* * *
“Seek not roads well traveled.”
Octavius leaned back and regarded the young man standing at his desk. The cave was dark, absent of light, except by candles.
The young man cleared his throat. “Did you hear me, Octavius?”
Octavius leaned forward, steepling his gnarled fingers. “I heard you Rashid.”
“And your response?” Rashid prodded.
“I’m ascertaining if you truly comprehend my response and the ramifications.”
Rashid bowed deeply at the waist. “I’m ready, Master.”
Octavius picked up a crooked staff leaning against his desk. He leaned against it as he rose, and stroked his long white beard with his free hand. “Very well.”
Rashid stood to his full height, shoulders squared, head held high.
“Seek paths left untraveled, my son.”
A fragment of metal tied to the top of the staff gleamed in the dim torchlight. A ring worn by Rashid matched both the metal’s consistency and brilliance. He cried out as the intensity overcame him. Dropping to his knees, he grasped his ringed hand by the wrist, tears streaming. He continued to hold his hand firm until the ritual was complete. “Master…” He wept, cradling his agony close to his chest.
Rashid witnessed sadness in Octavius’ eyes. Octavius watched as his pupil writhed on the stone floor. He watched in disbelief as Rashid gripped the gleaming metal between his teeth and slid it off his finger. Once freed from flesh, the ring struck the cave floor and bounced twice before resting – dull and tarnished brass.
Octavius sunk to his chair. “Great Goddess, I feared this result,” he said quietly.
Rashid looked up, his bloodshot eyes pleading. “Master, I…”
Octavius sighed. “You are no longer my ward, Rashid.” Octavius’ eyes focused on the spots on the ground where the ring bounced. Each spot had transformed from solid rock to lifeless sand. Rashid followed his former Master’s gaze and followed it to the ring. He reached for it.
“Stop!” bellowed Octavius.
Rashid froze, mid reach. His heart raced and he felt a shiver. He looked to Octavius and saw anger for the first time in the twenty years he had studied with him.
“You were well aware of the ritual.” Octavius rose, quicker than the time previous. “It was crucial it be allowed to complete.” His voice softened. “You are no longer of the brotherhood.” Octavius touched the metal of his staff to the sandy spots and they reverted to rock. “May the Goddess, Kanoni, watch over you in your future endeavors.”