In the middle of the cold, deep lands, sprang a country called Rezha. It had no resources or royalty of its own, but it was founded on its magicians' ability to craft illusions beautiful beyond compare. The people in the lands beyond knew these visions were naught but brightly-gilded lies, yet they fled to hide within the charades nonetheless, craving to be deceived. For they reviled Truth like a cancer, and spoke well of the illusions that hid it best.

The hastily-assembled Court of Korpratia, lacking skills or trade goods, but having an abundance of wit and greed, seized control over Rezha and its wizards, planning to use the illusions as something to barter. The right to be lied to, as it were, was a rich one.

So it came to be over the generations that the Rhezan wizards perfected their spells and made outlaw any spellcaster who copied their achievements for his own gain. To maintain order against the better-armed outlands, the Court of Korpratia carefully selected their heirs from only the most cunning eligibles, and hired armed men from cordial neighbors to guard Rezha's borders...and the secrecy of the wizards' shows.

With their tremendous profits did hey soon begin to feed visitors (for a fee), and to outfit their own citizens in intimidating reds and blacks. The frightening countenance of the black-robed nobles and the ever-present mercenaries kept violence and other crime to a minimum.

In one of their grandest provinces, however, trouble befell the people. Madnes mysteriously claimed some of their kinsmen, and their wise Princes Vidivy, Isspring, and Yanwady were wrongly arrested in the outlands or sent away by the Court to rule over newly-established territories. These Princes left behind only legends -- but no heirs. Though eligible lords lived there in the province, the Court frowned upon their open sympathies with the serfs, and sought to enthrone someone more suitably detached from the masses' griefs.

Two unknown lords, Rikaless and his darker-visaged compatriot Laix, were thusly chosen for promotion. The province shakily asked amongst themselves if Rikaless would be a fair Prince. What they did not know was of a mind-sickness that was slowly but surely claiming all of the Korpratian Court. Rikaless was everything the Court had hoped for, which boded poorly for the serfs. He was one of the most taken by the High-Sickness.

You see, heirs of Korpratia never truly moved up -- they moved far, far down. They were always led on by promises of greater rewards and, most importantly, respect (from above and below alike), ever tangled more tightly in Korpratian leashes and stripped of their individuality. This was seen in their identical black vestments, a sign of mourning for their own greed-devoured souls. They were pulled downwards into an intangible pit and the plummeting weight of their ever-increasing burdens and hollow responsibilities pressed so heavily down on their minds that they become sick within themselves.

Vehemently did Prince Rikaless deny the loss of his own humanity, when the rest of the populace -- including the more personable Laix -- had seen the necrotic destruction in him plainly. The disheartened people of the province, not bolstered by the presence of any respectable leaders, bitterly mocked the noblemen to an extent never seen in the past. "O for the rule of Vidivy and Yanwady again!" they lamented, and grew slothful at their labors as a result of hopelessness. Theft and distrust began to run amongst them. Rezha's most powerful province was coming undone.

Rikaless, blind to his own disastrous influence, created stricter laws and punishments in the vain hope of taking back control over the unruly people. Their feelings then changed from simply distaste to outright hate towards him. Now, he was not a bad man, he only made a terrible Prince, once who no longer remembered what it meant to be Regal, once a prized Rezhan trait.

The wizards cared little for such minute politics, growing fat as they cast their spells from afar, having long since abandoned the land in favor of warmer Holwa, an even more wicked, mindless place than Rezha. Its nobles were corrupt but charismatic, and worked together with the wizards to create ever more meaningless, bombastic illusions, dulling the citizenry that witnessed them into a mindset like complacent livestock. As long as the people were being lied to, they would sacrifice any amount of wealth to the Rezhan wizards and the Holwan courtiers.

The need to hide from the Truth was a powerful thing; even stubborn Korpratia, for all their indomitable will, fell to the sweet taste of deceit. And how could they not, when the entire Kingdom was based on such a concept?

But simple avoidance of the Truth became an outright fear and hate of it. The Court urged its nobles not to mingle too closely with the serfs, for the serfs wielded wickedly Truthful words that would undo the webs spun about the Princes. The Truth was the sharpest sword, the straightest arrow, the most crushing hammer. Those who embraced its wield were fearsome to those who shunned it.

But what the fearful refused to admit is that they knew the Truth about themselves, and how wretchedly the common folk had begun to regard them. It was a rare thing to find anyone in the cunning Court not aware exactly of how he is seen. But their stubborn fear would prevail, and so let them fall into a the pit crushing entanglement, where the meaning behind laws distorted and policies lost context until moving into the realm of vague, ill-understood -- but righteously, furiously obeyed -- tradition. There was a point, far down enough in the pit of the Court where neither light nor Truth might shine again, where those who entered were finally lost. It was where the High-Sickness festered and bred, and its touch was contagious through peers. It was unlike the madness of the common folk, which came without forewarning or wont. The High-Sickness...was welcomed.

Rikaless was lost to many things now but not his mind, and inkling of dagger-sharp and stinging Truth posed unsavory questions, and answers, in his thoughts. Finally, swallowing his nobleman's fears, he sent for one of the red-robed laborers.

"Tell me what you think of me," the Prince asked.

Smiling insincerely, the servant said, "You are a most competent leader, Your Highness."

"No, I want the Truth. I know I've wronged my people, but none will tell me in what way."

"You can do no wrong, Sire. We are loyal to the end."

"The Truth!" demanded Rikaless, growing furious at the deceit he had once so willingly wrapped himself in.

Now the servant feared, knowing another thing about Truth. It was the most deadly weapon against whom it was wielded, but a treacherous one, that so also undid and destroyed its very wielders. This would not be so if Truth were not feared at all, but alas, it was made dangerous merely by the power of opinion. It was the most hated form of speech in Rezha, the Kingdom of Lies.

"Perhaps the Prince will listen to the Truth if I phrase it gently," the servant thought to himself, "And perhaps he will lead us more kindly with my advice. But if he does not, what then? His anger will double and be directed at my comrades, and I will be banished and sent away to live in the outlands for eternity, my reputation besmirched by exilement for speaking unkindly to royalty."

Prince Rikaless waited tensely for the words, seeing conundrous perplexment of the servant's face play out, knowing that for once, one of the common folk was truly thinking about his words before uttering them (which was a rarity in many lands besides only Rezha).

It felt an eternity to wait, his heart swelling painfully in his chest with anticipation, as dread crept surely into his mind. He knew what they would say, he knew they despised him; but to save face, he would have to send away any who dared tell him so. The Court demanded such cruelties, forbidding outspoken individuals from residing in their lands.

The Prince and the servant locked eyes, and the servant, before the Prince could stop him, opened his mouth to speak...