Critical Role Recap: Episode 18
Previously on Critical Role, the Mighty Nein had a relaxing afternoon in Zadash’s Penta Market District at the Harvest’s Close festival. There, they won a handful of trinkets, ate candied apples, and enjoyed themselves after a long week of danger and terror. That afternoon, in search of excitement, they entered the Victory Pit fighting tournament—where they would compete with three other teams to survive a gauntlet of captured monsters. While preparing for the tournament, they overheard news that their king had declared war upon the Kryn Dynasty of Xhorhas. Soon, soldiers of the Righteous Brand would be swiftly mobilized to the empire’s eastern border.
Within the Victory Pit, the Mighty Nein took on two fights—facing an otyugh and then two winter wolfs. The other teams dwindled until only they and one other team remained. The Nein returned to the field of battle… and were confronted by a hulking hill giant.
The Mighty Nein were triumphant in the Victory Pit, and shared their triumph with the Stubborn Stock, the mercenaries the met during the festival. A small party was thrown for the victors, and they mingled with some of Zadash’s officials, including Oremid Hass, headmaster of the Halls of Erudition, and a fellow archmage named Trent Ikithon. Caleb kept his distance. That evening, Beau asked Caleb about the fear of fire he displayed while they were traveling. He eventually relented and called both her and Nott into his room—and told them that, while he was under the tutelage of Trent Ikithon, he burned his parents alive, thinking them traitors to the empire.
The next morning, the Nein prepared to leave Zadash, fearing that the brewing war would overtake them. They were approached by the Lawmaster of Zadash and asked to become legionnaires and perform mercenary work for the city. They were also approached by Kara, who told them that the Gentleman had new work for them. They returned to the Leaky Tap to discuss their next move.
Art by Caio Santos (@BlackSalander)
The Mighty Nein assumed a chaotic fighting position as the monstrous hill giant stomped into the Victory Pit. A brutal melee ensued, with several members of the team hitting the dirt in a spray of blood. Caleb granted them some time to recover by halting the giant’s rampage with a sleep spell. Nott scored the finishing blow against the hill giant, winning their final round in the Victory Pit! The Stubborn Stock, the last team standing, stood by and watched them as they emerged in victory. They grinned and their leader, Darrow, congratulated them with a hearty “well played!”
Then, after a moment’s rest, the Stubborn Stock strode into the ring. If they won, they would split the winnings with the Mighty Nein. If they fell, the Mighty Nein would claim the entire pot themselves. The crowd cheered, and then fell silent. A horrific screech blasted from the gates—a wyvern! A wyvern with mutilated, flightless wings. The Stubborn Stock assumed formation and crashed into the beast like a wave of steel.
The wyvern fought desperately, but the Stubborn Stock eventually claimed victory! The two parties split the prize pool and made their way back into the holding area. Darrow came to meet them, and congratulated them again on their victory—then invited them to the afterparty. At the party, the Nein encountered Starosta Wyatt, a public official of Zadash, who personally thanked the Nein for everything they had done for the city. He also granted the entire Mighty Nein unconditional entrance to the Trispire District.
Meeting Trent Ikithon
Jester inconspicuously sidled up to the Starosta, hoping to eavesdrop on further war news… but was disappointed to hear that the talk was purely frivolous. Meanwhile, Beau met with Oremid Hass, headmaster of the Halls of Erudition in Zadash. The man who was with him—an archmage named Trent Ikithon—seemed to be from Xhorhas, and Yasha revealed that she was from Xhorhas, too. The pair grilled her on her allegiances, now that war had quietly broken out. Yasha claimed that she had only lived in the empire about 8 months, but then she had to make a Wisdom saving throw—and rolled a 7. Trent Ikithon had cast a spell, but it was unclear what he had done. His image seemed to “glitch,” as if two identical images had begun to overlap for a moment. He examined Yasha closely… but then simply nodded and welcomed her to Zadash.
He shook her hand. “Good day. I should very much like to talk with you sometime in the future.”
The group then pulled Yasha aside and privately made sure that she wasn’t a Xhorhasian spy. She revealed that she hates the Kryn Dynasty in Xhorhas; the dark elves that settled in the ruined city of blasphemy, Ghor Dranas, had made pacts with fiends and enslaved “men and beasts,” and used a ritual to blot out the sun. Yasha feared them terribly. And hated them. She yearned to take the fight to them, if she was given the chance.
Darrow came up to them at the end of the night and bade them all good night “before we all shove off and probably never meet you again.” His group was headed to Nogvurot, a settlement northeast of Rexxentrum, the Dwendalian capital. Darrow hadn’t heard anything about the war—and was heading straight to the front lines.
A Night in the Pillow Trove
Later that evening, the party left the Penta Market and traveled to the Trispire. Beau asked Caleb, “Why are you afraid of fire? I’ll take you to the library if you tell me why you’re afraid of fire. One secret for another, it’s a fair trade I think.”
Caleb shied away from explaining his history again, and Beau let him go. The group made their way towards the Pillow Trove for the night, rejoicing in their newfound welcome in the Trispire. They were surprised and delighted to learn that a care package for Jester arrived at the Pillow Trove! She tipped the courier 2 whole gold pieces and then shook the package. There were several objects that rattled around inside it. (“It’s not as heavy as I expected it to be,” Jester exclaimed, dejectedly.)
Inside the parcel was a bag of coins, a small bundle wrapped with twine, and a letter. The letter was a very sweet missive from her mother, the famed Ruby of the Sea. The package included a bottle of her lavender perfume.
Molly went downstairs and acquired some “services,” who arrived at his door in the form of a young man and woman in silk robes. Fjord and Caleb took one look at Molly’s entertainment for the evening and hightailed it out of there. Fjord sat dismally outside the room as Molly had his fun, while Caleb went downstairs and booked another room.
Art by Julia Corsi (@Bioswear)
Caleb’s Dark Secret
Using message, Caleb called Nott and Beau to his new room for a moment. They left the girls’ room under the pretense of getting some snacks, and made their way to Caleb’s room. Liam made everyone but Matt, Marisha, and Sam leave the table! Caleb told Beau that he was ready to reveal to her the reason behind his fear of fire… and that he felt uncomfortable about revealing it to someone if he didn’t also reveal it to Nott.
“Beauregard,” Caleb said. “May I ask you a question to start. Um, how do you feel about the empire? Are you in favor of how things are going here?”
Beau shrugged. “No, but I’m not in favor of many things. I have a problem with authority, the [concept] of authority. I watched my father sacrifice a lot to try and impress those people.”
“Are you comfortable with business as usual?”
“Uh, what? What? How do you mean?”
“Do you approve of what the empire is doing?”
“No. I have no investment in their success or failure. I think most of them are scumbags who want monetary and influential gain. […] I think that’s sucky. If they’re garbage people, I’m their rare cousin: the trash person.”
Caleb frowned, and looked at Nott. A look of fear spread across his face. “This may be a stupid decision of mine, but… [Nott], would you be willing to leave with me tomorrow, if I asked you to? Just the two of us?”
“Yes,” Nott said, without hesitation. “But why?”
“I am going to tell you the story of how I murdered my mother and father.” Caleb gathered himself. “When I was younger, I grew up in a small township outside of Rexxentrum called Blumenthal. My mother’s name was Uma, my father’s name was Leofred. People used to say I delighted their life… and everything just worked for me.
“As I got older, it became clear that I had a knack for the arcane. And everyone talked about the Soltryce Academy… maybe I would go there someday. The way they do things at that academy… they don’t take all comers. They look for the diamond in the rough, and every couple of years they find one.
“But when I was a young man, an adolescent really, they found three of us. [Myself], another boy, and a girl.
“From your town?” Beau asked.
“Yes, from Blumenthal. And uh, we were accepted. I was a teenager. We went there, I studied for a year. I worked so hard, and it came to me easier than the other two, but they were very accomplished. There were other students from other parts of the empire there, and a little over a year of learning… I met a man. A man named Trent Ikithon. You met him. My teacher.”
Beau and Nott both looked up at the mention of Trent Ikithon. Beau scowled. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? Earlier tonight. You knew we were talking to Trent!”
Caleb ignored her statement and continued with his speech. His reason would become self-evident. “So after a year of studying in the main school, Trent handpicked all three of us, again, and we left the school proper and went with him to a hut in the countryside where he trained us. And it was a good time. We believed in the Empire, we were going to keep it strong. He was cruel. He hurt us, a lot. Made us go through…extreme circumstances. But we got strong.
“So we rose through the ranks, and it was the Empire over all. And eventually he wanted to test our allegiance, and so strangers were brought in. Traitors. Disgusting people, traitors to this Empire. And we killed them.”
“Students?” Nott asked.
“He made you executioners?” Beau practically shouted. “Caleb, that’s deeply fucked up, you know that right?”
“Mm.” Caleb was lost in thought. “After this, a few months of studying, a little bit of torture, a little bit of murdering of traitors, dissidents, deviants…”
Beau thought she had guessed the truth, and spoke up to spare Caleb the pain of saying it. “So your parents were brought in as traitors?”
Caleb shook his head. “No. We were ready to graduate… I went to visit my parents, and I heard them in the middle of the night. I heard them talking and I went to the stair. I heard them talking of revolution and tearing the Empire down.” His face was a mask of pain. Tears had filled his brown eyes. “And I felt disgrace and shame for my family, my mother and father who were so wonderful, who were so happy for me to go to the academy… I went back to the school and… I knew what had to be done.
“We went to this other boy’s home first, and we stood by as he killed his parents. And we went to [the girl’s] house and we had dinner with them, and she poisoned them. Then we went to my home and we grabbed a horse cart and in the middle of the night, placed it against the door to the home and I set it on fire.”
“And you had to do this to graduate?” Beau asked. “To prove your loyalty?”
“Well. Yeah. But it didn’t exactly go according to their plan, because as soon as I heard my mother and father screaming inside, I… I was so sure… I was so sure… until I wasn’t. And then… I broke a bit.” Caleb looked away.
“Did you go in after them?” Nott asked, wanting to believe the best of her adoptive son.
Once again, Caleb shook his head. “No. I went to an asylum for a number of years. I… I…I…” He stammered unintelligibly for a long moment. “I broke. I broke. I don’t remember so well what happened, there, it was quite a number of years. And years later, a woman was there. And she, another patient, and she put hands on me, and she took the clouds away. She took it all away. Not just my madness, but the fake memories, that Ikithon put in me of my parents.”
A dread chill fell over the room. Nott was the first to shout. “Wait, there was a false memory? He tricked you?”
Beau practically snarled. “Into hearing their talks against the Empire.”
“Yes, yes, but it doesn’t matter!” Caleb shouted. “I wanted to do it! To kill traitors to the Empire.”
“But you were brainwashed,” Nott said, trying to comfort him.
“But it didn’t matter! I am a disgusting person. I ran away, I pretended that nothing had changed. She was stark raving mad, the woman who helped me. I killed one of Trent’s people there and took this [he produced a necklace] and it has been keeping me hidden from them for years, for five years. They can find people. But not with this.” Caleb paused and looked pleadingly into Beau’s eyes. “So, um, I would really like to get into that library, because…”
“You want to run again,” Beau deduced.
“No…” Caleb shook his head again. “No, I like you people. It’s just…”
“Caleb, I’m good at keeping secrets,” Beau said. “You heard us talking to Trent. You know he wants Yasha. And you’re the only person who knows the atrocities that this man (who utterly gave me the creeps, by the way!)…. I’m just saying, you have a responsibility now.”
“Keep this guy from hurting more people.”
“Well that’s precisely why I want in to this library.”
“You want to take on Trent.” A fire was burning in Beau’s eyes. Whether it was justice or a vicarious desire for revenge was anyone’s guess. “Is that why you’re doing all this? You want to take on Trent? What are you hoping to find?”
“Anybody can make lights,” Caleb growled. “Anybody could send a message through a wire. I want to bend reality to my will.”
Beau laughed and looked askance. “Caleb. No one wants that amount of power and responsibility.”
“Yeah, well. I told you why I’m afraid of fire.” He looked at her again, determined. “So you are going to bring me to that library.”
“Don’t worry,” Beau laughed. “I’m going to take you to that library. There are two options here, you could selfishly go after this guy for your own vendetta, or you can use your motives to keep others from getting hurt in a very similar way.”
“Both of those are appealing to me.”
“All right,” said Beau. She smiled at Caleb in a way that resembled sweetness. “I know you can “just” make dancing lights, but that lets me punch people in the face when I can’t see for shit. A little teamwork goes a long way.”
Caleb didn’t acknowledge her kindness. “I think Nott and I are going to retire for a bit. Maybe you can get that food for the others.”
“Ah. All right,” Beau scoffed. “Kicking me out of the room, I get it. All right, I’ll leave. But I’ll keep your secret. We’ll keep all this a secret. I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of, though.”
Caleb laughed, screwing up his face into an ugly expression. “Good night, Beauregard.”
Beau left the room, and Nott moved comfort Caleb. “This pain that you wear all over you like a mask… you can take it off some day. I know it hurts, but it wasn’t your fault. And I’m just going to keep telling you that until you believe me.”
Caleb clasped his hands. “Are you and I good?”
Nott took a deep breath. “What you did was awful, truly terrible. Despicable and unforgivable… until you can forgive it. At some point, you’ll have to do that. And I swear to you that I will be at your side until you do.”
Caleb grinned. A manic glint had entered his eye. “I have an idea. We can make that happen! It will take a load of hard work. And a lot of books.
“I’m in. Just tell me, and I’ll get it for you.”
Caleb gave her a silver thread. “I’m going to go over my notes, there are some ideas I had… and I stay up an extra hour before going to bed.”
Sleep took them all. The next morning, they planned their next move. (Jester also painted a picture for her mom, and wanted to mail it back to her mom.) The rest of the party went to Dolan’s while Beau and Caleb and Nott went to the library, then the entire group would visit Pumat Sol’s shop.
The entire tone of the city and shifted dramatically. The town criers were shouting about the attacks in the east and the Righteous Brand was now moving to attack the Xhorhasian border.
The Lawmaster in the King’s Hall wished to speak with the Nein. The larger group went in to meet with her. The war has put the city in quite a predicament. With all their warriors headed off to war, they were in need of personnel. Money was no issue. The crown had approved an expanded mercenary budget. (Interestingly, no one who learned of Caleb’s issues with the Empire was present in this conversation.) They were offered 10,000 gold for a contract—Fjord suspected it was the Gentleman.
Fjord noted that they didn’t have all of their fellows with them, and refused to agree immediately. He wanted to assemble the entire group. The Lawmaster was okay with this, and made a bold plea for them to consider the goodness of the work they would be doing. She knew that the Empire had its problems, but doing there are good people here. And they need protecting; more harm would befall them if they gave up on the empire.
Molly said that 10,000 gold worth of cooperation was far more cooperation than he believed himself capable of.
Caleb, Beau, and Nott went to the library. He disguised himself in cobalt blue and approached the library. They gained an escort, Madir, through the library. It was so massive, perhaps they needed one. Caleb wanted information on history… famed arcanists. He was searching for accounts of people who pushed boundaries throughout the ages. People who made great discoveries. The furthest extent of Transmutation and altering of reality.
He found records of mountains being turned into clouds, floating cities. But most of these powers of the Age of Arcanum went too far—these wizards were corrupted by their greed and were preyed upon by the Betrayer Gods. Some spells were too dangerous—and were either eradicated or were placed under lock and key.
Reading a book of notable archmages, Caleb learned that Ikithon was the “Archmage of Civil Influence” he is the mage-propagandist and constructor of the face of the empire in the upper eschelons of society.
The party reconvened in Pumat Sol’s shop. Jester purchased a pearl of power, Nott purchased some flaming crossbow bolts. They did some other shopping, but found that most of the merchants were blindsided by the declaration of war. They returned to the Lawmaster and told her that they couldn’t help her out—but were tempted again when she explained who they would be hunting down: the Hawker, an ex-legionnaire who joined the Myriad and fled.
The returned to the Leaky Tap to think about it—but Kara intercepted them in the street! She wanted to speak with them… saying that the Gentleman might have work for them.
Whatever the Gentleman has in store will be learned next week on Critical Role! Is it Thursday yet?
Unless otherwise credited, all photos in this article are courtesy of Geek & Sundry.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He loves watching Critical Role and wants everyone he knows to get into it, too. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his very own Frumpkins, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.