Episode 136: Hell or High Water
The Nein continue their harried descent down the ruins of Aeor. Jester is able to spot level B-9. Fjord, Essek and Caleb ferry their falling friends to the edge and safely touch down. Silence falls over the party as they quietly try to take stock of the situation. This level seems flooded, though the source of the water is not immediately clear yet. Beau reaches for her goggles to get a better view in the pitch black, then realizes….she doesn’t need them…she can suddenly see in the dark.
Caleb meets Beau’s eye line and cautiously says “you too?”. The rest of the party begin to question Beau and Caleb over what new abilities they have been hiding. Caleb reveals that he also can see better in the dark, and has noticed something interesting while Jester communicates with Artagan. He asks Jester why her weasel Sprinkle whispers in her ear during these conversations. Everyone turns to stare at the bedraggled weasel, who then suddenly pipes up in Artagan’s voice “well how else was I supposed to keep up with you?”. The friends spend the next few minutes in amazement, taking turns questioning the sneaky arch fey.
After the excitement of Artie’s reveal, the focus shifts back to Beau and Caleb, so they can see in the dark and see through magical disguises, what’s the third ability their new tattoos have given them. Caleb posits a theory and Beau tests it out on Yasha. Yeah… it’s definitely telepathy. The two take a nervous minute silently communicating with their companions, who take this alarming news rather well. Fjord, Caduceus and Veth hear growling nosies creeping in behind them. It’s time to go.
As stealthily as they can, the Nein press forward, coming to a doorway and a darkened path ahead. Caduceus uses his key card bracelet to unseal the locked doorway. Yasha, Caleb and Jester offer to scout ahead quickly to see if this will lead to the Immensus Gate. What Caleb finds instead is a new kind of experiment that shakes him to the core. He sees the most beautiful spell work combining his specialty Transmutation with the Dynasty’s Dunamancy. A Temporal Dock. It’s unlike anything he’s ever seen before and it all hinges on the possibility of traveling through one’s own timeline. And there, clear as day, more Beacon iconography. He rushes Essek into the room and the two spend a few minutes absolutely nerding out about the possibilities. Essek once again asks Caleb to return with him here if they survive. For now, they must choose a different path.
Fjord, Veth and Caduceus are still trying to distract the creatures that are hunting them, though…it’s not going well. Veth gets confused with her instructions and can’t remember if she’s supposed to distract the monsters away from the party or divert the monsters forward…or was it hide and ambush? Eventually, the party decide on cutting and stealthily running away. They manage to make it down the hallway and past a kitchen. Beau investigates, hoping for supplies but instead runs into a handful of sleeping Absorber creatures. Yikes, keep moving quietly.
Caleb spots a sign pointing to the Immensus Hall. Finally, they know they’re on the right path. Hmm, why does that glowing diamond in the middle of the hallway looks eerily familiar? As the words Intuit charge register in Caleb’s mind, the charge detonates, sending a psychic blast wave 300 feet in every direction. Fjord and Yasha both instantly drop, everyone else is sent reeling but manage to shake off the worst effects of the blast. Immediately on edge, the party prepare for a fight with Lucien while Caduceus and Jester pick their two fallen companions up. But no tiefling makes himself known. Instead, the howls and growling of a half dozen startled monsters echo in every direction.
The Nein are in no state to fight several Aeorian horrors at the same time, there’s no choice but to run forward and hope that they can spot the next Intuit charge before it detonates. They run into the Immensus Hall and pause… just as they feared, two more Intuit charges float menacingly ahead. Caleb throws up a wall of force between them and the sounds of monsters behind. Then, he casts dispel magic on the first charge, praying it will work. The party nervously watch as angry Absorbers begin throwing themselves against the wall of force. The intuit charge glows brightly under the spell…then winks out, falling into the water. It works! Caleb quickly casts dispel on the remaining charge as the ferocious sounds of monster battles ring out behind them.
As the Nein continue their escape forward, Beau comes across a storage room with empty cases of Intuit charges, and some potions. Based on the math, there could be up to 10 more charges to keep an eye out for. Jester laments that they still have not had time for another heroes’ feast. There’s one more chamber up ahead, Veth will go investigate. She sneaks forward, and comes face to face with two more armed Intuit charges. She braces for a world of hurt but it never comes. It seems these ones have been set to manually discharge. Another quick glance around the room and she spots a large glowing portal, with water pouring out to flood the room. And two familiar figures. It appears they’ve finally caught up with Lucien and Cree.
As the Nein frantically plan what to do, a voice creeps into Caleb and Beau’s minds. “Don’t be rude. I’ve made some precautions but I think it’s worth a talk.” None of their plans seem to be solid enough to gamble everyone’s life on. There’s no choice but to face Lucien on his terms.
Under Lucien’s threat to kill them all if they even breathe wrong in his direction, Beau and Caleb face the music. Ok Lucien, let’s hear the spiel. As Lucien theatrically launches into his master plan of how to take over the world, he also dances an interesting memento in front of Fjord. It seems Lucien has taken a liking to the Cloven Crystal. This will come back to haunt them, won’t it. He also reveals the Nein are only still alive because some strange part of himself still likes the Nein. Beau telepathically reaches out to Lucien, causing him to shiver and twitch. Caleb hits him with a “tell us more, circus man.” There it is again, another visceral reaction. Something about those words rings in a part of him he refuses to acknowledge.
Shaking it off, Lucien once again launches into his monologue, offering the Nein one more chance to join him. With one hand on the portal, Lucien lets a torrent of water race into the room. Caleb tries on more appeal. Will Lucien be making this place better than he left it? No reaction this time, Lucien just smirks, takes a bow and activates the portal to the Astral Sea. He and Cree leap through, leaving the Nein alone in the room.
Suddenly, the water around the Nein bursts to life, forming into a monstrous elemental that fills the room. The Nein dive for cover as tentacles whip around them. The Nein spend a few rounds facing off against the formidable behemoth, but the fight is quickly fading from them. They won’t last much longer in their state. Caleb makes the first choice, not wanting to die inches from their goal, he teleports himself to the portal. Aeor’s wild magic has other ideas though, and poof, Caleb polymorphs into a sheep. Things could not be going better. Veth casts hypnotic pattern, but it has no effect on the creature. The wild magic though does unfortunately have an effect on Veth who shrinks down to about a foot tall. Yes, things are definitely going perfectly.
Fjord makes it to the edge of the portal but turns to try and cover his companions. Caduceus and Essek team up. Essek casts fly on Caduceus, who then lifts him up and over the creature. Yasha makes it through the portal to see a tiny Veth and a sheep. This is fine. With Fjord’s covering fire, Jester makes it to the entrance as well but will also wait. Caduceus and Essek are looking rough, they may need a cleric. Beau makes it out. Veth places a mage hand on the portal lever, ready to close as soon as everyone’s safe. Caduceus, Essek, Jester and Fjord take another round of tentacle attacks. Everyone is still up, but barely. Essek remains grappled in a tentacle, Caduceus and Fjord can’t free him. No worries though, he still has a trick up his sleeve. A quick misty step and he’s also safely through the portal. Caduceus turns invisible and stealthily makes it through. Fjord backs into the Astral Sea and turns to see Jester, who managed to leap five feet into the portal, get snared by another tentacle, dragging her back into the fight alone. Veth slams the lever down and the portal shunts closed, severing the tentacle and saving Jester.
The euphoria of success is short lived as the Nein look around at each other. Most are bloodied and barely conscious. Veth is tiny. Caleb is a sheep still. And Jester still hasn’t had a heroes’ feast. In the distance, they are just able to make out two figures trekking towards an ominous floating city. The city shudders, twitches, and stares hungrily at the Nein. Beau and Caleb hear the whispers again. “Welcome, welcome, wElcOme.” And that’s where we’ll pick up next time.
What. An. EPISODE. I know… I say this every week. I guess that’s what I get for being such a fan of the show as a whole. But this week’s episode was something extra special. Within the first half hour we got Beau and Caleb’s new eye power reveals, Sprinkle as Artagan that wily bastard, and the introduction of the possibility of time travel. And that’s just the first 30 minutes! Imagine what the Nein get themselves into by the end. I bet you never would have guessed it was going to end with the Astral Sea, a twitchy circus man, a sheep, and most of the party below half health. Oh wait… its the Mighty Nein. That’s how it always ends.
Let’s start off with the new eyeball tattoo powers! We’ve been wondering when the shoe would drop for our resident monk and wizard. It was starting to seem like the consequences of curiosity would never arrive. We now know that the two have identical abilities (so far). True sight, dark vision, and telepathy seem to be the trio of abilities the pair inherited. Caleb and Beau spent a good chunk of the first half playing around with their new abilities, including playing some telepathic messaging pranks on their friends. As fun, and funny, as the introduction of these abilities may be… we still have yet to see the true sway these eyes will have over the companions as we enter the final showdown with the Somnovum and Lucien. They’ve been preparing for mind control, let’s hope that they have what it takes to handle the fight if it turns.
Caleb finally fessed up to noticing that Sprinkle was not exactly what he seemed! That new true sight ability coming in handy already, leading to one of the most hilarious long cons in Critical Role history. Now Artagan has impersonated an adorable, furry character in both campaigns, let’s see if he can go three for three. I absolutely love that this wild fan theory actually became canon. It’s fun little story plots like this that make me love the show so much.
Okay, time for the weekly Essek dump. How goddam adorable was the little interaction between Caleb and Essek over the insane discovery of time travel magic? Not only did both wizards have the very magical theory they’ve been literally killing for dangled in front of them this episode, but this invaluable information just happens to be the most beautiful blend of their two magical specialties. Ugh! *Chef’s kiss*. I’m beginning to think Mercer is laying on the star-crossed lovers frosting quite heavily now. He knows exactly how to hit all of Liam’s weak spots and he’s not leaving a single button unpushed. Yes, yes, it’s cOmPlicAteD. I know.
As for the time travel bomb drop, I’m on the side of the line that thinks this will be a wonderful little character building for one or both of our magic boys. We know Caleb was ride or die on the time travel train, and Essek is currently living in that state as well, but this will present them with the opportunity to overcome their narrative ‘weakness’. We all know how introducing time travel and alternate time lines makes things impossibly tricky for linear story telling. I feel rather confident that the wizards will both, maybe mutually, come to the agreement that going back to ‘fix mistakes’ would lead to this timeline being erased. The Nein would never meet, no one would be there to stop the Somnovum, or the Assembly…or a hundred other key moments the Nein have had their hands in. On the other hand, this Aeoran research confirms some very heretical things that Essek has been digging around for for who knows how long. Again, he spurred on a war over the chance at research. Aeor is everything he could have dreamed of for the Beacons and more. It’s looking far more likely that there is probably a Beacon hiding somewhere in the ruins. So tempting. Okay, speculation time is over, moving on!
The Nein had quite an intense run through the ruins this session. They started the session by running from one encounter, messily snuck away from a second encounter, and magicked their way out of a third monster showdown. And that wasn’t even the final encounter for the session. How about that endcap action?! My anxiety was at an all time high by the time the Nein just casually strolled into a deadly standoff with Lucien, two intuit charges, a water plane beast, and an Astral Sea portal. I almost didn’t survive the end of the episode. I felt like I was watching a car wreck. For me, as soon as the first intuit charge went off I was thrown into a panic that rivaled the Iron Shepherds fight, or the Umbrasyl fight. One wrong move and the dominoes fall in the wrong direction.
There were a lot of feelings about the Nein finally catching up with Lucien and Cree this session. I know there was a lot of disbelief that the Nein just “let Lucien get away” into the Astral Sea….but come on… what were they supposed to do?! There were at least two more intuit charges locked and loaded, Lucien had his finger on the big red button and was threatening to set them off if they so much as breathed wrong. And let’s be real…we all want to go to the Astral Sea again. Plus, Yussa is there…somewhere. Maybe they will have a last minute ally if they can find and free Yussa in all the ensuing chaos.
Lucien gave us more juicy hints that Molly may not be so dead and gone as we thought. That full body twitch at being called Circus Man by Caleb as well as the sentiment that a certain part of him just likes the Nein too much to kill them right away had the Critters howling. Ever since that one little finger twitch Jester got after her god-level tarot card reading, I’ve been waiting for another sign that Molly’s still kicking around in there. Mercer is not leaving us with many irredeemable villains at all this campaign. Next thing you know, the Nein will discover that the Somnovum are misunderstood loners that just want to make some new friends and bring cool eye tattoos and powers to Exandria.
That final fight was quite a nail biter. Going in with Fjord and Yasha hurting for health as well as everyone else in the party coming in 35 HP lower out the gate makes for some creative combat. Poor Marisha looked like she was about to throw up as the Nein death marched themselves into to Immensus Gate chamber. After Lucien’s fabulous evil genius monologue, he drops the water titty elemental on their heads as he waltzed off into the Astral Sea. I think even Mercer couldn’t believe that Lucien was getting away so easily. You could see his hesitation as he narrated Lucien’s escape. He gave the cast plenty of time to act, but they seemed frozen in fear, not a single one of them wanted to be the player that forced Lucien to trigger those two intuit charges and possibly TPK the party. Not a bad call in my book. Especially after seeing how the brief encounter ended with Tiny Veth, Caleb as a sheep, Essek nearly hentai-ed to death, and Jester left all by herself to face the music AGAIN. My nerves were buzzing by the time Mercer called it for the night.
Veth had the clutch moment of the battle coming in with the life saving mage hand to close the portal. From the sound of it, most of the party would not have been able to survive one more round of combat with the water elemental. Most of the party made it out by the skin of their teeth and Jester ended up in an awful situation all on her own once again. Luckily, the combat order worked out perfectly and Veth was able to swoop in and save the day.
I honestly don’t know what the Nein plan to do at the start of next session. How will they be able to get a long rest in before facing down the full force of the Somnovum, Cognouza- the living city of heebie jeebies, and Lucien. Not good my Critters, it does not look good. I have full faith in the Nein to somehow wiggle their way out of this one. They have somehow made it this far already! Thursday still feels like it’s years away after that ringer of a session. I cannot WAIT to see what’s in store for us. Don’t worry Critters, it’s almost Thursday.