Changelings live in the World of Darkness, where Banality reigns. Banality is the power of disbelief and doubt, which makes the world a bleak place and destroys Glamour, the energy that is born from the dreams and imagination of mortals which gives the fae their strength. Glamour makes this world enchanted, and gives changelings, who are half-human, half-fae, a taste of the world of Arcadia, the homeland of the fae, that lies deep within the Dreaming, which is a different world created from the collective dreams of mortals. Changelings can travel in the Dreaming, but they can’t reach Arcadia, which is lost to them.
It wasn’t always like this. Long ago, in the Mythic Age, there were no barriers between this world and the world of the Dreaming. Fae mingled with humans, sometimes in disguise. This began to change during the period known to changelings as “The Sundering”, which is often said to have started in the Iron Age. With the rise of disbelief came barriers between this world and that of the Dreaming, which protected the fae and their world from the destructive power of the doubts of mortals. The Sundering was a gradual event, that increased in power of many centuries, until it lead to “The Shattering”, which is said to have taken place around the 14th century. The Dreaming was now entirely cut off from this world, and whatever gateways between the two worlds had remained through the Sundering now vanished. Many of the sidhe, the nobility of the fae, fled and fought their way back to Arcadia before the last gates closed, but most of the other kith, were not able to do so and were trapped in this world now stripped of enchantment. In order to survive in this world of Banality, the fae took on mortal disguises and became changelings.
Changelings tried to survive in this way, and banded together, forming societies and courts modelled after those in Arcadia. Out of necessity, they even managed to create a truce between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, whilst the world around them became more and more mechanical with the advance of science and technology, and Banality grew and constantly threatened them. Changelings lived like this for centuries, until recently. The Changeling: The Dreaming book describes what happened (page 57):
The cold centuries passed slowly. For humanity, science and reason paved the way for the Age of Technology. One by one the mysteries of the universe fell beneath the onslaught of the microscope and telescope, revealing the microcosm of atomic theory and the macrocosm of an expanding galaxy. As avenues of wonder closed, explained away by one discovery after another, changelings huddled wherever small pockets of Glamour remained and whispered of the coming of Endless Winter, a time of ultimate triumph for Banality.
Then the miraculous happened. On July 21,1969, millions of people all over the world watched their televisions in fascination as astronauts landed on the moon. Glamour rocked the world, released from centuries of confinement by the simultaneous reawakening of humanity’s sense of wonder. From science’s iron womb, magic — at least for a moment — was reborn.
A moment was enough. The upsurge of Glamour blew open the gateways to Arcadia, reopening faerie trods that had been dormant since the Shattering. Lost freeholds reappeared, their glory restored by the power of humanity’s dreams of walking on the moon.
On the other side of the Dreaming, the rebirth of Glamour in the world resounded through the ancient faerie realms of Arcadia. The shining hosts of the sidhe returned to the world, pouring forth from the newly opened gateways to confront a reality far different from the one they departed centuries before. Most of these new arrivals came as exiles, the result of a tumultuous upheaval in Arcadia that caused the banishment of five of the 13 houses that originally fled the mortal world. The Mists clouded the memories of these returnees, leaving only the knowledge that they were thrust out of Arcadia as punishment for their part in some great disturbance in the faerie homeland.
Unfortunately, the groundswell of Glamour caused by the moon landing could not prevail for long against the accumulated centuries of disbelief that permeated the world. The doors to Arcadia slammed shut once more. The sidhe had to act quickly to prevent Banality from destroying them outright. They fell back on the tried-and-true method of switching bodies with mortals, sending a host of unwary mortals back through the gateways that had briefly sprung open. Since the Resurgence, most sidhe who have entered the world as outcasts and exiles still use this old method of protecting themselves from Banality, seizing upon convenient mortal bodies to house their delicate spirits. Although the true fate of such dispossessed human souls remains unknown, most sidhe believe that these mortals enjoy an awakening in the Dreaming. In other cases, newly arrived sidhe avail themselves of the presence of very young children or unborn infants and insinuate their essence into the psyches of these impressionable beings, coexisting in symbiosis rather than taking outright possession of mortal souls.
(That last bit, by the way, explains why you can play with a human Character in Arcadia. See the text on those Character cards in The Wyld Hunt: “My story? I was stolen from my life on Earth so that some sidhe could stay in my place. Now I’m here, and I only remember slivers of that world, though my heart yearns for it.”)
The gates could not stay open for long, because of rampant Banality in this world, and so they shut again, leaving the newly arrived sidhe (and all the other kith), once again cut off from their homeland.
Because they are cut off (and perhaps exiled) from their homeland, changelings don’t really know much about Arcadia, which they know lies somewhere deep within the Dreaming, but which they can’t access. Many changelings long for it, especially the Seelie Court, and try to recreate it here, in this world, by continuing its traditions and modelling their society on that of Arcadia (with the different noble Houses, and so on). But their knowledge of Arcadia is of its past. They don’t know what is going on there now. Even the recently arrived sidhe don’t know why they were exiled. They can’t remember, because all that is shrouded by the Mists, the protective barrier of the Dreaming and Arcadia. There are rumours that Arcadia is collapsing. But no one knows for sure.
Here is a scan from a section of Dreams and Nightmares, a book in the Changeling series that is all about the Dreaming. It has little to say about Arcadia. This is from page 60:
Similarly, in Nobles: The Shining Hosts, the downfall of Arcadia is mentioned (page 87):
While Arcadia remains an inviolate paradise in the minds of the vast majority of fae, a growing number of them fear that it is in dire peril. Some hint that the recent expulsion of the five Seelie and one Unseelie House from Arcadia (only the most naive believe they returned voluntarily) is a grave sign of trouble there. Many theorize that all out war has finally broken out between the two courts, a war that will soon draw in the fae of Earth. As some commoners might put it: “The nobles messed it up real good!” Even more horrifying to some is the thought that the great walls of Arcadia are under attack by outside forces. Then, perhaps, some say, the newly arrived nobility are here because of a grand retreat—or perhaps they are here to prepare a counterattack. This is a hopeful sign to some, for it means the eventual reconciliation of the two courts. Whether this is true or not, not even the sidhe can say.
Some more “sensitive” changelings […] have occasional dreams of Arcadia. Although these dreams are infuriatingly hazy and contradictory, they seem to indicate that the heart of the Dreaming is close to ruins. Most Kithain do not believe this, of course. Arcadia is eternal in their minds. Any suggestion to the contrary is a heresy. Arcadia fallen? Impossible.
Arcadia (the card game) was meant to tell the story of the “internal threat” that lead to Arcadia’s downfall. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what really was going on.
At the end of King Ironheart’s Madness we are told of the Darkening. Quest 28, “The Darkening” says this (SPOILER WARNING, for those of you who haven’t played this far, and want to be surprised):
The glow of victory is abruptly snuffed out as dark clouds roll in over Mechopolis, and its inhabitants freeze to stone. Only you and your dearest allies remain flesh, and the humming warmth of the Blood Key at your throat indicates that it is through its magic that you have been preserved. But your bonding with the key isn’t yet complete, and you feel the stiffness seep into your flesh.
Up until this point, it seemed that King Ironheart’s mad plans were the cause of the downfall of Arcadia, but now we learn that he too is the victim here. The Quest text continues: Grimly making your way out of the Tower, you come upon King Ironheart himself, fallen from his mechanical throne and broken to pieces like a discarded toy. Even he succumbs to the Darkening, which he did not cause. What the origin is of The Darkening we don’t know. That was the story line of the third set that was never published, The Lion’s Den. Something happened at the court of the High King, Ardlanth (please read this post!), and this is now spreading through the rest of Arcadia, which is in political turmoil. What happened to Ardlanth and his court at Skyeholm? What is the Darkening? Is this the result of just more political intrigue? Or is Banality creeping into Arcadia?
We will never know for sure, and perhaps that is, in a way, appropriate because it stays true to the world of Changelings: The Dreaming.