It was well known that the Fae Kingdom and the human world once interacted as neighbors, two sides of the same coin. To better serve the ongoing transport between the Fae Realms and the world of man, Oberon created a pocket dimension, bound by the conventions of time and other grounding aspects of reality, but with a touch of magic to keep the Fae who traversed there happy and living.
From the Fae world, dozens of jewels, recipes, magic, stories, and many other items were brought to the realm of man in exchange for food, access to rivers and other forests, and interestingly enough, friendship. For several decades, the two worlds coexisted, entering the Fae King’s realm-between to trade.
But there were some who were not pleased with the Fair Folk as neighbors. Religious fanatics who cursed the creatures as they walked by were among the more vocal parties that wanted the Fae to leave their realm. Others, others who disliked the amount of power the Fae held on these trading outposts were another group. Despite Oberon and Titania’s best efforts, their fae nature would often get in the way. A joke gone too far here, a changeling there…Fae law and human law were not interchangeable.
Yet within the pocket dimension, all were protected. Unless you were invited in, you could not find this realm-between. Those found unworthy were left on a looping pathway, a never-ending maze until they either gave up…or died. For a human, this is tragedy. For a fae, this is comical.
With all good things, there must come an end. Something escaped from the Fae realm, something that could traverse the worlds and all in between. Something that had a fondness for pretty girls and could charm them with ease, blinding them to the truth until it was too late to scream. Through the combined efforts of both worlds, the demon was caught, and imprisoned within the realm-between. His full story is for another time, for he was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. (Even if no one has seen a camel in years. Such a strange turn-of-phrase. That, and I want to be writing the tale in daylight. Something about transcribing his story in the dark gives me the shivers.)
The damage had been done. The Fae were chased out of the human realm, long-festering hatred seethed through in torture and other misdeeds. Oberon called a retreat back to the Fae realm and closed the two worlds forever, sealing away the human world from magic.
Or so he thought.
In the rush to return to the Fae world, Oberon left his pocket dimension open, a sort of one way door for lingering Fair Folk to come home through if they had been left behind. And this lingering realm began to develop something of a personality.
At first, it obeyed the orders of its master. None but the Fae could enter its domain. None but the Fae would see the sign posts pointing home anyway. Time passed, and soon, the Fair Folk were nothing but whispered legends, even within this lonely dimension. And it was lonely. It remembered perfectly well how lovely it was to have people bustling about. People had even lived here in this realm-between, the houses, shops, and even an old garrison were still standing. Built with Fae magic, they withstood the elements and run of time.
So the little dimension did what any bored child would do once it could no longer speak to its parents: it went exploring. It found out several things very quickly.
One: it could not leave beyond the borders of the forest. Oberon had loved the woods and the dimension could not (or perhaps, would not) leave its borders. Settlements that had chipped away at the forests in the intervening years could not be swallowed up by it, even if in the past it had once been prominent there.
Two: There were several entrances and exits. It spread across what was known as Europe, reaching into villages, towns and cities. On occasion, the dimension accidentally picked up travelers and plopped them several miles off course. It did its best not to frighten people, but it still happened anyway.
Three: It had a certain fondness for certain personalities. Despite it not having any powers of its own, the forests seemed to be a place for the misfits, the lost, and forgotten. These people respected the forest, for it could hide them from enemies and provide for them. The dimension loved these folk, for they reminded it of the days of old when Fae and mortal alike walked within its borders.
The first Terrasylvan’s name has been lost to time, but from what stories that have been left behind, the tale went something like this:
It was a rainy night, a horrible storm with lightning and lashing winds. A weary traveler, exiled by his own community, was wandering through the woods when he stumbled into the pocket dimension. The realm-between had been sleeping, (or something similar. It is always awake and aware) so it did not realize that it had a living soul inside it once more. In a half-dazed state, the realm watched this newcomer with mild interest. His cloak was soaked through, mud caking the hem and up to his knees. His face, while tired, held determination. Whatever he had done had been the right thing, even if it cost him everything.
Something about this determination intrigued the young realm, and so it offered him a cottage at the end of a winding path. Should the figure prove to be trustworthy, he’d appreciate the shelter from the storm. If not, well, the dimension could always kick him back out and the poor sod would just think he’d been hallucinating.
As the figure slogged his way through a twisting path, he saw a little cottage at the end, a light blazing through the window. He raced forward, grateful and hopeful and afraid all at the same time. He pounded on the door, stepping back in surprise when it opened.
“Hello?” he asked, peering in. No one was there, but a warm fire and something warm and meaty welcomed him in. The man took off his boots and cloak and settled himself by the fire. Unknown to him, the realm watched him carefully. Despite the obvious hunger, the man refused to serve himself something, waiting until his host made himself known.
The dimension was stumped. This man needed to eat, and would not take what was not his. In a way, the realm liked this about him: he was not a greedy man. But his stubbornness to do the right thing would get him killed. So the dimension decided to intervene.
It took the form of an old woman, a sweet maternal figure the realm remembered from ages past. She was by no means beautiful, but the dimension had always liked her soul, a warm, friendly thing. How heartbroken it would have been to learn that she was among the few who defended the Fae…and ended up dying for it.
The door opened, and the man jumped to his feet, helping the woman in with her things and setting her before the fire.
“Thank you, young man,” the woman said. “Whatever are you doing here?”
“I have been sent to die,” he said. “I have found that there are many great injustices in the world, and they go against what others believe. So I have been sent away.”
“Such a sad tale. And what is this injustice of which you speak?”
“Mother, I do not wish to trouble you with so many wrongs. It would take lifetimes to undo all of them.”
“Nonsense. I am old, and I’ve seen plenty of wrongdoing in my life. Did some myself. One does not get troubled unless one lets herself.”
And so the two talked and ate. The storm passed and the night passed. A day turned into two, and the realm-between got the man back on his feet. He proved himself worthy of the secret, even if he couldn’t know all of it. While the mortal world tried to forget the Fair Folk and their alliance, something about it persisted in humanity: a discomfort, a disquiet. It was often those souls who felt it that the realm chose to enter within. As the two were to part, the realm-woman spoke. “Magic lives here. A last bastion of time long past. Should you find yourself in need of sanctuary, I think you’ll find it here.”
“Is that why you are here?” he asked.
“Indeed. I find that we all need a place where we can be who we are, without question. Everyone finds sanctuary somewhere. I find it here, in the woods and forests, the river and lakes. These places have been forgotten by most. But not all.”
The two shared a parting smile and neither saw the other again. But…
But the legend began.
Slowly, very slowly, a small community formed within the realm-between, gathering people as they ran from life, or ran to something better, or just happened to be out for a stroll in the woods and the song they sang pleased the old forest. A Latin scholar dubbed the name “Terrasylvae” for the woods and land it resided in (Not very imaginative, those Latin scholars, but scholars rarely are an imaginative bunch).
Names have power, always have. From the moment Terrasylvae was first uttered, the realm sighed, at last having a true tie to the mortal realm it had long been denied: a name.
Terrasylvae still chooses those who walk in its shaded paths and byways. Why, no one can say, but it is not the personalities of men who decide who enters and who leaves: it’s the woods itself, listening for the souls who long for more than life can give, who long for a second chance. The worthy are always found within the borders of Terrasylvae.
Are you worthy?