Episode 7: Beyond the Heart City
Our adventurers take a moment to breathe and regroup after the near kidnapping of Opal and departure of Fy’ra Rai. Dariax volunteers to take first watch while his friends try to rest after the chaos of the day. As he walks the streets on guard, Dariax finds himself drawn back to the statue of the Observer and reaches out for another conversation. He asks again about the special ‘gift’ that the Observer has granted him. The Observer says it is a physical gift that will manifest itself soon. Dariax begins to check his person for any new marks or totems before he notices a strange burning tingle between his shoulder blades. The Observer gives him words of encouragement and offers to help if he ever reaches out. Smiling to himself, Dariax begins to return to his friends, his watch complete and curiosity sated.
Fearne settles from the day’s excitement quickly. She has no qualms about the necessary violence she wrought on Opal’s kidnappers. As she drifts off to sleep, she falls into an eerie sleep paralysis. Evil Fearne’s hunched figure sits on her chest, wicked eyes staring back into Fearne’s trapped gaze. Hours pass before Fearne can blink and the vision is dispelled, though…she can’t shake the feeling that her evil self is still lingering nearby.
Orym’s watch begins quietly. He seeks a calm path through the city before climbing a tree to gaze at the surrounding valley. He feels a strong pull to the south, a possible quest to aid Tetrarch Umeji on their journey. Orym’s thoughts also drift to the strange, heavy seed Tetrarch Thrascuur gifted him. Where should he plant it to put down roots? He thinks of his friends that need his protection. He’s pulled in so many directions; there’s just not enough of him to go around. He’s only one halfling. He knows tomorrow will bring a new adventure.
Dorian begins his watch in a mood described as somewhere between an existential crisis and a pity party. He’s quite bothered by the fact that his friend’s never brought him back his ax from the fight, even though he specifically asked for their help and they know exactly how important that flute-ax is to him. Do they even care? Do they listen? He traces their steps back to the heat of the fight and does in fact find his ax still buried in the brutalized corpse of Opal’s kidnapper. As he sullenly walks back to the main square, he reflects on the scarier moments of their fight. He was more injured than he’s ever been before. He left Orym behind to get torn apart. Opal was nearly lost to them. He rubs his eye and as he pulls away a silvery strand of spider silk pulls from his tear duct. Great, now there’s that too. That can’t be good. The voice in his head is particularly dark tonight, whispering all his insecurities in particularly painful barbs. “This is why your brother was meant to lead.” “You just get in the way, you’re always in the way.” He can’t tell if these are his real thoughts or something else is clouding his mind. He angrily begins to walk back to his friends. The voice continues, “I’m always here with you. You can’t out-walk me.” His emotions threaten to overwhelm him until he walks almost directly into the base of the statue of the Observer. Her light falls over him and that awful voice is finally silent. He sits near the statue and begins to play a calming melody, as his eyes close he feels the light of the Observer wash over him in a new way leaving him as refreshed as if he’d taken a full night’s sleep.
Opal wakes the next morning still feeling a bit dissociated after her ordeal. She can’t make sense of why they would try to take her or why they want to catch Ted. Maybe some breakfast will help. Dorian heads downstairs to see what he can wrangle up. A bottle of breakfast wine is sounding great after their awful day yesterday. Instead of, you know, asking for some food like a normal boarder, Dorian figures taking without asking is the more polite option. It doesn’t go well. He manages to smooth ruffled tempers in the kitchen quickly though and secures some bottles of wine and some actual breakfast foods too. Orym meets him halfway up the steps and helps him carry everything back.
On the way back Dorian opens up about his regrets over the battle. Orym doesn’t want Dorian to feel bad or apologize. He knows better than most that the chaos of battle is fickle and things can go sour very quickly. Orym knows Dorian tried his best. Dorian did nothing wrong and Orym is glad for the help he does lend the party. They wouldn’t be here without him. Let’s go get day drunk with our friends.
The gang talk over breakfast and decide that they’ll leave Myr’atta to her sinister plan and follow a different lead instead. Orym would like to help Tetrarch Umeji. Tetrarch Thrascuur provides the party a map and directions to Niirdal-Sarqet, where Umeji was headed. Thrascuur warns them to travel quietly and at night. Niirdal-Sarqet is not the kindest place; they worship the Betrayer Gods there.
After Thrascuur leaves, a young employee of the tower they’re staying in asks Orym to deliver a letter to Umeji. It’s from Elam, their dinner host from yesterday. It…seems to be some kind of love letter. Sure, add the letter to their pile of unfinished story lines. It’s time to head off on their new adventure.
The party travel south for a full day, reaching a strange sight in the jungle just before dusk. 20 foot tall pillars surround a rather large floating cube. There are more runes carved into this cube. These ones glow with a strange power. The gang move in to investigate. Gravity gets a little weird the closer they get to the cube. Dariax and Opal get accidentally sucked onto the cube after an investigation goes awry. The two are able to walk around easily on the surface of the cube. Dariax realized he can actually make sense of some of these runes. The ones at his feet mention something about “a shield.” Dorian begins to get closer to read runes on another face. These speak of “the universe.” Orym cautions the group to stay aware, these are the people that worship Betrayer Gods. Sure enough, he spots some imagery of the Spider Queen carved into this cube.
Dariax runs over to Dorian’s side of the cube and reads aloud, “The universe above.” All the runes on this face begin to glow red. Opal reads, “A shield to protect.” The runes here glow blue. Fearne leaps onto the cube as well while Dorian uses his winged boots to move towards a new face. “Decide what comes next.” A purple glow suffuses this face of the cube. “Remember what came before.” The runes glow orange. “Provide for all.” Dariax tries to excitedly run to the final side of the cube, but trips and falls when he realizes he’s not alone. A large stone golem crouches on the surface of the cube. Dorian asks him to quietly read out the runes then they can leave. “The universe within.”
The cube shifts blue and the ground begins to rumble. Unsure of what’s about to happen the party try and take cover as best they can. Fearne reaches down, trying to stop the cube from shifting and the cube’s runes finally click into place in her mind. The universe above, the universe within. Remember what came before. Decide what comes next. Provide for all, a shield to protect.” The cube shatters, sending the party scattering.
As the explosion quiets, they open their eyes and notice the cube fragments are floating as if frozen mid explosion. Dariax sees the stone construct awaken and begin hunting for them. Orym leaps up onto one of the fragments near Fearne. As the blue light of the cube’s magic washes over him, he watches as time stretches out strangely before him. A second stone construct leaps onto the fragment behind him and Fearne. Dariax grabs his symbol and calls out for the Observer’s help. She powers up his Bless spell to cover every one of his companions. He also notices his spear has some extra special damaging abilities now. Cool, thanks Observer! He lands a hit on one stone construct but is sent flying backwards under attack.
Dorian leaps in to help Dariax, trying to use dissonant whispers to send it fleeing. The awful voice in his head returns, berating him for choosing such a useless spell. He tries to shrug the negativity off and casts, but feels his heart fall as the spell fails. Opal’s mind sliver spell is also ineffectual. Seems like stone constructs don’t have much of a brain to influence. Opal sees a glowing mote of power drifting by her face, she grabs it and is suddenly imbued with the ability to grant one healing spell to a friend.
Fearne viciously attacks the construct trying to grapple Orym. As she blinks, she can see the web of time surrounding her. She plucks at a string. She feels able to influence the events around her (forcing a d20 reroll at her discretion.) Orym is able to send the construct off the edge of the cube with a series of attacks. He moves over to defend Opal and Dorian. A third construct appears.
Orym, Opal, Dorian and Dariax all work together, with a little help from Fearne’s ability to manipulate fate, to take down the second construct. Dariax nearly falls under an attack from the construct, but as he’s bracing for impact, he feels that burning itch between his shoulder blades erupt as two large wings unfurl and carry him to safety. That’s right, he can fly now! Opal is sent flying off the cube after a particularly nasty attack, but Dariax and his fancy new wings are able to pull her back to safety. Opal keeps getting hit with these weird residuum shards. Her shoulder, her forehead, her back. Finally, a flicker of purple in the jungle catches her eye and she takes off running towards it.
Fearne easily matches the third construct blow for blow on her own. Dorian wraps himself around Fearne’s construct, dragging it down enough for Dariax to fly over and stab it through the eye. The construct falls, dragging Dariax with it, until Fearne catches his leg and pulls him and his spear to safety. Dorian finishes off the beast with a particularly potent shatter spell, sending rocky shards exploding into the surrounding jungle.
The group look up to realize Opal is chasing a very familiar purple robed Myr’atta through the trees. Myr’atta turns and slams a residuum rod into the ground. Opal feels her body grow heavy and she collapses. Another residuum rod slams down. She’s completely helpless now. Myr’atta’s voice cuts through the haze. “Whatever your name is. I’m going to free you and this little girl.” And that’s where we’ll pick up next week.
And the penultimate episode is in the books! With only one episode left, it’s anyone’s guess where this story will end and what exciting new chapters may be announced soon. It’s seeming less and less likely that the gang will be able to make it back to Emon and save the day with only a 3-4 hour long session left to go. Heck, let’s be honest, even if we got a 7 hour long epilogue episode we still may not be able to neatly tie up all these story lines. But that may not be the point of this series after all! What was thought to be a limited run series with a clear cut beginning and ending may just be a ‘prologue’ of sorts that could lead us into future ExU seasons or possibly into Campaign 3 itself. Ok, setting speculation aside for now, let’s dive into the chaos that was episode 7.
The opening scenes laid out some powerful narrative about each character’s emotional state. We saw our heaviest character building and role play of the episode during these scenes. I personally enjoyed these little vignettes, though they didn’t progress the story all that much. Fearne’s sleep paralysis dream and Dorian’s inner voice of depression and anxiety hit waaaaay too close to the chest. Man, I felt those scenes hard. Too real Aabria! Too real! I’d love to see a deeper dive into Dorian’s backstory and mental state than we’ve seen so far. We’ve just been getting these juicy little hints and crumbs that imply a far more angst-ridden story than sweet bard boy Dorian has been letting on.
Dariax had quite the encounter during his turn on watch. He met with the Observer again, was granted new ‘physical’ gifts that turned out to be two pairs of wings and a cool little gravity bending ability on his spear. Though, now that I’m thinking about it, that may have been due to the weird Dunamancy cube and not the Observer. Time for a rewatch! Dariax has been getting so much love from this Observer character. It’s unclear if this Observer has been the source of his sorcery power from the beginning or if the Observer is granting him new abilities.
Orym’s watch scene had fewer God level interference, but was just as chock full of vague imagery and sense of purpose as Dariax and Dorian’s one-on-one’s. Orym’s place in the group has always been a bit of an outsider. He’s by far the most reserved, honor bound, responsible member of the group. This has put him in opposition with the more chaotic or desperate companions, leading to tense standoffs. During his little scene in this episode, we saw a far more vulnerable side of Orym. That put together veneer is beginning to crack as the gang find stranger and stranger enemies on their tail. For a hot second there, I though Liam was finally going to crack Orym’s backstory wide open and give us a little view into what’s driving Orym on this adventure. No dice though, it’s a standoff between Robbie and Liam over who will crack and dish the backstory first. Though, with only one episode left it’s highly unlikely we’ll see too much exposition on these boys before the end of the series.
Opal’s story has consumed the narrative of the last few episodes. What started as a funny little quirk turned mystery has become the crux of the series. Our final showdown seems to be Opal and the Gems vs Myr’atta and whatever she wants with Ted. I’m all good to hang along for the ride as we tear into Opal’s story and (hopefully) finally figure out what happened to Ted.
To no one’s surprise, the gang decide to side quest it and follow the Tetrarch Umeji thread instead of going back to Emon and dealing with the Ashhole. It’s honestly more on brand than staying on task would be for the Critical Role gang. I mean, Mercer did drop the bombshell that the Mighty Nein’s journey to Xhorhas was waaaay ‘off script’ and completely threw his plans for guest star Matt Colville out the window. ‘Expect the unexpected’ is about the only rule we can rely on.
This new story thread led to a deeper exploration into Aabria’s contribution to Exandria- the Niirdal tetrarchy. Her ideas of magic, gods, and fate will definitely have an impact on the world of Exandria in future campaigns (or at the absolute least, some badass campaign guide info). It’s been feeling like she’s playing around a bit with Mercer’s homebrewed Dunamancy. But, this also may be my own personal bias poking in hot off the heels of Campaign 2.
Aabria’s been digging heavily into the pre-calamity history of Exandria and bringing it into the modern world. Niirdal-poc and the other tetrarch cities are all pre-calamity civilizations that have somehow escaped the effects of the calamity and the gods creating the divine gate. Niirdal- Sarqet is apparently a rougher city that still worships the betrayer gods, though seemingly a ‘less evil’ version of them that existed pre-calamity. We added another mystery to the growing list when the gang came upon the fancy floating cube on the outskirts of Niirdal-Sarqet. I desperately wish we could have had a lore dump on the history of this cube, but realistically, no one in this party would have EVER heard of it, seeing as it is one of the lost mysteries of a civilization abandoned by time. I’m a little sad that we may never find out the real purpose of the cube, seeing as the gang said all the magic words, exploded the cube, battled its guardians and…. then jumped right into another story line. Ah well, save it for the campaign guide, right?
The final scene of the episode left us on quite the cliffhanger for the finale. It’s anyone’s guess how this next encounter will go. They’ll be facing Myr’atta while down one warlock, and depleted from a tense encounter. No telling where the story will go after, but you bet I’ll be along for the ride. Here’s hoping we get some news about new Critical Role content (Campaign 3 update please!) now that ExU is finishing up. Tune in here at the Geekly Grind to catch all the newest Critical Role news. Don’t worry Critters! It’s almost Thursday.