Episode 138: Where There Is A Will
Cree and the Nein are in a tense standoff deep in the tunnels of Cognouza. Not wanting to fall into a diversion trap, Jester grabs Caleb and whisks him away into the chamber Cree came running from. A glowing threshold crest shines from its setting in the ceiling.
In a twist of fortune, the Nein are able to launch round after round of attacks against Cree in her moment of hesitation. Veth’s sneak attacks are brutal but effective, bolstered by Caduceus’ ability to double damage dealt. Fjord counterspells Cree’s attempt at a misty step escape and she understands her fate in this moment. The battle is quick, bloody and ruthless and before three rounds are done, Cree is on her last legs and calling out to Lucien for rescue. Cruelly, Lucien denies Cree the help she asks for and instead activates a hidden power of the eyes. Cree’s bloodied body begins to grotesquely convulse. Her bones snap as she screams and gurgles. Her flesh splits open and unravels into something out of nightmare. Teeth, shards of bone, and viscera converge into a whipping ball of gore. Cree has become a Vessel of the Pattern, her monstrous form shivering and sparking with a hypnotizing static.
Undeterred, Fjord rushes in to attack the Vessel. As his Star Razor strikes out, spiked bones reflexively spear his torso. He stumbles back, wounded, calling out a warning to his friends. The strange shifting pattern leaves his brain tingling, but he readies himself for another round. Essek attempts to incapacitate the Vessel, but the spell fails as he too feels that odd tingle in his mind as the Vessel’s form shoots staticky psychic images. Beau is only as good as her fists, and also gets in close enough to land some hits, while also getting shanked by recoiling flesh. Beau manages to shake off the strange tingling effects of the Vessel but has a horrible realization that the images it’s projecting are the same ones she and Caleb saw in Lucien’s tome the night they got their first eyes. This can’t be good.
Veth and Caduceus also feel the lingering effects of the Vessel’s psychic attacks, but manage to team up again to land the final double damage blow to the monster. The weakened flesh ball tries to meld into the floor, but leaves Cree’s screaming head exposed. Veth’s arrow hits true, right through Cree’s eye and the screaming stops as the body liquifies into nothing. Meanwhile, in the other chamber…
Jester and Caleb know they may have only moments to disarm the threshold crest to prevent Lucien from shifting Cognouza into the prime dimension. Caleb disintegrates some of the fleshy holds around the gem and it begins to loosen in its setting. It’s not enough though, as bizarre rootlike tendons begin to pull the loosened gem back into place. Jester polymorphs into a giant ape to assist Caleb’s Cat’s Ire in trying to pry the crest away from the ceiling as the ceiling puckers and sucks it closer into place. Knowing there may only be one shot left, Caleb get’s Japester’s attention and gets her to lift him up close to the crest. He throws a bag of gold dust against the crest, and just as Essek showed him all those months ago he casts immoveable object, freezing the crest in place just out of lock. He’s bought some time, but they still need to figure out how to get the crest out of here. Ah, he can hear his companions approaching now.
As the rest of the Nein gather themselves up and finish going through Cree’s gooey belongings, they begin making their way into the next chamber. Beau notices that Veth has a shiny new red eye in the middle of her forehead. Panic begins to set in as they realize that those tingles in their minds came with a steep price. Fjord finds his new tattoo on the back of his left hand. Essek finds his on his right shoulder blade. Caduceus finds his eye in the center of his clavicle just as they all round the corner to meet Caleb and Jester. The new eyes are forgotten momentarily as Caleb asks for some help. Caduceus blights the grasping tendrils, still attempting to pull the crest back into place. Caleb releases the crest from his hold and it drops to the ground.
Caduceus agrees to plane shift the gem out of the Astral Sea and into the Fire plane for ‘safer keeping’ while the rest of the Nein explain their new eye tattoos to jester and Caleb. Exhausted, hurt, and facing continually insurmountable odds the Nein are desperate for a long rest but can’t afford the time. Essek hints to Caleb that they may be able to play around with shifting time. It is his specialty after all. They also have the shiny new Dunamis that powered the rejuvenation pod back in Aeor. Caleb begins to put the pieces together as Essek explains. If they work together on this, they should be able to break open the gem’s power source and instantaneously give the whole party a long rest. It’s a dangerous gamble, playing around with unknown time altering, reality bending spells, but when have these two wizards ever backed down from a challenge?
The rest of the Nein reluctantly agree, there is literally no better option. There’s either die now in a blaze of timey-wimey glory, or die in a few hours when they try and face the Somnovum and Lucien completely exhausted. Beau begins to have a mental breakdown about the possibility that they will fail , but Caduceus harshly snaps her out of it. They are “currently on what is possibly the universe’s largest cadaver. This is what I was born to do is put this [email protected] thing down. Let’s do this sh*t.” The entire party is stunned into silence as this is the most worked up Caduceus has ever been. They just can’t help but agree with the firbolg, Mighty nein, let’s do this!
Essek begins drawing out an extraordinarily complex circle of runes. Caleb is having a hard time keeping up with the intricate layers, but once he begins to grasp the basics he sits down to assist with the spell. Together the wizards face off, channeling the spell into the gem. Sweat beads down Essek’s face as he steels himself in concentration. Drawing his fingers across a line in space, a tear in the fabric of reality appears. They can see thousands of timelines and possibilities rushing past this rip. Essek loops the tear around the dunamantic gem and the light in the chamber becomes blinding. The gem shatters and everything goes black.
Ears ringing, spots dancing across their vision, and gasping for breath like they’ve all forgotten what it’s like to breathe, the Nein emerge from the other side of the spell. As time in the chamber slowly begins to return to normal, the group realize that the spell worked! They all feel amazingly well rested, recharged, and all in the space of a few seconds.
Not wanting to waste a moment of their time celebrating their victory, the Nein jump right back into problem solving. Caleb casts a new high level spell on himself, a Mind Blank, to keep himself safe from Trent or Lucien or Cognouza from seeping into his mind. Essek helps Veth identify some new items and weapons they’ve found along the way. Beau gets the brilliant, or stupid, idea to try and reach her consciousness into Cognouza to see if they can find Yussa’s astral form and free him. She briefly meditates, linging herself to the hivemind and is able to locate the trapped mage not too far from here. It’s rescue mission time!
Beau breaks her connection with the city, but not before she realizes that one of the Somnovum had sensed her. There may be trouble coming. They rush to the surface and towards Yussa’s direction when sure enough, a bulging red eye begins follow them around the city. A voice creeps into their minds, and Jester tries a hail mary Calm Emotions on the eye. It seems to take effect as the voice reaches out more curious than angry. It introduces itself as Gaudius and professes to want only the joy of becoming one with all the universe in eternal love. Gaudius laments that Fastidan and Culpasi go against this wish of unity. The Nein manage to deceptively convince Gaudius they will help. They make a mental note that this is the second time they have been called to the Aether Crux, maybe it’s time to pay a visit.
But first, let’s get back to saving Yussa. It takes a bit longer than planned, but they do manage to find the mage’s soul restrained to the city. Yussa’s face is a gaping black hole, no mind or will left in it. Caleb’s first few attempts to reach out to Yussa’s mind fail, Cognouza’s grip is too strong. He glances at the silvery tether that still anchors Yussa’s soul to the prime dimension. He hopes his next gamble will work. He reaches out and casts Banisment onto Yussa. The form shudders and briefly, just before disappearing, Yussa’s face returns and whispers a relieved “thank you” to Caleb. Another friend saved.
Ok, it’s Aether Crux time. Beau decides to risk it all again and bend Cognouza to her needs. She reaches out and imagines a straight path down into the core of the city, the Aether Crux. As she describes the path, the rest of the Nein attempt to channel in with her. Caleb is a bit distracted and something pries into his mind leaving a strange, brief tingling right over his heart. Beau completes the visualization meditation and a sphincter-like tunnel opens in the floor, while Caleb removes his shirt to peek at his chest…sure enough he has a fourth eye tattoo.
Caleb tries not to panic too much at the fear of possibly becoming a giant flesh monster at Lucien’s whim as is party descend into the tunnel to the Aether Crux. The Nein see more nightmarish body horrific sights as they descend towards the center of the city. They exit the tunnel into a wide chamber that house glowing column of nine bulbous red orbs. They watch as lights bounce in from connecting tunnels all around and they guess that these orbs house the Somvonum consciousnesses. The voices of the Somnovum reach out as one into the minds of the Nein.
The Somnovum welcome the Nein to the path of the Nonagon. They promise to teach the Nein how to manifest their every wish and desire. They desire to break free of the bonds of death and allow their souls to live eternally. They wish to bring all of existence to the same level of understanding they have found here in their millennium of wandering. They speak of the Nonagon again, asking for the Nein’s help to find him. Just then, Lucien’s familiar voice drifts across the chamber. “Well, I’m glad you came.”
Lucien steps out from behind the Somnovum’s orbs and launches into a riveting monologue explaining how and why he will now betray the Somnovum for ultimate power. He gestures to a pile of nine or ten active Intuit charges ready to blow. The Nein freeze, uncertain of what to do as the Somnovum howl in their minds to stop Lucien. Lucien calmly explains that after his soul was split apart and scattered, he realized that the Somnovum were a group of clueless idiot toddlers playing as gods. They need a leader, and he will be their king. He welcomes The Nein to stay for the show…but they may want to run instead. He snaps his fingers and the intuit charges begin to blink rapidly.
Chaos erupts as the nein frantically flee, Veth casting intellect fortress on herself, Caduceus throws up an antimagic field, Jester unleashes an earthquake right at Lucien’s feet as he laughs his best maniacal evil villain laugh. The city bulges, shudders and screams all around them as the flashes go off one by one. Darkness and absolute silence surround the Nein as they collapse to the ground…and that’s where we’ll pick up next time.
This arc is absolutely insane! I know I was so hopeful that the fight would lead to the Astral Sea but I was wholly unprepared for the madness of Cognouza. Between the gruesome opening fight, Yussa’s rescue, new sexy time wizard spells, and Lucien’s sudden but inevitable betrayal, we have a lot to cover. So let’s dive right in!
A LOT of comparisons have been made between Cree’s ugly transformation into a Vessel of the Pattern and Obann the Punished transformation. They are eerily similar and we all know that Mercer never does anything without a multi-layered delicious reason! We’ll see if these hints of oblivion and such pay off soon.
How brutal was that Cree encounter though. She’s one tough kitty, taking well over 200 hp damage between both of her forms. Unfortunately, the Nein were able to gang up on her with a high initiative lineup. Cree had no chance at all after taking 130 hp damage in just a round and a half, then having her escape plan counterspelled by a crafty half or warlock. No. Chance. At. All. Caduceus with the path to the grave feature was absolutely brutal in this encounter. I’m amazed that this ability doesn’t come up more often. i guess when it’s one against eight you have more chances to dust off those rarely used, situational abilities. Grave clerics are deadly dangerous enemies to make.
Veth was also able to show off her fancy rogue abilities, that when paired with Caduceus’ path to the grave are almost unfair in their deadliness. Very reminiscent of Vax’ildan’s ability to deal almost triple digit damage in one turn, Veth was able to deal 80hp damage with one single crossbow bolt. Certainly a record for Critical Role.
jester’s big gamble in the Cree encounter really paid off didn’t it. We closed last week’s episode with a rather ominous hint that Beau’s and Caleb’s eyes were glowing and they may have their minds taken over. Thankfully though, that didn’t happen and Beau and Caleb with both able to control themselves throughout the encounter. Jester and Caleb had quite a dificult time getting that crest out of its place. The dice were not with them in the beginning! Luckily, Dunemancy came in with the win and the Immoveable Object spell just did the trick. Although… banishing the gem to the Fire Plane was…a choice. Ha, this is the second time the Nein have just willy- nilly send an extraordinarily powerful threshold crest into an unknown location. Hopefully these crests don’t fall into the wrong hands.
Essek and Caleb had quite a moment this session! They’ve been having a rough go of it the past few sessions. Caleb was a sheep, Essek’s hold monster spell failed, he got crushed nearly to death by a water elemental, and he is now marked with a spooky eye tattoo. He got his shining moment though, with a BEAUTIFUL natural 20 to experiment in new magic with Caleb. I look forward to the promised post-campaign reveal of what would have happened with the spell DC had failed!
This little moment was a nice little character growth moment for Essek as well! He willingly and without a second thought agreed to destroy this incredible discovery (and proof of his unpopular Dunamis theories) all for the chance of helping his friends. How freakin adorable. The Nein managed to friendship a villain into a …well maybe not a hero… maybe just a conflicted, morally grey academic with anxiety problems and a guilt complex the size of Tal’ Dorei. Yeah! Progress!
Some discussion in chat felt that this instant long rest spell was a bit of a Deus Ex Machina for the session. And while outwardly and obtusely, sure you could frame it that way…it’s much more fair and fun to view it as a DM rewarding his player’s creativity while also allowing the ever important final save before a boss fight. The Nein didn’t have to explore the chamber with the Rejuvenation chambers. They didn’t have to let Essek take one of the gems for research. They had multiple opportunities to shut down the spell from being cast. But they’ve taken these opportunities at multiple junctions that allowed them to have this life-saving instant short rest.
Some of the best one liners popped up in this episode. Veth came in hot with an emotional “the only thing we’ve consistently done is help our friends.”, which got everyone on the same page about helping Yussa out. Then, Caduceus threw down his “This is was I was born for,” mic drop that left the cast and critters alike in shivers. Ugh! Beautiful moments! I love them.
Yussa is free! Finally! A (hopefully) happy ending in this arc of terror and anxiety. I can’t wait to hear Yussa’s side of the story soon. They have a lot of explaining to do. This is really the mage we’re trusting the happy fun ball to?! This is the second time they’ve had to rush in and save his wizard ass. He owes the Nein big time.
We got some more Somnovum creepiness this session as we met hippie-on-steroids Gaudius. I love seeing the multiple personalities come to life. Mercer is so creative in his characterization of each facet of the Somnovum. I can’t help but be amazed at his ability to flesh out these intense characters in the three to four minute interactions with the Nein. We’ll see how much more Somnovum split personality we’ll get after this week’s cliffhanger.
This showdown with Lucien was brutal. The Nein can’t help but freeze up around Lucien every time. He’s too intimidating and insane. There’s no predicting him…well… I think we could all smell a little twist coming. I figured that the Somnovum would reveal that they had used Lucien as a means to an end just as he’d use the Tomb Takers. Then maybe they could convince him to turn against the Somovum and take down Cognouza. But no… Lucien went full Joker and went for the chaotic approach. Psychic bombing a hive mind to take over control of a sentient city is a ballsy plan for sure. The cliffhanger this week will have me biting my nails all the way until next Thursday.
What’s coming next?? Will Cognouza rise up in revolt against Lucien? Are the Somovum dead? Is he numero uno in control now? Will he bring the whole city down on their heads? Is there still a chance they can unlock whatever’s left of Molly and stop this or is it too late? There’s just too many possibilities. I can’t wait to see where the story will go from here! Don’t worry Critters, it’s almost Thursday.
Don’t Miss It!
The season finale of Narrative Telephone airs this Thursday at 4 pm. Guest storyteller Aabria Iyengar tries her hand at tongue twisting the cast of Critical Role. If her previous, highly entertaining appearance on Narrative Telephone is anything to go by, you won’t want to miss this special season ender.