There’s another Critical Role novel coming, and it’s all about villains. Critical Role: The Mighty Nein – The Nine Eyes of Lucien will explore the origin story of Lucien, the antagonist of Critical Role’s second Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The novel was written by Madeleine Roux and focuses on Lucien’s early life and his eventual transformation into the Nonagon, the voice of the Somnovem, all the way up through his first encounters with the Mighty Nein.
Lucien’s novel is unique to the Critical Role lineup of related works like books and comics, in that it’s the first novel to focus on one of the series’ villains. When asked about the challenges of writing a villain’s origin story, Roux said, “There’s a lot of house imagery in this book. I kept thinking about it like, he is closing the doors and windows one by one until he’s alone in this house by himself. The idea of someone cutting off all their exits, until they’re in a mess of their own making.”
You can get a taste of Lucien’s rise to power in this exclusive excerpt from Critical Role: The Mighty Nein – The Nine Eyes of Lucien ahead of the book’s release. Long may he reign.
In this excerpt, the Tombtakers accompany Vess DeRogna to explore the frozen ruins of Aeor, and as they investigate some of the wonders hidden within, Lucien stumbles upon a mysterious room that seems to beckon to him…
“A bit of pitter-patter, a smattering of rain,” sang Zoran in time to the swing of his pickaxe. So far, the ice barrier proved unyielding, but he was a determined fellow. “Drives the farmer mental, drives the man insane . . .”
“Must you?” Otis whined, his back to Zoran while keeping the watch.
“I must if you want this wall broken anytime soon,” he barked back. “Helps me concentrate, keep the rhythm,” he said between hacks. “A bit of pitter-patter, a smattering of rain . . .”
Strange shadows flickered at the end of every corridor, a trick of the light, most times, but they knew better than to drop their guard for even a moment. Lucien had mistakenly assumed that, though the ruined city might be dangerous, it would be at least passively traversable. He was quickly disabused of that notion, as the maps DeRogna had secured showed passages where none existed, cave-ins and floods turning most corridors into dead ends. From their camp outside the ruins to this very blockage had taken just over two days of intermittent travel. The going was slow and treacherous, with previous adventurers having left their share of shattered corpses and abandoned camps, and the unsteady nature of the crash site itself destabilizing even the ground. Twice, Lucien had almost been lost down a sinkhole. He felt like they were crawling rather than walking, clawing their way through, fighting for every inch in a place hell-bent on repelling them.
When they first breached the crater through the northwest tunnel, the true value and wonder of Aeor instantly made itself known. His imagination, as it turned out, was not up to the task of conjuring such things. Pockets of blue light glowed in the distance, suggestions of life—perhaps the lanterns of adventurers, though to Lucien they seemed like the little flickers of lost life, mere ghostly echoes. At the bottom of the nearest steep descent lay a toppled arch, mostly intact, an oddly inviting piece of disembodied architecture that seemed to promise the valuables and dangers DeRogna had made clear awaited.
Much had been completely pulverized in the cataclysm, but now that they were picking their way into the ruins, he could tell that the blue lights were some sort of protective force. They were glowing caps, perfectly round, their smooth surface emanating a transfixing hum.
“What’s the blue?” he asked, pointing.
“Stasis bubbles,” answered DeRogna. She came to his side, observing the city with a small, secret smile. “The people and objects within are perfectly preserved from the impact. Just imagine what one might find inside. The insights, the technology . . .”
The neighborhoods of the city—wards, DeRogna called them—progressed deeper and deeper into the wide crater. Only pieces of Aeor were accessible, and at the whims of the ice shelves drifting slowly across the island of Foren. Waterfalls poured into the crater, flooding important thoroughfares, making an even greater mess of an already dizzying maze of annihilated buildings. Though DeRogna’s maps proved unreliable at best, they at least directed the Tombtakers to a specific ward three miles deep into the crater, accessible only after climbing steeply down, and then breaching a large, arched corridor heaped with rubble.
Once those stones were cleared, they were met with yet another obstacle. At the first fork of a somewhat intact hall, DeRogna consulted her maps and chose the way blocked by a solid shield of ice. Zoran and Brevyn were subsequently put to work. The walls around them were dark blue, painted, but with such a bright pigment that it gave the appearance of radiant sapphire. Down the other fork, the wind whistled. Lucien had worried about whom they might encounter in the ruins, but the unbroken, pervasive silence was somehow worse, the combined absence of so many dead making the stillness palpable.
It was playing havoc with his mind.
“Can’t you point your fingers at it and hurl a fireball?” Lucien asked, watching both Zoran and Brevyn remove more and more layers as they strained against their axes. Shards of ice skittered across the floor, bumping his heels.
Vess DeRogna, still cloaked in heavy green-and-black wool, walked solemnly to the brilliant-blue wall beside the ice barrier. She ran her hand over a shield painted there, moons and trees crowned with an unsettling tiara with eyes in the place of gems. There was lettering beneath, badly worn away, but she traced what letters were left with her forefinger.
“The city’s great magical thinkers congregated here. Their experiments are not entirely lost to us, as you’ve seen . . .” And they had indeed. Every stasis bubble they passed was creepier than the last. DeRogna had offered scant commentary along the way, though the quick movements of her eyes told Lucien that was due to secrecy, not ignorance. She probably thought them too dull to understand what they were looking at. “Any errant magic would trip ancient mechanisms, or worse, trigger a landslide. I wouldn’t want to bring the whole of the ward down on our heads.”
“Here! We’re through!” Brevyn called, setting down her pickaxe. She used the white sleeve of her tunic to brush away the detritus, revealing a narrow hole burrowing through the ice.
“I’ll take it.” Zoran nudged her aside, then drove his pickaxe into the gap with a thunderous shout that echoed down the corridors, filling the empty maze with sound. He pushed his right boot against the barrier, bracing, then turned and grasped the axe handle with both hands, tucking it under his elbow and using it to leverage open a hole eight or so inches across. Chunks of ice exploded outward, and Lucien shielded his eyes.
With the center of the wall collapsed, the rest came away easily. Otis launched themself into the narrow passage, sliding through easily. Tyffial brushed by the others, crawling on hands and knees. Once on the other side, she waved and dusted off her coat.
“Just like Caes Mosor, right, Lucien?” called Tyffial, giggling.
“Ha! Considerably fewer hags,” he replied.
“Aye,” Brevyn muttered in his ear as they watched Vess DeRogna crawl through. “Just have to deal with the one on this little adventure.” She sighed and wiped her forehead with her sleeve.
“Is it just DeRogna getting to you or something else?”
“This place is . . . wrong.” Brevyn leaned against him for a moment, catching her breath from the work. “Even in the open spaces it feels like it’s closing in on us.”
“The mage will have her relic soon, then we can leave this place behind for good.”
“Even if it’s a gold mine?”
“There are other places to delve,” he replied. “Ones that won’t make me want to tear my own skin off.”
Once the archmage was on the other side, Zoran and Brevyn went back to work, breaking down the ice barrier until the hall was clear. They gathered their gear, pressing forward into a rotunda whose high, domed ceiling had been cracked open like an egg. Water poured in from a fall miles above, though some iridescent bubble kept the flow from filling the chamber. Green and blue lights flickered through the water, and as Lucien progressed into the rotunda, he marveled, mouth open, staring up at the magic protecting them, feeling as if they were standing at the bottom of the sea.
At the center of the chamber, they spread out around a stasis bubble placed up a series of shallow steps, the scene within far more placid than others they had stumbled across. An ancient resident of Aeor was frozen there, sitting on the ground cross-legged, their garb simple and almost monklike, rough spun fabric with a black mantle, a few designs in red embroidery decorating a linen belt snug around their waist. It was an elf, slender, with smooth brown skin and their white hair knotted at the nape of their neck. They were in contemplation of something cupped in their palms, too small to be seen without breaching the bubble.
“Are they not beautiful?” whispered Jurrell.
“Wistful,” suggested Otis.
“They look so sad,” added Tyffial.
“No, no, not sad,” said Vess DeRogna, approaching the tableau. “Enthralled.” Then she cast her eyes around the rotunda, searching for something. She must have discovered it, for she gave the first true smile Lucien had ever witnessed on her and murmured, “Light. I shall require far more light . . .”
The archmage left behind the stasis bubble, making a circle around the edge of the rotunda, consulting a small journal and one of her maps. He glanced over her shoulder, watching her fingertips graze across minuscule sites labeled a12, a22, a30, a41, and so on. Now that they had reached their apparent destination, DeRogna was taking her time about it. Lucien’s belly snarled with hunger, but they were hours off from making camp. This room, more so than the other places in the ruins they had traveled through, had not been picked clean by scavengers. Soaring, colorful murals covered the internal walls and pillars, shelves laden with broken jars and shattered pottery catching his eye. He pulled off his gloves and wandered over to one of the shelves, taking a shard of ancient glass and holding it up to the light. The watery green glow bathing them from above caught a flaw in the glass, the blemish focusing the light into a wink and then a beam of reflection.
Lucien focused his eyes past the shard, watching where the coy dot of light hit. The mural there, he realized, was different from the pattern covering the rest of the rotunda. When he went to inspect it, wiping the dust away, he beheld a ring of nine red ovals, with a dazzling starburst in the middle, and that decorated with a single open eye. Enlightenment.
The mural had been framed within a painted arch, with two small circular depressions at about waist height. Lucien frowned, dropping the piece of glass, and placing his palms on the sunken areas he gently applied pressure, shifting his weight forward until he heard an ever-so-soft click.
What had been a slice of wall became a door, the mechanism releasing and pulling it back, revealing a dark passage beyond.
“There’s something back here,” he called absently, already stepping through. The others didn’t hear him, busy helping DeRogna with her project. He glanced over his right shoulder, watching as she directed the other Tombtakers to position themselves at various blue-and-gold lanterns throughout the room and stand ready with torches while she feverishly consulted her journal. The hidden room ahead exhaled toward him, an electric breath from a long-abandoned place, somehow warm and solicitous.
And like a fool, he accepted the invitation.