The land of Endymion, once a proud landscape that shouldered a mighty empire. The hills once rolled evermore an endless green, embraced by any sky, blessed by the full moon. Isolated from any neighboring town or simple hovel by a towering evergreen forest, its fields and dominion knew no curse or scent of blood for ages. Little did anyone know its awful fate, distant though it may have been.

The might of the empire had nearly fallen since it took on the accursed name Cronus; its fields were stripped of their former beauty, rendered barren and lifeless, and the rising, red dust was no harbinger of prosperity. The city gates were rusted, and the stones of the fallen edifices were no more than fragmented ruins, thin and tattered flags of an old title based on the roofs. Lord Alcaeus of Cronus, with his barbaric army, had ruined all that the people had toiled for, and for nothing but to satisfy their own greed.

It was bad enough that the kingdom of the empire was never maintained, but the peasants couldn't even withhold a decent livelihood of their own effort anymore. There was a time when human villages unknowingly flourished within short travel distances of the kingdom; food and blood sources were not a concern. In his dominance, Lord Alcaeus ordered that the finest of the human flesh be hunted and imprisoned, reserved for the royalty and nobility. Over time, his soldiers grew overzealous, and the peasants were left in a desperate state of famine.

Sitting near the gate, the march on the humans would've seemed magnificent to any other, but to a citizen of the Cronus Empire, it was as routine as the rising sun. It simply meant less food for the common folk, and more so for the greedy swine that now had control over the throne. The infantry took up arms, both sword and shield to each man. A bit overkill for hunting a race that withered in its numbers; hardly any of them resisted at this point anyhow. They seemed to take far too much pride in their appointed positions as the "Purifiers of the Great Lord Alcaeus."

Truthfully, they were nothing more than shepherds and slaughterers, providers of sustenance for the indolent nobility. They knew what they were, but it never stopped them from spitting at the peasants and lower guards. As long as they were enough in favor of Lord Alcaeus to keep their bellies full each day and acquire their share of blood, that was enough to justify their crude behavior toward the less significant. Or, at least, that's the way they saw it. In a grim way, it was amusing how one man's opinion of a person could so easily affect their status in a society.

In this area, people were always in contrast to one another, whether or not they once harmonized, unaffected by higher authorities. On one end, the glorified leader of the Purifiers, Boreas, decorated in morose black armor and red cape, baring a custom sword and shield. On the other end, a well known, well meaning, yet ne'er-do-well peasant, Esdras, dressed only in a tattered black cloak, sitting on a boulder near the gates, watching the Purifiers and waiting for them to pass.

Not but two centuries before, Boreas and Esdras were friendly rivals for the admiration of the public. Back then, only how much they could give to make the empire strive mattered. No one could have foreseen their daily exchange of vicious sneers and insults over nothing more than a difference in ideals.

"Ah, Esdras. Still scouring the wastelands for pathetic scraps of food, I see. It's so good to see that you've remained persistent in chasing after that fairy tale you call hope." Boreas sarcastically spat with an evil grin as he stepped up to Esdras' boulder.

Esdras' lack of respect kept him from even making eye contact with his foe, his head lowered, covered by the hood of his cloak. "I might say the same of you, Boreas, but it is very clear that hope rarely exists for even the most loyal of Alcaeus' dogs. He'll use you only until this land is bled dry, when he'll have no further use of you. Enjoy your so-called 'respect' while it lasts, you deluded fool."

"You, heretic, will refer to the Great Lord Alcaeus in a title no less than that of 'His Majesty,' or face death by my blade!" Boreas growled, obviously insulted.

"The day that I refer to that pig with any such respect is the day that I submit to him in death, and I have far more to accomplish in my lifetime. Besides, we both know that I was always the better swordsman. I suggest you think twice before following through with such a reckless advance." Esdras confidently huffed, grinning in welcome of a fight.

Boreas leaned in close with the intention of intimidation, very irate. "Heed my words, Esdras. Eventually, this day-to-day tiff of ours will become something far more serious, and on that day, I will be overjoyed to run you through and rid the empire of you and the pestilence of your comrades. Soon, Lord Alcaeus will come to realize that our empire ill needs your aggravating resistance, and I will return to crush you."

"Until then, continue begging for your Lord's attention as a dog begs for a bone. Perhaps, eventually, he will grow to care about the personal vendetta of an insignificant pawn such as yourself." Esdras retaliated, unfazed by his foe's threat.

"I refuse to fuel your insolence any further." Boreas said with a stiffness of pride in his tone, regaining his composure. "I have far more important tasks at hand than trading insults with a pathetic insect like you." Boreas stormed off, readying his men for combat and mounting his horse. Esdras could only shake his head in disappointment. Though maintaining a life may have been difficult, nothing was more shameful to a vampire than a lack of pride. Most would have welcomed death before submitting to a leader simply to be tossed table scraps from time to time; it was a disgrace that scarred any man's image.

After the soldiers had dispersed, Esdras took hold of a rope from behind the boulder that bound two wolf carcasses by the ankle. It was a shame that a common citizen had to resort to hunting lowly beasts for blood and food, but it was even more of a shame that they had to be hidden from the higher authorities. It was a shame that there was even a slight risk of the beasts being confiscated in the name of the empire.

Dragging the carcasses through the dust behind him as he walked, Esdras approached the gates, and the pitifully thin guards that stood there, rickety in their armor from fatigue and hunger. He stopped before one of them, placing a hand on his shoulder, and awaiting his rising, tired gaze. After getting his attention, he removed one of the carcasses from the rope and slid it to the guard's feet as a gift of good will.

"Feed, my friend." Esdras whispered. "Your honorable service has gone far too long uncompensated."

The guard smiled half-heartedly, placing his hand on Esdras' shoulder in return. "You are a good man, Esdras. This empire would thrive once more if only there were more as generous as you." He said.

"I remember the days when you were not only respected, but feared. Nevertheless, you remained steadfast in your honor. You were long overdue for a reward. I'm only sorry that I couldn't deliver more." Esdras replied.

The guards kneeled before their meal, clawing at the flesh and starting a blood flow. "Your generosity and consideration are far more of a reward than any amount of food you could have given us." Said the guard as Esdras passed through the gates and over the path, toward the empire village center.

The sight of the village grew more depressing upon every return, the walls of its former buildings twisted and ruined from ages of wear and tear. The sunset overhead was reminiscent only of the fires of battle, the fires of their torment and loss. There was no cooperation anymore; one could only wait until another died from hunger or otherwise to steal their means of shelter.

Children attempted to play as they once did long ago, but the stone road was ruined and hazardous, and the older of the inhabitants were not above cannibalism to survive. It was sad that even the young were in such peril, but it had become a fact of life. Esdras could do not but avert his eyes from the horror, for it grew to escape even his optimism.

Finally reaching his home, Esdras removed his hood and pushed aside the thin curtain that alone protected the interior from the cold, dragging the remaining wolf corpse behind him as he stepped in. His family had perished, all but one, his mother, and she was not long for the world of flesh. In the dim candlelight, she was the first thing he saw upon entering, lying cold and still on a disheveled bed near the far corner of the room, clothed in tattered rags. She would welcome death were it to come, but it would not.

Esdras sat in a chair near her, taking hold of an old, iron bowl on a low shelf near the bed. He scarred the carcass and filled the bowl with blood, then held it gently near her lips.

"Please, mother. Please feed. Your strength wanes." He pleaded.

His mother refused to drink, insistent that he take the bowl away. "Esdras, you should not waste your bounty on my health. I am a lost cause, and will not live much longer."

The thought left him flustered. "Mother, you must live. The town buzzes of conspiracy against the tyrannous lord. It will not be long before the revolution. You must know peace in life before death. Please mother, I beg of you, drink."

As any mother, she could not deny Esdras his dreams. She sipped the blood, taking hold of the bowl for herself, even if only to ease her son's qualm. "Your father would be proud, my son. You have grown strong, even if in these times of desperation. You've become a leader, and a caring one at that. I am certain that he smiles on your endeavor from beyond the void." She whispered, robbed of the strength to speak in a full tone.

Esdras sighed in relief, but it faded into an averted gaze of concern. "For all our bravado, I certainly hope you are right." He said, almost to himself as much as to her. He stood again, tearing a strip of the wolf flesh away for himself, storing it rolled up inside a leather pocket on his belt, beneath the cloak. "Mother, I must return to the hunt. Food may be scarce in these approaching winter days. I will return before dawn, but in the meantime, please promise me that you will eat and preserve your strength." He said, lifting his hood and tucking a dagger under his belt. She nodded, smiling, and that was reassuring enough for him.

Dashing to the field, Esdras noticed that the village had taken on an eerie silence under the dark sky. However, opposed to the daily chaos, the silence was rather peaceful. Passing through the gates, and heading toward the forest, he looked back on the devastated village at the foot of the deified mansions and castle beyond. A true image of poverty, indeed. Soon, however, the empire would fall, and from its ashes would rise new hope.

His hunting style was no cleaner than that of the wolves he earlier murdered, but that's what it took to survive as a warrior and provider. For hours, pushing through the thickets, his hunt was unsuccessful, no animal of sufficient size in sight. Hope grew thin, but suddenly, he was alerted to the repetitive clicking of a walking stick in the fallen leaves and twigs.

It was a wanderer! And so close! How rare it was to find a human so near the village that had not been victim to the greed of the Purifiers! That was a chance that no able-bodied hunter could afford to miss. He followed the clicking as it echoed from the trees, his quick movements melding his figure into the shadows themselves.

Soon, he saw his prey, and slowed his stalking to observe. He wore a thick, green mantle over a light chain mail vest, which he wore over a bark brown, loose tunic, and tough leather greaves. His right hand supported a leather haversack over his right shoulder, and his left held the wooden walking stick that lead to his approaching doom.

Esdras leapt, pushing off a nearby tree with his feet so as to land roughly ten feet in front of the wanderer. He rose from one knee slowly, baring canines and hissing. To say the least, his prey was startled. He tripped over his own feet while hastily stepping back, staring at Esdras with a wide-eyed look of terror.

"S-st-stand away, demon!" The wanderer stuttered, drawing a dagger from his belt and directing its point at his assailant. Esdras said nothing, holding his tooth baring glare and drawing his own dagger. With no warning, Esdras lunged for his prey, giving him time only to gasp before his torso was riddled with blade wounds, and his throat penetrated by fangs. In no time, his body grew limp and lifeless, accepting death.

Suddenly, Esdras jumped to his feet, paying no further mind to his meal. The vampire race had a very finely tuned link with the spectral energies active around them, especially those pertaining to kin. A chill overcame him, for he sensed the life of his dear mother slipping from its physical grasp.

"Mother!" Esdras shouted, sprinting for the village as fast as he could, leaving the wanderer's corpse where it lay. The trees and stones around him formed a blur in his vision as he sped by them, and finally, he arrived, stopping just beyond the gates. He could smell a change in the air; he sensed the scent of human blood, and the passing of horses. Clearly the Purifiers had returned with their most recent catch. However, he could smell blood that was not human, but that of a vampire.

He ran home with great haste, tossing aside the curtain and calling out to his mother, but no answer followed. The bed was bloodied, stained a violent red; Esdras' mother had been impaled by a Purifier spear, mounted by a tattered banner that read, "BRING SWIFT DEATH TO THE DEFIANT. LONG LIVE LORD ALCAEUS."

Veins protruded around the wound, and her face was grotesque. Her eyes had rolled back, obscuring the irises, and blood seeped over her extended canines, down her chin, and dripped onto her chest. Death had come for her long before he could even say goodbye.

The sound of a vampire's distraught roar cannot easily be explained, but as it blasted from Esdras' chest, its horror echoed throughout the village. Anyone could tell that the sound marked dire need of revenge, and desperate pursuit of such. The war had only just begun.