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The Day the World Broke

by Nathan Charles 6 months ago in fantasy

(part of the Compendium of Worlds)

Earthmother

The Day the World Broke

I REMEMBER WATCHING THE LAST ANIMAL IN THE WORLD — DIE. It was right in the middle of Earthmother’s Day. I was in World Tree Park, looking up at Vivirdrasil’s all-encompassing branches. It’s said that the giant tree gave life to all things in the world. Around me were hundreds of dancing and gyrating Wildermen, with their luminescent orange eyes. The orange fruit that supposedly gave them their glowing irises, hanging from many of the branches — though they looked half-rotted and sad.

It was unheard of for an Underclassman, like myself, to be fraternizing with Wildermen — but I was brought up differently. My father didn’t care about altitudinal classes, like our world wanted us to. Therefore, I grew up around all sorts of people. My father was a few yards away, inside the enclosure with the last animal in the world. Her name is Mrs. Jumbo and she’s a blue elephantes. A large pachyderm with a trunk nose, nubby tusks, and large fan-like ears. My father used to always say how elephantes did so badly in captivity — yet, Mrs. Jumbo had outlasted them all. She’d outlasted everything, except mankind itself.

Steady drumming thumped over the park as Wildermen played their beats. Some had long wooden tubes that they blew into to release a deep droning sound. There were guitars and bells and metal disks that they slammed together. There was even a singer off to one side, swaying upon a raised stage. As they danced, their personas took on various animal forms and embraced other personas, as they could only touch each other. Personas weren’t quite physical, but manifestations of our minds.

I slowly moved my body around the crowd trying to get to my father. Aj’nos, my own persona, kept an eye on him as we weaved our way between dancing bodies and various aquatic-shaped personas. Aj’nos assumed the form of a chameleon. It was one of her favorite forms. “He’s fine, stop your worrying.” Aj’nos said, knowing my thoughts. “You’re making my colors dull.” The chameleon on my shoulder was indeed, a dull blue. The colors she assumed in her chameleon form were often dictated by my own emotions.

“Just keep an eye on him, we can’t lose him before I get up there. Mother, there are so many people here!” Despite the world falling into a digital age where everyone wished to be logged into the Network, there were more people here than I had ever seen in one place at a time in my life.

My father was so passionate about his work. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that he was employed by a dead profession. Underclassmen were all assigned to a worker’s guild. My father wore the brown jumpsuit of the Environmental Guild. A joke to almost everyone. My father’s browns matched my own.

However, where my father’s jumpsuit was stained and wrinkled in spots. Mine was pristine and creased just like it had been the day it was handed to me. I didn’t see much work. Father made enough to support both of us. Despite the general populations’ bored attention to the environment, they really did like to view my father’s videos that he shared to the Network that he made with Mrs. Jumbo. The likes he made with these videos easily supported our humble Underclass living. The Conglomerate’s official monetary system meant nothing here. Everyone traded what they had in for likes. Or they sought out to upload videos that would make likes directly.

As for myself, I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I had accepted the browns solely based on association with my father. And now, I was basically locked in. The guilds weren’t too keen to allow changes once your jumpsuit had been accepted. Especially after it’s been two years! I just had no vision, no “quest.” My father had urged me several times to join the Wildermen for their coming of age ceremonies. I had always declined because those ceremonies were for Wildermen kids in their early teens. I was much too old to participate. He desperately wanted me to have a place in the world. He knew I was lost. And I didn’t have a giant, extremely rare pachyderm to record videos of.

World Tree Park was the last expanse of grass on the whole planet. The space was covered in dancing and drinking Wildermen bodies and their personas. The One River ran along the west side of the park, feeding the plantlife. On either side of the river and the park were high walls of rock and stone that had been molded into metal skyscrapers and buildings. Their rooftops falling just short of the poisonous yellow and orange clouds of Vivirdrasil’s poisonous sky.

Thousands of years ago the One River cut a rift into the rock and crust of its planet. Stretching in a single line from south to north and then wrapping onto the other side of the globe from north to south, arctic to arctic. These deep canyons provided the only habitable ecosystems on Vivirdrasil. Thanks to the world tree itself, the rift burst with life — before it was all developed. Now, as far as the eye could see, to either north or south, the riftlands were covered with metal, concrete, and human architecture. Except for here. The park looked like it could go on forever, at ground level. But I knew that with a bird’s eye view from one of the upper stories of any of the nearby skyscrapers, you’d see how feeble in comparison to the forest of buildings World Tree Park really was.

My father claimed the over-development of our planet caused all the animals to die out. He would be called a heretic and a radical for his views, but he always let them be known. I mean, from what I’d learned in school, other planets in the Conglomerate had strict sanctions on use of resources and development to prevent destruction of whole ecosystems. My father always said that there had to be a balance.

I moved towards Mrs. Jumbo’s enclosure. It was a carefully masked fence that ran around the thick base of the world tree. The tree itself reached in all directions with its massive branches. Some were even wound around buildings or actually used to support structures. Almost as if parts of the world tree were a cyborg of some kind: Part-plant, part-machine.

The Wildermen danced provocatively with each other. You’d never see a group of Underclassmen dancing. At least, definitely not together! Their personas took the shapes of salamanders or frogs, here on land. Most of their life was spent living upon the One River, so it was customary for their personas to take the shapes of fish or anything else that was dependent on the water. Some personas wrestled or embraced each other in a strangely humanoid way. Personas were the only exposure to animals that I’d ever had except for Mrs. Jumbo. My father loved to quiz me on animal species’ names based on what shapes the personas around me took. He claimed it was the least that he could do to keep the memory of some of the world’s greatest animals alive.

With a clasped fist over my heart, I greeted some Wildermen, as I tried to weasel my way through. There were a few Underclassmen and even an Upperclassmen mixed in with the glowing orange eyes and bright orange hair of the Wildermen. These were people who had been cast out of their societal groups because they had psybound an animal. You might be wondering how people can bond an animal in a world that didn’t have any animals. Well, that’s pretty easy actually. The Network is where 80% of the world’s population spend their time. The Network is a collection of all human knowledge wrapped into a internet-like interface. Even though creatures like the quill-tailed aye-aye and the purple people eater are extinct, their memory lives on in the Network. People aren’t exactly sure what causes one to “bond” an animal, but it happens in the Network and then somehow the creature is pulled into the real world in a physical form. It’s crazy! Despite how triggering it was for people to see someone bound to an animal, the Wildermen didn’t care. They preferred it! It was a rite of passage that usually correlated with that coming of age ceremony I was talking about.

And truth be told — I kinda always wanted to bond an animal myself.

I greeted, fist over heart, to a fellow Underclassman, who had a horned lizard persona perched on his shoulder. Where the Wildermen’s personas took on aquatic creatures, Underclassmen personas usually became reptiles or insects. The “undesirables” of the animal world, an Upperclassman would tell you. No one is sure how societal standards dictate the shapes that our personas will take, but it happens. However, there were exceptions to the rule. Aj,nos, for instance, took on the shape of a snail, which was the first form she’d ever taken. Snails were Wildermen personas.

Once I was pressed up against Mrs. Jumbo’s fence my father said, “I was wondering when you’d find me.” His persona, E-mawk, was a white egret, perched on Mrs. Jumbo’s back. Like me, my father’s persona was able to take on traditionally Wildermen forms.

“Big crowd,” I replied, as a weak excuse for how long it took to get there.

My father looked up with his dark brown eyes. Even in this light, his eyes looked almost black. His hair was shaved short to his head, but it still displayed the black and white striped pattern that our bloodline was known for. “Could you help me with this?” He asked. He was crouched down by one of Mrs. Jumbo’s massive feet.

“Sure. What’s wrong?”

“Mrs. Jumbo isn’t having a good day.” E-mawk announced as she swooped down to ground level. Aj’nos leaped from my shoulder as a gliding gecko and the two personas greeted each other by rubbing faces. Some strange science allowed personas to touch each other as physical beings. Yet, if Aj’nos would try to land on my father’s shoulder, she would slip through his body as if she were made of air.

I hopped the fence, like I had done a hundred times before, and knelt down next to my father. Mrs. Jumbo gave a low groan at his prodding. “She seems to be nursing this foot for some reason. I need to see if she stepped on something or if there’s a wound.”

“What do you need me to do?” I asked.

“Just keep her calm while I raise her foot.”

I looked up at the giant animal. She could easily toss me ten feet with a good swipe of her trunk. “Sure,” I replied with mock enthusiasm. <Just keep her calm, he says.> If Mrs. Jumbo didn’t want to stay calm, there was nothing that was going to stop her. “Hey there girl.” I said, waving my arms out at my sides. Aj’nos assumed the form of a moth and fluttered before one of the elephantes’ eyes to get her attention. Mrs. Jumbo reached her trunk out and wrapped it around my chest. It was her version of a hug. At least the old beast knew it was me.

My father lifted the elephantes’ foot. Mrs. Jumbo grumbled. “It’s okay girl.” Aj’nos said encouragingly.

That’s when it happened…

So many things happened so fast, all at the same time! Mrs. Jumbo came crashing down on her side. Right. On. My father! “Dad!” I screamed. “Mrs. Jumbo!” The elephantes tried to rock herself back to her feet, but there was no way the giant beast was getting back up. She rolled back onto my father, who groaned. Then again! He yelped, but it was cut short by all the breath in his body being squeezed out by Mrs. Jumbo’s bulk. “Dad!” I screamed. E-mawk was a snake, hissing and wrapping upon himself in pain. Personas felt the pain of their humans, we, in a sense, were their bodies.

As the crowd slowly realized what had happened, the dancing stopped and the music slowly died away. I was crouched by my father. Aj’nos was an iguana, frantically zipping back and forth in panic. I had my father’s hand in mine, begging him to squeeze — but his squeeze was so weak, so frail. “I…”

“Don’t speak,” I told him. “Help!” I screamed. “Help! Help!” Aj’nos mimicked me. “Somebody get help!” I shouted. Aj’nos was rubbing his lizard head against E-mawk’s snake head. I could see the snake persona growing weak.

Wildermen medicine was more mysticism than science. And there was no way an Underclassman in reds was going to come to a Wilderman celebration to save someone. Even if we were part of the same class. Wildermen were uncivilized — dangerous.

“I. Love — you.” My father and E-mawk whispered together.

“No! No no no no no,” Aj’nos couldn’t stop saying it. I felt his hand grow weaker. It didn’t even feel like he was gripping me anymore. “Daddy, please hold on!” Mrs. Jumbo had stopped moving.

By now, some Wildermen had jumped the fence to help. Some were trying to move Mrs. Jumbo, but she was dead weight. I could hear her taking in raspy, panicked breaths. A woman knelt on the other side of my father and was immediately feeling his pulse in his wrist. Her mink persona was leaned over my father’s face, ear pressed near his lips, listening for breath. “Can you help him!?” I asked frantically.

“Wildermen medicine is slow moving. We need to get him from under Mrs. Jumbo.” The woman had a pouch suspended over her shoulder. From within it she produced some crushed up plant. Her persona moved out of the way. She mashed it some more between her fingers, before pushing it, with two digits, into my father’s slightly parted lips.

My father’s eyes seemed to flare open for a second. “Dad!” I cried.

“Sonja,” he struggled to say.

“What is that!?” Another Wilderman said. This one had a tree frog stuck to the side of his face. Then there was a crack, like thunder. But it sounded so close that I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had happened inside my own head. There was a black cloud leaking from the world tree. “Watch out!?” The Wilderman screamed. He was pointing frantically up at the world tree. A small tendril of smoke twirled and looped from a gaping crack that zig-zagged up the thick trunk of Vivirdrasil. What he was actually pointing at, was a cluster of branches that were about to snap free and crush us all! The climbing smoke didn’t move like actual smoke. It moved with intent, like a swarm.

“Mother,” the woman who’d given my father the drug, gasped. Her persona shapeshifted into a sea lion! I had never seen a persona become something so big. The sea lion was hissing and baring its teeth. “Child, we should go!” The woman warned. She was already getting to her feet. Crack! The sound was deafening, for me, it seemed to stop time. I knew it was the sound of those branches letting go.

The black smoke gathered like a cloud and moved like it was thinking! The cloud coalesced like a giant shadow being. It swished from side to side like a hungry snake getting ready to strike. It filled the sky. Then it swooped down. “Child, we should go!” The woman warned. The branches were losing their hold.

“But my father!” Aj’nos and I gasped, desperate.

“Child!” The woman attempted to grab my arm. I yanked back. Her persona returned to its mink form and jumped into her human’s arms. Our own personas were physical to us. “Earthmother save you!” The woman turned to escape.

I felt weightless. I couldn’t look away from my father. Mrs. Jumbo’s limp body lay upon him. E-mawk didn’t seem to be moving anymore. If they were alive, they wouldn’t be for long. I had been lifted from the scene. Aj’nos was fluttering around my head as a moth. Someone had lifted me off the ground and deposited me a safe distance from the falling branches. I still couldn’t look away as the branches fell with a chorus of snaps and cracks. I knew my father had no hope. Mrs. Jumbo — no hope.

“Sonja!” Aj’nos was screaming for my attention.

“Wha…?” I blinked a few times. My vision was so focused on the heap of branches and elephantes — and — my father, who was underneath it all!

There was a Wilderman face in mine. He had the traditional Wilderman orange hair and glowing eyes. His beard was long and came to a point. He was the Wilderman with the tree frog persona. “We need to get out of here!” He shouted through my shock. He shook me — and when he realized I wasn’t moving, he turned and ran off with the rest of the crowd. It was chaos around me. But there was also peace. Too many Wildermen bodies were laying around, on the ground, with swarms of black smoke around their faces. I watched as another tendril of black smoke trailed towards another running Wilderman! The swarm engulfed his head and when he couldn’t breathe anymore, he fell to the ground, grasping his throat, begging for breath. His neck turning blue his eyes bulging!

“We need to go!” Aj’nos yelled. I snapped out of it as I watched a tendril of black cloud pointing straight for me! I watched it watching me. I needed to be strong! I pulled out of my petrification. Aj’nos assumed the shape of a small crocodile. It was the fiercest form that she had. She hissed at the black cloud, though it appeared to be made of millions of tiny black balls with buzzing gossamer wings. <What type of creature!?> I wondered.

“What are we going to do?” Aj’nos asked.

A big part of me thought I could be defiant to survive where everyone else hadn’t. The swarm of things came at me. I wasn’t going to leave my father. My dead father. I couldn’t think about that right now! I pushed everything away. I compartmentalized. And in that moment, I was able to see with clarity, what my father would have wanted for me. I was not going to just give up!

I jumped to my feet and ran. My path took me towards the trunk of the enormous world tree. Aj’nos quickly shapeshifted into a gliding gecko and climbed to my shoulder. The Wildermen believed that the tree was Earthmother’s body or that it was where she stayed. Or perhaps Earthmother was the tree itself. The people of Yineye believed that every planet had a godform. That the planet itself was just a godform’s body. I wasn’t sure what I believed — but what I knew — was that my salvation was running towards the tree.

The swarm was behind me, chasing me! Other parts of the swarm came in at me from either side. It appeared as if it was going to envelope me. There was no hope. I had waited for too long. My father would have wanted me to survive. It didn’t look like I was going to be able to keep that promise to him. But I kept running. “Sonja!” Aj’nos warned.

The black balls looked like bugs. Little round fuzzy flies. A branch moved faster than I’d ever seen a plant move! It wrapped its wooden limb around my wrist — and it felt oddly like liquid or pliable clay. More branches reached for me. They took me! I was pulled towards the trunk and as I drew near, I thought that perhaps the tree had turned against me. Against us — humanity. For all those years of poisoning and taking advantage of the planet. Perhaps the tree truly was Earthmother! And it was taking its revenge — right now — on me.

I figured the tree meant to bash me against its trunk. I would never survive that. But instead, the trunk seemed to open. Like a mouth — or a door. A tear separated and the branches stuffed me in, just in time to dodge the swarm that meant to suffocate me. I was dropped into darkness as the trunk zipped its open seam behind me. I still felt very much in danger.

I tried to allow my eyes to adjust, but it was just too dark for my human eyes to see. Aj’nos shapeshifted into a white lizard that was known to survive in areas of complete darkness. I didn’t know she had a form like that. Then, gradually, the inside of the world tree began to give off a golden-brown light. “Child…” Came a soft whispered voice. I immediately thought about the Wilderman woman with the sea lion persona.

“Who are you?” I asked. Aj’nos assumed the form she was born as, which was a giant purple snail.

“I think you know.” The woman said. I could tell she was smiling. My eyes were still adjusting to the growing light.

But I did know. Instinctively.

The strange brown-gold light illuminated a hollow within the trunk of the world tree. Thin branches, almost like rope, seemed to stretch from side to side. It almost looked like a spider’s web. Wrapped within the various wooden tendrils was the naked body of a woman. She looked young, but exhausted. She had almond-brown hair that fell on either side of her honey-golden face. Her eyes were unnaturally big and looked to be made from molten gold. “Earthmother…” I said.

The godform smiled. And for a moment it appeared that she drew on a new reserve of strength. “Yes, child.” Where her shoulder was shoved between the thickness of the inner trunk and the tangle of branches that seemed to hold her, was an owl persona. It figures that the godform of Vivirdrasil would have an Upperclassman persona. Their personas always took the form of birds.

“You are real!” I gasped.

“We all are.”

“Arrakis?” I asked of the LoDaSsian godform I’d read about.

“Even him, though he exists differently than the rest of us. But there isn’t much time,

child. I don’t have much time.”

“You’re dying?” I wondered. I didn’t think that godforms could die.

“You know of Arrakis. So you might understand that we do not die like a man or

woman.”

“What can I do!? What will happen to Vivirdrasil?”

Earthmother smiled again. “I knew I had chosen correctly.”

“This can’t be happening!” Everything was starting to leak into each other. My mental

compartments were breaking apart. I was about to have a panic attack. Aj’nos was shapeshifting

into various forms that she had in reflection with my bleeding emotions.

“Stay strong child. Vivirdrasil needs you.”

“What can I do!? What will happen to the planet?”

Earthmother smiled for a long time. I wasn’t sure if she was stuck that way — it did appear as if her lips were made of wood, or at least, something much less pliable than skin and muscle. “Planets don’t die as quickly as people do.”

I wasn’t sure why, but I felt tears falling down the corners of my eyes. Streaks were forming on my dirty cheeks. I wasn’t sure how many other people had ever been in the presence of an actual god, but it was impossibly overwhelming. <Was I meant to watch Earthmother 
die!?> “What can I do!?” I asked defeatedly. “This can’t be happening!” Everything was starting to leak into each other. My mental compartments were breaking apart. I was about to have a panic attack. Aj’nos was shapeshifting into various forms that she had in reflection with my bleeding emotions.

“You will save the planet.” There was a pause as Earthmother seemed to muster up some hidden strength, “And hopefully the universe.”

“How can I save the world?” I wondered. I fell to my knees — and just allowed myself to feel. My father. Mrs. Jumbo. Those bugs! Aj’nos was an iguana, that albino cave lizard again, her snail form, a moth, the purple people eater again, and then a gecko. I felt so much pressure all around me. Without understanding how, I knew the magnitude of what god was asking me to do.

A tendril of wood reached out and lifted my face up towards Earthmother’s. This calmed me — Aj’nos stopped shapeshifting, steadying in her purple people eater snail form. It was her birthform. Purple people eaters are the largest snail the world had to offer — back when they existed. Purple people eaters were extremely important to my people as they provided purple dye for our clothing, the poison found on the mucous of their skin was used to tip our arrows for hunting, and they were a staple delicacy. I knew none of this before looking into the depths and history within Earthmother’s golden eyes. I could feel the ooze of Aj’nos’ snail foot along the base of my neck where she liked to cling.

Earthmother hung there, shackled by all the branches of the world tree, like a prisoner. <Was she a prisoner?>

“I could not hold the wyrmmist any longer.” She said. “My body dies, but there is hope.”

“What is the wyrmmist?”

“The bugs.”

“What will happen to you!?” I asked, fearing the answer. I wiped wet streaks from my cheeks.

“I will die — and with me, the planet. But the death of worlds isn’t so instantaneous as the death of a human.”

“How long?” Aj’nos asked what I couldn’t. Personas didn’t often speak out of turn. It was

just proof that I was losing control of myself.

Earthmother smiled again, “Oh child.” She cooed. “We godforms have rules to. Laws to

our existence, just as you do.” It was an answer that meant, she wouldn’t tell us — couldn’t tell

us. “But I do have something that can help you in the coming confrontation.”

“Confrontation?” I wondered.

“Godforms don’t know everything. But we can feel things mosttimes. We can be

compelled to do things. We all just want to survive. To keep life going. I have lost my fight —

but you can continue on. You and the others that are meant to be called.”

“Fight? Survive? Confrontation? What are you talking about?”

“The time has come, child. Just accept my gift. Take this.” Earthmother cooed. A coil of tangled branches reached out and I realized that it was carrying a staff towards me. The top was glittering with a cap of violet crystals.

As an aside, Earthmother said, “We are merely composites of our bodies and our minds. I suppose one of the two will live on for a while longer. But nothing lasts forever.” Suddenly, Earthmother’s face transformed from the youthful smile of a twenty-something into the wrinkled gaze of a crone.

“What is this?” I asked as I took the staff from the branches and vines.

“It is one of the Scythes of Power, child. And you will need to use it to save the universe.”

“Can I use it against the wyrmmist?”

“The wyrmmist will definitely not like it.”

I held the staff a little tighter. I needed to save all the suffering Wildermen outside. “What will happen to you?”

“I don’t exactly know.” Earthmother replied. “Though, when you’ve existed as long as I have, you don’t fear what comes next. You almost — embrace it.” Earthmother paused. It seemed that she was thinking deeply about something for a moment. Whatever it was, it made her smile to herself. “My Scythe-bearer.” She whispered.

Earthmother reached a freakishly long arm towards me and helped me to my feet. Aj’nos became a moth and fluttered around my head. “Child…” She cooed again. “You are destined for great things.”

That was something my father used to say to me. A fresh tear fell down my cheek.

Almost instantly, the light that had been glowing from Earthmother or somewhere in the hollow of the tree, snuffed. Aj’nos returned to the strange cave lizard form. I heard the clap of thunder, but it wasn’t a storm. It was the trunk of the world tree splitting again! The top of the tree opened to me, letting in the faintest glimmer of sunlight. Earthmother became dull and dark, like dying wood, decomposing. The woody tendrils that held her captive turned black and crinkled into dust.

I closed my fists tighter around the neck of the staff and walked out of the crack in the world tree’s trunk. The wyrmmist swarm had ravaged World Tree Park. So many people were laying dead, or barely breathing, or hunched over like they wished to throw up the swarm that was suffocating them, or still fighting — these were Wildermen after all. They weren’t going to go down lightly. I brandished the staff and slammed its butt into the ground. The cluster of crystals at its top end beamed with the light of a purple sun!

<Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!> I heard the sound of relief in my head. <So much fooooooood!!!>

Before me, the wyrmmist retracted from their prey. It coalesced into a giant black cloud again and seemed to growl at me. I held the staff before me, its light impossibly bright. <FEEEEEED ME!!!> The voice in my head again. I couldn’t help but feel that it was the staff, as crazy as that sounded. I mean, I’d just met a godform, anything seemed possible.

So I replied to the staff, <Eat.>

The crystal cap of the staff quickly transformed into an over-sized scythe! I was shocked that I was able to lift the tool. Its blade was made from translucent violet stone. Smaller gems floated around its neck. The whole thing seemed to glow with power. I was glowing with power! A purple robe swathed around me. A violet crystal tiara grew and encrusted upon my forehead. I was something else. I didn’t feel human anymore. I knew that I wasn’t like Earthmother, a godform. But I was definitely something more.

I watched as whole swarms of wyrmmist fell to the ground. Their black bodies became white and lifeless as the scythe seemed to consume them. In my mind the scythe made sounds as if it was chewing. I could feel the power leaking into me. I started to want it just as much as the scythe. I willed the scythe to consume more, to eat more! <Food! Yum, yum, 
yum!!!>

<More!> I said. <More…> To Aj’nos, I said mentally, <We will save the world.>

fantasy

Nathan Charles

Enjoy writing sci fi, fantasy, lgbtq fiction, poetry, and memoirs!

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