Wednesday, April 9, 2014


The War Of The Roses
By E.S. Wynn

The end of all things did not come with ice or fire. The end of life, the overnight fall of mighty empires that had stood strong, unconquered for a thousand generations did not come on the heels of a biting winter or a scorching summer. It did not rise from the loamy earth like the claws of ravening, risen dead. Neither gods, demons nor witches brought it, nor devils or their unseen sicknesses blowing on chill night winds. It began instead with only a single drop of blood, a single prick from the thorn of a rose.

The first reports came by runner from Kedralium, wove such horrifying stories of men consumed by lashing, hungry vines that whole kingdoms sealed themselves off from the world, built mighty walls to keep out the possessed they feared so much. Not long after, more runners came, then refugees fleeing from Fyadu, Gyrjak and Halvdor, men and women screaming in terror, begging to be let through gates that would never again be opened. When the last of the Eastern empires fell, all eyes turned to the peninsula of Majabez, turned to the copper city there, the gateway to the West that had stood resolute for ages beyond reckoning. Troops from every Western empire surged to support Majabez's towering walls when the first reports came, the first sightings of warriors wrapped in vines, their pitted armor studded with the vibrant blossoms of blood-red roses, but all arrived too late, and only a few, a very few, escaped to return home with news of the fall of the copper city.

Within days, the rose-men, the warriors of a dozen nations possessed by the vines and blossoms that drove them mad, drove them into a berserk rage were at the gates of the first of the Western empires. Yalidthan fell immediately, then Ulare, then Opatne. Like an island amidst the surging tides of a violent, stormy ocean, Kakythara stood almost a week under the constant onslaught of the rose men, finally fell as food became scarce and her soldiers began to succumb to fatigue, unable to keep their tireless enemy at bay. Commoners fled West as quickly as they could, gathered in massive caravans and wagon trains that bypassed whole cities, whole nations, but by the time they reached the sea, the rose-men were already upon them, and the last of the Western empires, the coastal kingdom of Barbaradne, fell in the span of just a few short hours.

Few of us have survived this holocaust, this War of the Roses, as some are calling it, and each of us only by taking to the sea. I've heard reports of refugees fleeing further west, seeking out islands and undiscovered continents where the rose-men have not yet sewn their venomous seed, but the most telling reports come from the skirmishers who hunt along the coasts, picking what they can from the ruins of abandoned villages. For weeks, it is said that the rose-men have thrown themselves into the surf like fools, whole hordes of them, but also that even as the tides throw most of them back to shore, some are dragged out to open water, float until they come together in tiny, viney barges.

Already, at least four ships have fallen to the thorns of these floating rose-men, and the vessels that trade fresh fish for fresh water and stolen, half-rotten fruit are becoming fewer, more skittish and wary when they do appear. There is no way to judge whether any of us will survive, or when the last of our kind might be consumed by the plague of the roses, but the captain and the emaciated crew that were kind enough to take me aboard the day before Barbaradne fell are looking more and more often to the abyss of open ocean to the west. Some of the other refugees say it is only a matter of time before we turn and take our chances amidst the unknown. Others even support the idea.

And yet all of us, all of us are wondering, even if we do find land, even if we do find a whole new continent beyond the endless bosom of the sea--

What is to stop us from being devoured by the rose-plague when the first of the infected washes up on the sands of that distant shore?

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E.S. Wynn is the author of over fifty books and the chief editor of Thunderune Publishing.


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