<...and that’s what the Nine Hells are!> Jeeyan the mindflayer says to the Brazen Bulls the minotaurs.
“We weren’t paying attention,” Caeus wakes up.
“Can you give us the gist of it?” Sleipnir asks.
<Never mind,> Jeeyan sighs and erases his lecture along with some strange chromatic chalk that happened to get stuck on the board.
“I’m not fully aware of what mind flaying is,” Caeus says. “It seems bad. But if you can mind flay, maybe you can do whatever the opposite of that is? Dump good info into our brains?”
<I do eat brains to survive,> Jeeyan admits.
“Ok…” Sleipnir says. “Don’t do that right now.”
<I don’t want to risk mad cow disease from minotaur prions,> Jeeyan mutters, analyzing the sanity of his new comrades. <Have you come up with a choice on how to proceed?>
“We’re going to free you, but you owe us,” Tallest decides.
<Name your terms,> Jeeyan nods.
“You have to be our NPC for the rest of the campaign or until you die,” Tallest says, which based on the outcomes of the previous NPC's, dying might happen regardless.
“If we ask you for help, you have to help us to the best of your abilities,” Caeus says.
“And five soul coins,” Sleipnir adds.
“They don’t have soul coins here, he doesn’t know what that is,” Tallest remembers from the last write up.
“He can still owe us five soul coins,” Sleipnir points out.
“If we free you, are you going to stay in Carcosa or will you travel to Avernus with us?” Tallest asks.
<To be free from this place, I shall wander Avernus with you,> Jeeyan says.
“Can you drive?” Caeus asks.
<I am blind,> Jeeyan points at his blindfold.
“There are rules,” Sfiros says. “You can’t flay the minds of us or Lulu or the people from Kinchasa.”
Jeeyan agrees, then guides the Brazen Bulls to an adamantium door bearing the serpentine sigil of Dendar. It looks like a snake because Dendar looks like a snake. The door is pushed open easily, revealing a small room, dominated by an adamantium carved tableau depicting a beautiful serpentine humanoid female. An acrid smell is strong, but a hint of incense lingers.
<This is the moment of Dendar creating his prized handmaiden Sot’Zerikk, The Beauty,> Jeeyan points to the tableau. The mindflayer garbles aloud a magic word, causing the statue to move, revealing a spiral staircase.
<Be wary,> Jeeyan warns. <Sot’Zerikk will appear amiable, but she is a demon.>
The Brazen Bulls descend the staircase like a team of bovine humanoids going down a series of elevation-separating platforms. The stairs end at a sturdy, crumbling platform with five extensions jutting out over a pit of bright green, bubbling acid. The walls and ceiling of this cavern are covered in slime, secreting a hazy mist that dampens the floor and reflects the light of the sizzling acid below.
Some of the debris in the acid pit aren’t mere boulders; a lidless, lifeless eyeball the size of a large boulder bobs up and down in the acidic current like a small boulder.
The Brazen Bulls feel a little more spookified, and after looking beneath their feet, they realize the platform with the five extensions is actually withered skin over fossilized bone. The five extensions are fingers, slightly curled up as if petrified.
They’re standing on a gigantic hand, and this room is a titanic stomach.
Fucking hell Carcosa, what in the actual nightmare shit is going on here? You ever been so deep into hell that you find a whole ‘nother hell!? Demigods and titans and demon lords swallowing each other and shit. I mean really, where does that come from?
As if a weird thing stacked onto another weird thing isn’t weird thingy enough, on another rocky outcropping in the middle of the room stands one of the most beautiful women the Brazen Bulls have ever seen.
“Visitors so soon?” the woman asks, her voice thick with false empathy. “Dendar gave me this most valuable job. I’d hate to think you’re here to ruin it for me.”
“Depends. What’s your job?” Sleipnir asks, scribbling in his rumormonger book.
“I keep Shomarrah at bay. I am the anchor that keeps her tethered to this void,” she says.
“How do you get paid?” Sleipnir asks, searching his list of contacts.
“This is my purpose. I do not get paid,” she says.
“Would you like to go somewhere else?” Caeus asks. “We have some really cool vehicles.”
“Yeah, Caeus show her your cars,” Tallest nudge-nudges and wink-winks.
“You can submit to me, or you can die a painful death,” the beautiful lady reveals.
The Brazen Bulls take a few moments amongst themselves to consider this. Submitting to a beautiful woman sounds kind of neat, except that she’s not really their type, especially with the whole being-an-imprisoned-servant-of-Dendar. Her career path has terrible benefits, and her choice of real estate–though prime–has no real proven growth.
Oh, also when they turn back to the beautiful lady, they see instead a hideously yellow glop of malformed body parts… which means she’s at least one of their types now.
We won’t say who.
Will we, Sfiros?
“I will always do my diligent duty!” the glop gurgles.
Lilac–I mean Elric–shoots at the glop with his bow and misses.
Sleipnir casts haste on Tallest, then summons Sophie. “Get that monster! It’s an evil thing!”
Tallest charges forward and slashes bits of the glop with his Blade of Ahn-Nunurta.
Caeus zaps with his lightning launcher from the skeletal hand, sending electrical pulses through the glop demon.
The demon wretches and gurgles. Her eyes widen and glisten in hypnotic pulses, sending a dominate person spell at Sfiros, who though this may be some kind of weird kink he could be into under the right circumstances, today is not that day.
“Counterspell!” Sleipnir cockblocks the hypnotic rays.
Sfiros summons the hand of Gond to shove the glop, but the bubbling gloppy lady doesn’t budge.
“You do not dare use twilight magic against me!” the glop demon shouts.
Sfiros puts away his twilight magic and pouts.
Elric the motorcycle dad yells, “Tallest, please insert weapon!”
The battle maneuver allows Tallest to slash the glop again. The fighter shreds the random body parts from the glop demon, tosses pieces into the acid, throws some to Sophie, and reduces the demon lady to unrecognizable bits of gore.
“Submit to us!” Tallest laughs.
With the killing blow, the ground rumbles. The acid sloshes back and forth. An echoing gurgle precedes an enveloping breath of air. This is the part of the videogame where you get like a timer and shit and gotta escape or run or type in the code before everything collapses!
The glossed eye from the pit rattles to life, and the iris forms into an evil slit, staring at the Brazen Bulls. The entire room lurches, and the Brazen Bulls lose control of their hooves.
The unimaginable happens: for the first time ever in the history of the known multiverse, Shomarrah begins to regurgitate.
The Brazen Bulls rush back up the spiral staircase and through the adamantium door to a bewildered Jeeyan, who didn’t venture forth with them because the stairs are not ADA compliant and would never pass proper inspection–antique or not!
They grab the blind mindflayer and rush out of the Carcosan prison. A river of gastric acid follows them, crumbling the castle prison and rushing over the Brazen Bulls. Rocks crumble, and acid smothers the heroes–but they don’t die.
They don’t even feel pain!
A bubble of divine origin protects them from danger! Together with the rocks, acid, and busted castle bits, the Brazel Bulls are barrelled forward towards the mouth of the worm’s carcass mouth. The Brazen Bulls are hurled from the worm’s mouth over 150 feet into the Avernian air!
Head over hooves, the Brazen bulls tumble upward, launched like mortars along with thousands of tons of debris. Chunks of ancient earth crash into the ground, and rivers of acid ignite and melt the Avernian wasteland below. They reach the apex of their launch, and Caeus casts feather fall on himself and his allies.
They float safely down to the ground of Avernus, slags of terrain crashing all around them.
A massive, titanic, huge, otherworldly purple worm floats over the Brazen Bulls. Its frothy eye eventually focuses on the creatures it regurgitated, and a toothless grin forms on its round mouth. A single, withered hand juts from its side.
The Brazen Bulls stare aghast–they have released Shomarrah, and the titanic matriarch of the purple worms is hovering above them in the Avernian wasteland at this very moment!
“We saved you,” Tallest reminds her.
“You’re welcome,” Caeus reminds her extra.
“We didn’t even banish you,” Sfiros reminds her extra extra.
“Dendar the Night Serpent trapped you in there. Go get him.” Tallest says, pointing off in a Dendar-appropriate direction.
A grand matronly cooing chuckle manifests in their minds.
<Why yes, I know,> Shomarrah laughs. <Thank you for saving me from that nasty bit of business with the Night Serpent. Oh, eons upon eons make you reassess the world…>
The floating purple worm sniffs around.
<Tell me,> she says, <Where am I? It smells very… cooked.>
“You’re in Avernus,” Tallest says.
<Ah, the first layer of Hell. I haven’t been here in quite some time,> Shomarrah says. Her gaze focuses on Sfiros of Gond. <You… I sense a divine potency in you. You wear the garb of a zealot.>
“Mm-hmm,” Sfiros beams. “I am all about Gond.”
<All about Gond!> Shomarrah laughs. <Having returned to the world, I could use some acolytes. I’m sure Gond is quite adoring. But can he give you this?>
Shomarrah, Lord of Feasting, presents Sfiros with a religious pamphlet detailing the benefits of following her under the Feast Domain.
“She’s never made you eat iron,” Caeus points out.
<Don’t worry, I can wait,> Shomarrah says. <I’m very good at waiting.>
“Can I think about it?” Sfiros asks, politely skimming the pamphlet.
<No worries, little one,> the worm stiffens and looks off in the distance. <I know that smell… Dendar is here. Take your time, sweetie. There’s a new demon lord back, and she has business to take care of!>
As she turns to fly off in the direction of Dendar, Caeus casts enlarge on her, doubling her size.
Demon lord Shomarrah launches through the atmosphere, a titanic, whale-sized god arching with vengeful intent to settle the score with her ancient nemesis. Surely this won’t have any repercussions or addends to the story later on!
Oh, she also leaves the Brazen Bulls with a Blessing of the Feast Lord, permanently raising their Constitution scores by 1, which is absolutely balls-awesome!
“I’m definitely making Shomarrah merch when I get back!” Caeus says.
<Now what?> Jeeyan asks, not sure what to do in this brand new hell.
“Rest and soul coins,” Sleipnir says.
“Where were we even on our way to? I don’t remember,” Sfiros says.
“Bel’s Forge, Uldrak’s Grave, wherever Zanzibar ended up, we have to save Valour is what Tyr told us,” Tallest lists off the plot points. “Kill Dendar." He realizes that Shomarrah may have the killing Dendar aspect covered.
<How do you get around?> Jeeyan asks, looking at the vast swathes of open hellscape.
“I’m glad you asked!” Caeus says. “Do we have a Grubba seat that will fit this guy?”
They load into the Scavenger and head off into a random direction with the intention of retrieving soul coins from Bel’s Forge.
The Avernian wastes shift under hours of travel and the distant sounds of eternal raging warfare.
Eventually, they crest a rocky hill and see a volcano in the horizon. A vast, sprawling fortress is welded into the volcano’s igneous slopes.
“An ousted archduke sulking in a volcano, eager to reclaim his stolen throne…” the map whispers to Sfiros.
“Anyone living inside a volcano probably has cool treasure,” Caeus foreshadows, knowing that they have finally arrived at Bel’s Forge, the fortress of the former Archduke of Avernus before Zariel came along.
Closer to the volcano, they see flying devils with Bel’s banners patrolling the area. A few of them point, and the Brazen Bulls notice a purple devil charging toward them on a Devil’s Ride.
“Who approaches Bel’s Forge?!” the devil bellows.
“We’re the Brazen Bulls,” Tallest says.
“Those of the First Regurgitation,” Caeus adds.
“I’ve never heard of the Brazen Bulls of the First Regurgitation!” the devil shouts.
“Oh, so you know everybody?!” Sleipnir says.
“What business do you seek at the Forge?!” the devil yells.
“We’re here to speak with Bel about one certain future-former Lord of Avernus, Zariel,” Tallest says.
“You can give me whatever information you have, and I shall take it to Bel,” the devil says.
The Brazen Bulls moo in disagreement.
“Are you Bel?” Tallest asks.
“Bel is very busy!” the devil yells.
“What’s Bel doing? Is he Lord of Avernus?” Sleipnir taunts.
“When we talk to Bel, it’s your fault he didn’t get this information sooner!” Caeus says. “What’s your name?!”
“Defeid,” the devil says. “You can talk to me.”
“The dao said we should only talk to Bel,” Tallest lies.
“Show me proof,” Defeid says.
Tallest shows the devil the rubbing of the dao’s name in his autograph book.
“That’s not proof!” Defeid cries. “That’s just a picture of a name!”
“Uhm… yes it is,” Tallest says.
“Does Jeeyan want to eat this guy’s brain?” Sfiros asks.
<What kind of brain?> Jeeyan pops his blindfolded head out of the vehicle.
The purple devil sees the ancient mindflayer and immediately turns to run away.
“No, you don’t!” Sleipnir throws a caterpillar cocoon at the devil, casting polymorph.
The devil slaps away the magic. <I won’t forget that,> Defeid thinks inside Sleipnir’s mind.
Trust me, he does not forget that.
The purple devil rides back to Bel’s Forge on the Devil’s Ride, and the Brazen Bulls brazenly follow.
A legion of ten bearded devilish soldiers wielding glaives greet Defeid. The volcano fortress is still far in the distance.
“BEL!” Caeus moos.
“OH BEL!” Sleipnir moos.
Bel does not emerge.
Instead, Bel’s legion of devils attack the interlopers.
<Point me in their direction,> Jeeyan says. He gets directions and sends a mind blast at several of the devils, stunning two of them.
Defeid hurls flames at Sleipnir before flying 60 feet in the air, hitting the minotaur who tried to polymorph him and scorching his robes.
Flustered and angry, Sleipnir at the helm sends the Scavenger barrelling through the stunned devils. He crashes through the legion of Bel’s devils with ease, and twin casts shatter on the lot of them.
Jeeyan snatches one of the devils thrown from the blast, grapples its face with his head-tentacles, and sucks its brain out from the back of its broken skull.
The Brazen Bulls moo excitedly at seeing the most metal way any NPC has ever taken out a bad guy!
From there, the carnage lasts hours.
Most of the devils focus primarily on Sleipnir, the smallest minotaur and the one that tried to polymorph Defeid, who hurls volleys of flames relentlessly.
The Brazen Bulls eliminate the bearded devils one by one, taking massive damage on Sleipnir and, oh, let’s say, Elric. Eventually only Defeid is left alive, flying 60 feet in the air, still knocking Sleipnir down with endless barrages hurling flames.
“Stop healing me!” Sleipnir shouts every time Sfiros restores hit points to him, drawing Defeid’s ire every time the devil sees that his minotaur foe is still conscious. By this point, Sleipnir has around four levels of exhaustion due to the constant barrage.
He needs a nap.
Sfiros stops trying to heal Sleipnir and dusts off his old crossbow to reach the flying devil, while Tallest shoots with the adamantine bow he salvaged from Elric’s unconscious body.
Caeus launches a bolt of lightning from his power armor, severing an integral aspect of the flying devil’s wing anatomy. Doomed Defeid cries out in despair as he plummets to the Hellish regolith.
By the end of battle, every devil is in pieces, and Sleipnir stands up with four points of exhaustion.
From the Forge of Bel in the distance, a whole army of devils descends.
“Oh,” Tallest says, “they just made a mista-”