The world was falling apart. For over half a century, Eriston's rulers had been decimating any semblance of balance Verdan had once maintained. To those not in the Fatanen High Royals’ inner circle, it seemed to come out of nowhere. The genocide of the Uialien of Aliudea was the first major blow. In the course of only a few hours, an entire race had been wiped out with only one known survivor, a half-Edhel half-Uialie named Nieri Mahtar. Neither she nor any outsiders understood how something like that could happen, and even fewer seemed to have any idea of why it had been done, but everyone seemed to understand that war had been declared. The Edhil of Inen were called to battle against the Fatanen of Eriston. After all, the Uialien had been their closest allies. War was waged on the high seas of Verdan, through the ruins of Aliudea, and even on the coasts of Eriston itself. Neither side could truly gain the upper hand with each winning battles here and there and each suffering both major and minor losses of manpower and supplies. After a while, this stalemate seemed to cause the battles to become less frequent. Perhaps that gave the Fatanen the time they needed to rebuild their military might because just twenty-nine years after the fall of Aliudea, many Nogyth traveled far from their mountain ranges to seek refuge in Inen, the land of the Edhil. Eriston's army had destroyed their numbers and had driven them from their homes. This time, the reason behind the attack survived with the Nogyth. The rulers of Eriston sought an artifact that was little more than a myth to the people of Verdan: the Bracelet of Lim. Unfortunately, it was no longer just a myth because the High Royals were confirmed to be in possession of its twin, the Bracelet of Duath. With such a powerful artifact, it was no wonder the Uialien were so quickly defeated, and it made sense why the Nogyth could not protect the Stegros mountain ranges from invaders. With this newfound knowledge, the Edhil formed a Resistance against the Fatanen, and people of all races and nationalities were recruited. Groups were sent to recover slaves and servants from Eriston, to liberate them from their unfortunate lives. Spies were also sent to Eriston in the hopes of learning more about the Bracelets. It was in these ways that Uialien survivors were found, hundreds of them locked away or forced into unjust labor. Unfortunately, there were too few survivors to ever truly rebuild the lost race, but finding even that many survivors gave people hope for Verdan’s future. That hope strengthened just a little when the Fatanen discovered what was likely to be the true location of Lim’s Bracelet. The spies situated by the Edhil paid off, and the information was leaked to the leaders of Inen. If the Edhil Resistance could get to the Bracelet before the Fatanen, it was believed that the war could finally come to an end and Verdan could be restored to the peace it had once maintained. Nieri Mahtar – Edhil Resistance Nieri Mahtar's dark, changeling eyes peered at the ornate, double doors ahead of her. This was the first time she'd entered the Council Building on Enya Tol since she was recovered from Eriston by the Resistance. They'd wanted information, but all she could give them was relief that she had not spilled any of Inen's or the Resistance’s secrets. She shook the memories of that disappointing encounter from her mind, focusing on the here and the now. She approached those doors, admiring, not for the first time, the swirling metal work that looked so delicate but had withstood many Edhil generations coming and going. Two guards stood before the entrance. The female with the red-toned skin and ebony hair took one step forward. “State your business.” She said very formally but in the Common Tongue. Many would be arriving who did not speak the Edhil tongue. Nieri produced a letter from her pocket and presented it to the guard. The woman took it, her black eyes reading over the message within. Two weeks prior to this day, a message had trickled through the populations, both native and refugee, of Inen. The Council of Four was looking to recruit a group that would serve a specific, albeit undisclosed, reason. Applicants should be ready to travel a great distance and be skilled in whatever class they chose to study. The group would be provided with currency and supplies for the journey. Those chosen would also be compensated handsomely, half before they left and half upon their return. There were many rumors about what the journey would entail. Some believed the task would be to assassinate the High King of Eriston himself. Others thought that the Council had some gambit up their sleeve to do to the Fatanen what had been done to the Uialien and the Nogyth. Others believed the Bracelet of Lim had been discovered and needed to be claimed by the Edhil before the Fatanen. Many of these rumors were fanciful with only a few seeming realistic to Nieri, so she paid the call no heed. At least she’d tried to ignore it. The same day the request for applicants went out, her handler came to her and told her she needed to apply. The Council had requested her specifically due to the importance of the quest. She hadn't wanted to stop the missions to rescue people from Eriston, but while she wasn't told exactly what she would be doing, she had been told it would end the war, so she applied. One week later, she'd received a letter requesting her presence at the Council Building where she would be informed of her new mission. It had been signed by all four Councilors and stamped with the five seals of Inen. The guardswoman at the entrance returned Nieri's letter. “All weapons and imbued items not used specifically for life-support must be left here.” The Edhel said, motioning toward an empty table. “I brought neither.” She said. Having been through this before, she understood the rules. The doors slowly swung open to allow her passage. If she had lied, an invisible barrier would have prevented her from stepping over the threshold, but she'd spoken truly, and she moved without difficulty into the building. There was a long hallway with elegant décor lining the walls along with tasteful portraits of previous Councilors. Eventually, the corridor ended in another door that had been left open to reveal the main room in which meetings were held. It was large enough to accommodate many emissaries from other nations and the parties they would have brought with them, but today it was empty save for the Four who sat at the end of a large, ovular table. All of them maintained a youthful glow of health that belied their advanced ages, but one could not ignore the wisdom revealed in their eyes. Not for the first time, Nieri was reminded of the ever changing seasons when she gazed at them. Councilor Glivalwen was like spring with her pink-toned skin, pale green eyes, and violet hair. Councilor Nesteron was like summer with his sun-kissed skin, deep blue gaze, and grassy green hair. Councilor Anarwen was autumn with a head full of fiery hair, blazing amber eyes, and rich brown skin. Councilor Berianir was winter with his snow-white hair, skin as dark as the bottom of a frozen lake, and eyes so pale they seemed to lack irises at all. Nieri could only imagine the fear Fatanen must feel when they looked into his eyes on the battle field, but she held no such feeling when face to face with him. He was her ally, after all. “Nieri of House Mahtar.” Councilor Anarwen spoke, and her voice was as smooth and as rich as her skin. “We welcome you to our table once more.” Nieri took her place on the opposite side of the table to the Councilors, and Councilor Nesteron made his voice known. “When the others have arrived, we will divulge the purpose of this meeting and the plans for the success of your journey.” Zora Gavros – Fatanen Rule For twenty-three years, life had not granted Zora Gavros the opportunity to relax and to be the woman she felt she was inside. Her purpose had always become the single most important thing about her, and she was the only one who knew about it. She had had to present a façade to the world, one in which she was completely loyal to the High King of Eriston and his goals, one in which she cared not for the suffering of anyone considered lesser. Even if she did not participate in the brutality herself, her smoke screen demanded she do nothing to ease it, either. Many people found her cold and calculating when first met with her quiet, calculating gaze, but she had no other way to cope with the constant necessity to play at pretending she hadn't been raised by mutts as anyone with Calva blood tainting their Fatan heritage was called. None could know that her blood was not pure-Fatan, that she loathed the High King even as she answered the call to warm his bed. It was the position she had placed herself in to further her goals. Simply being a skilled Nestad employed by the High Royals had not been enough. She had needed to find a way into the inner circle where she could advise the King, where she could subtly place ideas in his head, where she could find a way to relieve him of the Bracelet of Duath. Apparently, he had a taste for strong women, and it had been easy to offer him warmth during those cold nights where she could help him unwind after those stressful days of ruling. In the beginning, it had been internally difficult to feign romantic interest in a man she could scarcely bring herself to like. Even more difficult had been allowing herself to be taken by him sexually, but she had done it, and it had been surprisingly easy to sway him if not herself. Eventually, she'd learned to shut down those parts of her mind that whispered self-loathing when she was alone, the parts that twisted her stomach into knots whenever he touched her. Now, she completed the tasks with ease, and she knew the King enjoyed the fact that while she seemed so cold and closed off to others, in private with him, she was warm and inviting. She considered her part well played as a result. None of it truly mattered in the grand scheme of things. All that mattered was doing what the Varnegwaith of old had failed to do. She must take the Bracelet of Duath and hide it where no one could ever find it again. But the question of how to get the Bracelet away from Dwennon in the first place had plagued her for the better part of two decades. The man never removed the thing from his wrist, even to sleep or bathe. He was also a damnably light sleeper, ever alert, ever paranoid. It was almost as if he knew someone would try to take it from him as had been done to Duath himself in the old myths. She'd considered maiming him, severing his arm from his body and running off with the Bracelet that way, but she was no Pildae, and she knew she wouldn't get far before she was captured and executed. Then what good would her effort have been? She would have just made it that much harder for any other person to get near enough to him to find a better way. No. Her way had to succeed on the first try or else all hope was lost. Now the man sat upon his stern looking throne, gazing out at a nearly empty room save for the woman herself. “My King,” Zora spoke, her voice warm and soothing as she kneeled reverently before him, “how may I be of service to you?” “Stand, Zora.” He commanded, but there was a strange sort of joy in his voice that worried her almost as much as the grin on his lips. “We found Lim’s Bracelet, and you may help me by collecting it. We have others on their way to discuss the plan now.” “Your Majesty, this is excellent news!” She said with a broad smile and joy in her voice that belied the horror of his announcement.