Strowlers:The Changing Lands
The Changing Lands is the title of a collection of fairytales published in 1817 by an anonymous editor. These tales of the fantastic originate from cultures across the globe and tell stories of interactions with magical creatures and the realms from which they hail.
The following content is considered SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk.
The Changing Lands is a collective name for all the realms of magic that exist on the other side of a now-impassable barrier.
From pre-history, humanity has organized itself into cultures that ordered and shaped the reality of the planet, pushing out the formless chaos and wonder of magic. The magic did not disappear overnight. It lingered in pockets, lands on the edges of civilization—wild places, shifting in form and content and refusing to be pinned down on humanity’s maps. These are the Changing Lands. But when empires faltered and fell, magic often came rushing back.
Certain scholars realized that the collision of civilization and the Changing Lands was pushing magic out of the world, and, seeking to limit magic’s dangers and chaos, they decided to push it further, past the balance point. A secret arcanological initiative, begun during the mid-1600s, was the first cross-cultural collaboration to control the existence of the Changing Lands worldwide. The project, led by members of the burgeoning and empirically minded global scientific community, imposed a boundary between the Changing Lands and humanity’s empirical reality. This process twisted our dimension like a balloon animal, separating our world as we know it from the Changing Lands and leaving only a tiny scar in reality often called The Twist through which magical energy could be drawn. The twisting took hundreds of years, with occasionally violent resistance against it, from both the Changing Lands’ inhabitants and their human allies. By the end of the 1800s, however, the Changing Lands were essentially shut off from the mortal realm, twisted and locked into their own sub-dimension.
This Twist created misery and terror within the Lands. Creatures and cultures that had existed as discrete segments—Faerie, Valhalla, Mt. Meru, the Fifth World, heavens and hells without number—suddenly found themselves thrown together in a single realm with defined boundaries and limited resources. Forced to compete for ever-dwindling energy and power, beings that had once rarely strayed from the company and cultures of their own kind sought new alliances and enemies or went into hiding and hibernation. The strong and ruthless thrived and evolved.
Few beings were strong enough to resist if caught by a summons from beyond the Twist, which could happen any time an arcanologist drew on magical energies to practice his art, not knowing that his power came from the sentient beings who were often destroyed by his call. When it became clear that their entire realm would eventually be drained by human arcanologists, powers within the Changing Lands began creating a plan to undo the Twist and escape.
The Twist is a lock, but it can be traversed. Humans who use the Labyrinth as a focus for their art can, if they are daring, travel its entire length and enter the Changing Lands. Those who do often see the land through the lens of their expectations, superstitions, or faiths—a priest might believe himself in hell, a conspiracy theorist might see herself as a victim of an alien abduction, a pagan might project himself into the land of the Fae. The powers in the Lands, if they choose, can affect these visions as they wish. A visiting human is an opportunity—to feed, to learn, to recruit, or to destroy, depending on the whims and powers of she who finds and claims the trespasser.
Powers and creatures from the Lands can, if they are strong and an arcanologist is weak, retain their will and intellect, emerging as themselves from a summons and escaping into the mortal world. Few summoners survive those encounters. These creatures must live in the shadows of a society that thinks of them as random arcanological manifestations that are to be destroyed on sight.
The inhabitants of the Lands—and those who escape—do not share a monolithic perspective. Many wish for revenge against the mortals who imprisoned them. Other moderate factions hope for peace. Some merely wish to return to their pre-Twist roles, not realizing that the human world has changed beyond recognition since their imprisonment began. Almost all wish to undo the Twist before all magic is permanently consumed and destroyed by modern arcanology.
Meanwhile the march of human progress continues. Modern arcanologists have lost any knowledge that the magical realm exists as a physical place. For them, the notion of a separate reality is absurd. Those who encounter its forces view them as manifestations of “the morphic field dynamic-spectrum effect” or SFEs (spectrum-field effects). People who remember the old stories, however, recognize the Changing Lands for what they are, a sea of unformed potential shaped by observation and the strength of will of its inhabitants. True to their name, the Changing Lands have no set definitions or form; instead, they change from day to day, place to place, and witness to witness. In terms of the Changing Lands, the old adage that “anything is possible” is the essential truth of the realm. That said, the Lands tend to favor timeless woodlands, rugged wilderness, and an implacable vastness that reflects the world before humanity believed it was in control of nature.
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Elves became the greatest warriors within the Changing Lands and quickly consolidated power, forming kingdoms based on alliances and courtly graces, with a little death on the side.
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