Inside Bel’s Forge, chained fire giants pound anvils above a moat of magma. A red fiend hovers above the giants, grinning from his throne. The Brazen Bulls get the sense that Bel has no love for Zariel. This is because he told them that telepathically. Bel’s smile widens.
“Are those children’s skulls around your waist, or are you just happy to see us?” Caeus points at the devil lord’s fashionable belt.
“These are not children’s skulls,” Bel says.
That’s good info for later: he does not wear children's skulls. The only people who should wear children’s skulls are children, and they should wear them inside their faces.
“I am happy to see you,” Bel says. “I heard what you did with Arkhan the Cruel.”
“Is that a pun?” Caeus asks.
“What?” Bel stops.
“Oh you said you’ve heard. I didn't know if you had heard about the Herd…” Caeus explains.
“I thought you said you were the Brazen Bulls,” Bel says.
“Forget it, it’s ok. Carry on,” Caeus backs up behind Tallest.
“Greetings, tallest one,” Bel says. “I hear you are not in league with the Chaotic interloper, Baphomet. Is this true?”
“Rumor has it, that rumor might cost you,” Tallest says.
Bel laughs. “What brings you to see me?”
“We are looking for a certain sword of a certain Zariel. We heard that it might be somewhere where you know where it is,” Tallest says, certainly.
“You seek the Bleeding CItadel, the one bastion of holiness in Avernus,” Bel says.
Tallest shrugs. “It’s not on our map for some reason. Sfiros, show him how it’s not on our map.”
Sfiros shows Bel the map. “Look! It’s not on here!”
The Bleeding Citadel is definitely not on the map.
“It sings sometimes, be careful,” Caeus says.
It doesn’t sing this time, however.
“The Bleeding Citadel would not be on a map, singing or otherwise. It is deeply hidden,” Bel says. His eyes move from the map to Sfiros. “You seem to have the hands of a smith.”
“Thank you,” Sfiros beams, showing off his smithy hands.
“Jolt! Step aside!” Bel commands a fire giant away from its anvil. The red fiend turns back to Sfiros. “Show me what you can do.”
The devout minotaur inhales with excitement. “You’ve been studying your whole life for this moment!” He prays to himself, then sends a little prayer to Gond for guidance.
Sfiros takes the giant’s place by the massive anvil and works up a fury. Magic flows through the massive slabs of metal, and Sfiros presents Bel with a bull helm with massive horns.
“Well done,” Bel says, admiring the helm. “You are definitely well-trained. What was that name I heard you saying? Gond?”
“You probably heard me saying Gond a lot while I was doing that, yeah,” Sfiros nods.
“Suitable. Gond is the most impressive smith,” Bel says.
“Yeah, Sfiros!” Sleipnir screams.
“What?! Who was that, skulking in the corner?” Bel asks.
“He finally noticed me!” Sleipnir cheers from the shadows. “I am Sleipnir Reborn of the First Regurgitation.”
“You are a skulker of shadows. Do you hear many whispers?” Bel asks.
“Not much these days,” Sleipnir frowns. “Not since I lost my scythe.”
“Scythe? You were close to this weapon? Or were you a farmer?” Bel asks.
“Yeah, I was pretty close with it,” Sleipnir says. “We had a lot of conversations. You wouldn’t have any talking weapons, would you?”
“Not talking weapons, but mine can damn souls to the River Styx so they may be later harvested for fuel,” Bel says.
“Oh that sounds cool!” Sleipnir says.
“Yeah, Sleipnir, get that one!” Tallest urges.
“I’ll take it!” Sleipnir says.
“Show me, shadow creature, how you master the darkness,” Bel says.
Sleipnir casts darkness then just, like, stands in it… doing Sleipnir stuff.
Bel looks around the darkness and sees nothing. “This will serve you well. You all seek the Sword of Zariel?” he asks.
“Yes, we need it to overthrow Zariel and install some new Lords of Avernus, if you know what I’m saying,” Tallest says in the dark.
“I know exactly what you’re saying,” Bel nods to himself. “Avernus could use a new Archduke.”
“That’s treason,” Tallest says. “We like it.”
“You got anyone in mind?” Sfiros asks.
<When you can’t win the game, you become the kingmaker,> Bel thinks. “Let us make a deal. I seek an amulet, yet I know not where it is. I do know who knows where it is.”
“What’s this amulet? What’s it do?” Caeus asks.
“It’s a talisman with a devilish face with horns and green eyes. It’s used by those who follow the dead Chaos god Guga,” Bel explains. “If you bring this to me, I will divulge the location of the Bleeding Citadel. There is only one who knows where it is.”
“Who is it?” Tallest asks.
Bel’s eyes narrow, and he rumbles ominously, “Sibriex.”
The Brazen Bulls moo.
“We’ve definitely got to get that one in the autograph book,” Caeus says.
“Sibriex is a Lord of Change, one of the highest demons in the pantheon of Tzeentch,” Bel says. “My spies recently captured it, and they’re keeping it imprisoned for interrogation. Ply the information out of it. I can provide you with a barge, so you won’t have to use your soul coins.”
“It’s like eco-friendly?” Caeus asks.
“What does the barge use instead?” Tallest asks.
“Slaves,” Bel says.
“That is eco-friendly!” Sleipnir notes.
“That’s worse!” Sfiros cries.
“How is that worse than damning their souls eternally?” Sleipnir asks.
“Because they’re already dead,” Sfiros says.
“I tried to free a slave recently, and you said, ‘If he wants to be a slave, it’s fine,’” Caeus says, remembering Grubba.
“That’s not a thing I would say!” Sfiros screams.
[See: BQ-82 “The Brazen Bulls”]
“I didn’t say we should make him a slave! I said, ‘What are your values?’” Sfiros says defensively.
“While you’re at the forge, why don’t you make more chains?” Sleipnir taunts.
“Make a talisman so we don’t have to go,” Tallest suggests.
“Bel, you’re pretty chill up here and free from danger, right?” Caeus asks.
The red fiend moves his hover throne around the room safely. “Why yes, I am.”
“Well, if we’re going on a dangerous quest, and we’re coming right back, you should probably hang on to this baby,” Caeus says.
“You’re against slavery, but you’re going to give a baby to a devil?” Sleipnir pouts.
“He’s gonna watch the baby!” Caeus says. “Can that hover chair rock back and forth?”
Bel rocks his chair in the air.
“See?!” Caeus says. He tinkers with Herd shirts and merch to fashion a babybjorn and hands everything to Bel.
The former Archduke of Avernus sits in his mighty throne, hovering above the lava with a baby Magician around his chest.
“Do not drop him,” Caeus says. “That’s Zanzibar!”
Bel looks at the infant in his arms. “We don’t get many of these down here in Hell…”
Sleipnir slaps a sign on baby Zanzibar that says ‘Do Not Eat.’
“I will keep this as collateral,” Bel smiles sardonically at baby Zanzibar.
“We’ll call it a prisoner exchange,” Sleipnir says. “We’ll let you hold onto Zanzibar, and you give us the weapon that makes people’s souls go to the River Styx.”
Bel snaps his fingers, and a fire giant presents a pair of hellfire javelins.
Tallest takes the weapons, and Bel snaps his fingers again.
The Brazen Bulls find themselves teleported out of the fortress and onto the bank of the River Styx.
An imp flutters next to them.
“Oh neat, I’m going to name you Lulu,” Tallest says.
“My name is Bellacross,” the imp says quickly, jotting some information down on his clipboard. “Bel sent me with you to guide you to Sibriex.”
Bellacross leads them to an iron barge massive enough to haul two infernal warmachines, which is good because that’s how many they have. They load up their vehicles without waiting for the devils working the barge to let them in.
Caeus takes one look at the demon skulls hanging from the sides of the ship and starts tinkering with the decor.
A large, insectoid devil pushes through his befuddled laborers. His scorpion-like tail slashes down one of Caeus’s Herd banners.
“What are you doing?!” The insectoid devil skitters to the Brazen Bulls. “I’m the captain of this boat!”
“You’re the captain?” Caeus asks. “Bel loaned it to us, so you’re working for us today, sir.”
The captain lands in front of Caeus, close enough to see his bug-eyed glare reflected in the power armor visor. “I know what Bel said! He did not loan you this barge; I am to ferry you to Sibriex. That. Is. ALL!”
“I think you need an attitude adjustment,” Sleipnir remarks.
“Are you trying to toot the horn?! Only the captain can toot the horn!” The captain cries.
“There’s a horn to toot?!” Caeus exclaims. “Toot it! Oh, please, toot it!”
“If I toot the horn, will you stop redecorating?” the captain asks.
“Mhm-hmm,” Caeus nods.
“CONTRACT!” the devil captain cries. A contract appears out of thin air.
Sleipnir spits on it.
“This is an Infernal contract, you can’t destroy it with acid,” the captain says. The insectoid devil wipes off the acid and reads the contract. “The aforementioned party, The ‘Brazen Bulls of the First Regurgitation’ shall not in any way, shape or form, modify, add on or disassemble elements of the barge overseen by Krinjack. In exchange, Krinjack the Captain will, up to three times while the Brazen Bulls are aboard the barge, toot the horn so that they may hear it.”
Caeus snatches the infernal pen from the insectoid devil and signs immediately.
Sleipnir and Sfiros are more apprehensive of signing a deal with a devil, but the desire to hear that horn toot is too great, and they sign as well.
Minotaurs are proud creatures, and many of them have a distinct fondness of their own horns. In a parallel to the tallest minotaur being the leader, the loudest horn is also the most soothing.
“You guys can sign it, I’ll just watch with the NPCs,” Tallest says. “Right, Jeeyan?”
“That’s true!” Jeeyan nods. Elric is also there.
Captain Krinjack of the Bel’s Barge Krinjacks snatches the contract with otherworldly glee. “CONTRACT SIGNED! You may now board the barge.”
They travel down the River Styx, tooting the horn twice until they see a pair of massive iron docking arms straddling the river. Hefty clamps, chains, and bars bind large vessels between them.
A gigantic basalt citadel shaped like a sword blade is moored at the dock. The flying fortress thrums as screaming souls funnel into it from the River Styx.
Zariel’s Flying Fortress!
Krinjack waves a friendly salute to the devils tending the dock, and the barge passes Zariel’s Flying Fortress undisturbed.
Much further down the river, Sfiros hears the map singing ominously, “A breeder of horrors, a holder of secrets, the Lord of Change is said to be as old as the abyss itself.”
On the bank of the river, they see spiky chains lash a 20-foot tall vulturish creature to a wrought iron scaffold. Above the creature’s long, crooked neck and stooped wings, two fiends wrapped in chains torture the creature by plucking its feathers and tightening its chains. Demon ichor oozes from the creature’s wounds, forming a shallow pool around the scaffolding.
A third, jackal-headed fiend known colloquially as an Arcanaloth uses a bronze horn to yell at the withered, shackled prisoner in multiple languages.
Krinjack anchors the barge.
“Do what you need to do,” he says. “I’m staying right here.”
“It would be nice to announce our arrival with a toot,” Sleipnir remarks.
“This will be your final toot,” Captain Krinjack warns.
“That’s not my call, I’m just saying it would be nice…” Sleipnir says.
The imp guide Bellacross mutters and swears to himself as he flutters forward, much the same way a hollyphant would.
“Bel of Avernus sends forth these… agents… to interrogate Sibriex,” Bellacross announces, and the fiends pause their torturing. “These are the Brazen Bulls of the First Regurgitation.”
Krinjack toots the horn.
The jackal-headed fiend jumps off the scaffolding and lands next to the approaching Brazen Bulls.
“Bel sent ya, huh?” the Arcanaloth snarls. “Good. I’ve been interrogating this thing for many, many days. It seems shut up at the moment. Maybe someone else prying for information will do better.”
“How about four or five of us at once?” Tallest asks.
“If you communicate with it telepathically, you may see some strange things,” the jackal-headed fiend warns. “Never mind. A quest for knowledge will prevail!”
The Arcanaloth guides them to the Lord of Change, and the creature opens its eyes and focuses on Tallest.
<Release me, and I will grant you all the information you could possibly want,> the Lord of Change thinks to the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta at Tallest’s side.
<Look at poor Sibriex, chained up,> the ogroid thaumaturge champion of Tzeentch, Gargauth, urges from the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta. <He could do so much more. He could keep Zariel busy.>
“Does he know where the amulet is?” Tallest asks. “He knows the one we’re talking about.”
<Sibriex will not give that information without you doing something for him,> the champion says.
“Hm, we could stop the torture we’re about to start,” Tallest suggests. “He’s a psychic type, right? Do you think he’d like his mind flayed?” Tallest turns to the mindflayer. “Jeeyan, what do you think? You wanna flay this guy’s mind?”
Jeeyan looks up at the vulture-like monster. <I could try. It would be very difficult.>
As the mindflayer climbs the scaffold, Sleipnir sneaks up behind Tallest and whispers, “Tallest. Rumor has it, the amulet is in a wrecked flying fortress.”
“How do you know that?” Tallest asks.
“A little birdie told me,” Sleipnir whispers.
“Oh, well we can just set this thing free for free, then!” Tallest cheers.
There is a very long silence.
“Or… we can let Jeeyan get some more information,” Tallest says. “That’s what he does, right? He flays their mind and eats their knowledge. But if rumor has it, what you said is true, we can just go there.”
“We can be for sure.” Sleipnir shrugs.
“Or you could just cooperate,” Caeus tells the Lord of Change.
<It would rather be flayed,> the champion says from the Blade.
Jeeyan reaches the top of the scaffold, and the Brazen Bulls give him the customary thumbs-up.
“I require knowledge!” the mindflayer screams as he latches onto Sibriex’s head. Jeeyan’s face tentacles pierce the demon’s skull like spears.
Thick, black ichor pours from the wounds, flows over the creature’s matted wings and spiked chains, and drips into the shallow pool with a violent splash.
Jeeyan pulls back with his tentacles to rip off and throw away a chunk of the demon’s skull. His hunger is overwhelming, Jeeyan lunges into the demon lord’s brain.
The Lord of Change writhes in pain, screeching telepathically. He pulls uselessly against the spiked chains before collapsing into his pool of blood.
Jeeyan emerges from the dead demon lord’s skull, covered in ichor and panting heavily. He levitates above the demon lord’s corpse and yells, “The knowledge is mine!”
A pair of birdlike wings sprout from Jeeyan’s back. The mindflayer grows in size. His face tentacles meld into a hard beak.
“You good, Jeeyan?” Caeus asks as the fiends back away from the scaffold.
<There are some secrets you should not dive into!> the monster that once was Jeeyan and now looks like Sibriex thinks.
“Are you still our friend?” Sfiros asks and blesses Tallest, Caeus, and Sleipnir.
Sleipnir polymorphs Tallest into a tyrannosaurus rex.
Sibriex blasts a ball of blue flames at Sleipnir and a dispel magic at the polymorph, but the sorcerer counterspells it.
Sibriex throws a dispel magic at the polymorph, but Sleipnir counterspells it.
“I’ve been to hell and back and back to hell and back!” the jackal-headed devil, the Arcanaloth, points at the unchained Sibriex and blasts a finger of death.
Sibriex throws feeblemind at Sleipnir, but the Arcanaloth counterspells that thanks to a flash of genius from Caeus.
Tallest the T-rex bites Sibriex, and an ichor-based miasma expels an unnatural aura from Sibriex’s wound. Nearby life withers and dies; hellplants collapse in dust and everyone’s gut microflora perish, causing uncomfortable bloat and convulsions.
Caeus cast enlarge on the tallest T-Rex, doubling the beast in size.
Elric shoots the Lord of Change, and sends a battle maneuver attack through Tallest.
The chain devils whip furiously in an attempt to hold the creature, but Sibriex knocks them and Elric away.
The Lord of Change engulfs Sleipnir with blue flames, and the shadow sorcerer burns unconscious. Sleipnir falls and his polymorph drops, removing the T-rex flesh illusion from Tallest.
Before Tallest can draw the Blade of Ahn-Nunurta, Sibriex casts hold person and paralyzes the enlarged tallest minotaur.
Sfiros uses his new gauntlets of flaming fury to pummel the Lord of Change, punching the creature’s hanging toes.
Tickled and annoyed, Sibriex telepathically casts feeblemind on Sfiros, shattering the cleric’s personality and intellect.
Sfiros lowers his arms, unable to understand that he is confused.
Caeus bullrushes the Lord of Change with his power armor harnessed out of Arkhan’s plate. The tinkerer releases a thunderpunch, and electricity sizzles and crackles around the ichorous vulture demon. Flashes of its skeleton appear between zaps, and the Lord of Change changes from living to dead.
Sibriex/Jeeyan disintegrates into the nether.
The hold on Tallest disappears, and he rushes to Sleipnir’s burning body. “Do we have any healing spells around here?”
“Hrm, who’s down? Is the cleric down?” Caeus asks.
“The cleric is feebleminded right now,” Tallest says.
Caeus begrudgingly cures wounds on his fallen brother.
Sleipnir takes a claw from the first dead Sibriex body.
None of Bel’s minions want to go with the Brazen Bulls, so they return to the barge alone, guiding the slow Sfiros.
“Hey Captain, do you know where to find greater restoration?” Sleipnir asks.
“That’s not really in my repertoire,” Krinjack says. “I mostly do boat stuff.”
“Would Bel have it?” Sleipnir asks.
“Bel has the power to raise the dead,” Krinjack says.
The Brazen Bulls cheer. They can just kill Sfiros and then bring him back!
But instead, they drive to the Wandering Emporium.
“Ah, some of my new favorite customers!” Mahadi greets them at the entrance. “What brings you back here to Mahadi’s Emporium?”
“We want to trade a greater restoration spell for nothing,” Tallest haggles.
“I have the claw of Mighty Sibriex!” Sleipnir ups the bargain.
“I have no need for such a thing,” Mahadi says. “But a greater restoration will cost you 2 soul coins.”
They pay the man, and he puts his hand on Sfiros’s head and recites some magic words.
Sfiros stops drooling and takes off his bibb. “Oh, thank you! I feel much better now!”
“Anything else?” Mahadi asks.
“Any news?” Sleipnir asks.
“Have you heard anything about Kinchasa?” Tallest asks.
“Kinchasa? You mean the floating city that is being pulled into the River Styx?” Mahadi asks.
“Yeah, how’s it doing?” Tallest nods.
“I have not heard much. The Black Star continues to keep it anchored in the sky while the chains pull it toward the River Styx itself.”
“Seems like a nice balance,” Tallest remarks.
“The demon and devil forces grow more anxious every day,” Mahadi warns. “Soon it will end up in the clutches of one of them.”
“Hm,” Tallest thinks. “Maybe it will be us.”
Sfiros navigates them back to Bel’s Forge to find information on where to find the fallen flying fortress from Sleipnir’s rumors.
About eight days have passed since they left Zanzibar with the former archduke of Avernus. They see the baby Hero of Chult giggling on Bel’s knee, his ears pointed and his giggles revealing sharp teeth. A long, pointed tail dangles down.
“In just a few days?!” Caeus asks.
“What can I say? The child is gifted,” Bel says. “Have you returned with the amulet? I heard you slayed Sibriex.”
“Do you know where any downed flying fortress might be? Like wrecked ones?” Sleipnir rumors.
“Only one person would know for sure,” Bel says. “Mad Maggie.”
“The Hag Haggie?” Caeus asks.
“We know her!” Sleipnir cries. “As a gesture of good will, can we have some soul coins? We’re running on empty.”
“I’ll lend you some if you let me keep the little one a while longer–” Bel starts.
“Yep!” Sleipnir says.
“He’s growing on me,” Bel finishes. He tosses three coins to the Brazen Bulls. “Fort Knucklebone is a day’s drive from here. I suggest you find the old bat quickly, before she is scuttled off.”
A few hours after leaving Bel’s Forge, they return to Fort Knucklebone.
“Who goes there?!” a redcap guard cries.
“The Brazen Bulls, let us in!” Tallest demands.
“Hm, bulls, hm,” the redcap says and opens the gate.
Mad Maggie hobbles out to greet them at the garage.
“Oh how wonderful! The waste did not devour you!” Maggie cries. “I heard what you did to Princeps Kovick, well done!”
The Brazen Bulls have no idea who that is, even though they spent an entire episode killing him and his warband.
“No problem,” Tallest says.
“What brings you back to Mad Maggie?” she asks.
“We’re here to collect the prizes that you need to give us for the that thing you said,” Tallest says.
“No!” Maggie says.
“By prizes, he means information,” Sleipnir says. “Rumors.”
“What rumors are you looking to obtain?” she asks.
“We need to know where the downed flying fortresses are,” Sleipnir rumors.
“Most have been stripped and torn down completely, but one still remains,” she says. “I will send you there, for one price!”
“What’s the price?” Caeus asks.
“I want to go with you!” she cries. “It’s been a while since I’ve ridden out among the wastelands, and I wish to feel the hot wind on my face again! It seems like you are tough!”
“You’re paying gas money, and you can’t be the captain,” Caeus says.
“And stay within 30 feet of me,” Tallest says and mimes his cloud rune.
“I have my own crew! I will be the captain of my crew, you be the captain of your crew! Two crews! Riding together!” Mad Maggie laughs and twirls until she pukes. She gets up and sets her minions to work.
Redcaps and madcaps and a pair of kenku, oh my, scurry around in choreographed fervor to prepare for Mad Maggie to ride out.
“What are you waiting for?!” Mad Maggie cries hours later. “It’s two days travel to the downed fortress!”
The bored Brazen Bulls pile into their Gond Scavengin’ and follow behind Maggie’s fleet for days.
The map sings to Sfiros, “A weapon made for an archdevil, ravaged in battle and ripe for plunder.”
Mad Maggie releases a victorious cry as the downed fortress appears on the horizon.