Rage and weep oh immortal gods

Who watch from on high

Weep for the sons of men

Weep for the dead and the wounded

The blind and the feeble

For none shall be spared the carnage

Not one

Rage for the faithful

Who now drink the blood of their brothers

And the hopeless who drown in their own

Weep for the beauty of the world

Now burning and in flames

Shed tears for those who once lived

Sing of days of joy oh you Muses

Sing of the glorious days now gone by

Sing of the kings of the ancient Empire

Who's glory will never go out

Sing of the days of peace

Despair all you who live on the earth

Despair for the days to come

Despair for the ones you have lost

Despair for the ones you will lose

Despair for despair is all that remains

Rage oh you gods and Immortals

Rage for the son of Menos

Rage for the son of Mersinios

-Lines 1-26 of "The Epic of Mersinios"

Chapter I

The Hunt

Michael struggled forward in the dark. He was unable to focus on his surroundings, his vision blurred by pain. All the while the pouring rain drowned out all sounds in its constant rumble. Desperately he tried to continue forward, but slipped in the mud and fell to the ground hard; again, pain shot through his arm down his spine, leaving a burning sensation in his limbs. Instinctively he clutched his shoulder, the wound was bad, bad enough to render his right arm useless and send waves of pain ripping through his body from the slightest touch.

"Damn Lycanthropes," he cursed through clenched teeth. "Who would have thought there were so many of them around," he groaned as he crawled behind a tree for cover.

"I can smell you human, I know you're here. I've tasted your flesh, and your blood. Come out and lets finish this: hunter and prey," the Wolf's deep, gravely voice cut across the rain and rang in his ears. Michael had never feared that sound before, but now it terrified him horribly. The Wolf continued to mock, "Come out and play little Slayer." he knew that this particular beast was big, really big. Most of its brethren when transformed stood nearly six feet tall; this one was eight, and still armed with claws, teeth, and the strength of ten big men.

"You saw what I did to your friends; you really want to suffer the same death? And you may be thinking, he's wounded now, I can take him, but remember, I killed six of your kind without a wound. How easy will it be for me to kill one of you, even with the wound," he called back, knowing it was pointless to try to reason with it. The truth was only Silver, like that found in his sword would offer any protection against the Wolf, but that relied on the ability to insert the sword into the Lycan, something he wasn't likely to do.

"Well, well, well, the Slayer couldn't kill the Wolves?" a voice taunted form the tree above him.

"Oh Gods be praised," Michael muttered sarcastically. "A Guardian."

"Very perceptive," the Vampire dropped to the ground and stood nose to nose with him, "isn't that a nasty wound? Wouldn't it be a shame if you became a Lycanthrope," the Guardian mocked.

"Shut up," Michael groaned, "Either kill me or leave."

"Oh, Slayer, I don't want you to die yet, and if I let you go then I wouldn't get to watch you bleed to death," he smiled sadistically.

"Good for you," Michael managed through waves of pain. He forced his good arm across his chest to grip his sword and screamed as the pain that raced from his wounded shoulder through the rest of his body. The gnawing, wracking pain of complete and total agony consumed him, it begged him to stop, to wait, but hatred and vengeance forced him to continue, the blade forced through the Vampire with all his might.

He staggered back a few steps and ripped the sword from his body. "That hurt Slayer," he growled viciously through clinched teeth, holding the sword in his hand.

"That's too bad," he managed while waves of pain continued to wrack his body, "I was hoping it would kill," he sneered sarcastically, "But then, I wouldn't get to watch a Lycanthrope eat you alive."

The Lycanthrope leapt over the tree and landed between the Vampire and Michael. "Oh, I get a double treat," it growled happily, "I'm about to kill the legendary Slayer Ajeron, and I get to kill a Vampire Guardian. I will be rewarded most splendidly by my lord."

The Lycanthrope turned its huge and powerful body to face Michael; it stepped forward, the mud seemed to be no inconvenience to the beast. At the sight of it, Michael remembered just how large and powerful this particular Werewolf was. Its entire body rippled with unmatched power and strength. Each step brought it closer to the injured man, who stood there, barely able to support himself against the tree. The huge mass of muscle and strength reared forward; ready to strike, ready to kill.

"Lycanthrope!" the Guardian yelled as he charged forward, sword drawn. He slammed into the Lycanthrope, the long blade dug into the Lycanthrope's body, the Mystic Silver sliced through the mass of muscle and bone until the hilt was flush with the skin. The Lycanthrope reared up in pain, and ripped the blade from its body, throwing it away, right at Michael's feet. Michael recognized the sword at once as his own.

The Guardian had since drawn his own weapon and stood facing the wolf-like beast. Michael felt at his maimed shoulder, he could hardly see it in the dark, but he knew it was worse than he originally guessed. It burned like hell as his body fought the Were-Plague. He pulled his hand back; it was wet with black blood. He groaned; the Lycanthrope had decimated his whole shoulder, all the way from the side of the neck to the upper arm.

Suffering all the way he reached for the sword, the handle glistened with a mix of water and blood; he snatched it from the puddle with his left hand. The sword rode naturally there, it was his dominant and unharmed hand, but the wound had caused so much damage to his body it mattered very little; he was nearly incapacitated.

The Vampire and Lycanthrope circled, each one waiting for the other to act. The Guardian was vastly disadvantaged. He was both slower and weaker than his opponent was, and less resilient. The only thing that offered him any advantage was his sword, being made of Silver made it inherently deadly to Lycanthropes. The Sliver was so powerful that it hardly even slowed as it cut through their flesh.

Sensing a moment of weakness the Lycanthrope lunged forward at the Guardian, its claws and teeth bared. The Vampire bared he own teeth at the Lycanthrope and swung his sword. The two collided in a shower of blood and screaming. Two huge and gnarled claws landed on the ground behind the two combatants, but the Guardian stood, seemingly unharmed. He turned and pushed his advantage, coming at his opponent from the air while the Lycanthrope nursed its wounded hand. The Vampire had overestimated his advantage, and the Lycanthrope turned with sudden speed and pinned the Vampire to the ground, sending its sword flying away. The Lycanthrope swung its claws down, smashing the Vampire's face with its good hand. Blood and chunks of bone filled the air in a burst, while screams of utter agony filled the night air and drowned out the downpour. The Guardian shifted his weight and kicked the Lycanthrope off himself, it landed on its feet only a few yards away, but it was enough time for the Vampire to get back to his feet. The Lycanthrope charged forward on all fours and leapt into the air. Teeth bared and claws poised. The Vampire ducked under it and threw the Lycanthrope to the ground with all his might; it landed with a loud crash and the cracking of bones. The Guardian panted as he dashed back for his sword, but the Lycanthrope reached out and dragged him to the ground. It dragged him in and bit the Guardian's shoulder. It violently swung the Vampire this way and that until it flew away in a shower of dark blood, its arm still between the Lycanthropes powerful teeth. It aimed its head down to bite again and the Vampire head-butted him leaving his head ringing, and the smaller man escaped from the grip of the larger and more powerful one.

There was a moment of pause in the battle, the sounds stopped; only the rain was left in the void, drowning out all other sounds with its own.

"Lycanthrope," Michael managed to yell hoarsely.

"Do you want to have some more fun human?" the Lycanthrope sneered joyfully. It turned its whole body toward him, "You got your sword back, but it doesn't matter, I'll still tear you apart, piece by bloody piece."

"Bold words Lycanthrope."

"Even bolder are yours," it laughed sadistically, "you can barely even lift your sword and you're taunting me." The monster lunged forward, its massive frame aiming straight at Michael. He lifted his sword desperately, aiming to bring it down on the Lycanthrope's head. But his slowed reactions made the effort vain, and with one powerful swing of his claws the Lycanthrope left Michael's chest bare and bloody, it returned to the Vampire Guardian, who had just managed to return to his feet. "Save your strength human, I will enjoy feasting on your flesh soon enough."

The Guardian faced the Lycanthrope in all of its power. Its sword gripped in its remaining arm. The Lycanthrope smiled and let out a howl of victory as it pounced on the Vampire, sending the sword flying away again.

The Vampire stared in grim horror as the Lycanthrope raised up its massive arm. It didn't strike the Guardian unconscious, instead it ripped his arms off and slowly chewed the flesh from them in front of him.

"This has got to be the best meal I've had in ages," he taunted. "I do so love my meat best when it's still alive." It lowered its hideous snout down into the face of the Guardian; blood dripped from its jagged teeth into his face. "I will make you suffer in the worst way, worse than your kind ever did to me or mine, do you understand Vampire?" it laughed softly.

"I will laugh at you from the halls of Thenos. Since there is a special Hell reserved for animals like you," the Vampire spit in the Wolf's face.

The Lycanthrope let out a howl of rage and ripped the Vampire's chest open with its bare hands. The beast forced its head into the wound and began to gorge itself on the organs. It snorted and snapped its jaw, chewing frantically and chaotically with its mouth open wide. Slowly the Lycanthrope gulped down each organ, and as it bit into them, blood squirted out of the wounds, splattering the ground.

The Vampire emitted a throaty sound suddenly, chocking for air.

"Oh," the Lycanthrope was dismayed, "my Vampire is going to die before I have proper fun with him isn't he?"

"Sorry bastard, but I think you'll die first," Michael rammed his sword into the Lycanthrope's head. Flesh and bone alike peeled back before the keen silver edge. A thin smoke issued from the wound as the blade was held into it desperately. The Lycanthrope reared and turned, forcing the blade through the rest of its neck, but not before delivering another series of wounds to Michael.

He grasped his bleeding chest and crawled to the maimed Guardian, it coughed and looked up at him. "Mercy," the word formed on his lips, his body unable to vocalize, as it lacked lungs.

Michael struggled to raise his blade up, and with all the strength left in his being; he swung the blade down. The Guardian's head rolled away in a shower of blood. Instantly the body went limp and Michael stumbled away and fell to the ground not more than ten feet away.

His head swam; blood rushed out of his core and flowed over his torn and broken body. It ran to the ground and gathered in the puddles of water, forming blotchy patterns in it. Alone in the rainstorm he muttered a prayer to a Deity who's religion had died out long before his ancestors were born. Then with a weak groan he dug mud up from the ground beneath himself and packed the wound with it. Pushing his good arm over the wound packed with mud he began to udder and incantation he had learned many years before.

Spurned on by some unseen power the mud changed from earth to flesh, the wounds healed into perfect flesh, scaring in razor thin lines where the new flesh merged with the old.

He faded from consciousness and collapsed to the ground

"Where am I?" Michael spoke weakly from the bed he lay in.

"So, you are awake," the Healer said uneasily.

"Yes," he answered without emotion. "What happened?"

"You were fighting a Vampire and a Lycanthrope," the Healer answered. "It has become more common recently," she sighed, "I will be back once I have made a suitable ointment for your shoulder. I suggest you wait here and try not to move while I am gone."

The door snapped shut as the Healer left, and Michael was left alone.

Michael stared at the room; it was very small and plain. There was nothing more than a wash basin and a bed; and in one corner was a bin he assumed was for holding things to be burned. The walls were made of log overlay, a common style among the poorer peoples, but it seemed out of place for a rich order like the Healers. Somehow, he had expected more.

The door swung open and the elderly Healer returned; she carried with her a small package of something and a small bowl of strong smelling ointment. She sat the package on the edge of the wash basin and walked to him.

"This will not hurt," she began to apply the strong smelling and sticky substance to the wound.

There was no feeling at all, and Michael assumed the substance must be and antiseptic as well as a healing agent. Slowly the wound was filled with the pasty substance. Michael once stole a glance at the work, it was white and odorless, and it made the wound turn purple and black. It suddenly throbbed with shooting pain, and made his whole body sore with pain.

"Tell me sir," she said suddenly, "How is it that you came by this wound?"

"I am a Slayer, I am called Ajeron in those circles, if you care. I was on my way to Traviir when I was attacked by seven Lycanthropes. I managed to slay six of them without much trouble, I am well skilled in the arts of killing. Regardless, the last one was able to firmly affix himself to my shoulder before I wounded him."

"You were bitten, and have not yet transformed?" The Healer seemed nervous.

"I am immune to the Lycanthrope-Plague."

"It is only a rumor that anyone can actually be immune, a Slayer once told me that. He then took his own life to prevent the change." She shook her head, "I don't understand everything about you Slayers."

"The Selfish-Stroke. That's what it was called years ago at least, to kill oneself just to avoid something unpleasant. It is the most honourless death."

"You would not beg for death before the transformation?" she seemed puzzled.

"Of course I would beg for death, but I would not inflict it on myself. That is purely selfish and pitiful, if Fate does not deliver a Mercy Hand to you, it does not intend for you to die there." he noticed her glance and added, "I would rather die the most horrible death than become a Vampire. I loath them, they took everything from me."

"Let go of your hate and you will be a powerful man Merconian,"

He turned to refute her with the same argument he had used a hundred times before, but she was already gone. Michael looked around and took a deep breath. His shirt had been destroyed beyond hope of repair, now he would be forced to find a new one. Then there was the issue of repairing his armour. He shook his head; that would have to wait.

Leaving the House of Healing behind he stepped out into the small village. He assumed it was Miisher, a small town that was all that remained of the settlement that the barbarians built before the time of the High Empire. These were all that was left of the native peoples, his people. Not like the dark skinned peoples that had come in from Kash and overrun most of the lands of Anderin. He shook his head sadly, the people who had once ruled over the world were being wiped out by foreigners, because they didn't have the nerve to send them away and stop more from entering. It would cost them their empire, their people, and possibly their lives. But they weren't that farsighted.

His shoulder was wrapped and bandaged, but he walked into a seamstress' shop all the same.

"Sir," one of the seamstresses addressed him politely, "we cannot fit a man who has open wounds; it is against the laws of the Magistrate Senris, who rules in Traviir."

"I doubt that has stopped you from doing many things in the past, in fact I doubt you to be over sixteen years of age, which would mean that you cannot operate a profitable establishment. And because you're not sixteen you're defiantly not old enough to be barren, which means that you shouldn't be selling to men, now should you?" Michael reasoned with the girl.

"Alright sir, but I must see money."

Michael reached into his cloak and brought out four gold coins, each having a diamond set in the middle, "do you have enough change to break one of these?"

"A Fashing?" She seemed stunned, "No, I can't break a Fashing, I couldn't even break a Balak."

"How about a three Shenars for a shirt?" he asked after replacing the four priceless coins.

"Four," she snapped automatically.

"Three Shenars and a Salk?" he tried.

"Two Salks and you have yourself a deal sir."

"Very well, Three Shenars and two Salks." He counted out the coins into her eager hands, and added a third Salk as well."

"Sir, that's…"

He held his finger up to his mouth, "A tip," then he leaned closer and whispered, "and you keep your mouth shut, particularly about the money I flashed you, understand?"

She nodded her head yes and he relaxed.

Nearly an hour later he walked out with a new shirt on, he then used his magic to change the powerful healing ointments into new flesh, and burned the bandages in a small trash fire behind the seamstress' shop.

He turned his head toward the road again. The heavy rains had returned, and he was ready to be free of the city and back on the road. There was no need for him there; the Lycanthropes didn't bother the people of the town, these people would serve Mercus loyally if he ever tried to retake the throne.

Michael walked the dirt-turned-mud path that led back to the main road. Travel was always slow this time of year, the dark came early, and the rain came in torrents for days, and then was gone for days. It would follow him all the way to Traviir. He sighed at the thought of reaching the city. He didn't mind the rain at all, in fact he loved the rain; it reminded him of his favorite times. Time spent at home in Ajeron, with his beautiful wife and his little cousins. Days spent eating, flirting, and having fun. A tear formed in his eye and ran down his cheek. Those days were long gone now, the city burned to the ground by the Vampires; his wife drained of blood, her cold and lifeless body with all of the others stacked in a pile in the center of the city. He forced the pain below, it was a lot like suffocating, but it was the only way to survive. That Michael had died in Ajeron, he was a different Michael, a stronger Michael, a Michael who could take care of himself.

Over time, the pain he buried below slowly began to smolder. After a while, that pain caught flame and began to burn, and that burning anger erupted into the fires of hate. Slowly the hate died away and was replaced by the coals of loathing, and he used those coals to temper himself anew into a killing machine. No more remorse, no more pain, nothing was left of his former self, nothing was left of the man, all that remained was loathing, loathing and vengeance.

He loosened his brow, which he had knotted up while thinking about his past. Quickly he drew a deep breath and began to practice his meditation. The calm rushed over him like cool, soothing water, until it had washed away the pain. Michael cleared the remains of the tear from his eye and continued to walk.

"Slayer," a voice called out from the bush, "I sense death upon you," the raspy male voice spoke again.

"Who's there? I do not fear you," Ajeron's cold confidence took control of his body and he was ready for the threat, whatever it was that lingered in the bush.

A man, who appeared to be in his early forties stepped from the bush, it was clear that it was not age, but care had worn down his features. From the same motion Michael deduced he was a Vampire, and by the markings tattooed all over his body the Slayer guessed he was the Vampire Prophet.

"You're the Prophet, aren't you?" Michael asked quietly.

"It is as you say," the man answered in the same raspy voice as before.

"Why have you come to see me Prophet?" Michael was amused, "You know I could kill you quiet easily, and it would be a powerful symbol, the fall of the Vampire race would soon follow I expect."

"And I would agree Merconian, but I have foreseen this meeting, and I do not think you will kill me. I am not the enemy you think me to be. In fact, I knew that burning Ajeron would create you, that is why I advised them not to attack the city at all, knowing that their desires were vain. It was you they wanted to destroy; did you know that? You're family as well, but you in particular they wanted to die. You see Ajeron, in your family, lies great power, you know this already, your very name speaks of power and majesty, Merconian."

Michael cut him off, "Power from another age, the power of a family broken and scattered, I have no power, nor does my name or the family who wields it. That name lost its power when Menos was slain by his own son," Michael spat. "You did not come to give me a history lesson on things I was taught as a child, why have you come here Prophet?"

"With a warning for you, and a prophecy: 'question everything, trust no one but those who trust you. Do not be deceived, those who are now closest to you will betray you, and those who seem farthest will prove to be your closest friends.' That is the prophecy concerning you Michael of the house of Menos, son of Mercus and heir to that noble house. Now go well, I have seen greatness in your future, but also great suffering."

"The gods' speed be with you Prophet, may the mouthpiece of the gods never falter," he spoke the traditional parting with a prophet, though he did not understand why.

Michael stood just where he had when talking to the Prophet, there was something making him uneasy, but he couldn't put his finger on it. It made him horribly uncomfortable, but he didn't know what it was. He shook his head and regained his senses. Then he looked down, there was a bundle at his feet and he knelt down. Nimbly he untied the rope that bound the cloth together, inside were duplicates of his damaged armour and Slayer traveling clothes, as well as a dagger he had lost years ago to a Vampire Prince.

"Thenos," the air echoed the whisper like a hurricane to his ear.