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She's not ready to put up yet, but here's the backstory for my tortoise girl Claremonter! 

Stephanie Munson loved tortoises more than anybody else. That was a fact. As a child, she became fascinated with the landbound species of order Chelonia, and would angrily correct anybody who tried to say she liked turtles. Turtles were all well and good, but they were not tortoises (at least not in American English!) Growing up in semi-rural Arizona gave her a chance to help the local college students track and monitor tortoise populations even as she absorbed the classes that would let her pursue the biological sciences herself. Through college and grad schools she scrimped, saved and fought to take research trips to the Galapagos islands for their giant tortoises and to India to see beautiful and endangered star tortoises in their natural habitat. She wrote papers, published articles, and worked with the leading lights in the field of tortoise research and conservation until she’d learned everything they knew. When it came time to pursue a romantic partner, she chose a fellow traveler, a handsome man named Arthur Holmes who just happened to be the head reptile keeper at the Albuquerque Zoological park. It was an excellent match amongst like-minded people who loved each other almost as much as they loved their studies.

 

In a world of magic, passion is a powerful thing. Enough passion can shape the world, change lives, even draw the attention of unknowable forces. Since antiquity, humans have acknowledged the power of turtles and tortoises as agents of stability and wisdom, imbued with life force beyond the understanding of mortals. All of that is true in the way that all folklore has a heart of truth that is only strengthened by belief. At the juncture where life and passion and freefloating magic all meet, strange things can happen. Life can be created that is not the same as other lives. An avatar can be created.

 

Not that Stephanie and Arthur knew any of that. All that they knew was that Stephanie’s pregnancy did not go at all as planned, that the fetus was lively but did not thrive, that even after adjusting forward the estimated date of conception several months past when Stephanie first suspected she was pregnant, the size-for-week was all wrong. Stephanie did know that she stopped counting the weeks after a full year had passed since the first pregnancy test and started wondering if this pregnancy would ever end. Normally no doctor worth their salt would let a pregnancy go so long out of fear for the mother, but Stephanie was healthy and the female fetus seemed healthy as well, just growing very, very slowly. They left the choice to her, and Stephanie chose to go on. And on, and on. It wasn’t a great time, but in March of 1986, a full year and a half after that first test, she gave birth to a perfect, healthy, beautiful baby girl just the right size for a newborn half her gestational age. After eighteen months of consulting baby name books, Danica Kameyo Izegbe Mirabella Holmes was probably lucky to not get even more names piled onto her tiny head.

 

The strangeness of this baby did not stop with the delivery. Danica was an amiable baby, eating and sleeping like she should, alert within the limits of her fuzzy vision and hearing, not unduly fussy, but she began missing milestones almost right away. She gained only half a pound in the first month and grew only half an inch. By the time she was four months old, she was only beginning to reach for items above her head or push herself up on her arms, and she was still the size of a two-month old child. Stephanie and Arthur both took a break from their life-long passions to focus all their considerable analytical attention on what might be wrong with their beloved child. After exhausting all the local specialists and everything the Mayo Clinic in Arizona had to offer, they began widening their search. Finally in Southern California they encountered a shaman who said their daughter was special, that she was an avatar. An avatar of what, he could not say, he didn’t have the skill, but it was a clue at least. Cachet in the scientific community didn’t always translate across fields, but by using all their considerable connections they managed to land an interview with Adrian Eldritch, the Master Mage of Earth. They’d have gone to Freedom City if they had to, but instead Eldritch had shown up in their living room and spent almost twenty minutes playing with the year-old Danica, who was just starting to sit up and tolerate rice cereal. Eldritch confirmed that the shaman was right, that Danica was an avatar of an ancient, nameless tortoise spirit that had been looking for a way to manifest on earth. Worship, Eldritch had told them dryly, could take many forms, but it always made spirits stronger. Danica was growing so slowly because she was growing on a timeline much different from humans, not because she was sick or damaged. It wasn’t all bad news, he assured them. She would age very slowly her whole life, and likely live a very, very long time. Think of everything such a child would see!

 

It took awhile for Stephanie and Arthur to sort out all the immediate responses to this, but one question came up very quickly: how would they take care of a child who wouldn’t be grown until they were old? If Danica continued at her current rate of growth, by the time she was ready for college both of them would be long since retired. Eldritch smiled a little and reported that the spirit had granted them a boon as well: as long as their daughter was a child, they would not age as humans did either. Only when she reached maturity would they go back to experiencing their normal lifespans. He couldn’t give them specifics beyond that rather vague wording, but it was something, at least. And at least they knew what was happening now. Eldritch finished by saying that it was entirely likely that Danica would develop some kind of magical abilities at some point, and they should definitely let him or his successor know.

 

So Danica grew up, so very, very slowly as the decades passed around her. Her parents were not interested in spreading the word of her condition around, so they began moving around, first from daycare to daycare, then school district to school district. Danica legally had to be in school, despite the problems that would inevitably arise, so they did the best they could. It was fairly easy in the eighties and nineties to fudge a birthdate here and there, letting Danica enroll with children half her age but the exact same developmental stages. It was also easier in the eighties and nineties to avoid explaining to Danica why she never kept the same friends for more than a year or two, or why the people on the television shows looked different as the years passed.

 

She was a bright and curious child who liked to read and garden, though she wasn’t much for playing outdoors because it took her such a long time to get anywhere. By the time she was fourteen, she started wanting to know why she was different from the other kids, why nobody ever stuck around, why she really didn’t look or act the same as other children her age. Her parents explained the basics of her situation to her in ways that a seven-year-old could understand. It made sense for her to make friends with much younger children because her years were twice as long as other children’s.

 

The 2000s brought an era of electronic recordkeeping with it that made a lot of their previous strategies untenable. Danica turned eighteen in 2004, automatically aging her out of the public school system, so it didn’t make much sense to move around anymore. Stephanie and Arthur settled in and opened a tortoise and terrapin sanctuary in New Mexico and began a freewheeling sort of unschooling that worked well for a child who learned things just fine but took so much longer to mature. She made friends among the local kids, and for awhile it was almost like being normal, with best friends and sleepovers and talk about favorite cartoon shows and books. Inevitably, however, Danica’s friends grew up. By the time she was ten (more or less), her friends were twelve, and when she was emotionally eleven, they were fourteen and teenagers, heading into high school and no longer very interested in the things she liked. This was rather painful, but she did her best to make new friends, often with the younger siblings of her old friends. It wasn’t particularly successful, since now she was known in the neighborhood as the weird girl who liked baby stuff and wasn’t getting taller or starting her period or anything.

 

When Danica was twenty-six, she was a little dismayed to find herself moving slower than ever. She could walk just fine, it was simply that she couldn’t walk fast. Even if she ran, she ran slowly, pedaled a bike slowly, rode a scooter slowly. It only became more apparent as her body got older and she still couldn’t keep up with other kids her apparent age. In retaliation for this (against who is unclear, perhaps just the world) she went through a brief tree-climbing phase where instead of moving forward, she just moved up instead. New Mexico isn’t known for its tall trees, but the neighborhood she lived in had a few good ones and she was able to get a good thirty feet up the one in her backyard, shinnying with knees and elbows, before she fell the whole way down right in front of her startled parents. The impact was jarring, but when she stood up she was completely unhurt and had a beautiful brown and cream shell covering torso and abdomen. The shell could be summoned and dismissed at will, usually appeared on its own if she felt threatened, and was big enough that she could tuck her limbs and head in for maximum protection. Unlike an actual tortoise’s shell, it appeared over her clothing and she could climb in and out of it if she really wanted to. Her parents were fascinated but baffled, and realized quickly that they were beyond their field of expertise.

 

Another call to Adrian Eldritch put Stephanie and Arthur in touch with the Nicholson School, an elementary and middle-school program for children with exceptional abilities. It was all the way across the country in Freedom City, far from their homes and their work, but it sounded like exactly the thing Danica needed. They’d just spend a few years doing other things, that was all. The Holmes family packed up and moved into a little townhouse near the school and Danica began attending. Super school was a lot easier and more fun for Danica, who finally got to just tell other people about her aging issue instead of figuring out more and more creative lies, and it let her be around other kids who were at least as different as she was. Unfortunately, she was a little too old to stay at Nicholson very long, so after two years she was sent off to Claremont Academy, the super high-school.

 

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