A Brief Explanatory Note
Fable, the game for which the following story was based upon, is an action-adventure/fantasy RPG in which the player’s actions impact the world, Albion, around them. There is no singular way to play Fable, nor one definitive version of Albion; this is merely one interpretation out of many. You do not need experience within Fable to read the following chapters, though it may help. The choice, as the game states, is yours. But, for now…
…the adventure awaits.
(This is Book 0 of the Shattered Albion series. Its sequel is A Marriage of Inconvenience. There is no need to read them in order.)
Prologue: The Hero of Bowerstone
Everything was painfully bright. His surroundings glowed with annoyingly white light, making him feel as though he'd stepped into the heart of the sun. For a second, he thought he actually had…and then he realized he wasn't on fire, so it couldn't be possible. (Even if it was a little disappointing.) His eyes slowly adjusted to the brightness only to find…absolutely nothing. Everything was sterilely empty…other than Theresa, of course. He absently wondered if he were floating or standing.
This is bollocks, Sparrow thought, exhausted. The last twenty-four hours had been strange. He'd nearly died…and then he'd actually died. He'd had tea with his dead sister. He'd come back from the dead. And everything just felt very strange. Numb. Was this shock? Wasn't it supposed to make you blank and tingly? He didn't quite know.
"Welcome," Theresa greeted, drawing his attention back to her. "You stand in the heart of the Spire as the Archon of the Old Kingdom did thousands of years ago. Now it is your turn. A choice lies before you—a wish—but choose wisely for it will affect all of Albion."
Wait. No. Fuck no. Absolutely not. "No. No, I can't do that," Sparrow told her, shaking his head. His words stumbled over themselves in an effort to get out faster. "Last time I made a wish…everything fucked up. This happened. I'm…I'm not making a wish."
"The Spire is active. A wish must be made, young Sparrow."
Her voice was oddly soothing, even though Sparrow didn't quite trust her. His gut twisted. He felt ill. Almost faint. Every nerve in his body rejected the thought of needing to make a wish, but…he also knew it had to be done. But at what cost? Why him? He thought of Hannah—all red hair and freckles and "you're a tosser" being thrown at him with familial affection as she ruffled his long hair with a little too much strength—and the way she'd sobbed endlessly over her father's corpse even after he'd been buried. He thought of Garth—dark skin glowing with Will, his entire being radiating calm as he worked on something or other, murmuring "patience, Sparrow" for the hundredth time, still entirely composed and calm, as Sparrow tried to rush through a spell—and the dead look in his eyes as they'd escaped the Spire; the injuries and bruises that had left him hunched over with pain…but not as much as the pain in his voice as he spoke of Lucien's betrayal. He thought of Reaver—laughing as he dove into battle without a care for his wellbeing, accepting when Sparrow drove his fist into his nose with an expression that said he knew he deserved it, staring in utter confusion as Sparrow fussed over his wounds and Reaver was able to do little more than splutter "I—what are you—why must you insist—Sparrow, enough, I'm—", acting like an utter dick and never seeming to realize Sparrow loved him like a brother—and how he flinched when "Oakvale" was brought up in his presence and how lost and broken he looked when Sparrow handed him the snowglobe that was his hometown.
"Give it to someone else," he pleaded. "Anyone else. I…I can't—the others deserve a chance…."
"I am sorry, but the Spire will answer to none but you."
His eyes were burning, but not from the bright light, and his throat felt raw. Pained. As though someone had stuffed a stone into it. Why? Any of them would be fitting to make a wish, he thought. They all deserved a chance at happiness—a chance for something more than whatever got them through the day. They were all his family now. He wanted what was best for them…so why couldn't they choose? Why did he have to go through this again? He knew perfectly well what he wanted to wish for, but he couldn't bring himself to say it. If he could, he would bring his sister and his dog back. They would find somewhere safe and warm and comfortable to live out the rest of their lives. He would dote upon her as he'd never had a chance to. Above all, he would protect her. But…would it really be her? What affect would death have upon her? …wouldn't this make him no better than Lucien? Certainly, he'd always wanted to get revenge upon Lucien for Rose's death, but bringing her back…that was something he'd never really considered until very recently. And what about the people that had died in the Spire? What about their families? Was it fair that he received his love ones back while they mourned theirs? No. It wasn't. And, somehow, he knew the Spire was going to force a choice out of him. Just how selfish could he be? How much was his happiness worth?
Something inside him was beginning to fracture, cracks growing and spreading as they would over thin ice. He stared down at the music box in his hands, trying to find his voice, before finally choking out, "Must I say it out loud?"
"No," Theresa replied. There was a soft, almost kind edge to her voice that he'd never heard before. As though she understood exactly what he was struggling with and why he couldn't stand to say it aloud. "All you need do is choose; the Spire will know."
That raised all sorts of questions, but Sparrow wasn't about to ask. He could feel his resolve breaking. The last of his will to be selfless started to slip from his proverbial grasp and he wanted to scream. I wish, I wish, he thought, remembering how Rose had prefaced their wish all those years ago. Tried to harden his heart. Tried to stuff down the pain that was clawing its way up his throat. Bring them all back.
The world grew brighter, so much so he had to force his eyes closed. A rumbling started far beneath him, followed by a humming that shook his bones. He wanted to drop the music box and cover his ears, but he was frozen in place. He thought he could hear Hannah shouting something. The noise and motion continued to grow until Sparrow thought the Spire was falling apart around them. Devouring itself as the majority of its power was used.
Then, all at once, it stopped.
"We are still here," he heard Garth observe from somewhere behind him.
Sparrow slowly opened his eyes. The room where they had defeated Lucien was dark and grim. Cold. He turned to find the other three Heroes had moved from their tiny platforms and onto the much larger, probably safer, platform. Something in the way they looked at him made it hard to meet their eyes. A mixture of awe and respect and pride…and pity. He didn't want any of it. Not now, when his insides were beginning to fall apart like broken glass in a frame. Not now.
"We…heard everything," Hannah admitted slowly. "Only…what did you…you know…."
She trailed off into silence and, when no answer was forthcoming from Sparrow, Garth placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, "It was his decision to make; let him live with it, whatever it may have been."
Sparrow expected the words to be chiding, but they felt like a balm—appeasing some of the pain, though not erasing it entirely.
"Indeed," Theresa confirmed, reappearing in the same place Lucien had been standing before…well…he fell. "A wish was made. And now the world will bear its consequences."
"Yes, yes, yes; this has all been very interesting, I'm sure," Reaver interrupted, making a grand show of pomp, ego, and gracefully fluid hand gestures. "But I feel we're missing the important subject here: what about me? What do I get? …gold would be nice."
Almost against his will, Sparrow felt his lips twitch. Asshole, he thought fondly, appreciating the pull of attention away from himself. The cracks were growing. He held tighter to the music box as mild tremors ran through his fingers.
Hannah's growled retort was cut short as Theresa replied, "That is up to you."
"Really? We have a choice?" Hannah inquired, irritation replaced with wary curiosity.
"Yes. I can send you anywhere from here," Theresa clarified. "What do you wish?"
"That's not really much of a choice now, is—"
"I wish to return home," Garth announced, cutting Reaver off smoothly and decisively. "To Samarkand. It…has been a long while, and I believe it is time."
It was Reaver's turn to interrupt, his voice almost reminiscent of an excited child as he added, "Ooh! I've never been to Samarkand. Hot nights, exotic substances…uninhibited people."
Garth's responding wince was nearly audible. "It is nothing like that."
"Leave it to me…I'll find the exciting bits."
"I'm sure you'll have fun and all," Hannah cut in dryly before any bickering could begin in earnest, "but I'm done."
"…Hannah?" Sparrow queried, hoping she'd go on but nervous for any response. He didn't even notice he'd brought attention back to himself. He'd known her the longest and he couldn't help but worry. What was she even talking about?
She nodded a couple times as though reassuring herself. A tiny, sad smile twisted her mouth as she slowly replied, "I know now why we were attacked in that cave. The day we met, do you remember?"
He did. All the hours spent lugging that water around and fighting monsters. All the stupid jokes and stories. Sparrow nodded.
"It was you. You brought the hollow men in with you."
Her words hit like a punch in the gut and he almost missed Garth's admonishment. In fact, Sparrow thought he would have preferred a punch. At least it wouldn't have been delivered with such calm decisiveness. And he could have defended himself from it. There was no defense from this.
"Hammer, be reasonable—"
"No. It's the truth, Garth. Had two monks entered that cave, they would have found nothing. But a warrior always finds battle. Always. That's why I want to go north, to study with those warrior monks. I was so sick of avoiding violence…now I'm sick of causing it." The last of her words were directed at Theresa, who responded with a nod of acknowledgement.
A moment of awkward silence passed, everyone simply standing there, staring at each other. It was as though they had all acknowledged what was about to happen, but no one really knew what to do next. Nor did anyone appear anxious to be the first to do it. The air felt strange. Sparrow could feel the emotions swirling around him like swirls of fog. A strange solemnity had settled above everything interspersed with anxiousness, guilt, awkwardness, and, most importantly to him, relief. As though everyone could finally rest. The work was over. The pain was ended. There was no longer any obligation to "the cause" any longer. It was done. Sparrow's legs couldn't stop shaking.
"Well," Reaver sighed, breaking the silence. Paused. Finally appeared to get his thoughts in order. "Goodbye, Sparrow. …I suppose I should thank you for dragging me into this mess or some other such nonsense."
Was it rude to flip off your friends and tell them to fuck off? Sparrow wasn't entirely certain, but the sarcasm was nice, regardless. "Next time you could always come willingly…less biting that way."
Reaver murmured something Sparrow was certain wasn't entirely flattering.
"I had my doubts about you at first," Garth confessed, expression too neutral to make sense of. "But I…am glad we met. And I feel we shall meet again. You can count on it. Good luck to you, Sparrow."
"Good luck, Garth. And…thanks. For everything."
In the depths of the Spire, something began to hum. Not that jarring, painful hum that had shaken Sparrow to the core, but a soft, almost gentle hum. A pale blue glow wrapped around Garth. Sparrow blinked and the mage was gone, flickers of Will dispersing in the transportation spell's wake.
"Ah!" As though he'd remembered something crucial, Reaver quickly added, "I should tell you: I do have to make the occasional sojourn back to Albion. Obligations to some friends in Wraithmarsh...you understand." His expression twisted briefly—some emotions Sparrow couldn't place flickering across his face, before he gave an extravagant, dismissive wave of his hands. "Farewell, Sparrow love. Do try not to get yourself killed before we next meet, hmm?"
Sparrow rolled his eyes. Couldn't help it. He temporarily freed one hand from the music box and tossed off a small wave. Try not to set any one on fire, pirate. "Farewell, Reaver."
Within seconds, Reaver had vanished as well.
Hannah looked awkward now, as though she almost regretted her earlier words. "Do you think you can handle Albion on your own?"
Sparrow forced a grin. "Haven't destroyed it yet. …it'll be strange without you, though. You're welcome to stay…you know?"
"I need to get away from here for a while. Do some thinking. For once. It's not like I'm leaving much behind…well…except the greatest friend I've ever had," she added, eyes redder than she probably would have ever been comfortable admitting. "Oh, don't give me that look. Come here, you daft gypsy."
Sparrow obliged, wrapping his arms around her whilst keeping a firm grip on the music box as best he could. In his not so humble opinion, Hannah gave the best hugs. He wanted to melt into her embrace and not let go. To beg her not to leave or to take him with her, but he knew better. She needed this. He needed to respect that.
Hannah pulled away first, putting a good arm's distance between them. "Goodbye, Sparrow. Take care of yourself. We'll see each other again; I know it."
"Goodbye, Hannah," Sparrow bid, finding it harder and harder to summon words.
"Farewell, Hammer," Theresa added from behind him and, shortly thereafter, Hannah was gone too.
This…didn't feel right. Endings were supposed to feel victorious, right? But he felt terrible. Feeling was slowly returning and he couldn't stop shaking. Every breath hurt. He'd never felt more alone and lost in his life. No, this was not how he'd imagined things to end.
"Are you well, Hero?" Theresa inquired, her voice slicing clearly through the silence.
"None of it made a difference, did it? Lucien's gone, but the Spire's still here. I just...don't know." Was it even worth it?
"It made all the difference in the world, Sparrow. You've saved thousands of people and stopped a madman from harming countless more. You have made a great deal of difference."
Sparrow stared up at her through bleary eyes, trying to search her expression for answers. It was impossible. And, while he hoped she was being honest, it didn't help that he felt…uncomfortable with all of this lately. Something just wasn't adding up.
Theresa smiled enigmatically at him, as though she were entirely aware of his thoughts and wasn't willing to elaborate on them. "And now it's time for you to leave," she remarked. "Albion is safe. There is an entire world beyond its borders for you to explore, if you desire. But the Spire is mine."
Discomfort. There was no other word for the feeling her words evoked. He could feel the hum, this time. Like energy falling into perfect alignment with his Will.
The singular word echoed through his mind, creating ripples like a stone in a smooth pond. His stomach clenched. This was a terrible feeling. As though he were being forcibly repelled through time and space.
And suddenly he found himself standing alone on an empty stretch of shore. The air was clean and biting. There was a road nearby, but no travelers to be seen. He recognized the area, though. This was Oakfield, but just outside the town itself. Massive oak trees rose like silent sentinels around him and, far out to sea, Sparrow could see the Spire.
All at once, all the rage and sorrow and bitterness he'd been holding back since Rose's death boiled to the surface. Emotion ripping through his throat. Tears burning and forcing their way out and down his cheeks. He choked on each ragged breath. The music box slipped from his fingers. Tremors overtook his body. His legs refused to hold him up any longer and he dropped to his knees.
Gone. Rose was gone. All those years of trying to avenge her—all those years of fighting Lucien…and now he as good as put the gun to her head himself. He could have saved her. He'd failed. And she was gone.
Something was building behind his sternum—a twisting, roiling mass that pressed into his heart like daggers. Couldn't stop crying. Couldn't compose himself. He'd never been so alone before. Was there even a point to…to anything anymore? To being a Hero? To helping people? What good had it ever done for him when everyone he cared for kept dying or leaving? Why did this keep happening? The opportunity was right there and he just…. I'm so sorry, Rose. I'm sorry. I promised I'd protect you and I didn't. And you're gone. I'm sorry.
Forehead pressed to the dirt, the pressure in his chest kept building. He wanted to scream. Scream until the whole world heard him. Until there was nothing left inside.
Whatever dam existed inside him broke. Pressure expanding and exploding outward in an enormous burst of Will that left him dazed.
He slowly came to his senses, finding himself lying on his back, staring up at the sky. Feeling…empty. The tears were gone, but so was everything else. Hollow.
Clouds drifted lazily overhead. Birds sang and the breeze was a gentle caress. He watched the sun slowly rise and then set before the stars flickered into life. He took in none of it. He didn't register the cold seeping through his thin clothes or the precariousness of where he lay or of the hunger in his stomach.
There was nothing.
He was nothing.
Time became an abstract concept.
He would blink and the time of day was completely different. His throat felt dry and cracked. No strength…not even enough to move his fingers. No will to even think.
He was alone.
And he hoped no one would ever find him.
~ * ~
He heard the clip-clop of horses before he became aware of what they were. Heard the creak of wagon wheels and the soft babble of chatting voices. He didn't move. His eyes didn't want to stay open. Though the sun was out, everything felt cold.
Loud voices and bare feet running on grass.
Something dropped down beside him and he didn't recognize it as a woman until she leaned over him, blocking out the sunlight.
Her fingers were warm and gentle. Her long hair brushed against his face as she cradled him. He had no idea who she was.
"Are you alright? Are you injured?" she inquired. "Sir, can you hear me?"
Voice didn't work. Couldn't talk. Couldn't think. He was starkly aware of how tired he was.
"Mama! Papa! He's alive! He's not responding!" he heard her shout.
More shouts, answering her.
Just as he closed his eyes, he heard her murmur, "You're safe. Everything will be fine now."
~ * ~
When he awoke it was to a flurry of sensations and thoughts. His muscles ached the way they did when he overdrew his Will and he felt like he was getting over a bad flu—weak, shaky, and pained. He could smell a wood fire and cooking over the scent of rain and damp earth. Someone had a cat—the fur tickled his nose and he was fairly certain that was the extra warm lump laying atop one of his knees. He'd been wrapped in thin but comfortable blankets and he could only feel the room's chill upon his face. His mouth tasted stale, but not dry. He could hear humming.
Slowly he opened his eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling. He was in a gypsy caravan, that he could easily discern. The curved wooden ceiling was a giveaway. The window to his right was partially obscured by a curtain of chunks of coloured glass and stones that reflected pinpricks of rainbow light in every direction. Dried flowers sat in a small, porcelain vase beside several books and a bowl of water on the nightstand beside whatever he had been sleeping on. Bed? Cot? He wasn't certain.
Drawing a shaky breath, he started an attempt at sitting up. He froze as the door of the caravan abruptly opened. A woman entered, her thick, wavy hair swinging about the middle of her back. She also froze the moment she realized he was awake. He almost felt like he should know her, but she was unfamiliar to him. For once that didn't bother him. Her eyes were kind and warm and he felt…safe.
"Oh! Thank the Light, we weren't sure you were going to wake up. But you did. And you're alive. And I'm so very glad you are because it would have been terrible if we'd had to bury you in an unmarked grave and I'd have felt even worse if you'd come back as a hollow man and someone died and how could I reconcile that and—" She broke off, flushing at the apparent realization that she'd been rambling. "Never mind." Glancing down at the cup of tea in her hands, she stepped forward and, as soon as he'd sat up, she handed it to him. "What's your name?"
He sipped at the tea, pleasantly surprised to find it strong and sweet. It eased the tension that was slowly building back up in his spine. He shifted awkwardly and received an affronted glare from the cat on his legs. "Gwilym…but Liam is fine, too."
Why did that feel so strange? Sure, most people knew him as Sparrow, but Gwilym was the name he'd been born with. So why did it feel like a completely different person? Like someone he'd never had a chance to be.
"It's nice to meet you, Liam," she replied, smiling. "My name is Val, or Valerie if you prefer."
It was hard to smile back at her. He didn't feel like he was about to break apart, but the sorrow and pain was still there. Lurking. He could feel it at the back of his thoughts. But it wasn't in control and neither was he—they simply co-existed. He was suddenly dreading returning to Bowerstone and his empty home.
"Are you alright?" she inquired, smile fading to be replaced with a concerned frown.
He thought it over, wanting to be honest with her, before replying: "No."
Val knelt down beside the bed, absently scratching her cat's ears. "It will be, though. I don't know why you were out there, but…it will get better. Everything does eventually. I won't leave you to face it alone."
And she never did.