Once there was a Human who lived at the edge of the forest.
The Human had known great loss and was full of grief.
The Human’s grief was so powerful that it consumed days and nights.
One night was so long that it stretched on nearly forever.
When the Human woke, the world had become very strange.
The first thing the Human noticed was that the early morning light was coming in through the walls.
The walls themselves had become pale and insubstantial.
They seemed to be slowly evaporating and drifting away on the wind, yet they did not disappear.
Leaving the house, the Human noticed that the young trees near the house were barely visible, just wisps of themselves, while the tall, ancient trees of the forest still appeared to be mostly solid, although their leaves were blurred and indistinct. They flickered and ran through all of the colors known to leaves. The Human sat on the bench outside of the house that once held such joy, considering what to do. There was nothing here but sadness and insubstantial reminders of what was once a home and family.
The Human left the house and walked down the path towards the nearby stream. The rocks by the stream were nearly normal, with only a slight blurring of their surface. The stream had become swiftly flowing fog. It was only now that the Human noticed how very quiet the world had become. The stream made just the slightest murmur, not it’s normal cheerful clamor.
The birds were just flits of mist, flickering among the trees, making only dim echos of their normal song.
The Human turned and followed the stream downhill until it broadened out into a pond in a clearing. In the clearing, the Human saw a very strange sight.
In the clearing stood a pavilion. Under it, tall figures stood and sat on soft cushions of cloud, having what appeared to be a celebration. They spoke softly to one another and ate and drank insubstantial morsels that appeared from nowhere on the low tables that were scattered among the cushions. Hints of music drifted through the hushed air, but the Human could see no musicians playing.
As the Human stepped closer to the pavilion, the tall figures turned and looked, surprised to see a Human here. One, wearing a sky-blue robe, came closer to the Human.
“Human! How do you come to be here, and so solidly?” asked the figure in a near whisper. Its question caught the Human off-guard, and the Human looked down to see a dark and solid body with none of the pale mistiness that so much of the world possessed. The tall figures themselves were blurred and translucent, and would sway in the breeze, although they never blew away as mist should.
“I do not know where I am, much less how I came here. What is this place? I thought I knew this clearing well, but all is strange and I have never seen your like before.”
“This is the Faded Court. It is the place all things go when the Present moment passes on. We were the Fae. You appear to be a mortal Human. Your kind does not persist here long, though, so we have not seen a Human since we were of the Present.” The Fae gestured for the Human to follow back to the pavilion.
“There are no other Humans here?” asked the Human.
“Humans are here for brief moments after their Present passes. We see flickers of them, but your kind lives so shortly and moves so quickly, you do not leave enough of an impression on the world to have a presence here in the past. We only see them for any time when they are very old and have stayed in one place for a very long time. The Fae are immortal, and we stay in our favored places for centuries at a time. That is why we rule the Faded Court. Humans have no power here. Why have you come?” The tall Fae peered into the Human’s solid face with curiosity.
“I did not come here by choice. I slept for a time and when I woke, I was in my home, but it was not the home I knew. Everything was strange, and I went looking to see what had become of the world.”
The Fae looked at one another, and despite their blurred faces, the Human could tell they were concerned.
“You must have been in great pain to have sought the Faded Court so strongly to come here in your Present form,” the first Fae said. “Come and see our Queen, and perhaps she can help you.”
The Human was ushered towards the tallest of the Fae. She was nearly as solid as the Human, but not quite. The first Fae leaned in and whispered to her briefly and her eyes widened. She leaned down to gently touch the Human’s face. Her touch was like a slight breath of wind. When she spoke, it sounded like a bell ringing in the far distance.
“Oh, my small, frail mortal. You have my sympathy and my sorrow. Such grief is a terrible burden, and it is no wonder you sought to flee the Present for the Faded Court. What has injured your soul do gravely?”
The Human had yet to speak of the great loss, but in this place, the subject did not seem to carry as much pain.
“My family was taken from me. A sudden fever that took them all in the space of a week. I could do nothing to soothe them, and I watched them pass from me one after another, starting with the youngest, and my love was the last to leave me.”
The Queen closed her eyes and bent her head for a moment. She sat upright and considered the Human for a long moment.
“How long ago did they pass from your Present?”
“Two weeks, your Majesty.”
The Queen laughed softly.
“Dear Human, you owe me no fealty. You are neither Fae nor of the Faded Court. You do yourself honor with your good manners, however. I believe I can help you. You will need to travel towards the sunset, as quickly as you can, and you may yet catch up with the souls of your family. They have permanently left the Present and must thus pass through the Faded Court on their way to Oblivion. If you can catch up to them, you can travel with them, and, if you desire, enter Oblivion with them. Be warned, however, that Oblivion is a permanent destination. Once you enter it, you cannot leave, and will remain there with all departed souls until the end of time. At that point, even we will join you there and the world will be born anew. That is many millennia hence, however, and if you still have business in Present, you should go there instead.”
“How would I return to the Present?” asked the Human. “While seeing my lost family is all I desire, Oblivion sounds like a frightful place.”
“You must return to where you entered my Court and then it is up to you to desire to exist in the Present strongly enough to return to your place in time. If you do not truly wish it, however, you will remain here, and will lose your chance to find your family if you wait too long to seek them.”
The Human was quiet for a long while. Looking out past the edges of the Pavilion, the Human could see that one side of the sky was painted in shimmering sunset colors, yet the sun was not visible, nor did the colors ever fade to black. The Human pointed in that direction, to the left of the Queen.
“Is that the direction I must go?”
“Yes. Oblivion is in that direction. You must travel swiftly, though, as your family is two weeks ahead of you. They will be traveling slowly, as they are of this world, now, and are not solid, as you are. You can catch them, but the way will be difficult and you must not delay.”
“Thank you for your help,” the Human bowed deeply, “I shall seek my family.”
“Your story has touched me and you have provided the first event of interest in a timeless time. Take this, it may help you.” The Queen gestured and a long length of dark wood was brought forth. It had been polished smooth by many hands. The Queen presented the walking-stick to the Human, who took it. It was as solid as any tree in the Present, and the Human’s eyebrows lifted in surprise.
“How…” the Human began.
“This was carved from the heart of an ancient tree. When it perished in a storm, its soul came here fully, as all things do. It was so old that its body was pulled along with it, and the very oldest part of the tree, the heart, remained solid. This walking-stick will help you on your journey.”
“I thank you again. Your kindness is a balm.”
The Human bowed again, and set off towards the sunset, weaving through the Fae, who had gathered around, observing the Human’s audience with the Queen. Near the edge of the crowd stood one Fae who was different from the rest. She was shorter and hunched, and nearly as solid as the Queen. She plucked at the Human’s arm and leaned in.
“There is a danger the Queen has not mentioned. This land is of the past, and forgetfulness. You do not have the long memory of the Fae to protect you. You must not forget who you are or who you seek. When you find your family, they will not remember you.”
“Thank you, Grandmother,” said the Human, and turned to go. The old Fae was not finished, however.
“Beware Oblivion, child. You are alive, and thus will not forget yourself entirely as the dead souls will. You will remain aware that you exist and that you have needs, but you will be unable to remember who you are and how to live. It will be millennia of torment for you if you enter. Be sure of your choice before you follow your family beyond the threshold of Oblivion.” The Human paused and looked at the old Fae, then to the sunset, and back.
“I will take your words with me. I thank you again for your wisdom.” The Human stepped away from the Fae and strode with purpose towards the edge of the clearing.