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    “The notable and distinguished seem to be the ones pulling the strings, but in truth, it's those that dwell in the realm of secrecy, murder, and lies that truly command us all.” -Samuel Ruthwyn, Itheri Innkeep, Calastore The Age of Uncertainty: Mirnei, 24 Reckoning, 7C 255 Ironlight - The Daggerlands “Sir, the plan failed.” “What!?” I shouted back in fury. I simply couldn’t stand another failure at such a critical time. Nations were on the brink of war, and I had to do what I could to prevent it. “Our spies in the Itheri and Alor governments have been found out, the ones in Aloreh are to be executed tomorrow, however, Ithero has allowed two of our most respected spies to keep their heads, for now.” I grumbled in response. Such a complete and utter failure like this would most certainly devastate my overall goals. “Sadly, I fear their discoveries may have actually caused the opposite effect of our original intentions.” My aide continued on. “Now both nations believe it was the other that orchestrated the operations, and we can’t speak out about it without exposing ourselves, can we?” He almost seemed to be genuinely asking a question for once. “Of course we can’t, that’ll bring focus to us, and we’d be on the chopping block within days.” He nodded to my answer, unsure if what I said was the right move. “You know, this will most certainly exacerbate the situation.” I waved him off, my gloved hand hiding all of the damage from my long years alive. “I know, I know. Just, let me think in peace. I must plot a new course of action.” With that, my aide nodded in respect, and left the room, making sure to shut the heavy oaken door behind him as he did. Now alone in my stone walled chambers, I started to think. My master did warn me that I could not directly alter the timeline without his aid, yet I thought that I could still do something to prevent this, nonsense from occurring. I was wrong, dead wrong, and I played into it. Those visions were, so real, so vivid, and so devastating. I simply couldn’t sit by and let it happen, but knowing that it would happen anyways, and being unable to do anything about it, made my stomach churn in disgust. If only Llyrrh hadn’t accidentally damned me to this fate, I wouldn’t have to worry, now would I? Maybe it amused her, or maybe she simply didn’t know, but that supposed ‘god of order’ had made my life a living torment. All because I believed and respected my master over her. It had been years since I last saw my homeland, the place where I was born, but now even the memory of that long gone and forgotten realm seemed to have left me. All because of that damned goddess. I sighed, covering my face in my hands, as I continued to contemplate my next move. First and foremost, I had to extract my agents without any witnesses. Secondly, I had to find a way to minimize the damage between the two superpowers of Aloreh and Ithero. Next, I had to replace the spies I had with newer, better agents, and less of them. Finally, I’d have to consult my master for further council. This was not going to be easy. I sighed once more, standing up and out of my uncomfortable wooden chair and away from the ornately decorated desk before me. Walking to the center of the room, I sat down, crossing my robed legs under one another as I did so, and attempted to get as comfortable as possible on the cold stone floor. Closing my eyes, I started to breathe deeply, until my mind was clear, and I had finally entered my trace. The Age of Balance: Paartesh, 10 Ascension, 4C 850 Off the West Coast of Ithero - Port of Clearwater - Ithero “It’s gone, my lord.” I couldn’t help myself as my mouth simply dropped wide open. My eyes, however, opened even wider with shock, as I stared back at my ship’s captain, not believing truly what he had just said. “What do you mean ‘it’s gone’? I was there just last Antwei!” I demanded, rage now taking over my shocked state, as I glared at him. Instead of responding to me, he simply handed me over the parchment in his hands, his own hands trembling with fear. I ripped the document out of his grasp greedily but took my time to read every word on its face as I brought it within view. And… then I fell to my knees in despair. I was only a couple days away from home on my trading venture aboard the Galisyrn, helping my father with the typical duties of a trading dependent family. All I had to do was oversee a few shipping complications, and fulfill a few contracts for him just so we could have food on the table. But, how was I to know that it would all prove futile? The little parchment in my hands said only a slim few words, but those words were powerful enough to make my young legs give up. “After Llyrrh’s most recent visit, Limnas Von’s vast empire has seemingly been erased from our world. Ships originally planning to make port there, report that there is nothing but open ocean in its place. A few reports even go so far as to say that the entire realm seemed to fade into thin air before their very eyes. Many refugees have started appearing off the coastlines of Aloreh, Ithero, and Ar-Selukk to request help and a new place to stay, however, most are being turned away, forced to brave the waves once more. To those affected, I am truly sorry for your losses. But Llyrrh does mysterious things for the benefit of all. Whatever the reason, the Cult of Thesse will take in as many refugees as we can support. Methes Avonthes is open to you.” As I stared off into the distance and into the sunset, I couldn’t help but shed a single tear, knowing my life would be forever changed by this simple decree. I started to pray. “My lord, help guide me and your people. We need you, we need to know the truth, and we need to know what to do.” A rush of tears started to trickle down my face from the corners of my eyes. “I must know if my family is safe, and that you have not abandoned us. Limnas Von, as a child of your realm, please hear my prayer.” Suddenly, a human hand rested on my right shoulder, firm and with purpose, but calm and caring at the same time. “Child, I have not abandoned you, but the true circumstances are much too difficult to explain.” The voice paused, as if in thought, but eventually continued on. “Your family is safe with me, but your people need you. They need a leader to protect and guide them, and I can no longer fulfill this duty. Llyrrh has decreed it so, and though I would challenge her myself, I fear I do not have the power to do so.” The hand patted me on the back reassuringly, but I simply kept staring into the distance ahead of me, not taking the time to turn to the figure behind me as the sun continued to set over the horizon. “But, why me. I have no power, no wealth, and no titles. I barely even gave thought to you myself, though I regret to say it.” I wiped away a few of those tears off my face before I continued on. “What is it about me, that would ever make me worthy of an honor such as that?” To that, the deep-voiced being behind me simply laughed. “Hah, if only you could know as I do, you’d understand it all.” He unnecessarily coughed to clear his already clear throat, probably just to seem more human than he was. “There are things about you, that you have yet to realize. You burn with the same desires and goals as I do. You are, in fact, the prime example of what I stand for, and what I will soon stand for in the near future.” I internally laughed to that. A god, thinking me, a mere fifteen years of age, could do anything of the sort? He had to be joking right? It sounded absolutely insane. “Oh, but I’m not, and in due time, you’ll understand it yourself.” Then I felt a reassuring pat on my back, as I continued to think how impossible it seemed. “Go, go to Aloreh, save your people now enslaved by the cunning nobility, then travel west to Ar-Selukk to defend others yet from the tribes of the sands, finally, make landfall on the island nation of pirates and sea captains, Ithero, and pay them off with the fortunes you will earn to serve you and your new purpose. Create a new land and home for them. Protect them and lead them. Then, and only then, will your purpose be shown to you.” Who was I to contradict the god of time himself. If he truly thought I could get the job done, I had to be the one. But there was one thing I was still uncertain about. “What if your people refuse to place faith in me, and simply decide not to take part in the overall goal you have in mind?” With that, another chuckle came from behind me, though it sounded much more distant than before. “I know you will succeed, as long as you stay determined and only do what’s best. However, if it's any consolation, I will be with you, always, should you need my aid or direction.” The voice continued to grow more and more inaudible as the distance between myself and the speaker grew. “You are but one of my many champions, but only you can complete the task I have set before you. Now go, and hurry, before it's too late.” And then, just like that, he was gone. My home, my heritage, my life, and my deity, all vanished into thin air, leaving me with nothing but my thoughts. I decided to close my eyes, thinking back on what my god had said, my next move, my purpose, and my...family. I continued for a long while there, calmly plotting and planning, calculating in my mind what had to be done to succeed in my task. After a few more moments of thought, I eventually reopened my eyes, not expecting to see my ship’s captain but an arm’s length from my face, worry coating his features. “Sir! Are you okay?” His fear slightly diminishing after seeing me nod my head up and down, slowly. “You’ve been staring far into the distance for a while now. Is something wrong?” I smiled then, unsure on how to break the news to him. “Captain Destin Windrider, would you believe me if I told you that I just had a little, conversation with Limnas Von himself just now?” Destin simply looked into my eyes, probably wondering if something had broken inside of me, but eventually, his curiosity overcame him. “What did he say? Is it true?” I stood up, dusting off my trousers from the dirt and filth of the ship’s deck before I decided to reply to his questions. “First off, yes, what the paper you gave me said was true, devastating as it is.” I paused to let that sink into his mind before answering his other question. “However, Limnas Von has sent us on a mission of dire importance. One we absolutely cannot ignore.” The captain’s impatience soon became too much, as he waited in suspense for my actual answer. “Oh, come now, spit it out!” I snickered at him, unconsciously, knowing all too well what I’d say next would put him over the edge. “Captain… we have to rescue our people from the hands of the Alor.” And, almost on cue, Destin started laughing uncontrollably and almost without sanity. “You can’t be serious!” He managed to say through his strange mental fit. “Rescue our people from the Alor? With what army?” I simply pointed to him, and then to me, making him laugh even harder, and I couldn’t blame him. Crossing my arms in front of me, I waited patiently until his outburst died off, my face as serious as my father’s on a bad day. “Destin, I’m serious here.” I uncrossed my arms, right hand now to my face as my stress levels grew significantly. “Whatever profits we’ll make on these trade deals, we will use to purchase cannons, weapons, and mercenaries. Any deliveries bound for home will undoubtedly be sold instead for rations, armor, and repairs for any damage to the ship, and any treasures found during our journey will be evenly distributed to prevent arguments.” Destin stopped laughing then, face now stern and cold. “I told your father I’d get you back home in one piece, not campaign a war against Alor nobles! I…” His stony expression then changed to one of complete fury. “I have family in Aloreh too, but how can I assure your safety? We don’t even have a plan in place!” Now it was my turn to laugh and laugh I did. However, instead of a kind-hearted and jovial laugh, like Destin’s, my outburst sounded much more sinister and filled with malice. “Oh, Destin, don’t worry about that…” The Age of Balance: Rosnei, 38 Ascension, 4C 850 The Winewood - The Galisyrn - Aloreh After extinguishing the ship’s lanterns, Captain Destin maneuvered the massive Galisyrn trade frigate, now armed to the teeth for battle, just out of sight from the Alor northwestern coastline in what was known by the locals as The Winewood. It was night, which made it the perfect time to sneak nice and close to Aloreh with their cheap and undertrained guards, most likely sleeping on the job. The main fear wasn’t the noblemen and their guards spotting the ship, but other trade vessels potentially operating in the region. Luckily for everyone on board, no such thing happened, and so, the plan moved forward without a hitch. A few moments later, the Galisyrn laid anchor in a small but secure sound, almost completely obscured by the coastal cliffs, perfectly safe from the heavy waves of the ocean just on the other side. On the other hand, the ship itself was easily visible from the sandy beaches of the actual Winewood coast, but there were no cities anywhere near this position, making it the most appropriate place to set up shop. “Destin, how you manage to navigate treacherous waters and narrow waterways like this, I’ll never understand.” I gave him a firm handshake, staring him directly in his brown eyes as I did so. “But since you did your part, it's time I did mine.” “Promise me you’ll make it back in one piece.” Destin frowned in concern. “I will not tolerate any slacking off, and I especially will not tolerate being thrown into an elaborately decorated, finely carpeted prison cell in a nobleman’s dungeon.” I had to work hard to repress my near grin from him, but I managed to maintain my serious and determined facial features. “Don’t worry about me Destin, just make sure this ship is ready to make a run for it.” We had already discussed the plan together in great detail, but I always made a habit of reaffirming, just in case. “Once everything kicks off, all of Aloreh’s military might will congregate here in no time, so we have to make sure this is quick and to leave no trace of our involvement.” “Understood.” “Good, and if I’m not here by daybreak, leave without me. The last thing I need is to get you all captured over me.” Destin almost choked on that, but frowned even further, hand now on my shoulder. “It better not come to that, but if it’ll make you satisfied, I will do as you ask.” We both just stood there a while, awkwardly, until I finally walked away in the direction of one of the wooden lifeboats nearest me on the starboard side of the frigate. It was already on the water, filled with four other men I had hired back from Clearwater. All were seasoned war veterans, and each looked both dangerous and bloodthirsty. As I climbed down the ship’s rigging on my way down to that little raft on the sea, I thought about the plan once more in my mind. Under the guise of The Cult of Thesse, my people were drawn in and taken captive by the Alor government, then subsequently sold to the highest bidders as peasants, and essentially slaves. I and a small group of trained soldiers would enter the nearest Alor city off the coastline, locate the captured prisoners, and free them. The hard part was figuring out how to get out once we had. And, of course, none of us were entering the city with armor or visible weaponry, just daggers and similarly concealable weapons. I sighed as I dropped into the little rowboat, picking up an oar as I did so. This is going to be fun… The Age of Balance: Rosnei, 38 Ascension, 4C 850 The Winewood - City of Ossus - Aloreh Sneaking into the city itself was easy enough. On the way through the south end of Ossus, a farmer had trouble carrying a few heavy cases of grain, and we offered to help him, using that as a cover to sneak in undetected. Of course, our ragged looking peasant clothes probably helped in that regard. Once past the patrols of guards, in their black and green colored uniforms of House Moraeos, we took no time in spreading out to search for a possible location for the captured citizens of my homeland. Two of the hired mercenaries I brought with me went northward, whilst the remaining two split off south and east, leaving me to search on the western side of the rather impressive city, alone. I crept through the crowded, but ornately decorated city streets, making sure to blend in with the locals. However, everywhere I had searched proved fruitless. Only houses, shops, and the occasional library could be found, but no prisons or guard posts. So, I then decided to regroup back at the center of town, waiting for the others to show up. Moments passed, but eventually, all four had returned, providing what little information they could to assist in my mission. The mercenary that headed east had only found a well-maintained garden and a few high maintenance homes, probably belonging to some of the wealthy nobility. The other from the south found a guardpost, but nothing else of note. Finally, the two that headed into the north of Ossus had found a massive construction zone, which was suspended over the other buildings in the area. It was flanked on both sides by two-story homes and overlooked the ocean just behind it. Though the temptation to check the southern guardpost was strong, that northernmost location intrigued me. A building project was probably the most likely place to find a large number of prisoners. We had to check it out. Directing two of the highly trained Clearwater mercenaries to fulfill their end of the arrangement, they both ran off, back out of the city and toward the farmlands just south of the city limits. Now just three of us, we strolled up the main street leading up to the front steps of the construction site, trying best to seem like we belonged. But, now able to take in the full sight of what was being built, my mouth dropped open out of genuine awe. It was a towering structure, like a home to a king, but not as structurally defensible as a castle. The outer walls were elaborately decorated with a mix of stone and spruce wood beams, and in some spaces, black and green tinted glass filled the window gaps cut into those walls. However, whatever was being built, was only just in the early stages of planning. Only the framework seemed halfway complete, but the dirt covered flooring wasn’t covered up and the supporting beams weren't in place. It was a new project to be sure. Turning back to the hired Itheri with me, I started to formulate a plan. “Okay, you two, split up and stay out of sight along the western and eastern edges of this… building. I’m going to sneak straight through and see if I can locate any of my people. If anything happens or you hear a ruckus, flank in from the sides and cover my retreat, got it?” To that, they both nodded in agreement, though one grumbled in irritation for my recklessness. I ignored him, turning back to face the building being erected before my eyes, and walked forward, with determination and duty. As I started my forward advance, the other two split off, silently creeping along the outer edge, through an alleyway or behind shrubbery, but ultimately out of sight. As I neared, just a few more paces away, I started sneaking myself, making sure that as I entered, I’d blend in with anyone else within. Leaning against the stone wall, just beside the gaps where wooden doors would eventually occupy, I peeked over the side and strained my ears to hear anything within. “Work harder, peasant!” A whip cracked, splitting the back of a child no older than twelve. “You want food or water, you have to earn it!” A crowd started to gather, formed primarily of men and young male children in rags and tattered cloth, to watch the spectacle, giving me ample opportunity to sneak in to join them. The whipping continued, however, unabated, and each hit, made my teeth grind ever harder. If these were my people, this would not stand. I surveyed the room, and managed to spot a grand total of ten to fourteen other House guardsmen, all dressed in their dirt-stained regalia, spaced out almost evenly along the perimeter of the entire area. Taking them down and clearing the entire site would prove entirely impossible, even with my two hired hands, but I simply couldn’t let this needless abuse slide. Smiling, a grim and cruel grin, I armed myself with the hidden dagger in my boot, and threw it across the room, hitting the foreman directly in the neck. The bladed end effortlessly pierced his flesh as it drove home, blood spurting from the fatal wound, causing the whip to drop from his hands as he released it to hold pressure to his bleeding throat. What happened next, was an absolute blur. Screaming rose from all around me as guardsmen pulled out their bladed weapons, and started rushing toward the crowd of innocents, everyone still unaware of me. The sound must have been quite profound, because shortly thereafter, the two hired mercenaries rushed in from both sides, one leg swiping an unaware Alor from behind, and finishing him off with a quick sword through the chest as he fell. The other, simply chopped off the sword arm of another soldier and severed the left leg of his companion, before finishing them both off with a builder’s hammer to the skull. I rushed forward, arming myself with my last dagger, this time from my left boot, and grabbed the young kid in the center, hoisting him over my shoulders. And then... time stood completely still. Before me, the guard I had dispatched earlier, started to rise up, pulling the dagger out of his neck as he did so, staring me directly in the eyes. “You were too quick to action, and because of this, put all of your people in harm's way.” The man’s eyes then faded from hazel to a pure white as he continued to stare into my very soul. “Don’t you worry, I expected as much. I’ll aid you, but only this once.” And then, time slowly started to turn once more. “You are one of my own. Focus and use your skills I’ve bestowed onto you, and protect the innocent.” I was in a state of shock, horror, and confusion I had never experienced before, but I understood him. Refocusing on the situation at hand, a looked to my left. A bruised old man had both of his hands raised to me, begging for the child on my shoulders, in which I quickly obliged, dropping the minor into his arms as delicately as I could. The guard beside me, who was dead but mere seconds ago, handed me my second dagger and armed himself with a long bladed sword. We both turned, back to back, facing opposing sides of the room, as time finally reached normal speed. There were but maybe ten more House guards still standing, but almost all of them were arm's length from the enslaved workers beside me. I couldn’t let a single one harm them. I rushed forward, getting in the way of one of them as they started swinging their sword at another malnourished individual. Both daggers in hand, I blocked his swing and parried the next, pushing him backward and kicking him hard in the groin. This caused him to collapse on the ground, allowing me to finish him off with a quick but hard kick to the face, breaking his nose and knocking him out cold. Behind me, a Moraeos House guard attacked another, removing a head with one simple swing, and blocking two heavy downward strikes from another couple of guards, somehow simultaneously. I looked back to the west, just raising my arms up in time to cross my blades to prevent a downward attack of my own. I then dropped, rolled to my right and stabbed him in the calves, toppling him instantly. However, I didn’t have time to complete the job before another managed to sneak past me, sword and shield out. Pulling his blade back for a quick, stabbing attack, the iron-helmeted trooper thrust forward, not at me, but at the elderly man I had seen earlier. No! I internally yelled at myself, suddenly causing time to slow once more. I took this opportunity to rush forward, jumping into the way of the oncoming blade attack as his movements slowed considerably. I almost didn’t make it in time, but I also didn’t have time to defend myself either. As soon as I got into position, time returned as normal, allowing an Alor sword to pierce my very own chest, just below my left shoulder. The blade drove all the way through. At first, the guardsman was smiling into my eyes, pleased with his handiwork, until he realized I wasn’t his original target. In an instant, I raised my right arm, dagger in hand, and slit his throat, kicking him backward before he could bleed on me. This also caused a thick metal blade to rip out of me just as forcefully as it had entered. I fell to the ground on my knees, holding a hand over my wound as I surveyed the chaos in the room. To the east, three armed guards fought against a group of five now armed peasants and the Moraeos guard that truly wasn't what he had seemed to be. To the west, a sole Clearwater marine was holding off two more on his own, another House guard lying on the ground before him in a pool of his own gore. To my flank, there no longer were any soldiers in the way, allowing a few of the prisoners to escape back out of the same door gaps I had passed though not long before. However, just ahead of me, one last armed, iron plated warrior, limped toward me, sword raised over his head, preparing to attack. I raised my right arm, dagger barely keeping stable in my hand as the pain in my shoulder increased. I knew I couldn’t possibly block the attack, I simply was too weak. And like a gift from Limnas himself, an arrow flew from seemingly nowhere and hit the iron clad warrior in the one exposed part of his body, the head. As he began to topple to the ground before me, I jumped backward, avoiding him by a hair, his body landing where I just was with a heavy thud. I looked around, glad to see what I had suspected had come true. Men and women, of more distinguishable Alor heritage, from farmhands, bakers, and hunters, surrounded me and my people on all sides. Many of them were armed with bows and arrows, or simple swords and shields, but all were smiling with pride as they stared at me alone. “Down with Moraeos! The city is ours!” A huge cheer soon erupted from the crowd, almost mistakable for a loud clap of thunder. “We, succeeded?” I asked, somewhat unbelievably. A roll of laughter returned my question, until one man stepped out of the group, hand lowered to aid me. “Son, you just won us all our freedom.” The brown haired, blue eyed Alor said, smiling broadly at me. I quickly took his hand, standing up slowly with his help. I smiled for a moment, but that moment soon faded as realization came into my mind. Not only had I saved my people, but I caused a revolt inside noble controlled lands. There weren’t many troops here, so the bulk of the Moraeos army had to be elsewhere. But I earned the freedom of not just my own, but of others just as worthy of the honor. Then another thought crossed my mind. How is Thesse going to react to this? I didn’t want to know, but the thought itself terrified me. I quickly brushed it aside. After the celebrations had ended, many of the Alor offered to join me on my mission, but many more decided to stay and fight the inevitable battle with the nobles’ armies. I knew it would only end in eventual defeat, but if they didn’t fight for their freedom, no one would. I left them to their fate, gathering those willing to join me back aboard the Galisyrn. The Age of Balance: Ulmhei, 39 Ascension, 4C 850 The Winewood - The Galisyrn - Aloreh The walk back was both painful and slow, but we had plenty of time to make it back to the ship. As we neared the sound, at least twenty or more row boats were already on the beach, awaiting to take us aboard Captain Destin’s vessel. I smiled to that, but that smile quickly diminished as I realized I had to rely on someone to row my own boat for me, shoulder injured as badly as it was. But, as I sat down into the crudely built wooden raft, I recounted the plan in my mind once more. Once we had located the captured civilians, I had sent the other two mercenaries south, back to where we had stashed a massive weapons cache I had bought back in Clearwater. While I and the two other paid hands protected me from my own stupidity, the other two had armed the farmers and commoners with weapons and armor, inciting a revolt to cover our flank. As the Alor dispatched their own in the city, I and the others dealt with the direct threats to my people. The Alor peasantry provided the perfect distraction in return. All in all, everything turned out perfectly. Though, not all went according to plan. At least seven of my own had died defending each other back in Ossus, one of the mercenaries had died inside the very room I was in, covering my eastern flank as well. That didn’t even include the huge amount of Alor that had died taking the city from outside the walls. But, in the end, we had prevailed. A few moments later, I was back aboard the Galisyrn, talking to the only medic aboard about treatment for my wound. Giving me a few bandages, I quickly patched myself up and went below decks for some well-deserved shuteye. The following night, I rested in a cot aboard the ship as the, now well fed and armed, men of my homeland invaded the city of Darkwind, dispatching what little troops remained in the city, and rescuing as many of my people as possible from the grim tasks of wall construction. The ship, now much too crowded, eventually was joined with two others from House Longweather’s ports. With the Galisyrn, Southern Gale, and Cerulean Zephyrin formation, we turned our sails west, to the coasts of Nandar, Ar-Selukk. We had many more lives yet to save, and at full sail, we raced the waves, determined to do just that.

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