Maybe you brought it on yourself. Maybe you were prying in places you ought not to have been. Maybe you cut a deal you didn’t realise the full ramifications of. Or hell, maybe you were just unlucky.
Doesn’t matter. Somehow, you caught the attention of one of the Gentry.
And They liked you so much that They decided to take you home with Them.
The abduction is a terrifying, mind-shattering experience for any human being. Normality shattering as some ancient, alien being outside of any laws of nature you understand drags you from your life and into a place of nightmare. Some of the True Fae treat the abduction as sport, revelling in Their target’s terror as They hunt them down like animals. Others take a more subtle approach, tempting Their victims into Faustian bargains or luring them across the threshold that separates the mortal world from the Hedge.
Once a human has crossed over? Left their world and found themselves dragged into Arcadia? They find themselves in a world that is utterly, inescapably alien to them in its mystery, its terror and its beauty. This is a land ruled by ancient deals brokered and pledges signed; without access to these, a human is doomed in this world. Water will not quench their thirst, food will provide no sustenance.
If they wish to survive, they must pledge themselves to one of the True Fae, gaining access to these deals by proxy of their new master.
It is here that their durance, their servitude, begins.
And as they serve under their new Master they begin to adapt and shift to this new world, moulded by the role their Keeper has assigned them. It is here that their eventual Seeming and Kith begin to manifest. Dragged through the Hedge, ripped at by Thorns that tore away both flesh and mind, a newly indentured human in Arcadia is a pitiful, broken thing. Memories of their life before quickly fade, if they haven’t been ripped out already during their Abduction, and soon they are little more than hopeless slaves to their True Fae masters.
It is a savage fate. Incarceration of both body and soul.
For most victims of the True Fae, this is where their story ends. Trapped forever in Arcadia, bound as slaves to their Keepers.
But not for all.
Perhaps it takes months. Perhaps it takes years, decades. But through the fog of servitude, past the holes torn by the thorns, memories of a life before all this can begin to re-surface. Only the most powerful of memories can survive the crossing between the mortal world and Arcadia, something truly defining and potent. Vestiges of a loved one’s smile. The feeling of a child’s hand in yours. The smell of home. These feelings and remnants pull at the Changeling, and awaken them from the torpor they have been languishing in under their Keeper.
Escaping Arcadia is no small task. Though the process of returning to the human world obfuscates much of a Changeling’s recollections of their Durance, they remember enough to know that winning their freedom was a dangerous gambit. There are some stories of Changelings escaping in pairs, or else returning to our world in entire groups that suggest an uprising or rebellion took place.
Free at last from their Keeper, a Changeling wishing to return home must fight their way back through the Hedge. Once again they will feel the bite of the thorns, ripping at their memories and skin, tearing away their experiences in Arcadia. Once again, it is only those potent memories that first awoke them that allow a Changeling to successfully cross over the Hedge and return home.
Homecoming is a strange thing for a Changeling. The laws of reality as we understand them do not function in Arcadia, and Time is no exception. A Changeling who swears he was only held for a few months in the land of Fae can return home to find that years have past. The world has forgotten him, moved on without him. Another Changeling who was captive to her Keeper for decades comes back to find that it has only been a few days, a couple of weeks, since she was taken. While she has aged and suffered, her home has barely changed.
As if these setbacks were not enough, a newly-escaped Changeling will quickly discover the full extent of their kidnapper’s cunning and cruelty. In the place of every abducted human a simulacrum is left. This being, this thing, that the Gentry leave behind looks identical to the person whom they stole and, if the person were older than a child, can function in the abducted human’s life with little difficulty. But that thing that the Gentry leave behind isn’t human and isn’t fae. It is something in between, a construct made of shadow and Glamour called the Fetch.
Simply stepping back into the life that was stolen from them, to the thoughts and emotions that drew them back in the first place, is not possible.
The victory of their escape is bittersweet. For even in their freedom, a Changeling is still lost.
The Lost are beings ruled by emotion and feeling, experiencing thoughts and sensations far more potently than ordinary humans. In their isolation, it is little surprise that many of them choose to band together with their fellow fugitives from Arcadia. Ostensibly this is for reasons of safety. Every Changeling fears the possibility that one day soon, their Keeper will return for them and attempt to drag them back to Arcadia. By standing alongside their fellow Lost, they find a measure of support and security; if the True Fae come for them, they will not be alone this time.
Changelings are not solely human any longer, and although they may have suffered torturous cruelty in Faerie, their eyes were also opened to an entirely new plane of wonder than is possible to experience in the mortal world. Arcadia is the land of dreams as well as nightmares, and even at its most horrific, it is a place of miracles and magic. Few changelings are willing to admit that there are aspects of Faerie that sparked flame in their spirit and wonder in their existence in a way nothing human can. But it is a need, a longing that cannot be quenched by even the most vibrant of human art or the most passionate of human lovers. Amongst their own kind there is safety to experience somewhat of that fae marvel without much of the danger inherent in actually travelling into the Hedge, let alone Arcadia.
There are many social structures within the societies formed by the Lost.
- FREEHOLDS: Part Changeling settlement, part support network, a ‘Freehold’ is the name given to the community of Changelings that exist within towns and cities. They are governed by the Four Courts, and provide both security and community for the Lost that live within them. Some members of the Freehold guard the borders, keeping watch for creatures of the Hedge, True Fae or other threats. Others act as part of administrative figures or political leaders, rallying other Changelings around them.
- COURTS: The Great Courts are common social structures on a greater scale than motleys. Great Courts serve much the same purpose (safety from the Fae) but on a larger scale and with more organisation. Each of the four Courts has its own unique affiliations with one of the seasons and a dominant emotion, bound to the Court through oaths its founders exacted from the seasons many, many years ago. Changelings bound their Courts to the seasons for the strength it would give them against their one-time captors. Any pact provides power in the form of Contracts, but the founders explicitly chose to align their Courts with an aspect of the world that the Gentry couldn’t understand. A Fae lord may tyrannize a realm of endless winter, but he would never forsake his power and allow another to warm his land to spring. Tying their resistance to the voluntary progression of the seasons gives the changelings a stronger connection to Earth and a basis for defence that the Others are, so far, unable to undermine.
- MOTLEYS: Motleys are the smallest social group likely to be found amongst Changelings, representing a small cabal or social circle of changeling friends and compatriots. As an increased measure of security against more insidious threats, such as Loyalists and Privateers, some motleys forge a Pledge of Friendship to bind their group together through glamour and magic. Yet even if a motley does not choose to take this measure, they are powerful social bonds: a fellow member of a motley is a true ally, ready to stand by your side come thick or thin.
- CONTRACTS: The enigmatic powers of the changelings are curious, just as the Fae themselves, because these powers aren’t innate abilities. Rather, supernatural changeling abilities, known as Contracts, come as a result of bargains struck between the Fae and the natural world. Indeed, they are literal contracts between the dream-folk and the worlds they inhabit. The nature of the Contract defines its appearance: A changeling who seems “fireproof” actually has a Contract with fire itself to cause him no harm, while a changeling who can fly might have either a Contract with the air to buoy him or with a bird to grant him its aspects.
What is important, however, is that the changeling does invoke the Contract with a bit of his own supernatural essence. In most cases, gaining the benefit of a Contract costs the changeling Glamour. With certain Contracts, a changeling must also or alternatively spend a point of Willpower, as invoking the Contract takes on an additional degree of focus. This is common among the more powerful Contracts, in which the results are so far beyond the pale of what the normal world expects to be possible, or when the natural forces behind the Contract are exceptionally reluctant to indulge their side of the bargain.
Contracts come in a variety of types. Each type is denoted by a symbolic element or governing entity that represents the Contracts associated with it. These elements or entities are, effectively, the signatories to the Contracts, the fire and air and birds described above. Some Contracts are open to all changelings: The “common” Contracts of Dream, Hearth, Mirror, and Smoke. Other Contracts rely upon seemings or Courts, and their powers are more dearly gained by those not of the favoured group.
- THE MASK: A changeling’s true face is something hidden from most of the mortal world. Although the changeling’s physical body has been changed, ordinary humans and even most supernatural beings are unable to see the Lost for what he has become. They see instead the Mask, an illusion made of Glamour that hangs around each changeling and provides a human guise. The illusion is quite complete, able to deceive even film and digital media with only the occasional faint blur or after-effect.
The Mask is not a choice. It protects and disguises the Lost even when they would have it otherwise, even beyond death. The Mask seems to be another expression of the ancient pacts struck by the Fae to protect them and theirs from the eyes of common men and women. Though the Lost are no longer the Gentry’s in many ways, apparently changelings are still close enough for the purposes of this bargain. So they appear to be who they were instead of what they have become… for the most part. There’s always just a hint of the changeling to the Mask, be it skin that reminds someone just a bit of strong oak wood or eyes that sometimes seem to reflect light just like a cat’s, if even for an instant.
The Mask may appear a few inches taller or shorter than the changeling’s true mien, or add or subtract 20 pounds or so. However, the Mask remains close to the mien’s actual size; an Ogre with the Giant Merit is clearly over-large, even to mortal eyes.
- PLEDGES: The word-bond carries tremendous weight among the fairies, and even the renegade changelings understand the importance of one’s pledge. An oath is never given lightly, a promise never casually made, for who knows when the Wyrd may entangle those words, tying them to the speaker’s destiny? Among the many secrets of the Others changelings bore with them when they fled is the understanding of how to entangle words in the Wyrd. This is more than simply a means of making sure both parties uphold their ends of an agreement, however: the art of pledge-craft is an ancient one. Those who uphold their word with honour and forthrightness shall reap rewards of the world; those who fail to do so are punished appropriately.
- DREAM MANIPULATION: The arts of dream manipulation are practised by many changelings. Though all have the ability to shape dreams, not all bother to hone the skill. True oneiromancers seek to understand the nuances of the human condition, as expressed through dreams. The Skill associated with oneiromancy is Empathy — because changelings were once mortal, their manipulation of dreams is, of necessity, half psychology. They do not have the potency of Wyrd to wholesale reshape dreams the way the True Fae do, but if changelings understand what dreams mean and how they work, they can get the same result from a mortal dreamscape.