To the east, Darr of Pixxan stood on the banks of the Great Muddy. In a few days, he would be ushering the Forbidden Ring to the lands they had been promised by the Grey Wolf. The eastern Horse Lords had agreed to give the Forbidden sanctuary and Aiykarrea had become their new home. The least civilized of the Horse Lord kingdoms, Aiykarrea was ruled from the throne at Pixxan. Darr was the commander of the royal cavalry of Aiykarrea, which made him the natural pick to conduct this mission.
His orders had been simple. Remain on the eastern banks of the Great Muddy to prevent the risk of war with the Renge. It was risky enough for the Horse Lords to allow sanctuary to fugitives from the four lands that divided east from west, there could be no other action that could be interpreted as an outward show of hostility.
Behind him, a legion of horse-warriors stood at ready. Their encampment was not far from the river and all he had to do was call for them, his war horn at his right side. At his left hung his massive sword. His compound bow and quiver were slung from his saddle for easy access.
His Aiykarrean horse archers had a reputation still unmatched by any other. They were fearsome in battle. Alongside the mounted pikemen of the Emetian kingdom, they were formidable. Add the regular cavalry, the horse-swords, and they were unstoppable.
But, then, the elven Horse Lords were known for their prowess. The mountain gnomes and goblins were ever their allies, as were gelves, gnelves, and Faerie. Trolls, to a certain extent, also fought alongside the Horse Lords.
There were a few, though, who always fought against them. Red Cap. The Bendith Y Mamaou. The dark elves.
Not every being of the wastes between the kingdoms and the Renge were allies. Some hated both. But it hadn’t been that way in the beginning. Nor had there been a schism between the Horse Lords and the Renge. That had come later, after the gods left.
Banon had called Aramathos to Saradis, his Order’s capital city. The time had come to begin the flight of the Forbidden Ring. It was time for him to reveal to his friend and ally which direction the Ring was going and exactly who was waiting for their arrival. Everything had to begin this night.
He smiled as the Assassinidii entered his Room of Judgment. Aramathos was a tall man, standing well over six feet. Still, Banon was his equal in height. The two had been friends since the founding of the Dark Ring. Banon had fought, unsuccessfully, for the installment of the Assassinidii as members of the Ring. It had been this failure that had shown Banon that his Order, and any that sided with him, would be the next to be expelled.
“How are things?” Banon’s inquiry was simple. “Any news from the west?”
“We will always remain, friend,” came the answer, “As we always have. What they do not see, they do not believe in. Valthrid grows more powerful every day. They are sure to make your deserted cities their own. You know that, don’t you?”
“Aye,” Banon nodded, “but I would rather retreat than to become casualties, fodder for the Inquisition. Our Orders are no longer as powerful as they once were. We have fewer of our own coming every year. Perhaps our peoples are dwindling beyond the borders.”
“I understand,” Aramathos replied, then turned, “what is your plan, brother?”
“The Forbidden will head east,” Banon stated dryly, “and move beyond the Great Muddy. The Horse Lords await us. They have offered us sanctuary in return for our services. Not a bad price to remain free.”
“Not bad at all,” the Assassinidii agreed, “When will we be guiding you?”
“We begin the retreat after dark fall,” Banon averred, “and move only at night.”
“No worry,” returned the Assassinidii, “We can make the distance in a single span of night. We Assassinidii know many secrets to bending time and cutting distances. And we will do so without being seen. Just have your Orders assembled and ready to go. No delays.” He waved a hand to dismiss Banon’s unspoken utterance. “We already know of the habits of Elesvere and his Order. Make it clear that they need to be both on time and present. All duties need to be done during daylight. No exceptions. We have only one shot at this.”
Banon nodded. That was the terms, then. He had to make sure that the shapeshifters were on time and all their rituals, rites, and duties were done before nightfall. He sighed. No help for it, he had to call the Ring together.
He bowed to his guest, dismissing him. The Assassinidii bowed in return, then turned and walked from the chambers. The meeting was over. He turned his attention to the task handed to him.
Walking to the gazing pool, he readied himself for the task. He closed his eyes and cleared his mind. He linked mentally to each of the Forbidden Masters. It was time to meet.
Bezreddyn had been warned by Zarange of Olgath’s treachery. The Master’s attempts to secure an assassin that would kill a child had failed miserably and Olgath had begun to arrange for the Inquisition to make examples of those who’d refused his demands. Yet, everything seemed to be falling apart for the Master of the Dark Ring.
The days after Bez had left the city of the prophets, the city had vanished. The prophets, knowing that the newest prophecies would enrage Olgath, had already decided to remove themselves from the lands. Where they had gone, city and all, was anyone’s guess. Most of the denizens of the Renge could care less. They knew very little about the city of prophets and most of them feared the prophets themselves.
With the prophets gone, there was no one who would guide the people except the Rings. Rumors had it that the White and the Forbidden Rings were both leaving the Renge as well. But rumors were rarely true, except when it dealt with the Forbidden Ring. These outlawed Orders had been the first people Olgath had demanded destroy an unborn child. When they refused, he grew enraged with them. Now, they were targets of the Inquisition and their cities a reward for their deaths.
But the White Ring had never before left the Renge. They had been the ones who’d rescued the Renge in the past. But this was now. Would they really abandon the people?