Warning: this post may contain spoilers for the “Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus” 5e module.
Creed Trilby, Lord of the Edge, Vassal of Bel helped The Menagerie one by one onto his boat, the Pearljammer.
The vessel was larger than the typical merrenoloth crafts, but it definitely looked shoddier.
It resembled a ramshackle river boat, wide and shallow, its rusty hull sitting low in the water.
A steering lever protruded from the patchwork wooden deck near the bow of the boat, and a long pole lay along the side of the deck.
Creed brought out a pair of well-used deck chairs from the cabin and set them up on the deck, inviting up to two of the Menagerie to take seats.
After getting the vessel underway, he began to engage the group in fairly idle conversation, asking them things like the purpose of their visit.
For a while, the party was willing to chat, and they asked him some questions about his time in the Nine Hells.
It turned out that although he didn’t know the Jefferson who ran the nightclub in Neverwinter, Jefferson is apparently a not uncommon name in the Hells.
The party spent a bit of time telling them about themselves.
At one point, Finn brought out a memento from her family: an old, empty wine bottle that she’s been carrying around for a couple of years.
Grey was visibly surprised, and mentioned that he recognized the bottle and the label from a time in his past, when he was spending most of his days losing himself in bottles just like Finn’s.
When asked about their destination, Abriymoch, Creed explained that it was a city that never sleeps, and is awash with all kinds of entertainment - taverns, theatre, casinos, dens of iniquity, and, of course, courts of law.
Through talk about the casinos, Creed did reveal that he knew of the Baron, the party’s part-time compatriot, Gorstag.
Apparently the Baron has amassed some amount of fame here in Baator, and at least an equal part of infamy as well.
They also inquired about what Horns might be able to expect from his trial.
Creed mentioned that Horns would certainly be able to represent himself, or that he could perhaps search the city for a legal representative.
He’d likely have no trouble in finding one, but their caliber would no doubt be directly tied to their price.
A decent defendant would probably require several dozen soul coins, or several tens of thousands of gold pieces.
Alternative forms of exchange might also be possible, including quid pro quo, signing over years of life, or post-mortem soul contracts.
It wasn’t long before Creed brought out his knife collection to show off in agonizing detail.
The majority of his knives were elaborately over-wrought, looking very cool while being actually pretty useless to wield in real combat.
He made a point to demonstrate several stances, grips, and flashy techniques; while cool folks like the Menagerie were out partying it up with dwarves and devils and what-have-you, Creed Trilby was studying the blade.
It became apparent that there was much of the Styx to traverse before they even reached the first descent.
Partially to recuperate from their investigation of the wrecked flying fortress, and partially to stop listening to the endless posturing of their edgelord guide, the group decided to bunker down for a rest.
OneShoe took the only bed in the cabin, a couple others took floor space in the cabin, and the rest had to lay their bedrolls out on the deck.
Creed Trilby took the chance to show off the arcane shipboard musical feature he’d cobbled together from wrecked flying fortress scrap, and a song very much like but legally different from “With Arms Wide Open” issued forth.
It played on repeat.
Dreams came to some.
In particular, Grey dreamt that he was dangling his hand in the river Styx.
From the waters an alabaster-white hand gripped his arm and pulled him down into their depths, the crimson shifting to darkness as he was dragged deeped and deeper.
When all was black, a familiar porcelain face emerged.
Grey asked what she wanted this time, and the Raven Queen instead said that she was merely facilitating a meeting.
Stars blinked on across the dark backdrop, and a constellation in the shape of a wolf animated.
The hulking celestial form of the Nameless Wolf stalked over to Grey and butted its head up against Grey’s chest.
A thrumming pressure built up within Grey, and he noticed that Finn and Not-Bailey were in the dream beside him.
He took Finn’s hand, and the energy transferred to her; likewise, she patted Not-Bailey on the head and transferred the Nameless Wolf’s gift to her.
One by one the stars winked out, leaving all in blackness as the dream faded.
[ Mechanical Note: This marks a change in Not-Bailey’s statistics.
Going forward we can use the sidekick rules as laid forth in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything for Not-Bailey! ]
The party awoke after a successful rest (OneShoe woke up feeling a little greasier than normal, having slept in Creed’s bed).
A few hours later, Creed Trilby pointed out that the current was picking up and the River Styx rapidly gained speed, hurtling the Pearljammer headlong into a great crimson whirlpool that Creed explained was the gateway to the next layer of the Nine Hells.
Bloody spray kicked up from the violent whirling phenomenon, and The Menagerie clung to anything and everything they could as their collective vision become entirely obscured by that red mist - and then nothingness overtook them.
OneShoe became aware of ground beneath her hands - hard, dry, and cracked.
She opened her eyes, and realized that she was on her hands and knees in a vast, flat plain where the occasional tuft of scraggly, red grass managed to cling to life on the barren earth.
Sounds of bustling activity came to her ears next; over her right shoulder she saw a half dozen assorted devils in… cooking outfits?
In a panicked fashion they hurried to and fro within an outdoor kitchen.
Her attention was jerked away from the kitchen devils when a deep voice boomed out, “THIRTY MINUTES REMAINING! YOU HAD BEST HURRY UP!”
Her eyes darted towards the source of the voice in time to see a pit fiend (with a small placard reading “Judge’s Assistant” pinned to his chest) standing at the entry flap of a great red-and-white striped tent.
She noticed five other kitchen stations like the one the devils were fussing behind; four of them were empty, and the fifth she found was staffed by The Menagerie, also inexplicably dressed in kitchenwear.
One of the group asked the pit fiend what those thirty minutes were for, and the imposing devil told them that they were to present their best dishes to be judged when the time ran out.
He promoted Grey to sous chef and disappeared into the tent, and The Menagerie began to take stock of their resources.
Horns immediately turned on every burner and oven in their kitchen.
Val went looking for poultry and found a dozen live abyssal chickens.
Grey investigated the walk-in freezer for meats, and found quite the collection of hanging humanoids.
OneShoe ran interference.
She used disguise self to make herself look like a pit fiend - albeit a pint-sized one - and began barking orders at the opposing team of devils, sending them into disarray.
She also put some oil of slipperiness on important containers and some contact poisons on a few cooking implements while the devils were distracted.
Back at their own kitchen, Val was putting together a chicken and roast vegetables (she had a run-in with a screaming mandrake root) dish.
Grey had harvested the cheeks from several of the humanoids and was turning them into a savory paté.
Finn and Horns were working together on making some crêpes, but the effort wasn’t going very well.
While The Menagerie were working on the finishing touches for their dishes, the pit fiend called out that it was time for the team of devils to present their results.
As the devils picked up their finished dishes, one flew entirely out of the hands of a devil due to OneShoe’s oil of slipperiness.
In a rage, the head chef (a bone devil) obliterated the offending devil.
Meanwhile, another member of the crew was unmoving, paralyzed by OneShoe’s contact poison, and so the competing team of devil chefs went into their presentation one dish and two members short.
It did not end well.
Not long after they entered the tent, a few moments of carnage were audible to The Menagerie outside, and then the tent was silent.
Having noticed that Finn and Horns were contributing a “deconstructed” crêpe to the effort, Grey dumped some smoke (a pleasant applewood) from his eversmoking bottle into the serving container.
Furthermore, he had Finn use prestidigitation to flavor the cheek paté as “the best cheek paté she could imagine.”
Then, the pit fiend called them into the tent.
Inside, The Menagerie saw a very long table running most of the width of the tent.
To the side were the smoking remains of the previous teams of chefs, as well as the discarded detritus of their failed dishes.
Behind the table sat a creature which appeared to be somewhere between a minotaur and a gorgon.
To the creature’s left and right were some sort of golem, appearing to be made of crust baked to golden-brown perfection.
The gorgon minotaur introduced himself as Gorgon Ramsey, and demanded The Menagerie present their dishes.
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