The next day the old merchant had brought back more cloth to replace Andraste’s ruined one.
“Well, we wouldn’t want you sittin’ here all on your lonesome, now would we?” He said when she had asked him why he had done her this service.
They had some conversations over the next few days of the journey, and the man listened and gave some very thought out answers to some of her questions. And she had saved him from bandits a few more times, and a bond began to grow between the two. The man, whom she learned was named Gregory McTerish, sort of became her adopted uncle.
He was still a little uneasy at first that she was a forest guardian, but his unease subsided as he found her to be little different from everyone else. A tangible being with feelings and not some mystical creature.
When they came to the last town of his trip, having bartered all the way there every chance he got, they parted ways.
“Fair journey, Andraste,” The man had said with a warm hug, “And may you find a door open to you where’er you go.”
“I wish you the same,” She replied, “And a good deal in the next town.”
And they gave a small laugh at that before parting ways.
From here, Andraste stayed off of the road as much as she could, and headed to any clump of trees she could find to help her with direction, and for safety.
If Merlin had known he would be waiting so long for the warriors of the Isles he would’ve sent one of the apprentice Druids to play guide. His attentions could’ve been much better spent communing with the Fae and the Gods of the Lands to devise a way to combat the Voidlings. Using his mind and millennia of experiences to pour of the ancient magics for an answer, surely whatever these things were wouldn’t be able to contend with the very forces of creation! Would they?
Still the request had come from on high and even he could not refuse their pleas so here he was dozing in the midday sun summoning up a breeze every now and then to keep the heat of the day from him waiting for whatever rabble the Gods had picked to make their merry way to the Standing Stones.
The Child of light strode toward the circle of stones like one with a strong sense of purpose and not enough good sense to keep on the lookout for possible danger. Only one thing could belie that sort of carelessness, it was the confidence that whatever could lurk behind the rolling hills or in the would would not, or could not harm him. Whether this was because of his divine nature or his otherworldly prowess with weapons, who could know? Still, the Hound of Culainn, defender of Ulster, slayer of many, and foe of Connacht walked on towards the enigmatic ring of stones.
“Ho there, Greybeard. Are you the one I am supposed to meet? I was called here by my dreams, told there would be a guide here, and since you are the only one I see, my reason tells me that it is you. So, be that as it is, what message do the Gods have to give to this hound, slayer of countless hordes of men and monsters unnameable, the greatest warrior in all of Ireland?” The Cu boldly stated, walking without fear up to the old, bent, graying tutor of the great King Arthur. The Cu, massive even for his people towered over the old wizard, and even though danger and power radiated off of him, one could clearly tell he was at ease, and meant no threat.
As the presence of power grew to gnaw on Merlin’s senses he awoke from his light doze and gave a deep frown at who was addressing him. “Oh by the stars and stones, who woke you up Hound? The Spirits must be quite desperate to bring a club swinger such as yourself here.” With a low sigh Merlin stood up his ancient bones creaking and groaning with having sat too long. “As for the quest I must wait until all of you are here. I’m too old to repeat myself. Just sit down and try not to break anything.” The old man grouched moving to the altar at the center of the circle and grabbed an endless stone goblet of fine spirits handing it to the large warrior. “Here, this is a cup that will never empty, it’ll be necessary and irreplaceable so avoid giving it to some dark skinned hussy or fair haired Dane for a night of tumbles.” While he couldn't give Cu the full details he could at least give him some of the items he was instructed to make for the journey ahead.
Taking the goblet from the old wizard, Cu did indeed sit down and he looked at the clear liquid in the stone goblet. Raising it in toast to the wizard’s health he took several long draughts from it, gulping it down like a man parched beyond belief. With how long and how many times he tussled in the bed with that fairy, it would be safe to assume he was a bit dehydrated, leaving much of his energy inside of her. Finally removing the cup from his mouth he gave a long sigh and a deep belch. “Well, that was certainly good, I needed that. Being dead does build up quite a thirst. Old man, be there any game among these parts? I could get us something to eat. If you have been here waiting for me, you must be as hungry as I am, especially with how skinny you are. Please do not be offended, I just try to be as honest as I can, for I find deceit a hateful quality, which, if you know about my legend, you can see why.”
Merlin sighed and shook his head waving the man’s concerns down. “There is more game animals here than in Ireland, Hound of Ulster. But it is a delicate balance of nature this close to the Standing Stones. If you hunger so, then by the Altar is one of three large fabric packs, it holds similar qualities to the Goblet. I have not hungered for many moons, But help yourself to one of them. I need to fast so my mind can be clear for the magic. I will need to take us all to the far South.” Moving to the forest side of the stone Merlin extended his senses out to try and find the others.
“Nah, its alright, I ate after I awoke in a glade not far from here. I just felt it polite to offer some sort of service to my host. I’m more than just a ‘club-swinger’ as it were, though that appears to be all I am known for. I was taught manners in a kingly court after all.” He said, but he did start playing with his hurly, bouncing the ball off of the club in the air, and chasing after it when the bouncing made it go off, seeing how long he could keep it airborne.
After far too long walking, Bairdhwyn finally made it to the circle of stones. The forest seemed to pull at him, branches and stems bending outwards to keep him within the forest. Nevertheless, he caught sight of an ancient-looking Druid and a tall, muscular warrior. He took a deep breath and put on his best “prince of the Fair Folk” face, before strolling right up to the pair.
“Ho, Hound! Ho, Greybeard! The Queen of the Faeries sends her regards. I’m to retrieve her scarlet saddle, as it were, and was told to meet you here. How goes it?” His wings buzzed. His ears pricked up. His thoroughly green skin made him seem indistinct within his green coat. He was utterly alien in this procession, and he loved it.
Andraste, after resting for a bit in the safety of this small thicket, continued on her way for a few more days before coming upon the Standing Stones with three other figures, though one appeared to be a faery, it never hurt to be cautious. She notched an arrow and slowly moved to a better spot of advantage before cautiously walking to greet the others.
“Ho faery! Ho Elder and… warrior.” She said as she approached with her bow lowered, but still ready to draw in a moment. Her features still hidden by her attire
As the last two heroes approached Merlin studied them closely. Bairdhwyn Ó Áine, one of the many sons of Áine of the Summer Court, and despite her disguise the old Druid recognized Andraste McYaren, daughter of Abnoba, Goddess of the Forest and Rivers. With a nod and a clack of this staff he greeted the newcomers. “Ho, Bairdhwyn, Son of Áine, Ho, Andraste, Daughter of Abnoba. The Spirits tell me you are the chosen three. Three Demi-Gods, well if nothing else this will certainly be an interesting quest.” After saying a soft chant he waved his staff above his head and the goblets and packs set aside for the other two floated to their feet. “As I told Cú Chulainn earlier these goblets and packs are enchanted to never empty of food and drink, they will be necessary and irreplaceable once we leave the shores of the Isles. Keep them by you at all times, last thing we need are the lurking Voidlings to get more treasures from us.” Moving back to the center of the Stones the old man waves his staff again displaying a map of stars and lights above their heads. “Using the magiks of Stonehenge I will be taking us from our homeland to a place in the far Southern deserts called Megiddo where our Gods and those from other pantheons and cultures not our own will meet in a Great Conclave and set us on our quest proper. We will meet warriors, witches, and other Demi-Gods of many cultures so try to play nice.” He glanced at both the bawdy warrior and the Bard both are known for their lackadaisical personalities at times. “You all know what needs to be retrieved for our Gods, but you will also help the others find theirs. The threat of the Void and it’s underlings are too great for any one of us to handle so cooperation is paramount. Do you all understand the magnitude of this?” He asked, looking each Demi-God in the eyes waiting for their answer.
As soon as Andraste was revealed, she was a little surprised, but quickly overcame her shock as she removed her head cover to reveal her wolf-like ears.
She was also visibly surprised to hear that there were other gods, but now didn’t seem to be the time to ask questions just yet, so she clamped her mouth shut until it was her turn to respond. But, when it came time to speak, all she gave was a determined nod.
Bairdhwyn took the pack and the goblet and eyed the rest of the group.
“I appreciate your assistance, Wizened One. I cannot guarantee the others will be courteous, but I’ve navigated the intricacies of faerie society for centuries. Politeness is paramount to survival, as many have learned.” He winked at Andraste. “Now, tell us more about this desert.”
Cu Chulainn smiled, upon hearing that there were others like him out there, others which he could test his prowess. “Well, I am curious to know of these other lands, but I am confident my strength will be able to keep us safe.” He turns to his two companions, especially the fair Andraste. “You needn’t fear, fair lassie, I will keep you safe no matter what monsters might try to hinder us” he continues, slightly bowing to the tall wolf girl. “As you likely well know, no weapon forged by the hand of man can harm me, and no man is my equal in combat.”
Merlin let out another sigh. “Do be careful Hound, there are more things in Heaven and Earth than what can be heard about in your Bard’s tales, many such warriors as you will likely be part of this quest. All I know of our destination is called Megiddo and it’s a sacred mountain town where the Gods have agreed to meet as a neutral ground for discussion. Now all of you make sure you have your goblets and packs because we are leaving now.”
Moving back to the center of the stones he picked up his own pack and goblet and began chanting in the words of the old Magicks. Power began swirling up around them day turning to night, the ground erupting and settling all around them. The sheer power of Merlin’s spell caused many of the stones to tumble or shatter, but this was what the Henge was meant for, he was sure the Druids would rebuild it as soon as they could. As his spell reached its crescendo he slammed his staff into the altar stone and all four of them vanished in a flash of light and a crash of earth and stone.
In what seems like the time it took to blink their eyes the four Heroes of the Isles arrived at the base of a large mountain. Dry wind and grainy sand blew all around them as the magic settled back into the earth. Heat washed over them and strange smells assailed their noses, they had truly jumped through time and space to wind up on the far side of a world they had barely known. The old wizard slumped to the ground exhausted, the spell looking to leave him even older than he had before such was the price of using such powerful magiks. But after a few seconds he took a long drought from his endless goblet and looked back at his younger charges. "Welcome to Megiddo, children of the Isles. Come we need to enter the town, they do not speak our language so be careful who you talk to and what you do. The townsfolk are a Chosen people and very powerful in their own Magiks." With that the wizard pulled a leg of lamb from his pack and ate it heartily leading the way to the gates of the mountain town.