Before the usurped ruler of Helheim's influence upon the world he once walked truly waned, he took to molding the most devoted of him like clay. Their new forms resembled him in essence and spirit, crafted meticulously to be the epitome in espionage and subterfuge, acting as effective spies and deadly assassins, the Faceless were tasked with ridding the world of the vile filth that the stolen Helheim spewed, as well as growing and strengthening the Ordinance faith on Meranthe to further strengthen the deity for an eventual taming of Hel.
These devotees would be capable of shifting their forms and appearance, escaping from within another's shadow with ease to deliver fatal attacks. Their bodies capable of walking amongst the enemies within the light, and removing them in the proper place at the proper time through their dominance over shadow. Either born of Faceless heritage, or made through a ritual to allow Athelios' influence to mold the body of one worthy as clay once more.
The Faceless’ role as infiltrators and assassins demands secrecy, and as such the accuracy of their name is a highly debated topic. The prevailing thought is that the faceless are born in the image of Athelios, none granted a true face of their own, only a mask of black and white that resembles his. That mask of theirs shifts when they don another’s persona, becoming nigh indistinguishable from those whose faces they steal.
Others believe that underneath said mask, the Faceless have a true face of their own, one that becomes lost in the slew of identities they’ll grow to acquire in their life. Having a proper identity that hasn’t been stolen is not out of the question for Faceless, but such a thing is likely to be abandoned if it proves beneficial to do so.
The Hands of Aphros
Though historians and scholars largely agree that Aphros' formation and rise was brought about through the efforts of the first Faceless, this knowledge was intentionally kept from the grander public, as was the existence of the Faceless themselves. The first of the devotees were cold and calculated, they sought no recognition. They acted as ghosts and figments that carefully moved around the political pieces necessary to bring about the meteoric rise of the stronghold they hoped worthy of their god and faith. For the longest time, the Faceless' existence was considered a conspiracy, if it was talked about at all. Aphros' formation was attributed to a rapidly growing faith, with fortunate circumstances that allowed for that faith to consolidate within land and grow beyond.
Now though, you would hard pressed to find someone that does not assume the Faceless had a hand in bringing about those 'fortunate circumstances', and that shift can largely be traced back to Oracle Scintilla Protea. Her rise to center stage as the Oracle of Athelios, her openness regarding her nature and the confirmation she brought the world regarding the Faceless' existence shook the status quo quite fiercely. Aphros needed to adapt, those beyond began to become paranoid and hunt amongst themselves for Faceless intruders, and the Faceless themselves were faced with many more questions as to their nature and the philosophies by which they ought carry themselves.
The Face to the Faceless
Oracle Scintilla Protea was the first that chose not to show her face to her people during the ritual of her coronation. Her priestly robes designed to cover her face as well, she would never show her face throughout her entire reign. It was during her coronation that she announced her nature, she announced not only the existence of the Faceless, but that she herself was one of them. A confession that brought disarray, but was quickly utilized as a tool for unity and strength through the Oracle's charisma.
Her openness in regards to the Faceless was portrayed as the ultimate expression of Athelios' shadows learning to balance the light within themselves as well. That even though she'd been a perfect tool of her god in make, she chose not to adopt an identity beyond her own. She let her people know that she wished to lead them openly as she was, and they rallied with her. After all, the faceless were tasked with more than cleansing the world. They were tasked with the exploration of identity. They were tasked with pursuing the Question posed within the Ordinance, the highs and lows of the soul, the perfect balance of light and shadow... and how far one may go before they're beyond redemption. Her honesty was one way to explore that, the rejection of deceit when one is most capable, the exploration of living an honest life as one born in dishonesty. This philosophy still reverberated among Faceless, occasionally some sprouting Scintillan ideals, choosing to possess one identity and to be open with their nature as they pursue truth in their life of lies.
Despite this, the majority of the Faceless still operate in secrecy... though their existence is no longer such a myth. Utmost efficiency has always defined the Faceless throughout their operations, Scintilla being no different. Her speeches thought out, support secured before her own ascent not only among the majority of the agency the Faceless of Aphros comprised, but amongst select nobles and knights of Umbra and Astra. The effect of her announcement was not carelessly accepted, it brought about newer perspectives, newer ways of answering the question. It made it so that the Faceless' secret could not be revealed by an enemy, it was at the circumstances of their choosing. Aphros citizens were emboldened by her announcement, as she eased them into the reality they began to consider the Faceless as Aphros' hidden guardian angels. Aphros' enemies began to operate in fear, an announcement they could not trust regarding an enemy they could not find.
The overall efficacy of the transition sparked some to assume the worst in her as well. That the populous was made to love her and the Faceless to make them complacent, to ease them and allow the Faceless to replace dissidents that would never in a million years assume the hands of Aphros would target them. That she hoped to utilize the paranoia she'd spread in her enemies as a weapon she could wield from afar, allowing them to purge each other as they attempt to root out the Faceless that were already many steps ahead of them. Some even questioned her appearance, that she had always covered her face. Was she truly a Faceless? Or was she a puppet that allowed them to make the announcement to the world while not exposing themselves. Some claimed the purpose of the gown was not only symbolic, that it allowed her to continue to pursue her tasks and operations as a Faceless when she needed to. That when she needed to act as an operative of Aphros, another would don her robes as she spied and killed. With the Oracle's death, her body was supposedly immediately buried at a holy site close to her youth. The site never revealed, her youth unclear to the world, her body never seen nor examined. The room for speculation never left her, it never left the Faceless. Some don't even believe she'd actually died. Some say her time as Oracle was no longer of enough benefit, that she continued her role as an operative. Some say she still lives to this day.
It has been many years since the announcement of the Faceless to the world, yet still? Very little is known about them. Little known of their biology or how they function. Little known of their culture or identity. Some yet debate whether the Faceless do in fact possess a true Face. Only a Faceless knows the answer to some questions for certain, but due to their nature that is often so clouded in deception and mystery, regardless of how forthright a Faceless is with the details of their existence...
None can truly know, the grander world rarely reaches a point of certainty in what they are told or taught in the rare instances where one attempts to reach out. The potentiality that they are being deceived never fades. The possibility of it being a carefully crafted perversion of the truth, one where people are only told what suits a grander plan, this is something difficult to spread amongst greater societies.
One may be born of Faceless heritage yes, but unbeknownst to most but the highest of authorities within the Ordinance church, Faceless are made. In fact, they are primarily made, as it is safer to trust one that has proven themselves in the world with their abilities than it is to allow someone born to grow into that responsibility. Exceptionalism is not imbued in them through birth after all, and as such they are chosen. Within Aphros, those that perform exceptionally and show the skills and loyalty necessary to be considered a worthy candidate are offered the 'promotion' in a clandestine fashion. The nature of the ritual is revealed to them, they are given the choice to accept their new role and life or to act as though they were never approached in the first place as they're stricken from being approached again. In times of trouble, this may not be a choice, when Faceless are few yet needed, some must answer the call. Aphros can not be at risk of falling to ruin, for it encapsulates mankind's front to restore the cosmic balance. The Faceless keep the machine oiled. The Faceless expunge the rust.
As such, be it by birth or selection, Faceless must receive extensive training to not only in combat and subterfuge, but they must also play to their strengths and the needs of Aphros. The Faceless are not jack of all trades, they are unmatched specialists, or at the very least they are trained to be. This does not mean they are not allowed to explore other talents or abilities, but a Faceless will typically have an aspect they have the most potential in trained to the extremes. Therefore, Faceless are exposed to a strict general regimen applied to all of them, with additional training to capitalize on their strengths and to fill their required niche.
All Faceless are trained to maximize their ability to exist within the shadow of others, to appear in the darkness behind them and strike when the opponent is vulnerable, even technical specialists receive necessary combat training. Training in identity manipulation and espionage is also necessary, all the key tenets to adopting a new personality or mimicking others. Trailing and masking a target in order to learn all their quirks should they need to be replaced. It is typical for Faceless to be required to form an entirely new identity within their training, to live that identity as operatives tasked with monitoring and training them interject within their life for important lessons. Faceless born typically receive harsher and more difficult lessons than Faceless made, as they not only begin with the abilities that make things easier for them, they also have not already proved themselves and are expected to make up for another's life of exemplary performance.
It is vital to learn how one would operate in the real world before they're taught the secrets of Aphros' most clandestine operatives. A Faceless in training tasked with maintaining their new identity truly incorporates themselves into a new life, they are tasked with reporting their days and plans to their superiors all throughout. Though they are still made to return to a base of operations for standard training on occasion (and managing excuses to those involved in their new life is part of that training), they are also exposed to surprise tests and training sessions in their day to die life. A squadron of predecessor Faceless may be tasked with attacking the Faceless in training as street thugs, to test not only combat capabilities out in the field, but to gauge whether they would blow their cover when exposed to some danger and their level of restraint. A Faceless in training tasked with acting as a noble may be expected to prioritize losing the fight while not sacrificing self preservation, to further bolster the reality of their ruse. Another disguised as a mercenary would be expected to win, but how quick they are to utilize lethal force is then judged instead. Rarely will a Faceless in training best a predecessor of vaster experience unless it is planned, but in the rare cases in which it occurs, a command word is employed to reveal any figure within the trainee's life as part of their training. Should things escalate beyond safety, the word can be employed for the trainee to realize they are being tested to end the conflict.
Combat ability and identity maintenance aren't the only skills necessary to a Faceless. There are strict tenets and rules to adhere to for efficiency maximization, standard practices for operation. Though they are only ever explicitly tasked with the creation of their initial identity, those assigned to their training will intentionally engineer situations and tasks their current identity is simply not equipped to handle. The solution to those situations would be either reliance on their initial identity, or the creation of a new one on the spot. The suggestion to simply create a new identity is strictly never provided by superiors, it is a conclusion a trainee must come to on their own to test how well they can acclimate to the Faceless mindset. Their loyalty to Aphros is tested, occasionally situations that would reflect poorly on their skills are intentionally orchestrated to test whether they'll be reported to their superiors or neglected to maintain appearances. At times, an agent is placed to tempt them away from their duties. Be it a criminal with a profitable venture that could allow the trainee to live comfortably for the rest of their life, or a lover that tempts them to abandon their training and focus on their new life, at times pleading with them to leave to another nation. At times, the deception involved in this kind of training can be incredibly mentally taxing for a trainee, at times one gets so involved in their new life that they neglect their duties. Though somewhat natural, it is too dangerous a quality for a Faceless to allow in training.
Finally, the trainee is also extensively trained to become an expert in their specialty. A Faceless with a potential for artifice or alchemy would receive all the previously listed training regimens, but they would also be given lessons in those fields to strengthen their aptitude. Their faux identity may be a student at an academy or the owner of a workshop to bolster those talents, that Faceless would then be a specialist and often take a supporting role upon the completion of their training, but every Faceless is still expected to maintain their combat and espionage ability and pursue field work as well. A Faceless with a talent for assassination will have stricter combat training than the rest, that talent would be focused on immensely and their loyalty would be tested more harshly. Though Faceless are specialists and not jacks of all trades, there are ones that show a proclivity towards adaptability. Those are in fact trained in a wide variety of skills, but in those instances it is less that a generalized skillset is favorable for a faceless, it is that in those specific instances "versatility" is their niche and specialty, these operatives are often deployed on missions and tasks with information too scarce to know what specific talents would best suit it.
Ultimately, once their training is complete, a Faceless born is entrusted to use their natural born talents for the betterment of Aphros, a Faceless made is finally made to undergo the rituals involved to accept the gift they'd worked to prepare for. Faceless that do not stray from the Aphros system are professionals through and through, frighteningly efficient and capable in their fields. Though their personalities are going to vastly differ depending on their life and any following lives, to become a recognized Faceless operative of Aphros is a sign of harsh training and exceptional performance.
There are cases of Faceless exiting this system, some Faceless are allowed to live normal lives if they've displayed loyalty, they are extensively monitored regardless. Beyond their abilities, a Faceless is not that much more biologically different to a Human or a Beastkin. They do not possess an innate biological proclivity towards excellency, nor a compulsion to follow Athelios or serve Aphros instilled in them at birth. This is another reason why born Faceless are less preferable to made ones, the power of a Faceless is a dangerous tool if allowed in the hands of enemies. In very rare cases, Faceless hope to escape or defect. Born Faceless sometimes curse Athelios for their lot in life, as they're often plucked for training since childhood to avoid the risk of their abilities being unaccounted for.
Escape from the system is extremely difficult however. Faceless have a duty to monitor other Faceless, they are always examined for signs of escape. Their identities are all to be catalogued and taken note of, any hesitation or susceptibility to temptation kept in mind. There are rumors spun within the dark that if a Faceless steps away from Athelios' Will, they will be stricken down immediately - expunged from life. Some say these are stories to strike fear into potential rogue elements, though the veracity of the claims have yet to be proven. Aphros' monopoly on the Faceless allows them to operate without the paranoia of their enemies. If a Faceless steps too far from the system without the proper measures to ensure they would not turn traitor nor abuse their ability, then their brethren are to hunt them down and end the mistake then and there. Rogue Faceless become a priority, and not even a Faceless can contend with their kin's organization.
It is uncertainty, that blend of honesty and good with unbridled guile and perceived cruelty that define not only Athelios, but his Faceless. Since her ascent and passing, the Faceless faded from public view as they continued operations as normal. Occasionally one would find a Scintillan Faceless, open about their nature that reminds all of their existence... occasionally there would be periods where man would once again question whether or not they truly existed. Ultimately, the Faceless eventually become akin to a wives' tale rooted in fact. Faceless don't tend to be sloppy, in most cases where the involvement of one is accused... the accuser is often made a fool of, whenever these claims are investigated seriously, they rarely come up with anything. Though people recognize that the Faceless exist, assuming their involvement in your affairs is a sign of paranoia amongst many, practiced liars love to blame them for everything after all... and those that tell the truth will have trouble making the world believe them with how they often cover their trail.
Their involvement in Aphros affairs is nigh undeniable, though not apparent to the public. Often communicating with the Oracle directly, Umbra on occasion, and Astra when necessary... the Faceless act as Meranthe's, Aphros', and their own self regulation function. Within Aphros is the unspoken agreement that they possess license to kill, to eliminate threats within and without. Should a knight practice witchcraft or threaten the stability of Aphros, they are eliminated and possibly replaced. Should an enemy noble make too many profitable deals, that noble begins suddenly funneling their funds into Aphros coffers. Should a Faceless turn away from their duties, cause the very harm they were made to prevent, abuse this 'license' many believe they have? Then it is the duty of the remaining Faceless to remove them as well.
Scholars that aim to learn more about them find themselves being tugged and tossed between the portrayals of justice and cruelty, between existence and myth. They find themselves faced with the inexorable reality that when it comes to Athelios, when it comes to the Faceless, their questions by necessity have too many answers and none at all.