Before the party stands a menacing sight. A pool of brackish green water is surrounded by a slight circular hill of earth, maybe 40 meters in diameter. Standing within the circle makes one somewhat lightheaded. The light shines differently here, as if it were being refracted through water rather than air. The menacing part, though, is the geyser of purple-black necrotic energy erupting from the pool of water. This is a henge, but something is definitely wrong.
“What in the nine hells is wrong with this thing, Treestep?” Shamgar whispered in his rumbling baritone, resisting the urge to prod the foul surface of the pond with the haft of his axe. There was no telling what would happen if he did that. “This is your area of expertise, after all,” he grunted. He’d never even seen a henge before, all he knew about them were the bare basics… It didn’t take an expert to know that this was something horribly wrong, though. There might be a way to purify it, though, if he could just think of a way to be alone.
Walt looked at Shamgar, for a moment wondering how much his comrade knew of henges, and took on his usual sing-song voice, as if this henge didn’t scare the snot of him. “Hmmmm … I know very little of such things,” he lied. “I know that sometimes arcane energies can pool in certain places, but I’ve never seen such a place before.” He skirted the edge of the pool, making a sudden cartwheel to relieve some of the tention, but watching the pool intently all the while. “She seemed to be drawing energy from this thing, but I have no idea how.” He bent down, his nose an inch from the pool, staring intently. He sneezed (on purpose, of course), and smiled at the group. “One of the nice things about being a jester is that we don’t have to worry about where our power comes from … I like to think that it’s my incredible wit and dexterity.”
Splayed around the pool in various directions are even more pieces of bodies, but nothing coherent. As the PCs walk around examining the place, there is a sound like a wind blowing through a log and then a foot appears just a few paces behind Tullie. Nothing attached to it, just a foot. It doesn’t seem to have been used in a while.
Tullie looked over her shoulder and gave a look of disgust before turning around and bending down to pick up the foot. “Well, I think a hand would have been more useful…but I guess a foot will do,” she stated jokingly before tossing it over her shoulder. She stood back up and turned around, staring at the pool of water. Being the daughter of a succcubus and a very lonely summoning wizard left one with a fairly high tolerance for the strange, unusal, and downright macabre. “But I thought jesters knew all about these sorts of things?” she asked, moving towards the nasty water and grabbing the foot again on her way there. Curiously, she prodded the surface with the appendage’s big toe. The water ripples as the foot hits it and the toe wiggles and jerks slightly, but ceases as soon as it is pulled back from the water.
Shamgar grunted in surprise as he saw the dead foot come back to life, then just as quickly lose its vitality. Suddenly struck with an idea, he pulled one of the religious books they’d collected (a text of Bahamut, thankfully written in Iokharic) and announced. “I think I might be able to use one of the rituals in this book… it’s a pretty simple one, and it might be able to clear this up…” He approached the pond and began acting as if he were performing a ritual based off the Draconic script in the book, when he was in fact performing the memorized ritual to create Holy Water, burning incense as a component to empower the spell.
The necrotic energy erupting from the pool subsides, though the water itself is still brackish and murky. A faint necrotic aura is still detectable around the pool. The ritual works—for now.
Shamgar surveyed the pool with a mild grunt of satisfaction. He was a battle cleric, not one of those dress-wearing pansies throwing light beams around. But they were more skilled at magic, that was no doubt. Giving his area of expertise, there was no surprise that he hadn’t been able to completely purify the water. With another grunt, which a dedicated student of the half-dragon’s mannerisms would recognize as an indication of frustration, he turned and thumped his way back into the surgery room to see if these necromancers had kept any journals or left any paperwork around.
The main thing of note Shamgar finds in terms of paperwork is a letter addressed to Morgana stating “I am pleased to hear of your progress with the henge. I have no doubt you will be a fine arcanist, and that you will turn the tables on those who doubted you. Continue to contact me as you learn and I will assist you as I can.” The letter is signed with initials in Iokharic that would roughly translate to Common as “kE Qo’ “
Walt stood, patiently watching the others study the henge. He remembered a time, long ago, where he’d taken similar steps to figure out what they do. This one was different, of course (he heard they were all different in one way or another), but their curiousity made him feel nostalgic. For a moment, he considered what it would be like to create a Jester Court, right here, right now. What if he told his companions his secret? Just laid it all out, and shared the power with them? Walt laughed to himself (which was nothing out of the ordinary), shook his head (which was a bit odd), and stood silently watching the pool (which was, indeed, quite strange). You can only slice the pie so thin, he thought. No. Only I know how to harness this henge, so only I will do so. He looked around at Tullie and threw his arms wide, “Most jesters know nothing of such things, but I … well, I am a brilliant arcanist!” He did a standing flip, pretending for a moment to lose his balance and almost fall into the pool, then breathing heavily in mock fear for a moment for comedic effect. “I will use my incredible abilities and,” he smiled broadly, “powerful mind to unlock these secrets.” He took a bow, as if putting on a show (which, indeed, he was), and knelt next to the shore. His smile faded, and he began the difficult work of creating a new Charter with this henge. This shouldn’t take long …
The henge responds to Walt’s will, tentatively at first as if wondering what happened to the awkward halfling. This is, of course, silly since henges aren’t actually sentient. After a moment, the henge ‘forgets’ its previous paramour and slowly opens its secrets to Walt. As Shamgar leafs through pages and Walt communes with the henge, voices can just be barely heard coming through the entry to the cave.
Shamgar hurries back down to the henge, the papers that he had found upstairs tucked under his arm. Attempting to move as quietly as possible, he rounds up Tullie, Walt, Billywig, and the recruits. In a hushed growl he murmured to the group, “Some people are coming through the cave. We should get ready for anyone who might be coming through.”
Walt looks up from his work, a bit flustered and, perhaps, angry at the interruption. Oh well, he thought. Charters aren’t exactly precise. I suppose that will do. He stood and, to the surprise of his friends, he wasn’t smiling when he turned around. “There’s something wrong with this place. I tremble to think what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands.” Walt walked up to Shamgar, arcane energy arcing across his staff, and spoke in a soft voice that held as much weight as he could muster. “If these people know of the henge, they must be put down. We cannot just allow them to pass by us, for the sake of our world.” He lowered his voice further, with the intent of only allowing Shamgar to hear, “Truth be told, I’m not entirely comfortable with how much these recruits know.” Walt gave a meaningful look at the recruits milling around and tightened his grip on his staff. It sparked red for an instant, and Walt smiled.
Tullie gasped audibly at Walt’s thinly veiled suggestion. “But Mr. Treestep!” she exclaimed, placing one of her tiny hands on his arm, looking up at him with big sad puppydog eyes, “These men have worked really really hard and risked their lives to help us! Why would they betray us now?” She gave him a pout, but her free hand was held very casually at her side, ready to quickly draw her blade if need be. She had no particular love for these recruits, that was true, but she’d be damned if the time she’d spent training them for trickery would go to waste because of one crazy elf. Something about this man’s attitude made her slightly uncomfortable…
Shamgar reacted differently, snarling with disgust. “How far would you be willing to dishonor yourself to protect a pool of magic pondscum?” he growled, his own hand not so subtly grasping the haft of his axe. Tempus must surely weep to see such actions suggested, even in this age of so-called enlightenment. Many things were forgivable in battle or war, but even suggesting the idea of wholesale slaughter of men sent to be trained by you was simply disgusting. “Right now these men aren’t a threat to this pool, they probably don’t even know what it is. I was raised in a wizarding academy and I barely know a blasted thing about it other than what it’s called. A more certain threat is whoever those voices are that are approaching us… Odds are it’s not the WinterSmith and his little helpers coming to bless us with candy and toys for being good boys and girls.”
The voices grow slightly louder as they pass into the main hallway. “Someone’s been through here already – several someones, actually, and they’ve done quite a number on the place…” “By the Spiral Tower, what the hell happened to THAT thing?!” “What was it in the first place? No, I don’t even want to know. Let’s just keep going.” There are three voices and maybe 4-6 sets of footfalls echoing across the mushroom forest.
Shamgar frowned as he heard the voices approaching. “They’re getting closer, it doesn’t sound like they were involved with the necromancers here but that doesn’t mean they’re friendly at all.” He started moving up the natural-hewn corridor, motioning for the others to follow. “Walt, you and me take up spots by either side of the door. If they’re enemies, it forms a natural choke point where we can take them down. Tullie, you and Billywig hang back. Billywig can catch them at a distance, and Tullie can use her jumping-through-shadows power to move around in their midst and hit them hard while the rest of us distract them.” He nodded, drawing his axe and holding it at the ready in case it was needed.
Walt nodded, not surprised by the reaction. He had no illusions about the life of an adventurer, but he had a feeling that his companions still believed that good men never died for the greater good. Perhaps they just dig themselves out of their false graves, and into their cloudy kingdoms, he smirked to himself at the neievity. Walt made to move into position, but, guessing that he had another moment, he leaned across to his companions and whispered, “Magic pondscum it may be, but, to the bottomfeeders of this world, it may as well be gold. If word of this place gets out, we may find that we are guilty of more than merely half a dozen murders.” Walt began to turn away, then turned back again, “However, if you want those deaths on your hands, I’m willing to hand you the dishonor on that one.” Walt’s serious face melted away at that, and he giggled slightly and moved into position. A bit of mad prophet. A bit of unstable joker. He giggled again. My favorite combination.
As the group begins to slowly cross the rope bridge, they can make out some faces and outlines. The leading man is a half-elf; he wears leather armor and has a villainous-looking face with jet black hair and a goatee. He carries a dagger in his left hand. Behind him is a placid human in chainmail. He takes in the scenery with an almost unnerving calm. A figure in purple robes stands on the other side, apparently unwilling to cross the bridge. He calls a name and a large hawk appears out of nowhere, swooping him across the chasm on the other side, where Billywig and Shamgar landed initially. It disappears as quickly as it came. A cursory glimpse as he disappears into your peripheral vision reveals that he is a fairly young boy, maybe 15. The half-elf reprimands him “Pelagius! Stop it with the stunts already! If you get hurt your mother will visit upon me horrors the likes of which the world has never seen.”
As the half-elf nears the end of the rope bridge, the boy cries out, “Uncle Mir, I think I hear something. Wait!” There is a tense couple minutes. Nobody moves. A tiny black rock snake emerges from just under the surface of a patch of loose earth and skitters between Billywig and Shamgar. After a moment, the half-elf’s voice is heard again. “Don’t worry about it, Pelagius. The Moon rests in the Scales this night and Delban wears the Crown. There is no need for unnecessary violence.” There is the sound of a dagger being sheathed in a slim, metallic scabbard.
Shamgar tightened his grip on his axe, his lips pulled back to bare dozens of razor-sharp teeth in a silent snarl. This group was sounding less and less friendly with every passing moment. He wasn’t sure who Delban was, who this Pegasus kid was, or what all this talk about scales and moons was about, but none of it sounded good… and maybe just a little familiar. It did that thing, the one you had four of but everyone said the four like it was part of the other word. Either way, this kid seemed to be the weak point of the group. He was a skilled magic user for certain, but that wouldn’t do him much good with a blade to his throat.
Gesturing to Tullie, he motioned to the approaching group and indicated the kid, gesturing with a hand at about the kid’s height for emphasis. With a couple of ‘poof’ gestures, and a gesture that was unimstakibly ‘use your shadowy movey thing to get over to the kid, grab him and put a blade to his throat’. Shamgar was more than capable of using subtletey when called for, but he found the stick worked better than the carrot when you were as ugly as he was.
Tullie looked from Shamgar, to the kid, then back to Shamgar, raising her eyebrow at him. She crossed her arms and shook her head in defiance. She wasn’t going to take advantage of a kid, though she wouldn’t admit that she herself was still a child, then again, she did consider herself an adult woman.
“We can see you two back there!” the kid shouts. “Don’t think you can hide!” Then, as if to prove he’s not bluffing he continues, “Uncle Mir, there’s a halfling and a.. dragon? A halfling and half-dragon in that room and man, does that dragon have a big axe!”
Shamgar gave a grunt of annoyance at being discovered, lowering his axe but not stowing it. He assumed a posture that seemed more relaxed, but in reality his muscles were taught like a coiled spring. The kid at least wasn’t dangerous. Any decent warrior wouldn’t have given away the fact that he had knowledge of enemy positioning. “Who in the nine hells are you people?” he grunted, resting the haft of his enormous, immaculately maintained blade across his shoulder.