This is an important story to me. For much of the last twenty years, I have been building and perfecting a story and a universe that I consider to be my life’s work. It’s the reason I became a writer; everything else I’ve written, even the World Spectrum, was merely practice.
This universe has gone through many incarnations, but The Wounding is the first story taking place in the current — and, I hope, final — version of it.
I have recently updated The Wounding to take into account the most recent revisions to the setting. The meat of the story remains the same, but a little extra detail and polish has been added.
As always, feedback and constructive criticism will be deeply appreciated, and if you enjoy this, make sure to also check out Lady of the Dawn, which takes place in the same universe.
© 2017 by Tyler F.M. Edwards.
“Let them come.”
Enora Ashin’s confident voice cut through the panicked cacophony that had gripped the council chamber. Instantly, the others fell silent and turned their gaze to her, disbelieving.
Enora swept her emerald eyes across their frightened faces, meeting the gazes of each in turn. These were the leaders of Windwood City – architects and lawsayers, soldiers and mages, dreamers and believers. These were the Elves and Karani who had pledged themselves to her dream, to her crusade. How readily their faith was shaken, she thought.
A Karani man, dark-bearded and olive-skinned, found his voice. “But the Bonru have not been seen in these numbers in a generation. They are more organized than they have been since the days of Great Queen Artica.”
An Elven woman nodded, her platinum hair glinting in the weak light that filtered through the chamber windows. “They descend upon this city like a swarm of insects. We’re not ready for them.”
“They’re Bonru,” Enora countered scornfully. “How many of their armies have we crushed? How many of their mayfly generations have we eradicated? We can boast more years of combat experience in one of our squads than they can in however many thousands they’ve mustered this time. We have magic; they do not. What difference if they outnumber us thirty to one?”
“Rumors say the Bonru have changed,” one of the older Elven veterans said, resting a hand on one of the dual swords at his belt. “They say they are starting to evolve – to resist magic.”
Enora nodded. “I’ve heard the same rumors. They say some Bonru can shrug off small spells.”
She began to pace. “But we will not be bringing small spells to bear against them. They will be facing the full force of the Great Fellowship. They will be facing the most talented young mages our races have to offer. They will be facing the Barrier.
“We all knew this would be dangerous when we left the Home Forest,” Enora continued, her voice echoing off the vaulted ceiling. “That’s why we came. For too long, we have been complacent. For two thousand years, we’ve let the Bonru have their run of the south. We founded Windwood City to restore balance to the world, to reclaim all that was lost in the All War.”
She addressed the Karani. “Will you continue to let these interlopers run roughshod over your homeland?”
They shook their heads, their almond-shaped eyes hardening with the stoicism their race was known for.
She turned to her fellow Elves. “Will we continue to allow these aliens to disrupt the Great Cycle of nature?”
“No,” the Elven soldier said, gripping his sword more tightly. The others nodded.
Enora stopped her pacing and clenched her fist before her face. “Then we will fight, and we will win. No more retreating. No more letting the Bonru fester until they breed a new army to attack us. We will break them here, and we will remove their blight from this world once and for all.”
She smiled. “So let them come.”
* * *
Enora walked the streets of Windwood City. Her city.
It had come a long way in a short time. Less than seventy years ago, Windwood had been nothing but wild forest and marsh. Now, homes, temples, workshops, libraries, and public baths crouched amid the trees and lined the canals. Where the cities of the Bonru displaced nature, Windwood City was woven into it seamlessly. It was a living monument to the sacred Cycle.
The dank air buzzed with life. In open fields, the Karani took on their second forms and galloped for the sheer joy of it, spiral horns glinting as their hooves struck thunder upon the earth. Beneath shady trees, Elven youths chattered and sang, friends laughing and lovers embracing. The sounds filled Enora with a warm rush of pride, chasing away the autumn chill.
This was her dream, her life’s work. Since the All War, the Elves and the Karani had lived solely in the Home Forest, having been driven there by the ancient enemy known as the Lokkai. The Lokkai had been defeated, but before the Fellowship could reclaim the great plains of the south, homeland of the Karani, the Bonru had arrived from another world.
War had broken out, and the Bonru had claimed the south for their territory. Though they had been defeated countless times, they always recovered. They bred like field mice, and their numbers made them a constant threat despite their short lives and inability to wield magic. They had prevented the Karani from reclaiming their homeland, and the threat of invasion of the Home Forest was always a looming threat.
Enora sought to change all that. She had led the best and brightest of the Fellowship here to provide a foothold in the south from which they could reclaim the continent and end the Bonru threat forever. Windwood was located in the heart of the southern plains, but its wooded terrain made it a welcome home for Elves. It was the perfect launching point for a reclamation of the south.
Now, her plan would be put to the test. The Bonru had fielded an army once again, and they were coming to drive the Fellowship from Windwood.
Enora felt no fear of the coming battle. Her body thrummed with anticipation. This would be her moment – the moment her dream became reality, the moment the tides of history turned in her people’s favor.
As she headed towards the center of the city, she drew the eyes of all who saw her. Some began to follow her at a respectful distance. When they looked upon her, she saw hope and admiration in their eyes, and it warmed her heart. They loved her, and she loved them in return.
For so long as she could remember, Enora had been told she was special, that she was destined for great things. While most Elves were only capable of wielding elemental magic, Enora was a True Mage, capable of controlling the fundamental energy that comprised all reality. Not only that, but she was one of the most naturally talented True Mages of her generation. Her power exceeded even that of the best Karani adepts, who had a more natural affinity for True Magic.
Some might have balked at such a heavy burden of expectation, but Enora embraced it with open arms. She took every opportunity to be recognizable, to stand apart from the crowd.
While most Elves wore armor dyed in greens and browns to blend in with the wilderness, her warsilk was dyed in vivid purple accentuated with brilliant gold. Where most Elves preferred to wield a pair of single-edged short swords, Enora favored a double-edged bastard sword with a round hand guard. Most Elven women wore their hair loose or in simple ponytails, but Enora’s hair, a rich gold like the setting sun, was kept in an elegant bun.
Enora had never been anything but the center of attention. She was beautiful, with a perfect oval face and flawless skin, and that drew the eyes. Her strong voice and confident demeanor won hearts and inspired minds. Her intense power buffeted at the magical senses.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now with a small crowd of admirers following her, she arrived at Windwood City’s main plaza, a broad triangular section of stone upon which had marshaled the soldiers under her command. Husbands, wives, children, and other civilians crowded at the edges.
Enora strode to the center of the plaza, feeling hundreds of eyes fall upon her. The sensation was as familiar and comfortable as an old glove.
“War has come,” Enora began, using a touch of magic to carry her voice to all those assembled. “Thousands of Bonru descend upon our city. They seek to destroy all we’ve built, to ravage and destroy. They come to kill us down to the last.”
She swept her gaze across the ranks – across the Elves in their mottled warsilk and the Karani in their gleaming plate and mail. “But be not afraid.
“This is our purpose. This is what Windwood City was built for. This is the moment where everything changes, where we take back what is ours. For thousands of years, the Bonru have been a cancer on this world. They struck us when we were at our weakest, and they have kept us from recovering for centuries.”
She drew a deep breath, letting the cold air focus her. “That all ends today. This is the day we prove the Bonru cannot drive us from this land. This is the day we break their hold on this world forever. This is the beginning of their end.”
She drew her sword, using her magic to enhance the gloomy light such that the blade flared brilliantly. “Aria’mah!” she cried, quoting an old Elven battle cry meaning “fletching to string.”
“Aria’mah!” the assembled soldiers roared. Even the civilians joined in, shaking their fists, and the air reverberated with the force of their voices.
Enora let the sound wash over her. She saw the hope, the confidence, in her people, and her heart swelled with pride. She knew, with absolute certainty, that the coming battle would bring them victory and usher in a new era for the Great Fellowship.
An era wrought by Enora Ashin.
* * *
Enora crouched in the damp underbrush. A light drizzle pattered down, and she felt a cold trickle of water work its way under her warsilk and down her back. The air smelled of mud and rain. She fidgeted impatiently, an action mirrored by the other Elves hidden with her. The scouts reported the Bonru were only minutes away.
There were groups like this scattered throughout the woods. They were the only thing standing between the invaders and the people of Windwood.
Powerful magic thrummed through the air, bombarding Enora’s magical senses. This was the Barrier, her greatest invention and the key to Windwood’s defenses.
The land around Windwood City was too swampy to support a traditional stone wall. Instead, she had woven a great magical wall around the city. It was bound to the strongest trees in the area, symbiotically feeding off their life force to maintain a constant and powerful shield. The Barrier was invisible and offered no resistance to Elves, Karani, wildlife, or inanimate objects, but it would violently repel any Bonru that tried to cross.
Enora smiled slightly. The Bonru wouldn’t stand a chance.
A snapping twig echoed through the damp air. Enora’s heart jumped.
“They’re coming,” she hissed to her lieutenant.
He nodded and signaled with his hand. As one, the soldiers all around them pulled arrows from their quivers and nocked their bows.
The sounds of the Bonru march grew louder: rustling, stomping, and muttering. Enora raised her head from the underbrush, using magic to conceal herself from view, and glimpsed the first ranks of the Bonru marching into a clearing that separated them from her people.
The Bonru closely resembled Elves and Karani, but their features were coarser, and their skin was marked by dark blue bands and splotches. These Bonru were dressed in rough homespun and piecemeal armor. They wore shields painted with a crude image of a cedar branch, and most of them wielded axes. They used these to hack their way through the forest, displaying their race’s contempt for the natural world.
Enora regarded them with disdain, wrinkling her nose at their barbarous ways.
She waited until they were halfway across the clearing. Then, almost casually, she said, “Fire.”
The air filled with the twang of bowstrings, and the first rank of the Bonru crumpled under the Elven volley.
The Bonru didn’t miss a beat. They raised their shields and charged, shouting battle cries in their harsh language.
While her soldiers reloaded, Enora stood and gathered her magic. As an experiment, she started with a small spell, a simple bolt of force, and directed it at the lead Bonru warrior. He stumbled under the blow, but he kept running, despite the fact it should have been powerful to flatten him and shatter his bones.
Enora frowned. It was true; the Bonru had developed a resistance to magic.
She drew more power, unleashing a punishing blast that shook the air like thunder. The front rank of the Bonru were swept away like leaves in a storm, smashing into the ground with punishing force. Few got up again.
She smiled. Their resistance had limits.
The archers kept firing, cutting down rank after rank of Bonru, and Enora let herself fall into the trance of battle, focusing only on her spells. She extended a fist and then spread her fingers, and a group of Bonru dropped, their hearts exploding in their chests. She waved a hand, and another squad writhed in agony as their armor turned red hot. She made a pressing motion, and several Bonru were crushed under their own weight as the gravity around them briefly increased tenfold.
The clearing filled with corpses, and the archers risked exhausting their supply of arrows, but the Bonru kept coming. Each rank drew closer to the Barrier before falling.
Despite the chill weather, Enora began to sweat. There seemed to be no end to them. She drew deeper, bombarding them with her most deadly spells, but she could feel her life force, the fuel for all magic, starting to drain. Her heart fluttered, her breathing became ragged, and her muscles felt leaden.
Three Bonru broke through the barrage and reached the Barrier. Crackling blue light flared, and two of the Bonru were sent flying backward.
But the third one slipped through.
Enora gaped at the filthy, ragged soldier before her, unable to comprehend how this had happened. She had never imagined the Bonru might be able to breach her Barrier.
The man charged her, raising his axe and snarling like an animal.
She dodged to the side, drawing her sword and slashing. The Bonru crumpled as his guts spilled onto the earth.
But that brief distraction had allowed the rest of the Bonru to press their advantage. They were now spilling through the Barrier en masse. Those that didn’t make it through on the first attempt kept trying, slamming themselves against the magical wall until they burst through. Enora’s soldiers had dropped their bows and drawn swords and were engaged in a melee with the invaders. Cries from the surrounding forest told her that similar events were taking place all around them.
“Lancers!” Enora cried.
There was a rustling and crashing, and then a squad of Karani armed with polearms emerged from the trees to engage the Bonru. The Elves scattered, giving the Karani space to maneuver.
The Karani fought valiantly, moving with the perfect harmony that came from centuries of practice. Dozens more Bonru fell to their spears.
But the Karani were not made to fight in the tight spaces of the forest, and the Bonru were flooding in from all around. Soon, the Karani formation was breaking.
Enora watched on in horror, the cries of pain filling her ears as the smell of blood assailed her nose. Despite her Barrier, despite their superior experience, despite their magic, the Fellowship forces were being driven back.
It was unthinkable.
If not for her vast power, the Bonru would be making even greater advances, and in that moment, it occurred to Enora to think of what had happened around the rest of the Barrier, where they didn’t have her power to call upon.
Her blood froze.
She hurled a globe of rainbow light, smashing aside a group of Bonru that had corned a squad of Karani, and she beckoned the lancers over.
Throat tight, she told them, “Go around the Barrier. Sound the retreat. All forces are to pull back to the city.”
The Karani blanched, but they did as they were told. In a moment, their bodies shifted, and they took on their equine form, becoming mighty beasts with flowing manes and spiral horns. Their hooves tore up clods of earth as they raced to find the rest of the Fellowship forces.
“Squad leaders! Rally on me!” Enora cried.
Two Karani, a man and a woman, and an Elven man answered her call. Two squad leaders, including her lieutenant, were nowhere to be found.
She addressed the Karani woman. “Take half the lancers. You will serve as our rearguard while we retreat.”
The soldier nodded grimly. “By the sun,” she said, saluting. It was a death sentence, but she didn’t flinch.
“Pick ten volunteers from your fighters to assist her,” Enora told the Elven man. “The rest are falling back to the city with me.”
She turned to the Karani man. “We’ll need your people to carry us.”
He grimaced, but then nodded. The Karani were a proud people who resented being used as beasts of burden, but they accepted the necessity of it under certain circumstances.
As a skeleton crew of lancers and Elves redoubled their efforts to hold back the Bonru advance, the rest of the Karani transformed and allowed the Elves to mount them. Enora wrapped her legs around a black stallion and leaned forward to grasp his neck, careful not to pull his mane.
“Now, run for the city, and pray to all the gods we are not too late,” she said.
The Karani surged beneath her, and she and her surviving soldiers sped towards Windwood City, the thunder of hooves ringing in their ears.
* * *
Windwood City was burning.
The sun was going down, and the clouds combined with plumes of smoke to create an oppressive gloom. In places, the fires threw the city into an eerie crimson twilight.
Enora and her companions dismounted at the outskirts, and the Karani shifted back to their two-legged forms. Their party strode down the street, gaping in disbelief at the ruin all around them.
Acrid smoke hung heavy in the air, and distant screams echoed from elsewhere in the city. The broken bodies of Elves and Karani littered the streets, and blood stained the paving stones.
Enora gazed upon the complete ruination of her life’s work, her fists opening and closing. Her mind felt numb, and she found it difficult to breathe.
“Orders, Mistress?” the Elven squad leader said. His voice quavered slightly.
Enora’s stomach tied itself in knots. “Kill them,” she said hoarsely. “Kill them all.”
And so they descended into the nightmare that Windwood City had become. They sought out the areas most infested with Bonru and massacred any invaders they found. The sun went down, and they fought themselves to exhaustion, but still they pressed on, wielding blades, spears, and magic to bring terrible vengeance upon the aliens.
For Enora, it was all a blur of blood and burning anger. Everywhere they went, the city was in ruins, its people slaughtered. All she had worked towards was broken.
Eventually, Enora realized that she was alone. All of her companions had fallen to the enemy. This, at last, brought her back to herself. She surveyed the ravaged Bonru bodies around her, the blood that stained her blade and her armor, the fires that lit the night.
She extended her magical senses, taking stock of the city as a whole. There were still a few isolated pockets of resistance, but there were Bonru everywhere, and even if she could evacuate the survivors, Windwood City would never recover. Her dream was dead.
Panic gripped her heart, and she was seized by an overwhelming need to destroy the Bonru army and erase all the evil of this night, to purge the world of her failure. And in that moment, she knew what she had to do.
She headed for the center of the city.
A great oak tree stood at the very heart of Windwood City. It was the anchor of the Barrier, and it regulated all the power that had been supposed to protect the city. The city hall just behind it, where Enora had addressed the other leaders of the city just a day before, had been burned, but the oak had been spared. In their utter ignorance of all things magical, the Bonru had not seen its significance.
Breathing heavily, Enora approached the base of the oak. She felt the great power that thrummed through it. She raised her sword and drove it into the trunk, using it to tap into the magic within.
She exercised the power that had made her the hope of the Fellowship races and seized control of the Barrier. She twisted its energy to feed back on itself, willing it to implode.
Thunder split the night, and plumes of terrible light illuminated the horizon in all directions.
Moments later, a vast shockwave of pure energy converged on Windwood City from all sides. The roar deafened Enora as the shockwave smashed buildings, uprooted trees, and threatened to tear the fabric of reality itself. In such a wash of noise, it was impossible to hear the screams of the thousands of souls – Bonru, Karani, and Elf alike – who now died at her hand.
Only Enora, at the very center of the storm, was spared.
The maelstrom ended, and a deathly silence descended on Windwood City.
* * *
Enora stumbled through the shattered streets, her ragged breathing the only sound in the cold night.
The damage the Bonru had done paled in comparison to what she had wrought. Windwood was now unrecognizable, a twisted landscape of broken buildings and rent earth.
There were bodies everywhere. She had succeeded in annihilating the Bonru army, but the entirety of her forces and the residents of Windwood City had been claimed along with them. In the back of Enora’s mind, a clinical voice estimated that this was probably the greatest single loss of life the world had seen since the All War, at least.
The rain had stopped, and a heavy mist had settled over the ruins. The little fires still smoldering here and there turned the mist blood red, making the scene even more grizzly.
There was a palpable feeling of pain in the air. It was as if the land itself had been wounded and now cried out in agony.
Stepping over the mangled bodies of Elven children, she arrived at the main plaza where she had addressed her soldiers. Only a few hours ago, but it seemed a lifetime had passed – and the lifetimes of Elves were long indeed.
She fell to her knees, the weight of defeat pressing down upon her. The shame burned her insides like poison.
She screamed at the top of her lungs, letting her anguish echo through the dead night until her throat was raw. She slammed her fists into the paving stones so hard she feared her hands might break despite her warsilk gauntlets.
She had been destined for greatness. That’s what she had always been told. She had never known any identity besides that of the hero. She had been the greatest hope her people had known since the All War.
And she had failed. Utterly.
Her mind rebelled against the very concept. She had never known the sting of defeat. She couldn’t cope.
She had not been strong enough. She had been the Fellowship’s best chance to reclaim its past glory, and all her power hadn’t been enough.
She saw only one option left.
She stood. Drawing upon the last dregs of her energy, she used magic to levitate her sword before her. It slowly spun around until its blade pointed down toward her chest.
She extended her senses and gathered the pain and grief all around her, wrapping it around the sword. She spun the horror of this night like thread, weaving it into her blade. She drew power from the blood, the death, and the extinguished life force and fused it with her sword until it was far more than an ordinary blade.
Enhancing her strength with magic, she tore the warsilk around her torso, exposing her bare chest to the chill night air.
She took a single deep breath, and then she commanded her sword to shoot forward.
The blade tore through her just beneath her left breast. She gasped in agony as she felt it jar off a rib before impaling her and bursting out through her back. She crumpled to the ground. Every breath sent horrific pain shuddering through her, and her limbs started to lose feeling as the blood drained out of her.
But the pain in her body was nothing compared to the pain she felt in her spirit. Empowered by her dark working, the blade carved into her soul as surely as her flesh. Her mind was overwhelmed by the pain as the very fabric of her being was ripped asunder.
Enora’s heart stopped, and the last of her lifeblood leaked out onto the stones. Sweet oblivion claimed her.
* * *
But that was not the end.