The Boskednan Massacre
Interactions between different realities are, at best, dangerous and disruptive, but where superstition and ignorance prevail misunderstandings can quickly become bloody.
On the matters of parallel worlds and alternative realities there are acute disconnects between the theoretical certainties offered by science and the inconsistent evidence offered by practical experience. What seems clearest is that the idea of other realities existing as literal parallels - proximity and uncanny familiarity inextricable and intertwined - is too clean. Instead, within the prescribed mathematical models there are oblique and acute angular intersections and overlaps too messy to be so comfortably contained inside a system of regular or reliable rules: Less a structured stack of subtly different versions of realities than a knotted tangle of sometimes wildly disparate ones.
Stories might suggest lost souls crossing over inadvertently, oblivious, noticing too-late that the world in which they find themselves is subtly different from the one they left behind, but these accounts are confined to fiction or the unwitting deception of mild delusion. The transition between realities is physically and powerfully vertiginous and to actually find oneself in another world is a rude shock; an immediately and overtly alien experience. Most people are frozen by the overwhelming sensation of it and, as the weak points between realities move in relation to both, they are returned as unceremoniously and as spontaneously as they arrived.
Typically then, it is only by concerted effort (or profoundly bad luck) that someone will find themselves spending more than a few seconds in an alternative reality. The option of misfortune gives way, by association, to the idea that such interactions are more malicious than malignant; the result of whatever curses or other ill-intentioned spellwork as are bolstered by local superstitions or instances of other impossible things. In some parts of Europe this has historically been the existence of various of the Faefolk - faeries, boggarts, sprites and spriggans to name just a handful - and confusing them has sometimes sparked tension into open conflict.
The phenomena of changelings - a broadly discredited myth that speaks of newborn babies being stolen away by faeries, replaced in their beds with wicked magical substitutes - is believed to have originated from just such a conflation of circumstance and coincidence. Where, sometimes, the pairing of a pervasive belief in the Fae and any of several all-too-human illnesses that might cause a new parent to see something uncanny or otherwise other in their baby is enough to trigger suspicion of a substitution, these fears can be lent concrete form where there has also been interactions with other realities.
There are, gladly, perishingly few examples wherein situations like this have arisen and, as one should expect, fewer still where fear and paranoia were able to cross between worlds and escalate into open conflict. Nonetheless, such violence has occurred, with the most - advisedly - infamous incident taking place sometime in the early fifth century BCE near a small Cornish village. In this, the instance from which the previous not-quite hypothetical was drawn, a local man who believed that his deceased child had been replaced by a changeling took to visiting a nearby stone circle - the Boskednan Maidens - hoping to entreat for the return of his real daughter.
Years passed, but he never found a way to cross into, nor even make contact with, the Faewildes (an attempt that would likely have proved fatal, since the true Fae occupy very different planes of existence to even the most outré of the documented alternate realities our world is known to connect to). Nevertheless, his grief, denial and obsession were bound too tightly to be picked apart and he persisted long beyond the point of reason. Eventually, on a day like any other and with no celebration or fanfare, hope arrived as it so often does; in the form of a lie.
The motion and motives of the weak points between realities have yet to be charted or understood, if such an undertaking is even possible, but beyond even the odds of ever coming across a way into another world are the odds of finding exactly what one is looking for. A glimpse was all he had - and since it would never be proven we only have one man’s word as to what was shown to him - but in that moment he saw his daughter, grown and happy. She wasn’t the daughter he had lost, of course, but nothing in any of the heavens and all of the hells could have convinced him of that.
Prepared to face the enemy he had expected, if not the one he had found, he did not hesitate: A handful of iron nails flung directly into the face of the man his daughter was standing beside caused a ferocious commotion, and he dragged her back home him. His sudden reappearance, a step through a door no-one could see, was witnessed by several people, their alarm bringing several more in time to see the frightened girl he had with him. They might have been sceptical, given a moment to think, but he pressed them into service immediately and told them to grab whatever iron was close to hand.
The violence that followed did not last long - the impermanence of the passage between parallel realities precluding anything more than a frenzied skirmish - but it was brutal nonetheless. The villagers from both worlds believed that they were under attack by the Fae and, with the added disorientation of crossing worlds or seeing worlds crossed between, ancient and unfounded fears came to the fore. The iron they wielded would not have had any special power to cause harm, but the conviction behind it lent strength to heavy blows and the sight of shattered bones and split skulls was uncommon enough that it felt suitably and mercifully unreal.
The broken bodies of the dead, some uncomfortably and even filially familiar to their killers, were disposed of unceremoniously; burnt to lumpen ash on a pyre which sparked and flared white-gold from the iron shavings spread throughout it. A redoubled belief in the Fae, and the perceived threat that they had represented, conferred righteousness onto tragedy, and echoes of its necessary certainties persist in the area to this day. More contemporary examples exist, of course; the circumstances and specifics differ every time but misunderstanding and mayhem go hand in hand where the occult and the arcane abut the everyday.
The decisions to guard certain truths about the world from the people in it are not taken lightly, and the delicate balance of ever-more complicated pacts, treaties and détentes has only made the situation more difficult to navigate. Events like the Boskednan Massacre are cited in arguments for increased transparency or, sometimes, the unmitigated and absolute disclosure of these things that few know to be the true. Sometimes though, the certainties of sacrifice are less terrifying than the unknown outcomes of a paradigmatic shift and, while it would be comforting to believe that each tragedy put us closer to the right path, sometimes the horrors are just that.