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"Excelsior" (E3x01) is the first episode of Exandria Unlimited: Calamity. The flying city of Avalir begins its triumphant return to the continent of Domunas while the Ring of Brass, a group of eminent city dignitaries, begin to uncover hints of something rotten within their gilded home...

Synopsis

Announcements

  • Welcome to ExU: Calamity, a glimpse into the grief, betrayal, loss, and panic at the collapse of the Age of Arcanum.
  • Merch Alert! Critical Role reversible bucket hat from the Beauty of Exandria: the Wildes Collection in all five shops; Critical Role watercolor T-shirt in the US and Australia.

Introduction

We are going to be telling a story of a different age in Exandria, an age long past. Rumors and legends abound of this time period in the world. This is prior to any Vestiges of Divergence. Prior to the coming of the Divine Gate and the departure of the deities into realms beyond Exandria. You will find no Tal'Dorei in this version of this world. For, indeed, it has not yet received that name. It is known by its Elven name, Gwessar. We journey to an age long ago to tell a story perhaps of a more sorrowful and bitter time. Shadows stalk this world. Come with us, but please only if you dare.

Part I

Fire. Everything feels slow. There's movement and there's heat, but the only noise you can hear, despite all this chaos, is breath. It's yours, but it's also a stranger's. It's like someone else is using your body to breathe. You're stumbling. Luis. I need you to describe your character and tell us your character's name, but I would love for you to do that with the understanding that your mouth is filled with blood.
– 
Brennan's introduction to the episode.[1]
[!h]


Fan art of Elias fishing in Zerxus's dream, by CT Chen.[art 1]

Fan art of Zerxus's dream, by Lap Pun Cheung.[art 2]

A bloodied Zerxus Ilerez is navigating fire and explosions in a war-shredded city, hearing calls to arms coming from the chaos around him, searching for people he knows. In a bubble of calmness, he finds his five-year-old son Elias fishing in a pool of endless space and the familiar stars above Cathmoíra. Within it and around him are whispers in Draconic with the words "Ghor Dranas". Elias reminds him that he will look different when Zerxus returns home, and Zerxus pleads for him to stay for just another moment, but Elias is pulled into the pool as a mountain-sized figure crashes into the city. The horned face, older than the world, turns to Zerxus and apologizes, reaching his marketplace-sized hand toward him revealing a vision of Zerxus's late husband Evandrin. Another mountainous figure with the sun in place of his face crashes into the first one, crushing him further into the rubble of the city with his foot on his throat. As he readies to fatally strike, Zerxus commands him to stop and Pelor is abjured. As the horned figure thanks him, Zerxus wakes up.

It is a beautiful morning in the city of Avalir. As Zerxus scribbles down the dream in his journal, huge crystal screens around the city broadcast the face of Loquatius Seelie delivering the morning announcements, including that this is the eve of The Replenishment when Avalir will return to Cathmoíra, its terrestrial sister city. Once he finishes, Loquatius interrogates his assistant about the lack of ratings to discover that the problem is ongoing civil construction and that the Architect Arcane responsible (his ex-wife) is avoiding returning his messages. He steps into private transportation to travel to her personally, discussing future news coverage on the way.

Fan art of the kites, by Cers @Cersonality.[art 3]

Laerryn Coramar-Seelie, the Architect Arcane, is fully immersed in the technical details of landing the floating city, scheduled for ten minutes before the next sunrise. A subordinate interrupts, acting on her orders to alert her when the Grand Geometer, which measures the strength of the imminent apogee solstice, was above 0.025. The measurement is now 0.5, twenty times higher, indicating a major shift of the ley lines of Exandria upon which the city depends. Shaken, she hurries to her room, weeping in relief that all of the things she's sacrificed could be worth it for this one shot, and in terror that she has so little time to take advantage of this tremendous moment. Loquatius arrives and the conversation becomes bickering until the first of the spell kites of Cathmoíra drift upward past the window, burdened with homemade gifts. The two resolve to be on their best behavior for the foreseeable future. Loquatius picks up a kite meant for him and they return to their respective responsibilities.

The kites continue onward to the Vault of the Golden Scythe, where Nydas Okiro is presiding over the wealth of that merchant order as they busily prepare for the Replenishment. He is distracted by his bookkeeper Alessander and a new arrival, Feromyne, a sphinx participating in the coming Parade of Beasts. Nydas then meets with Badran Esparad, the captain of the Golden Scythe mercenaries, who asks him about overdue money the Golden Scythe owes to hired mercenaries. To his friend, Nydas admits that the Golden Scythe is operating at a deficit at the moment, but that all debts will be honored when the Replenishment is done. Moving to his office, Nydas finds a spell kite containing a letter from his brother Eadalus promising him a family meal. Alessander then enters to announce the arrival of Magister Milus Phren, who proves to be a lower-level mage who owes debts to more senior mages. He has heard rumors that there might be a surplus of Ether from the great city-moving engines, with which he could pay his debts. Nydas assures him this is just a rumor - and then Alessander enters, summoning him away with obligation.

The focus moves on to Cloudstone, the headquarters of the Eyes of Avalir. Senior Sightwarden Cerrit Agrupnin is told by his subordinate Orwyn that while the city was over Vasselheim, a local archmage, Vespin Chloras, had gone missing. The circumstances made them fear he had committed heresy by trying to replicate the ascension ritual that had empowered the Matron of Ravens, the current god of death, and had failed, like everyone else who tried. The contents of the room had been taken by the city to be broken down in the furnace, so that any Ether in them could be stripped out and used to replenish the continent of Domunas when they landed. But someone from the Ring of Silver had ordered they be retained for "academic importance", which made Orwyn schedule a round of forensics, which is why he has asked for Cerrit.

Signaling to begin the process, Cerrit studies a psychometric recreation of Vespin Chloras's sanctum. Drawing on his years of experience, he focuses in on a single piece of evidence: a heavily-corroded piece of metal that looks like a fragment of a bow. Normally, disenchantment magic marks an object in a certain way, but this has no such mark. Whatever was done to it was a side-effect of a major burst of disenchantment power. Cerrit realizes that the floor contains the remnants of a summoning circle, erased when something easily escaped being bound within it. He tells the others none of this, but asks Orwyn to lock the room for an hour and catalog its contents, and says he wants to show the fragment to a group of knowledgeable friends before entering it back into evidence.

At the Archsept located at the summit of Avalir from which the seven archmages of the Septarion rule the flying city, Patia Por'co, the Keeper of Scrolls, has an appointment to meet Loras of the Weaver's Mask, a member of the Ring of Gold, the apprentices to the Septarion. Loras arrives accompanied by his master, Eldamir the Wise. Eldamir warbles about the greatness of the city and an important ancestor of hers before departing to leave Loras to discuss the reason for the appointment: Eldamir's other apprentice has requested to leave the Ring of Gold and return to her homeland in Marquet. This will leave a chair open in the Ring, which he hints Patia is being considered for. This is especially important because it seems such a delicate time, with Aeor preparing weapons and plotting to declare war on the smaller flying city of Lathras as a test run. The Septarion is aware of Patia's group of problem-solvers, the "Ring of Brass", and hopes that they can provide reassurance in this scenario.

Loras also mentions that they will need to shut down the Hall of Prophecy for the day, citing the exertions of its mages. He also mentions that Cerrit Agrupnin is working on the case of a man who tried to recreate the Matron of Raven's ascension, which makes Patia show emotion for the first time. In an age of publicly-available magical power, what enticements can godhood offer? Loras requests that she work with Cerrit, and that while formal reports should be reported to the Ring of Gold, informal reports should be made directly and only to him. Assenting on all points, Patia watches Loras leave and goes to prepare for the celebration that evening.

Break

Part II

This evening is the last before the Replenishment. Every seven years, in accordance with an ancient agreement between the wizards of the Septarion and the druids of the Gau Drashari, Avalir reunites with Cathmoíra and releases its surplus magic Ether into the land, boosting crops and wildlife, strengthening doors to the fey, and birthing sorcerers. In anticipation, the city is one big party, and the most exclusive celebration is about to kick off at the Palazzo Por'co. As she inquires about finer details, Patia learns that though the rest of the Ring of Gold will attend, the seven mages who collectively make up the Septarion will not. Additionally, an unknown, self-proclaimed champion of the divine will attend with his wolf by request of Magister Hollow of the Ring of Silver.

Fan art of Tempus the griffin, by Clara.[art 4]

The first guests straggle in. Cerrit soars a few circles to suss out suspicious social dynamics and enters without being announced. Loquatius ostentatiously drags himself and his plus one (Bolo) through the paparazzi, while Nydas enters with seven hundred scarecrow hodmedods carrying a rare Marquesian tree. A still-excited Laerryn greets Patia and promises to share news with her later. Mounted on his griffon made of swimming starlight, Zerxus circles over the grounds looking for trouble, watching over the festivities in Cathmoíra and reflecting on the letter he received that thirteen-year-old Elias, whom he last saw seven years before, is in no mood to see him return. Though he has no love for public events, he lands and walks in. As the other members of the Ring of Brass convene in a private dining room in the back, Cerrit briefly talks to Bolo, who is frustrated trying to get drinks from one of the hodmedods. Eventually, he also enters the room to complete the circle of the people in this city "who actually get shit done."

Following a toast to Zerxus and then to Evandrin, Zerxus shares his nightmare and the words he heard in it: "Ghor Dranas". Nydas recognizes that the phrase is Draconic, and means "Gathering of Shadows". It carries an intensely negative connotation. Patia recalls an ancient document from her studies that told of Asmodeus's defeat in the Schism. His words were, "Put me where you will. In darkness, I will gather my shadows to me."

Cerrit discloses that he recently investigated a crime scene in Vasselheim where both Celestial and Infernal appeared, which is singular. Usually attempts at a ritual to ascend to godhood result in a mess of blood and body parts, but the scene after this one was unusually clean. Patia recalls hearing about such a ritual from Loras earlier in the day, which Cerrit leans into. People ignore failures, so the fact that a member of the Ring of Gold cares about this is suspicious. He pulls out the piece of bow he took as evidence. Zerxus reaches out to the scrap of metal with his Divine Sense, learning its aura is powerfully celestial. Nydas strikes the metal of the bow with a tuning fork he uses to distinguish rare metal. He incredulously strikes again, and again, and again… because this is a piece of a bow made entirely of celestial gold. It belonged to a solar. Laerryn investigates and concludes that it could only have been shattered by a being far more powerful than any mortal of any sort, including Vespin Chloras. She pockets it for later use.

Fan art of Purvan Suul and Galdric at the gala, by Lap Pun Cheung.[art 5]

The herald announces the arrival of Purvan Suul, the Champion of the Raven Queen and his wolf and the group immediately refocuses. The Champion, deeply uncomfortable at the thinly veiled derision of his devotion to a deity, repeatedly requests to speak with the ruling council of Avalir about artifacts that have been recently brought into the city. Lacrytia Hollow, dean of the college of necromancy and the one who invited the Champion, presses to know how the Raven Queen ascended to dethrone the former god of death on the grounds that erasing research in this age of knowledge is antisocial. The Champion reveals nothing except that, though the Raven Queen is no longer mortal, she does remember her roots. He curtly exits, but Patia Messages him that if he wishes to learn more, meet in their private meeting room behind the vines.

Laerryn alerts Nydas to immediately send four automatons to the Heart and retires to her responsibilities. Nydas writes the order down, and sends a hodmedod to deliver it. Cerrit questions Dean Hollow as to whether anyone has ever come close to replicating the Raven Queen's ascension and she denies it, but his ring pulses at her denial. Nydas pulls Patia onto the dance floor and asks her about the low-level magister asking him for a favor earlier today, but Patia doesn't recognize the name and realizes that their circle of trust has been breached. He spins her away and recruits another four automatons to go to Laerryn personally as a redundancy, but writes Zerxus a letter saying he wants to speak with him before the city lands. Patia stands at the center of the party and bounces Detect Thoughts on different attendees to search for the leak. One voice to the side is unusual. There, she sees an automaton wobbling in place that has stopped serving drinks, and although it is non-sentient, its thought is "Ghor Dranas" before it crumples. Cerrit swoops in and relocates its remains to another room to investigate.

Loquatius and Zerxus catch up to the departing Champion and chat with him. His mistress is confused and concerned: though no god feels an attempt to overthrow them this time, they certainly noticed that Vespin Chloras is attempting to do something, although perhaps not an ascension to godhood as has been assumed. Failure leaves mess, but this left... nothing. Declining to elaborate, the Champion disappears. The pair speculate whether Vespin is attempting to awaken a Betrayer God.

Cerrit examines the lifeless hodmedod in a side room with his abilities An Eye for Detail and Unerring Eye. However, he senses that he isn't alone. Tracking the black of the pupils of an otherwise invisible figure, he swipes at the neck for an instant kill. Examining it, it is covered in infernal runes, with orange eyes, a shaved head, and chunks of skin including the lips carved from its face. From a mirror behind him, he hears a voice whispering, "You will never reach the Wildmother's embrace in time. Are you looking for something?" Turning, he sees the mutilated face of Vespin Chloras rush toward the other side of the mirror, crack the glass, and disappear.

Featured characters

Fan art of Tempus, by Dian Huynh.[art 6]

Player Characters

Returning

New

  • Akami Rowe, Guildmaster of the Navigator's Guild
  • Alessander Kyrus, Chief Bookkeeper in the Vault of the Golden Scythe
  • Aria, Loquatius's assistant
  • Asmodeus (in a dream)
  • Badran Esparad, captain connected with the Vault of the Golden Scythe
  • Bolo, Loquatius's plus-one at the party, from Aeor
  • Calum Staffwright, Laerryn's assistant
  • Daenyria, Chief Arithmetician in the Vault of the Golden Scythe
  • Dweomer, an Aeormaton working for Laerryn
  • Gwyn Tenpace, Records Keeper at the Herald's Tome
  • Eldamir the Wise, archmage of the Librarium Incantatum and a veteran member of the council
  • Elias, Evandrin's and Zerxus's half-elven son (in a dream)
  • Evandrin, Zerxus's half-elven husband (in a dream)
  • Feromyne, a sphinx in the Parade of Beasts
  • Lacrytia Hollow, Dean of the College of Necromancy and member of the Ring of Silver[2]
  • Loras of the Weaver's Mask, Eldamir's elven apprentice and member of the Ring of Gold[3]
  • Madara Glyph, Valedictine Abjurer of the Hall of Symbols, guest at the party
  • Melindra, servant of Patia
  • Micah Cormorant, Speaker of the Fourth
  • Milus Phren, Magister
  • Orwyn, Cerrit's half-orc assistant
  • Tempus, Zerxus Ilerez's griffon pet

Mentioned

  • Arcturus, a politician
  • Eaedalus Okiro, brother of Nydas
  • Essel Longbolt, a member of the Octothurge
  • Imyr Por'co, Patia's grandfather
  • Irmé, Nydas's sister-in-law
  • Kir, child of Cerrit
  • Longwyn Valehelm, a politician previously at the Porter's Guild
  • Maseera Caine, a politician
  • Maya, daughter of Cerrit
  • Octavius Frost, an elected official at the Porter's Guild
  • The Raven Queen
  • The Raven Queen's predecessor
  • Ramira, niece of Nydas
  • Romar, nephew of Nydas
  • Vespin Chloras
  • Volucia, apprentice of Eldamir the Wise, retiring

Quotations

Fan art of Zerxus's dream, by @tshortik.[art 7]

  • Pelor: (in Zerxus's dream) Turn your eyes from this sinner. He is beyond redemption.
    Zerxus: What has he done?
    Pelor: He has betrayed his kin.
    Asmodeus: It's all right. It's all right. Just ask yourself, Zerxus, whom did we betray?
  • Asmodeus: (after Zerxus attempts to stop Pelor) No mortal would do this thing that you have done. Zerxus, if you look down and see the stars, what will you see if you look up?
  • Brennan: [...] You wake up.
    Travis: I think I'm in the wrong class.
    Aabria: Yeah, I was auditing the fun thing.
    Travis: I thought this was freshman biology.
  • Laerryn: Are they ready for us, then? [...] Are the ground ones good?
    Akami Rowe: You know, I think there's always a few youths that like to run around on the receptacles before the city lands, but they'll get—
    Laerryn: They'll move or don't.
    Travis: (out-of-game) Had a couple don'ts in the past.
  • Patia: Well, I'm not sure what good it is to be a larger fish in a puddle.
    Loras: (laughs) That's because I'm talking to a shark.
  • Brennan: You're not alone in this room. Invisibility is a pretty beloved power. It's easy to get, even very junior mages can master it. The problem with Invisibility is light is very important for a number of functions. And no matter how cloaked you might be in it, you can't make your whole self invisible. Even if it's smaller than a pin-prick, you need just enough of your eyes to stay visible that light can hit them so you can still see. Now, perceiving a fraction of a pupil, hanging in space, smaller than a grain of sand would be beyond most people. But you've been trained to look for them because they always move in two.

Inventory

Adjustment Count Item Source Destination Notes
Acquired 1 Piece of a solar's bow Vespin Chloras
Cerrit
Cerrit
Laerryn
Made of pure celestial gold and recovered from the wreckage in Chloras's room, the fragment could be used as a tuning fork for planar travel.
Acquired 1 Raven's feather Purvan Suul Loquatius When the feather fell from Purvan's cloak at the party, Loquatius picked it up.

Trivia

  • Mage's Disjunction, a spell mentioned by Brennan, is another name for Mordenkainen's Disjunction, a spell that appeared in Dungeons & Dragons 1st through 3rd editions. As described in the episode, it is a 9th-level spell capable of dispelling all magic in a forty-foot radius, as well as rendering magical items in that radius non-magical.[4]
  • The literal meaning of the word "excelsior" is "higher". However, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem titled "Excelsior" is permeated with notes of doomed idealism, making it the perfect name for an episode set on the eve of the Calamity.[5]

References

  1. See "Excelsior" (E3x01) at 0:05:20.
  2. See "Excelsior" (E3x01) at 3:31:30.
  3. See "Excelsior" (E3x01) at 1:53:25.
  4. See Mage's Disjunction on d20srd.org.
  5. See the definition of the word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Art:

  1. Fan art of Elias fishing in Zerxus's dream, by CT Chen (source). Used with permission.
  2. Fan art of Zerxus's dream, by Lap Pun Cheung (source). Used with permission.
  3. Fan art of the kites, by Cers @Cersonality (source). Used with permission.
  4. Fan art of Tempus the griffin, by Clara (source). Used with permission.
  5. Fan art of Purvan Suul and Galdric at the gala, by Lap Pun Cheung (source). Used with permission.
  6. Fan art of Tempus, by Dian Huynh (source). Used with permission.
  7. Fan art of Zerxus's dream, by @tshortik (source). Used with permission.
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