Fighting 25: Changelings, and the Waking Dream
The story of Milo Cypress, the would-be Prince of Glam and Inspiration, truly began a decade ago, during a time when I could most credibly be called a musician. True, I was only a teenager back then. But like many things, I showed up late to the party.
For example, I didn’t quite understand my vocal abilities until the tenth grade, when I auditioned for my high school’s select choir. I had my suspicions, and a lot of support from my family. But true enough, it turned out that I possessed these particular talents. The revelation came with the side effect of touring Italy and France, during which we sang at St. Peter’s Basilica and Notre Dame Cathedral. It is this love of music, and the amazing path it took me on, that begins my changeling’s story.
Following this first triumph though, life happened. I pursued creative writing in college. I discovered roleplaying and game design. Eventually, I enjoyed a short stint as a DJ before putting down the music. And so, the turntables went into storage, while the instruments I owned sat unused in their cases.
Life continued to happen. And happen. And happen.
As though it were a river, life eroded away at me. I wrote and self-published two novels and designed a few games. (One even won an award!) But the struggles of paying bills and searching for the means to make a living diminished every accomplishment. Along the way, I quit campaign larping and pulled back from organizing convention games. And of course, I trudged through a part-time job with enough hours to pay the bills, but nothing creative to thrive on. The same tasks, over and over again, glazed my eyes over and wore my pride to bare bones.
If you had to estimate the conceptual heat death of Nicolas Hornyak, age 25 would be a strong candidate.
Enter the Waking Dream.
It may surprise you to learn that when the tickets for Changeling: Waking Dreams went on sale, I initially resigned myself to banality. Money was tight, bills were due, and dreams had died. Although larp is an early and lasting love of mine, I simply couldn’t make it happen anymore, be it big or small.
So when my best friend purchased a ticket for me, as both a birthday present and thanks for helping her move across the United States, my reaction came off as muted. Four years had passed since my first (and only) blockbuster larp. I’d quit my monthly larp and barely found time for convention mods. Worst of all, I could barely find the strength or inspiration to write stories anymore. Game design felt so stop-and-go that New York traffic seemed preferable. Finding new work was both horrifying and humiliating with every failure. And at every turn, it felt like time was up.
The only thing that I had, quite suddenly, was music.
See, back in September 2018, I had some time off from work, and resolved to revive a habit for the guitar, an instrument that I loved, but devoted very little time for. Then I broke my arm.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. A week into healing, I was attempting to play that damn guitar over and over again, cursing the timing of my days off. My doctor later informed me that the practice had prevent my bones and muscles from atrophy while the fracture healed. And playing guitar — rediscovering music from a new angle — turned into an obsession.
By 2019, I was a better guitarist than I’d ever been before. I was no means exceptional — intermediate at best — but it was a stark improvement from the attempts I made on my father’s equipment all those years ago. I could finally confirm that playing guitar ran in the family.
So of course, it made sense to me that in a larp about glam rock, community, and identity, I should play a musician. A daunting task with professionals roaming among us, but I remembered singing all those years ago, and so, the challenge felt surmountable.
I was 25. Four years after I turned 21 with College of Wizardry, the time had come to pursue magic again. Only this time, I would not be roaming the forests of Poland as a witchard. This time, I would join the ranks of changelings, gathering together one last time in the lost casinos of Atlantic City.
Let’s get back to Milo.
Starting out, Milo Cypress was a session guitarist, floating in and out of studio work. On the mortal scene, he’d fallen from grace several years ago, when a fellow musician and lover of his committed suicide after a wild night of partying and drugs. Hounded by the media and his lover’s fans, he went into rehab. When he came out, he’d awoken via a brutal Chrysalis.
As a changeling, Milo Cypress once served as a warrior. As a satyr, he grew popular among commoners as an ax man. But then everything changed for the fae. The gates to Arcadia were shut, the mortal world left to wither. In the face of such a horror, Milo refused to believe that the world would die with a whimper. As a result, his changeling form entered the Slumbering to preserve him.
Now, several years into the Withering Autumn, Milo Cypress is contending with the greatest loss he’s ever known. His mortal body is age 27, his changeling soul is jaded and cold, and he is certain that this is the year he dies forever.
As an immersive gamer though, Milo meant a little more to me. He portrayed an exploration of how part of your life could be badly spent. His initial story was about losing sight of your passions. By day two, it was about trying to rekindle them. And without a doubt, I played this character close to the chest. At times, I imagined that I could’ve been Milo’s friend, had I pursued music instead of creative writing.
Bear in mind, I am not a foolish larper. I just prefer a little risk with my dose of catharsis.
This became my character for Changeling: Waking Dreams, a freeform larp about changelings gathering together, desperate to fight banality with festivity, art, and a touch of bedlam.
Late April came, and with it, I counted some blessings. Unlike past pilgrimages to Poland or Denmark, I already lived in the United States. And for those who understand just how big our country is, my fortunes led me to a city where I lived only two hours’ drive from Atlantic City. Easy and cheap.
So I packed up my car, tucked in a few friends joining us for game, and hauled it down the Jersey Shore. Upon arrival, we checked in at the Showboat Hotel, where the larp would take place. Settling in, I instinctively contemplated the empty floors we passed on the way to our rooms, where slot machines and playing card games once flashed. Once, it had been a casino. Now it was vacant.
I must confess at this point that it wasn’t my first time here. I’d visited about three times before: twice to scout the various locations within, and once for a convention where I helped run a short larp session. On each trip, I found time to explore a few overlooked areas and lost rooms. Some water damage existed (likely from Hurricane Sandy seven years previous), although the condition of the space improved on every visit.
With this sort of experience, I tend to think of this location as a place where magic once ran rampant. Scores of people used to roam the slot machines and leaned over card tables into the deep hours of the dark, neon night. A wide variety of restaurants offered food from nearly every cuisine, and upstairs, the House of Blues hosted artists of all kinds. From soul to blue, from rock to metal, and more.
Now, the magic has passed, in search of wild seas. Little did we know that it was due for a resurgence in more ways than one.
After attending workshops Thursday evening and Friday morning (plus an Avengers: Endgame screening with the bestie), the time had come to don our costumes and convene outside the House of Blues. This ranks as one of the most magical segments of the game, for both what happened before game started, and what happened after we faded in. In the spacious hallway, players gathered to marvel at each other’s work. And something incredibly unifying emerged as a result.
No matter how extravagant or spartan we appeared, we knew we belonged here.
Without prompting, folks began the transition from human to fae. And then the doors to the House of Blues opened.
Through the threshold, Nicolas Hornyak disappeared. On the other side, Milo Cypress carried his guitar.
The changelings all gathered in a circle, learning of the ritual which would mark the beginning of the Festival. And together, they hummed two notes, growing in volume as all the changelings began to feel the taste of relentless glamour once again.
Milo chose something different. Wholly not fond of his singing lately, he plugged into a small practice amp in his bag. He figured out the pitches of every hum (A down to F sharp, or, a three-semitone drop depending on your harmony), and with his guitar, thrummed out a unique sound to the humming, chanting, and even wailing. All of it echoed throughout the venue, and back down to a box of candles in the center of it all.
As instructed, whenever a Changeling felt a spiritual moment in this initiation, they would approach the box. And using their renewed magic, they would light it for the circle.
So, it began as a trickle. A couple nervous but confident revelers first. Then a few more. Soon, throngs of fae approached for their candle. As did Milo, feeling late to the party. He picked up the small piece of wax, his fingers hammering on the fretboard. He returned to the circle and attempted to light the candle.
It did not light.
No matter how much Milo fiddled with the candle, snapping fingers or wiggling fingers produced no change.
Did that mean the glamour died within him at last?
Ashamed, he held out his barren candle.
Following the conclusion of the ritual, Byrne Bridges opened the festival. Changelings danced wildly, flirted with desire and danger in couch corners, and watched from useful vantage points in the House of Blues. As the guitarist and drummer winded down, Milo Cypress joined the crowds headed to the Foundation Room, a former lounge and dining room. Inside, the aesthetic turned dark and broody, with a vintage, Middle Eastern vibe in the décor.
Through the bar and dance floor, through the passageways with side rooms, Milo found himself drawn all the way to the back. In a wide-open room with a wooden floor by the window, the Open Stage beckoned. Hosted by another Unseelie satyr grump named Fiorello, this area had been designated for performance arts, with hourly themes throughout the festival.
Milo stashed his guitar nearby, content to lounge about and flirt with other changelings until the music hour started. Pursing his lips, he glanced out the large window. A storm approached.
Fiddling with the candle one last time, it came to life in the palm of his hand.
During his first moments in the Hearth, a coffee bar run by boggan Jay Toddyfellow and hosted by several other Changelings along the way, Milo Cypress discovered a hazy part of his past in a box on the counter.
“Hey. This was me.”
And he pulled out a pewter statue of a woman, mid-dance in ballet slippers.
Encouraged to tell the story at a nearby table, he spoke of Victorian England, of being a young woman in such terrifyingly industrial times. But raw energy simmered in every pot, waiting to be free. A nocker had loved her and built her that statue. But not long after, she died in a factory accident. And so, his cycle moved on, waiting for the next human to hold his soul.
In the Unseelie Room, Milo sat next to Lunaria, another satyr who hosted the physical duels whenever they needed to break out. Opposite them, the troll Sir Lochlan told everyone in the room of his oaths to his sidhe, and the order to kill which he could not carry out. For that, he was branded an oathbreaker, a betrayer.
As he spoke, another moment swelled up in Milo’s chest, one which told him that the troll’s fall was unjust, that their horns made them cousins. It was the Unseelie in him; honor was a lie.
As Sir Lochlan the Betrayer finished his tale, silence fell upon the room. The guitarist stood up and said something to this effect:
“You may have broken your oath and lost your honor, but you have my respect.”
Milo offered his hand; the broken knight shook it in turn.
Showtime, as the storm raged outside.
As a session guitarist, Milo preferred to keep songbooks for easy reference and a professional look. This didn’t help when bad weather darkened the skies through the window behind him, but nobody else was going to step up. Not yet, at least.
From Rocky Horror to Linkin Park and The Greatest Showman, Milo took what happy times he could get — even as wind slammed one of the doors open behind him. In the mad rush to shut it, Fiorello lost his captain’s hat to the rain.
But he walked away with a good story.
Fortunately, with the approach of the summer solstice, a couple more hours of drizzly daylight carried the festival forward after the storm struck. That’s when Milo met Endrews.
Endrews, as it turned out, served as the Head of Marketing for a label called Beyond Bedlam Records. As the sun attempted to set, he told Milo of his proposal: he wanted to pitch the concept of cataloguing the oral tradition of the remaining changelings to his superiors.
Milo recoiled instantly. He can tell when someone doesn’t know the story about Papyrus, that synthpop lover who jumped off his apartment building. The fact that it was a bit of a square with a job like Head of Marketing didn’t help.
Add to that the fact the he suspected his death at hand, he almost wanted to chuck the whole idea off the balcony. Sadly, they closed it after the loss of the captain’s hat.
The conversation tried to end on “I’ll think about it.” Then Endrews asked if he could fiddle with Milo’s guitar.
Piqued by such a request, he handed it over. And slowly but surely, the eshu began to pluck the chords of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.
This sort of scene would repeat itself multiple times during the revel: the eshu would ask the satyr to play the guitar, and it always turned into Hallelujah.
This first time, though, a sidhe by the name of Solara listened in. When he closed out his latest effort to recall the notes, she asked him what he was doing.
“You should be playing guitar, not working in marketing.”
Milo…and Nico…listened as well.
“I couldn’t light my candle at the opening ritual. I think this is the year I die.”
It felt good to say that out loud, at last, if only to shove all of Roy’s eshu pushiness back in his face. The damn reporter ran the Freehold Press, one of many publications to capitalize on the scandal from years back. Only this time, it was recent, and personal. And here he was, telling Milo Fucking Cypress that he better suck it up.
Cause people need hope.
Milo glared in the face of that. There was no hope. These were his final days. Soon all would follow. Accept it.
And still, the eshu persisted.
They discussed what happened. They discussed rising about the past, because now is the present, and next is the future. They were an interesting pair, lonely on a water-drenched balcony, the storm long gone over the Atlantic. Down below, surf beat down on the dark beaches.
Milo left, a little better after yelling. But something had sparked.
Maybe young changelings do need hope…
As the night dragged on, and parties broke out, Milo Cypress stumbled back into the Unseelie Room, where he found nearly every eshu he could remember passing during the festival.
“Hey, um, we’re in the middle of something here. So if you could, just…”
Milo smirked at Conner, the eshu who helped him escape the fallout of a Chrysalis in rehab. He barely considered the request before sauntering over to the last remaining seat in the room. That was that.
Even a one-trick satyr knows when eshus are up to something.
As it turned out, it concerned everyone present for the festival. In the face of the Withering Autumn approaching a potential end, the eshus discussed their options. In this, one could discern the dichotomy of “Preservation vs. Art”
When it came to preservation, the remaining glamour would have to be cocooned, enabling it to seed a future where Spring returns to the mortal realm, where the bridges to Arcadia are rebuilt once more. All changelings would enter the Slumbering. Nothing would await, but what else could be done?
In contrast to this, art was touted as an option. The idea existed that if Changelings focused enough of their artistic energies and creations into one purpose, the resulting effect could sustain them for a long time to come — perhaps even enabling them to survive until a hopeful Spring. The concept seemed dependent on hope.
After the day Milo had, he knew what side he had to take. It reminded him of his refusal to believe that Summer could end with a whimper, and how he fell into the Slumbering. But it didn’t change his mind. With that, he departed for bed.
That night, Milo had a dream.
In it, he walked through a church, but the church had far too much stained glass. In each pane, the stories of Changelings were told, from pookas to selkies, from redcaps to sluagh, and all the others.
At the head of them all, he approached one. It portrayed a door to Arcadia. But as he looked through the window itself, he saw the visage of Endless Winter waiting outside.
He placed his hand on the pane. Instead of freezing cold, it felt warm and inviting. A challenge to be met. Hope to be found.
I stare through the stained glass. I know that winter will pass.
When he snapped awake in the middle of the night, he got to work.
By noon the next day, Milo had written his first song in months. He called it “Stained Glass” and wrote it as a proclamation to survive, and that all who were willing to take the leap stood a fair chance in the face of Winter. By the end, it became a promise, that all those Changelings would return home someday, fair as it should be.
Far below, he, Fiorello, and a couple others watched as the vast majority of revelers walked down to the beach. Above, the sun glistened in a whisper of heat. Perfect strolling weather.
Together, these Changelings above softly poked fun at their brethren down below. But they acknowledged the magic of selkies and water horses meeting in the surf for the first time. And it reaffirmed to Milo that they needed hope, most of all, to make it through.
Beyond Bedlam Records was making moves, or at the very least, searching for the next step.
Out of the blue, in the middle of Connor’s tarot reading, a cabal of their executives walked into the Open Stage area. Among them was Endrews, who promptly invited Milo to join them at the neighboring table.
During the meeting, Endrews pitched the executives his thoughts about preserving the history and traditions of changelings in a sort of oral tradition. However, by this point, he had seen the lyrics Milo wrote down, and wanted to hear his thoughts as an artist. The executives were all too eager to hear him out.
And so, he performed “Stained Glass” for the first time. Pitching it was all too easy: it was the last song for a rock opera concept album about the Burning Revel. Pulling from works by The Who, The Decemberists, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, etc., there would be a tangible story that touched humans and fae alike for decades to come, and in doing so, would awaken them when the time turned right.
It earned him an offer almost on the spot. But the magic didn’t end there; remembering what Solara told Endrews, Milo encouraged him to perform Hallelujah. The executive challenged us to do it in front of the room. So with guitar and drum in hand, we led an impromptu performance.
Upon its end, Milo Cypress took his guitar back and grinned.
“Let’s have a party!”
Cue distortion. Another surprise concert, featuring Holiday by Green Day and a badly botched Baba O’Riley by The Who. Then came the moment: the true debut of Stained Glass. If not here, then where else?
“I stare through the stained glass. / I know that winter will pass. / So set the sun and end the day. / Our glamour won’t fade away. / We’re going home someday.”
As he hit the final chorus, Milo heard others sing with him, singing the final refrain as he closed it out.
Silence gave the right of way to a roomful of applause. Fiorello rolled up behind Milo.
“Holy shit! You wrote that last night?!”
“We gotta get you on the Big Stage.”
“You ever think that maybe you’re the next Prince of Glam?”
Milo took off for a quick drink.
At 6 p.m. that evening, the satyr Tefira gathered as many changelings as she could for one final ritual. Handing out lit candles, she announced to everyone the intent. We were to place an item into the center of our giant circle, and as we lit the balefire with our combined magic, our belongings would be infused with magic that none could contend. We could announce such intent for them as well, to grow their power.
As Milo watched, objects began to pile up, including two guitars from the headlining act. Then Jay stepped up, announcing her belonging. But sound drowned out for Milo in that moment. His guitar shook in his hand — the chance for his true axe back, shaking him raw. But he was no longer barbarian. He had become bard.
Slowly, he approached the pile. He turned towards the far end of the circle and raised the instrument above his head.
“This guitar will unify anyone who approaches the alter of rock and roll.”
And he placed it on the pile.
The ritual began with hums, then chanting, then wailing, screaming, more chanting, sudden hums and sudden crescendos.
“Earth, my body, Water, my blood. Air, my breath, and Fire, my spirit.”
And it was done.
A voice from the stage invited them all over.
The Prince of Glam herself.
She told them all that she had found a way home to Arcadia, called the Silver Path. But it would only be open onstage until 9:30 pm, after which it would close. Every changeling had three options to choose from in these final hours.
They could return to Arcadia.
They could become mortal and forget their time as fae.
Or, they could try. Try to survive, though life would grow hard.
With so many fae folk in one place, several announcements went off. Tefira and Roy announced the formation of a new freehold for changelings right there in Atlantic City, to be called the Freehold of Atlantic Dreams. Sir Lochlan the Betrayer became Sir Lochlan the Protector, a warden for the new community.
Milo stepped up. The sidhe Rhiannon announced him, while the selkie Saoirse held up the lyric sheets.
And he played, to Changelings who suddenly believed in hope again, who were ready to brave the storms ahead. And of course, he would join them in the pits, slamming on the guitar in the middle of a chaotic dance floor during the final refrains. Call and response resonated through the House of Blues. Faith breathed through the walls.
As Milo ended the song, Changelings came from all sides, hugging him tight. One even granted him a seal skin, proclaiming him the new Raucous party animal. In the middle of it all, he shut his eyes, safe from his demons at long last.
As the Silver Path shrank, Milo dwelled in the venue for a while longer, saying final goodbyes to those who held their farewell parties elsewhere.
Endrews approached him and Tefira with one final offer: no single Prince could rightfully lead the ever-more chaotic changelings, chanting “no more kings” as emissaries returned to Arcadia. But they could. Three Princes, each with their own titles, to lead the way forward. Among them, a storyteller, a ritualist, and a musician.
He went to check in with the Beyond Bedlam executives, in case an alternate plan was in the works. More departed on the Silver Path, leaving cherished items with those who stayed behind.
And finally, there was Gwynn.
The last of them to disembark, she was a troll whom Milo met at a previous festival. They saw eye-to-eye on many things, both old souls waiting for the end. But this final opportunity approached, and it changed them both.
There is another element to this side story, though. Gwynn’s player is my best friend. Last November, I helped move her all the way out to New Mexico. And so, her departure to the fae realm felt like reliving my departure from New Mexico to return home. We cried tears that were not quite in character, but most certainly real.
Milo told her to give those Arcadians hell with a side of revolution for leaving the changelings behind on Earth. Gwynn told him to keep an eye on her children while she was gone. Then she asked to be alone for a bit.
Before anyone knew it, she slipped through the veil, and onwards to Arcadia.
As the final act approached, Freddie Valour, the CEO of Beyond Bedlam, took the stage before all of the changelings to announce that after the Prince of Glam’s contributions to the Burning Revel and fae everywhere, there was no one person who could replace her.
“So we found three.”
In short order, he introduced:
Endrews, the Prince of Glam and Storytelling.
Tefira, the Prince of Glam, Heart and Hooves.
And Milo Cypress, the Prince of Glam and Inspiration.
And so, the Burning Revel took the stage, as we began to ebb away at who were played, to become who we were before this experience.
During the party, I danced with everyone I could, knowing that at the end of this concert, we would no longer be satyrs or boggans or any of the other kiths. I wanted the last memories of Milo Cypress to be of renewal, of hope once more. But the time had arrived. We had to come down eventually.
In one heartbreaking sequence of song and staging, the Prince of Glam sang her goodbyes to every member of the band who chose to say behind. And then, she stepped through the veil, her drummer following.
The guitars died down to a hum. The bass stopped shaking our hearts. Soma, the lead guitarist, spoke into his mic.
“We were the Burning Revel. Now we’re something else.”
They walked off stage. Silence fell.
Over a month has passed. During Changeling: Waking Dreams. I found one part of me that desperately wants to be true. But life is still in the way. For now, at least.
However, there’s some perspective I’ve gained from all this. Age 25 is as much a new chance at life as any other age. So I’m honing in on the passions I love the most: music, writing, and games. I’m searching for the next big adventure I can take — be it in my career, in my travels, or both at once.
Playing this larp also came with the unintended side effect of examining my history, and how I’ve gotten to the present. Since my return, I’ve done a lot more creating. I’m almost done recording the song I wrote during game, and I’ve got many more I want to compose. I’ve built some new décor for my home and compiled my first photo album ever. And I’m slowly, but surely, stepping back into the craft of writing, remembering that imperfect language is perfect in time.
But the future is always scary, even for changelings. You don’t know what will carry you to the pedestal, nor what will knock you down and bruise until getting up doesn’t seem worth it. So do we preserve ourselves, or do we run for the hills, bathing them in art along the way?
I’m hoping it’s the latter, because the time has come to find out.