After smashing everything smashable in the Bone Brambles, the Brazen Bulls head back out through the Avernian wastes, wandering in search of either the Wandering Emporium, Uldrak’s Grave, the Bleeding Citadel, Bel’s Forge, Arkhan’s Tower, or really just whatever they stumble upon. They’ve been hearing a lot of proper nouns lately, so they’ll just grab anything that comes across them at this point–though for the time being, Bel’s Forge seems the best place since they have a high chance of getting those sweet, sweet soul coins there.
After a day of traveling, they stumble upon a DISTRACTION!
Who needs main quests!? It’s side quest time!
They find what appears to be a large pit unmarked on their map. This fits their criteria, and they detour to investigate.
The pit is actually a massive open maw of a centuries-dead beast. Its fossilized, serpentine skeleton forms a deep, sloping tunnel. No teeth remain in the maw, as if forcibly removed over eons.
This “thing” not being on the map poses two possibilities: one, it’s not on the map because the cartographer who created the map never found it; or two: it’s internet bullshit.
Fearing internet bullshit, they decide to check it out before diving deep into it. Caeus creates a magnifying glass from his power armor and peers through it at various parts of the opening. “Hmm, ah… hmm…” he mummers for a while. “Big dead thing,” Caeus concludes. “Tallest, big dead thing. What do?”
“I think we should go inside the mouth of the old, long-dead monster,” Tallest says, knowing that if the monster is long-dead, it can’t possibly be a threat. After all, this is Avernus! Dead things don’t get all bullshitty and come to life while you’re in hell, right? “I’ll lead the way.”
“If I were a bad guy in these Hellish wastes, this is definitely where I would hide some bad guy cool treasure stuff,” Caeus says.
“Or, if I were some sort of animal that liked to hide in holes–like a snake or a turtle–this is where I’d be,” Tallest says. “We might be able to see some hellsnakes or hellturtles. Or a hellgopher tortoise.”
“I don’t think those can go to Hell,” Sleipnir reminds them, referencing the old minotaur classic play “All Gopher Tortoises Go to Heaven.”
Indeed, there is no such thing as a hellgopher tortoise, and never will be. Heavengopher tortoises, however, exist in quite abundance.
As they descend into the dark tunnel, they remember that none of them can see in the dark, so they don’t. Only Sleipnir is able to see through the lack of light. Caeus casts light on Tallest’s forehead gemstone, Sfiros pulls out his continuous flaming symbol of Gond, and Elric’s eyes emit light in a cone reminiscent of the Devil’s Ride’s headlight’s.
Nobody rides him, though.
They realize that a long set of ribs and spine provide a grooved edging to the floor, allowing them to take easier steps on their conquest for more loot, which are the best kind of steps for loot! The whole tunnel feels ribbed for their treasure.
Inside the tunnel, they find fossilized purple worm eggs. One egg finds its way into the bag of holding, two others are smashed to bits, a few are sat upon, and the rest are left unmolested. As they fiddle around with the set dressing, they can’t help but feel this place is a little off–even moreso than the long-dead remains of a behemoth found on the plains of the 1st layer of Hell would normally be.
<This place is not from this plane,> the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta whispers to Tallest. <This place is of Carcosa, the sixth layer of Hell, the land of nightmares and madness ruled by serpents.>
Sfiros detects magic, feeling old, decayed magic from the entire tunnel. A source of abjuration magic gives off a faint ping from a pile of rocks. The cleric, ever a fan of piles of rocks, traces the magic source to a suspicious parchment clutched by an unsuspicious decomposed hand on top of the rock pile.
Well now he’s got to look!
Sfiros summons the hand of Gond to handle the suspicious parchment. Instead of the usual unusual demonic hand appearing, the hand glistens and twinkles like the starlight in the night sky.
“Are we still in Avernus?” Sfiros asks the world in general.
The world doesn’t answer back.
With the magical hand, Sfiros flattens out the parchment and reads the word KA-BOOM! written on it.
A glyph of warding unleashes an ancient explosion of acid over the Brazen Bulls. Sleipnir takes the full force of the acid damage while Sfiros, Caeus, and Elric dodge most of the explosion. Caeus uses flash of genius to boost Tallest out of the way.
Sleipnir, covered in acid, spits acid back at the floor.
Now Sfiros is the cause of everyone getting hurt, and he has no scraps of paper to show for it.
Irritated and ready to move on, Sleipnir uses his long dark vision to rush ahead in the tunnel. Rushing into tunnels after almost melting from an acid bomb might not be the best idea, but Sleipnir pays no heed to common sense–this is a side-quest day, and dammit he’s gonna quest him some sides!
“Uh-oh,” he says when a stalagmite whips at him in a frenzy. He shields from the monster’s tendrils while the rest of the Brazen Bulls catch up.
They recognize this creature as a roper, a rock squid monster with dangerous tentacles. It lurks in dark caves, disguising itself as a stalagmite, stalactite, or various other speleothems to trick people into getting eaten. Getting too close is unwise.
Fortunately, the Brazen Bulls’ average Wisdom score rounds up to 14, so they’re quite wise as a group! The Brazen Bulls wisely attack from a distance. Sfiros illuminates the monster with a guiding bolt, Elric fires off a series of arrows with his longbow, Caeus blasts off shatter from his arm cannon, and Tallest shoots scorching rays from his circlet of blasting.
But the roper doesn’t want them to be far away. It wants them to be up close! The roper snatches Caeus with his tentacles and pulls the power-armored minotaur closer to its maw. With an echoing roar, the roper summons spike growth around it, forming a 20 foot radius of wicked spikes. It threatens to drag Caeus all the way towards its maw, dragging him through the spikes as well.
Out of ranged attacks, Tallest misty steps on the spikes next to the roper and slashes furiously with hastened and embiggened swings from the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta. His feet hurt a bit, but misty stepping on only one area of spikes proves much more resourceful than stomping through twenty feet of them, which is pretty wise for the party member with the lowest Wisdom score!
The roper screeches in pain, but doesn’t release Caeus Anacos.
Sleipnir jumps to his brother’s rescue by upcasting magic missile, pummeling the rocky creature to smithereens, killing the foul beast.
“You done fucked up now, roper,” Caeus says to the rubble.
In traditional minotaur fashion, they immediately loot the corpse. Caeus and Tallest each take a 50 foot roper tendril, and Sleipnir finds the roper’s eye.
“Hey guys, watch out. These rocks can sometimes try to eat you,” Sleipnir warns before rushing farther ahead into the creepy, dark, rock-eaty, paper-explodey internet bullshit. “The tunnel ends right here!” he screams sneakily.
The tunnel opens into a large cavern, dimly illuminated by purple bioluminescent mushrooms. Massive stalagmites frame a set of ancient double doors. The double doors are set into the front of an ancient castle wall! The castle itself seems surrounded and engulfed by the rocky cavern, as though it was built into it all Helm’s Deep-ish.
“Aren’t we inside a purple worm?” Sfiros asks.
“We’re in Hell,” Tallest shrugs.
As they step closer, they see a darkened silhouette atop the ramparts: a maddened face of a drow male. His body shows youth, but his attire shows antiquity. He leers from the ramparts at the minotaurs below.
“It has been decades upon decades since I have laid sight upon an unfamiliar face,” the drow bellows. “Who approaches the Orlengin D’Wenress?”
“We’re the Brazen Bulls, emissaries from Baldur’s Gate,” Tallest says. “We’re here to defeat Zariel and save Kinchasa.”
“This is nonsense,” the drow mutters, confused. “This is no place for diplomacy. This is a prison!”
“We just walked in here. It’s not a very good prison,” Sleipnir says.
“We were in a purple worm!” Sfiros repeats.
“You are in the domain of Dendar, the Night Serpent,” the drow explains.
“Who are you imprisoning here?” Tallest asks.
“Don’t worry about Lady Shomarra,” the drow reveals. “You need to worry about yourselves!”
As they speak, the purplish glow flickers from the bioluminescent fungi. A shadow demon appears from the shadows and attacks the shadow sorcerer with its shadow claws.
Sleipnir shields and blasts it with magic missiles, then he summons Sophie to attack the drow.
Sfiros, Caeus, and Elric attack with ranged to zap radiant arrow holes through the shadow demon, vanquishing it back to whichever of the Nine Hells it emerged from.
Out of ranged attacks for the day, Tallest embiggens and misty steps up to the drow. With a fury of eager violence, the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta decapitates the drow. Tallest catches the head and tosses it to Sophie, who jumps up and catches it like a good girl before the hound and the corpse both vanish.
The Brazen Bulls now stand before a strangely out-of-place bastion inside a strangely out-of-place behemoth inside a strangely out-of-place hellscape inside a regular normal perfectly-in-place hellscape.
They jiggle the handle, and it does.
Caeus pushes the massive double door open, revealing a long hallway descending towards an adamantium door bearing the symbol of a serpent twirling around stars. It has huge Boss Door potential, but the smaller doors on either side of the hall don’t, so they decide to jiggle the handles of the smaller doors.
Jiggling applied, the minotaurs and robot devil push open a set of the smaller doors. The party is greeted by rows of dusty tomes, scroll cases, and old grimoires decorating a hauntingly dark room. Adamantium staircase curls up to a balcony with a laboratory complete with reagents, glassware, and a cauldron glowing purple that fills the room with a wavy, trippy, acid head vibe.
Standing against one of the tables is a hunched over figure, clad in robes, with tentacles dangling from its face. Bandages cover its eyes. The more veteran players groan in metagaming dread.
Caeus hears the creature speak to him, <He is finally dead, then?>
“Um… I have no way of knowing, voice,” Caeus says out loud.
The tentacle-faced creature turns to face them, then reaches for a cane. He speaks to everyone in their head-space, <So the master of this castle is dead?>
“Yeah that can’t be true because now someone else is the master!” Caeus says, looking at Tallest.
“Right, we’re the masters of the castle, and we’re here to set the prisoners free unless they deserve to stay in prison,” Tallest says, folding his arms.
The creature speaks again, <No… not here… looks like, smells like, acts like…>
“GRYFFINDOOOR!” Caeus shouts.
<... like Baphomet,> he says, tilting his cane towards the minotarus. <But there is deep hatred for him, is there not?>
“I don’t know about ‘hate,’” Sleipnir says.
“I don’t know about ‘deep,’ either,” Tallest says. “We’re just not affiliated. We’re from Baldur’s Gate. We’re trying to save Kinchasa.”
<Hrm, Kinshasa… tell me, it is in peril? From what?>
“It was sent to hell by a Sphere of Damnation,” Tallest says.
The tentacle-faced creature–to hell with it, it’s a mindflayer, okay? That’s what I’m calling it! The mindflayer paces a bit, <So why does that bring you to Carcosa?>
“Just wandering around,” Tallest says.
“The signs are pretty similar and we can’t read very well,” Caeus says.
“We’re here to recruit followers and NPC’s as well. Would you like to be one?” Tallest says.
The mindflayer mutters, <When you came in, what all did you slay?>
Tallest takes out the roper’s tendril. “We slew the roper, we slew the drow–we don’t have anything from him because he disintegrated.”
<Time caught up to him, it seems,> the mindflayer sits at one of the old, rickety chairs, then chuckles in their head. <You have no idea where in the hells you are, do you?>
“Not usually,” Caeus says.
<Where did you think you were?>
“A sea serpent, or the belly of a purple worm,” Tallest says.
The mindflayer nods and speaks, <In a way, yes. This is the belly of Shomarrah, the demon lord of feasting.>
“Of what?” Sfiros asks.
“OH! Of feasting…”
Sfiros is a little hard of hearing in his mind-ear.
“There’s food here?” Sleipnir gets excited.
The mindflayer chuckles. <I would say not anymore, for Shomarrah displeased Dendar. You want something, though? More to just bust in a door and loot.>
“Yeah I had a scythe one time, and I really want something like that back,” Sleipnir says, lamenting the time they killed his scythe after it tried to kill him after he stole it from other people trying to kill him because the scythe was convincing people to kill other people who didn’t kill the other people because the Herd killed the people who the scythe was convincing to kill people.
The Blade of Ahn-Nunurta chuckles.
“If you have the Sword of Zariel, we’ll take that,” Tallest says.
<Who is this Zariel?>
“Zariel is the future former Archduchess of Avernus,” Tallest says.
<Future former? You’re on the wrong plane of hell to find her sword, it sounds like,> the mindflayer says.
“Do you have soul coins?” Sleipnir says.
<Soul coins? You must understand that I am many of millenia old,> the mindflayer says, possibly coming from a time before the dirty federal hell government tried to get everybody to adopt the soul coin standard. <We do have a demon lord here.>
“Who is your demon lord now?” Caeus says.
<When Shomarrah was not…> The mindflayer gestures around. <... this, she was, how do you say, much more boisterous. Much more invasive. She, being the demon lord of feasts, was in the midst of a ravenous gorge eons ago. The demon tore open rifts all across the multiverse, eventually snaking her way to Dendar’s domain in Carcosa. Once there, Shomarrah ate a delicious meal, Dendar’s most beautiful and prized handmaiden: Sot’Zerrik...>
Caeus falls asleep during this part of the exposition.
<Furious at the slight, Dendar prepared a feast for the demon as a false show of forgiveness. Dendar bedecked his feasting hall with the most succulent of delicacies from all across the nightmare plane. Eventually Shomarrah acquiesced to Dendar's invitation, cramming her bulbous body into the Night Serpent’s domain.>
<The food was stacked high, with cauldrons of the finest wine piled row after row. Prisoners begged for their lives before being shoveled into Shomarrah’s open maw by Dendar’s serpentine attendants. None outside of Dendar’s domain knew why he would cater to someone who would offend the Night Serpent in such a way, but on the fiftieth day of the feast, Dendar set the plan into action.>
Caeus keeps sleeping.
<While Shomarrah buried her mouth into the troughs of food, Dendar ordered his handmaidens to hack off the demon lord’s arms and throw them into the pot. Shomarrah was so engulfed in her ravenous feast that she didn’t even notice she had devoured her own arms. Dendar had his handmaidens hack off Shomarrah’s legs, hair, nose–everything, then throwing them into the trough–feeding the demon lord her own essence. He plucked out her eyes, cracked open her skull, scooped out the brains, but Shomarrah just kept eating… until nothing was left but a mouth and stomach connected by an esophagus. Having ripped Shomarrah of her power, Dendar chucked the demon lord into Carcosa’s plains, built this shrine within–>
Caeus wakes up real quick, “How much XP did he get for that?”
The mindflayer has no idea what in the hell Caeus is talking about…
<... About ten? Anyways, since Sot’Zerrek was already down in this gullet, she was tasked with keeping an eye on the place, creating this prison. The drow you recently slew, Hylari, has been guarding this place for several millennia. I have been… more of a steward. I share no allegiance with that bastard.>
“What is this place? Is this like the phantom zone?” Caeus says.
<It’s Carcosa!> the mindflayer says.
“Got any cool spell scrolls back there?” Sleipnir says.
“Well you can’t read them because you can’t see… can I have them?”
The mindflayer points to the upper balcony, <Take what you want. My service is no longer needed.>
“Uh, we need your service,” Tallest says.
“Well I’m gonna go look at some spell scrolls!” Sleipnir declares in the library, then just starts stealing shit, eventually finding two scrolls of comprehend language and three scrolls of glyph of warding.
<Has Dendar been wronging you lately?> the mindflayer asks.
“Um no, not really,” Tallest says.
<Well then you have a decision in front of you. Let this bastion stay and keep Dendar’s archnemesis imprisoned, or free the demon lord Shomarrah and give Dendar something to worry about.>
“Are you the demon lord Shomarrah?” Tallest asks.
<No, I am Jeeyan,> the mindflayer says.
“Can you write that down here?” Tallest says to the blind person.
Sfiros is feeling mighty suspicious about this mindflayer, so he goes insighting all over the place, but does not feel like Jeeyan is actively trying to flay his mind, despite the creature’s name. Tallest, however, is able to piece together what Jeeyan is. He has commonly heard horror stories from his contacts in Baldur’s Gate (children) about boogeymen who can creep in from outer planes to feed on the brains of others.
Could there be mindflayers in Baldur’s Gate at this very moment?
“Are you feeding on our brains now?” Tallest asks.
<No. You would not be alive if I was,> Jeeyan says.
“We appreciate that,” Tallest says.
“Yes for a guy who knows a lot about endless feasting, we appreciate that you are not feasting on our brains,” Sfiros says.
Jeeyan’s tentacle-lip-things quiver a bit. “I sense divinity in this room? Which one of you is close with the gods?”
Sfiros steps up with his flaming symbol of Gond around his neck, forgets that the mindflayer is blind, then just shouts. “That’s me, I’m the one!”
<Who do you pledge your allegiance to?>
“Gond! And I’m kind of on decent terms with a couple of others, but it’s Gond. Gond. Gond!” Sfiros declares very loudly in case Gond can hear him.
<And how long have you, holy warrior of the machine god, been stumbling along around here in Carcosa, yet still not maddened?> Jeeyan says, sensing an unusually strong connecting between Sfiros and his deity.
“I think just an hour? We kind of walked here from Avernus,” Sfiros says.
Jeeyan’s whips his head towards Sfiros. <How!?>
“We kind of walked through a purple worm skeleton,” Sfiros mutters.
<Where was the purple worm skeleton?> Jeeyan prods.
“We were halfway towards Bel’s Forge, near the River Styx–”
<The River Styx is not in Carcosa!> Jeeyan panics. <Shommarah is in Avernus!? Is that what you’re saying!?>
“No, there was like a portal. We’ll show you where it’s at if you give us more prizes,” Tallest says.
<You were able to get here from Avernus… then Dendar is loose,” Jeeyan mutters.
“Then we should release Shomarrah to give Dendar something to deal with?” Tallest states.
“Are you sure Dendar is loose?” Sfiros says.
<Dendar can only exit Carcosa if Dendar is brought out of Carcosa. That means there are agents of the Night Serpent at work in Avernus then.>
“That’s not good,” Sfiros says. “Is that not good? That’s bad. That seems like a bad thing.”
<The choice is yours then. Avernus is a hellscape. One more monstrous demon lord stomping around could be good–could be bad. Shomarrah is not a fan of Dendar. And neither am I. You can take what you need from here. I’ll allow you full access to the larders. You can then unleash Shomarrah if you can kill Sot’Zerrik.>
“Won’t that just free another demon lord as well?” Sleipnir says, already taken what he needs from the place, including the full larders.
“Isn’t Shomarrah just as bad as Dendar? She’ll just eat everything,” Tallest debates. “Why would you want to free Sot’Zerrik?”
<Because it will free me from this place.>
“We can just move out of the way,” Tallest says.
<I cannot leave while Sot’Zerrik is still alive.>
“Can we kill Sot’Zerrik but not free the demon but also free you–” Tallest begins.
Jeeyan shakes his head. <You speak like a devil writing a contract negotiation!>
“Well why don’t you show us around, point out all the cool stuff, and we’ll decide whether or not we want XP after that,” Tallest says.
Jeeyan points out the laboratory with all manners of supplies, then points to what looks like a large shark’s tooth fossil over three feet tall. <Before Shomarrah was vanquished, as a last act of defiance, she spat her teeth out into the void. The teeth hatched into the first purple worms. She is their progenitor, and this is the last of her fossilized teeth.>
Sleipnir finds a way to fit it into the bag of holding.
Jeeyan then brings the Brazen Bulls to a former barracks across the hallway. <You,> he says, pointing at Elric. <Homunculus of the Gond priest, there’s a weapon for you over there on the rack.>
Elric finds a +1 adamantium longbow and 20 adamantium arrows. Jeeyan dolls out two vials of drow poison as well.
As they debate whether to free Shommarah or not, Jeeyan then gives them a brief overview of the different Nine Hells as well as basic trivia for Carcosa.