Lulu the Hollyphant remembers Fort Knucklebone is important, but it’s in the distance, and they are atop a city floating 500 feet in the air above a hellish river with two armies assaulting each other below. The Hollyphant can fly, but the Herd cannot.
How to get down there?
They have a scholarly discussion of science, physics, gravity, and aerodynamics that lasts most of the day. Eventually, they reach a consensus: Magic. Specifically, science magic.
Sfiros ties his rope around everyone, ending with Lulu on one end so she can guide their descent into Avernus.
As a farewell to Moonion, they order the zombie minotaur to launch them off the floating city. They decide to land away from the river on the demon side. Moonion chunks them off the side of Kinchasa, and they fall rapidly, as most minotaurs do.
Immediately, a stench of brimstone burns their faces as they tumble off the edge, connected with each other by cords of rope. Only Caeus can breathe happily, his power armor filtering out any unpleasantness.
Far below, the River Styx separates the devil army from the demon army. The devil army is arranged in proper regiments, with artillery cannons and battalions setting up in proper formation. Commanders echo orders from a massive pit fiend who hopefully won’t notice the descending minotaurs. On the other side, hordes of demons scramble in a chaotic mass like ravenous animals eager to feed.
Maybe Gideon’s views had some merit?
As the Herd whizzes past the massive chains keeping Kinchasa anchored, they spot movement nearby.
“Lucille! Escapees!” a voice shouts in Infernal from the racket below.
“Don’t let them get away!” Lucille bellows in return. The monstrous, pale, corpulent devil’s voice fills the acrid air, her commanding presence keeping the swathes of devil battalions in line. Her tactical acumen prevents the Herd from slipping out unnoticed, and with a wave of her igneous banner, her troops answer her call.
As soon as the orders leave her mouth, two winged devils fly at the Herd, their weapons drawn and ready to intercept.
One of the devils cuts the rope, splitting Caeus and Sleipnir from the rest of the Herd.
Tallest lunges for the Anacos brothers, embiggening to reach Caeus but unable to grap Sleipnir.
Sfiros and Harken pray and shout at the devils, assaulting the creatures with holy damage and mean insults.
Tucked up under Tallest’s arm, Caeus casts feather fall on the Herd. Miniature thruster drones form under five creatures of Caeus’s choice, slowing their descent as Lulu tugs them along.
The devils speed past them, surprised by the sudden change in velocity.
Caeus shoots the descending devils with his lightning launcher.
The sphere of damnation above responds by blasting the devils. The explosion throws Sleipnir spinning further away from the rest of the Herd.
“I’m fine,” Sleipnir shrugs and misty steps to his brother, who ties the cut ropes back together in a makeshift manner.
“Can you mend them?” Tallest asks.
Caeus cuts the ropes again, then mends them together like a true professional.
Lulu guides the slow-falling Herd away from the sanguine river and growing armies, losing Lucille’s interest as she redirects her attention back to the demon force congregating on the other side. What threat could a small team of minotaurs, a tiefling, and a weirdo Adventure Time-looking elephant possibly be anyways?
They land on Avernus proper. The ground is covered in ash, the air reeks of smoke and brimstone, and the sky is choked in an ochre haze. The whole atmosphere feels like Sleipnir’s bedroom.
Far to the south, they see a rusty mountain range, a strong mimetolith of giant fingers clawing from the ground, as if massive, angry knuckles were frozen in stone.
They march away from the battle, toward the mountain fort, and through an oppressive heat. A supernatural malevolence smothers them, exhausting Sfiros and Tallest.
“You guys look tired,” notes Sleipnir. The evil shadow sorcerer is suspiciously unaffected by the hellish environment.
“This place sucks,” Sfiros says, and Tallest moos in agreement.
After a grueling two hours, they approach a jagged wall made of bone and metal debris. They follow the wall until they find a tall gatehouse, but it seems to have several red mushrooms moving around inside.
“Rumor has it, those are not mushrooms,” Sleipnir says, rolling a knowledge check. “They are something else.”
“They might be fun guys,” Caeus says. “Lulu, what’s up with the mushrooms?”
“Those aren’t mushrooms,” Lulu warns. “Those are things from the feywild.”
The Herd moos in enthusiasm.
They stampede to the gate and find the gatehouse populated with tiny fey creatures with gnomish and impish characteristics: madcaps and redcaps. The redcaps look like pissed off gnomes with tall, red hats. The madcaps look like pissed off gnomes with tall, red hats as well but with a handful of cocaine-nightmare-fuel thrown on them. Lulu mentions that the redcaps soak their hats in blood, but the madcaps soak their hats in demon ichor.
Six creatures, three madcaps and three redcaps, greet them. They each wield a scythe, presumably for agricultural purposes.
“Visitors!” they squeal.
“I have come to deliver a letter,” Sleipnir lies.
“What letter do you bring?” one asks. “Give it!”
“Only to your leader,” Sleipnir says.
The fey open the gates and let the Herd inside, revealing a large courtyard littered with scraps of random mechanical parts. The same detritus that forms the walls also provide shelter for the feral fey gnomes.
The medcaps and redcaps guide the Herd through the junkyard to two kenku.
“What a deal!” one of the kenku whistles. “Can’t keep the boss waiting!”
The kenku runs and fetches a hag, who is definitely in charge. You can tell because she’s got two ravens on her shoulders, and the kenku just called her the boss. And her art description is the pic that I spent the most time working on. See?
That hag is Mad Maggie, and she’s definitely in charge!
“My goodness!” the hag croaks, spittle dripping from her mouth when she sees Lulu. “Where did you get this treasure?!”
The Herd points toward Kinchasa, the chained city in the sky.
“I assume you’re trying to deal with that?” the hag points at the city. “That damned sphere could only come from one place: the archlich Acerak.”
“Is Acerak still the archlich?” Caeus asks.
“I thought Zanzibar was going to be the new archlich,” Tallest rumors.
Sfiros waits eagerly, hoping that Tallest’s rumor may have some merit.
“Zanzibar came through here about a week ago,” the hag says.
“You know Zanzibar?!” Sfiros asks.
“Yes, he was determined to kill something or someone,” the hag laughs. “He ran some errands for me in exchange for one of my vehicles.”
“We can run errands,” Tallest offers.
“Zanzibar already took care of that,” the hag says. “I want something else from you. That hollyphant was there when Zariel fell. I want to see Lulu’s memories.”
Everyone looks at the NPC who may or may not be expendable.
“I’m scared,” Lulu whines.
“Do it!” Sleipnir yells.
The Herd moos in agreement.
“I want to see a hero’s fall from grace!” the hag laughs. “You let me see those memories, and I’ll give you a way to travel across Avernus.” Mad Maggie raises her arms, and five hands reach out to each of the members of the Herd. “Deal?”
“Deal,” they moo.
“It’s dangerous,” the hag confesses. “I will create a dreamscape, and you will guide her through her memories.”
Mad Maggie creates a telepathic bond between herself, the Herd, and Lulu. A rich radiant light of dancing rainbows dissolves into a lush meadow centered around a giggling Lulu, prancing around a beautiful, blindfolded angel that looks exactly like Zariel.
“See, Lulu? This is nice,” Tallest decides.
“That’s Zariel?” Caeus asks, pointing at the angel that looks exactly like Zariel.
“This isn’t what I want!” Mad Maggie says. “This is the past as Lulu wishes it to be–not as it truly is! We must go deeper!”
The hag pushes through the vision, dragging reality further into Lulu’s memories.
They arrive on a battlefield, Lulu hovering over a dying soldier. Flying spined devils attack from every angle, enough for each of them. The Herd realizes they can interact with this vision, and they step in to shoot and slaughter the flying devils, but Tallest, alas, cannot reach twenty feet in the air.
Some things even Tallest isn’t tall enough for…
He shrugs and decides to let the casters handle it, for once.
Before Tallest can turn from the fight, The Blade of Ahn-Nunurta rasps awake in his hand, “You must be crafty!” The champion of Tzeentch forces misty step, teleporting Tallest next to a flying devil.
Tallest agrees and decapitates the devil. Caeus sends his feather fall drones to slow the fighter’s fall.
Once the Herd slays enough devils, the dream fades into a thick black smoke of death and decay.
Only two spined devils survived the slaughter. The devils kneel before the Herd, pleading for their lives.
“Is this part of the vision?” Sleipnir ponders.
“You don’t know!” the vision says.
“Tallest, what are we doing?” Sleipnir asks.
“They want us to spare their lives? Is that it?” Tallest shrugs.
The vision gets impatient.
“They’ll serve us,” Sleipnir says.
“Ok, If you want it, you get it,” Tallest decides.
The devils bow to the Herd, spread their leathery wings, and fly into the distance as the dream unfurls further.
A vast, barren landscape of utter devastation lies before them. Dark sludge rises rapidly from the ground, enveloping their feet, overwhelming them with a horrible sense of loss.
“Don’t let the sludge consume you,” Mad Maggie’s disembodied voice warns. “You must push through her defenses! She must look!”
“Gotta look, Lulu,” Tallest says.
“We are doing therapy,” Caeus says. “We should be getting paid for this.”
Despite the warnings, the sludge does consume them for the most part. The spared spined devils appear from the sky and fly to their rescue, pulling them out one by one. Maybe deals with devils do have merit?
Good-natured Sfiros struggles the most. He feels all hope drain out of his body, praying his last prayers to Gond and succumbing to the goop.
But, by the grace of Gond, Sfiros emerges deeper in the dream world with everyone else.
Here, they find Lulu in the middle of an inky void. Next to her, a large gleaming glass spyglass rests atop an ornate-carved tripod.
Lulu awakens, and looks around. She sees the spyglass, approaches it, and puts one eye up to the eyepiece. She backs away suddenly, her eyes wide and her face alight with excitement.
“The sword! The sword! I know where it is!” Lulu exclaims.
With those words, the dream ends.
The Herd finds themselves standing in a circle around Lulu, who is flying around in triumph.
“The sword! The sword!” Lulu trumpets again.
“We did it!” Sleipnir says.
“And you got to watch, you nasty freak, so let’s go,” Caeus holds his hand palm-up at Mad Maggie. “Deal dealt. Pay up.”
Mad Maggie cackles. “I have not felt a sensation like that in… I don’t know when!” She grins uncontrollably. “Come, come.”
The Herd follows her through the fort until they find two garages.
“There’s a choice,” Maggie says. “You can have either the large Demongrinder or the medium Scavenger and the small Devil’s Ride. They are fueled by soul coins. If the coin is still in the engine when the fuel runs out, the soul is destroyed forever.”
The Herd discusses their options and presents their arguments to their tallest member.
“Sfiros, what are your strong feelings?” Tallest asks.
“I want to use as few souls as possible in our endeavor,” Sfiros says.
Tallest nods and says, “Caeus, strong feelings?”
“Hmm… Having options is nice,” Caeus says. “We don’t have to use the Devil’s Ride; we can keep it in the Scavenger.”
“That doesn’t sound like a very strong feeling,” Tallest notes.
“I want to ride like a Hellrider in Hell!” Sleipnir screams. “Let’s get the motorcycle and go!”
Tallest considers this. “That sounds pretty strong to me. So we’ve got mildly strong, wishy-washy, and very strong. Very strong wins the day,” he decides. “We’ll take the Scavenger and Devil’s Ride.”
Sfiros cries in despair, anguished at the prospect of permanently destroying souls.
Tallest shrugs. “You should have defended your position better.”