The Faded Kingdom – Chapter 2

The Human found a path through the trees at the edge of the clearing, one that had not been there before. It seemed to begin right at that point and continue off towards the sunset, leading towards a large mountain in the distance. Here, it wove through the forest, with the flickering trees on either side.
The Human walked for a time. With no sun or stars to act as guides, it was difficult to know how much time had passed. The Human did not hunger or thirst, so time slipped by without any way to count it.
The Human came to a large moss-covered boulder that jutted into the path, nearly blocking the way. While sliding around the edge, between the boulder and a tree trunk, the Human noted how smooth the stone was, and how it was not as solid as the other rocks. Then the boulder spoke.
“Hello, Human,” it said. Its voice was low and warm; louder than that of the Fae, but still quiet. Not wishing to appear rude, the Human stepped clear of the boulder and bowed to it.
“Good day to you.”
The boulder turned slightly, and the Human saw that it was, in fact, an enormous tortoise. The shell was nearly as tall as the Human, and as the tortoise’s head emerged, it looked the Human in the eyes with ease. It was more solid than the Fae, and the Human could easily see its facial features, especially its deep, old eyes.

“It has been a very long time since I have seen a mortal being here who was not destined for Oblivion,” said the tortoise. “A very, very long time. It is good to see someone from the Present.”
“Are you immortal, like the Fae?” asked the Human. The tortoise chuckled. It was a warm, dry sound, like a blanket on a chill night. It made the Human feel safe and sheltered.
“Oh no. I am Turtle. I am the echo of many of my kind, or perhaps those in the Present are echos of me. I wonder what one would call an echo that proceeds from the Past to the Present…” Turtle looked thoughtful, its eyes unfocusing into the distance. The Human was just about to speak when Turtle blinked slowly and began to speak again.
“Yes. My apologies. I spend much of my time in thought. It is difficult to hold my mind in one place sometimes. Where was I?”
“You were introducing yourself. Your name is Turtle?” prompted the Human.
“Not my name, exactly, but it will serve. I have many names. I have been called terrapin, turtle, and tortoise; Mzee, Ijapa, Jebuti, Shetyw, Akupara, Kurma, minogame, Tu, Kim Quy, and Maheo. Some have said I was wise, or a trickster, or evil, or a warrior. All of this for one animal. I suppose it is why I am here. Also, even my mortal selves live for a very, very long time. Some will never die except through illness or injury. I have seen many centuries past and your people have killed, eaten, honored, and worshiped me throughout. Now, as for you, Human, why are you here? Your people do not come here as I have, and you do not have the look of Oblivion about you.”
“I am seeking my family, who were taken from me. I found the Faded Court, and the Queen sent me this way, towards the sunset, to find them. I hope to see them again, if I can catch up to them.”
“If your family are souls, then they are heading towards Oblivion. All dead things go there, in the end. However, you are still alive. Why would you seek such a place?” Turtle furrowed its great brow in concern.
“I have nothing in the Present. My family was all I cared for, and if their place is here, then so is mine.”
“Hmmmmm,” said Turtle. “You say the Fae Queen sent you on this path? Were you warned about Oblivion?”
“Yes. I am frightened of it, but it seems less fearsome than returning to the Present to live a life without those I love,” replied the Human. Turtle looked at the Human for a long moment.
“I fear you may have been here too long to return to the Present, in any case. Your Moment may have passed, stranding you here. I have many fond memories of your kind from the Present, along with many that are less so. In honor of the Humans who cared for Turtles, I shall tell you a secret. I do not think the Fae know it, or perhaps they have simply forgotten it. It is this: there is a way for souls to remember who they are. If you can remind your family of their selves, and return their minds to them, then they will no longer seek Oblivion. You and they could then remain here until all things fade away.”
“Thank you, great Turtle,” said the Human, bowing again. “Do you know how I can do this thing?”
“Sadly, I do not. I do not know how I came by this knowledge, just that I know it. I know a great many things. I see you have a walking stick. Did the Queen give it to you?” The Human nodded and Turtle continued. “I also have something that may help you on your way.” Turtle pulled its long neck back into its shell. When Turtle emerged, it was holding a package in its mouth, which it gave to the Human. The Human opened the wrapping to find a turtle shell that had been sealed all around except for where the neck should be, where a flap of leather had been fastened. A strap looped from one edge to the other, letting it be carried easily.
“I do not know where this came from, but it is solid, as you are. It can hold many things. One of your kind made it from the shell of one of mine, and it was held in great reverence. Take it with you, and it may be of use.”
“Thank you once again,” said the Human, putting an arm through the strap.
“May your trip be swift and safe,” said the Turtle, as it slowly pulled its neck back into its shell. “I fear it shall not be, but I wish it all the same.”

The Human bowed low in thanks and headed down the road towards the sunset. 

The Faded Kingdom – Chapter 1

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.