Episode 140: Long May He Reign
The Nein chase Lucien back down into the Aether Crux of Cognouza. As they float down into the chamber one by one, a large, glowing mass in the center of the room pulses with some kind of strange energy. The ground splits open and a new, more horrifying form of Lucien is birthed. Eyes glowing, hands held out wide, and the rest of his body fusing with a muscled stalk of Cognouza itself raises him up 20 feet into the air. The tendrils that used to house the Eyes of the Somnovum have transformed into wicked looking spiky flesh wings, curling around his form. Lucien has become Cognouza Incarnate.
Beau and Essek manage to land a couple attacks but Lucien doesn’t even seem to notice. Lucien now, flexes his new powers sending a destructive volley of attacks at the Nein. He bends the aether energy to his will, creating a massive stone statue out of thin air and flinging it at Caduceus, trapping him against a flesh tower. With a glower at Yasha, he pins her mind in a Nightmare Cage, sending her a dark vision of a bloodied Zuala begging for Yasha to come back. Turning his gaze to the rest of the party, he unleashes a wave of glitching static “revealing the pattern” into everyone’s minds. Incredibly, and thanks to Jester’s Heroes’ Feast, the entire party is able to withstand the effect and no new eyes appear on their bodies.
Veth calls out to Mollymauk, but Lucien doesn’t even seem to register her speaking. A quick crossbow bolt is released and she hides again. Suddenly, three eye stalks rise out of the ground around the battlefield. The Somnovum have returned. Veth gets hit with Luctus’ gaze of grief and is slowed. Essek gets two new eyes from Timorei and Gaudius, then falls prey to Luctus’ grief ray and sinks to the ground in despair. Caleb aether summons a glaive that mirrors Lorenzo’s and runs Lucien through the chest. Lucien doesn’t seem to react to the memory Caleb’s trying to evoke, he’s much much harder to break now.
Caduceus manages to free himself from under the statue. Jester banishes the eye of Vigilan, dispelling the anti-magic cone that plagues them. Fjord creates a foggy marine layer, creating a safe hiding place on the edge of the battlefield. The Nein shake themselves off and prepare for round 2. Beau tries to harness the aether energy as Lucien and Caleb did, but is not quite strong enough to pull it off, she takes a patient defense instead. Essek, still slowed under grief, uses his turn to tether the essence of Luctus and Timorei together telling the Nein to “hurt one, hurth both!”
Lucien looks down at Veth and sends six piercing wing attacks into her tiny form. Veth takes a massive 83 damage, but still stays on her feet, weakly whispering “I forgive you.” Yasha uses Holy Avenger to help her break free of the nightmare and rages, slashing into Timorei. The Nein notice that both Timorei and Luctus take the same damage because of Essek’s tether. Veth shakes off her grief and, no longer slowed, disengages and hides. The Eyes turn to Yasha, Jester, and Caduceus. Yasha takes a necrotic ray, Jester gets and eye, and Caduceus falls prey to a vision of his family and is pulled closer to Lucien and takes a necrotic ray to the back. Caleb uses his mind to psychically rip into Timorei’s form dealing more damage to Luctus as well, they’re looking rough. Jester aether summons a giant dick covered in egg sick and calls out to Molly as she slaps Lucien in the face with it. Angrily shaking it off, Lucien sends a necrotic ray screaming into Jester, dealing 50 damage.
Fjord focuses an eldritch blast into Timorei and the sounds of two screaming Somnovum break the air as their forms explode. Lucien also doubles over in pain, it seems like he can also be damaged by taking out the eyes. Fastidan with his necrotic ray get hit with Fjord’s two remaining eldritch blasts. Round three begins.
Beau trains all her attacks on the eye of Vigilan. Essek sends magic missiles to finish him off. As Vigilan’s form explodes, Lucien again reacts in pain and anger. Lucien harnesses the aether again, cracking the top of the tower off of where Caleb is hiding. He sends Caleb and the crumbling tower crashing into Essek down below, trapping Caleb under the rubble. Lucien then traps Caduceus in a Nightmare Cage vision of the Blooming Grove falling to destruction. He then again flexes his powers, willing Cognouza to absorb flesh. The city hardens its grip around the Nein’s bodies, grappling Fjord, Jester and Beau. Veth lands another crossbow bolt, but draws Lucien’s ire. He focuses Fastidan’s necrotic eye on her and she falls unconscious.
Caleb, still struggling to get free from under the rubble, doesn’t see Veth go down, Essek is reaching for him, Jester looks rough but is far out of reach. He taps into the aether and imagines Jester healing and wills her wounds to close. Jester feels herself heal for 10 hp. Fjord is unable to dodge a fireball attack from Ira. Caduceus manages to shrug off his nightmare, promising to return to his home soon and find everything ok. As he comes back to the battle, he sees Veth unconscious and is able to heal her enough to get her back on her feet just as another fireball comes crashing into them. Luckily, Veth uses evasion and is able to take no damage and survives another round. A shadow looms behind a grappled Jester and she looks back to see Lucien directly behind her. Another fireball explodes into the party.
Round 4. Beau channels the aether to attack Ira, trying to get rid of the angry fireballs. Essek is finally able to reach Caleb, attempting to pull him free from the rubble. “Caleb, they need you!” Essek digs deeper, using his fortunes favor to bend reality and succeed in freeing his Empire colleague. Caleb presses his forehead to Essek in thanks and returns to the battlefield. Essek finally manages to shake off that crushing wave of grief. Caleb turns back around just in time to watch Jester take five brutal wing attacks from Lucien. Jester quietly calls out to Artagan with her last breath. He screams as her body falls lifeless to the ground. Yasha throws herself over Jester’s body, taking two more wing attacks. Jester’s body begins to sink into the flesh of Cognouza as Lucien cackles. Another fireball crashes into the Nein. Yasha and Caduceus feel new eyes appear on their bodies as Lucien reveals the pattern over the battlefield again. Veth aims a crossbow bolt into Ira and the eye finally explodes into oblivion. Beau gets a new eye from the gaze of Elatis. Fastidan hits Caduceus with a necrotic ray and the cleric collapses, unconscious. Death ward kicks in and Caduceus opens his eyes, brutalized but awake with 1 hp. Not good.
Caleb screams into Lucien’s mind, “you’re killing her! You love her and you’re killing her!” He telekinetically lifts Jester’s body up and over to Caduceus’ feet. Lucien’s grin widens monstrously, but his hand reaches up to his face and begins clawing bloody marks into it. Lucien sends Fastidan’s necrotic ray at Caleb, withering him. Shakily, Caduceus kneels next to Jester and pulls out a diamond. Green vines reach to Jester’s body and divine light flashes, turning them to ash. Jester’s eyes open and she breathes deeply, thanking Caduceus. Caduceus slumps down again and quickly takes a healing potion. Can’t have both clerics at 1 hp. Just in front of them, Caleb is hit with another necrotic ray and falls to the ground. Jester leaps to her feet and focuses a mass cure wounds out to her friends. Caleb is back up and almost everyone gets a little healing bump. Fjord rushes forward, destroying Fastidan with three eldritch blasts and covering both clerics with his misty marine layer. Round 5 begins.
Beau, watching her friends fall one by one, takes out the belt from Molly’s coat, wrapping it around her fists. “If I can’t beat you out of him, I’ll beat you with him.” Two beautiful nat 20 punches rock into a damaged looking Lucien. “Long may he reign.” Two more punches crack into Lucien’s form. Essek, furious at watching Caleb go down, screams an 8th level gravity fissure into Lucien, crushing arms and ribs and wings. Lucien attempts to activate the eyes on the Nein’s bodies. This is it. Caleb is unaffected thanks to his mind blank and protection from aberration. Everyone else miraculously succeeds thanks once again to Heroes’ Feast.
Lucien tries to take Caleb out again with wing attacks, but Caleb’s mirror image spell deflects all attacks. Beau and Yasha rip into Lucien again. Lucien retaliates against them with more wing attacks. Veth crossbows Culpasi, then is charmed by Gaudius. Essek falls prey to Elatis’ ray, gains a 5th eye and is pulled away from Caleb right next to Lucien. Lucien finally turns back to Caleb again, sending three more wing attacks slicing into him. The Nein watch as Caleb’s body is ripped apart and he too falls lifeless to the ground.
Caduceus, unable to reach Caleb, sends a healing word amongst the rest of the party and casts Path to the Grave on Lucien. Jester steps up to Lucien. “I know you’re in there Molly. I love you so much and we want you back.” A guiding bolt explodes into Lucien, doubled by Caduceus’ boon. Lucien screams as the remaining Somnovum explode. His hands reach up into the wound in his chest and begin tearing his flesh apart. His power bloated form rends into two parts and collapses to the ground unmoving.
The battlefield falls silent for a moment as the Nein process. Whispers begin to sound around them. Thousands of whispers. “Thank you.” Motes of light drift from the remains of Cognouza, the souls of Aeor finally freed. The red eyes of nine begin to fade on the Nein’s bodies. Caduceus and Jester kneel beside Caleb, gently preparing a resurrection ritual. Jester reaches out to Artagan, who emotionally apologizes for not being there for her before. The eyes were keeping his power at bay. A pair of ethereal green clad arms join Jester’s and Caduceus’ on Caleb’s chest. As their hands lift, Caleb’s chest rises with life once again. He quietly asks “Is it over?” It’s finally over. They’ve won.
The Nein limp and crawl their way over to Lucien’s body. Beau and Yasha begin cutting and tearing the tether of Cognouza away from his legs and torso. Caleb pulls out his transmuter stone and a diamond, placing them on the body. He brokenly asks, “Why did we come this far if not for this?” He wants to try calling Molly back to them. Essek asks if this is a wise choice. “Once you’re a member of the Mighty Nein, you’re in. You should know this by now.” This shuts everyone up. He channels every ounce of concentration, magic, will, and love into raising Molly’s soul. A little flicker of light returns to the eyes, the wounds begin to heal. Yasha, Jester and Beau lend their words of encouragement to Molly. * At this point Mercer rolls a die on the battle cam for all to see. It’s a natural 1.* The spell ends, the Nein hold their breath, waiting hopefully. But as the seconds tick on, it’s clear that whatever scrap of soul Molly had left is gone. Yasha begins weeping asking if there’s nothing else they can do. Defeated and broken, Caleb leans forward to place a gentle kiss on Molly’s forehead. “You are frustrating and we will miss you.” Essek gives a huff of frustration and stalks away from the party. Fjord follows as the others begin to mourn and prepare Molly’s body for transport home.
Fjord cautiously approaches Essek, asking if he’s ok. The drow glances over and quietly murmurs, “It’s not fair.” Silence as the man’s face breaks in sorrow and all he can do, voice cracking with emotion is repeat. “It’s not fair. You’ve all come so far.” Fjord sadly agrees, it rarely is fair. Essek’s spent his whole life studying to not let things like this fall to chance. But there’s nothing he can do. Fjord says that if he were to ask his wise old friend Caduceus, he might say that life rarely ends. Death is just the start of a new journey they can’t see the beginning of. Life will continue on. Essek has more time, time to study and learn and grow. Use the anger and frustration, let it fuel you. If he has any regret or grief left, Fjord sees nothing but the opportunity to turn things around. He’s shown Fjord everything he needs to see.
Essek uses this glimmer of hope Fjord has given him to turn back to the party and leans down to Caleb. No one notices Caduceus take a few steps back and whisper a prayer to the Wildmother. Essek, a new ferocity gleaming in his eyes says, “Caleb Widogast, have you ever accepted defeat?” There’s nothing Caleb can do, what else is there to do? “Maybe today, for the first time.” The glimmer of hope begins to fade. Caduceus’ prays to the Wildmother, on behalf of his friends. “Whatever is was, just put it back. I think they’ve earned it.”
Around Molly’s body, new plants and vines begin to grow and encase the still form. Fjord recognizes this embrace from his first moments under the Wildmother’s protection. A warm breeze passes through the party and the vines begin to wither and crumble. Molly’s eyes open and…. he bolts, running from the party, stopping a dozen feet away, clutching his head and crying “Empty, empty, empty.” Yasha calls out, “Mollymauk Tealeaf?” The form slowly turns around, catching her eyes, and says “Love,” with a gentle smile. He slowly looks at the rest of the party, naming them, “Magician, Joy, Tinkerer, Sea, Rumor.” He slowly lies back down. The Nein carefully descend around Molly, Caleb hangs back a moment, grabbing Veth and Essek into an emotional hug.
In shock, the Nein carefully begin to piece themselves back together. Fjord and Jester manage to find the bag of holding once lost to the Tomb Takers. Caduceus and Molly meet for the first time. Molly asks to go home, and they agree it’s time. The Blooming Grove is calling. The party ironically note that there are finally nine members of the Mighty Nein. After all this time, and here at the end of the world, it is fitting that they are finally complete.
We’ll pick up next week with the final epilogue episode of Campaign 2 of Critical Role.
Are there any words I can even say to convey how incredible this session was? What a way to go out! You know when not only are the players completely blown away and emotionally spent, but the DM is too, you’ve done a good job. For sure, this is one of the greatest episodes of Critical Role between both campaigns. It definitely gives the Vecna fight a run for its money with tense moments, clutch spells, and emotional turmoil. It goes up blow for blow against the Thordak fight for edge of your seat action (and longest play through to break). Let’s do our best to pick apart this behemoth of an episode, starting at the opening scene.
After last week’s intense cliffhanger we finally got to see the horrifying final form of Lucien. If you thought version 2.0 was disturbing, just wait until you’ve laid eyes on this monstrosity. At this point, I think we’ve become desensitized to the body horror, but man will I be glad to finally be out of this Cognouza flesh nightmare. With the battlefield set, the cast roll initiative and Lucien gets another crazy high initiative roll! I, for one, appreciate when an enemy rolls a higher initiative (as long as it’s not against me while I’m playing, right?). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blast to absolutely wreck a foe your DM throws at you within a couple rounds (ie. the Cree fight). But it can really set the tone of a fight to see what your enemy can do early on. Round 1 of the Lucien fight had him leading with a natural 20, which was brutal. This fight didn’t fare much better with only Beau and Essek able to take turns before Lucien. Plus…. FIVE or so legendary actions per turn….AND them the Eyes of Somnovum sprinkled in too. It was not pretty.
It felt like after every PC turn, Lucien was able to pull an action and do some damage. After the first couple rounds I was feeling guarded but optimistic about the fight. The Nein were able to keep most of the bad damage and effects at bay while also dealing about 200 damage to Lucien as well. Fjord whipped out his most useful spell (I kid, I kid, but not really) Marine Layer! Plus a new dunamancy spell, Tether Essence from Essek. Not a bad intro. Then Ira, Fastidan, and Lucien’s clawed wing attacks came roaring in during the third and fourth rounds and man… Things got real hairy there for a sec. Veth went down, then Jester dies, Caduceus drops, and Caleb dies all in one quick succession. We’ve had some tense fights in the past, with some PC deaths mid battle, but never like this before. For a few turns there, things started to feel pretty hopeless, but like the absolute pro that he is, Mercer was able to balance the fight just enough to give the players a fighting chance.
By the tail end of the fifth round, every party member was in the danger zone and the desperation was real. The clerics were both using their turns to spam mass cure wounds just to keep everyone conscious enough to get that HDYWTDT. That emotional wind up was a doozie, the wizards were over in the corner breaking reality to save each other, then Caleb loses his mind when Jester goes down. Jester comes in swinging with that heartbreaking little “Arty” dagger right to the feels. And THEN Caddy using his death ward to cling to life for one more turn. AND THEN Caleb dying. Too many heavy hitting moments back to back! Somehow, miraculously, Caduceus gets Jester back up, they’re able to heal up barely back into double digits. Yasha winds up the crowd with that plea to Molly “You saved me once, I hope I can do the same for you,” then lets Caduceus and Jester double team for the final kill. Once again, Caduceus comes in clutch with the Path to the Grave! Grave clerics man. As poetic as it would have been for Ashley to get the kill, I loved the just as powerful moment from Jester, who had previously expressed so much guilt at not being able to save Molly the first time. Precious moments!
After that marathon, emotionally harrowing fight we come back from break and right into Caleb’s resurrection ritual. The moment is quick and not as involved as past revivify rituals, which was fine by me. I was already emotionally tapped. Plus, we all know that they were saving the big resurrection guns for Molly’s turn. I’ll admit I was a little worried about going immediately from the fight into Molly’s res, but there was no other logical path for the story to go. This story has been 120 + episodes in the making and it would have felt so unjust to end without trying to res their original companion. How many times throughout the campaign have we lost hope, gained hope, only to lose it again over our purple tiefling friend? Low level PC deaths are always devastating and unfair, but then there were so many hints that Molly (or Lucien) could possibly return.
But then after dozens of episodes of silence, and the fans rabidly on the hunt for any clue that Molly lived, hope seemed to trickle out. Also, Caduceus became one of my absolute favorite additions to the campaign and I couldn’t imagine Taliesin having to switch back to Molly mid campaign. Then… that mental [email protected] of an episode at Molly’s grave, empty, Cree traveling with a familiar tiefling. Hope came roaring back. For the next 25 or so episodes the cast tried their dang best to break Molly’s soul out of Lucien’s grip and each attempt seemed to fail. It was only during Jester’s tarot card reading with that one little finger twitch at the mention of death and rebirth that the first signs that Molly might still be in there were confirmed.
In an interesting turn, Caleb stepped in to do a Raise Dead ritual in place of the clerics. Again, drawing on all those emotional moments of Molly’s history with the Nein. It was Molly, and that sweet little forehead kiss that set Caleb on his path to redemption. His death his Caleb hard enough to shock him into realizing how much the Nein meant. He stopped trying to run at every hard moment, stopped letting his past control him, and started trying to make amends and leave the world a better place. And so, he used all that pain and love to bring his friend back. And. It. Doesn’t. Work. UGH! I’m a freakin sap for dark, emotional moments and I know some Critters were secretly hoping for a perma-death in this campaign. I got my tea. I got to sit with it for a few minutes. I got an emotional Essek and Fjord and Caleb scene out of it. It was beautiful. AND [email protected] THEN… Taliesin comes rolling in with his divine intervention, again.
That’s right, the grave cleric, whose entire calling in life is to respect the sanctity of death asked his god, just this once, maybe let’s give it to them. You cannot write a better story. As poignant and momentous as death scenes can be, Caduceus was right, we did earn our happy ending. The Nein lived through Molly’s death. They faced the worst odds, won, and still at the final moment fell and almost admitted defeat again. And in the true poetic justice of Campaign 2 and second chances, Molly gets his second chance too. Beautiful! So beautiful. I also love that it was Taliesin that was able to bring back his own character from the dead and give them that win.
Backtracking one moment, to that sweet little Fjord and Essek moment, when it felt like the cast was able to talk to the critters directly through these two characters. Essek voicing the disbelief and shock we felt at the failed res spell, then Fjord showing us how far we’ve come together. Also, taking away that meta layer, we get the underlying message of redemption again. Caleb used Molly’s death the first time to turn himself around, it’s only fitting that his mirror in this campaign would use his second death to bring back his little glimmer of hope to turn himself around too. And none of this is invalidated because Molly’s back! The wizards got their hubris checked and their friend returned, win win in my book.
Also, there’s been a frankly astute comparison between the endings of the two campaigns. Campaign one ends with (SPOILERS OBVIOUSLY) Vax’ildan’s death and the party’s inability to break his contract with the Raven Queen. Vox Machina had faced death and won so many times over (here’s looking at you Key-fish) and the world saw them as undeniable heroes of the world. Then on the other hand, in this quiet moment, in a forgotten corner of a faraway plane at the end of the universe, the Mighty Nein get to cheat death just this one beautiful time. No one cheering their victory, no heroic welcome home, but they won. Goddam poetic s.o.b’s.
For our final episode of Critical Role we get an even longer session to epilogue. I’m sure we’ll get a satisfying ending to this gorgeous story, even as we wish it would never end. Bring your tissues, bring hydration, bring an emotional support friend, pet, pillow, rock…whatever you need. I’ll be here on the other side to say goodbye with you. Don’t worry Critters, it’s almost Thursday!
Don’t Miss It!
Next week’s episode will be the finale of Campaign 2! And based on Mercer’s tweet it’s going to be a marathon of emotional goodbyes. Judging by the adjusted Twitch stream replay times we’re looking at a record breaking 6 + hour episode. Hang in there Critters, we’ll make it through this together.
A Campaign Wrap Up episode of Talks Machina has not yet been announced but should be airing Tuesday June 8th if they stick to the normal programming schedule! Check the weekly schedule page on critrole.com for the most up to date announcements on new content.