Eighty Six days until the Eclipse The time had been set as noon. The day, the Eighteenth of Sershret. It was then that the King’s Heroes would gather within the castle, putting forth their names and the professions they would be leaving behind as they took up their new mantles. Ethran Delivo, one of the King’s three personal butlers, looked down at the sheet of paper in his hands and frowned. The sun was nearing its zenith indicating the cut off and the list was woefully short. He knew the King had been hoping for the room to be packed as dozens of men and women took a grab at the glory he offered. The old man was waiting now, in the throne room through the doors behind him, rubbing his hands in anticipation of what was coming. A storm of armed and armoured warriors ready to fight to the death for their lord. Ethran was not looking forward to crushing that dream. Perhaps a reward would have helped, a material prize to draw in the greedy and desperate. What they lacked in individual skill they could make up for in numbers. But looking around the entry room Ethran knew the kingdom could not afford such. Paint was peeling off the walls, the great stone columns supporting the roof were chipped and cracked and the once vibrant rug that stretched from door to door was now a dull maroon from years of use. Mrs Ferrin slowly worked her way around the room with a broom and dustpan, one of the few cleaners left they could afford to keep on permanently. Four decades ago Mercen had peacefully swallowed up its southern neighbour, Tufant, preventing a civil war between the multitudes of noble families and expanding its own borders in the same action. It had become a common practice over the last century as dozens of kingdoms collapsed under the pressure, and the remaining nations had grown fat on easy conquest. Yet few could actually afford to rule so much land and so many people, now their own avarice was betraying them. Armies were stretched thin and poorly armed, underprepared for the terrors they faced on patrol. Bandits had easy pickings and peasants had little left to spare for legitimate taxes. It was a vicious cycle. Only the guards positioned around the room looked as if they belonged to a proud, healthy nation. The metal of their armour was dull in places and the blue and white paint could use another coat, but they stood tall and proud, halberds held straight up and plumes vibrant in colour. There were enough monsters slain near the capital every month that the latter could be replaced on a regular basis. One of the few sources of proper colouring in the palace. Today’s guards were wearing green and purple plumes of various shades despite how they clashed with the colour of Mercen. Ethran’s attention swung back to the door and he tapped his foot impatiently, willing anyone else to make their way to the castle quickly.