy. His rapier shoves cleanly through the mummy rags, enraging the undead creature. It responds by smacking Harken harder than he’s ever been hit before.
Tallest cuts off the mummy’s arms, and Caeus burns its rags to ash.
They tally up their recent experience: befriend 🇹🇿, murder everything else, avoid nothing. They feel stronger from the murders, but not from befriending the druid. If hell rewards anything, it’s a lust for violence.