Chapter Four

 

          Winter had long since given way to spring in the city of Burdynn. It lay north-west of Brúnn, at the foot of the Haeringr Ranges, marking the northern entrance of the Haeringr Pass. It was much larger than the mountain city, being accessible all year round as long as the roads remained clear of snow during the harsh winter months. It was also far older than Brúnn. For many years the Haeringr was thought impassable, and for those on the northern side of the mountains, Burdynn was the southern most city. Now a strong trading community, it was first established as an important defensive stronghold due to the mountains guarding its rear.

          Unlike Brúnn, whose architecture mirrored the jutting walls of the rock it clung to, Burdynn was a ramshackle spread of low level houses and businesses. It spilled from the mountainside, an avalanche of thatched roofs and market places, and for the past two weeks people from all over upper Hejveld had poured through the city gates, as passage through the Haeringr to Brúnn and Hastunnd finally became accessible.

          Amongst the throng of newcomers strode two heavily cloaked men. No one saw their faces, for they were hidden deep within the shadows of their fur hoods. Their coats were made from white wolf skin from the far northern reaches, their boots scuffed and weary from many days of hard travelling.

          The men quietly enquired about accommodation and found a small shelter, hidden away in a back alley near the old town centre. The owner did not ask any questions of his newest guests, they were welcome to come and go as they pleased, no one would bother them. This was exactly what the two men required, the less attention they drew to themselves the better.

          Inside, the younger of the men let his rucksack fall clumsily against the wall of the dimly lit bedroom, then collapsed onto the feather down bed behind the door.

          “Mind that sack, Jaasko,” the older man scolded him, but Jaasko was almost too tired to care for its contents. His muffled response came as he spoke directly into the pillow.

          “Brother Sakkari, that sack has been bumped and jostled for the last two days on the trails to this backward little village. If they have not already been broken, then they’re indestructible, unlike my body.”

           Jaasko groaned as he turned to lie on his back.

          “I am beginning to lose faith in what we seek, Brother Sakkari. Not one soul we have reached out to seems to possess the skill, or understanding, that Veikko spoke of so surely. We have searched half of this country, and I grow tired of our failures. I begin to wonder at the accuracy of our leader’s visions, though Veikko did not tell us in any clarity what signs we seek.”

          Jaasko felt Sakkari loom over him, his colleague’s figure a dark silhouette against the firelight.

         “Do not question Veikko,” came Sakkari’s low growl. “You are young in this order, Brother Jaasko, so I give you this advice but once. Veikko has brought our kind from nothing into greatness. By his strength alone we rose from the ashes into a power this world has yet to understand. Under his guidance, the Brotherhood will be a dominant force once more.”

          Jaasko shifted nervously on his bed. He sat upright, pressing his back as far as humanly possible against the wall, away from Sakkari. He knew his mentor sensed his discomfort but tried hard not to let it show. Jaasko slowly slid the hood from his head, revealing cold blue eyes, like those of the wolf whose pelt they wore, the mark of their kind. He looked up to meet Sakkari’s equally cold stare.

          “Do not question Veikko,” Sakkari repeated. “Do not question his visions. He has a power over the stones that none of our brethren possess.”

          Jaasko shifted as Sakkari sat down next to him on the bed.

         “What he has seen will occur. The fact that you do not understand what it is, nor what it means, does not equate to it not becoming a reality. We must have faith my brother, we must have faith.”

          Jaasko reflected on Sakkari’s words. Though both he and Sakkari were named as Brother, Sakkari was on the verge of becoming Guardian, part of the highest council who stood before Veikko. Jaasko had only recently risen from the rank of Adept. He was merely an apprentice to Sakkari, and knew he had much to learn. There was still turmoil within his heart, marking a dangerous time for any apprentice. Jaasko was proficient in the use of harmonic stones, and the world lay open to him. However, he felt he had no cause to aim for, no direction in which to serve. Jaasko was aware that many students failed at this critical stage. It was the teacher’s obligation to steer them through to the right state of action, to uphold the beliefs of the Brotherhood. Those who had strayed from the directed path were confined and reconditioned.

          Jaasko tried to put all those doubts aside. He reached into the rucksack lying on the floor next to his bed, and felt inside for the smaller of the boxes it carried. Gently resting the box upon a small table next to the bed, Jaasko left Sakkari and moved to sit in the chair beside the table. With his back to the firelight, Jaasko cast a dark shadow over the box as he unclipped the catch. He paused, took a deep breath, then opened the lid.

          The stone inside reflected no light, its coarse unfinished edges feeling rough in his hands. He sensed Sakkari move into the obscurity of the second bed, allowing him time to awaken the stone’s properties. For years, the only training given to young associates was how to unthink, to shed oneself of confusion and replace it with the empty space it left. When Jaasko first began his training, this was an impossible task. He constantly questioned and doubted through the entire process, wanting answers before being ready to receive them. He simply could not wait.

        Sakkari had been patient, assuring him that he would have his answers when he mastered the control of harmonics. Jaasko knew he would have to trust Sakkari, believe that what he told him was true, that to move forward he would have to subdue his own thirst for knowledge.

          Jaasko cleared his mind of all doubts, unburdening his soul from impatience and desire, so he could hear the call of the stone. It wasn’t hearing in the common sense of the word. He felt it, but also in his mind, he saw it. The tiny vibration of sounds interwoven within a moment of time, a detail of history recorded in the very heart of the stone. It took several attempts to feel at peace with this unfamiliar sensation. During his very first instance he lost control as soon as he felt the resonance. Questions of wonder and surprise flooded in, drowning out the sounds with a cacophony of echoes. After a short time, however, Jaasko learned to accept the sensation, allowing it to take him on a journey so that his physical body and mind caused no hindrance to his discoveries.

          The room expanded, sending all knowledge of the bed, the firelight, and especially of Sakkari far away and out of reach, until Jaasko sat alone on his chair. He concentrated on the rhythmic vibrations in time, until the very note he sought sang out. He allowed the movement to wash over him, carrying his mind along its currents until suddenly there was silence.

          Below him, a small pinpoint of light pricked the darkness Jaasko allowed himself to fall, something that had been tricky to master. The sensation caused panic in many students as all of their senses enveloped them unrestrained. He fell toward the light, and let his mind give in. The light loomed closer and brighter until it swallowed him in a blinding flash. When he opened his mind’s eye, he had returned to his family home. He was a child happily playing outside his house. It was the day before he was taken from his family. Something in his psyche needed to relive this moment.

          Jaasko was using the most basic of the harmonic stones, an empty vessel that the Brotherhood used to imprint with their own personal memories. A diary that contained every scrap of information their mind chose to endure. The harmonic signal chosen by the user was unique, a signature of their soul, rendering the stone incomprehensible to any but its creator.

          Jaasko used it for many occasions, to record important events, such as occurrences that he wanted to witness once again, or simply to review the many manuscripts he had read since coming to the Brotherhood.

          This time however, Jaasko dived into its core to discern the source of his troubled thoughts. He allowed his mind to fall where it may, with no direction or coercion, simply letting his subconscious dictate what part of his past needed revisiting. He was disturbed to find that what troubled him lay at his former home.

          As he watched his childhood self play with his friends, Jaasko noticed two men eyeing him closely from the shadows of a dark alleyway. He surged forward in time to find himself, several years older, being led by Sakkari, under the cover of darkness from the family home. Jaasko did not remember his weeping parents. He’d never had the chance to say goodbye, the conviction with which Sakkari urged him from his home he now viewed as a forced eviction. Jaasko had been kidnapped at the age of eight, with the promise of a brand new life. Seventeen years ago he remembered stepping forward with feelings of hope mixed with trepidation, but now he was consumed by an impassioned need to question what the Brotherhood’s motives were.

          It was the same question that had plagued him ever since he’d arrived within the Brotherhood. Suddenly he felt trapped within the stone, unable to seek answers, merely moving alongside his own memory. Panic and desperation set in, and he sought an escape. Focusing on the light of the brightest star, Jaasko disengaged from the stone, and the small room in the dirty city of Burdynn once again became his reality.

         

          The University of Burdynn was one of the oldest in Hejveld. The grounds where the ancient stone building now stood were once an open field where a man, a priest of his day, gathered the townsfolk and talked to those who would listen. The priest did not preach or give lessons, legend says he simply answered questions as he saw fit.

          Many people believed in his words, and a modest stone structure was built to house the increasing number of his followers. The snows of winter did not deter them, so more rooms were built to accommodate them during the harsh winter months.

          Some were transient, however most became permanent residents and remained in Burdynn for a lengthy part of their lives. They all came to hear the words of the priest and in his presence they felt serene. The sensation seemed to permeate from his teachings, but inside his students’ minds he often created more questions than he answered.

        For years the community lived in seclusion between the main town and the mountains but, as they both continued to grow, the community and town inevitably merged, forcing the extra construction of what was now termed a ‘school’ upwards. Then, for reasons known only to him, the priest deserted his students, and wandered deep into the Haeringr Mountains. At that time, there was no path through, Brúnn did not exist, and the southern Hejveld plateau had yet to be explored by those living north of the ranges. The priest had simply walked into the snowy peaks, presumably to his death.        

        This caused an outcry in Burdynn. The students were left leaderless and without hope. Faced with the abandonment of their school, several students who had been close to the priest cautiously came forward, arguing that the basis of his teachings must be kept alive.

         In areas where they felt comfortable, former students began classes of their own. Discussion groups commenced and soon the dynamics of the school exploded into a diverse canopy of ideas. It attracted additional academic scholars from different places in Upper Hejveld; alchemists, biologists, but mostly philosophers, and the University of Burdynn quickly became the place to be for an inquisitive mind.

          The original building in which the priest first began his teachings was quickly engulfed in the belly of new construction. Soon the university itself was swallowed whole by the city’s appetite, its wide girth sprawling over the mountainside. Yet no matter what was happening outside the walls and tall windows, the chaos and mayhem that racked the city of Burdynn never penetrated the original classroom. For centuries it remained a place of solitude, where one was always in control of one’s thoughts.

         

          Except today. Today, Jaasko hoped the peaceful walls of this serene classroom would be shattered to its core. He waited from within the shadows beside Sakkari, watching the old Master shaking as he addressed his class. The students were struck dumb with nervousness, awe and fear. All within these original crumbling walls of stone teetered apprehensively on the edge of their seats, for before them stood two cloaked men, the legendary Brotherhood revealed at last. The professor held up his hands to focus their attention, to gather their wits, but Jaasko could sense the Master’s fear, as though the priest’s walls had finally collapsed, their weight bearing down and crushing any voice the old man could muster. An introduction began, but Sakkari could take the Master’s stammering speech no more.

          “I am here to give you a glimpse of a world far beyond what your teachings here will ever show you,” he interrupted, his voice low and gruff. It was barely a coarse whisper, yet Jaasko sensed everyone in the room heard his words. Sakkari brushed past the Master, stopping to stare him down as he passed. The Master wilted under his gaze, backing away, to sit a broken man in his high-backed wooden chair.

          “Your teacher, Master Vegold, will have told you of the history of the world around you. He will have shown you….” Jaasko looked up as Sakkari paused, as though his next words were toxic in his mouth. “He will have shown you books, describing many events, which I am sure you have studied and learned well.”

          Sakkari did not hide his contempt for this kind of knowledge, or assumptions as he knew it for. Confused, the students were deathly silent, not sure how to take what he was saying.

          “These books were filled by men, who heard stories told by older men; men whose memories were long, but not true. Each recount changed, just a little, but they changed none-the-less, until your inexperienced ears became filled with them and to you it became history.”

          Vegold tried to interject, obviously taken aback at Sakkari’s cynical attack on his classroom, but Sakkari stopped him with a single raised hand before the Master even uttered his first word, and approached a student.

          “Do you know what this is, boy?”

Sakkari placed a dull stone on the student’s desk. Almost forgotten, Jaasko stole further into the shadows and tuned his mind as a ripple of gasps echoed around the room. From the corner of his eye, Jaasko saw that even Vegold had eagerly stood. The student whispered an answer, barely audible yet all the other students repeated it in their minds.

Sakkari leaned in close, whispering only an inch from the boy’s ears.

          “Speak up. Don’t be shy.”

          “It’s… is it a resonance stone, sir?”

         Sakkari squinted, regarding the student for a silent second. Without another word, he turned his back on the student and moved to stand in front of the brown robed Master.

          “Tell me. What is the name of this student?”

          Master Vegold glanced over Sakkari’s shoulder at the alarmed boy, who was wishing he had not been singled out for this scrutiny. “Langdvar. His name is Langdvar.”

          Raising his gravelly voice, Sakkari addressed the boy without turning to face him. “Tell me, Langdvar. How is it that you know of a resonance stone?”

          “Master Vegold has told us of them sir,” came Langdvar’s frightened reply.

          Jaasko stole a quick glance toward Sakkari and Vegold. Sakkari’s eyebrow had risen ever so slightly, his eyes firmly locked on the Master as all remained waiting for Langdvar to elaborate.

          “He told us that the secret of the resonance stones was discovered by men hundreds of years ago. It was a way to embody the stone with the aura of the present day, so that actions and events could somehow be captured within the stone itself.”

          Sakkari looked more intently now at Vegold, gauging the man.

          “And has Master Vegold ever shown you one of these stones? Or has he been telling you stories from long past, now extended far beyond their capacity to be called the truth?”

          “N-no sir,” Langdvar stuttered. “Master Vegold said the secret was lost many generations ago, and that no one knew of them now. He said the resonance stones were the only true way of seeing history, to somehow relive actual events.”

          Hearing hope in Langdvar’s voice, Sakkari spun to face him, almost breaking Jaasko’s concentration.

          “Do you believe him?”

          Langdvar looked ready to say something then stopped, so Sakkari pressed him for an answer.

         “Do you believe your Master?” Sakkari continued, inviting the rest of the class to answer. “Do any of you believe that long ago there was a group of men who could capture the echoes of an event and store them in a lifeless piece of rock? It seems somewhat incredible, something you would hear in folk stories, exaggerated tales that grow bigger and bolder each time they are told.”

          A confused silence swept over the students. Jaasko caught Sakkari’s weary look, once again knowing their search had resulted in absolute failure. Sakkari was about to conclude their session when a timid voice broke the air.

          “I believe.”

          All heads turned to find Langdvar holding the stone in his hands, lifting it toward the window as though he sought to peer inside. He had found his confidence, and when the silence lengthened under the unrelenting stares of Vegold, Sakkari and his classmates, Langdvar continued.

          “I believe that there are secrets out there that we do not understand. I believe that there are better ways to understand this world than just the study of books.”

Jaasko noticed Langdvar’s almost apologetic look at his teacher, and was surprised to see open admiration in the return glance.

          “I believe that there are stones out there,” Langdvar continued, “maybe even this one I hold in my hand that contain certain memories, though I cannot tell you what they are.”

          “There is a difference between believing and knowing,” Sakkari interjected. “Hope and faith do not bring something into being, but they are a start. Tell me, Langdvar. What do you feel when you hold that stone? You are sure that is a resonance stone, yet you have never seen one, and you only hope one actually exists.”

          Jaasko watched Langdvar take the dull stone in his hand. From the outside, there was nothing special about it; it was black, no light passed through it, and to the untrained it would give no sensation of power. Yet through the stone, Jaasko could feel Langdvar’s regret for speaking up, for allowing his peers to look to him for the salvation of their class and their teacher.

          “I believe,” Jaasko heard Langdvar whisper, watching him concentrate hard on the stone. The boy’s eyes had closed, trying to calm his mind in a desperate attempt to shut out those around him. Sweat started to bead on his brow, and Jaasko sensed his breathing had become shallow. Jaasko closed his eyes, tuning himself more acutely to the harmonics of the stone. He searched for any sign of connection to the boy, but all was silent. As Jaasko opened his eyes, he saw Langdvar’s shoulders slump, and with a dejected sigh the boy wearily placed the stone on the table in front of him.

           Feeling a tinge of empathy, Jaasko strode forward to claim the stone. As he neared, he placed a placating hand upon Langdvar’s shoulder. Still hooded, the light bounced off the table, reflecting against Jaasko’s pale white skin with a dim sheen. He stared down with cold, pale blue eyes. In a voice meant only for Langdvar, Jaasko congratulated the young scholar for his efforts.

          “You had belief in something. If you find that you truly know it in your heart, do not waver in this belief. Question it, prove it, argue against it, but always with the idea that it is real.”

          Jaasko rose, leaving Langdvar to ponder this, but his words were a prompt to return to his own harmonic stone, a reminder that he, himself, felt uncomfortable with the world around him.

          As Jaasko straightened he removed his hood, and for the first time addressed the class. They were a captive yet confused audience. Jaasko knew that even Vegold simply had no idea anymore where this lecture was going.

          “My young scholars,” he announced. “The stone that our friend Langdvar here so earnestly believes is a resonance stone is nothing more than a common rock from the northern mountains.”

            A rush of murmurs and disappointed groans erupted from the class.

          “It was, however, interesting that for one moment, one student wholeheartedly believed that such a thing existed. We are not of the legendary Brotherhood, though I am guessing that most of you were guilty of wanting to believe in such a myth.”

          This received more embarrassed laughs, pokes and jibes from the students, some trying to make others believe they had not been duped by the two men.

          “And yet from the part so well played by my friend here,” Jaasko continued, eyeing Sakkari, whose return stare was like a needle penetrating soft skin, “so many of you fed on your fantasies and created the world you saw in front of you, turning an act of hope into reality. We became the infamous Brotherhood you have all heard stories about, this stone became a resonance stone, and somehow the impossible and secret had suddenly come to life.”

Jaasko let this sink in, and the students soon realised they had all been taken for fools.

          “You will always be presented with information, current and historical, perhaps even pre-emptive of the future. Question it. Do not assume it is the truth. At best believe that it will have been based on a truth. Even then, what you assumed was real was not, so therefore what the person told you may also not have been real. Remember, a truth that was real to one person may not be real for you.”

          Jaasko smiled at the pretence of understanding. He then turned to Master Vegold and nodded, acknowledging that they were concluding their visit. Somewhat perplexed, Master Vegold stood, and they were ushered out the door.

         

          It was early afternoon when they left Burdynn’s University gates. The sun was beginning to lower as it slowly waned in strength. The tall tower of the university spire proudly flew the crimson and black flag of Burdynn, its motif a predatory bird in flight, yet the free end was tattered with age and neglect. Snow still rested in the sheltered corners of the rooftops, in those areas the sun never found. Winter’s grasp would hold fast until a full summer’s warmth could offer respite. Yet the two Brotherhood members saw none of this. Sakkari had stormed out of the gloomy university building into the chill spring air, and Jaasko hurriedly followed. Their heads were lowered, hooded once again. They walked close and in silence until they reached their accommodation, at which point Sakkari could no longer hold his frustration in check.

          “Cursed peasants,” he shouted as he slammed the door behind him. “These were once the free thinkers of Hejveld, our one hope in a string of failures. What good came of that? A frightened Master and a young pup, whose failure would have been humiliating if only he had the wit to realise his stupidity.”

          Jaasko unwrapped the harmonic stone that Langdvar had so desperately tried to wield, feeling its power surging through his mind. Though this stone was very restricted, any student with the skills they sought should instantly have perceived its nature.

          “You don’t feel you might have terrorized them into being so afraid of you that any possible perception was shrouded by doubt?” Jaasko asked softly. “I fear Langdvar was the only one with the courage to try.”

Sakkari kicked the small chair in disgust. “Well, if that is the best they can do, then none of them are worthy. Veikko believes the one we seek will be aware of the stone’s power, no matter how we disguise it.”

          Jaasko felt Sakkari’s frustration. Sakkari was chosen among many to lead this journey, charged with finding the source of Veikko’s troubled dreams. If they were to succeed, Sakkari would no doubt secure a place upon Veikko’s council.

          “Maybe we’ll have more luck south of the Oystkrakr,” Jaasko said. The only acknowledgement Sakkari gave was a non-committal grunt. Ignoring his mentor’s foul mood, Jaasko secured the stones, repacked their belongings then eased onto the soft bed and closed his eyes. He let sleep take him, for the next leg of their journey would be even more arduous, high into the mountains, through the Haeringr and then south, via the mountain city of Brúnn.