Sfiros uses the hand of Gond to loot the twice-dead mummy’s sarcophagus like he’s Indiana Jones or something. He isn’t. But he digs out an awesome set of bracers and sweet-looking yellow gemerald. He identifies the items, realizing he found a set of bracers of defense and a yellow elemental gemerald. The bracers will make anyone extra tough wrist-wise, and the gemerald can be broken to summon an earth elemental! Sfiros gives the gemerald to Tallest, who loves gemeralds, and the bracers to Harken, who is not Sleipnir.
The bracers can’t be worn with armor, and Harken is surprised to find out he is wearing leather in front of minotaurs. Rude! He removes his leather duster and attunes to the magical bracers, flexing at the sudden influx of magical sturdiness! That boy sturdy now!
Have you heard of the sturd!?
Sneaking in a corner, Sleipnir pouts loudly that he doesn’t have any new magical items from the one monster they’ve found in Avernus that’s dirtier than he is.
“Sfiros, rock-paper-scissors,” Caeus says.
“I don’t know what we’re rock-paper-scissoring for, but I do love gambling,” Sfiros beams.
Caeus wins the gamble. “Since I won, I get to burn the bodies,” he says and his power armor changes to corpse-burning mode.
“Can I bless them before?” Sfiros tries.
“No! It was to see who goes first!” Caeus yells. “I won.”
Caeus unceremoniously tosses open each sarcophagus and incinerates each corpse inside, eradicating centuries of Kinchasan lineage and history in mere seconds.
Sfiros ceremoniously follows the incineration, performing Gondish funeral rites on the piles of soot and ash. This isn’t his preferred way of doing funerals, but time is short and people are ashy, so he follows the artificer as fast as possible. Room after room, Caeus cremates the dead bodies, and Sfiros follows behind with a prayer.
Caeus is indiscriminate: he burns the fresh bodies and the old bodies. He burns the mummified and the embalmed. He burns the skeletons and the dust.
Caeus has no hesitation until he reaches the room for rich corpses. Broke-ass corpses are instantly incinerated. But rich ones? Maybe there’s something to snatch up here in the premium catacomb neighborhood.
Brimming with Anacos pride, Sleipnir runs into the rich room and sees a coffin with a carving of a hammer and a saw.
“This guy must have been a carpenter,” Sleipnir says, recalling that his brother liked using hammers and saws. “I thought this was the rich people place!”
“He probably had a rich life,” Sfiros says, “if he was blessed to work with tools like that.”
Sleipnir aint got time for none of that mambo-jumbo Lord Blacksmith talk. He runs to another coffin, this one bedecked with a carving of a large smile.
“This guy’s happy!” Sleipnir exclaims. “Maybe he’s a dentist. I’m going to open his stuff up.”
Sleipnir makes the coffin open wide, and inside he sees a corpse that’s much fresher than some of the other entombed corpses. He sees a smiling corpse wearing a ceremonial necktie.
“What are you looking at?” Caeus demands, pushing forward. The tinkerer recognizes the body of Manzibar Magician, the old Manzibar of Kinchasa and the father of Zanzibar.
“I’m taking a finger,” Sleipnir says and snatches a finger from the Manzibar’s corpse.
Sfiros detects magic to find out if any of the other corpses are worth desecrating. He rummages through a shelf of bones and finds a potion of greater healing and nine amethysts worth 50 gold each.
They leave without desecrating any more rich corpses.
The next room is a large open space with a large oak table and comfortable chairs.
The chairs are a mismatched collection, including a variety of sizes, shapes, and material. Their only commonality is comfort.
Everyone chills in or near their own chair for a while, just chit chatting, relaxing, and having a good time. Minotaur society doesn’t frown upon having a board room meeting in a cemetery. It’s one of the best places to have meetings!
“We did it!” Sleipnir declares, his sitting complete.
After solving the chair room, they reluctantly leave, already missing their chairs.
The next room is massive, kind of like that one room in that one mine in that one movie where the elf and dwarf and wizard and little tykes go spelunking with some jewelry. Columns are spaced out every which-a-way, and the ceiling rises about 40 feet above them.
As they enter the next room, they hear frightened whispers and hushed movements.
“Secrets!” Sleipnir shouts at the whispers and rushes forward into a large crypt.
This is why he has died twice.
Dozens of people cower in alcoves and duck behind sarcophagi. Their eyes are red, and their cheeks are stained with tears. Survivors! Maybe they’ll know about the Grand Duke Ravengard?
That Grand Duke is in another castle!
Standing before a large font in the chamber is a haggard woman, her gray hair matted with sweat. With one arm she clutches a leather bound tome to her chest, and with the other hand she wields a ceremonial mace–a weapon as fragile as it is symbolic.
“Stand back,” the woman commands as she raises the mace.
“We’re the Herd,” Tallest says. “We’re here to help. What’s your name?”
“You’re not servants of Baphomet?” the woman leers at the minotaurs.
“Why does everyone think that?” Sfiros asks.
“Yeah!” Caeus agrees.
“We do our own thing,” Tallest explains that they’re independotaurs.
“We’re with Gond!” Sfiros adds. Everyone politely, yet firmly, disagrees with this. Sfiros always ruins Independotaur Day with his zealotry.
The woman visibly relaxes when she notices Ellison, Hellrider of Kinchasa, who adds a bit of normality to this band of ever-increasing weirdos. It was almost too weird for the woman at first.
Then Lulu the flying yellow elephant shoots forth and sprinkles magical cheer around the crypt.
“Who are you?” Caeus asks the haggard woman.
The woman sighs, “I am acolyte Pherria,” she says and writes it in Tallest’s book.
“Hey lady, what’s up with your book?” Tallest asks. “Is that lore?”
“Do you have The Plot?” Sfiros asks.
“Hang on, we need to pull up some chairs,” Tallest says.
“Come with us,” Caeus says. “There’s a much more comfortable place to talk.”
They return to the chair room and rush to their favorites.
Pherria sits at a chair of her own, takes a deep breath, then begins her tale.
“This is a very precious item,” Pherria presents the leather bound tome. “This is the Tome of the Creed Resolute.”
The Herd gasps.
“This is the contract that Ellison signed,” Caeus reminds everyone.
The Herd gasps again but this time they actually know why they’re doing it.
Pherria opens the tome. The first page shows the oath to defend and stay loyal to Kinchasa with no exceptions. Every other page shows hundreds of signatures, far more than in Tallest’s book.
“When we speak the oath, our name appears in that book,” Ellison explains.
“If we destroy the book, does your oath go away?” Sleipnir asks.
The paladin shakes her head. “The book is merely a record. Destruction does not break the agreements that bind our souls to Avernus now.”
“Now we have their names,” Tallest says. “Sleipnir, you like rumors. Here’s a whole bunch of them.”
“Give it!” Sleipnir leaps from his chair onto the table and stands over Pherria.
The haggard woman does not give her sacred book away that easily, and Sleipnir sits back down, defeated. This is what happens when you don’t cast friends first!
“I don’t want this person to sit in this room with us,” Pherria says. “And he smells terrible.”
“We don’t want him here, either,” Sfiros agrees.
“Sleipnir, hide under the table or something,” Tallest decides.
“I’m going to hide under my chair!” Sleipnir shouts. The sorcerer’s soul merges with shadows, and no one can see him under his chair.
“Did you know that Creed is why everyone is stuck in Avernus?” Sfiros asks.
“This is why?” Pherria stares down at the magical tome of oath takers.
The Herd nods. They tell her about Manzibar Kreeg’s betrayal, trial, execution, and possible loose end with a shadow demon.
“Manizbar Kreeg is the reason for all of this,” Tallest gestures around at everything. “He brought the Black Star. And he did it on purpose. He wasn’t here when it happened, he was in Baldur’s Gate. And we found out!”
“Because the Herd always finds out!” Caeus adds.
“Yeah,” Tallest pauses. “What are we, detectives? Is that why we find out?” He pauses to think for a bit. “Why did we do this?”
“Listen,” Caeus tries. “Cred.” He considers this again. “What else are we going to do?”
“It was what was happening,” Tallest shrugs. “So, yeah, how do we stop you guys from being trapped in hell?”
“Grand Duke Ravengard took a group of guards to the city’s cemetery to investigate a proliferation of undead,” Pherria says. “He suspects a holy relic in the chapel called the helm of Zanzibar might provide salvation from Kinchasa’s dire circumstance.”
Sfiros nearly faints in excitement. “I need it so bad!” he cries. “‘The helm of Zanzibar, oh my Gond, I have to have it. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life.”
Sfiros pulls out their map and asks her to mark the cemetery.
“You do know who Zanzibar Magician was?” Pherria asks suspiciously.
“What do you mean ‘was’?” Caeus asks.
“He was the greatest of all the Magicians,” Pherria says. “Above Pemba, above Gideon, above the Manzibar himself. Until he was seen wearing a crown.”
“King of the Wizards, yes,” Sfiros nods.
Pherria frowns. “With a black opal in the center. Ever since then, he became more crass… more arrogant.”
“That’s what happened to him?” Tallest asks. “He became a jerk?”
“Yeah, he became a real asshole,” Pherria sneers. “We haven’t seen him since the Black Star.”
“Was he in Kinchasa at the time?” Caeus asks.
“We believe so,” the acolyte shrugs. “He doffed his old helm in favor of that accursed crown. We believe if Grand Duke Ravengard can get that helm, we can find out what happened.”
“Is Grand Duke Ravengard alive?” Caeus asks.
“He left about six hours ago to find the relic,” Pherria says as she marks the cemetery on their map again.
“You’d think they’d put the dead people on the crap side of Kinchasa,” Sleipnir notes.
Pherria shakes her head. “Poor people can’t afford a lot in the cemetery.”
🇹🇿 and the refugees from the poor part of the city walk in to hear this, and the Herd politely leave to let the Kinchasans argue amongst themselves.
The Herd exits the cathedral and steps back into the wasteland that is Kinchasa. The cemetery sits on the western side of the city, so onward they march through the blasted heaps. As they travel, the Black Star hovers above the Herd menacingly. Its presence is robust and ominous, preventing anyone from forgetting its power. A torturous tone emanates from the celestial power, as though pain incarnate radiates above them.
A winged, vulture-like demon flies overhead, ignoring the Black Star. It swoops downard, its massive wings scattering ash and charred ember. Tallest recognizes the large bird-demon as a vrock: greedy and self-absorbed fiends of the underworld. The demon bird perches on a rooftop, deep in thought.
Nobody knows how to get around the monster.
“Whatcha thinking about?” Sleipnir asks the vrock.
This is also why Sleipnir dies a lot.
<The meaning of existence,> the vrock thinks, its telepathic thoughts radiating outward.
“That’s a good one,” Sleipnir nods. “What have you come up with so far?”
<I miss the Great Peace,> the vrock thinks. <That was a good four or five months.>
“Yeah, vacations are nice,” Sleipnir agrees.
<What battalion are you a part of?> the vrock asks. “VROCK!” It then screeches.
“It doesn’t matter. We are in the Great Peace right now,” Sleipnir mumbles his way though the speech. He remembers nothing of a “Great Peace” when researching succubus boobies back at Candlekeep.
… Except for that Great Piece of Ass—
<This is not the Great Peace!> the vrock thinks.
“We are at peace,” Sleipnir says. “We’re going to the cemetery. Want to come?”
<I don’t need anything at the cemetery. Our portal will get us in there anyway.> the vrock spreads its wings and launches away. <GOOD BYE!>
“I wish we knew what that meant,” Caeus says, foreshadowingly.
“We made a friend!” Sleipnir says.
Sleipnir is wrong.
The Herd finds the cemetery in disrepair. The once proud fence has fallen and the gate has been torn from its hinges. Humanoid body parts adorne the spikes atop the fencepost. Most of the body parts wriggle and writhe, as if reanimated, twitching in concert with the lightning flashes of the Black Star.
Cracked gravestones and crumbling monuments are scattered across the cemetery grounds. The center of the cemetery holds a solitary chapel, whose once-holy structure now glows with a fetid purple radiance.
Skeletal zombies wander aimlessly around the graves, minding their own business.
“Do we attack?” Sleipnir asks.
“Yes?” Harken suggests.
Sleipnir casts friends on a zombie. “We’re buddies now,” he says.
The zombie ignores him, which means his spell worked. All of his friends ignore him!
Sfiros destroys a zombie with sacred flames, inviting carnage upon the rest of the walking dead.
Caeus joins the fight with a horn attack and a thunderpunch!
The ominously looming Black Star reacts to the punch with an explosion of lightning, blasting the tinkerer and everyone around him.
You would assume he would have stopped after the fourth time this happened.
“I’ve learned my lesson,” Caeus does not say.
After annihilating all of the skeletons minding their own damned business, the herd approaches the chapel. They see three large minotaur skeletons lumbering aimlessly around with greataxes.
“They’re our cousins!” Sfiros beams.
“They’re us from the future,” Tallest says. He looks at the minotaur skeletons with a mixture of compassion and contempt, the way we all look at the monsters we’re afraid of becoming. This means that Sleipnir stares at trash a lot.
“They’re our new leaders,” Sleipnir says when he notices they’re taller than the Tallest.
Tallest springs into action, embiggening himself to exceed the height of the monstrous skeletons and shushing all of this nonsense about having other leaders.
Caeus also enlarges himself to match the height of the monstrous skeletons. He stays just under Tallest's height to keep the peace.
“I call forth spirits to protect me!” Sfiros summons spirit guardians in the form of celestial bovines! The ghostly cows emanate out of his holy body, orbiting the cleric of Gond and goring the undead minotaurs as they try to step close.
Caeus thunderpunches a skeleton minotaur, again summoning a crack of lightning from the Black Star. The explosive lightning enters at a jagged angle, and the blast harms the Herd more than the undead. Sfiros' ghost spirits begin to wake as the bolt crashes down.
“Why are you the way that you are?!” Sfiros screams, losing his concentration on the spirit guardians. The cow spirits fade away, leaving the cleric vulnerable again.
Equally as enraged as the cleric, the three undead minotaurs focus their rage on Caeus. Two more minotaur skeletons hear the thunder, run out of the chapel, and join the attack on the power-armored tinkerer.
Caeus thunderpunches, predictably causing a lightning strike, harming all the minotaurs again.
“You need to come up with a different plan,” Tallest moans, feeling electrocuted through his plate armor.
Ellison comes up with a different plan.
The paladin rushes to the group of undead skeletal minotaurs and channels the divinity of Tyr. Celestial scales of justice radiate throughout the cemetery, turning the unholy.
The undead run from the paladin of Tyr, giving the Herd the chance to pick them off during their retreat.
The living minotaurs easily outmaneuver the undead frightened minotaurs, despite the necromantic size and power. Without lightning to harm them, the Herd quickly and methodically eliminates the undead.
The last skeleton breaks its fear and slices at Ellison in revenge, its greataxe ready to carve her in half.
Tallest activates his cloud rune. “Sleipnir, you must die for us!” he shouts.
The skeleton’s greataxe slashes through a cloud portal from the weakened paladin to the untouched sorcerer. A massive gash carves through Sleipnir as he cried in pain.
Ellison responds with Shatterspike, and the skeleton crumbles to dust in front of the chapel as she smashes the sword through the cretin.
The descent into Avernus has taken its toll on the once-beautiful chapel. All the stained glass windows along the outer walls have been smashed, and the main doors hang open.
In front of the chapel, marble pillars carved into heroes of Kinchasa’s past decorate a white patio.
Tallest steps inside the chapel and sees two more skeleton minotaurs. “It’s just two more, we got this,” he says.
The pillars shimmer and writhe as nine ghostly shades seep out. Eight of the specters merge outside, but one shade materializes inside the chapel and rushes into a different room.
Embiggened Tallest blocks the two skeletal minotaurs inside the chapel, keeping them pinned in the doorway. He reaches into his pocket and breaks the yellow elemental gemerald. “Golem, choose you!” he shouts.
An earth elemental escapes from the broken gemerald. The elemental has a spherical body covered by a shell of plated rocks. Its head has red eyes and a flat snout with two pointed teeth in the lower jaw. It has short, clawed limbs.
The golem uses rock smash against a shade, but rock type is not very effective against ghost type in hell. Three specters respond by draining its life and strength.
The other five specters each target one of Caeus, Sleipnir, Ellison, Sfiros, and Harken outside of the chapel. Lulu tries to remain relevant, but she’s just a tiny elephant with a tiny trunk.
Caeus, with 1 Hit Point left, stops summoning the lightning. He backs up, forms an arm cannon on his power armor, and blasts the specter with a firebolt.
Sleipnir and his specter swap hit point steals with vampiric touch and life drain respectively, doing some kind of weird kinky HP-69'ing. The specter wins for a moment, but the shadow sorcerer’s strength of the grave keeps him alive. He counters with an acid spit, dissolving the weakened specter out of existence.
Ellison misses with Shatterspike and depletes her lay on hands to heal herself. The unharmed specter strength drains the paladin, knocking her unconscious.
“Get up!” Sfiros shouts a healing word at Ellison, dodges his specter, and incinerates the flailing ghost with a radiant sacred flame.
Harken pulls out his magical halberd, Father. The bard hasn’t wielded his father in years, and the attacks are clumsy and awkward. His specter finds an opening, but Harken shouts the cutting words “You’re gonna miss this hit, jackass!”
The two skeletal minotaurs swing their greataxes at Tallest, most of their attacks blocked by the tallest minotaur’s shield and plate armor. Tallest drinks a potion of superior healing and savagely attacks the undead minotaurs, who crumble beneath his might because he is big and they are dumb.
The golem gets smaller each time its strength is drained by its trio of shades. First, the rock plates fall off, revealing an extra pair of rock arms. The golem uses its extra arms to scoop up graveled marble to smash two specters at once. The last specter strength drains the graveller, reducing its size further to just a little dude made out of a yellow geode. The geodude hurls itself at its last specter, smashing itself and the phantom to pieces.
Sleipnir, Caeus, and Sfiros help Ellison destroy her specter, leaving only one ghost left.
Lulu, the magical flying elephant, twinkles into action! She flutters around the cemetery battlefield in a trail of happiness and glitter. Zipping, zooming, and zarieling, Lulu swings her tusks at the last specter.
It's like super cute though!
Harken saves the day by viciously mocking the last specter to death, taunting the dead bastard until it does a second time.
The Herd looks at their situation: everyone is low on Hit Points, they have depleted their daily spell slots and class features, and they’ve spent a magic item and their best healing potion.
All this, after the first step in the door.