Aeneas of Cronus, bastard son of Lord Alcaeus. It was because of his intervention that the common people of the empire now starved. In his lethargy, Aeneas refused to hunt for himself, and absolutely demanded that the women of his choice be reserved for his private feeding. Because of this, the Purifiers were ordered to capture all humans of a certain youth, and eventually, all human prey became the property of the nobility. Like a spoiled child, Aeneas refused to support himself, and became infuriated when any inhabitant of the empire denied his whim. It was inevitable that someone would attempt to assassinate him.

Aeneas sat at the far end of the dining hall, but the table was bare, and only the light of the evenly spaced candles warmed the long, beautiful lace. He had been swirling the same glass of red wine for hours, staring into its hypnotic movement, wide-eyed with worry. Every vampire in the kingdom received chills from the sound of Esdras' horrible roar, but it brought him paranoia. For the past hour, Boreas had been standing near him in a weak attempt to calm his nerves.

"Are you sure that the entire castle is secure? All guards hold their positions in preparation for an attack?" Aeneas asked in a fearful, shaky tone.

"I assure you, master Aeneas, all passageways leading to the central area of this castle have been reinforced with twice the amount of guards. Whatever that strange phenomenon was, it isn't going to make its way through us to get to you." Boreas said comfortingly, placing a hand on the prince's shoulder.

Aeneas paused and nodded. "Yes. You are right. I must rid myself of this bothersome worry."

"Shall I leave you to your thoughts?" Boreas asked.

"If you please, Boreas. Perhaps sleep would help me calm down." Aeneas sighed.

"Very well, I will be at guard just outside the hall." Boreas said, bowing and leaving the room.

The forest held a profound silence, rendered still by fear. Esdras stared into the wind, then looked at himself once more, thrilled with the new power. As he reached for his weapon, his hand became engulfed in a black fire that seemed to spontaneously materialize, but ceased as he noticed and drew his hand away.

"You have become the wielder of the Black Flame, Esdras. Not only have you been granted powerful telekinesis, but also, all weapons are blessed with the power of your aura while they are within your hands. You will find that your dagger is far stronger, I am sure." The old woman said.

Esdras reached for his blade once more, and upon his touch, the dagger transformed in the same sense that he had upon emerging in the swirl of energy. It was once a simple dagger, its blade rough and stained from use, and its hilt rectangular and bandaged tightly with tattered cloth. Wrapped in the Black Flame, the blade now shined brilliantly, the center lined with decorative runes. The hilt became a black stone material, fitted perfectly for his grip, and the guard became two oppositely facing dragon heads. Still, as decorative as it may have been, it was equally if not more destructive, having been enchanted by the Black Flame.

As he wielded the blade and examined it, it remained surrounded in the ever-restless Black Flame. That blade alone was then capable of cleaving stone in a single, effortless blow. Returning it to its sheath on the back of his belt, the blade returned to its former self, no longer blessed by his touch. Only in his grip did the blade become a deadly force.

"One more artifact awaits you before your departure, Esdras. Come with me." The old woman dryly spoke, holding her chest as if stifling a cough. It was clear that she was not well. Nevertheless, Esdras followed her lead to a smaller thicket nearby. There stood a simple sword in a pedestal labeled by the same mysterious writing. Its blade and hilt had been worn away slowly by time, leaving not more than a rusted beacon of a distant past.

"This sword, tuned to the aura of the Black Flame by the mages of old, is now yours to wield. To any other, this blade would have no use beyond display, but in your hands, this humble antique becomes a deadly edge to smite all that oppose you. Take hold of it, Esdras, and complete the image of the empire's hope and pride." The old woman coughed, growing weaker. She grew near the end of her endeavor, and her destiny was nearly complete. To awaken the new king, that was her mission, and she had born it as a heavy burden on her shoulders for centuries. She welcomed the nearing of her release.

Esdras stepped close to the sword and stared heavily at it, as if it returned a gaze that only he could recognize, and that wasn't too far from the truth. As his hand neared the hilt, hundreds of voices echoed in his head.

"Free us." They demanded. "Free yourself, free your kingdom. Claim what is yours." The voices came in chaos, but this message stood out ominously clear.

Grasping the grip, a long forgotten power sprung forth in fury. An imploding force sunk in toward the sword and Esdras, pulling fierce wind with it that bent the trees toward him, and he found that he could not let go of it. As he pulled it from the stone, it resisted, then burst from the stone in a flash of black energy and sent him stumbling back. Just then, a tower of spiraling, black fire shot from the pedestal and toward the sky, stretching further than anyone could see.

The pillar of fire burst into fragmented energy sources and stormed toward Esdras. As he raised the sword to block the blast, the flame surged into the blade in fine beams, and the two of them pulsated with raw power. Their two beings, their two auras, had become one.

The blade transformed instantly within his hand. As the dagger, the blade shone brightly and lined itself with runes, except these runes were the same mysterious list of names embedded over the entirety of both faces of the blade. The hilt transformed into a monstrous image, a dark black, and the guard riddled with thorns much like that of a rose. The grip, guard, and center of the blade were engraved with fine, empty circuits, and their purpose was next revealed.

A wound appeared on Esdras' right wrist of its own will, and his blood seeped down into the circuits. When the blood had run its course to the end of the blade, it ignited in a burst of deep red energy, constantly surrounded by it, and it suddenly felt lighter. The sword and Esdras had truly become one.

"Wield the mighty Rosa Cruentum, the blood-thirsty rose. Use it well to bring about the death of the tyrant. You must return to the village and rally your men. The revolution begins now, and Cronus will fall." The old woman said nearly in a whisper. Only her staff supported her now. Her weakness had overcome her.

Esdras sheathed the sword in a loop on his belt, and as the dagger, it returned to its normal state. "No," he said, "my people have suffered enough. I refuse to allow them to shed blood in my name. I must take the kingdom on my own. I will go in covert." Esdras voice echoed in many tones now, as ominous as the black sky itself. It was as if one thousand voices of all different types spoke in unison.

"Thank you, old woman. You have helped me realize my calling, and I will not disappoint you." Esdras said. The old woman nodded, but she could no longer speak. After picking up his discarded cloak and wrapping it around his shoulders, Esdras slowly lifted his wings and brought them down hard, pushing fierce wind below him and lifting himself into the sky, bolting toward the horizon with inconceivable speed.

As he passed over the village, Esdras felt a deepening sorrow, for even past the blinding wind and clouds, its appearance radiated a morose aura of doom. He had watched it deteriorate from the day that Alcaeus was named successor to the throne, but he had never seen the entire sad site from above. It was truly disheartening.

Alcaeus landed on the rooftop of the castle's central area. Guards had been positioned all around the castle, but they clearly did not expect an aerial assault. Standing again from a kneeling position, he walked towards the window of his first target: Aeneas of Cronus, successor to the throne.

Aeneas stirred awake from the sound of the landing outside his room. Looking toward his window, he saw Esdras standing there menacingly. Of course, to him, since Esdras folded his wings and pulled up his hood, Esdras was a mystery shrouded in a black cloak.

"Who.What are you?" Aeneas stuttered.

"I am.the revival of this empire. I must rid it of its weeds before it will grow." Esdras replied.

"W-Weeds? What weeds?" Aeneas asked. Esdras gave no clear answer.

"Your family has tormented us for far too long. You must be judged." Esdras spat, staring Aeneas in the eyes from the shadow of his hood.

Aeneas began to run, but he did not get far. Like a cutting wind, Esdras dashed for the prince, drawing his dagger and stabbing it deep within his torso in one swift movement. Aeneas called for help in his last breath before being engulfed in the Black Flame. The flame tore at him from the inside, withering his body to mummification before Esdras drew the blade out and sheathed it.

Boreas burst through the door in response to the call, short of breath. However, he was far too late. He was welcomed by the sight of a cloaked figure standing victorious of the corpse of his former prince.

"Boreas, you're slipping. You were once such an effective guard." Esdras sarcastically, yet devilishly chuckled.

"How do you know of me, demon?" Boreas asked, drawing his sword.

Esdras lowered his hood, grinning at his foe in an evil fashion. Boreas recognized his face, but his eyes held a fire that struck fear into his heart. Somehow, he knew that Esdras had changed.

"Heathen! What have you done to the prince?!" Boreas exclaimed, infuriated. Still, he sweated with anxiety.

"I have purified our home of his stench. But I digress; I suggest you worry more about your own fate than his." Esdras threatened.

Boreas charged for his prince's assassin, blade drawn and raised above his head, readied for a thrust. However, before he could even complete his attack, Esdras had dashed for him and caught his arm so that it could not lower. Esdras crushed his arm in his hand, forcing him to drop his weapon, and looked him in the eyes one last time.

"I free you from your master, 'old friend.' Now depart!" Esdras shouted, thrusting his free arm completely through Boreas chest and back. Blood flowed like a fountain from his mouth, and he fell to the ground without any further struggle as Esdras drew his arm back through.

Alcaeus knew that his opponent approached, yet still he awaited death in the throne. He refused to flee from any battle, even if it was one that was to claim his life. Esdras kicked open the doors, but walked toward the throne calmly.

"I knew this day would inevitably come. No king holds his power unopposed." Alcaeus sighed.

Esdras continued his steady approach. "Then you already know why I'm here. I have already assassinated your son, along with your prized commander, Boreas. And now, I will purge this land of your disease. You will be judged for your sins against the people, Alcaeus."

Alcaeus stood and took up his claymore. "Then, so be it. If I must die, I will die defending my empire."

"I do not find your fight honorable, Alcaeus. The people suffer under your tyrannous rule. You defend nothing, only struggle against an inevitable undoing. Your end is near, swine! You will be remembered only for your greed!" Esdras shouted, drawing his blade as it surrounded itself in red flame.

Esdras dashed for Alcaeus, shouting a battle cry, but he knew that the king would not fall as easily as his brood. Alcaeus braced himself as his foe neared, and Esdras threw off his cloak, revealing his wings. Esdras thrust his sword in a cleaving motion for Alcaeus, but missed, as Alcaeus nimbly dodged the blow, and the sword cracked the tiles of the floor upon contact.

Regaining his stance, Alcaeus charged toward Esdras, and their blades clashed, sparks flying from the intense force. Esdras expected a fight, but he had never truly seen the might of Alcaeus. Running him through would not be so easy. Jumping back, they stared each other down and regained their stance.

Esdras' speed blurred his image from normal sight, but it was no hazard to Alcaeus, for he matched his enemy's every move. Their blades cut through the air in a deadly silence, and in their speed, the flames of the torches seemed to softly wave rather than flicker.

Neither, so far, had landed a deadly blow. They stood back from one another, each at one knee and robbed of breath. Esdras had been driven to the point of desperation, and it showed on his face in the form of fury. He took to the air in a flash, extending his hand and calling forth the Black Flame, which engulfed his entire arm. Telekinetically grappling Alcaeus, he drew his foe toward him in mid air and drew out his sword.

When within range, Esdras thrust his sword for Alcaeus' collarbone, but he caught the blade between his hands. "Die, you bastard!" Esdras shouted over frustrated grunts and loss of breath from both sides. The blade began to slip through Alcaeus' hands, and eventually, impaled him just as Esdras had planned.

Alcaeus continued to grunt out of frustration, keeping his vicious sneer, until he started coughing up blood. It was then that he slowly succumbed to the pain, and death came. He was reduced to nothing more than corpse dangling from a sword. Lowering to the floor, Esdras drew out his blade.

"Woe.to the conquered." Esdras huffed, winded from the battle as he looked down at the slain king. However, that was not enough to satisfy his hatred. This parasite had sucked the life from the empire for centuries, and he owed the people the same satisfaction, the same symbol of hope. Taking hold of his chest plate with one hand, he began to drag Alcaeus from his throne room and outside the castle. The guards had seen the entire battle, but were far too astonished and, more over, terrified to intervene even at this point. They could only watch as their king's remains were defaced.

Reaching the castle gates, he threw Alcaeus' body into the filthy streets, standing upright and proud, widely spreading his wings, though still short of breath. Of course, this gathered attention almost immediately.

"Behold! Your king, slain and discarded! Your empire is placed back in your hands, and I stand here, your barer of hope, your new king. Let all who oppose me step forward, that they might be slain and buried alongside their former leader!" Esdras shouted over the crowd, staring past them into the sunrise. The people paused, staring amazed at the warrior who had braved the throne and had overthrown it alone.

The crowd cheered, and Esdras smiled, knowing that he had made his mother and other brethren proud. He raised his sword to the wind and lifted his wings, a symbol of a new era that swept the empire. Standing at the village gates, the old woman removed her hood, her hair weak, white and thin, and her eyes dull. Her body began to crumble into a fine ash, but as she passed away, she never dropped her smile of pride. She knew he would lead the empire back to its glory, and at last, she could rest in peace.