Fiction: CAT – Post CR C2 Ep141

Description: Critical Role PIG (2021) AU. After the events of Campaign 2, Caleb Widogast builds a legacy as a teacher and legal activist against the corruption within the Cerberus Assembly, Soltryce Academy, and other government corruption. And then literally the plot of PIG (2021) with Caleb instead of Nicolas Cage. Major spoilers for PIG + an explanation of the often very subtle plot.

The easy action movie answer to Trent was to kill him outright as a threat to the realm. But that’s exactly what Trent trained Caleb to do: Be a private executioner of the realm. Work in an extrajudicial system to seek his own best judgment about who to kill in order to protect the realm from corruption and traitors.

Even if Trent died, his cruelty would live on in Caleb and his actions. Caleb had to choose to be who Trent wanted him to be for the realm, even against Trent himself, or to renounce that life. Trent would want a private death. To die at the height of his power and reputation. Even if the scandal came out much later, he would be a legend.

So instead, Caleb and Beau work to build extremely public legal cases against him for corruption, treason, and murder charges. (Think Erin Brockovich or Philadelphia (1993).) To expose all the crimes of the Cerberus Assembly and the Soltryce Academy administration to the public and carve their rot from the institution. Not just against those individuals, but to take a stand that no one is too powerful to face the justice of the land. Not judged by Caleb and his personal reasons, however valid, but by the public system.

Because to Caleb this is also a test of those systems and whether they will hold the Cerberus Assembly to account. And if the public system will not, Caleb will expose that to the people. Eventually the people will decide how they would be ruled based on their own values rather than the elite. Trent taught him that the strong and the strong have the right to govern the weak because only they have the guts to do the dirty work that keeps people safe, including from themselves. Abusively paternal in a very infantilizing way towards the public. Every day Caleb works to show that’s wrong.

To some degree, Caleb builds the sort of intimidating reputation he was trained for. To out traitors to the nation and hold them to account for their crimes. But he will not use violence now. Part of how he shows that is teaching at the Soltryce. Demonstrating he believes a better institution is possible there once the rot is cut out. He wants the place he loved without it being tainted.

He is going to come for all the people who enabled this terrible systemic harm eventually. Especially if they get in his way as he moves against the people he’s most interested in. He builds the kind of power and reputation he’s attracted to and uses it passionately for the good he sees in the world.

His relationship with Essek is more complicated than ever. It lacks easy labels. They claimed to have broken up over a decade ago. Caleb chose teaching at the Soltryce academy instead of the covert life they were living to keep Essek safe. He couldn’t keep living with his love locked off from public view. He’d already spent too much of his life caged up or running and hiding from others. Essek out of love understood that. The stress was eating at the joys in their relationship. And the relationship was more important than staying together. After all these years, there was still a deep intimacy to what they called a friendship that went much deeper than most.

The few friends that know about them joke that they’re married. But even if they’d stayed romantic, they wouldn’t have committed anything official to paper. Caleb keeps a locket with no portrait but an orange and purple star within the lines of a dodecahedron and the inscription “Infinite possibilities. -E.” The front and back are made with pieces of cut residuum so pure that though they are small, they could serve as the components for a resurrection spell.

They are apart more often than they’re together. Essek secretly keeps to Caleb’s demi-plane when he visits. They share and develop their research together. Essek sometimes hunts down far-flung evidence for the trials. One of Beau’s under-the-table occasional agents for the Cobalt Soul between his own research expeditions.

And then one-day Essek dies, and they cannot bring him back. Caleb is devastated by the news and shuts down. Beau convinces the Soltryce administration to let him take bereavement leave. A de facto family member has died, but she won’t elaborate further as to who, and pressures them to stop asking.

Caleb dwells on how they’d stayed apart so Caleb could live at least most of his life in public view. No more running, no more hiding, no more being who other people want at the expense of himself. But Essek died and Caleb realized he’d been doing the same thing. The public trials took covert investigations. Dealing in reputation to get answers. Knowing those he’s working against will use any means necessary to stop him, even if Caleb uses ostensibly peaceful ones. His name is still a threat to those who want to take him down for their own power. He wasn’t doing what he wanted to do, but what he saw as his duty. The endless fight for justice had become another prison.

Caleb realizes the legal fight has been set up. The mechanisms of justice are turning slowly, but finally they’re turning. He doesn’t need to throw himself into every fight. He’s still living for revenge, just a different kind. The worst crimes have been stopped for the future and the past can’t be changed. It’s time to live in the moment.

He can’t be the kind of person he is in Rexxentrum anymore. He thinks about the inevitability of death. Essek wasn’t supposed to die first. He was supposed to outlive Caleb by centuries. Caleb had pulled away in part because he knew the difference in their lifespans would inevitably lead to pain. But ultimately, it wasn’t supposed to be his pain. He dwells on every natural and magical hazards in the city just waiting to go off. The next Calamity. When does the next Vecna come, the next Lucien, the next Vespin Chloras come? Maybe some group of adventurers stops it. Maybe not. The scholars talk of the strange behaviors of Ruidus and bad omens. It might never happen in his lifetime, or it might happen tomorrow. If today is all he has, what does he want to do with just this day? With just this moment? What would make him and him alone the most happy?

When the bereavement leave is up, Caleb resigns. It comes as a great shock to many. He sees out the end of his part in the current trials, taking a less and less active role. In the few interactions he has with people, he seems disconnected and struggling. Overtaken by grief.

Rumors spread about who he might have lost. A member of his old adventuring group who’s faded from public view? A lover? Although he never seemed to be in a public relationship with anyone, the very observant had noted that for years he sometimes attended festivals with an unknown different man and was seen less in public around that time. Speculation had been he kept to private fleeting affairs. But maybe one of them had meant something more and died. He what few festivals he attended seemed to only be with public friends now.

He begins leaving all of his prized possessions to the people who will cherish them most dearly for their own uses, and not just relics of his. He leaves his books to a grad student with big dreams of magic for the public good. Yasha and Beau own a mausoleum outside Zadash now. Yasha is the caretaker while Beau works for the Cobalt Soul. Caleb inters Essek there very privately. He gives them the most rare parts of his prized reagent collection to wait patiently for the perfect spell when they’re re most needed. He asks them to donate the rest to charity, either directly or for fundraising auctions.

He buys a cabin in the woods under another assumed name and turns to hunting for magical arcane stones used in reagents. Highly prized in Rexxentrum wizard circles, they’re the key component of regional spells that are the modern and ancient wonder of the country. Their own point of pride. The best wizards doing the most powerful magics need the best reagents. The reagent supplier may not be known to the wider public, but the right people, the people who matter most, will understand the irreplaceable skilled labor.

More than a decade goes by and the name Caleb Widogast fades from public view. A legend, but no longer really thought of as a living one. There are rumors that he died out there after going mad. The Assembly made it widely known he’d been institutionalized for 11 years. People just figured he snapped again. Caleb doesn’t care about this narrative.

He bathes in the clear waters of the river and makes his own things wherever he can. He does magic just for his own joy and utility. Not for power or reputation, but just to enjoy this essential part of himself. This thing that’s as necessary as air to him. That no one can take away through any abuse. It’s the one thing no one else can have.

He buys a magical cat trained to find the stones. He doesn’t need the cat to find them, but it’s nice to share an interest with a companion who enjoys the pursuit. Finding them together and enjoying each other’s company.  They enjoy the fruit of their labors for themselves as well as selling off the excess for supplies.

He has one buyer who knows him only for the stones named Baldrick. A city-slick buyer in perfectly presses robes and a spendy magical horseless carriage. Baldrick thinks Caleb is just some crazy aging hermit totally burned out on the world who barely speaks. Whose only companion in the world is this weird annoyingly affectionate cat. Someone who couldn’t cut it in the real world but is worth dealing with because he gets the goods no one else can.

But Baldrick tells his dad, Hardarik, a more powerful and buyer, trying to impress him. Trying to prove that he can cut it in his father’s business and wants to be in it no matter how much his father fights to kick him out. He wants to be in his father’s life.

Especially after Baldrick’s mother tried to kill herself and failed only enough to be kept alive by a Ring of Sustenance his father refuses to have taken off. He doesn’t want to lose his father from his life, too. Hardarik had descended deeper into the most ruthless part of the reagent industry he had built his entire reputation in until that reputation mattered more to him than his wife and the fighting destroyed her already fragile mental health.

Baldrick resents his father for pushing both of them away, but also desperately wants his respect. And so, one day in an argument he bragged about the stone hunter. And Hardarik realizes it’s Caleb Widogast. Widogast whose reputation meant everything in Rexxentrum wizard circles for both his ruthlessness in pursuit of ending corruption, and for the love put into all his magic. Like the Greater Illusion shows he did mostly to bring joy to people. The only good date Hardarik had with his wife was one of Caleb’s shows.

He despised that Caleb would walk away from that power after his lover died, while Hardarik holds onto his wife’s body and the industry position he destroyed his family to have instead. If Caleb’s not going to use that reputation, he doesn’t deserve it. And if the cat is bringing in those stones, then the cat will be his.

He hires two suude junkies to steal the cat. He promises a supply of the lower grade magical stones that can be refined into suude. They creep up on the cabin and knock Caleb out with his wizard staff to kidnap the cat and leave him for dead.

Caleb wakes up in his cabin knowing only that his cat has been taken. His reagents for Teleport have been taken. He stumbles to the hut of a village witch whose healing potions he once admired more than any mage in Rexxentrum. She’s been dead for 10 years. A new witch runs it. Although he’s not going to buy a potion, she helps him contact his Baldrick, the only outside person he knows, to come pick him up and help him. Baldrick doesn’t want to get involved, but Caleb reminds him he needs Caleb’s supply.

They go to a local stone distribution market in the woods that keeps the foragers anonymous. Buyers aren’t supposed to be snooping around trying to find someone. But Caleb says they took his cat. They were in a turquoise cart. His memory and observation are still perfect even with a concussion. The market woman won’t abide by poachers. She finds the junkies. It’s known they sell the expensive stones they find to the mages through the market, and the lower quality ones to make low quality but addictive enough suude. They’ve already been a problem, and this is the last straw.

But they sold the cat already to their buyer. They never cared enough to know who the buyer was. Only that he was a slick city guy who came to them with this offer of a lot of money for this specific cat. Caleb leaves them to whatever their fate is outed as poachers and attempted murderers to the stone hunting community. He demands Baldrick takes him into Rexxentrum. Baldrick is reluctant, not wanting to be seen in the places he does business in with such a rough and disheveled man. But again he’s reminded, no cat, no stones.

They go to a magic market to meet the man who runs it. He can get anyone anything but only in exchange for high-value favors. Caleb brings him the finest potion in the market, made by some kid who barely understands how talented he is though he dreams of being at the top of the industry. The owner samples it with grudging approval but tells Caleb his name means nothing anymore. He has no power to barter with anymore. So fuck off.

So Caleb takes them to another luxury apothecary in one of the fanciest hotels in the Platinum Veranda and talks their way into the back from an overworked back-of-house enchanter who isn’t even given a bathroom and is pissing in the alley. Caleb takes them down into the basement. To a secret tunnel that connects to others that form a labyrinth under the old city. Some sunk with time, some carved in to connect them. Hidden away, passages are continually being blocked off and reopened.

Caleb leads them to the Hotel Rexxentrum, torn down in the 760s. He says the deep basement remains. And there at midnight, a wizard dual club meets. It’s run by that same owner of the magic market. Caleb disrupts the good order of the proceedings to walk in with a powerful silent presence and erase the challenger’s name. He writes “Caleb Widogast” with a piece of magical chalk. The gamblers place their bets. A match for the ages. A chance for a challenger to prove your own reputation against the legend who took down the Cerberus Assembly.

The wizard who takes him on looks mousy and unassuming. In the above world, he’s always somebody’s loyal and indispensable assistant. He still wears his silk uniform. He holds a grudge against Caleb that Caleb has no memory of. A parasocial hate relationship. But down here in this domain he’s not an assistant, he’s a king, and Caleb is a beaten up dirty hobo-looking man who was too weak to cut it anymore. This is his chance to finally show he’s not just good enough, he’s better.

Caleb intentionally doesn’t put up a fight. He remembers the pit fight Yasha threw long ago. The Forever Assistant beats the shit out of him until he’s pulled off by multiple people. Even more bloody but unbowed, he’s shown that his name alone carries enough power to elicit such a response. People will still fight to the death to take him down a peg even if he doesn’t fight back. But he chooses not to fight anymore. There is no point. It will solve nothing, and they can’t take more than has been taken from him already. And when they’re done trashing him, he will either be dead or simply demand again what he wants. The market owner gives him the name of a high-end magic enchanter, by impossible-to-get appointment only, that recently stopped buying from him and has a mysterious new supply.

Baldrick takes them to his apartment to clean himself up and dress in new clothes. Caleb makes no attempt to clean up, though he’s bloody and filthy. Baldrick makes them food with inept magic. He tells Caleb about the Illusion Show date night being the only time his parents seemed happy before the suicide. He could do that for people, and they’d always remember him. He brushes off his grief for his mom. She was sick for years with not enough support and it was inevitable.

Caleb tells Baldrick to use his contacts to pull strings to get them into the enchanter’s shop. Baldrick laments it’s impossible, but Caleb insists. No cat, no stones.

In the wee hours of the morning when the prep workers start their day, Baldrick contacts another reagent seller to get one of those appointments, though they’re booked months out.

While Baldrick works on that, Caleb visits his old home when he was a teacher and an activist. Where Essek and he spent time together when Essek wasn’t away. He goes into the backyard and meets a young boy sitting on the steps playing with a magical toy that makes simple wispy colorful lights. The boy offers him a turn. Caleb plays just a bit, remembering the love of simple creation.

He asks the boy what happened to the persimmon tree planted in the yard. Once a gift from Caduceus that he and Essek had planted together to enjoy. The boy doesn’t know what a persimmon is or remember the tree. Caleb understands it must have been cut down before he was born. This isn’t his home anymore. It’s moved on without him.

He meets Baldrick at the enchanter’s shop. The shop assistant assigned to them gives them a pretentiously flowery monologue about the items bringing out the most essential magical elements to enjoy. Caleb regards them as flashy and well packaged, but ultimately useless and unfulfilling. Caleb asks to speak to the head enchanter in front of the other customers.

While they wait, Baldrick says he wants to keep a low profile. This is his father’s turf and he can’t be seen there like he’s threatening to poach the business’ supply. Caleb, thinking back on Thoreau Lionette, says his father sounds terrible and not very supportive. Baldrick claims to not need his help.

When the Enchanter comes out, Baldrick asks about new items using the stones. Caleb says he’s looking for a stone-finding cat, and demands information. Baldrick say to tell the Enchanter who Caleb is. It takes him a hot second to recognize Caleb through the grime and the blood. A former apprentice Caleb fired for work below his standards. He’s now running his own shop with his creations to rave reviews.

But Caleb sees through him. These weren’t the items he dreamed of crafting. He always dreamed of making simple, ordinary, daily items that were a joy to use. Now he sells to the rich who buy for the exclusive trendy experience of high-end magic instead of the love of it. Caleb asks him why he clings to this fake life instead of that real one he knows he still dreams about. Why choose money and power over passion? The enchanter breaks down at being seen through. But he’s too scared to give the name of his stone broker because he’ll be angry and vindictive. He’ll sink the Enchanter’s business.

Both Caleb and his buyer realize it’s Hardarik. Baldrick blabbed. Tried to build his own reputation off Caleb and brought that danger back on Caleb. Caleb kicks the shit out of Baldricks fine carriage, splintering the cosmetic wood sides, and says he never wants to see him again.

Caleb steals a tied up horse and rides Hardarik’s home and demands his cat back. The father offers him 25,000 gold in compensation, but not the cat. He says he’ll kill the cat if Caleb pursues it further. He mocks Caleb about having the better reputation now and more power in this city while Caleb is washed up.

Baldrick visits his mother in the magical hospital but stays outside the door. Talking to her without going in or seeing her because either way she won’t talk back. He wishes his father would let her go. A nurse comes by to bathe her and asks if he wants to see her. He says no and leaves. He returns to his father’s home, knowing Caleb will be there to offer him a ride.

He tells Caleb he’s sorry. He didn’t know his father would take the cat. Caleb tells him he doesn’t need the cat to find the stones. He looks for how they affect the plant life. He’s doing this because he loves her.

Caleb gives him a list of things to get from specific people that Baldrick says are impossible. Caleb says to use his name.

Caleb goes to his former grad student. She has used his own spell books to make her own dream. He asks if she still makes her signature spell component that had elevated his spellcasting so long ago. She says of course and gets them for him.

He’s proud of the changes she’d made. Some of which he once resisted. It’s much better this way. He’s proud that she got to have the academic and professional dream he’d once dreamed of as a kid. He’s proud that she’s made sure it’s her dream and no one else’s. She took his lessons and his resources with gratitude, but they are no longer his. And that is as it should be.

Baldrick is sent to Yasha in the mausoleum. She tells him she’s busy until he says it’s for Caleb. She opens the door and makes the time. Grateful that Caleb would reach out after all this time. She takes him through the mausoleum to a dusty collection of rare magic components in a storage room. She says they were Caleb and Essek’s collection. Baldrick asks who Essek is. Yasha takes Baldrick to Essek’s grave and tells him the spot next to it is saved for Caleb, though Caleb doesn’t know that. Yasha says they were partners for a long time and in many senses. They studied the arcane together and healed a lot of old hurts. Caleb never really got over him. She’s happy to help if he wants to do more fine magic.

They return to Hardarik’s house, and the Baldrick cajoles his father into seeing an illusion from Caleb. Caleb makes the exact one the father saw with his wife on that date night. Using the exact same components. He tells Hardarik he remembers every spell he ever cast for anyone. They all have meaning to him. Hardarik, faced with the mortifying ordeal of being known and his human vulnerabilities exposed, breaks down and tells Caleb the cat fought back and the junkies all but killed her. Hardarik had her disposed of by his people. She was useless to him. Caleb breaks down crying. Another partner in his magical pursuits taken from him. He’s left all alone again.

As Baldrick takes him home, they stop for a healing potion at the witch’s hut. Although it’s the middle of the night, they wake up the witch and convince her to sell them two to enjoy.

Afterwards, Caleb says he’ll walk from here, through the woods in the middle of the night. He’s not afraid of anything in the woods. He respects them as their own creatures. What does he have to fear from death when it’s inevitable and unpredictable? He will see Baldrick next Thursday. Baldrick sleeps in his carriage, contemplating if he really wants to return to Rexxentrum and life in the magic industry. Contemplating his feelings about his father.

Caleb returns to his life in the woods. He forages for the stones, now alone, using the plant growth around them to guide him. He’s a little more friendly with Baldrick and trusting. Beau and Yasha practically adopt Baldrick when they hear about his father and mother. They offer to go visit with him for dinner. Welcome to the Fathers Can Go Fuck Themselves Club.

Life moves on from moment to moment ever-changing, and yet the cycles stay the same like the seasons.

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