The Solstice Stones Part 2
PART 2- THE REALMS OF SHADOW
As the group pass through the mirror, each in turn experiences the distinct sensation that a terrible power has become aware of them and furthermore that they are being watched. A chill air circulates in the inky black space, very unlike the warmth of the upper level. The shadow seems very unnatural, almost as though the group has set foot in a world not quite their own.
The eyes of the group are just starting to adjust to the inky gloom, when they hear the sounds of first one, then two and then three terrible, guttural, deep howls as though from dogs of massive size. Mercifully, the sound comes from far in the distance.
Hakan mutters a chant in some words of the ancient Danagrim language and a tattoo on his forearm begins to glow with a golden light. The light illuminates only a relatively small space but provides some warmth and comfort in the dark, chill of the subterranean setting. Turning to the group, Hakan once again urges speed.
‘We must continue to move fast. Time is running out…’
As he finishes his sentence, Myrddin who is now standing beside Hakan having swapped position with Manzio, points a finger in the direction of glowing green eyes, which suddenly appear in the gloom ahead and a form that shimmers as though in and out of reality. Emerging from the shadows, a vast hulking, slavering dog faces the group, ominous acidic, green drool, dripping from its gaping maw.
Before the group can act, the creature leaps forward, a gout of acid searing Myrddin’s shoulder and splashing from the walls onto Storm. Storm is the quickest to react firing off a lightning orb but before it can connect, the hound suddenly disappears in the blink of an eye. Simultaneously, Manzio is aware of a presence behind him, whirling around to face a second hound. Sophia backs away drawing her bow and fires a shot, which plunges into the hound’s muscular chest. It howls in pain but no before raking a paw laced with acid through Manzio’s outstretched arm. The Vesuvian gasps as the acid burns through his leather armour. Once again the creature disappears from view.
Fearing another imminent attack, Myrddin and Hakan pick up the pace and for a frustrating and fearful hour, the group grow increasingly lost in a labyrinth of chilly, twisting corridors. At times the green eyes peer out from the gloom but seem to hang back presumably waiting for a suitable moment to launch their next attack.
Finally, as the group retrace their footsteps for the third time, Manzio finds that a corridor previously ending at a dead end seems wrong somehow. He calls a halt and carefully feels for any concealed, trap doors. Hakan supports the effort and quickly the two detect that the wall is not true. Tector and Hakan begin to smash down the flimsy, makeshift wall whilst green eyes smoulder in the darkness waiting to pounce. Breaking through with an enormous smash of his hammer, Hakan leads the way into the coldest chamber yet. The group enter a room, which for the first time since passing through the mirror is lit, although only faintly by tiny specks of blue. Storm is the first to make the grizzly discovery that the floor is scattered with the bones of the dead. Amidst the debris and bones, the group finds rusted blades, shields and Roman helmets.
In the centre of the room, Myrddin is drawn to an ancient, stone sarcophagus containing the bones of an old Roman soldier. In his hands, is the lost standard of the 9th Legion. Lady Sophia, standing closest to the druid, hears him mutter…’the lost legion.’ However, he does not elaborate on this cryptic comment.
With no obvious way out of the room save through the door they entered, Manzio once again puts his skills to use, tapping the walls and investigating the room. However to no avail. In desperation and running out of time, the others lend a hand and it is Myrddin, still stood pondering the sarcophagus of the 9th Legion who notices the uneven nature of the coffin itself. Calling Manzio over, the Vesuvian does not take long to discover a trap door, although the mechanism seems jammed. Tector is called forward to add some muscle and with a phenomenal heave, the door opens as a portcullis is revealed before disappearing into the wall exposing a concealed staircase, which leads further down. It is the coldest area yet and leads onto treacherous stairs of sheer ice.
Sensing that the group is getting closer to its eventual target, Hakan takes the lead with Manzio and Myrddin following suit. Angry howls ring out behind them, the acidic hounds clearly frustrated at the escape of their quarry. As the group descends from the inky black, the temperature once again drops. It is freezing cold with Hakan’s breath the first to mist as he exhales the musty air. Descending further into half-light below the group emerges into a room containing eleven frozen, cylindrical containers. In each is a Roman legionnaire but surrounded in ice.
Myrddin bids that Hakan be patient but the Danagrim seems not to hear pushing on through the chamber as though barely noticing the cylindrical vessels. However, as he passes, nothing untoward happens. Shrugging, Myrddin bids that the rest follow, although cautiously he remains at the back, continuing to eye the room with scepticism. Passing to the far side of the room, Manzio and Hakan are the first to reach a stairway of ice. In front of enormous doors at the top of the icy stairs a throne is carved from ice and on the throne, a figure is sat. As the group look up, his head slowly rises and they see an emaciated, white face with eyes, which freeze each in their tracks. Hakan screams…
’NO!’ and falls to his knees. ‘Father, what have they done to you?’
The figure rises, carrying a mithril sceptre, which glows with an ominous blue light, which matches the eyes of the figure. In his other hand contains a goblet. At first it appears to be full of red wine but the liquid is much thicker, like blood. He drinks the liquid and looks down the staircase. As he does so, his body grows whilst two large fangs appear from beneath his top lip. Simultaneously, the group also hears a snapping sound of splintering ice from the chamber behind them.
The group reacts, splitting as first Hakan, followed by Tector take to the staircase. Lady Sophia and Myrddin face the room of legionnaires whilst Storm places himself in the relative safety of the ground at the bottom of the staircase. Manzio, initially unsure which way to turn, stands with Storm, waiting to see how the battle unfolds.
Roman legionnaires wrought of ice and frozen sinew clamber forth toward the companions. Each carries a jagged, wicked looking sword, almost like an extension of the hand that wields it and a cylindrical shield, again made from ice and formed as though roughly hewn from some freezing source. Calling forth his power, the druid Myrddin is quickest to react, an entanglement of vines blocking the way of the Roman undead. Two are caught in the creeping vines and held firm whilst a third is smashed to pieces as a thick root erupts beneath its icy feet however, some do penetrate the protective barrier, relentlessly pursuing their prey. Lady Sophia is able to loose an arrow, which hits the target but only partially slowing it. The foremost attacker reaches her first, so wide is the stairway that she is unable to be protected by the others. The creature stabs at her left arm catching her a glancing blow, which immediately leads to a freezing creeping cold, which extends up the length of her arm. Hearing Sophia’s scream of pain, Manzio dashes across to protect his companion but does not see a second legionnaire break through. He too is stabbed and feels the same freezing effect spread across his shoulder.
Attacking from range, Storm concentrates his efforts on the vampiric apparition of Hakan’s father who is standing threateningly at the top of the staircase. Summoning all of his power, he hurls his draconic energy at the creature but it appears to sneer at the attack, absorbing the power via his sceptre. Levelling the mithril item and pointing at Storm, it reflects the power directly back but massively intensified, blasting the dragonborn from his feet and knocking him backwards.
Stunned by this show of power, Hakan and Tector increase their pace, desperate to reach Hakan’s father, Loric before he can wreak any more destruction on the group. Turning his malevolent power on his own son, Loric lets loose another horrible bolt of wicked energy, which blasts the Danagrim off his feet sending him sprawling back down the staircase in a crumpled heap. Hakan’s neck glows golden and to the astonishment of all given the nature of what appeared to be a killing blow, Hakan, stands unsteadily to his feet, stood about halfway up the stairs.
Back at the bottom of the stairs, Sophia dashes over to Storm and offers her companion healing. Storm can barely lift his head, let alone stand after the vicious attack from Loric but the touch of Lady Sophia dispels at least some of the necrotic energy and restores strength to his tired limbs. Amidst this Manzio attacks the one legionnaire still to represent a threat. Taking a wide attacking berth as the creature makes for Myrddin, he is able to make a devastating strike with his hook blade, ripping an enormous chunk of ice free from the spine of the skeletal foe. Myrddin finishes the job off with a blast of druidic energy, which hurls the creature backward over the acrobatic leap from Manzio who narrowly avoids being caught in the same effect.
Turning their attention to Loric, Myrddin and Storm attack from range, with ice javelins slamming into the wizened vampire, an effect heightened by Myrddin’s own craft. Meanwhile, unseen by all including Loric, the big warrior Tector scales the staircase and charges the Undead sentinel. Wielding an enormous blow of his great axe, he chops downward catching the creature a fatal blow to the neck, chopping through the animated corpse and beheading him with a single blow. A release of necrotic energy follows, blowing Tector backward although his armour absorbs some of the force.
With Loric no longer a threat, the group is able to turn their collective attention on the legionnaires but with their animator dead, they lose focus, most returning to the chamber from whence they arrived.
Exhausted but feeling that the task is nearly done, the group ascends the staircase joining the injured Tector and the grieving Hakan. Notably, Loric’s sceptre has transformed into a pulsating stone of energy, which Hakan retrieves and places within one of his pouches. Despite the risks of possession associated with such an item, nobody comments, although Myrddin’s eyes narrow with suspicion. However, he has little time to contemplate the situation as with Loric’s passing, the huge double doors of ice, open without a sound. The group enters a huge circular chamber containing a gargantuan rectangular block of ice. Surrounding the slab, which is raised up as though on an enormous plinth, are 5 stones, the exact match of the one held in the mithril weapon used previously by Loric. From within the ice, Manzio is contacted telepathically:
‘Assassin, ask each of your group should touch one stone each and imagine the ice melting. Hakan already has a sixth stone…he will do likewise.’
The companions agree to Manzio’s request, knowing that his secret sponsor is within the ice and calling for their collective aid. Each of the stones flares to life and an arc of energy jettisons from each, slowly reducing the enormous block of ice into a spring melt, the waters washing out of the room and melting the staircase. As it does so, an enormous reptilian, white figure a full 100ft in length emerges. Ice, the final remaining British white emerges, unfolding his magnificent, scarred wings in a shower of ice and melted water before arching his neck and bellowing a cry to the very ceiling.
‘Free at last…’
As he does so, his icy breath emitted in a fine mist, the reality of his prison begins to crumble, the ground above cascading away to the sides, though the companions remain perfectly safe as the land appears to fall away either side of their position…the illusion dispelled. Gradually, a fading light is exuded from above with a stone staircase cut into the underground cavern in which they now stand. Ice stretches his wings and makes his way upward, smashing through the surface above before awaiting the group to join him. With the last rays of the solstice sun touching the standing stones, Ice looks at each of the companions in turn.
‘I thank you. The spell of binding is finally broken. You have done me a greats service and should you ever require my help then you will only need to seek me out and I will do my best to help you. But as a form of more immediate payment, let me tell you that each of you now carries a solstice stone…the magic of these great artifacts works best when combined but as individual entities, each shapes itself to your desire. I hope they will serve you well.
Now…those of you returning South, you must do so quickly for the magic of the solstice stones will soon be divided amongst you. Hakan/Manzio…you must flee this summit ere Morgan’s forces seek you out. Go and know that I will return when I have restored my strength.’
With that, Ice launches himself from the peak of Ben Nevis, quickly flying high into the summer sky. Acting on the advice of the great dragon, the group makes hasty farewells, with Myrddin urging his three charges to use the energy from their stones to help him once again summon the ancient magic of the druidic circle. They each act quickly, and in the blink of an eye, the four walk forward between two of the menhirs, a pulsating golden light almost blinding the two onlookers, Hakan and Manzio. With a flash, they are gone and with them, the druidic circle begins to fade and disappear from sight, never to reappear again.
‘Come on boy, we have a long journey ahead of us.’ Hakan and Manzio begin their descent of Ben Nevis as the sun begins to set beyond the horizon.