Episode 135: The Genesis Ward
Caleb and Beau wake from their latest nightmare. Their movements bring the rest of the Nein to waking and they once again go through the ritual of checking Beau and Caleb’s bodies for new eyes. Beau’s shiny new memento is dead center on her sternum and Caleb’s has appeared on his left palm.
Well…they both still feel like themselves. So far the eyes are just freaky and unwanted tattoos. The Nein are used to these new nightmares by now so attention is quickly turned from Beau and Caleb to Fjord who is still suffering from a case of wild magic induced baldness. It’s fine, no problems here. He’ll just magic himself some illusionary hair on his head until it grows back.
Before Veth sets out to investigate the next chamber, Essek grants her a Mote of Possibility to protect against any disastrous mishaps. Veth and Fjord manage to wedge the broken door open just a crack but need Jester and Yasha’s help to get it completely unstuck. The door leads to another vast district that shows signs of mass destruction. The center of the cityscape is completely obliterated by a more than mile wide explosion crater. Caduceus’ and Beau’s best guess is that some kind of detonation or god-level weapon fell from the sky, bored into the ground under the city, then exploded upwards leaving Aeor in shambles. This level of destruction is unlike anything the Nein have ever seen before and it’s quite haunting.
Beau realizes as she peers into the city’s crater that Aeor extends several dozen floors into the ground below. It’s as if she’s at the top of a high rise building looking down at levels and levels of forgotten civilization. Jester begins to recognize the area from her scrying spell on Lucien. They are definitely on the right path. Lucien and Cree rested on a floor a few levels down into the crater. With all their abilities and some rope it should be no problem to scale down to investigate.
Carefully climbing down to the first level, the Nein touch down onto a room scattered with debris and ashy detritus. Several bodies litter the floor and there are several doorways leading off to darkened chambers. Veth scouts ahead and finds a storage room full of magic components. Caleb perks up at this discovery and gives the room a once over, finding some useful pearls. He kindly passes half the pearls over to Essek with a smile. Veth unlocks the next door and finds a room packed to the brim with books and the expensive vellum paper and ink used to transcribe magic spells. Caleb is in heaven. The Nein are impatient to move on to the next floor, but Caleb remains distracted. He curtly tells the Nein to go on ahead without him and he’ll fly down in just a second.
Unhappily, Jester and Fjord prepare the climbing rope to descend to the next level and start ferrying their companions down. Yasha and Essek opt to stay behind to keep an eye on Caleb as he begins casting a spell to open up an amber chest to haul away as much material as he can.
The climb down to the second level is a bit more precarious. The rope is beginning to fray, and Jester hopes it will support the rest of the party who stays behind. Caduceus and Veth begin to look around this chamber. Unlike the first, which showed signs of damage and destruction, this room is completely coated in a layer of black soot. The charred bodies on the floor have little to scavenge, but Veth notices an Electrum bracelet with a shining gem on one’s wrist. She snaps it off and hands it to Caduceus. They’ll figure out what this does later. There’s not much else to do on this floor and Jester’s ready to head down another level. What is Caleb doing up there that’s taking so long?!
Meanwhile, back in the store room, Essek is impatiently leaning with arms crossed against the opposite wall and tapping his foot. Finally he’s had enough and floats over to Caleb, ready to give him a good old “stay on task, Widogast” talk. He pointedly asks Caleb what his goals are through this. Caleb continues stacking books and papers, confused by the question. Essek mentions that he’s growing more and more uneasy in this place, he didn’t sleep well and now it seems that Caleb is falling prey to Aeor’s temptations. He also mentions Beau and Caleb’s new eyes; he’s only just learned to trust again, it’s very difficult to have to distrust so quickly. Caleb continues stacking, but maintains eye contact with Essek. He cannot make any promises about they eyes, there’s no telling what their true purpose is. But he assures Essek that his companions have given their word to keep him in line or take him down before any harm comes of it. It’s worth the risk, all of this knowledge. Isn’t Essek curious about what Aeor could offer them?
Still doubtful, Essek asks Caleb which fight is more important to him in this moment, Trent Ikithon hunting them down, or Lucien’s ploy. Caleb answers without hesitation that it is Lucien that is the most pressing issue now. He can’t take care of Ikithon without first stopping Lucien. There, Essek takes that motivation and tosses it back to Caleb. “Good, of course I am extremely curious about this, but if someone has their nose in a tome, it is someone else’s duty to keep watch.” He gestures as himself and Yasha. He’s seen many talented mages like Caleb get distracted and fail to act in the heat of the moment. He just worries for Caleb. There is a time and a place for curiosity. Maybe when this is all over, the two of them can come back together, make a trip of it. For now, the mysteries are not the goal. Yasha interrupts this elven tongue lashing urging Caleb to hurry. This place is giving her the creeps. Caleb gives a nod, zips up his amber vault and jogs over to the rope.
Yasha braces the rope at the edge of the rubble, Essek begins his slow float down and Caleb swings himself over the edge to climb down. Oh yeah, Jester forgot to mention the rope is frayed….and there it goes. Caleb begins to plummet as the rope snaps in his hands. No problem though, he polymorphs into a delicate sparrow and flits down to Jester’s shoulder unharmed. Yasha, still stuck at the top, debates climbing or flying. It only takes one step before the rubble gives way and she too decides flying is better than falling. While she’s got the wings out, she helps fly the rest of the Nein down to the next level.
Finally, they have reached the level Lucien and Cree spent the night in. Jester and Beau look for a trace of a trail while Essek identifies Caduceus’ shiny new bracelet. It’s some kind of security key. May be useful later. Fjord calls out when he finds Lucien’s trail. It leads into a chamber with a caved in ceiling and two glass columns filled with dark fluid. Beau is pretty sure she can just make out some kind of shape hiding in the murky fluid. Charlie chimes in, saying they have made it to the Genesis ward and the repair room is just across the chamber. The Nein have a quick pow wow to make sure everyone is still on board with fixing the mysterious Aeormaton. Curiosity wins out over fear, and the Nein carry Charlie over to the repair room.
The room contains a futuristic looking contraption and Charlie instructs the Nein to place him inside. The machine whirs to life, the doors shut, and a cacophony of mechanical noises begin to fill the air around them. A few brief moments later, the doors hiss open and out steps a fully functioning, glistening Aeormaton. It takes a brief scan around the room, and begins speaking in an unfamiliar, yet powerful voice. “I am Devexian. Thank you for your aid in restoring myself.” He gestures to the destruction, asking what happened here.
The Nein take a moment to explain that a thousand years have passed since the city fell. They were hoping he had some answers as to how it happens. Slowly his memories begin to clear, and he begins speaking of an experiment too dangerous to be ‘allowed’ so the city was destroyed. He finds it ironic that it’s the Somnovum and the Cognouza ward that are the remnants that are trying to return. It’s a cruel joke of history he says, without any other explanations. He explains that Aeor was creating a weapon called the Creator Hamer, implying it was a weapon used to kill a god.
Devexian once again thanks the Nein for their help, but declines to assist them in their mission any longer. He was forged for a different mission, and he must find his associate. Maybe if the Nein fail, he can awaken a second wave of defenses. As a gesture of good will, Devexian opens up the heavily sealed door at the end of the chamber labeled “Rejuvenation Experiment”. He tells them the area of Aeor they seek will most likely be five levels below, the Immensus Gate. Then Devexian takes his leave of the Nein.
A little overwhelmed, the Nein just let Devexian go, that Aeormaton is a man on a mission. They have their own goal now. B-9, the Immensus Gate. But maybe they can take one more minute to check out this really cool chamber that Devexian unlocked.
As soon as the Nein step inside the chamber, Essek says he can sense traces of Dunamis magic in this room. The Nein investigate the two fancy contraptions in the room, one is damaged, but the other’s power gem still glows. Veth picks up a strange looking crossbow while Caduceus takes a moment to speak with one of the dead bodies in the room, learning that the contraption here is an attempt to condense a near instantaneous rejuvenation. Fjord decides, what harm could possibly come by trying out this strange and foreign technology? He pops himself into the contraption and watches as the doors close around him. The Nein watch as the machine comes to life, and steam fills the chamber, and only the outline of Fjord’s skeleton can be seen. A worrying few breaths later, the doors whoosh open, and Fjord steps out…completely well rested, and with his own hair back on his head! It seems the chamber accelerates time, giving the user the effects of a long rest.
Essek makes a note once again that the source of Dunamis in the chamber is coming from the machines gem. He and Caleb close in to get a better look. There! Essek grabs Caleb’s head, pushing it even closer to the gem until Caleb can finally see the swirling universe of stars and possibility inside. It seems to be a miniature version of a Luxon Beacon. The temptation is too great, and Essek asks for a moment to take the gem from the broken machine. He crushes the gravity around the gem, shifting the broken stone, metal and glass out of the way. He holds in his palm a forgotten relic that could possibly change the way his whole people view their religion… and he hands it over to Caleb. Caleb asks Essek if he’s sure he wants to give this up. Essek answers “there’s two of them, isn’t there?” They all agree to leave the functioning machine in tact for now and try to come back for the gem later. It’s time to move on again.
The Nein trace their steps back into the room with the collapsed ceiling. Something…smells awful. Beau, Caduceus and Veth notice that the two glass tubes have opened up and the murky liquid has spilled out into the chamber. A slavering growl echoes in the chamber. Caduceus lights a celebone stick and throws it across the room, Jester tosses a bag of chuckle dust in the same direction. The diversion is only partially successful and the Nein see a monstrous, reptilian creature with jagged mouths gaping open all across its back and torso.
Essek casts and condenses a spell into a black marble, handing it to Veth. Aim it and focus. A little confused, Veth holds the pearl up and waits….suddenly a forceful lightning bolt sizzles out of it, dealing a nice chunk of damage to the Nullifier beast. Yasha rushes in, landing a couple of slicing attacks, noticing her necrotic and radiant damage is having no effect on it. The Nullifier then turns on Yasha, clawing and biting the barbarian nearly in half. Appalled, Beau leaps into action, trying to stun the creature unsuccessfully. It’s probably time to run. As the Nein move through the chamber, they send a volley of attacks onto the creature. Jester notices a second, canine and plate metal melded monster flanking them from the other direction. Caduceus doesn’t like the look of this thing, he banishes it out of existence for the moment. Yasha and Beau keep beating at the Nullifier, trying to gets its mouths off Yasha. Fjord comes in with Star Razor for the killing blow, cutting the thing from stomach to head.
Caduceus can’t hold this banishment forever! It’s time to run. They opt for an awesome action pose, simultaneously running off the edge into the explosion crater. Veth feather falls herself, Jester, Beau, Caduceus, and Yasha while Fjord, Caleb and Essek fly around them. They slowly plummet down, aiming for the 9th level, uncertain on what will await them there. And that’s where we’ll pick up next week!
Another Aeor dungeon crawl episode! I was concerned that the narrative might slow down too much between Tomb Taker encounters, but I really enjoyed this session. It’s great that Mercer is able to flesh out this amazing world, carry the story’s thread at a good pace, and manage interesting and engaging encounters. Much like the Happy Fun Ball, I’m sure the cast could spend a dozen episodes just exploring the rich worlds that are at their fingertips.
We started this session off with more freaky eye markings! The shock factor has worn off by now, but the threat is still real. Just when Beau and Caleb were getting comfortable too. The cast has already planned for a scenario where Beau and Caleb are unwillingly turned against the Nein in the final fight. As much as I would dread watching that scene play out in real time, I can’t dismiss that it would be an amazing plot line. This is what happens when you go poking your nose into books you don’t understand. Speculation time: If Lucien is able to turn Beau and Caleb, I would be on the edge of my seat watching how Liam would role play. Caleb’s newest eyeball on his palm is in the exact place that Lucien’s one-hit brain melting murder ability is as well.
More Aeor lore! We got lots of new tidbits, room exploration, monsters, and history in this session. The whole first half, and part of the second half are dedicated to exploration. Even though the Nein tried to keep the tension of the chase going, the temptations of Aeor had the wizards acting like kids in a candy store. First Caleb got caught up in the Dunder-Mifflin paper store room, snatching all the vellum and ink that he could possibly carry. I love that Liam is playing so heavily into the role play (honestly though, when isn’t Liam 100% role play king?). We’ve gotten a lot of character development since the early days when Caleb was ready to cut and run at a moment’s notice. Just last session, Essek was trying to pry into Caleb’s current mind state and Caleb revealed he’s still unsure if he can trust himself if the temptation of power were placed before him. This tied directly into the Essek lecture in the store room.
At first glance, you may have wondered how war-criminal “I’ll start a war between nations for selfish research and power” Essek felt like he could give Caleb lectures on staying focused in the heat of the moment. It seems hypocritical right? Mercer seems to be laying heavily into the Essek redemption arc though, giving his drow friend the role of being Caleb’s moral compass and taking their previous tower conversation to heart. Essek is emotionally invested now! Just as Caleb re-oriented Essek’s priorities, Essek is attempting to do the same here, resuming his helpful mentor role. Twice in two sessions, he’s pulled out the phrase ‘young man’ on Caleb, even though by his culture’s standards he’s barely out of training wheels himself.
Beyond picking up the mantle of Caleb’s mentor again, we got to see a bit more of Essek’s power struggles and research curiosities this episode as well. Mercer always does a fantastic job of balancing his narrative story lines with fleshing out NPC’s at the same time. As much as the fans are slavering for all Essek all the time, Mercer knows when to pop him into the background and when to have him help push the narrative along. For example, he was missing during the first scene of the session as the Nein discussed the new eye marking, but was able to bring the conversation back around with Caleb alone in the paper room. Also, Essek took a backseat in the Charlie/Devexian scenes but quickly moved the story forward immediately afterwards when he set Caleb on the trail of unearthing the mini-beacons. Compared to last session ( and previous sessions an NPC has traveled with TMN or VM) we got lots more interaction from Essek, along with signs that he’s starting to loosen up around the Nein and really be that ‘shining star’ that the Wildmother hinted he could be. OKAY, that’s enough Essek deep diving for this review I think. Let’s move on.
How about that Devexian though?! We all miss Charlie, that adorable brain damaged bot. I wasn’t too surprised that the Nein did go through with repairing Charlie. They even had a quick convo about the possible dangers of it! Good for them! I’m not sure if they let Devexian go so quickly based on the narrative pressure or the stone walling conversation Devexian gave them. Either way, I feel like there was a wealth of knowledge that just walked out the door with that beautiful bot. Was it just me, or was it heavily implied that Devexian was going to try and awaken the Archmage Brassar from the dome? Mercer mentioned that the Aeormaton had a similar level of decorum as Brassar did. If so, what new horrors did the Nein let loose in the bowls of an ancient and powerful civilization? Anyone getting serious camapaign 3 story plot from this?
We got some more hints that the Dynasty and Aeor are somehow connected by Dunamancy. There’s been heavy speculation that the religious history the Dynasty has placed on the Beacons may not be entirely accurate. Essek’s whole persona is built around disproving the Dynasty’s theories, and not here in Aeor are the clues he’s been searching for. Does this also mean that Beau’s suspicions that the Dynasty arose from the souls of Aeor may have a mote of truth to them? These side lines, hints, and lore drops are so tempting and delicious! Too bad we have the threat of the end of the world hanging over these discoveries. Maybe Essek is right, we’ll get a nice little one shot some day where the wizards can go researching in Aeor to their heart’s content.
Despite the heavy themes of the story at large, we had quite a few moments of levity sprinkled in the narrative this session. Mostly, it was Fjord teasing everyone. Fjord messing with Essek, teasing Jester about holding her waist and miming a Han and Leia moment at the rejuvenation chamber, and Fjord sending Veth spinning into oblivion during their frantic freefall. Adorable. We also got a couple great scenes centering around Fjord’s hairy predicament, and of course the classic fart joke ‘smell my dunamis.” The beautiful mind of Travis Wilingham ladies and gents.
That little teaser of a fight paired with a very literally cliffhanger ending sets the action up perfectly for next session. I loved how ell balanced this session was. Letting us laugh a bit, explore an interesting new world, and send us anxiety spiraling into next Thursday. Who else has been eating up all the amazing monster descriptions Mercer has been laying down? I always love the monsters that Matt creates and uses in the show. There’s never a dull combat moment and even these ancillary encounters can leave you sweating. Like when Yasha was nommed by the Nullifier! That description of it trying to tear her ribs out was brutal. And that ending leaving us hanging! Mercer, you dog. Don’t worry Critters! It’s almost Thursday.
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New Talks Machina Tuesday at 7 pm. Join host Brian W. Foster and guests Taliesin Jaffe and Marisha Ray to deep dive into Campaign 2 episodes.