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.