“Look, Jax! The sun is waking up!” Cyril bounced happily as her hands smeared chocolate across the floor to ceiling windows.
Light exploded across the Atlantic Ocean’s horizon. A deep vivid orange rose before a river of yellow climbed over it, and the sky exploded into a vast sea of sky blue. The lazy wisps of clouds that crawled along the sky were pitch black before turning grey. They became rimmed with orange before they turned white as the light began to fill the rest of the world.
“Nooo!” Jax huffed before he tapped the thick pane window. “The sun never sleeps! The earth revolves around the sun, so its us who sleeps!”
He looked down on the short five-year-old. Her fire-red hair was wild with curls and chocolate. She looked up at him, her emerald eyes glistening with amazement. Jax lifted his nose and thumbed it cockily. He loved when she looked at him. No one else had ever looked at him like that, with unconditional trust and wonder, as she looked up at him with that cute lightly freckled nose.
“Wooow!” Cyril cooed before she looked back out the window. She pressed her chocolate smear mouth against the glass “Good morning, Sun!”
The kitchen behind them was wrecked with spilled bowls of candy and cereal. Chocolate smeared every cabinet, evident to the two children’s not-so-covert raiding of Cyril’s kitchen. Cyril’s short and slender frame was draped in her purple silk nightgown. Black lace rimmed the sleeveless dress’s hem around her knees. Jax wore his fire truck pajamas; each was splattered with the fruits of their pillaging.
“Remember not to stare at the sun!” Jax reminded the little girl.
Cyril nodded and pulled herself off the dirty window. She scurried away into the living room where Jax’s video game console had been hooked up, and the game paused. Jax hadn’t even crossed the entirety of the kitchen when he saw someone standing at the mouth of the hallway. It was Cyril’s mother, Maddin.
She glared at Jax before her half-tried eyes slid over to her daughter. Who’d found more chocolate, and she was currently in the process of making small figures across the New York skyline.
“Cyril,” A menacing growl came from behind Maddin as her father pushed past. She had been in the process of figuring out how much effort she wanted to expend at the moment. “How long have you been awake?”
The girl jumped and whirled around, and saw her father. The startled expression she had worn fell away, replaced with a smile that overtook the sunrise. Before Edward could set himself in daddy mode, the little girl shot towards him like a bullet and jumped at him. His pajamas were quickly smothered in chocolate. She looked up at her father with a chocolate-toothy grin and her deep emperor jade eyes were filled with unmitigated delight.
“Daddy, you’re awake!” Cyril squealed as she bounced up and down. “I missed you! Jax said I could wake you because you need sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. So, me and Jax played games, then I got hungry. But I couldn’t reach the cereal, so Jax had to get it. But we found candy and the—-”
Her rapid-fire rundown of the entire all-nighter caught the man off guard. Edward tried several moments to pry her off of his leg. All Jax could do was feel the festering jealousy in how pure Cyril was. The way she looked up at her father, and the way he looked at her. Family love.
The evy chipped at his heart. He desired to be loved by his father who pushed him to be friends with Cyril. To make sure their two families would stay close. But that didn’t compare to the whirling jealousy that sunk in his stomach. The way Cyril looked up at her father. It was a look he only wanted her to look at him with.
The fierce howling of the wind woke Jax. It was cold and he could feel its force on his entire body. When he opened his eyes, he saw the glistening Atlantic sea stretched out in the distance. Its surface glistened in the bright sunny day. The memory of Cyril smiling at him all those years ago, during a slumber party, came to mind. His heart ached as he looked on.
Give her up… Jax told himself as he closed his eyes again. You were the weak one. You broke her heart and your word…
He then remembered that he’d jumped from his balcony to his death. A shock made his body shudder as he felt foreign in his own body, and that the wind that howling. His eyes shot open and looked up – or rather, down – to see a massive landmass of mountains and forests. A moment of panic set in when he realized that he was really, really, high up.
Jax believed he had to be more than twenty-five miles high, and that didn’t make any sense. He’d jumped from his skyrise apartment, not a plane. How could he–
After his moment of panic had left him, he began to right himself to get a better look at his situation. He saw it, out in the distance. Just like he remembered it. The massive mountain that broke through the cloud line below. Fable’s End. He couldn’t make out clear details from his height, but he could see it looked derelict.
No, no no! Jax screamed in his head, his jaw clenched tight to keep it shut.
But there was no mistaking it. He’d been there when Cyril shaped it. The only difference was the sudden mass of fallen buildings at the foot of the teleporter. Zones that’d never be loaded in one instance were all loaded together. The Eastern Lands. The HighLands. The Wastes. All of it was out in the open, and–
It felt real. It was real.
Unless his brain hadn’t splattered across the pavement below, he could have been dreaming it all. One last fuck you before he died, just to prove he was a dirtbag.
If only I had my wings. The thought of those wings made of light flashed in his mind.
Jax then felt something move in him, something deep and personal. It swirled before he caught it and felt it push out his back. Then he felt his body dip forward and then he felt the drag on– He looked back and saw a wing extending out his right and left, each seven feet long. They were yellow and semi-transparent. Runes dances across their length and all that downward force he’d been pulling transferred into him slipstreaming at a downward angle.
Despite the wings being made of light, he could feel the cold wind on it. It felt… Liberating. A grin plastered his face. He couldn’t help it. Since Cyril had died, few things had made him feel this free.
Just with his thoughts, Jax figured out how to move the wings. he turned and twisted before flatlining himself towards Fable’s End. He needed to see it. See if Cyril was still there. Was she alive? Was she still just a static body in a pool of water? What was he going to do?
You don’t deserve to see her… Jax suddenly thought to himself, and he circled around.
He’d wronged her. There was no way he should get to know what became of her. He’d forfeited that right when he had cheated on her. If she was alive, she’d probably scorn him – if not kill him. Which, right now, sounded tempting in some twisted poetic way. Jax decided not to go there.
As he circled, he found a new target. The World Tree, and its sickly grace. He changed his heading and veered off towards the HighLands. Tall mountains separated the eastern lands from the midlands, where the HighLands were located. And unlike the west and the east, the Mid-lands was mostly comprised as vast planes with a thick river that cut down the center. Around the foot of the mountains, a thin but dense line of forest rested.
As he came near the World Tree, he saw just how sickly it looked. Its lower sections had been burned, the wood blackened and cracked. But a few signs that it’d been trying to come back was apparent. When he landed on a barren branch, a few green healthy sprouts were nearby. Though, small black lines had crawled near them.
Jax studied the strange happenings and noticed that the sprouts closest to the trunk had turned gray. The black lines had been thicker there and they seemed to strangle them. Further away, the new life was unaffected – or so he thought. He knelt by the closest sprout and felt it. That was when Jax noticed his hand was covered in a familiar light blue gauntlet. He pulled the gauntlet off and touched it with a thick, manly hand – different from his old smaller hand.
The sapling felt… Mushy and slightly hollow. Not at all what he expected of a healthy one. He plucked the sapling from the thick branch. It didn’t snap like he had thought it would, and instead, it made a small wet pop when he pulled on it. The headless stem left behind bled a blackish concoction that beaded on the tip. After a heartbeat, it crystalized; resembling obsidian. Jax turned to the sapling in his hand, but it had also crystallized. He let it slip from his fingers before he crouched down and touched the discolored tree. The bark was as hard and cold as stone.
“Its real…” Jax muttered to himself as he removed his hand. “Definitely real…”
The game only had pressure feedback for touching, but never smell or taste. Jax wasn’t that stupid to believe that it wasn’t real. He was aware of what he did, even when drunk. In fact, alcohol only made him bold. Bold enough to ruin his relationship, and also end his life. He looked away from the branch beneath his feet, to what was beneath the tree.
Jax estimated that he was nearly three-fourths of a mile high. Even being this high, he noticed there was nothing more than a gentle breeze. More of the black substance that crawled along the branch was wrapped around the trunk. In fact, it became apparent that whatever the substance was, it was not good. Certainly, the tree looked in bad shape where a large part of it had been charred, but it seemed like it was properly recovering.
The black substance, however, was obviously some sort of cancer. Where large blotches were, the wood around it seemed to mortify.
Jax eyed the trunk a moment longer, then turned to his feet. They were clad in his old armor, the ones he last wore during the final raid. He felt uneasy and unsure if he should poke his nose into whatever was happening. Was it something Cyril had intended? Or was it something someone else had?
Of course, Cyril had made plagues lore-wise and even mass extinction-level threats like the Tarrasque. Nothing had ever been implemented into the game aside from “immersive” lore books within libraries or kingdoms or evil bases. In fact, Jax began to wonder why Cyril had written in so much dark lore. Just in history alone, massacres, dark plots, demons, monster hordes, and other horrible events littered the already lengthy backstory of her world. That wasn’t even accounting for the implemented parts.
While not lengthy, it still created a world full of chaos that – on any real level – would have torn itself apart. He paused to think about that.
“If the world is crazy, full of magic and batshit insane bad guys… Wouldn’t killing the world tree be apart of it?” He drummed his fingers along the branch.
Then he shook his head. Jax caught himself falling back into that old childish mindset, the one that loved to explore the world Cyril would weave. The one that needed heroes. She always had a way to lure him back into the world, even when he just wanted to be a normal teenager. Dragons, major battles, and even crazy spells…
“I guess she really did do a lot for me…” Jax muttered. “Well… Might as well explore what’s going on here then.”
He gripped onto that feeling he felt previously; when the wings of light carried him out of that freefall. Something stirred in his chest, something… Unnatural, yet natural at the same time. It took a few more moments for him to latch onto it, and channel his will into it. A few more heartbeats later, wings made of yellow light sprouted from his back.
“Here goes nothing…” Jax muttered as he held his breath, and leapt from the thick branch. There was no howling wind or death dive, but the gentle whistle of the wind in his ears. His wings extended outward to this full length. The air caught them and carried him forward, gliding gracefully as he began to circle around the World Tree.
Much to his dismay, most of the eastern side of the trunk had been covered in the plague. At its thickest point, it looked like stars were dancing in the crystalized cancer. The other side of the tree was mostly charred and scarred. Jax felt something terrible had to have happened here for this place to be like this.
It was supposed to be a holy place, like Jerusalem or something. Or maybe it was supposed to play a more vital role in the world at large. Jax cursed himself as his lore knowledge was found to be quite rusty. Only Cyril would know, and if she didn’t remember, no one did – or at least, no one who could help him currently.
He circled slowly around the tree, losing altitude as he did. As he did so, he noticed that the forest at the tree’s foot wasn’t actually a forest. Rather, it was an overgrown ruin.
Jax landed on the northern base of the tree, on top of a single thick and healthy root. Water pooled around the roots before it ran around the tree. A large hundred-foot diameter space encircled the small pond – or lake? It was paved in marble white elven stone. Grass grew here and there between the cracks. A few craters broke the thin pavement and there grew bushes and trees.
A few birds sang as the tree’s shadow stretched out to his left. On the outskirts of the clearing, crumbling buildings rested. Most of them looked war torn and others just looked to have been abandoned. Four statues rested off to his left and another four lined up on his right. Each spaced out and enshrined upon the tree’s little island. He stood in between the statue of the Tabaxi and the Beastfolk.
Eight races, forever in harmony. As the memory was drudged from its grave, Jax heard Cyril’s voice. Eight races for eight lands. Each with a shrine here at the tree. Each with a voice and a history. Each with a spire that’d hold their collective history as well, as never to be lost – Even the demons. Just because my dad wants a baddie race, doesn’t mean I can’t get to have my lore…
Out in the distance, broken spires broke the green forest canopy. Their husks were laden with vines and moss. Only three ruined spires rose, even if they were half-collapsed. The one on his right was completely missing. So much of it had changed since Cyril had put this place together. It made his heartache to see her creation be in such dire straits.
With an inclination and a hop, he glided over onto the white stones. He circled to his right, looking to see which race’s spire had fallen completely. Most of the statues were damaged in some sort of way. Some had arms missing, others half a body, or a face. However, each was recognizable in their own little ways. Giants, Dwarves, Gnomes… After nearly half an hour of circling around the tree, there had only been two completely destroyed statues.
The High-Elves, and the Demons. Oddly enough, neither of them had been playable races. One axed before the game’s launch, the other created just before the game went offline. Their spires were missing as well. Then, there was the odd part that there was a massive crater on the southern side of the tree. It looked to be where the fire originated.
From there, Jax followed the old scars of war that had ravaged the World Tree’s shrines. Trees grew from half-collapsed roofs, vines hung from empty windows and broken walls. Moss covered most of the rubble. From his point of view, Jax believed that whatever battle had happened here, happened very long ago. Mother nature had already reclaimed most of it already and he was sure that in another hundred years, it would be gone.
The Spire of Dwarves’ top had fallen into the road. He decided against flying over it, unsure of how much mana he could pull. If his old stats from in-game were still at play, he didn’t have to worry over the mundane draw of using the wings. If it wasn’t however, then he’d have to play it carefully.
Despite the foreign situation, Jax began to feel giddy at the thought of a challenge. It’d been far too long since he’d had a challenge. Losing Cyril wasn’t a challenge, that was just life shitting on him. He couldn’t have stopped that. He couldn’t stop Maddin from killing himself, and he couldn’t stop Edward from hating him. But this? This wasn’t something as impossible as overcoming another person.
Despite how dark this world was, Cyril still had one thing that tied it all together. Even death was possible to cheat. Magic existed, and that edge was enough for the more tenacious soul to pry itself from it. In Cyril’s world, he wasn’t the failure unskilled deadbeat that survived purely off others. He was nearly a god here if everything was the same.
Jax pushed his hopes aside when he reached the summit of the nearly thirty-foot high, moss infected debris. Rays of light lanced through the thick tree canopy above. Ahead, there were no trees or ruins anymore. The ground just fell away, replaced with several feet of what once was a broken portal platform. Beyond was the Highlands.
He fought his way down through slippery bricks. After falling backward onto the heap of rubble more than thrice, he became painfully aware that he was taller here. He was stronger and more broad of shoulder. Jax’s avatar was supposed to be a handsome knight, big and strong. Yet, he was finding himself hating it now that he needed to use it.
After a few frustrating moments, and regretting not just flying over the debris, Jax found himself at the foot of the cliff’s edge. Just below, the World Tree’s water gushed out from a small recessed opening. It flowed softly from the opening to an outcropped rocky platform where a small pool had formed. From there, it flowed out onto another – zigzagging down from one platform to another.
It didn’t look too unnatural, the cliff itself was tiered with several ruined houses dotting each tier. And eventually, the waterfall came to a stop at a large pond at the center of a large ruined city.
“That’s new,” Jax muttered. “Wasn’t that supposed to be where the Starter village sat?”
When it was a game, the starter village had been placed at the map’s center. Lore-wise, it was because it was the neutral territory of the continent. Even Demons had been placed here during special events. Each kingdom and each faction had a branch here. Even the Phantom Company that Cyril liked to use to explain a lot of strange lore events showed up often here. Yet, that serene and peaceful village had turned into a massive sprawling city. But a dead city.
“Shit…” Jax sighed. “Time to see what’s up.”
His sigh didn’t match the anticipation that’d begun to fester in his heart. This time, it took a heartbeat to call out the wings and he dove off the cliff confidently. Jax had just pinned his landing point over the overgrown pond at the base of the cliff when he saw the sky below him shimmer. Before he could react, he passed through it and the updraft sent him end over end.
The wind howled as it passed over him, and he thrashed frantically to right himself. Another updraft ripped past him and twisted him again. Though it came to his benefit this time as he managed to right himself before he curled his wings in. Jax dived downward and waited until he was about to crash into the floor; he unfurled his wings and caught the air before it happened, and he circled upward.
He flipped around, losing all his speed before he managed slightly crash land into a stretch of overgrown grass beside the pond. Jax stumbled forward, windmilling his arms backward to regain balance before he face planted into something furry – and very, very large. The man pushed off the creature, spitting out fur and quickly looked at what stopped him.
A deep, menacing growl rumbled in the monster’s throat. Large feathered eagle head turned around, its sleepy eyes filled with anger from being awoken from its slumber. Two massive furled wings rose from the grass before it furled up onto its back.
“Fuck!” Jax’s heart sank. He had just crashed into the ass of a griffin.