"Hell or High Water" (2x136) is the one hundred thirty-sixth episode of the second campaign of Critical Role. The Mighty Nein fight against time as they search for the Immensus Gate, but their quarry has his own tricks up his sleeve..

Synopsis

Announcements

Previously on Critical Role

So, last we left off: The Mighty Nein continue their delve into the ruins of Aeor after making a new friend in the Aeormaton known as Charlie.

Dragging it through the rest of the Praesidis Ward, avoiding some dangers, encountering some dangers, getting a rest, you eventually found your way to the Genesis Ward, where it seems some great cataclysm even more ruinous than the destruction you've come upon so far seems to have carved out the center of the entire ward into this massive, lightless pit, whereupon on the inside you can see layer after layer of subterranean basement levels: some sort of a continuation beneath the surface where more arcane research once transpired.

After finding your way down within a few of these levels, you did battle with a few entities. You managed to restore Charlie to his former glory and all of his memories, and found out that indeed, the original name, Devexian, was what it once and now calls himself. Upon which, he gave you some information that you require as a thank you, but had his own business to tend to and left you abruptly. But you knew, thanks to Devexian, that what it is the Tombtakers seek seems to lie somewhere in B-9, the basement floor below. However, the battle that transpired you found best to not necessarily see to its bitter end. After banishing the remaining foe, you all ran and leapt off the side to make your way past many floors in hopes of eventually finding which one was B-9. As you leapt off the side, a few of you managed to catch yourselves with some flight spells and sought to aid the rest of you to fall with Feather Fall.

Part I

As the party Flies and Feather Falls down the massive central pit, Jester directs them to level B-9, a wide hall. There is only one exit, an arched hallway, from which a continuous layer of slightly salty cold water pours out and over the edge into the pit.

Fan art of Sprinkle (aka Artagan) with Jester, by Kaitlyn Leeds.[art 1]

Beau notices that she no longer needs the Goggles of Night in order to see in the darkness. Caleb doesn't either, and suggests they both now have truesight as well as darkvision, which they confirm by testing. Caleb shares that he has seen Sprinkle whispering in Jester's ear when she was talking to Artagan. To Jester's (and the party's) shock, Sprinkle creeps out of Jester's hood, asking in Artagan's voice, "How else was I supposed to stay with you and keep tabs on you?" He admits he was Sprinkle from the beginning, but confirms that Professor Thaddeus was just an asshole owl. Veth suggests that since Beau and Caleb have three eyes, they must also have a third new ability. Beau tries to communicate with Caleb telepathically, and succeeds. They discover that both Caleb and Beau can now project their thoughts to others.

They hear creature noises from above and move on, stealthily, down the watery hallway, reaching a door labeled "T-Dock Project" with a teal-colored crystal that Caduceus opens with his bracelet. Caleb, Yasha, and Jester explore the room beyond, finding lead-lined walls and a platform bearing an experimental arcane construction and a deeply intricate runic circle which Caleb recognizes as a combination of transmutation and dunamancy heavily based in temporal alteration. Caleb also finds notes referring to the "Primal Artifact" with a drawing of a Luxon Beacon, indicating that the Aeorians learned from the beacon how to travel backwards in one's own timeline, leaving an anchoring echo behind. The Temporal Dock allowed them to spend only a few seconds in transit, but created worrying physical stress. Individuals who spent longer than predetermined in the past had their echoes fade and the person never returned. Essek is fascinated by the possibility of changing the past, and Caleb takes the log book with him.

Hearing more creature noises behind them, those remaining in the hall discuss possible distractions but in the end the whole party just stealths away further inward, recognizing an Aeorian reverser behind them. They reach doors labeled "Kitchen" and "Common Area" - the water is coming from the common area, and two absorbers are asleep in the kitchen. The common area is L-shaped and the far end is hidden, but there is a sign above an opening reading, "Immensus Hall". There is also a hovering pyramid-like device which immediately explodes, causing massive damage to Yasha and Fjord, and significant damage to all the others. Yasha is knocked unconscious and is healed by Caduceus; Fjord is healed by Jester but remains stunned.

Fan art of prowling absorbers, by MyHistrionics.[art 2]

They notice a grated pit in one corner, with growls coming from it, and behind them is the sound of splashing: one of the absorbers is approaching, wounded. Jester grabs the stunned Fjord and they all run into the common area and into the archway leading to the Immensus Hall. Stairs descend until the water reaches waist-high with a mist lying over it, but Beau sees two more intuit charges about a hundred feet ahead. With the hurt monsters coming behind them, Caleb uses the Staff of Power to cast Wall of Force to block the creatures, one of which is suddenly hit by the tentacle of an otyugh from behind that pulls it backward and they begin fighting.

Caleb uses Dispel Magic to deactivate the intuit charges and they move forward cautiously, finding a security storage closet holding more intuit charges, about fifteen of which are missing. Beau also finds three potions (two of them greater healing potions) which she takes.

About thirty feet further down the waist-deep water filling the hallway, Fjord and Beau in the front see it opens into a room, and they can see movement within it. Veth turns invisible and moves forward using her Ring of Water Walking. She sees two intuit charges flanking the doorway leading into a massive chamber, in the center of which is a raised dais holding mechanical rune-covered constructions surrounding a 10-foot wide ring, the Immensus Gate. The ring is bisected by a narrow glowing, crackling line, with water and mist weeping from it. Lucien and Cree stand by it, adjusting the machinery.

Veth creeps back and shares this information. As they plan, Lucien's voice creeps into Beau and Caleb's minds, inviting them in to talk. Fjord casts Underwater Breathing on the party, while Jester Invokes Duplicity and sends the duplicate with the party while she sinks underwater. Caleb and Beau go in the front, with Caleb also underwater planning to try to dispel the charges before he is seen.

Break

Part II

Fan art of the Immensus Gate, by @hierothraxs.[art 3]

As the party enters, Caleb and Jester hide below the water's surface. Lucien immediately tells Beau that's far enough and they halt, and telepathically she tells Caleb to reveal himself. Lucien invites them in further and Caleb notices the satchels containing the threshold crests are on the dais holding the Immensus Gate. Lucien momentarily apparates the Cloven Crystal between his hands that had been in the stolen Bag of Holding, telling them it intrigues him. He still wants to show them what he's been working on. When Cree asks why not just kill them now, Lucien responds that a part of him still likes them. Beau telepathically tells him he should listen to Cree and Lucien twitches, and when Caleb then calls him "Circus Man", he twitches again and has a moment of hollow confusion. He then shares his story:

Long ago, there was a group of people who had an idea to get away from oppressive minds and pursue their dreams. And when destruction came, not of their making, they were ready. Or so they thought, as they shunted their people across the planes to safety in the astral plane, where they knew they could make their dreams a reality. Unfortunately, what they didn't account for was this terrible psychic storm that awaited them, that racked every mind and spirit and shattered them until they became one with their own city. Death would have been a sweet mercy, but instead thousands of people and the Somnovem that guided them were broken, and over time slowly reformed, powerful, the instinct of their dreams driving them, in a place where they could will their dreams to be, were their will not so fragmented. They needed help. But it was hard to push through the hunger. For now the city was alive, and things that live need to eat.

I was lucky to be a mind free, went to speak to it, and there's so much that they could do, but they just lack the guidance. It's a waste of potential. But I think I can show them. And... maybe if you decide to be more friend than foe, when all is done, I could make your dreams come true as well.
– 
Lucien's monologue.[2]
[!h]

Fan art of Lucien going through the Immensus Gate, by BlackSalander.[art 4]

After Lucien's explanation, Cree finishes her preparations at the machinery, shifting a lever slightly upward and causing the crack in the gate to widen allowing a torrent of water to fall through. She closes it and switches out a rod within the machine. The water begins to undulate and gather. Lucien bows in farewell, and as he rises he pulls the lever up again, opening the portal wide and revealing the purple-gossamer starscape of the Astral Sea and the floating, living Cognouza Ward. Lucien and Cree grab the threshold crests and leap through the portal, waving as they rocket away.

The central whirl in the chamber rises up into elemental liquid, an octopus-like elemental leviathan that had escaped from the Elemental Plane of Water when the portal was previously opened. It stands between them and the still-open Gate. As the party runs there in pursuit of Lucien, Yasha and Jester are able to get halfway. Beau uses Unarmored Movement to make it to the other side of the creature, and Veth is able to reach the dais but wild magic shrinks her to about a foot tall. When the leviathan attacks, it hits hard, but the real threat is the potential grapple on a failed strength saving throw each time it hits. Caleb is grappled and casts Teleport to reach the gate, but is Polymorphed into a sheep by a wild magic surge. Undeterred, he steps into the Astral Sea.

Fan art of Caduceus flying Essek, by Redelice @Badassassassin.[art 5]

With Expeditious Retreat, Fjord reaches the gate but waits there. Essek casts Fly on Caduceus and can only move fifteen feet, but Caduceus picks him up and flies both of them above the creature to one side. The leviathan uses a legendary action to whack Caduceus as he passes. Yasha jumps through the portal and the leviathan's attempt to grapple her as she goes fails. Jester reaches the gate but waits there. Beau jumps through, and before Veth jumps through as well, she casts Mage Hand and leaves it near the control lever.

The leviathan attacks again, hitting Fjord, Caduceus, and Essek, and grappling Essek. Fjord jumps through the portal, Essek casts Misty Step to reach it as well, and Caduceus is able to fly through. The leviathan uses its reaction to hit Jester as she jumps through last, reaching a tentacle through it and succeeding in grappling her, but Veth uses her Mage Hand to pull the control lever, making the portal close and vanish. Jester is released as the leviathan's tentacle is severed, dispersing into a pool of water.

The party is adrift in the middle of the Astral Sea within sight of the immense mass of shifting and flexing rock, buildings, and towers that is the Cognouza Ward of Aeor. As it drifts closer and closer, Beau and Caleb hear within their minds the now-familiar laughs, shouts, and sobs as many voices welcome them.


Featured Characters

The Mighty Nein

Fan art of the party in the Astral Sea, by Charis Dussek.[art 6]

New

Returning

Mentioned

Inventory

Adjustment Count Item Source Destination Notes
Transferred 1 Goggles of Night Beau Veth
Acquired 1 Log book Level B-9 Caleb Contains notes on time-travel experiments.
Acquired 1 Small piece of rubble Level B-9, Temporal Dock Caleb Labeled for use as a Teleport waypoint.
Transferred 1 Oops-stone Jester Caleb
Acquired 1 Vial of deep purple potion Level B-9 Caleb Unidentified.
Acquired 2 Potions of Greater Healing Level B-9 Beau
Transferred
Expended
2 Potions of Greater Healing Beau Yasha
Caleb

Quotations

  • Artagan: (after the party discovers Sprinkle is the Traveler in disguise} How else was I supposed to stay with you and keep tabs on you?
    Jester: Oh my gosh, and you've just been here the whole time?!
    Artagan: I told you I'd be keeping an eye.
    Fjord: Sprinkle is the Traveler!?
    Jester: Of course he is! That makes perfect sense.
    Caleb: It's the only reason he's still alive.
    Artagan: You're not entirely wrong, and it's been a journey.[3]
  • Essek: If one could change the past...
    Caleb: It's-- it's interesting.
    Essek: A chance to correct mistakes. It's alluring, regardless of how dangerous. [...] Perhaps, if we survive this, we can return and...
    Jester: And change the past?
    Essek: Exchange theories.
    Jester: (whispering to Caleb) Does that mean what I think it means? Is he coming on to you?
    Caleb: I think: "What do you think it means?"
    Jester: I think he's coming on to you.
    Caleb: She hears: "It's complicated."[4]
  • Matt: (to Caleb) You are Polymorphed into a sheep.
    Veth: You sheep-shifted?![5]
  • Travis: In space, no one can hear you bleat.[6]

Trivia

  • The message on Sam's flask read, "Dear Davexian, 115 116 101 112 032 111 110 032 109 101. Veth". The numbers are ASCII code for "Step on me."

References

  1. See "The Stalking Nightmare" (2x29) at 0:07:18.
  2. See "Hell or High Water" (2x136) at 2:35:21.
  3. See "Hell or High Water" (2x136) at 0:19:31.
  4. See "Hell or High Water" (2x136) at 0:57:18.
  5. See "Hell or High Water" (2x136) at 3:06:41.
  6. See "Hell or High Water" (2x136) at 3:07:42.

Art:

  1. Fan art of Sprinkle (aka Artagan) with Jester, by Kaitlyn Leeds (source).  Used with permission.
  2. Fan art of prowling absorbers, by MyHistrionics (source).  Used with permission.
  3. Fan art of the Immensus Gate, by @hierothraxs (source).  Used with permission.
  4. Fan art of Lucien going through the Immensus Gate, by BlackSalander (source).  Used with permission.
  5. Fan art of Caduceus flying Essek, by Redelice @Badassassassin (source).  Used with permission.
  6. Fan art of the party in the Astral Sea, by Charis Dussek (source).  Used with permission.


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