The Solstice Stones Part 1
On the night of the Summer Solstice (June 21st 1180) the druid Mryddin summons the power of the ancient standing stones in the druidic groves north of York and alongside his three companions (Storm, Tector and Lady Sophia) makes the 500km journey in the blink of an eye. The ancient stones use the light of the sun, the stones illuminating intensely and forming ten windows of light between each of the great menhirs. Walking between two stones facing northeast, the four companions emerge on the windswept and much cooler summit of Ben Nevis in western Scotland.
Stepping out from the blinding light of the standing stones the group find that they have exited another almost identical set of stones, but this time situated at a much higher altitude. As the four adjust to their new surroundings, the bright light now positioned behind them, the group looks out upon a glorious view of the verdant green valleys below. It is noticeably cooler, the gusting winds whipping up around the travelling cloaks of the companions. The rising rays of the sun stretch over the summit.
Whilst the ring of stones forms a symmetrical pattern, one, vast stone standing 15ft in the air stands apart. The stone is arched at the top with a circular disc hewn from the centre. As the group look through the circular gap, they see that the rising sun is framed, like a great painting and that the runes of a tower run like molten gold in the surface of the stone.
From behind the stones, two figures emerge and approach, Tector quickly readying his great axe, though Myrddin stays his hand. The first figure is none other than Manzio Alfredo, his agile style unmistakable. The Vesuvian is accompanied by a pale skinned (almost Albino) enormous, muscular Danagrim. The individual in question is perhaps the widest Danagrim that the companions have encountered. His barrel chest, powerful arms and fists make him a most imposing figure. His face is almost entirely covered in tattoos, set against a tough, aged, leathery face. His blood red beard is plaited with tiny, colourful beads.
The Danagrim wears a brown, leather jacket, which has been embroidered with tiny spider like runes. Strapped to his back, he carries a magnificent hammer, the head of which glimmers with a soft silver light. The grip looks as though it has been carved from bone and interlinked with midnight black metal, which twinkles with silver starlight. Tector in particular eyes the weapon in awe of the workmanship. Stepping past Manzio, The dangrim addresses the four companions:
‘Greetings on this auspicious day… the solstice brings you North to the highest peak in the isles, deep within the realm of Scotia. We stand here on Ben Nevis or what the locals call Old Ben and these ancient stones are unlike any other in this part of the word for they are the Solstice Stones and they appear only once in every year on this very day. Indeed much, which is hidden can be found on this day, if only one knows where to look
But first allow me to introduce myself. I am Hakan, son of Loric and I met with your companion here, Manzio the Vesuvian but lately in the chasms of the Araken where I had waited for him this last week. He is well met, as are you.’
The companions embrace Manzio, Lady Sophia rushing forward to embrace her friend, followed by a crushing embrace from Tector. Storm clasps Manzio’s hand, a smile upon his face. Myrddin nods to Manzio and then Hakan. He responds in the ancient tongue of the Dangrim, bowing his head.
As the companions stand together, Hakan looks directly to Storm:
‘To thee of the Dragon Blood you have been in my dreams often of late, as has Manzio. The All father has granted visions of your importance to this convergence. I know your dreams have been troubled of late but the answers you seek will soon be granted, should you heed the call of your blood.’
Facing Tector, Hakan clenches his fist:
‘To the mighty warrior, your strength will be needed in the tasks before us. Be bold and brave of heart for your courage will be needed in the darkness and cold ahead…your great axe will sing with my hammer, like the Danagrim warriors of old.’
Hakan turns toward lady Sophia, a smile upon his lips:
‘To the beautiful Lady Sophia, you too were expected, for this task hangs by a thread and your healing hands and keen eye as an archer may be the difference between a new dawn in the North and the bloodshed of more than one Kingdom.’
Finally, Hakan faces Myrddin and for a second, it seems as though the two communicate without the need for words, as though a silent vow has been shared.
‘…and finally to Myrddrin the Wise. Old enmity can be temporarily put aside this day for the DEAD 3 reap chaos and destruction like cancer throughout the North. The old ties must be strengthened ere MORGAN turn her deadly eye South of the border. My people at the wall are already sorely tested, aided by the Templars but I fear the dam will burst should the plans of the 3 go unopposed.’
Once again, facing the entire group, Hakan, opens his massive hands, the winds whipping up around him, as though his to command:
‘You have been brought together on this day for a quest of great peril, made all the more dangerous should we be discovered. We have but one chance and only one half-day to complete our task before the standing stones disappear and should we fail, the consequences will be terrible. We must not fail!
200 years ago on these very slopes, the 3 accursed renegade Druids…known since to many as the Witches 3 or The Dead 3, did battle with forces opposed to their wickedness. Combining their powers, the 3 trapped their quarry in the chasms of Old Ben and there they have lain ever since, hidden by the power of the Solstice Stones. But the Witches underestimated a great power, which had led the resistance for his soul has endured and calls out to some of us stood here today.
In early April, the Witches invoked the ceremony of tri-caulach, summoning dark powers via an ancient cauldron, thought lost and the gateway to the realms of death and suspended animation…a form of limbo hovering between life and death. For Manzio, this was two months ago whilst for the rest of you that day is today…you should know that you have just travelled through times, two months into the future. As the three set Manzio & the Templar Knight, Uther upon their quest to slay the Earl of Carrick- for cruel pleasure, knowing they couldn’t possibly succeed without making a dark pact with them- THE MASTER finally made his move, latching onto the young Vesuvian, Manzio. Shortly afterwards, the scrying gaze of Morgan le Fey was blocked by my MASTER and the witches frustrated in their plans.
Our quest is thus threefold…ONE…we must enter the MOUNTAIN together and seek out the hidden gate, which has sealed my MASTER inside, all these long years.
TWO…we must break the rune of binding, which has long held my MASTER inanimate in the cold heart of the mountain
THREE…we must take the energy source of the STONES, known as the SOLAR SOLSTICE and remove it from this place.
But beware for the DEAD and all manner of dark creatures inhabit the tombs below!
PART 1- THE TEMPLE OF MORGAUSE
Having briefed the group on their task, there is little time to consider the mind-boggling time travel performed by passing through the Solstice Stones. Approaching the solitary, much wider standing stone with the circular orb, Hakan calls for Myrddin and Storm to join him.
‘The blood of the three elder races is required for entrance. Will you give it freely?’
Myrddin turns to the group, cutting his hand with the sharpened knife handed to him by Hakan. ‘Behold, the blood of Elves, Danagrim and Dragons converges as it did in days of old.’
Storm follows suit with each contributing precious droplets of blood, gathered in a tiny, ceremonial vial. Climbing the stone, Hakan, pours the blood onto the circular disc and the stone parts, a passageway behind bizarrely leading into some kid of a three-dimensional space, set behind the stone itself but invisible to the naked eye.
As the group passes through the Standing Tower Stone, a buzz of electrical energy crackles across the threshold with Lady Sophia’s hair in particular standing wildly on end. As the sunlight touches the skin of each, the group members have a momentary sense of power beyond imagination the like of which threatens to overcome their strength. However, the feeling is fleeting and the group hastens through passing into a beautifully crafted marble corridor with steps leading down. Hakan calls for Manzio to join him in leading the way, with Tector and Myrddin dropping back and Storm and Sophia protected on either side. The light from the Standing Stone illuminates the corridor like a shaft of fire, the golden light caught by mirrors on either side of the staircase leading further down into the mysterious disembodied space. The mirrors and light give the impression of a vast area although in reality the staircase is only about 10ft across in diameter.
As the group continue their descent, it is Myrddin who first gives voice to what they all sense. ‘Be vigilant, this corridor is clearly enchanted. Do not touch or do anything hasty without the permission of Hakan and I.’
Despite Myrddin’s warning, Lady Sophia in particular feels a growing unease with the mirrors either side of her. At first, she notices that her refection is slightly distorted, as though her body has been elongated. Stopping to observe this odd phenomenon, she gasps as her own face ages into that of an old woman.
‘Do not look into the mirrors, ‘ urges Myrddin, the druid passing his hand over Sophia’s eyes, before leading her away from the horrible vision and further down the steps. Seeing the frame of an arched doorway mad from stone ahead, Hakan quickens his pace I an attempt to move beyond the mirrors…each group member growing ever more uneasy at the thought of eyes watching them from behind the reflective surface.
Walking into a vast chamber, it is Manzio who first enters with a marble standing stone forming the centrepiece of the room. To the right is a beautifully painted fresco, which depicts a young elven girl who sits in front of a burning grove, staring sadly at the group as though she cannot escape the greedy flames. As Myrddin brings up the rear, the girl in the fresco begins to move before singing a beautiful but melancholy song.
Myrddrin is once again the quickest to react as he gets closer to the fresco…‘Cover your ears, it is a kelpie and she will attempt to ensnare you to her will. Be swift…’
The group hastens out of the chamber with hands on their ears. Overhead, etched upon the marble archway, a warning is clearly visible in blood red writing:
‘Be warned that you are entering holy ground claimed by THE THREE. We are a merciful trio and offer you one last chance to depart now for should you continue then we will consider this to be sacrilege and your doom forever sealed.’
Thoroughly disturbed by the bizarre nature of the complex that they are passing through and expecting an attack at any moment, the group begins to exhibit signs of fear. Weapons are readied, Sophia and Manzio, drawing their bow and crossbow respectively. Descending further they approach another stone archway although this time the arch itself has cracked with the debris blocking part of the entrance. Approaching cautiously, the Vesuvian scout, Manzio is once again called upon to go first. Passing into the room with barely a sound, he sees a well in the centre of the room. To his left he sees a hideous statue of a face, its mouth open in a sadistic scream, white marble eyes staring malevolently into the room. The teeth of the face have been carved into razor sharp fangs and a vile black liquid drips from the teeth like rotting gums. Returning to the group and reporting that the way is clear, the group are able to pass through the chamber with each giving the black liquid a wide berth. However, they quickly enter an adjoining room, which is perfectly square in design. The stairway continues down to the left and straight ahead. However, in the centre of the room is a pool of bubbling black liquid. Manzio immediately remembers having seen something similar in the lochs of western Scotland during his journey north with Cullen and warns the group with a shout:
A billowing mist starts to emanate from the bubbling, hissing pool. As the mist surrounds the group, Hakan urges them forward…’this way.’ As two shadowy figures coalesce from the mist. Backing out of the chamber, it is Tector who sees a tall shadow emerge, seemingly without feet, its dark shape forming from the ethereal mist. Vicious fangs and a trident begin to form, as second more feminine figure also coalescing as Tector ducks beneath the crumbling archway and after the others. Hakan and Manzio lead the group at great pace down the winding staircase before seeing an ancient, rotting door ahead. Whilst providing little protection Hakan smashes through the rotting splinters with his hammer, forming a space large enough for the group to enter. Looking fearfully behind it appears that the nix pairing has not pursued them, perhaps satisfied to remain in their own shadowy milieu.
Crashing through splintered, rotten wood, the companions find that the room is packed full of huge white eggs in columns of six by six, the like of which the group has never seen before. Each is albino white and has a thick outer shell lined with indents. The room has only one exit to the far left. Storm in particular senses an unearthly, corrupting taint to the enchantments of the room. As he begins to voice these concerns, one of the eggs begins to crack, an arm and then leg breaking through as- to the astonishment of all- a naked Tector begins to emerge from the egg. Myrddin quickly interprets the events and warns the group:
‘This is vile, black magic of an ancient kind. We must breakthrough before other doppelgänger’s emerge.’ Tector lands a blow on the naked apparition of himself emerging from the egg, his axe biting through skin and bone to sever the right hand. The rest run for the far doorway as other eggs begin to hatch. A Myrddin and Hakan appear but the group is too fast and is quickly clear of the room although unlike the Nix, they hear footsteps on the corridor behind them as the doppelgängers do chase.
Manzio leads the way, with Hakan close behind as they approach another arched doorway. The steps have grown very steep with Manzio virtually skipping from one to the next, the heavier boots of the Danagrim behind. Manzio enters the chamber first and finds himself in the largest chamber yet. As the others file in, gasping from breath having momentarily outdistanced their pursuers they note that the room has a much higher ceiling than any entered previously and that there are 3 statues of large, muscular winged gargoyles. Behind them, the wall is lined with runes, which look as though they have been written in blood, as drops of the red liquid have dripped down the wall from the runes. At the far side of the room is a massive mirror set into the wall.
Hakan immediately spots the danger posed by three Danagrim built Roman constructs:
‘Constructs! Constructs of the 5th…’
The group immediately forms a protective barrier as the three Constructs begin to animate. The first, with wings squealing in protest takes to the air. A globe of darkness surrounds a second whilst the third emanates a deathly blue glow.
Hakan charges the gargoyle with the blue aura, his hammer smashing into the metallic armour of the construct with a deafening ring, a dent embedded but Hakan also driven back a step by the electrical energy exuded by the animated creature. Manzio bides his time trying to circle behind, before attacking in a fluid movement before jumping onto the neck of the construct, tearing a chunk of metal back from a hook blade blow. However, the raking claw of the gargoyle catches Manzio on his right arm knocking him off balance and onto the stone floor below. He rolls to the side, narrowly avoiding a huge blow from the Construct which smashes several stoned tiles.
Likewise two other combats are engaged. Tector and Lady Sophia attack the Construct surrounded by darkness, whilst Storm and Myrddin use their ranged abilities to attack the airborne gargoyle. Storm lets fly a dragon orb, which slams into the chest of the creature with electrical power surging along the metallic carapace. In response, the creature opens its mouth and surge of black, necrotic energy smashes into the flagstones beside Storm. He is momentarily held rigid but fights off the worst of the effects though rather slowed as though wielding leaden limbs.
Lady Sophia tries to keep her distance, firing off an arrow, which sails through the globe of darkness clattering off the brickwork at the back of the room. Tector enters into the globe itself landing a massive blow with his axe but also receiving a nasty clawed cuff across his back, which sends him reeling from the shadow.
The battle is evenly matched until Hakan’s tattoos begin to glow, one of the Constructs taking a superhuman blow from Hakan’s hammer with his neck glowing golden. Likewise, Myrddin calls upon powerful druidic magic…blasting his opponent into the ceiling overhead as it is whipped backward in a whirlwind, which seems to appear from thin air. He follows this up with a lightning strike which ricochet’s from one Construct to the next, the room filled with acrid electrical energy. Both Manzio and Sophia carry nasty wounds from their battles whilst Tector finishes off his gargoyle with a huge blow of his great axe, the construct’s globe of darkness failing before a complete malfunction. Each of the other two is defeated before Myrddin and Hakan offer healing to Tector, Manzio and Sophia.
With the strength of the three Constructs shattered, the group is able to finally turn its attention to the mirror at the far side of the room. As they investigate, Myrddin once again urges caution and they see the frame begin to frost over, shards of ice forming around the polished mahogany. Before their very eyes the mirror comes to life. The image within flickers and vibrates as though two conflicting powers are in flux. You see shadows and hear the splitting sounds of ice, as though the mirror is about to explode. Then, a cold, dry female voice is heard with a Gaelic accent:
‘Mirror…reveal your secrets. Why will you not respond? I can’t remember…so much that I once remembered…and why does this cursed gift not heed my command. Morgause will know, sweet sister, yes, she will know but she is ever in Caithness. Too much blood to retain her beauty…I miss my sister, always in Norway. How dare it? Filthy mirror, always spying on me…but I can spy too…yes, I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘D.’ Can you guess? But guessing is for the weak. Then think you old hag, think. Death perhaps? Such has always been your obsession, hen, aye, always your obsession. But not this time, no…a familiar feeling this one. D can also be for druid…what games are these that my sweet sister plays. Well…two can play at that game…’
The voice fades and to the surprise of the group, the mirror simply swings open, revealing a previously hidden, darkened and much colder tunnel leading behind. Seeing no other option but to go forward, they enter, still very disturbed by the bizarre ramblings of the witch, Morrigan.