It’s a typical tunnel as far as any of them can tell. Semi-smooth walls indicating it’s been carved into the mountain and not a naturally occurring phenomena. Curved ceiling. All in all, typical. Everyone keeps looking around, but the only one that seems to know what they’re doing in these conditions is archeologist Doctor Daniel Jackson. The rest of them are just waiting around pretty much until the archeologist comes up with something like whatever the symbols he’s found are or might be or has he seen them before or are they from Earth or are they Ancient or Asgard or what. Pretty much anything. Out of nowhere the sound of dozens of bagpipes comes to their ears. Daniel may be so experienced and so engrossed in his work that he can tune the screeching racket out, but the rest of them sure as hell can’t. They immediately look back at the village.
They don’t know when the assembly happened, but on the village’s crest line is one long row of dozens of bagpipers with several banners flaring behind them along with their bearers. In fighting columns and rows behind the piping line is what looks like every surviving villager, about a hundred more warriors from they have no idea where, and Lorne’s team. Every single one of the defenders waiting and ready for combat. Suddenly the torches of the Fomorian parade come into sight at the bottom of their view. The waiting village crowd starts roaring challenge with their weapons raised defiantly over their heads or clanging them against the edges of their shields. It’s the sight movies have made iconic. Kenmore smiles as Daniel finally comes up beside her to watch the display as well.
“Specialist Dex,” he looks over at the Lieutenant as she continues watching the village proudly, “That’s how we fight back.”
Ronon’s apprehensive as he returns his eyes to the village. Screaming and banging intimidation at your enemies is completely different from actually taking them on. He’ll believe any of this when he sees it happen.
The challenging roar aggravates the Fomor, who pick up their pace by making a full out run toward the village. The village answers with the sudden adrenaline-surging pounding of drums rallying with the blaring pipe music. The cacophony is staggering even from this distance at the mountain’s tunnel. Rousing too. John can feel his blood pumping through his veins and pounding in his ears in time with the village drumbeats along with the very distinct urge to charge down there himself and start kicking some ass.
The Fomorians and their beasts easily bear down on the village crest unchallenged. Ronon’s about to say something about making it easy for the enemy again when things start glowing in the forests in between the crest and the base of the mountain. It takes the group a few moments to figure out it’s the standing stones. The stones’ symbols are glowing with what looks like strings of peridot-colored chasing lights. What the hell—? Then the standing stones rise into the air somehow, lifting out of the ground easily with bits of dirt and foliage still clinging to their rounded bottoms. The group gawks.
Rodney’s eyes bulge, Harmony’s Shrine stones never mentioned anything that could lead to any sort of a possibility of that. Tiny drones, miniature drones, yes, he’d seen those with his own eyes. Unless that’s how the tiny drones deployed which he seriously doubts because of how he knows the big models deploy from stacks like wine holders down in basically Atlantis’ basement and that Harmony’s stones didn’t have to rise up into the air to deploy—Oh God, oh God, what if, what if this is something else Harmony’s stones could do? What if this is another facet of that miniature drone launcher weapon? What if this is like Phase II or something? Oh, crap.
Teyla’s normally gentle features steel. Her keen eyes narrow ever so slightly as she peers down at the glowing stones. She had seen great weapons made by the Ancients before such as the land-based satellite weapon used to defend the Dorandans’ planet against an entire Wraith fleet. It had wrought terrible damage. Both to the Wraith fleet as well as the Dorandans themselves. It had destroyed their world. She wonders if this weapon is as safe as Rodney claims the Ancient shrine of the young ruler Harmony’s planet was or if they are now about to face the same fate as the Dorandans.
Sheppard stares, the flesh above and between his black eyebrows pinching. His mouth ever so slightly open, allowing his breathing to come out measured and without sound. His entire body is tense. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, but whatever it is he doesn’t like it. Not at all, not one bit.
Daniel has the same interest in the sight as everyone else, but there’s also something else. He squints at the floating glowing stones. His touching lips betray nothing but ease, but the puckering of his dimples on either side of his mouth’s corners subtly illustrates the clenching of his jaw. He remembers something about this… or is it he thinks he remembers something… he can’t tell which, it’s been too long.
Although she’d been expecting the final stand of bagpipes, drums, and hollering warriors right in the faces of the Fomorian lines and flyers, she hadn’t seen this coming. Stonehenge, and henges in general, they, they…
Ronon looks over and gauges the Earth peoples’ reactions.
“I take it your Stonehenge doesn’t do that back on Earth,” he asks.
Stunned, the Earth-born SGC members shake their heads. No, it sure didn’t. But now it looks like there might be a whole new idea for what the geological construct was meant to do. Or is capable of doing.
When the pale yellow-green light of the standing stones reaches its brightest, a deafening crack sounds. The collection of eight concentric circles of levitating stones emits a unified forcefield that looks like Atlantis’s city-wide shield only more blue-green in color than purplish between them. Abruptly the forcefield shockwaves out from the stones. The first third of the Fomorian parade is repelled and flattened in the blink of an eye. Several flyers are flung out of control away from the battlefield. They plummet down into the ground.
The mountain rumbles and quakes in the quickly decreasing few seconds it takes for the field to reach it. The team brace themselves just inside the tunnel’s threshold. The wave impacts. They manage to remain upright as a storm of dust and dirt and God knows what else surges up the mountainside like a tsunami surge pouring over a beachfront wall. It gushes over the tunnel entrance and its small outcrop of rock platform as though neither is there. A few of the flung flyers smash into the base of the mountain. Covering their faces from the debris wave already, the team is forced to their knees as the mountain shakes with the hits. The thunder ebbs away in the same time that heartbeats last like hours. The team looks up as the dust starts to clear away. Daniel and Teyla cough as Sheppard, Kenmore, and Ronon brush themselves off.
“I take it that there’s nothing around Stonehenge that indicates it’s capable of that,” Rodney coughs at Kenmore and Daniel while trying to swat away the dirty air as though that will clean it faster.
The Lieutenant lowers her arms sweeping off her shoulders, she shakes her head. But Daniel has an idea. It’s unconventional, but unconventional seems to be their stock and trade… he draws Ursula’s diving knife from the back of her tactical belt and slices it across her palm while she’s coincidentally holding it out in front of him in an ‘I have no clue’ gesture.
“Ow. Dammit Daniel,” she hisses, “Ask first.”
Daniel takes the bloody knife with him back a few feet into the tunnel then wipes some of Ursula’s blood on his fingertips and drags them across the shallow trench of one of the designs. A short segment, the segment he ‘painted’, of the design’s line glows dimly golden. Kenmore’s eyes widen. She turns to the rest of the group.
“Quick. Start cutting me,” she points directly at Dex, “I said cutting not stabbing and not for the kill.”
She holds her palms out to them. Like a peace offering. Sheppard’s team hesitates, shifting wary glances between each other. Then Daniel comes over again and slices the knife deeply across Ursula’s other palm.
“God damn Daniel, I said ask.”
“Mother may I,” he quips as he leaves again to ‘paint’ some more of his gently glowing design with her blood.
Before it can heal, Kenmore takes her bloody hand and smears her blood on the nearest wall symbol. Atlantis’ flagship team stares at probably one of the strangest sights they have ever seen, and that’s saying a lot considering their years in the Pegasus. It’s when they see the dim glowing of the symbol Kenmore smeared that they can’t exactly argue with the results. The method, maybe, but not the results. Sheppard’s team slowly takes out their knives. Ronon’s being the biggest one he carries on his person. Of course. He has no problem helping the Lieutenant do this.
“Drag the blades across my skin anywhere you can,” she directs them.
Again Sheppard and his team exchange wary looks between each other. What the hell is up with this mission? They’re not used to this. You don’t turn on one of your own team members as a sacrificial lamb in order to get the job done. They’re not used to having to injure someone like them in order to move further in a mission… actually, one of them has before. He had to kill his commanding officer during what amounted to their first mission in this galaxy. And then when some wealthy, deeply disturbed man took Rodney’s sister Jeannie hostage, this same team member had to hand over a man to be fed on by a Wraith right in front of him in order to save her. Neither decisions… almost all of his decisions since joining Stargate Command have never truly sat well with him. The most he’s been hoping for since that first mission execution of then Expedition Military Leader Colonel Marshall Sumner is too be able to look himself in the mirror. Sometimes he can. Sometimes he can’t. And once, he punched the mirror… reluctantly Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard draws first shallow blood on Lieutenant Ursula Kenmore.
She hisses but, “That was a paper cut. You’re going to have to do better than that.”
Sheppard locks eyes with her. You don’t do this to anyone wearing the same uniform as you.
Daniel reaches over and draws blood again on her other palm, she winces, and he paints another symbol. Kenmore nods at Sheppard. Urging him on. He looks down at her healed palm. It’s still pink with the freshness of the heal. He sucks in a deep breath, sees the ghost of an emaciated Colonel Sumner’s face nodding at him with foggy eyes at the forefront of his mind’s eye… and drags his knife blade deeper across the Lieutenant’s palm. Kenmore hisses again as the deep red line brims on her palm. The color spills up onto the edge of his knife blade. The memory of blood spurting from a body after going through the feeding hand of a Wraith Queen takes center stage away from the ghost, John wipes the bloody blade off on his hand and starts smearing his red hand on part of a symbol. It too begins dimly glowing. Equally as reluctant, except for Ronon, the rest of his team follows their leader’s example.
With their help the walls quickly glisten in the dark with Kenmore’s blood and barely glowing golden symbols…but that’s all the symbols are doing. Something’s off. Something’s missing. The group looks around, what else? Maybe the shielding genuinely is hiding wall sconces or some other useful thing from them and the darkness is helping it by keeping said item from their sight. There is hope though, the golden glow is practically nil but ‘practically’ is counting for them right now. Teyla and Daniel’s fingertips touch the walls for any other symbols. Kenmore looks up…and sees the shadows of more symbols on the ceiling. Suddenly she grabs her knife back from Daniel, pinches its blade edges between her fingertips, and yanks the weapon out. She hisses and freaks out. Wincing and dancing around while flailing her hands up and down.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow,” she wines, looking like a loon.
Sheppard worries about her. He really didn’t need her cracking right now, not at the beginning. Then she suddenly shoves her knife hilt at him.
“Hold this out for me,” she orders.
He doesn’t know why, and he definitely knows he doesn’t actually want to know, but he reluctantly does as ordered. Kenmore takes a moment to brace herself, closing her brown eyes as she regulates her breathing. Calming herself down. Oh God, Sheppard winces, Jesus, does he really want to see this? Can he go back on helping whatever insanity is going to happen next that’s so extreme Kenmore has to physically and psychologically prep herself to do it? She puckers her lips and blows her easing breath out. She pinches the blade edges with her other hand’s fingertips and yanks them down the blade.
She stifles the hiss, but can’t do anything to stop the agonized groan behind her tightly pursed lips. She doubles over. Clenching the newly wounded fist white-knuckle tight. Breathing hard through her nose. Ursula quickly forces herself to straighten up, shaking the newly injured fist as she does. She doesn’t waste any more time and starts jumping up and down. Reaching for the ceiling and smearing her bloody fingertips on it as best she can. It starts working, the ceiling’s symbols start to glow the same dim gold as the wall symbols. And yet McKay can’t let something as ridiculous looking as this just go…
“Do you have any idea how stupid you look doing that?”
Suddenly Kenmore stops jumping and slowly turns to him, “Yeah, McKay,” using that name for the first time rather than her usual ‘Doc McKay’, “‘cause everyone looks like a freakin’ genius when they jump up and down smearing their blood on the ceiling of a cave.”
Sheppard stifles his grin and chuckle. She’s gotten another point on McKay and John’s finding that he in fact likes it when she scores a point on Rodney. Then Jackson walks up to him and takes Kenmore’s knife away from Sheppard. The Doctor casually swipes at Kenmore’s exposed skin again and smears her blood on the rest of the ceiling. Still nothing. Something is still off. God, what the hell is it? What are they missing? The group looks around the tunnel again. What could possibly be left? They’ve covered the walls, the ceiling’s now covered, the ground… The ground! Kenmore snatches Sheppard’s knife from its sheath on his belt, pinches the blade, and yanks. Keeping her wounded hand clenched, she drops to one knee and drips a trail of fresh blood across the tunnel’s threshold then uses her bloody fingertips to smear the cooling droplets into a connected dusty, muddy line going across the dirt floor and up a little bit of both walls.
The moment the blood connects the dim glow becomes as bright as that of the weaponized standing stones. Illuminating the tunnel like ropes of running lights with symbols all over the walls… the floor… the ceiling. Everywhere. It’s a sensory blitzkrieg of illuminated imagery. Intertwined. Intermingling. Foreground. Background. Every ground. Overlapping so that your mind distorts whether or not there are walls, a floor, or a ceiling even there anymore.
Each and every single one unmistakably Celtic symbology all around them. Knots. Spirals. There are some things Sheppard thinks might be letters. Others that Teyla believes might be elaborate renderings of flowers. Ronon thinks he sees some animals. Rodney tries squinting at what he guesses are decorative designs of stars and moons and comets, all sorts of astronomical phenomena. Daniel simply marvels as his eyes trace every curve, every dot, every beautiful work of symmetry and asymmetry meant to explain whole life histories, world histories, genealogies. It is stunningly beautiful and stunningly beautifully complex. A treasure trove of mental expression meeting the stream of time. A certain measure of desperation to inscribe everything they could remember before it slipped away from them, but still maintaining the respectful beauty of their culture, not sacrificing but giving it to the march of history…
“How exquisite,” he whispers to himself.
“Hey, that’s my Mother’s symbol,” Ursula points at three Celtic unicorns intertwined to form a Celtic knot triad, “and there’s Nuada’s,” she points again at the image of a sword with symbols covering it’s hilt and running down the center of its blade teamed with the Celtic depiction of a severed hand with half its forearm still holding onto the sword hilt with a beautiful curling and spiraling depiction of smoke or light perhaps haloing and emanating from all around the sword. Her eyes marvel at the sights, her whole face smiling.
The group travels down the superbly lit tunnel, continuing to look around at the inspiring appearance of what once was dark. All of a sudden Ursula races over to another prominent symbol. This one of a simply-designed short sword, again with a hand and partial forearm holding onto the sword’s hilt, but this time accompanied by a crescent moon on its back with its concave side aimed upward on either side of the blade, “And my great grandfather’s.”
She turns, “and Niall’s,” she rushes over and wonders at the depiction of a tall, craggy, four-tiered mountain encircled by a thick ring of Celtic knotwork.
“They’re all the symbols of your bloodline,” Daniel reports, still mesmerized.
If that is true then…
“Where is your symbol,” Teyla asks, equally as mesmerized by what she is seeing around her but not forgetting the task at hand. Although not even the healing Shrine of Talus had sported this sort of splendor despite the grandeur of its disguising waterfall and central column of finely carved ancient writings and symbols. What beauty the Lieutenant’s people had, what magnificence she comes from. Warriors’ spirits and artists’ hands, how wonderful.
As their group approaches the end of the tunnel, the golden glow suddenly forms a massive tree with its intertwining branches spreading out and curving downward to begin interweaving with the knotting lines of its roots. If folded in half, the tree would be a reflection of itself. At the heart of the tree’s solid trunk is a trident-like three-pronged flame. On either side of the trunk, at the hearts of the two round areas created by the trunk and the circling of the tree’s canopy into its roots, is a single crescent moon on its back with its concave side aimed upward. A version of the Tree of Life symbol right in the middle of the tunnel. With all the overlapping symbols around them, the Tree symbol leaps out of its background like the hidden image of a Magic Eye picture. Kenmore freezes at the sight of it.
“The Tree of Life,” Daniel breathes, “It’s the unity of the universe. Everything connected to everything else.”
Ursula can’t help but think of the holograms both the Ancients and the Asgard had a penchant for using when creating obstacles that humans were meant to traverse. Thor’s Hammer. Thor’s Chariot. The knight of Glastonbury Tor. Merlin and the Black Knight guarding Excalibur. Gingerly she reaches out to the seemingly floating symbol right in front of her… and touches the heart of the Tree’s trunk, the flame. The elegant symbol dissipates and the stone back wall of the tunnel that the symbol had been covering slides down into the ground revealing a small foyer-like area with three more darkened tunnel entrances leading further into the mountain. Hologram, yes, and also the key to the lock that it’d been hiding behind it. Effective. How… Ancient.
They walk into the foyer area. No sooner does Ronon, solely bringing up the rear, walk a few feet into the area then the lowered tunnel wall starts rising behind him. He tries stand on the upcoming stone ledge, trying to use his weight and brute strength to stop it. Teyla and Sheppard throw their own weights down on it too by falling onto the ledge on either side of their friend’s feet. Using their feet still on the ground to help their bodies push the stone door back down as Kenmore, Rodney, and Daniel desperately search the foyer’s walls for any mechanism that can possibly stop the door from closing. They all may be trying, Ronon’s shoulder muscles braced against the doorway’s top and his body fighting the strain of his body being folded by his legs rising up to meet his shoulders, but they’re definitely not succeeding, Dex roars with the crumpling strain, and they aren’t going to. Ronon suddenly kicks Sheppard and Teyla off the door ledge and dives off himself before the door’s top reaches its slot up in the ceiling. It seals them in and he’s going to feel that in the morning.
The group looks around again. They’ve got no choice now. Pick a way, any way. Rodney tries his detector again.
“Still nothing. We’re still shielded,” he reports frustratedly as he puts his detector back in its pocket on his tactical vest when what he really wants to do is chuck the stupid thing at the nearest wall. He hates to admit, but it’s kind of his security blanket and no matter how irritating it is to him when circumstances won’t let it work, he’s not going to let go of it.
Their eyes, a colorful assortment of black, grey-green, mahogany, espresso, and blue, look from entryway to entryway to entryway.
“Any ideas, Jackson, on where these lead to,” Sheppard asks.
“I’m not seeing any defining markers,” Daniel answers. Silently hoping that they won’t have to illuminate these tunnel walls or activate anything else with anymore of Ursula’s blood. Even with her recently discovered Ancient ability to heal from incredible wounds at an incredible rate, he doubts she can withstand shedding any more blood without it affecting her.
Ursula walks down the tunnel on the right. The entryway’s only about five feet long and, at her presence, the back wall slides open revealing an Ancient looking hallway. Its walls are grids of large, squared, heavily textured panels. Kenmore casually steps into the pale gray painted hallway and turns right. The entryway door starts to close behind her. Sheppard chases after the Lieutenant and just barely slips through into the Ancient hallway behind her. He looks back at his team and Jackson.
“Split up and go down the other entryways. We’ll—,” the door seals shut in his face, “find each other later.” He finishes. John takes a moment to fume at the closed door, which from this side isn’t stone at all but a regular wall panel like the sort in the Atlantis city hallway that Rodney and Jackson had found Janus’ secret lab at the end of. He wants to hit his forehead against the rough wall texture, divide and conquer without a coordinated plan seldom actually works in the SGC and it’s a crap shoot with the Vegas odds definitely against you here.
Sheppard turns and stalks after Lieutenant Kenmore. Well at least this part is well lit by fist sized, cross cut, egg shaped, frosty white wall sconces hooked at eye level into the half-foot wide square columns stationed every five feet of wall length and the trio of overhead lights set so closely together on the overhead square beams that they look more like one long light instead of three small ones. All of it offering as much light as the Aurora’s virtual world had, it’s nearly blinding… and Kenmore’s healed so he can shoot her for insubordination later when this is all over and before they reach Atlantis, then she can heal from that too and they’ll all go home happy.
The others left behind look at each other then at the remaining two entryways. Again, no choice. Pick. Daniel walks down the one right behind him, the middle one. After five feet, its door opens at his presence. He turns to face Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon, he gestures at the doorway.
“Ladies first,” he offers with a slight tilt of his head.
The trio exchange looks again, but Teyla walks up to Daniel and steps through into the Ancient hallway beyond, feeling a slight sense of trepidation at it. Ever since the discovery of what the Ancients had done to her people, it has become trying for her to step into Ancient locations other than Atlantis. Daniel falls in a step behind her and the pair keep going straight down the empty hallway, it has no wall blocking off their entrance and forcing them to immediately go to the right as Sheppard and Kenmore’s had. Their entryway door closes behind them. Ronon and Rodney look at each other again. Oh great more duo time together, yea. They look at the remaining door.