When the adventurers arrived back at the Sodden Hold, the front doors were not locked, and pushing them open revealed that the front area looked exactly the way they had left it. The dead crates and barrel still lay where they’d fallen, their sappy blood congealed, for lack of a better term.
“How much of the searching did ‘I’ do when you came through here the first time?” Xan wanted to know.
Liberty shrugged. “Most of it, I suppose. It does explain a lot. The doppelganger let us walk right into that.” She pointed at the pit trap along the north wall that still gaped open.
“Hmm… Was he really that convincing? It feels…creepy to know that I can be impersonated.”
“I know I’m not the most perceptive knife in the drawer, but I couldn’t tell any difference. That gem he had must have helped a lot, though.”
“Well… Let’s start fresh here I guess and work our way deeper.”
“Right behind you.” Liberty glanced at Drake. “Well, behind the two of you.”
“Ugh, I’m ready to clean this place out,” said the alchemist. Mom grunted in agreement.
All of the locks that the doppelganger had opened for the party were still undone. The clutter of the office to the southwest lay undisturbed, the splintered wreckage of the ladder to the southeast was still stained with Drake’s blood, and the secret door on the catwalk hung ajar. After Xan was satisfied that they hadn’t missed anything of note in the entry, he led the others into the small jail. The bodies of Martal and Regim were sprawled in their cell, where they’d been tossed after the fight. The door to the plank-bridge room lay open at the end of the hall. They moved forward.
“I hate this part,” said Liberty.
“Did we grab the thing out of the water?” Mom asked.
“The ‘thing’?” asked Xan.
“Or was that Other-Xan making things up about treasure?” asked Liberty.
“No, I saw it, too,” said Mom.
“Wouldn’t hurt to look around for a minute,” said Xan.
“Yea, Fake Xan was probably pretty keen on us not finding things of use, so I imagine we missed a few,” said Drake.
Liberty and Drake waited near the door while the rogue took his first careful steps out onto the boards. Mom followed to point him in the right direction, toward the northwest corner of the large room, stopping on one of the central pylons to cast detect magic. In moments, they had located the treasure, a golden glint among the bodies in the blade-cluttered waters below that glowed faintly under the cleric’s divinely enhanced gaze.
Drake and Liberty very carefully made their way across the planks to the northeastern platform where Xan was standing. “What are we looking at?” asked the sorcerer, squinting.
“Somethin’ shiny,” Drake guessed.
“No idea what it is, but let’s find out,” said Xan, preparing to crawl down into the water.
“Hold on, Xan,” said Liberty. She retrieved her wand of unseen servant and set it to fetch the treasure.
Once they’d secured it, Mom grunted and took a step onto the plank that provided the most direct path to the next door. The board immediately gave way and the flailing half-orc fell with a curse splashing heavily into the bladed water. One of the pointy bits grazed his leg and drew blood.
“Really, Mom?” said Drake scornfully. “Didn’t we learn our lesson last time?”
“Damn it, I had something for this,” said Liberty.
Mom grunted, ruefully amused. “Apparently not,” he said, wincing as he cut himself on more weapons while trying to climb back up the pylon.
“Can someone throw him a rope?” said Liberty.
“I see why you didn’t like this place so much,” said Xan.
They got Mom back to the floor level, and he looked a little sheepish. “So, uh… Don’t go that way.”
Liberty’s unseen servant managed to retrieve the shiny object, which proved to be a golden wand. The sorcerer concentrated on it for a moment, then said handed it to the cleric. “I think this is for you.” He took it, grunting inquiringly.
“It’s a wand of spiritual weapon,” she explained, frowning down at his injuries. “You gonna be all right there?” He grunted again, and got out a healing wand.
“Well, that was an adventure,” said Xan. “Shall we move on?”
They came to the pit with the watery passageway, and after they’d checked the room for any other hidden secrets (it looked clear), and warned Xan about the aquatic monster they’d fought before, they made their way down. Fortunately, the giant octopus did not show itself a second time, and they clambered up onto the stone platform heading south toward the living chambers of the doppelgangers.
“Where we headed, Xan?” Drake asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine. I was always unconscious when I was moved around. I didn’t even know the prison was here until I walked into the room yesterday.”
“I suppose we should get to searching, then,” said Liberty.
It was a little eerie for the others to watch as Xan repeated the methodical search that the doppelganger that had stolen his identity had performed just yesterday. The similarities were far beyond uncanny. The bodies of the doppelgangers in the octagonal torture chamber where they’d found Xan were still laying where they’d fallen, too. No one commented on the weirdness of it all, but they began to wonder if maybe they had seen all there was of the Sodden Hold.
Then Xan noticed some subtle blood smears on the floor near the southern section of wall. Further inspection revealed the outline of a hidden door. “Here we go,” he said and triggered the secret catch.
The door opened into a narrow hallway that cut to the west almost immediately. Xan pulled his sword with one hand and a dagger in the other. “Who’s got light?” he asked.
“I do,” said Liberty, and evoked one on the rogue’s belt.
He entered the narrow hall, and saw that it ended at an iron door fifteen feet from the corner. Beyond the door was a dizzying array of light and reflections. Polished metal mirrors stretched from floor to ceiling, forming a maze of endless corridors and reflected images.
“More tricks,” said Xan. “Why am I not surprised?”
“I hate it here… So much,” said Liberty.
“Lookin’ at myself so much makes me rethink my choice in appearance,” said Drake.
“Why live with regrets?” said Xan. “You look great.”
The big man grumbled and Liberty said, “I’m sure it isn’t too late, Drake.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Stay close, everyone,” said Xan. He led the group into the maze, and after a couple of turns a doppelganger appeared out of thin air as its sword slammed into the rogue.
Xan responded with a distracting feint before stabbing it in the leg with his short sword. Then he took a step back to allow Mom’s rage a path to the shapeshifter. The half-orc rushed past Liberty and Drake and did some carving of his own. This left the sorcerer in the rear of the party; she and the alchemist heard something unseen move into position behind her. They exchanged a look.
“Whatever’s there, it ain’t us,” said Drake. “Duck!” He lobbed a firebomb at the space, not trying to strike at the invisible target. Smoke curled up from the unseen figure in the wash of flames that followed. Liberty defensively cast spontaneous immolation on the doppelganger engaged with Mom and was satisfied when it burst into flames as intended. The creature took out its pain and anger on the half-orc, striking him critically with its blade before stepping back out of the hall. With an audible click, the doppelganger disappeared, and Mom was left staring at himself. A mirrored wall had snapped up from the floor and separated the monster from the adventurers.
“It’s the damn kenku maze all over again,” Liberty complained.
“I say we stay put and heal up before they start closing more pathways,” said Xan from around the corner. Mom nodded and cast a healing spell upon the rogue. Then a second doppelganger appeared blade-first as it sliced Liberty twice. Deeply.
“Lib, swap me!” said Drake, and she happily obliged, switching places with the alchemist and sending a foursome of magic missiles at her attacker for good measure while Drake distracted it. Mom’s next healing spell washed over the sorcerer, and she expressed her gratitude in triplicate.
Drake and the doppelganger sparred, but couldn’t seem to land any meaningful strikes against one another. This gave the shapeshifter pause, and it took a cautious step back. The alchemist took advantage of this retreat and advanced, fists leading. He chuckled as he connected with the creature’s face. Liberty shot it with more magic missiles and then Xan came from a side hall, angling for the flank. Another mirrored wall snapped into place behind him, forming a small “entry” chamber near the hallway from which they’d come into the maze. Only one exit remained, to the south.
Sensing easier prey when it saw Xan’s bloody armor, the doppelganger shifted to the south and unloaded on the rogue with a vicious leer. Xan staggered and nearly fell, but then Drake’s fists and Liberty’s scorching rays made an end of the shapeshifter. It hit the stone floor with a sickening thump, then silence fell in the mirror maze. Apparently, the other doppelganger had fled.
“I hate these things,” said Mom, healing himself some more.
Xan moved to the wall to check out the mirror trap more closely. “We need to figure out how these things open and close.”
Liberty inspected the body of the doppelganger while Xan did that, finding that its longsword was minorly enchanted.
“Ah… It’s pressure plates,” said Xan. “One on each side, and when you step on the second, the wall slides up into place. Clever. Let me try and work this one back open.” He was successful. “We’ll have to take it slow and find the pressure plates as we go,” he advised.
“Well, you’ll have to find them,” said Liberty. “I can barely see that one even when you’re pointing right at it.”
Through trial and error, the adventurers eventually made their way to a door on the south wall of the relatively small maze. Once they were ready, Xan opened the door.
The door opened on a large chamber with a vaulted ceiling high above. Along one wall, a macabre assembly of vats and tubes connected to a table with numerous straps and a strange silver helmet. “I was here,” said Xan. “That’s where they did the ritual to take my memories.”
He took a few steps in and the others trailed in behind him. On the far side of the room, a raised dais supported a throne. A pair of doppelganger guards flanked the gilded chair, one of them sliced, stabbed, and singed. Atop the throne sat Allustan, the sage of Diamond Lake. The wizard rose as they entered, and addressed them all.
“So kind of you to join me. It is time to show you the truth of things. Come and learn what lies beyond.” He beckoned them to approach.
“Oh, nice try,” said Liberty, executing a flawless teenage eye-roll. She put her back to the corner and tossed a fireball at the throne. The explosion was intensely satisfying and washed over both doppelgangers and “Allustan”.
Then she did it again.
“How dare you wear his face!” she growled.
“Insolent,” said the creature posing as Liberty’s mentor. It was barely burned itself and took absolutely no notice of the fall of its wounded minion. Then the face changed to an unfamiliar one and the shapeshifting wizard cast a spell. Liberty felt the enchantment try to take root in her mind and muddle her thoughts, but with a force of will she overcame it. Looking at her fellows, she saw that two of her companions had not managed to do so.
“A cat, a cat, the cheese monkey bits barn the barrel…” Drake muttered to himself distractedly. Xan began stabbing himself in the hand with his dagger.
The surviving doppelganger guard charged the length of the chamber, bringing its enchanted sword down in a brutal overhead chop that struck Liberty hard. Then Mom charged forward wroth, and ended the threat to the sorcerer with a decisive stroke of his greatsword.
Liberty was still focused on the enemy spellcaster, casting an evocation that she modified on the fly to burn rather than shock the target. The wizard jumped to the side, but half of the firebolt still caught it in the side…where it was harmlessly absorbed. “Rat’s balls!” she swore. “Little help, fellows?”
“Yes, I’m aware of your fondness for fire,” said the wizard, tapping his forehead with an index finger. “But can you take it as well?” He lobbed his own fireball at Mom and Liberty. The half-orc was scorched, but the sorcerer emerged from the blaze essentially unscathed. A small smile settled on her face.
The sight of his friends’ plight, perhaps, snapped Drake temporarily out of his stupor. “Dammit! All in my head,” he muttered, drawing an extract on the move and throwing a bomb at the enemy. It exploded on impact, and the fire burned, but the wizard did not.
“The usual stuff isn’t working,” said Liberty.
“Hrm,” said Drake thoughtfully.
“We’ll see about that,” said Mom. “BLOOD MAKES NOISE!” he bellowed as he started to rush the throne. His charge was interrupted when a pit opened up beneath him, and he fell with a noisy crunch to the spiked floor below. Off to the side, Xan continued stabbing himself.
Liberty swore, then tried a true lightning bolt. The wizard’s body shook under the assault. Her smile grew as she reached deep and did it again.
Once he’d stopped twitching from the electrical assault, the wizard grunted in pain. “Enough!” he shouted, as a wall of fire erupted in front of the dais, blocking the path as well as line of sight.
Still clinging to his right mind, Drake quaffed the potion he held in hand, which caused him to grow to the size of an ogre. He then rushed toward the flaming wall, and tried to leap through the flames and up onto the dais. He misjudged the jump and his foot caught the edge of the dais at the height of his jump. He stumbled and fell through the wall of fire, landing on his hands and knees on the far side. Then his mind succumbed to the confusion once more.
Xan snapped out of the enchantment momentarily, and strode directly toward the wall as well. He hissed at the pain of the burning, then paused on the steps on the far side when he noticed a spear trap on the ceiling above. He circumvented this threat and maneuvered to stand beside the wiz- the Orc? Where the wizard had stood was a hulking orc warrior, reaching for a frosty-looking greataxe. Then it brought the blade to bear on Xan. “Peeking, packing, mustard on the camels’ balls… Dark, dark, you don’t want this on your toast,” offered Drake.
Liberty drew a rope out of her magical haversack and tossed one end down to Mom. The half-orc grunted, then began to climb hand over hand with a strength borne of desperation. The sorcerer pulled and drank a healing potion.
Xan slashed out with both blades in a confused fury at the orc that had just attacked him, but none of his blows landed on the raging creature. Then the cold axe came down a final time and the rogue knew no more.
“RRRRRAAAAAAAAA!!!” shouted Drake in fury, punching himself in the face.
Mom pulled himself out of the pit and felt the intense heat of the burning wall. Once he was up, Liberty rushed for the wall herself, burning a little despite her fiery blood. Once past the threshold, she saw Xan bleeding at the orc’s feet and Drake gibbering on his hands and knees with a bloody nose. A final bolt of electricity answered her call and connected her to the enemy for one final, terrible moment.
And then it fell.
The spell of confusion and the wall of fire began to fade as the body slumped into the throne, twitching from the lightning. The creature’s visage changed to that of a darker-skinned doppelganger. A strange symbol had been carved into the creature’s forehead.
“Dammit!” Drake cursed again, reaching for a curative and swiftly administering it to Xan. He cradled the rogue in his massive hands. “Up and at ‘em, little buddy…”
“Not quite yet, Drake,” said the rogue. “I think I’ll stay where I am for a moment. Yes… Staying is good.”
“That was less than pleasant. Heh. Fire wall. Stupid man…”
“Did I actually run through that? I really went crazy there for a minute.”
“You all went a little mad. Confusion spell,” said Liberty. While Mom began applying Kord’s healing liberally, she moved over to the greater doppelganger for a closer look. She relieved the body of several magic items and a ring of keys then took a closer look at the symbol gouged into its flesh. She didn’t recognize it, so she took out her journal and sketched it there for future reference.
“Looks like a brand,” suggested Xan. “Must mean someone owns him.” He frowned thoughtfully. “But it’s not local… His boss is from the Far Realm, I’m guessing.”
“Huh,” said Liberty.
“Lovely,” opined Drake.
“Give me another minute, and then I’ll start searching the room for more traps,” said Xan.
Liberty smirked. “Glad you made it through, Xan. I can only use magic to kill things, but at least I can do that with weapons other than fire.”
The rogue nodded. “Yea, Lib… You blew the fuck out of them.” Mom grunted appreciatively.
“Putting Allustan’s face on really pissed me off,” she said.
“Right. Well, I can think of worse faces…” said Drake.
“Remind me to put a few miles between us before the next time I piss you off,” said Xan.
He found and marked several more traps in the chamber, then set to work unlocking several containers on the west wall near the mind cloning apparatus. Two of the locked chests contained additional mindclones.
Liberty peered into one of them. “Is there…some way we can see the memories on these?”
“I don’t know how you work them,” said Xan.
A check of the throne revealed a hidden button. The rogue drew his companions’ attention to it, then pressed it. A door on the east wall opened, revealing a hidden chamber filled with ostentatious accoutrements. There was a bed, wardrobe, desk, and a small table in this room. The walls were covered in rich red velvet curtains, and a strange rug of shifting, writhing geometric patterns covered the floor. A large, full-body mirror stood in one corner of the room.
Liberty cast her magical gaze across the room, taking care to avert her eyes from the rug. It emanated a minor magical aura, and she decided that the changing shapes and colors were its only purpose. “It’s hideous, but I suppose it does tie the room together.”
There was a chest along one wall, and a large sack beside it. Xan cleared the room of traps, and the adventurers set to plundering the room in earnest. Some papers in the desk produced the name “Telakin”, which they attributed to the lead doppelganger. Inside the chest were a host of forged and original documents detailing Free City treaties, merchant dealings, and religious papers. They clearly illustrated the level of infiltration the gang possessed.
The sack contained fifteen hundred gold, a spell scroll, and a missive written in a strange alien hand. The message read:
I have a task for you, thrall. Meet me at the sewer junction beneath the cold forge and I will give you the details. There are some troublesome small minds that must be removed.
The document was signed with a more elaborate version of the same symbol that adorned Telakin’s head: a stylized spiraling tentacle.