The Brazen Bulls, the formerly blind mindflayer Jeeyan, and the barber Burney find a mage in a bubble on an icy hellscape near Arkhan’s Tower.
“More minotaurs?!” Zanzibar the Magician cries.
“More?” Tallests asks.
“Minotaurs?” Caeus repeats.
“Hmph,” Elric pouts.
“Wait, you’re Zanzibar?!” Tallest says. “The Hero of Chult.”
“Didn’t you used to have another hand?” Caeus asks.
Zanzibar holds up the adamantium prosthetic hand on his arm. “It was taken from me, by some of your kind,” he explains.
“Rumor has it, there was a chalkboard with a hint about that,” Sleipnir rumors.
“It said that Arkhan has the Gnir of Tinwer,” Caeus says.
Zanzibar casts comprehend languages to figure out what in the Nine Hells he’s talking about. “What the hell is a Gnir?!”
“My brother can’t read good,” Sleipnir says and rolls on the tiny hut floor. “It says ring.”
“No, you idiot! Stop rolling in that!” Zanzibar says.
“I will not!” Sleipnir screams.
“Yeah!” Burney the barber joins Sleipnir on the ground. “You can’t tell us what to do!”
“Zanzibar, back up,” Caeus warns. “He does spit, and it will hurt.”
Zanzibar takes a step back and bumps into Sfiros, who is starstruck and muttering thankful prayers to Gond.
“This is just like Tyr all over again,” Zanzibar groans.
“Speaking of Tyr, someone told us to save Valour. Have you seen him?” Caeus asks.
“I have not,” Zanzibar says. He casts summon familiar to show off his hellish impowl that he’s been using to not see Valour in hell.
“What are you doing here?” Tallest asks.
“I have business with Arkhan,” Zanzibar says.
“So do we,” Tallest says. “The motorcycle dad’s wife needs him dead or something.” Tallest motions at Elric.
“We should team up!” Caeus says. “We’re the Brazen Bulls, a subsidiary of HerdCo.”
“I am honored,” Zanzibar beams. “Leader of the Brazen Bulls. That does sound good.”
“Right,” Tallest says, “but I make all the decisions, because I’m the tallest.”
“Yeah, Tallest decides,” Caeus quotes.
“If you are the leader of the minotaurs–” Zanzibar starts.
“No, not leader,” Caeus corrects.
“I just decide things,” Tallest says.
“I do not understand,” Zanzibar says.
Tallest shrugs. “It doesn’t translate very well into Common,” he says and starts mooing in minotaur.
Zanzibar, still under the effect of comprehend languages, listens and learns the subtlety and nuance of minotaur customs. “If you can help me get my gnir back, I will happily tag along.”
They load up Zanzibar’s Devil’s Ride and set across the frozen wastes. Arkhan’s Tower looms ahead, and the ground rumbles as Shomarrah and Dendar clash in the sky.
“A dragon!” Zanzibar points at a creature perched on the tower. “It looks really old.”
“How old?!” Burney pipes up.
“Maybe he’ll make a deal with us,” Tallest says. “Like how Arkhan made a deal with the robot’s wife.”
“Have you ever seen a dragon that big before?!” Burney asks.
“Once, and it was holy shit scary!” Zanzibar exclaims.
The ancient white dragon stares at the Brazen Bulls from atop Arkhan’s tower. The dark tower’s spire rises high into the air, its ramparts bristling with charred skulls mounted on iron spikes. The tower’s apex splits into five narrower spires that jab at the sky like clawed fingers.
A figure skulks atop the ramparts, surrounded by undead guards in various states of decay. The figure is an armored dragonborn wielding a massive sword. His left hand is blackened in frostbite and glows with a white sheen.
“WHO TRESPASSES ON MY LAND?!” Arkhan shouts from the tower.
“We’re the Brazen Bulls!” Tallest shouts back. “We want to make a deal. It has to do with that, up there!” Tallest points at the dueling deities above.
“HOLD ON A MINUTE!” Arkhan backs away from the ramparts and opens a door.
A quick pitter patter of steps echo across the tundra, lasting minutes.
“Zanzibar, first chance you get, kill him” Tallest whispers.
“Good idea,” Zanzibar nods.
The dragonborn pokes his head out of a window above the entrance to say, “What deal did you bring to settle this nonsense with the titans above?”
“Do you have somewhere quiet to talk?” Sleipnir asks.
“I will admit one of you,” Arkhan glares.
“We have a very tall friend who wears a trenchcoat,” Caeus says. “He’s right around the corner. Can we get him?”
“I’ll speak with one,” Arkhan says. “You have my terms.” The dragonborn backs out of the window.
“I didn’t know Arkhan was such a coward!” Sleipnir screams.
Elric notices the white dragon staring at the Brazen Bulls, and he approaches at a gentle distance.
“What are you doing?” Burney asks, staring up at the dragon.
“Move back a bit, dear,” Elric says as he walks closer to the dragon, waving his hands. “Hello, hello, a word please. Am I allowed to step forward, Great One?”
The dragon hops off the tower and lands with a thud in front of Elric.
“You are in the presence of Obatallah,” the dragon hisses.
Elric bows deeply.
“You may proceed, but stay knelt,” Obatallah commands.
“As you wish, oh Great Obatallah,” Elric says without raising his head. “Two questions, if you would deign me with the time. To whom do your allegiances lie? What would it take to change your allegiances?”
Snow billows off the dragon’s scales as Obatallah shakes with laughter. “My allegiance is with Tiamat, the ancient tyrannic goddess of the dragons. She will escape her hellish prison and overthrow Bahamut, the platinum dragon god. To change my allegiances is not a thought worth entertaining.”
“Yeah, Elric!” Caeus shouts.
Jeeyan the mindflayer runs to the groveling Elric. “Clearly you have no clue how to deal with ancient beings!” Jeeyan turns to the dragon. “I’m sorry, Ms. Obediah. It’s ok. Don’t worry.”
“I can give you one of my closest belongings,” Elric says contritely. “My son, bound to a halberd.”
“How deliciously wicked,” Obatallah smiles. “Tell me of the method you used to imprison your son in this object.”
“I don’t know the exact method…” Elric admits.
“I saw it!” Caeus shouts. “His son was riding a motorcycle and crashed into an angel, and they blew up and turned into this.”
Elric nods. “I was trapped in the halberd, and we switched places.
“I shall accept this token,” Obatallah says dragonly, never turning down treasure.
“I ask only for one thing: we need a mediator with Arkhan to let us all in his tower,” Elric says as he surrenders the Harken halberd.
“And don’t hate us if he accidentally dies,” Caeus adds.
“If you wish to speak with Arkhan, by all means, step inside,” Obatallah says.
They walk up to the door under the watchful eyes of the ancient dragon. Arkhan pokes his head out again, annoyed.
“With the Great Obatallah as a mediator, would you be comfortable with us all addressing you at once?” Elric asks.
“On one condition,” Arkhan snaps. “Have the mindflayer step forward.”
Everyone looks at Jeeyan, and Jeeyan is able to look back.
“If I allow everyone in, if anyone starts any violence, you will kill them,” Arkhan commands the mindflayer with geas.
<Shall I accept this?> Jeeyan thinks to the group.
“You guys have remove curse, right?” Sleipnir whispers to Zanzibar and Sfiros.
They nod. Jeeyan accepts the geas curse and walks into Arkhan’s tower with the Brazen Bulls following.
“I’m going to stand at this door,” Burney says, staring at Obatallah.
“You keep an eye on that big, white dragon, Burney,” Caeus says. “Let us know if anything changes.”
The Brazen Bulls spill into the anteroom where they find the dragonborn Arkhan, a snapping tortle with a badass weapon, and Torogar Steelfist, the biggest, blackest minotaur they have ever seen.
“That’s the biggest, blackest minotaur I’ve ever seen!” Sfiros cries.
“That’s the guy who took my hand!” Zanzibar points at Torogar.
“We enjoy the gift,” Torogar laughs.
“The gift?” Caeus asks.
Arkhan holds up his blackened hand to reveal the Ring of Winter.
“Are you a Baphomet minotaur?” Caeus asks.
“Of course,” Torogar laughs again. “Baphomet minotaurs are the best minotaurs.”
“Have you heard about Gond? It’s not too late!” Sfiros asks. “You have cool armor. Can I see it?”
Torogar obliges and flexes to show off his gauntlets and belt. “These are my gauntlets of flaming fury. And this belt is of a fire giant’s strength. It grants me power!”
“Cool,” Caeus says. “Do you have other weaknesses?”
“I have no weaknesses!” the big black minotaur shouts.
“Is that a staff or a mace, Mr. Turtle?” Sleipnir asks.
“Hello, Sleipnir,” the tortle rasps.
“Oh! I’m famous down here!” Sleipnir says. “Hello! What’s your name?”
“My name is Krull,” the tortle says slowly. “You have displeased Baphomet,” Krull points at the minotaurs, Elric, Jeeyan, and Burney.
“We’re trying to build our own reputation,” Caeus says.
“You might make something of yourselves one day,” Krull laughs.
“Probably in like a week and a half,” Caeus says.
“Sensible enough,” Krull muses. “I, too, would have killed Dr. Thinster.”
The Brazen Bulls do not moo.
“Who’s that?” Sleipnir asks and steps closer to see a white cloud gloss over Krull’s eyes. “He’s blind! Get him!”
“Not blind,” Krull says. “I see the truth. There’s a crack, a scar in your memories. And yours and yours and yours.” Krull points at each of the minotaurs.
“What are you talking about?!” Sfiros demands.
“I think I would know if there was a crack in my memory,” Caeus says.
“Yeah!” Sleipnir says.
“You are a rumormonger, but you have forgotten the greatest secret,” Krull says.
“A secret so secret it’s a secret to yourself?!” Caeus asks.
“Oh my gosh, I have to know this!” Sleipnir cries. “What is it?!”
Krull’s staff glows as he raises it to Sleipnir’s face. “Look for yourself.”
“Ok!” Sleipnir peers into the tortle’s magic staff, and his soul is wrenched into another plane of existence.
Sleipnir immediately notices his horns have returned. His body feels as it did a few years ago, aches and pains forgotten as if they had never hurt. He finds himself in a dank, cold structure in Baldur’s Gate. Tallest is behind him.
Sleipnir remembers a person: Dr. Thinster. They’re in his hospital, near his office. They’re trying to find him. In some of the rooms, they’ve discovered minotaur parts: heads, arms, legs, shoulders, knees, and hooves.
He remembers a rumor of a doctor experimenting on minotaurs in Baldur’s Gate. He remembers finding a shrine to a demonic deity with minotaur horns. He remembers that Dr. Thinster was secretly creating minotaur agents for Baphomet using his skills as a surgeon. He remembers why he and Tallest are here.
They bullrush the doctor’s office, slamming open the door. Sleipnir grabs the doctor and knocks a shiny rock off the desk.
As Tallest bends to pick up the rock, Sleipnir shoves Dr. Thinster to the door. Tallest’s horns impale the doctor, forever changing the way Tallest’s face looks.
They retreat from the murder to find Caeus and Sfiros keeping watch.
Sleipnir remembers this as the first mission the Herd ever had. Sleipnir remembers forgetting, and the memory returns to him in full.
He finds himself back in Arkhan’s Tower with the Brazen Bulls. His horns are gone and he feels like he’s died a few times and been to hell.
Sleipnir remembers Dr. Thinster, what they did to him, and why they did it.
“Why’d you have to pick up that rock?!” Sleipnir screams at Tallest. “He wasn’t supposed to die!”
Tallest, having traded the Dr. Thinster memory for a memory of accidentally killing his childhood friend, breaks down in tears. “I didn’t mean to kill him!”
Krull chuckles cruelly. “I suppose some memories are best left buried.”
“Guys, rumor has it, we killed a doctor!” Sleipnir says. “Tallest impaled him with his horns.”
“That does sound like something Tallest would do…” Sfiros admits. “But the rest of us?”
“Yeah, you were there!” Sleipnir says. “You pushed him.”
“What the avernus are you talking about?!” Sfrios shouts.
“That sounds like a pretty good rumor. Don’t spread that one around,” Tallest says as he approaches Arkhan’s throne. “Arkhan, we would like to trade one juicy rumor for the Sword of Zariel.”
“You’re here for the Sword of Zariel?” Arkhan asks.
Tallest shrugs and looks at the others. “Anyone want anything else while we’re here?”
“We’ll start with that,” Caeus nods.
“You’re looking for the Bleeding Citadel. I have no idea where it is,” Arkhan says. “I have no need for it. My goal is to free Tiamat from her prison. Ask an Archduke where to find it.”
“Does your goddess Tiamat know where it is?” Sleipnir asks.
“She has been in prison for many millennia,” Arkhan shakes his head.
“We’re really good at letting goddesses out of prison,” Tallest says. “Remember Shomarrah?”
“WHAT?!” Arkhan screams.
“WHAT?!” Zanzibar screams.
“We are the First Vomited,” Caeus says casually.
“What dealings do you have with Shomarrah?” Arkhan asks.
“That rumor might cost you an arm or a leg,” Tallest says.
“Or at least some fruit over there! You haven’t even offered us anything to eat!” Sleipnir screams.
“My arm!” Zanzibar yells. “Charge him my arm!”
“Fine!” Arkhan agrees.
Krull taps his staff, and Zanzibar’s arm starts to reform. A bone grows from the stump, muscles and sinews wrap around, and a layer of fresh skin envelopes the growth as the terminal end digitizes. The arm appears 40 years younger than the rest of Zanzibar’s body.
“It started off with a beautiful lady and a pit of acid,” Tallest says. “You would’ve loved it. And then Shomarrah was free! And she vomited us up. First time ever.”
“First time ever,” Caeus agrees.
“Now she’s going to kill Dendar,” Tallest says.
“Ooohh…” Zanzibar moans to himself.
Arkhan and his cronies laugh. “What a merry bunch of chaos!” Arkhan says through tears. “You unleash the power of Dendar the Night Serpent to hound my tower,” he points at Zanzibar. “And you release Shomarrah to defeat him,” he points at the Brazen Bulls.
“You’re welcome,” Caeus says.
“We saved your life!” Sleipnir cries.
“All in the service of releasing Tiamat from prison,” Tallest lies. “Now give us the sword.”
“And that cool belt!” Sleipnir screams.
“No. I don’t have the sword, and you’re not getting his belt,” Arkhan sneers.
“Do you think your goddess will be very happy with you when she finds out she was imprisoned longer just because you wouldn’t give us his belt?” Sleipnir counters.
“Can we have your cool tortle friend?” Caeus asks.
“Absolutely not,” Arkhan frowns. “If you’re looking for the Bleeding Citadel, ask the old Archduke Bel. He can give you the information you seek.”
“Can we ride your dragon?” Sleipnir asks.
“No!” Arkhan says.
“I don’t want to ride the dragon!” Burney yells from the door.
“Burney, you sure do have a lot of opinions today,” Caeus notes.
“I don’t like people who are mean!” Burney says. “That’s why I like your cleric the most, and his cleric the least!” Burney rudely points at Krull.
“Your favorite cleric killed a doctor,” Sleipnir rumors.
“Is that true?!” Burney gasps.
“No!” Sfiros cries. “I don’t know what he’s talking about. Something is in his brain. Jeeyan, did you flay his mind?!”
“I wouldn’t touch that brain with a ten-foot-pole,” Jeeyan says.
“Do you all want to go to the top of the tower and see who can throw our weapons the farthest?” Caeus asks.
“Get off the stairs!” Arkhan shouts.
“You won’t let us on the stairs. You won’t give us the Sword of Zariel. You won’t give us the Ring of Winter,” Tallest whines. “What do we need you for?”
“You took the ring from me in the first place!” Zanzibar shouts.
“I need it to help free Tiamat,” Arkhan says.
“We just told you you could free Tiamat, and you didn’t want to do that,” Sleipnir points out.
“If you free Tiamat, you can have the ring,” Arkhan says.
“Brazen Bulls, sidebar,” Caeus says, and they pile up. “Are we going to kill these guys or what?” he whispers.
“We’re waiting on Zanzibar to remove the curse,” Tallest says.
“Zanzibar, remove the curse!” Caeus whisper-shouts.
“No, it’s Sfiros who can remove the curse,” Sleipnir says.
“Sfiros!” Caeus gasps.
“Remove the curse!” Tallest says. “You’re just sitting around there eating fruit not removing the curse.”
“You’ve been eating fruit?!” Sleipnir whisper-cries. “I’ve been asking for fruit this whole time!”
Sfiros plops another peach into his mouth, swallowing it whole. In between gulps, he casts remove curse on Jeeyan as silently as possible.
The geas spell disappears with a loud bang that alerts everyone it’s been magically removed.
The ancient dragon roars.
Arkhan raises his frostbitten hand to cast freezing sphere from the cursed Ring of Winter.
“You will not!” Zanzibar counterspells.
“You ready Zanzibar?” Sleipnir casts polymorph on the villainous minotaur, and the spell succeeds, just as Zanzibar portents.
The biggest, blackest minotaur falls to the ground as a small turtle, and Sophie jumps out of the darkness to attack Krull, the big tortle.
Krull casts vampiric touch at Sleipnir, but the sorcerer counterspells. Sleipnir moves to high-five Zanzibar and is left hanging.
Tallest, once again the tallest minotaur in the room, embiggens to reinforce the status, and Caeus doubles the effort with enlarge. “Give me that arm!” Tallest screams, towering over Arkhan and slashing wildly.
Sfiros releases spirit guardian cows to stampede his enemies in the name of Gond.
From the doorway, Burney sees the skirmish inside and the roaring ancient white dragon outside. She sighs. “No one is going to remember this in the morning.”
Burney the Barber transforms into an ancient copper dragon to battle Obatallah.
These ancient dragons clash in the sky as hordes of zombies and skeletons emerge from the frozen wastes toward Arkhan’s Tower.
Enraged and betrayed, especially at Elric, Obatallah unleashes a frozen hurricane from her gullet engulfing everyone in the tower. Sophie is vanquished, Torogar changes back into a minotaur, Caeus absorbs elements, and Sfiros burns a mind sharpener charge to save his concentration.
“Oh shit! There are a lot of dragons and zombies out there!” Zanzibar yells, casting wall of force where the door used to be, blocking the frozen hurricane from further chilling the combat. He wipes his hands. “Impenetrable. Undamageable.”
Jeeyan jumps at Arkhan to cast dominate monster, but the paladin of Tiamat dodges and swings back with his massive axe Fane-Eater.
“You must die for us, Krull!” Tallest shouts, activating a cloud rune from the axe to Krull’s face.
“Yeah!” Sleipnir quickens a polymorph on himself, transforming into a tyrannosaurus rex. “RAR!” the sorcerer roars, chomping the magical tortle.
Krull pulls himself out of the dinosaur’s maw by casting vampiric touch.
A spirit cow smashes into Torogar’s face as he comes out of turtle morph, causing him to rage. He slashes and stabs at Sfiros’s plate, and Torogar crits with his horns–
“No, no. No, you don’t,” Tallest disagrees with that version of reality. He activates a runic shield to find a different version where something else happens.
–and Torogar misses with his horns!
“I like this reality better,” Tallest smiles.
“Yeah! You can’t hit me! I’m invincible! I have the power of Gond on my side! Thank you Gond!” Sfiros says.
Sfiros abuses his abuser, smashing Torogar with his mace and dealing 3 damage.
“That’s more than he did to you,” the t-rex roars incoherently.
Zanzibar decides to show the cleric of Gond the proper way to fight Baphominotaurs. His gigantic mind pulsates with magical energy, and he makes a whipping motion with his wand. The magic coalesces into a blue magical whip that touches the precise spot on Torogar’s forehead that makes his brain explode.
Elric robotically battle maneuvers to allow the t-rex to attack Krull. As the beast’s legs move, Elric fires two arrows through a narrow opening in Krull’s shell at the joints, killing the tortle.
The t-rex steps over the dead Krull and chomps at Arkhan. Instead, he eats a Fane-Eater to the face, losing concentration on polymorph and reverting back to Sleipnir.
Now that he can cast spells again, Sleipnir hastens Tallest and resummons Sophie to kill Arkhan.
It seems everyone has “Kill Arkhan” on their agenda.
Just look at what this poor guy is going through! All he wants to do is free his evil dragon goddess from prison, and as soon as he salvages a powerful magical artifact to help him, Dendar the Night Serpent comes out of nowhere! And then another godly worm challenges that one, this lot of rampaging ne’er-do-wells attacks him!
And these blasted bulls somehow find a minotaur taller than his, they block out his ancient white dragon from the fight, they lie about letting the mindflayer be on his side, they send a hound of ill omen to nip at his ankles, and they killed his best friend Krull!
These are the thoughts that are going through Arkhan’s head the moment before a stampede of spiritual cows tramples him to death.
“Mooove over!” Sfiros cheers.
“We’ve got a new hangout!” Sleipnir says too soon.
They hear something change outside. A dark chill and a glittering twilight fall on the windows.
A massive serpentine object falls in the distance and lands with violence.
The ground shakes and the tower shutters and crumbles.
A different massive, serpentine eye fills the window.
Zanzibar’s black opal crown surges with energy.
Dendar is no longer being humbled by Shommarah.