Cheochis, Master of the Cyrtian Order, was getting old. Too old to contend with Olgath’s growing paranoia. Paranoia was a sign of senility and madness, not of strength or confidence. The Master’s reaction to the prophecy had added even more proof that he was losing his mind. Never before in the history of the Ring had any Master dared to call for the death of any child simply because they were prophesied to be the end of all he held dear.
Prophecies were always so vague. They never made a point to explain how everything was going to end, they only spoke of an end. Personally, he hoped that all attempts would fail. What was going on needed to end. The madness. The schism. The evil being born in the form of the Inquisition.
He had lost a son to the Inquisition, as had many of the Ring. He had been robbed of his heir. He could remember how, when Golmagug rebelled, his eldest had rejected Gol’s message but his youngest had been completely enamored with the charismatic demi-mage. His youngest had become so enamored with Gol that he killed his brother and the rightful heir to the Mastership of the Cyrtian Order.
This grievous act had been reason enough to banish the youth from the Order. He had known then that he should have executed the boy, but he had shown his son mercy. He knew now that he had made a mistake. The boy now posed a threat.
Still, he knew that his line was to come to an end. It had been prophesied at the birth of his eldest. Cheocheopsin would send a red-haired, black-eyed child whose life would be bound by a spell. They would free him from his prison and he would take his place as Master of the Order.
By the gods, he felt old. And why not? At nine hundred, he had led the Cyrtians since shortly after their reign as Kings over these lands. He had been a mere four hundred at the time of the wars against the gods. He had sided with the gods, as had many of those who’d comprised of the original Dark Ring, only to be defeated and relegated to being just a mage—no longer a part of the nobility. But as Master of his Order, he was still nobility. He was like a king, the only difference was that his rulership was a lot smaller.
The Forbidden Ring’s cities were near the center of the four lands. Unlike their counterparts in the Dark Ring, they had very few tribesmen left outside the Renge. Some had even been native to the four lands, having ruled them before the invasions. Their central location put them within easy striking distance of the Inquisition, thus putting them in harm’s way.
And the Inquisition would soon be expanding its lands. This concerned all within the Ring. Elesvere Wulfsbane, Master of the Lykoi Order, knew his city was the closest to the newly christened Valthrid. His Order would be the first to be attacked and wiped out.
He was interested in the proposed move. For too long, they had simply done as the Master of the Dark Ring desired. They had killed for him, lied for him, committed theft for him—all in hopes of being allowed back into the Dark ring. Now, they were no longer interested in the Ring. They were free to do as they pleased, without much interference from any “Master”. The Dark Ring had been wrong to raise someone not from the Orders to the status of Master. They had been even more wrong when they ratified the rules that gave the Master all their power.
It had destroyed the very reason the Ring had been formed. He remembered the original purpose. It had been to unify the peoples of the Renge through unifying their mage orders. Each order represented an ethnic group. All but one ethnic group had been included, the Assassinidii, who had been thought to be extinct. But Elesvere knew that they still existed. He often communed with them.
He shook his lupine head. The Lykoi were one of three Orders of shapeshifters. Better known as the Order of the Wolf, they lived up to their names. The full moon marked their most loved festival, the festival of Lykus. But the festival would likely take place elsewhere this season, since they had finally parted ways with Olgath.
Elesvere thought of his old friend Bezreddyn. The bard’s family was now under attack from the Ring’s Master. Not wise to attack the bard’s family. The bard and his progeny were thought to be immortal. If that was so, then the child in question would also be immortal.
A child who belonged to the gods. Healing the lands meant he would bring the gods back. Bringing the gods back meant that everything would return to the way it had been before they left.
Aramathos, leader of the Assassinidii, had heard the rumors of the prophecy. His people would remain neutral and well hidden. They would see where things were going, then choose the side that was best for the Renge. He had no desire to be the killer of a child. Nor did he desire to be hunted by the Inquisition.
With no permanent cities to call attention to themselves, the Assassinidii could easily go unnoticed. Most would swear that they were mythical. It was the best way to keep alive.
He took a deep breath. First, he would help the Forbidden Orders escape to the north. He admired them for their refusal to do Olgath’s bidding. The bad thing was that they had now become targets themselves.
He wondered where they were going to go. They were abandoning their cities near the center of the four lands, leaving centuries of history behind. None of them had mentioned an exact spot they wanted to go. They had just mentioned heading north.
So north it was. But where? The Lands of Mist? The realm of the Ice Queen?