Elrich Beremon, Harken’s father, stands before the Brazen Bulls, his tiefling features eclipsed by his mechanical form. The cobbled-together mass of motorcycle parts, tiefling soul, and hellish energy is a bizarre after effect of nightmare magic, the likes of which the Brazen Bulls have never seen before.
“Do you still have the Devil’s Ride?” Tallest asks.
“Sounds like somebody owes us a bike,” Sleipnir says.
“Can you transform into a bike for us?” Tallest asks.
Clearly the Brazen Bulls just want their stuff back.
“I can be useful in a fight, but I cannot turn into a bike,” Elrich slant rhymes. His devilish horns glisten metallically like handlebars.
“Well, pick a vehicle, and let’s go to the Demonzapper,” Tallest decides. “I’m driving the Demongrinder, Sleipnir’s still on the Scavenger. Sfiros, you’ve got the map.”
“I’ve got the map,” Sfiros sings on repeat.
As they speed along, Sfiros notices the map moving around like the Avernian wastes. Navigating the hells will prove difficult, what with the landscape shifting every day. Though they spend the whole day barreling across the wasteland, they don’t find the Demonzapper by the end of the day, so they hook the Demongrinder up to the Scavenger to conserve soul coin fuel.
“I’m having a really hard time navigating the map, guys,” Sfiros says, unable to make sense of the changing map.
“The purest of souls lures fiends to a hellish trap!” the map mutters to Sfiros. “Zap! ZAP!”
Sfiros still has a hard time navigating the map.
Ahead, radiant light cascades from a rusted metal monument shaped like the upraised mandibles of a giant beetle trapped beneath the ground. The light pulses between the beetle’s pincers, radiating energy like a beacon visible for miles.
“Do not let the light escape,” the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta warns Tallest as they pull their infernal war machines up to the structure.
Caeus Anacos, investigator extraordinaire, hops out and approaches the large device. He scans the mandible monument with his power armor and discovers that there is a living creature inside the light.
There’s also something in the ground!
The ground erupts in anger, trapping Caeus’s feet to the rocks. If there’s anything you never want to piss off, it’s the ground. That shit will get you! There’s also a “ground beef” joke in there somewhere because of the minotaurs and such, but we won’t spend too much time onthat.
“Uh-oh!” Caeus exclaims.
Tallest and Sleipnir run to help trapped Caeus. Sleipnir spits acid on the rocks, and Tallest yanks Caeus free.
“Do not dare spit on me!” a voice rumbles from the ground.
“Or what?!” Tallest demands and spits, too.
The ground spits back, curling up over the obstinate minotaurs as a stone dome. The only light inside comes from the glowing ball of energy.
“Do not treat me that way,” they hear from the ground beneath them.
“You attacked us,” Caeus says. “You attacked my feet.”
“Keep your Baphomet intrusions to yourself,” the voice says.
“Yeah, Caeus,” Sleipnir sneers.
“Hold on, this is on you,” Caeus points to the ground. “We have nothing to do with Baphomet.”
The dome rumbles. “I know how you silver-tongue usurpers speak! Don’t try to outsmart me!”
“Yeah, Caeus,” Sleipnir repeats.
“I’m not outsmarting you, I’m telling you the truth,” Caeus sighs.
“How did you get down here, Mr. Beetle? Trapped in this stone?” Tallest changes the subject.
“It is my duty to defend the Demonzapper,” the voice says, still not believing their claims. “Of course Baphomet would send his non-demon cronies to get at its magic.”
“Guys, I don’t think this is the beetle talking,” Sleipnir says insightfully. “We’re not with Baphomet.”
“Who are you with?!” the voice demands.
“We’re the Brazen Bulls,” they moo. “We’re here with Lulu the hollyphant.”
“How do you feel about Zariel?” Caeus asks cautiously.
The ground rumbles, “I have many feelings about Zariel.”
“So do we!” Caeus exclaims, hoping for some overlap in the feelings department.
Satisfied, the stone dome crumbles around them. “I am bound to defend this Demonzapper, and it is Zariel who put me here.”
“We just fought her,” Caeus says.
“Did she bleed?” the voice asks.
“She burned a bit,” Sleipnir says. “I did fizzle her spells a couple times and made her really mad. Then she broke my scythe and made us fight the man inside.”
“You seek to ruin Zariel?” the voice asks.
“Yeah, you wanna help?” Tallest says.
“One warning: be wary of the deals you make with devils. They are bound by the contracts, but they will slip the wordage to suit their favor,” the voice says. “I made a deal with Zariel, and I now regret that arrangement since it has bound me to the Demonzapper.”
“Can you give us a demonstration?” Tallest asks.
“If you lure a demon here–” the voice starts.
“Say no more, be right back,” Caeus interrupts.
Primary quest be damned, the Brazen Bulls rush back to their vehicles. They review the map and realize they don’t know where to find demons nearby, so they return to ask the voice for advice.
“A lair has shifted close by,” the voice in the ground says.
“What’s your name?” Tallest asks.
“My name is Ralzala,” the voice answers.
“Can you write that down in this book?” Tallest pulls out his autograph book and throws it on the ground.
The unreadable name appears on the ground, and Tallest takes a rubbing.
“Head north,” Ralzala says. “You can reach it today.”
“Don’t go anywhere,” Tallest says to the floor, and the Brazen Bulls head off.
After an uneventful hour of traveling through a shifting hellscape, the Brazen Bulls come across a gigantic sack of wet, papery material floating high above the surface of Hell. Angelic figures with feathery wings stick to its surface like flies in amber, their bodies struggling futilely under layers of gunk. Iron chains tether the structure to the landscape.
“Fallen angels are meat for hellwasps,” the map mutters. “Steer clear, lest you nourish their young with your flesh.”
“Where’s my hellwasp drum?” Sleipnir honks the Scavenger’s horn and spits acid on the ground to attract the fiendish wasps.
Tallest jumps off the vehicle and smashes the iron chain with his warhammer.
A single hellwasp bolts out of the floating nest directly toward the bothersome minotaurs.
Tallest leaps back onto the vehicle, and Sleipnir harpoons the hellwasp.
Enraged and harpooned, the hellwasp stings Sleipnir and flutters around in pain.
The Brazen Bulls pull the harpooned wasp back to the Demonzapper. When they get within 100 feet of the monument, a bolt of radiant energy blasts from the light. The zapper obliterates the hellwasp into nothing.
The Brazen Bulls moo in awe.
The ground rumbles at them, annoyed at their antics. “Free me from my pact with Zariel, and I will introduce you to the one who hates her the most. He knows where to find the Sword of Zariel,” the voice plots. “The oracle Red Ruth could divine a solution to my contract. Find her in the Bone Brambles, set me free, and I will introduce you to Bel, the old Lord of Avernus.”
“What were you before you became trapped here?” Sleipnir asks.
The ground beneath their feet rumbles. “I am of the elements. Stories and legends. The plane of rock and stone and dust and diamond is my home,” Ralzala says. “I am dao.”
“What’s a dao?” Sleipnir asks.
“She’s an earth elemental djinni,” Tallest explains.
“She?” Sfiros asks. “Is she cute?”
“She’s dirt!” Sleipnir screams. “Hey lady, do you have anything we can barter with for more soul coins?”
The ground shakes and rumbles, splitting apart and revealing a severed unicorn horn.
“Thank you djinni of the deep!” Sleipnir says and takes the horn, missing his own.
The Brazen Bulls pile back on the Scavenger, loading another soul coin for another three days of travel.
After a few hours, they come upon the River Styx and a squat, 30 foot tall watchtower made of black basalt.
“How did we get here?!” Sfiros demands of the map. “Why are we facing the River Styx?! I thought we were going the other way!”
“You’re navigating!” Caeus says.
“We can climb it and see what else you messed up on,” Sleipnir suggests.
Sfiros huffs. “Map says that’s the Bone Brambles, let’s go!”
The watchtower is circular, covered in chains, seemingly abandoned, and obviously not the Bone Brambles. They approach the wooden door cautiously, and Sfiros uses the accursed hand of Gond to jiggle the handle.
The door opens easily, and the Brazen Bulls cheer.
Tallest barges in and finds a scene of slaughter.
“I can definitely tell a fight happened in this area,” Caeus says, reading off his power armor’s scanner.
They climb a ladder and find a room with hooked chains, iron manacles, another ladder, and a skeleton with sharp teeth and claws shackled to a chair.
Tallest smashes the skeleton with his warhammer and loots a set of iron manacles.
They also find two 15 inch long polished white bones etched with a gilded pattern and sharpened ends. Sfiros identifies these objects to be Zephyr spines, magical daggers created from the bones of Father Wind, who was murdered by gods and his bone weapons dispersed across a thousand thousand realms.
The deities get really weird sometimes.
The Zephyr spines allow the wielder to stab anyone who takes a reaction against them, but attunement requires surviving a fall from 100 feet without the assistance of magic.
The last ladder leads to the roof, and from there they see a distant tall tower, possibly 100 feet tall! Just tall enough to leap off of and hopefully not be dead while holding ancient Wind Papa Daggers.
The Brazen Bulls leave the Styx Watchtower, heading for the tall tower. As they approach, they see the tower is a black obelisk ringed by seven smaller standing stones.
Pacing among the stones, an unhinged man wearing tattered robes gesticulates wildly and screams curses into the wind. This behavior is seemingly normal for being in hell.
“Hey, buddy!” Sleipnir calls.
“What be you?” the man asks.
“Do you mind if I jump off the top of that?” Sleipnir asks, pointing to the obelisk.
“The obelisk?” the crazed man asks.
“I bet you one soul coin I won’t die,” Sleipnir says.
“I’ll let you climb the obelisk if you help me research these stones,” the man gestures to the seven stones.
The rest of the Brazen Bulls agree to help while Sleipnir scales to the top of the obelisk.
“Are you familiar with… magic???” the man asks.
“You wanna see a trick? I’m about to jump off this tower,” Sleipnir says.
“Each of these standing stones is key to one of the schools of magic,” the unhinged codger explains. “This central obelisk can grant a boost in arcane power to mages across the cosmos. But the key lies within the standing stones.”
“Tell me more,” Sfiros pipes up.
“If you help channel the deep magic, perhaps we can unlock the–WOW you really climbed all the way up there!” The man sees Sleipnir peering over the top of the obelisk.
“What’s your name, enchanter?” Sfiros asks.
“I no longer recall my name,” the crazed man admits.
“We’re going to call you Mr. Obelisk,” Tallest decides.
“Are you a betting man, Mr Obelisk?” Caeus asks.
Sleipnir leaps from the tower.
“Should we save him?!” Mr. Obelisk cries.
“Do you want to bet that he’ll die?” Sfiros asks.
“I bet one soul coin that he’ll die!” Mr. Obelisk shouts.
“Deal!” Sfiros says.
Sleipnir hits the ground and takes massive damage. He burns his relentless endurance and stands up with 1 HP and attunement to one of the two Zephyr spines.
“There’s two of them?!” Sfiros shouts, the narrative betraying that Sleipnir had both. The cleric grabs the other dagger and climbs the obelisk.
Ignoring the second climbing minotaur, Mr. Obelisk corales the Brazen Bulls to the standing stones.
“You must put your hands upon the stone while I channel the chant,” the unhinged man says.
Tallest pulls out his 🌱 amiibo, thinking of the legendary druid Hero of Chult. “I want the necromancy stone!” he says, putting the figure away and placing his hands upon the stone representing necromantic magic. “I have a crush on a necromancer, I want to help him out.”
The Anacos brothers fight over who gets the transmutation stone, and eventually Caeus relents and chooses evocation instead.
“KALIMA! KALIMA!” the old man chants. The air fills with ozone as lightning courses over the standing stones.
A blast of magic surges forth, and Sfiros leaps from the obelisk. Energy rockets from the air.
Sfiros lands with bludgeoning damage, burning his relentless endurance and attuning to the other Zephyr spine.
Lightning blasts the minotaurs touching the standing stones. Sleipnir survives with strength of the grave and turns blue. Caeus absorbs the lightning and gets pummeled with magic missiles. Electricity and necrotic pulses remove most of Tallest’s HP.
“It didn’t work! It didn’t work!” Mr. Obelisk cries. “If you ever come across a mirror made of ice, it might know how to make the magic work!”
That’s not the weirdest thing they’ve heard in hell.
Sleipnir gives Mr. Obelisk a stuffed troll doll for company, and the Brazen Bulls leave.
After another day of travel, the map begins to mutter in Sfiros’s pocket, “Your future is written in your blood. She will open your veins to paint the story hidden in your heart.”
A maze of warped trees and bonelike vines stretch before them. Calcified corpses merge with the trees, covered in fungal pods feeding on the blood oozing on undergrowth. Paths wind deeper into the woods.
They see no green leaves, but those of dusky hue– not a straight branch, but knotted and contorted– no fruit of any kind, but bony thorns.
This is obviously the Bone Brambles.
“This is the Bone Brambles,” Sfiros says obviously. “I’m having a really hard time navigating this map. I thought the last place was the Bone Brambles. I thought it was really weird that the last place would be called Bone Brambles despite looking nothing like bones or brambles.”
Tallest, the tallest minotaur, leads the way into the tangled stretch of woodland. The floors and walls are choked with spiny chunks of brambles grown into a tunnel.
At a dead end, the air chills and the light dims. They find three ghostly dryads, their leaflike figures waving in the ethereal void, staring at the Brazen Bulls.
“Hello, treepeople,” Tallest smiles.
“You’re not a fiend?” one of them asks.
“No, I’m not with Baphomet, either,” Tallest says.
“Are you alive?” they ask.
“Yes. Are you alive?” Tallest asks. They all shake their heads. “Is there any way I can help you become alive?”
“Not anymore,” they moan. “Not after Red Ruth.”
“I want to save you from Red Ruth,” Tallest decides. “How can I help?”
“Remind us what it’s like to be alive,” they say.
“Ok,” Tallest shrugs. He pulls the hottest dryad spirit to him and starts making out with him.
“What the fuck?” Sfiros asks.
“This is why I don’t invite you guys to Bloomridge,” Tallest says.
The hot dryad ghost livens up, and the other two ghosts look at the other Brazen Bulls. “We want to feel alive, too,” they say.
“Well, wait your turn,” Sleipnir backs up.
“We need to find Red Ruth, and you’re all going to help us,” Tallest says.
“She’s at the center of the maze,” they say.
“Lead the way, I’m lost,” Tallest says, holding hands with the hot ghost as they journey to the center of the maze.
The ghost dryads lead the Brazen Bulls to a cavelike hovel at the center of the maze. Having remembered love, they disappear, leaving Tallest alone with his friends.
“I can’t believe they ghosted me,” Tallest pouts.
Hundreds of bones and body parts hang by twine from the entrance of the hovel, and the ceiling is decorated with bloody entrails. The air buzzes with flies.
Inside the hovel, they find a haggard witch with a necklace of child skulls, with each baby skull rhyming incessantly in different languages. The dissonant mismatch of nursery rhymes inspires no joy.
The red witch looks up at the Brazen Bulls indifferently. “You’re here for a divination,” she divinates.
“Yeah… but we don’t have any babies to offer you,” Tallest says.
“We had one,” Sleipnir remembers Grubba, the lovable grubbable NPC.
“What can I aid you with?” Red Ruth asks.
“We’re looking for the Sword of Zariel,” Tallest says. “We need to free a dao from the Demonzapper to get an introduction.”
“Hmm…” Red Ruth hmms. “If you don’t have any babies, what do you have as payment? If you have nothing to offer, I need to set up an arrangement with the Wandering Emporium for some relaxation. I could use your assistance while I’m gone.”
They review the random pieces of loot they’ve collected over the course of the campaign, and they land on the unicorn horn they found a few pages ago.
Red Ruth clutches the horn to her chest and sighs uncomfortably. She takes out a knife, cuts her forearm, and bleeds into the bones below.
“To free the djinni from Zariel’s pact, she must drink from the blood of a titan,” she divines. “You can find a titan at Uldrak’s Grave. As for the Sword of Zariel, you seek the Bleeding Citadel.” The witch adds the Bleeding Citadel to a random spot on their map. “The Citadel is a celestial cathedral of positive energy. Avernus scabs over the celestial with a bloody mass of hellrock to keep it negated, but its holiness still pulses through.”
Satisfied with what they’ve learned from the evil, baby-murdering witch, the Brazen Bulls turn to leave. Tallest stops and tries to hand Red Ruth a piece of paper with his name on it to give to the dryad ghosts if she sees them again.
“Oh, they don’t like me,” Red Ruth laughs. “In a bygone age, I corrupted this community of dryads by fouling the roots of these trees with mind-bending poison, and as they fell into evil, the forest was ripped from the feywild to here in Hell. The dryads who resisted the poison died trying to merge back into the trees, and the rest just crumbled to ash and became restless tortured spirits akin to banshees.”
“All right, hold that thought,” Tallest says. He turns to the Brazen Bulls and they begin conversing in minotaur. “We’re killing her, right?” Tallest moos.
“Yeah, I want my unicorn horn back,” Sleipnir moos.
“Kill her,” Caeus moos.
“Death to the shewitch,” Sleipnir moos.
“I’m fine with whatever, but we should seek out the Wandering Emporium,” Sfiros moos, remembering what Red Ruth said about the place..
“Ok, I’m attacking,” Tallest moos. The tallest minotaur turns around, embiggens, and slashes Red Ruth four times with the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta.
Caeus zaps twice with his lightning launcher, Sleipnir summons Sophie and upcasts magic missile, and even Elrich (the motorcycle dad from the beginning of this episode who doesn’t talk) shoots her with his longbow.
“I’ll remember this!” Red Ruth wails, disappearing from the realm with the unicorn horn still clutched in her clutches.
“I didn’t even get a turn!” Sfiros whines, throwing his dice on the ground.
“She probably won’t remember us,” Tallest shrugs.
The Brazen Bulls help themselves to all of Red Ruth’s loot, like a wand of the warmage +1, a witch’s hat of disguise, and a gnome skeleton. Sleipnir takes the wand, Sfiros takes the hat, and Tallest smashes the skeleton. He then smashes everything else in the maze like a bull in a maze that he’s mad at.
Caeus sets up some banners that say “The Brazen Bulls Smashed Your Shit.”