Faerl watched the scurrying of Brothers within the library from the shadows of the second level. The creation of the Gathering Stone had revolutionised the way the Brotherhood worked, each Brother connecting to a network of information, their knowledge not only shared but filtered and organised. Faerl noted it revitalised the efforts each Brother made. They had a common purpose. Conversations were buzzing, discussing what they had found within the dining halls and meeting areas, yet it wasn’t the search for the link between al-Din’s Priests and the Brotherhood’s use of Harmonics that was on the tip of everyone’s tongues.
Faerl had unleashed every connection he’d had with al-Din’s Priests since escaping the Meil’vohllen. That one man could experience so much captured the imagination of the younger Brothers. Some began to idolise him. They started whispered conversations as he entered the room, glancing secretively from the shadows, but Faerl was afraid that the wonder of these encounters would overshadow their task of discovering the truth of what lay hidden within the Harmonics within the Brotherhood fortress.
Thankfully, those older and less susceptible to influence kept the Adepts and Apprentices in check. They were not enamoured with Faerl’s prowess, though Faerl certainly sensed their respect. They, too, realised the importance of such a search, and nodded to Faerl as he passed them by, a silent thanks for giving them purpose, yet it would all be for nothing if no link could be found.
The Gathering Stone floated above the lower level of the library, its warm glow washing over the faces of those connected, their minds entwined as it searched their memories for what they discovered in the library’s Harmonics and took from them what it needed. There was a constant flow of hands brushing its surface, and this had not lessened since the day the stone was forged.
“You look worried,” Kyosti said as he approached from the dark. Faerl turned and smiled, welcoming Kyosti to share his place upon the balcony, then regarded those surrounding the Gathering Stone below.
“There’s still something missing. A question that hasn’t been asked.”
“You must have patience,” Kyosti counselled. “It will take some time for the entire enclave to become familiar with what you experienced. No doubt each of our members will take the search in a new direction. Answers will slowly form. I must confess. I spend rather a long time within the Gathering Stone in the early hours when no one is around. Some of what you saw is quite intriguing.”
Faerl looked at the old Guardian and raised an eyebrow. Kyosti laughed.
“Yes. Even I have been caught up in the wave of desire to experience what you did, but I have been lost in the moment you shattered the foundations of the River Stone. All other moments of power you endured can be explained, but that was beyond anything I thought possible.”
Faerl nodded. “That’s the moment that made me return; the sensation that something lay hidden, something far more powerful than we ever knew, and it’s buried within the Brotherhood fortress, either in memory or physical form.”
As Faerl fell silent, he sensed Kyosti staring intently at him.
“That’s not all you fear, is it?”
Faerl sighed. His true thoughts called out for Baeta, of the unintended question he let slip into the Gathering Stone of her resurrection and inclusion within the Brotherhood ranks. Yet he was not ready to share those thoughts, even with the man he trusted most within these walls.
“There are gaps within the Harmonics,” he said in honesty’s stead. “I’ve let my mind drift upon the threads left by those offering answers. Some have discovered old stones pertaining to the Brotherhood’s early days, but the threads end like they’ve been cut, with all memory purged, their meaning lost in the darkness. The Gathering Stone cannot draw conclusions, so it lets them float free, unable to connect them with any other thought.”
“You must not forget, it is the nature of this stone to search for answers, but also to discover questions we have not thought to ask. These gaps you’ve found – if indeed they do linger – if, over time, no link can be found, then we may have cause to discover what memories were taken, what significance that theft may hold, and who stole them.”
“We must be careful in challenging Veikko,” Faerl warned.
“Veikko may not be the one responsible. I fear there were others on darker paths before he rose to power.”
Kyosti clasped Faerl’s shoulder.
“Come with me. You’ve been buried within the library for too long. It’s time you discovered what else lies within the Fortress of the Brotherhood.”
Veikko stared venomously from the upper reaches of the library as Kyosti and Faerl walked away. He’d watched them get closer, believing Kyosti would have insight into Faerl’s true intent. Yet he’d felt the release of Faerl’s fears about Baeta, and Veikko had done all he could to hide those threads within the Gathering Stone until he deemed it time to rid himself of the witch. He was tired of living under her shadow, but until the Gathering Stone discovered the Priests of al-Din’s true involvement with Harmonics, he was forced to manoeuvre from beneath her withered thumb. His skin crawled at the thought of her, then he heard her soft footsteps approach.
“Faerl was gracious enough to relinquish any claim over your leadership,” Baeta whispered from the shadowy path behind him. “But don’t believe for a second those beneath you won’t undermine you when the time comes.”
He spun to face her.
“Leave your threats behind, witch. I’m under no illusion as to Kyosti’s collusion with that boy, but I have far less to lose than you when Faerl discovers the truth.”
“Only if you let him take command,” Baeta spat in return. “A point I will not allow while you have breath, but I’m willing to make sacrifices.”
Veikko stared into her sunken eyes. He could attempt to kill her. He wasn’t sure if she could die once more, but it might be worth trying, even for his own satisfaction.
“I have seen his connection to the Priests of al-Din,” he hissed. “I do not doubt his call, but I am beginning to lose my trust in yours. Harmonics don’t lie. That is a point you should well remember.”
He sneered as he saw Baeta’s frustration build, but she had nothing more to say. Veikko turned and left her broken body in the darkness to seek Hannes’ counsel. He had remained searching the Harmonic Stones in Veikko’s private chamber – those the Brotherhood leader kept hidden for his own need.
Faerl followed Kyosti toward the library’s upper reaches. As they slowly ascended, Faerl saw levels full of Harmonics Stones he desperately wished to feel. When they were roughly mid-way, Kyosti veered from the main cavern and entered a dark tunnel that burrowed deep within the Meil’vohllen. The path felt isolated, yet it was well travelled, judging by the worn stone underfoot. The light from their small firelight struggled in the darkness until, as they turned a sharp left-hand corner, Faerl saw Jaasko waiting for them with a larger blue firelight hovering above his head.
Beyond him stood a heavy stone door. Inscriptions flowed through it, carved within the rock and filled with clear, blue ice. They rippled beneath the light, coming alive as Faerl approached. He couldn’t read them, yet the hairs on his neck stood tall, and he traced his finger along the lines of an inscription until it met the cavern wall. He squinted, for through the ice covering the tunnel, he caught a glimpse of the inscription continuing deeper into the mountain.
“We’re alone for now,” he heard Jaasko whisper to Kyosti. “Another run won’t begin for a few days, though with the insight the Gathering Stone is creating, they may see the need to increase their schedule.”
Faerl turned to see Kyosti pull a large, iron key from his red cloak and carefully insert it into the lock in the door. A boom echoed throughout the tunnel as the lock gave way. Kyosti opened the great door with a delicate touch, and it swung open as though it was made of light resin.
Jaasko’s firelight lit a large cavern. Different from everything Faerl had seen within the fortress so far, this seemed naturally formed, rent between towering slabs of stone, the framework of the mountain. He caught reflections sparkling intermittently from the cliffs and rock beds as they entered, shining within the dark stone that pierced through the ice.
“We call this the Hall of Creation,” Kyosti said, moving to Faerl’s side. “A rather grand name for a cavern full of rocks.”
Faerl turned, expecting to see humour written across his teacher’s face, but Kyosti was staring in awe at the sight before them.
“It is from this cavern that all our Harmonic Stones are cut.”
Faerl stared around him in wonder. Jaasko let the firelight ignite even brighter. In the distance, Faerl caught sight of another, even bigger cavern, stretch into the shadows.
“How far does it lead?”
“Beyond that cavern lies another,” Jaasko said, looking into the darkness. “The way forward is then barred by two sheer walls of Harmonic Stone. No one knows what lies beyond, but it will be generations before these caverns become barren.”
Faerl reached for a claw of rock rising from the cavern floor but stopped just before his fingers brushed the surface.
“Why did you bring me here?”
He noticed Jaasko’s uncomfortable glance at Kyosti, who nodded in return.
“Tell him what you told me,” Kyosti gently said. Faerl looked at Jaasko, who was obviously still in doubt as to Faerl’s desire to hear anything he had to say.
“Ever since I was taken,” Jaasko began, “I’ve thought of the Brotherhood’s purpose. What is it we’re meant to do? Then I began thinking, how did we become what we became?” He gestured to the cave around them. “How did all of this get discovered?”
“That’s what I’ve returned to find out,” Faerl said, but Kyosti silenced him with a subtle lift of his hand. Confused, Faerl stood aside as Jaasko approached and placed his palm against the great wall of Harmonic Stone.
“I used to come here, when all was quiet, and I would place my hand like this upon the stone. I thought that something must have drawn the original Brothers here; something so strong they could feel it within the Meil’vohllen. Great caverns of Harmonics acting like a beacon, drawing our kind to its call.”
Jaasko stood, staring into the upper reaches of the cave.
“At first I felt nothing. You couldn’t imagine the disappointment. All this power at my fingertips, yet I couldn’t even breach the surface. But I didn’t give up. Every chance I had, I came here, hoping to find a way through, to feel the mountain breathe.”
Faerl caught Kyosti’s curious stare at his young charge.
“I don’t know what changed on the road from Johsala,” Jaasko continued, “but when I returned, perhaps I’d learned to calm my mind, for the surface Harmonics of the stone had softened. Just a little, but it was enough to feel something vast beyond.”
Jaasko stepped away from the cavern wall.
“I’ve gone as deep as I can with what time I’ve been given, but this is a search destined for a greater gift than mine. If you’re questioning how the fortress was created, these caverns may hold some answers.”
Faerl stepped close to the cavern wall but refrained from touching it.
“Why haven’t you added this thought to the Gathering Stone?”
Jaasko laughed. “Because I trust my own judgement, not Veikko’s. If there is power coursing through the walls surrounding our fortress, I believe it would be a dangerous thing to let curious but uncontrolled minds attempt to manipulate the power of its weave.”
Faerl glanced at Kyosti, who raised his brow as if to say Jaasko had a point. Faerl smiled, intrigued to feel what Jaasko felt.
“I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
He gestured for Kyosti and Jaasko to stand back. With a deep breath, he calmed his thoughts. Like he had done within the training room of the Brotherhood library, Faerl opened his mind to whatever lay beyond, and placed his hands on the core of the mountain.
At first, he felt exactly what Jaasko had described. An impregnable exterior wall, its surface lost in shadows that disappeared in every direction. Searching for that distinct hum of the correct harmonic weave, Faerl took another breath, but for a while he couldn’t connect. It felt confused, busy, full of screams when all he sought was a whisper. Then he realised why Jaasko had failed.
Each stone cut from this mountain bore a single harmonic resonance, ready to be infused with memory or thought. Yet, before Faerl stood a great wall interwoven with pure, uncut stone, linked together by a thousand weaves, impenetrable and strong. There was pattern, design, and he almost broke his connection at the realisation: This has been forged. This entire cavern was constructed for a purpose.
He let his mind drift. His conscious extended beyond what he could see. He felt the caves beyond, the Harmonics weaving between rocks like water slipping through cracks. It extended deep into the mountain, curving around the fortress, but never too far away. Yet it wasn’t until he cast his mind in the other direction that his interest was truly piqued. As the great walls of Harmonic Stone ended, Faerl felt subtle threads continue on, masked by the thousand others that weaved the protective layer of the Creation Hall. He felt the inscriptions carved through the door, but as he got close his mind shrank back in fear, for a piercing roar echoed through the stone. Faerl backed away, sending what thought he could along the lines either side of the stone door, but he couldn’t get close without engaging whatever power had been inlaid. He calmed his mind and released himself from the weave.
Jaasko rushed forward to help lift him to his feet. When he regained his strength, Faerl turned to face the man who had once tried to kill Baeta.
“You were right to bring me here, Brother,” he said, exhausted. “I fear this fortress was not found by chance. There are protective spells cast within the stone.”
He looked at the door, trying to remember exactly what he’d sensed within the inscriptions’ call. “I’ve felt that power before, upon the walls concealing the grave of Nasir al-Din, and in the foundations of the River Stone before Ohrl and I tore it apart. That is the power of the Priests, there can be no doubt, but the question is: what does it protect? And how deep does it run?”
Grave concern crossed Kyosti’s face.
“I would advise against revealing what you have discovered until you know more,” Kyosti said, “for there are deeper, and certainly many more forgotten places than this hidden within the fortress walls.”
Faerl stood before the Brotherhood Guardian and grasped his shoulder.
“Then show them to me. Show me everything you can.”
Kyosti led them back to the main cavern. Faerl was discouraged by the numbers of men hurrying through the halls, for he wished to continue this search unseen. They could return at night when most others were asleep, but he knew Jaasko and Kyosti’s company attracted no suspicion during what constituted for the day. Unlike sneaking around at night, it revealed no indication of their intent.
Faerl stopped as they passed the great double door leading to the lower level of the library. His halt was so sudden that Jaasko had to reach out and grab Kyosti by his robe.
“What is it?” Kyosti asked, looking at the door. “You see this every day, and our intended path lies well beyond these most common of grounds.”
“Yes, and every day since I first saw it, it has intrigued me beyond compare.”
Faerl looked at the intricate inscriptions and depictions carved into the door’s surface. He stepped forward for a closer look, but it swung open as a Brother and his Apprentice strode through. Startled to see them, the Brother bowed to Kyosti, then bowed even lower when he saw Faerl. Faerl watched them back away and scurry through the tunnel, before turning once more to face the door.
“Nothing is here by chance,” he murmured to himself, then ushered them both forward.
Kyosti led them deeper into the mountain, down dark stairwells that were treacherously iced over.
“These are definitely not commonly trod paths,” Faerl whispered, afraid his voice would carry beyond Kyosti’s ears.
“Alas, this pathway should be the most magnificent and respected of them all,” he heard Kyosti’s mournful reply. “Yet we should be thankful we do not walk this way more often.”
Unsure of Kyosti’s meaning, he followed the old man in silence, twisting and descending through tunnels and stairs. A stone arch marked the descent of another staircase, and Faerl glimpsed inscriptions carved deep within, yet the cavern wall surrounding it had almost grown over. He reached out, but the screams of the Priests’ power caused him to flinch back. He felt their echo continue all around him, and he felt fear as they breached the alcove to descend even deeper into the mountain.
They came at last to a large, constructed cave. Hollowed domes of twisted stone rose above them, reminding Faerl of the interior of Sattah’s palace, and the magnificence of Hab’yad Gasir, the Temple of Origins in Sira’an where he had first felt the power of Firas’ call.
On the ground below, nine solemn stone mounds lay in neat rows across the floor. Some were lit by tiny firelights captured within the stone, others, further back and larger than those closest, lay dark and forgotten. One remained with its firelight free, and as Faerl stepped closer he gasped as he saw the face of a man consumed by the stone.
“These are the graves of the Brotherhood leaders,” Kyosti said, coming to stand before the light of the uncovered grave. Faerl stepped forward and examined the man covered in stone lying at his feet.
“You leave them here? Like that?”
“Each man is lain down by the leader who follows. Following strict ritual, the stone reclaims them. By a power beyond any of us, it grows around them, consuming first their bodies then their light, until one day all but their souls are contained in the darkness.”
Faerl looked toward the tombs at the back of the cavern.
“They were the first to be buried,” Kyosti continued, “from the very earliest of our leaders; a grave marked Ahkonnen, though it is unsure when this ritual began. Before you lies Taavetti, Veikko’s predecessor, the last leader I truly trusted.”
Faerl bent down to examine Taavetti. His face was barely encased, his features almost real despite being cast in stone. He lay naked, his manhood small and unimposing, then Faerl caught sight of something clutched beneath his hands, held against his chest.
“What are we but vessels for memory and thought?” Kyosti replied. “He holds his personal diary. Each man is buried with their memories, be they Leader or Apprentice, for it is a stone meant only for them, a stone no other can perceive.”
Faerl rose to face Jaasko.
“And yet one such stone was corrupted to lure me from my home. One such stone that you thought was yours alone.”
Jaasko’s eyes narrowed at the reminder.
“My personal diary stone. You touched it when you fell. Veikko?”
“Yes,” Faerl said, stepping back to look down at Taavetti. “Somehow he’s managed to find a way through each of your signatures. I felt it when I cast the last barrier around the Gathering Stone. He looks to discover who among you he can trust, but if he can unlock the Harmonics….”
Faerl knelt before Taavetti’s firelight and reached out to touch Taavetti’s diary stone, but Kyosti gripped his shoulder and held him back.
“What are you doing? These graves are sacrosanct. You mustn’t touch them.”
“I fear the sanctity of these graves may already have been broken.” He shook loose from Kyosti’s grip and placed his palm over Taavetti’s cold hands. He felt the weave of something wondrous, a light rising from the darkness. The stone was slowly consuming Taavetti’s Harmonics, returning them to the mountain. Faerl almost wept as he felt its power, but he turned from the vibrant Harmonics to the lifeless rock grasped within Taavetti’s hands.
“There’s nothing there,” he whispered, and released himself from the Harmonic weave. He looked at Kyosti. “Taavetti’s diary stone. This is not it.”
“That cannot be,” Kyosti cried. “You must be mistaken.”
Faerl shook his head. “I have felt the signatures of all the Brotherhood members. I know the weave of a diary stone, even one corrupted, but the stone that lies within Taavetti’s grasp is no more than a common rock. It has no life of its own.”
Kyosti stumbled and leaned heavily against Taavetti’s tomb.
“Veikko’s treachery goes too far,” he whispered. “He must be made to face this charge.”
Faerl looked at the other graves, each grown over far deeper than Taavetti’s.
“It may not be the only perversion he’s committed. It’s obvious Veikko cares nothing for the dead, but he may for the memories they kept. I’m sorry, Guardian Kyosti, but we should check the other graves. Taavetti’s stone may not be the only one Veikko has claimed.”