Inaïs woke when a pillow hit his face. Confused, he struggled with his blanket and the pillow, falling out of his hard bed onto the cold flagstone floor. He heard someone laugh heartily, and then felt a hand at the scruff of his neck, lifting his lithe form from the ground.

"Come, prince, it's beyond time for you to wake," a hearty voice stated.

"Mmmrefph?" Inaïs wasn't quite awake yet, so he just made a sleepy groan whose inflection made it sound like a question. The voice ignored him, though not without a moment's hesitation and confusion. Inaïs shook his head and spoke again. "Why do I have to wake up so early?" He whined, twisting in the figure's grasp.

"It's your birthday," it replied simply.

"All the more reason to sleep in!"

The voice sighed. "Your eighteenth birthday. You know, the one with the hour long ceremony with a banquet where you become a servant of the kingdom, and that starts in half an hour when you're not even dressed, bathed, or shaved." Inaïs' deep green eyes widened to about the diameter of his father's advisor's colossal monocle before letting out a vulgar expletive.

"OH SHIT!"

"Indeed. Now, you need to do all of that quite quickly, my prince."

Inaïs twisted out of the attendant's hands, scrambled to his feet, and then rushed to his bathroom, quickly ordering for his best set of clothes to be brought to him by an Elin servant.

The Elins came from the kingdom of Elin, which was in the eastern part of now Pergammon, but a great curse descended upon its people. The cause of the curse is unknown, but in any case, the Elins all became humans with animal features. There were many different visages put upon them, but they could never look anything like humans again. Any time an Elin bred with another human, the child was born as a full Elin. Perhaps it didn't matter anymore; the Elins had been subjugated by their conquerors and forced to be slaves to their masters, were docile, and rarely combated the authorities in their lives. They had no rights; they were regarded as merely tools to be used.

Inaïs bathed and shaved hastily, then jumped out of the water, grabbing his towel and drying his pale skin and dark hair extensively before putting on his fine garments, rushing out the door.

He arrived at the throne room as it opened for him to walk inside. The massive, ornately decorated oak room's doors yawned, creaking with age, leading to a maw of marble and gold walls with giant tapestries and decorated pillars. A crowd was lined up on either side of a long red carpet made of silk which led directly to the colossal throne, a chair easily twice the king's size and flanked by two smaller thrones for his queen and their advisor. The crowd cheered, and all stood except for the king and queen; as well as his older brother Trisan who was also in attendance. Most of his brothers were engaged in other pursuits at the time, but Trisan's return to the palace for additional orders nearly coincided with his little brother's birthday, so he remained for the ceremony. Inaïs stepped up to the throne and kneeled before his father obediently. His wrinkled father lifted his crown from his head, held it in front of him, and spoke.

"We are gathered here today in order to properly and ceremonially allow this young prince to serve his kingdom as a knight, warrior, magician, diplomat, and whatever other tasks are deemed fit for his mission. He cannot fail, and he cannot quit his sacred quest." The old man paused. "In doing so, we are to give him his first assignment and boon companions, which will prove his worth."

"He has completed his skills assessments, passing over the required number of three of the five, and with this, we will reward him with his badge of status." The king paused, and his advisor stepped forward, produced a bronze pendant on a silver chain, shaped like a halberd crossed with a sword overtop a circle. He placed the chain around Inaïs' neck and clasped it, then retreated to his former position, bowed, and kneeled once more.

"And now, we will select this young man's boon companions to accompany his on his journeys. He may, at any time, travel with whoever he pleases, or release unwanted company from his service; however, we hope that these two men serve you well." The king smiled, replaced the crown atop his head, and indicated for Trisan to speak.

"Sir Gerrow Niralm." Inaïs smiled, because he knew the young knight well. They had been good friends for many years, and he knew that the well built man was dependable, and while not clever, wasn't to be taken lightly in aspects of the mind as well as the body. Gerrow stepped forward in his gleaming ceremonial armor, bowed, and kneeled behind and slightly to the right of Inais.

"I will serve, my lord," he stated plainly.

Trisan spoke again, calling the second name. "Aldrin Calmea." A short man with blond hair also stepped forward and bowed, tripping over his long robe, then kneeled behind and slightly to the left of Inaïs.

"I will serve loyally, my lord," the man said, his voice bouncy.

The king cleared his throat. "Now then, I suppose it's time to present you with your first assignment; and then we can enjoy the banquet which our chefs are finishing up as we speak."

There was a rumbling applause, followed by a deep murmur of speculation on the nature of the assignment. Inaïs was sure that he heard many mumblings about the uprisings in the east of the country, where the Elins were rising up to oppose their former masters. It was happening all over their beloved country Pergammon, but it was concentrated in the east, and in the village of Orias near the Haltwycke border, the rebellion seemed organized. Inaïs swallowed, hoping he wouldn't be the forefront of such a volatile place, ready to explode into a war zone at any time.

The king's advisor handed the king an envelope, and the king delicately clasped it in his hands.

"Normally, you will open these envelopes yourself; however, due to the ceremony, I will open the task and read it to those assembled here." The king paused, opening the envelope with his own personal letter opener of gold, the pulled out the parchment containing Inaïs' task. Unfolding it, he read:

"Prince Inaïs and his boon companions are to travel to the village of Orias by route of Rasul and the village of Kena. In Kena, he will deal with their Elin trouble and gather the local information on the village of Orias, and then he shall thwart the rebellion at the alleged source."

The king smiled at his audience.

"A fitting task for our fitting young prince!" The crowd applauded, their roaring thunder seeming to shake the very walls.

When they stopped cheering, it was apparent that it wasn't their applause and cheering that was causing the feeling, but instead that the entire palace was shaking wildly and the tremors were getting stronger. Some of the gathered people were knocked off of their feet. The tremors stopped, and Trisan was halfway out the door. Inaïs and Gerrow gathered themselves to their feet and hurried to the door, but Trisan was far ahead. Aldrin had tripped over his robes again, falling to the marble floor.

Inaïs chased down his brother, sprinting to catch up, and seemed to gain a little, but quickly ran out of stamina.

"Wait!" Inaïs shouted, but Trisan didn't miss a step. Gerrow caught up to Inaïs, pushing him forward with him. They ran through the stone corridor, coming to Trisan's wide open door on the left, paused to take a breath, and then looked in.

The normally neat and tidy room was trashed, with papers thrown everywhere and furniture knocked down and broken. In the middle of it all was Trisan, crying and staring out his window as a dark figure carrying a small child ran past the guards on the ramparts, escaping into the crowds of the city as they descended onto the rooftops and streets below.