CONTENT WARNING: Mental health crisis
SPOILERS: End of Campaign 1
I’ve been thinking about this since the end of campaign 1. There were an awful lot of lose threads for Percy’s mental health between the last scenes of the campaign and the epilogue. Descriptions of Pandemonium sounded like a terrible place to put someone in Percy’s state. I am going off my existing theory about Percy’s mental health.
Vex and Percy camped in the woods the night Vax died. The day Sylas got away, and she’d helped kill Cassandra, and they’d battled Vecna the ascended, and he’d tried to fight The Raven Queen. They got drunk and cried themselves exhausted. She fell asleep being held by him. She woke up alone in the hours between late and early.
Hers was the panic of finding him, the day before, alone on the steps on the verge of throwing his life away for a shot at hurting Death. She found him sitting outside in the damp cold. He said he couldn’t sleep and didn’t want to wake her. He’d been sleeping badly since they’d found the Briarwoods alive. She managed to coax him back in the tent. She tried not to mind how fitfully he slept.
They slept late. It wasn’t the respite they were hoping for, and they packed up their gear disheartened. They had to go back to the grim reality of everyday life eventually.
Instead, they found Keyleth waiting anxiously by their door. She told them Grog had pulled a card and gone catatonic in the night. Pike, JB, and Scanlan were researching what had happened. Vex took Percy’s hand. He was staring off at nothing looking crushed. She said she’d join the research. Percy said he had to resupply in the workshop. There was a note of panic in his voice. He brushed off their concern. He was fine. He had to be.
He looked exhausted at dinner in the castle. He’d already been drinking. He picked at his food and ate little. He was quiet while they talked about their findings. All of them were drinking heavily that evening. Two missing seats haunted the room. Percy passed out at the table, never making it to bed.
Vex found him in the workshop early the next morning, hard at work. She brought him a mug of coffee. He hadn’t changed and looked disheveled. His energy was off, frenetic but dragging. He’d been hit hard by the last few days and it was showing. He didn’t leave the workshop all day.
At dinner they reported they knew what had happened to Grog and where he was. Tomorrow they’d figure out how to get there. Percy tried to be cheered by that glimmer of hope. His appetite was better.
He broke down crying in their room. Even if they got Grog back, he’d lost so many people. Cassandra’s death was eating at him. Vex gently joked they were even now. He laughed grimly, but it turned back to tears. Everyone was at risk because of them. She held him and said, “We’ll save them, then. We’ll build better defenses and wards.” But he was right to worry, and she knew it. It hung between them. She cried for her own losses and he tried feebly to console her. He finally fell into an uneasy sleep, overwhelmed by exhaustion, and woke late.
They made a plan the next day. They briefed everyone for what was known about Pandemonium, then split to prepare. Percy packed all four hip flasks and two bottles of whiskey. He rebraided Vex’s hair tightly, and added the black feather left on their windowsill. They saw a similar feather newly tied to Keyleth’s antlers, taken as a sign from Vax. Cassandra saw them off from the castle foyer, looking worried.
Pandemonium was more intense than they imagined. The yawning caverns were pitch black. Even with their lights they could barely make out the far side. The bewildering gravity pulled to the walls instead of towards one ground. Winds howled through the tunnels. They had to yell even over the earpieces.
They located the Styx and followed it for a while. Vex found flying low, while tricky, was less disorienting than walking. The gnomes rode Keyleth as a bronze dragon while Percy and Vex rode the broom. He lost his lunch after they went through a corkscrew of weird gravity. When they stopped to orient themselves, he chased a long drink of water with his flask. He struggled with the roar. He picked at his food. He slept badly, waking up twice from nightmares, screaming.
Day two was nearly a repeat of the first, but longer and more grueling. They fought a group of bugbears whose souls were locked there. He floundered in the battle. His aim was off. Animus jammed three times before breaking. He took hard hits from the psychic damage. The crack of Bad News was magnified in the caverns. His ears rang so badly, he could barely hear them. The healing spells helped, but not completely. He was moody and out of it by the time they stopped. He slunk off to the workshop to fix his gun. He ate little with great effort. He turned in early but tossed and turned anxiously before slinking off to read.
Keyleth found him in the library early in the morning, hunched in a chair spaced out. His eyes were red, and there were tear streaks on his face. Half the whiskey bottle was gone. She asked if he was alright and needed to talk. He said he’d be fine. They just had to get through this. He sounded distant. He tried to be subtle about adding whiskey to his coffee at breakfast. Vex and Pike caught it, and shared a glance, but said nothing. He looked tired but moved with an inattentive, hasty energy. She helped him fix the buttoning on his vest. Pike kept up on the healing spells.
Two more days passed as they tried to pick their way through the caverns. The constant gale was getting to all of them. Scanlan’s singing and verbal spells barely carried. Percy seemed more affected than the rest. He was badly stressed, distracted, making mistakes, and taking stupid risks. When he broke his silence, he was rushed and rambley. His jokes were cutting and harsh. The punchline was still being alive.
He did his best to force himself to eat. He seemed more and more fey. He held Vex when she broke down crying for her brother. He stroked her hair, but all he found to say was, “I’m so sorry.” He didn’t cry with her. He sounded numb and hazy.
They were getting close on the sixth day. The tunnel became narrow. The weird gravity made it too hard to fly. Vex took the lead as their best scout. When the terrain ahead got treacherous, they stopped for lunch. Vex watched Percy stop short, look around confused, and sit where he was with his elbows on his knees, apart from the others.
She knelt beside him and asked, “Darling, can I get you something?” He didn’t respond, just stared blankly ahead. She gently laid her hand against his cheek, and called louder, “Darling, are you okay?” He didn’t melt into her touch. He didn’t react at all. He seemed oblivious to everything around him, and she was suddenly terrified.
She felt the weight of the others looking on with concern. She cast Cure Wounds, praying some injury had brought this on. She wasn’t surprised when it found nothing to heal.
“I didn’t see any spell or trap,” offered Keyleth. “I was behind him all day. I have Greater Restoration prepared.”
“Do it,” said Vex, her voice breaking. “Maybe it will help.” She didn’t sound convinced. She sat back to let Keyleth work, taking his hand.
Keyleth placed her palms on either side of his face. She concentrated until a light like spring growth and autumn leaves washed over him. There was a flicker of relief, and then pain. As Keyleth took her hands away, he started crying, shuttering, and panicked. He pulled his hand away and curled further into a ball of misery. He was nearly incoherent except to faintly repeat, “I can’t…”
Keyleth was shocked. “Percy?”
“Get the mansion up! He can’t stay out here,” called Vex, stress and concern flooding her voice. She laid a hand gently on his shoulder, and said soothingly, “Darling it’s alright. You’re going to be alright. We’re going to get you inside.” The minute to cast the spell felt like an eternity.
He resisted when they tried to help him up, recoiling wretchedly. Finally Vex popped Trinket out and asked Percy if she could use it on him. He made no reply but disappeared when she tried. She carried him to their room, bare of decor at her request, and released him towards the bed. He sat down hard. A strange high-pitched noise filled the room. It took her a moment to realize it was a sound of deep distress from Percy.
“Darling it’s alright. You’re going to be alright.”
The others milled about the hall, too worried to go far. Eventually Vex motioned Keyleth back in to help her. Percy sat in a quiet daze on the edge of the bed. They got off his outer layers, his armor, and his boots. Keyleth started to see the grim practice in what Vex was doing. She let the silence hang between them until Vex said she’d get the rest.
They sat awkwardly outside a long time taking off their own gear, before Keyleth said, “Why didn’t we do anything? We all knew he wasn’t alright.”
“Have any of us been okay with all this?” asked Scanlan.
The silence spoke for them.
Vex looked worried and worn when she eventually came out.
“How is he?” asked Pike.
“He’s resting. I don’t want to leave him alone for long, but there’s nothing I can do and I’m starving.”
“Vex…” Keyleth struggled for words. “I saw in there… This isn’t the first time.”
Vex stared guiltily at the floor before leaning into Keyleth’s offered hug. “It was bad after the dragons. Never this bad. We pushed ourselves hard because we had to. We all knew the cost of failure. I kept telling myself I was worrying too much, but I should have done more.
“His depression crashed, but he was also manic. Like he’s been since we found Delilah. He shut himself away in his workshop for days but made little progress. He couldn’t focus or think clearly. He got frustrated, upset, and careless. He got hurt a couple times. Sometimes I’d find him just drinking alone and crying. He pushed me away. Said he couldn’t do it anymore. That was that for a couple months. There were a few nights I was afraid…”
“Eventually it seemed to lift. He was calmer, more productive. Clearer and sharper. He went back to work improving Whitestone. We started over again. Maybe a little impulsively, but we didn’t want to waste more time.
“We felt like there was something left to do. We were waiting for another mission, but not this. The Briarwoods threw him. He’s been struggling since. I don’t think he let any of us see how much. It was all so fast.
“I think Cassandra… even though we brought her back, then Vax…” her voice broke, “then Grog getting trapped was too much. Like it would never just be over or safe. Like the last year of getting better didn’t happen.” She was crying. “I don’t want to lose him, too.”
Pike gently took her hand. “I’ll go sit with him. You get something to eat. Take off your armor.” She left before Vex could protest. Vex did her best to take care of herself before worry overtook her and she went back to do what little she could for him.
The others tried to make a plan for the next day. Worry won out over the mission. They’d take another day here. Grog wasn’t going anywhere as best they could tell. Pike observed the Restoration spell had some effect. He was doing so badly it was worth trying again.
Percy slept fitfully and late. The time to renew the mansion was getting near when Pike tried Greater Restoration. The wave of peace lasted longer. He seemed more aware of his surroundings. He put himself together enough to go outside. But even the minute back in Pandemonium was overwhelming and draining. He collapsed back into bed and curled up crying.
They debated what to do. It was too risky to send him back alone with Planeshift, and too risky to be down two people. If they had to, they’d cast fly on Trinket and put Percy in the necklace. He was still far too fragile to set out tomorrow. They’d wait another day. Pike would try Greater Restoration again before dinner. It was expensive and incremental, but it was working.
He started coming back to himself after the next round of spells. He said, “Thank you. Both of you. I’m sorry I haven’t been myself. I’m sorry I’ve been a burden. I…” Vex hugged him and reassured him. However hesitantly, he relaxed into her arms and tried to believe her. He ate well. For the first time in many days he got a good night’s rest.
After the morning spells he was brighter, more lucid. He spent the day reading with Vex and Keyleth in the library. He made light conversation. It was clear he was still far from alright, but the very worst of it had passed.
He continued to improve with the evening and morning spells. His appetite was better. His nightmares were milder, though he’d flipped to sleeping very long. He didn’t look so pale or so exhausted. After checking in with him, they decided to continue their journey.
The rest of the quest was uneventful, if slower. Percy was still struggling. They could only stay out a few hours before he began to glaze over and dissociate. Keeping up with Greater Restoration helped, but it could only fix so much so fast, it was expensive, and they had to start rationing the supplies quickly. He was still drinking more heavily than the rest of them. But by the time they released Grog, he was back to his usual cutting wit. He teased Grog about losing an arm. Vex wondered how much of himself felt missing.
When they Plane Shifted back to the center of Whitestone, he hugged the Suntree and said, “Never again. I’m never going back to that horrible place for any reason. I’d rather go back to Hell.”
His recovery was slow. He took another week off his duties as Sophist of Native Ingenuity. When he tried to get back to work, he couldn’t focus. He overslept. He zoned out in meetings. He couldn’t understand plans through the brain fog. He took another week off, then two, then a leave of absence. He was gone nearly a year. He hated it. He hated feeling useless. He hated feeling like a burden. But Vex was right that he wasn’t in fit shape to do it.
And so it went over the next two years of slowly piecing himself together after years of breaking. Keyleth made the trip back to Whitestone for Greater Restoration once a week, or any time he had a crisis. The magic helped a lot, but even magic couldn’t undo everything at once. With need and resources, Whitestone was the first to start developing psychotherapy separate from temple work. Cassandra and many of Vox Machina were happy to participate.
Keenly aware of the privilege and community that allowed them help, Percy and Vex drew up a plan to lower barriers for all. When the final plan was put forward, the Chamber of Whitestone voted unanimously for socialized medicine out of taxes on timber and Whitestone production.
A lot was done with more careful study of plants and minerals. The discovery of a lithia spring in the mountains was a boon for Percy’s health. Keyleth’s regular visits could be cut back to once a month.
However slowly, the pain of the past started staying there. The future, with family, friends, and a prospering home, had begun to flourish.