The Arcadian Gateway is one of the thirteen Near Realms in The Umbra. While many have dreamed of Arcadia, few have actually experienced it. Seeking this mythical faerie kingdom remains one of the most ambitious quests one can hope to achieve. Storytellers have told countless tales of heroes who have sought this fabled realm, but if any have attained it, they have yet to return to explain the end of their journey. Every story, every myth, every dream of Arcadia has been brought to life in a realm of the Umbra that reflects these faint aspirations: the Arcadia Gateway. As the old stories claim, once there was a time when many paths led to the true Arcadian Kingdoms. The trods of Earth were like tributaries leading to mighty rivers, and all flowed into one great ocean. Throughout the Tellurian, the fae explored creation, bringing chaos and magic wherever they went. In Earthly legends, the fae were known by many names: the Fair Folk, the Good People, changelings, nunnehi, and the various kith and kin of legend. For these bold wayfarers, these trods all showed the way back home. Humans who met these wanderers often found their lives taking on the semblance of dreams (or as often as not, nightmares); nobody came away from an encounter with a faerie unchanged.
The fae were never really creatures of the Near Umbra; wherever they came from, it wasn't a Near Realm. But their ability to touch and terrify so many, whether human or shapeshifter, resounded in the spirit world. The result was the Arcadia Gateway. To this day, Fianna historians can't agree whether the Gateway was born of human dreams (much as the Atrocity Realm was born of human pain), shaped by powerful fae who became lost in the Near Umbra and tried to create a semblance of home, or if it just simply came to be. Although popular legend holds that the realm is an actual gateway to the fae homeland, a close examination reveals that it is no such thing. The "fae" who populate this realm are emanations like any other.
Perhaps some of them were truly fae once who gradually "disconnected" from the material world and their home realm, but the end result is the same. Yet one by one, as magic faded from the world, so did the trods to the true Arcadia. It is said that as the forces of the Wyld retreated into the Umbra, many Seelie and Unseelie followed them, forsaking the staid conformity of the earthly realm. On Earth, Arcadia became little more than a legend. The ancient trods meandered throughout creation, wending their way through strange and fantastic places. But as the Weaver erected Gauntlets to separate the distant reaches of creation, fewer trods led to their original destination.
As the legend goes, many fae never found their way back to their true home, instead finding the Arcadia Gateway. Just as the Fair Folk were known by many names throughout the world, heroes who actually found their way to this mythical land knew their ultimate destination by many names as well—Avalon, Hy-Brasil, Tir na-N'ogh, and so on. With each tale, the Gateway grew to accommodate their dreams. Yet because many of those dreams were fantastic or impossible, the realm drifted further away from mundane reality. Truths about the Fair Folk in the "real world" were relegated to myths, legends and dreams.
Now the world has grown cold and uncaring, plagued by darkness, consumed by rage, and bereft of all but the strongest magic. Arcadia lives on in dreams, but even those dreams are dying. Limitless possibility has been replaced with the cynicism and cold reason of the modern age. The Fair Folk may soon fade away as so many other magical creatures have before them — and as they fade, their Near Umbral creation, the Arcadia Gateway, fades with them.
The Coming WinterEdit
As legends tell, long ago, the fae fled from the madness of the earthly world. A few remained on Earth, evolving into "changelings," faeries who learned to hide their true forms from the harsh world around them. Others retreated into forgotten realms, and still others sought the spirit world. Some sought to guard the trods to Arcadia, protecting it from mankind's madness and the ravages of age. Others hoped to lead unwise and villainous rivals astray, even if it required the betrayal of their own followers. Fae legend holds that Lord Lysander, a valiant Seelie sidhe, was the one who found and protected the%ue "gateway to Arcadia."
If Lysander were once a true fae but is now an emanation, there's no proof of it — he has since disappeared from sight and almost from memory. For centuries, the realm of the Arcadia Gateway remained isolated from the real world. In accordance with the old traditions — or what the Wyld-imbued fae thought they remembered as the old ways — the land was divided evenly between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. The perceived "gateway to Arcadia," the portal out of the realm, was protected by the Seelie Court, safeguarded deep beneath the well defended walls of Lord Lysander's castle. The gate has since fallen, and the Lord himself has vanished, perhaps faded away. With the demise of the Seelie lord, Unseelie rushed in to claim lands their rivals could not protect. Shadows slowly encroached across the land. Centuries before the death of Lord Lysander, the western lands lay in perpetual midsummer, preserved by the Seelie. The eastern lands were frozen in midwinter, cloaking the treachery of the Unseelie. Now the balance has been upset, perhaps forever. Winter spreads across the domain like a cloak of cold and darkness. Only a few scant leagues in the west still enjoy the warmth of the sun and the protection of the Seelie Court. An Endless Winter is passing across the land, eradicating the antiquated relics of the realm to make way for a new eternal age. Friends of the Seelie Court have one last chance to preserve the past; if they fail, then this last remnant of Arcadia will descend into eternal night.
The true paths to the realm all lead to the same destination: a shimmering moon path. At the end of it, a circlet of coruscating light reveals a glimpse of a forest covered in snow. Standing at the threshold, a knight in black armor waits as he has for countless centuries. The knight demands that none pass without defeating him in combat. Unfortunately, age has already defeated him. He is feeble and old. His armor is hollow, easily scattered by a resounding blow. He may be tricked or deceived. Yet oddly, no matter how thoroughly he is victimized, the armor always stands there again the next time a traveler passes. Since few pass by anymore, he has ample time to recover.
Beyond the black knight that guards the realm, a worn, decaying road stretches to the horizon. Thick woods surround it on either side, covering the ground as no forest on Earth has for centuries. At times, the one road twists and turns into the depths of the wilderness, hidden from view. The end of the path is visible, however, leading to a dark and sunless sea.
Once this winding path was straight as an arrow, serving as the barrier between the lands of the Seelie and Unseelie. Now it has been twisted, and the border between Seelie and Unseelie is ill defined. It isn't even a very good trail. Throughout most of the realm, winter has cloaked the forest in snow, and dense copses of trees have become little more than thick tangles of branches.
To the east, a swollen harvest moon rises behind a grim and terrible fortress. Cold winds arise from the east, for it is the dark heart of the Unseelie domain. To the west, a dull sun sets behind the ruins of a crumbling castle. If a hero listens intently, however, and he retains some measure of hope, he can hear distant sound of music and laughter beneath the setting sun.
A perceptive and idealistic traveler may see the glow of distant campfires through the trees. In a handful of leagues to the west, the last remnants of the realm's Seelie Court prepare for the onslaught of winter.
Trails and LeaguesEdit
The broken trail winds onward, leading from the circle of light to the woods. It has become so twisted over time that it is hard to see further than the next hi11 or valley. Lesser trails offer alternatives, tempting with shortcuts and scenic routes. These lesser trails seem to subtly shift and twist from day to day, adjusting to the mutable geography. If Garou choose to follow any one of them, they may use their woodland lore, survival skills, or primal senses to orient themselves again, but such tasks are exceedingly difficult. Magic misleads and misdirects them. Leaving the path has even more drastic results.
A steadfast pack may follow what roads they can find, but fae will attempt to lead them astray. Will o'wisps glow in the bleak forest. A lone cabin may be visible in the distance, offering hot food and a warm hearth. Nymphs and satyrs dance amidst the trees, inviting travelers to join them; No matter what their motives, a Garou who wanders out of sight of the path will not find his way back unless he is led there by one of the Fair Folk. Magical trickery confounds Garou Gifts as well: a Hare's Leap may result in a lupus catapulting through the trees, a Lambent Flame may be mirrored by a dozen ephemeral balls of light, and so on.
Travelers who try to take shortcuts through the woods encounter hunters and monsters, stalking things worthy of the oldest and grimmest fairy tales. Beasties and boggles lurk and shuffle. Redcaps chase anything that moves (and some things that don't) before swallowing them whole. In the "real world," a Garou could easily defeat some of these creatures, but the bitter and Unseelie nature of this realm has made them stronger, in some cases, enough so to give a pack a run for its money... or its life. The spirit world has gifted them with hideous strength.
Relics of other faerie tales live in the Unseelie lands, but they have all been tainted by the jaded sensibilities of the modern age. Some are even fouler: They mirror the original tales. A gingerbread house may smell delicious, but inside, bad little children roast in the oven. The Big Bad Wolf hunts a girl in a red cloak, hungering for more than just her cookies. Garou may rage and rush off to punish these atrocious creatures.
If they do, they have strayed from the path. If travelers somehow survive or ignore these perils and distractions as they continue south, they eventually approach an old Roman style road leading from west to east. This is the easiest way to reach the Seelie Court in the west. The Unseelie are winning their war against the Seelie Court, and so all the other roads eventually lead to the east. Only the Roman Road is true.
Various cobblestones have been stolen from the Seelie path; they might be returned when low faeries chuck them at a Garou's head. The remaining stones are set at the distance of a chariot's wheels. In fact, at least once a day, a steam-driven metal conveyance of some kind barrels down the road, smashing into anything that bars its way. Other stretches of road are maintained by ogre and troll construction crews.
Whether they actually repair the road or just bury lesser creatures beneath is open to conjecture. If the pack travels to the very end of the southern road, it leads out of the forests to an immense ocean. A few of the eldest fae have set sail across these waters, never to be seen again. Even the wisest Garou do not know if there is a distant shore on the other side of the cold ocean. The fae do not speak of what lies beyond (or beneath) the waters.
Castle Ruins and Faint HopeEdit
Hopelessness makes the journey more perilous. Hope, however, can clear the way, especially if the pack is strong-willed, can see the faint fires of the Seelie lands, and heads straight for them. If the pack travels west, towards the setting sun and a rose-colored sunset, they eventually reach a clearing after many leagues. In the center, a castle rests in ruins like a shattered dream. The rubble surrounding it is lit from within by a massive bonfire. Yet a refrain of music drifts from the faeries gathered there. The beleaguered defenders refuse to abandon their lands, despite any adversity. This motley clique is the last remnant of the Seelie Court in the realm.
In the Seelie domain, fae who can fight are prepared for war, ready to defend their dreams. Despite overwhelming odds, they refuse to give up, or even recognize that they are losing. Any Fianna or Galliard schooled in fae lore may know of how the courts were once organized: When the world was young, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts shared the burden of rule. The Seelie ruled from Beltaine to Samhain; the Unseelie reigned from Samhain to Beltaine. Now, as on Earth, only the strongest can rule, whether through valor or treachery.
Though Endless Winter stretches across the land, the leagues surrounding the castle remain untouched, at least for several days' journey. Here it is fall, and the ground is carpeted by a multicolored array of fallen leaves. Areas of lovely, tranquil beauty endure. Quiet glades and trickling brooks nurture the land, reflecting the calm perseverance of the Seelie. Gossamer waterfalls shimmer, and autumn leaves blaze like fire.
For several leagues around the distant ruins the power of the Seelie Court holds sway. Their spirit is imbued into the very earth. In fact, the natural spirits of the land oppose all intruders who are not Seelie, regardless of their intent. In Seelie fashion, the defenses are whimsical, ridiculous and fiercely imaginative.
A puddle may quickly expand to the size of a lake, washing over intruders with waves of crystal water and bubbling demands for them to swim away. In a grove covered with grain, mice may grow on trees, dropping from branches to scurry up legs and scamper off with what they can carry. Thickheaded lizard-folk emerge from under rocks, denying passage to anyone who cannot best them in an argument. Natural spirits waylay invaders with proficient and prolific inventiveness.
If the pack doesn't know the old legends, or if they want to help, they'll have to ask the local fae. The first Seelie the pack encounters here may very well depend on whom they choose as their alpha. If a Ragabash or Theurge is alpha, they will probably meet a Childling, one of the youngest of the fae. Childlings play and cavort as though oblivious to the encroaching winter. The games children have played for centuries are preserved in their song and verse. Ragabash can elicit trust through jokes and puns; Theurges may take interest in the way that children's games have been adapted into faerie magic. Openness and trust are met; with laughter and play. Cruelty and hostility are met with clever japes. In a wink, a childling might take a hop, skip and a jump back to alert his elders.
If a Philodox or Galliard is alpha, Wilders approach. These passionate fae are sustained in perpetual adolescence, consumed by romance, rebellion, and a taste for adventure. They perceive the "War for the Gateway" in harsh black-and-white terms, demanding to know whether the pack is with them or against them. Words mean little; they then want proof. Philodox are met with arguments and accusations; Galliards confront displays of furious invective, passionate outbursts, or sly flirtation and seduction. Obsequious submission invites disdain; intense confrontation gains admiration.
If an Ahroun leads the pack, or the pack advances with martial intent, a greybeard or Grump takes notice. These are the "elders" of fae society. Some of the most esteemed are valiant knights, protectors of the oldest traditions. They have a bearing worthy of any Garou elder, and demand the same respect. If a warrior offends a greybeard's sensibilities, the elder issues a challenge. A few patrol the wasteland surrounding the Seelie domain, attended by entourages of hotheaded wilders. Subterfuge is a dangerous tactic to employ against a greybeard, for they are patient and subtle. A few nobles and high faeries remain in the Seelie realm. All (save for the Unseelie Queen) are greybeards. They are princes and princesses, barons, dukes and duchesses. They have also been worn down by age, leaving them shadows of their former selves.
Occasionally, the high faeries and nobility try to stir the passions of the wildlers under one banner, but the wildlers are too contentious and hot-blooded to all ally under any one ruler. Many attest that Lord Lysander will return in the moment he is needed most, as any true hero would. A few scoff that he sailed out over the Southern Sea, and it's time for the rest of the greybeards to step down. Fewer still hold to faint hope that if the Unseelie conquer the entire Arcadia Gateway, a new Seelie realm will arise (much like Gaia's fabled Summer Country). To help win these arguments, the fae sometimes ask visitors for stories of how the battle rages in their world. Many find it better not to tell them.
The Grim FortressEdit
Shadows and fear have conquered the rest of the realm. The forest darkens where the Unseelie reign. Gnarled, dying trees loom overhead. Mud-filled creeks sluggishly ooze past stagnant pools. Spider webs shiver in the cold, while dead leaves and brambles fester into mulch. Occasionally, one might hear mocking laugher.
As one approaches the Grim Fortress of Queen Marianna, one sees the results of her handiwork. Rumor has it that the grim sorceress secretly loved Lord Lysander before he "passed away." Now that he is gone, her dark and terrible beauty has spread across the land without restraint. In one field, rotting skeletons stand at attention in the whistling wind, waiting to assault any that approach. Another stretch of the road is interrupted by an elaborate hedge maze, one that cheats by shifting its corridors to trap intruders. Ponds lie frozen, trapping wide-eyed beautiful fish suspended beneath the surface. Brilliant moonlight illuminates the landscape, eliciting howls from wolves in the woods. The yellow harvest moon is always full.
At the eastern end of the Roman road (and all of the tributaries save a few), bitter cold condenses in the air, forming a light frost on every surface. The very walls of the Grim Fortress are reinforced with ice. The dark and terrible queen of the castle rarely leaves it, but from a distance, she may be seen pacing along the parapets like a caged animal, particularly when her despair is overwhelming or the Seelie have caused her grief.
Black knights have set a bivouac outside the castle. The clash of their weapons can be heard for miles. In the forests around the fortress, the commoners and low faeries feed raging bonfires. They scream and leap, chanting and laughing with maniacal glee. Visitors offer further amusement. Some intruders (or emissaries) are humiliated (or sacrificed) in honor of the dark queen. In one particular clearing, there is a marble altar where the Unseelie worship her.
The Dark QueenEdit
As is the way of Umbral nobles, the vast expanse of these lands reflects the temperament of its ruler. Queen Marianna strides through the hallways of her castle in flowing black diaphanous gowns. Eyes rimmed in kohl peer from a china white face. Long jet-black hair billows down her back. Before the commoners, she is the very model of a Victorian faerie, tightly controlled in her etiquette and restraint.
In private, she disrobes to display lustrous pale skin, exposing beauty so rare it briefly stops the hearts of those who view her. It is a cruel beauty, one that can kill by overexposure. Few dare recount the legend of her exile from Arcadia, or her failed schemes to use powerful sorcery against those in power. Now she reigns supreme in her own domain, as beautiful as she is terrible. When she has the chance to talk to visitors (or captives), she plays the role of a victim of circumstance, a poor defenseless maiden exploited by forces beyond her control. This facade is used to justify her vengeance against the land, the perpetual act of exacting her anger on all who invite her displeasure. When speaking to those who do not fully know her, she pleads for their help in her return to Arcadia. Sometimes she claims she cannot leave until the realm has been destroyed. No one can tell whether she is lying. Ever.
Within the confines of her half of the realm, she is as much an Incarna as any other resident of the Gateway. Queen Marianna also desperately hungers for news of the modern world, one of the few commodities for which she's willing to barter. She attempts to enchant those who can provide her with such news. If a hero piques her interest, she offers protection in the form of her black knights, masking her taking of hostages as hospitality. She is served by skulking minions and creates monsters to stalk the woods. In her most elaborate ceremonies, hideous, slinking creatures come out of the forest to worship her. When matters must be handled quickly, she sends her most powerful servants — they are anything but fools.
One day, she dreams, she will find the path back to the real world. She believes that returning to the real world, and abandoning the nightmare of her existence, is the only way she will finally forget Lysander.
Unfortunately, she's wrong; she cannot leave, at least not without dire consequences. If Marianna ever forgets the Gateway, the realm will lose much power, perhaps even vanishing like a dream. And her reward for doing so? Although she has no idea that she is an emanation and not a true faerie, the truth of her nature won't be denied. She can never set foot on Earth, spirit being that she is. So Marianna pines for something she can never safely have — and each year of her despair eats at the Gateway like venom. This faerie tale seems destined not to have a happy ending.
Falling Down the Rabbit Hole, and Ruby SlippersEdit
Travelers may quest for the ancient spirit paths to the realm, but those who do are waylaid by faeries that were left behind. The Wyld has warped and twisted them, filling their souls with rage and madness. Whether these "Umbral fae" lost their way, were betrayed by nobles, were exiled from Arcadia or were never even fae to begin with, all of them have lived in the spirit world for so long that they have become pure ephemera.
The Wyld has also warped many of their memories into delusions. Umbral faeries resemble many mythical forms: earthly changelings, figures of folklore, fictional heroes, lost Kithain, shunned Thallain, refugees from the Dreaming, or none of the above. Dreams of the Fair Folk on Earth have reshaped them to reflect the madness of the modern age.
The emanations of low faeries and commoners lurk along the old trods. Unseelie fae don't want outsiders upsetting their victories in the Arcadian realm. Seelie test those they encounter, certain that if there is one last chance to save the Arcadia Gateway, they must make sure that the hero who attempts it is true. Commoners of both courts require sacrifices, tasks, boons or payment before they allow passage. Chiminage may take the form of gold, riddles, or blood.
A Seelie fae may demand a song and dance from a brooding Ahroun, laughing and taunting the poor werewolf until he's fit to rage. Unseelie fae often demand painful memories, forcing their victims to retell and relive past horrors. If their moods are particularly foul, they'll demand the sacrifice of innocence instead, tormenting those who confront them with new thresholds of pleasure and pain. Sadly, most Umbral trods lead nowhere (or at least to places other than Arcadia). Many of the old stories hold little meaning in the modern world anymore, so the trods that reflect them drift off to forgotten conclusions.
Leaving the Arcadia Gateway isn't overwhelmingly difficult. If a traveler passes beyond the ruins of the Seelie castle and on into the west, or beyond the Unseelie castle into the east, the road he follows will take him into the Dream Zone. The most famous way out, the actual gateway that lends its name to the realm, however, has been shattered for many years — although the fae do not know this, nor would they believe it. As far as they're concerned, the gateway exists somewhere, it can be found, it does lead to Arcadia — otherwise, what would be the point?
The Laws of the RealmEdit
- Distance in Arcadia is measured in "leagues." An Arcadian league is about the distance a traveler can walk in a day. Oddly enough, in the ways of legend, if a hero is faster or slower, he will still seem to travel about one league in one day. Garou in Lupus form can cover about two leagues in a day.
- Seelie does not mean "good," and Unseelie does not mean "evil." The fae of both courts demonstrate many of the classic foibles, be they codes of honor or malevolent streaks, attributed to the fair folk.
- Faeries feel a strong kinship with Fianna and packs following Stag. Any character belonging to one of these groups finds it easier to deal with the faeries of this realm. Sometimes Silver Fangs might find it easier dealing with Seelie and Shadow Lords might get along with Unseelie.
- The very idea of a werewolf getting lost in the woods is exceedingly frustrating. Each day spent lost in the woods brings the garou one step closer to frenzy, this will continue to happen until the pack finds its way again.
- Emanations of this realm may have some of the charms of spirits, however, in this realm, the emanations of fae are not treated as spirits. Gifts that specifically affect spirits do not affect faeries and their kin.
- What silver is to Garou, cold iron is to the fae. The only way a fae can be permanently killed in the Arcadia Gateway is with this substance. A faerie that takes his last aggravated wound from this substance disappears from the realm forever. (Whether Queen Marianna possesses this vulnerability or not is upto the powers that be.)
- In the Arcadia Gateway, a faerie who suffers her final wound (if she has spirit stats) or her Incapacitated health level (if you're using the optional method listed below) from an attack that doesn't involve cold iron goes into "slumber," much as a spirit would. The length of slumber depends on the mythical story she is involved in. If it is a battle, she slumbers in a patch of wood far from the fray. If it is a tale of treachery, she will eventually appear as a captive in the enemy camp. If it is a tale of romance, she will slumber until her suitor rescues her. (In the modern reflection of Arcadia, this happens to men as often as it does to women.)
- In this realm, time passes randomly in relation to Earth. One day in the Gateway may pass in hour of the physical world, or it may take a year. If a visitor partakes of any food or drink while in the Gateway, at least a year will have passed on Earth by the time they return (if they returns at all).
- Faeries understand the shapeshifters in all their forms, and can communicate freely with them. Monstrous creatures may not want to do anything more than growl menacingly.
- A shapeshifter cafe travel one Arcadian leagues in one day, but the terrain of the realm may change from week to week. In the Unseelie domain, this may occur depending on the mood and disposition of its ruler, Queen Marianna. In the Seelie domain, there is no one ruler. The lands reflect the Seelie fae who is currently held in the highest regard. The most renowned Seelie changes every few weeks, so the geography slowly shifts to accommodate his temperament as well.
- Distance seems to be influenced by drama. No one has measured the actual size of the realm; all such attempts are frustrated by random, magic. When Galliards compare their adventures in the realm, the distance between various landmarks also seems to change from "story to story" as dramatically appropriate.
- Travelers are advised not to stray from the path. Attempts to regain the path always fail until a fae brings the poor wanderer back. Incidentally, using the Rite of Questing Stone in this realm results in a frost covered stone spinning around and around. At particularly bad moments, it leads straight to Queen Marianna, regardless of the ritualist's intent.
- Sense Wyrm does not detect the presence of Unseelie.
- Queen Marianna is now the Lady of the Realm. She's about as close to an Incarna as a faerie is ever going to get. She has magic, but only the kind that furthers plot. She cannot grow old, and she cannot die, at least as long as she stays here. She will not leave until the realm is conquered by the Unseelie.
- If a Storyteller owns a copy of Changeling: The Dreaming, it's possible to adapt changeling Traits to this realm. Only European fae manifest here; yet another sign that this realm is flawed.
- Some faerie abilities can be reproduced by the same mechanics as Garou Gifts. For instance, many possess arts equivalent to Blissful Ignorance, Scent of the True Form, or Doppleganger (although using this last Gift doesn't require Gnosis).
- Names have power in the old stories. If a shapeshifter can learn the true name of a faerie in this realm, she can control him. (Such fae never introduce themselves with their true names.) A faerie under this ensorcellment must perform any task asked of him. However, he will make every attempt to escape.
- Bargains are binding in the Arcadia Gateway. If a Garou and a faerie make a deal, the fae must carry out her side of the deal. Should a Garou betray such a promise, the entire court will find a way to punish him.