In a missing chapter, our heroes’ investigation of the doppelganger who tried to frame Ensorcella led them to an abandoned loading dock and warehouse called Sodden Hold. They found and imprisoned some doppelganger guards, then journeyed deeper into the complex.
In this thrilling conclusion to our Age of Worms chronicles. Noway Amagonadai hits it out of the park and gets a grand slam. (-GM)
4th day of Sarenith, 4741 AR
The doppelgangers, being sniveling cowards, had retreated into the watery depths. We were wisely wary when water was involved, so I scouted the sea in solidarity to solidify our success. The pool was about 30 feet deep, but depth is devilishly difficult to devise down here, and I had a feeling that I was much deeper as I swam into an underwater cavern.
Suddenly my subtle sixth sense stirred softly. I was not alone. I ceased all movements in the hope that whatever was wandering wouldn’t notice me. As I watched, a large many-tentacled abomination slithered into the cavern. Given its size, it could only be either a giant squid or an octopus. A cave could create claustrophobic confinement for a squid, so it was almost certainly an octopus. This was good, as my village had some experience in dealing with… hmm…
It seems I need to choose a plural form of octopus. I had not expected this, as this adventure only contains one octopus. I never should have referenced the past, but the mistake is irreversible now. The Grammar Nazis smell controversy in the air, and they will stop at nothing until the issue is resolved. If I don’t choose the right form, they will blitzkrieg me out of existence. I have three options: octopuses, octopi, and octopodes. Octopuses seems to be more of a casual form, emotionlessly affixed with the usual rules to save time. At first glance it seems fine, but it emits a slight air of wrongness when you think about it too much. Personally, I have no trouble with a few skewed syllables, but if a Grammar Nazi peers in too closely, chaos could commence. It all depends on how perceptive they are. There’s also octopi. This form sounds more comfortable, and has the added bonus of the special pause given to words that end in a vowel. However, it has one notable flaw: it has been claimed by the Grammar Nazis. While complying to their rules might seem to be an effective way to avoid their hostility, nothing is ever that simple. There are factions within the Grammar Nazis, and some seek to destroy all controversy instead of enforcing their captured words. These Nazis will see the compliant form as a beacon of corruption, and few can outrun a radical Grammar Nazi. And finally, octopodes. This form has always confused me. If you’re going to have an s at the end, then why not just use the casual form? Despite its confusion, this rarely used form may be my best option. Being from a much more obscure section of english, few Nazis will know the term well enough to pounce on it. Unfortunately, all these advantages cause one major disadvantage: a somewhat unique form of Grammar Nazi is trained to catch civilians who wish to choose the easiest way out of the battlefield. If I am too obvious in my avoidance, these border Nazis will find me. A horde of Grammar Nazis appear on the horizon, many equipped with Panthey’res. I don’t have much time left. Should I expose myself to perceptive Nazis, radical Nazis, or border Nazis? Or perhaps there is a way to set them all against each other and escape in the fray. It’s my only hope.
This was good, as my village had some experience in dealing with octopusodesesi. I pulled twice on the rope tied to my waist to signal danger approaching, and went in.
The octopus’s watery yet tearless eyes slided in my direction, and I knew it had spotted me. I readied my hammer, but it was too quick for me, quicker than most octopusodesesi, and it ensnared me in its tentacles. I knew it was pointless to try and fight back, so I dropped my hammer and tried to blind it with my magical shield. Alas, the octopus had the eyes of an octopus, and blandly blinked to block the blinding blight. But all was not lost. My foiled trick did succeed in distracting it enough to not notice my companions using the rope to pull me, and the octopus I was attached to, out of the cavern and up to the surface.
I had not actually expected them to react to my tugged warnings so efficiently. It must have been Herbert. I have always suspected that we had an empathetic link between us. My suspected suspicions suddenly solidified as I realized Herbert must have sensed my plight and cried out to the others. I could almost sense him tugging at the other end of the rope with all of his reptilian might, guiding me to the light. Herbert was a very good tortoise, almost as good as poor Mack.
Eventually the octopus must have realized something was off, because its slimy snare suddenly slackened. I took the opportunity to swim free of its waning tentacles, forcing the sour sea-scum to spend a significant sum of the subsequent seconds trying to re-catch me. Soon, through pulling of rope and swimming of self combined, I reached the surface with octopus close behind. The others were quick to blast the creature as soon as it entered their line of sight. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Except octopusodesesi are mollusks, not fish.
Secure in the knowledge that the dihydrogen monoxide pipe had been cleansed of octopusodesesi, we all swam down into the cavern I had chanced upon earlier. After retrieving my hammer, I saw a lever on the far side of the pit, and since levers have never held severing tremors or other traps in the past, I sought to snatch the submerged switch and flipped with vigor. This caused the various liquids in the cavern to drain into a drain. Now that our non-water-accustomed eyes could accustom to the non-water, we found that the pillar connected to the ceiling held a bridge twenty feet up that connected the structure to a lofty door. It was easy for me and Herbert to climb up the edifice, but we would wait a while while my compatriots attempted to overcome their fear of heights.
First up was Roger. His fear of heights was strong, but it was dorfed by the utter terror harbored by the rest. It only took him ten minutes of breathing exercises and calm coaching to collect the courage to combat the corrupt cause of his crazed state. However, just as he was about to undertake the fateful climb, Sunaki held him back. The two explorers were very good friends, and Sunaki, who was still plagued with fright, didn’t want to see Roger ascend to his doom.
“I’m sorry,” said Roger with tears in his eyes, “It’s for the best.” With one final wave, he slowly traveled the column, ending a union which before then was assumed inseparable. When he reached the top, he collapsed on the bridge weeping. I didn’t try to console him. I knew how hard it was for him to make this sacrifice.
The next adventurer to confront his mounting fears was Quinn. The pilliar loomed over him like an approaching hurricane, silently shouting to all that total destruction was imminent. Quinn knew all this, but in his soul he knew that he had to make the climb no matter the danger to himself. His soul overcame his emotion in thirty-five minutes, and he moved his person up the precipice without a word. There was nothing to say, as we all understood that he was putting his life on the line for this noble cause. Valor II, being a mindless avian, did not know this, so he screeched and cawed for his master to return. Eventually the roc with feathers remembered his wings, and flew up to meet him. It was hard to get a large roc to fit on a narrow bridge, but we managed.
After that came Ensorcella. Being someone who relied more on arcane capabilities than magical ones, the challenge of the climb was a new and foreboding prospect. After fifty minutes of being frozen with terror, she decided to reach from within to combat her newfound acrophobia. Finding the magical source that was the source of her magic, she ascended the stone with supernatural determination.
The only one left at the bottom, still plagued with fright and loss, was Sunaki. He may have stayed there all day unwilling to confront the new, but his separation from Roger must have changed something inside, as two hours was all it took for him to suddenly charge up the pillar, calling for the return of his friendship. There was a great celebration on that thin bridge, for we as a party were whole again.
Ensorcella, being the armored tank of the group, should have been the one to open the door, but it was difficult to switch places there, especially with a big bird in the way, so I opened it instead. We emerged onto a corridor where, thankfully, we had more space to rearrange ourselves. The hallway opened into a room with enough doors to suit an entire house, and iron double doors at either end. A lone guard stood at one of the doors. He looked human, but we were not fooled. Everyone in this place was a doppelganger. You couldn’t trust anyone, because they might steal your trust and morph away at any moment. At this point I wasn’t even sure I could trust my friends. Any one of them could be a monster in disguise. Perhaps I was a doppelganger as well, and didn’t even know it. I had to be on guard with everyone, even me. Except Herbert. I could always trust Herbert.
I was about to step into the room and dispatch the guard when Herbert screeched in urgent warning. At first I was confused — did he smell cheese? — but I soon realized the issue. Those iron doors weren’t doors at all. They were hammers, and anyone who stepped inside the room would trigger the trap and get crushed. This was a very sudden and dangerous danger, and I was completely at a loss for what to do. The guard was standing unharmed, so the pressure plate that triggered the trap must only be in some areas of the floor. The doppelganger was willing to sacrifice his life just so he could take a few unsuspecting adventurers with him when the trap crushed them all.I peered carefully at the floorboards. They were very neatly concealed, but I noticed several pressure plates laid throughout the room. One of the plates was right next to the entrance. If I had taken one step further, I would have gotten crushed. I told the others where the places to not step were, and we all hopped into battle.
As soon as we entered the room, several other doppelgangers, not even bothering to be disguised, burst out of some of the doors, deftly dodging the dangerous doom of the crushing trap. We had a careful fight and soon all were dispatched. One cowardly enemy surrendered to us, since he realized the only other options were getting slain by our steel or crushed by his iron.
“I’ll do whatever you want!” he exclaimed. “Money, agents, anything. It’s yours- just let me live.”
“Anything, eh?” said Sunaki. “Trigger the trap.”
“Um okay,” replied the coward. He pushed on a section of the floor, revealing a pit trap.
“Not that trap. The real trap.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I just want to live!” He morphed into a child and started bawling.
“No more trickery,” said I. “You will address us in your true doppelganger form from now on. Show me that image.”
And so we found ourselves with a cowardly liar, totally defeated but still an opportunity to gather information. He led us to a room that was somehow behind the iron hammer doors, which contained several detailed plans to infiltrate and sabotage the human world. That room led to what looked like the beginnings of a maze, but was actually the beginnings of a maze. The coward tried to flee, but he was stabbed by one of his own kind, who then turned to fight us. It seemed we would never get our promised money, agents, and anything being ours. We had been swindled.
We engaged in a fight with these traitor-slaying doppelgangers, and they proved to be more difficult to defeat then the others we had encountered. We were wearier as well when we fought them, from our previous tiring experiences, but even accounting for that, our enemies were harder than usual. However, we had justice on our side, and justice wins 67% of the time in the end. It seemed there was still much more of this place to go explore. I just hope the maze will end soon. In a maze, enemies could be behind every corner, and there are a lot of corners in a maze.
After some wandering we found a door. It didn’t seem like a notable door until we heard a spell being cast behind it. This door must have been unlike any doors we have seen before in that it could cast spells. It probably had its back turned to us, and on its other side there was a flat wooden mouth that could gaze on a spellbook cleverly disguised as some other article of furniture and utter arcane words into the mundane room. This was truly a door to be reckoned with. I was all for smashing the door into pieces and hoping they don’t reanimate due to its foul talent with necromancy, but Sunaki pointed out that the door was unlocked, and we had the opportunity to slam its spellcasting side against the wall, compromising its abilities. Thus was the door opened with enough haste to unhinge the door off its hinges.
To everyone’s great surprise, the door did not unhinge and the spellcaster was not the door, but a wizard who appeared to be our old friend Ezren. We had our doubts, of course, since every other living being that we met here turned out to be either a doppelganger or an octopus. This man was obviously not a doppelganger, but he resembled a tentacled creature, trying to cover his actual nature. We needed to actually prove that he was not really Ezren before we could assault this mollusk, and Quinn had a plan for doing just that.
“Well hello there Ezren.” said Quinn to the wizard who was really a octopus. “We’ve been looking for you. How did you get here?”
“I woke up in one of the doppelganger’s cages,” said the many-suctioned cheat. “I used my magic to escape, and have been looking for the wizard they say is in charge of this place.”
“Can you cast a spell for us?”
“Sure.” And he wove a magic shield around himself. Ezren’s signature blue sparks appeared when the spell was done.
This was a nice talk, but it proved nothing. The octopusodesesi could easily have interrogated the real Ezren to learn these cheap tricks. I used a much more straightforward method.
“Watch where you step, old buddy,” I stated myself, “because that’s a pit trap.” I pressed a section of the floor where I, due to my extremely sharp eyesight, had identified that the floor’s particular peculiarities pointedly proved the presence of a pit underneath.
The rectangle of stone fell as I had expected onto an array of spiky spikes. The Ezcopus did the classic feign of surprise, and we all confirmed that he was an octopus due to his significant shortage of sincere startlement. We got ready to attack, but unfortunately the Ezcopus had confirmed that we had confirmed he was an octopus, so he was already in attack mode and brought forth a wall of fire between us.
We bravely braved the firewall and started to hack the blobby mastermage. Herbert ran to join us but was confounded by a pit trap that sprung down right in front of him. Due to his lightning reflexes, he managed to jump aside to escape the deep maw, but it left him with no way to join the fight. Only when the fiendish flagellated fake finally fell could the loyal turtle rejoin us.
The corpse morphed into a half-orc, then to a powerful-looking doppelganger. Apparently this octopus was decrepit enough to wear a humanoid mask even in death. We found a room full of valued valuables behind a badly-concealed panel, and retrieved a magic scroll Ensorcella could use to control people’s minds. Quinn’s avian steed could only carry so much, so we had to leave most of the weighty silk carpets behind.
Most of Sunaki’s spells had run out, and my health reserves were running dangerously low, so we decided to go home and rest before we placed ourselves in any more dangerous situations. We didn’t even bother to open the hidden doors my all-seeing eyes spotted on the way. Everything was going smoothly until we got to the deadly insta-crush trap. We had to move slowly, and very carefully, so as to not miss any of the pressure plates. If so much as a lock of hair was placed on the diabolically devious death device, the trap would activate and we would all get crushed. Our slow movements gave the drow that had been stalking us enough time to ambush us from behind.
The drow had been a scourge of my homeland and a recurring nightmare in years past, but this time I was ready for them. I was not ready for the mind flayer that accompanied them in their evil entourage. Before I could raise my hammer to strike the false elves, the mind flayer stared into my soul, and I was frozen. The grip on my wielded weapon of war went limp, and it fell from my grasp. The hammer head hit a hard pebble, which ricocheted off the floor. The pebble’s direction and velocity revealed that it was going to land on a pressure plate. The flight of that pebble marked the last seconds of all of our lives, for as soon as it connected with the ground, we would all be instantly crushed. The mind flayer attempted to smile despite the mouth tentacles that blocked such lip movement. He was unaware that the trap would crush him as well.
In that pebble’s fleeting farewell flight of frenzied fate, Quinn decided that at least one of us needed to be saved, to warn the people never to ever venture here, as the trap could wreak havoc were it ever to be unleashed on the unsuspecting populace of the world. The only life that was close enough to the entrance was Herbert, so Quinn valiantly lifted the innocent tortoise and threw him to safety. As he traversed the air, his eyes fell on the pebble, and he understood. Farewell, dear Herbert. Spread our message into the masses, and then go back to the forest where I found you, where you truly belong.
The pebble pattered on the placid pressure plate. The hammers rushed toward us. May we meet again in the afterlife.
The now inaccurately-named Noway Amagonadaithisthyme
Ensorcella, human sorcerer (vortex dragon blood) 7
Noway Amagonadaithisthyme, oread ranger 8
Quinn, human hunter 8
Roger, human slayer 7
Sunaki, human cleric of Desna 7