The oldest of the Realms, Shadow came into existence at just about the same time as the physical world itself. The surface of it is the literal shadow of the planet, as well as all the little shadows solid objects cast upon it; entry into the realm can technically happen in any place with a mix of luminance and darkness.
In practice, however, entering the Shadow Realm takes more than just stepping into a shadowy place. The Umbral Wall stands as a barrier: a strange thick membrane that separates not only the physical and Shadow realms, but also bars out intrusions from the Dark and the Void.
Beyond the Umbral Wall, a visitor encounters either an eiyenbridge (discussed below) or a shadowpath: a tacky white ribbon of pathway with its own weird sort of gravity, such that no matter how it twists and turns, one can never fall off. All shadowpaths lead (eventually) to the structure suspended in the center of the realm: Oretcht’ke, the City and Spindle (displayed above). Like the paths, the Spindle has its own gravity, which asserts itself once one foot has touched down on its roadways. Despite being only a few miles across, it is endlessly deep; entering one of its buildings, seen just as rooftops in the image above, leads one down into constantly increasing layers of basement, sub-basement, sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub…
Suffice to say, most of its occupants try to stick near the top layers.
Many people and creatures live within the Realm and on the Spindle, which is said to be the last spinnings of the Spider Spirit before her death. However, only a few can get there without help.
The first are shadowbloods. Only those who have the blood of the Shadow Lord Kherus Morgwi flowing through their veins can part the Umbral Wall and call shadowpaths and eiyenbridges into existence. This isn’t just a blessing; it’s a literal line of descent from the god, who’s had many mistresses and many, many daughters. No sons, though. Every first-generation shadowblood is female, though subsequent generations have the usual split of male and female (depending on the parents’ family genetics, since some bloodlines skew more one way than another). Shadowblood stays active until at least the third generation, after which it — and the marks and powers that come with it — may cease to manifest in the bloodline.
Shadowmarks are a sure sign of useable Shadow lineage. The most visible mark is black irises with black threads in the sclera. Also common are black or unusually dark blood, black lips and other sensitive parts, black nails and nail-beds, and blackening of scar tissue. It does not affect general skin tone, though darkened blood may be noticeable in places where skin is thin. All shadowmarks including eye-color are subject to a ‘bleaching’ effect when exposed to strong light; they will pale down to white temporarily if the exposure is strong enough.
Another effect of shadowblood is eiyensuriel transformation. All first-generation daughters of the god, many second-generation grandchildren, and a scattering of progeny of subsequent generations will fall into the Shadow Realm after death and be revived in the Shadow Lord’s service. This is apart from the afterlife other worshipers experience, in that the eiyensuriel retain physical bodies and can interact with the living, as well as exercise increased control over the Shadow Realm — but can never leave the Realm unless they stay strictly in places of shadow. Daylight and even strong artificial light will injure eiyensuriel; if they can’t escape it, they will burn up. If the light prevents the last shred of their soul from passing into the Shadow Realm, they may even cease to exist.
Meanwhile, the other creature that can open a path to the Shadow Realm is an eiyet — or rather a lot of them. Eiyets are the transformed souls of small children who died unnamed, and therefore could not be found by Death Herself. Having fallen into the Shadow Realm, these child-souls join with the eiyets that came before, and transform into the small spiky mischief-makers that practically fill the realm. Eiyets create eiyenbridges out of their collective bodies in order to cross areas of the Umbral Wall that haven’t been developed into proper shadowpaths and doorways. They can also pass singly or en masse through developed shadows, and can often be found playing silly games with small (living) children or stealing random sparkly things that strike their fancy. They’re not all shinies and sweets, though. The smell of blood or the presence of violence can drive eiyets into a berserk frenzy, sometimes orphaning their young playmates if the violence came from a parent. The Shadow Folk clean up after them, but don’t necessarily mourn.
The Shadow Folk
Linked to the shadowbloods, but not necessarily related, are the Shadow Folk or Kheri. Not all shadowbloods are Shadow Folk; there are some that have left the ‘family business’ to pursue their own goals. Not all Shadow Folk are shadowbloods; in fact, percentagewise the Shadow Folk population is only about 5% ‘blooded individuals or less, with the rest being unblooded agents and employees.
Technically, all the Shadow Folk are employees of the family business, whether they’re of the blood or not. The organization has affected many names in its time, with the current being the Greater Oretcht’kelian Trading Consortium — an indication that the god wants their activities to become more legitimate. The Shadow Folk have always been thieves and smugglers (of goods and people), and have often aided resistance/opposition movements or otherwise supported marginalized causes. As their resources have grown, though, the god — or at least the Regency that rules when Morgwi isn’t on his throne — has indicated a preference for using their money as leverage, rather than their bodies and shadow-skills, in their constant struggle against inequality.
Shadow Folk are drawn from all walks of life, but because of their philosophy and methods, they have their largest base among the lower classes. The poor, the isolated, the abused, the abandoned and the scorned all find succor in the shadows — if only they can dismiss their fear.
It’s still a business, though. There are no handouts. The Shadow Folk can provide food, housing, education, training and support, but if a person can’t or won’t work, they don’t have a place in the organization. It doesn’t have to be hard work; much Shadow Folk money and effort is spent on purchasing raw materials and delivering them to isolated or homebound craftspeople, then repurchasing the finished goods and selling them on to final buyers. They’re not interested in uprooting people or running sweatshops; their interest is in building economies where people already are, in order to both support those who can’t leave and supply buyers with a constant stream of quality goods. Those who can’t assist in even a small way are referred to local associate groups, such as the Trifolders or the Moon Temple, who deal in non-business philanthropy. If necessary, those in need may even be transported there directly.
It’s in times like those where the Shadow Folk’s claim of being ‘all business’ shows its seams. Yes, the business of the Realm turns a profit — sometimes a vast one. But the Shadow Lord’s directives ensure that the majority of that money goes back into expanding the business, its branches and its services — as well as taking care of its agents and their kin. There are Shadow Folk retirement communities scattered around the globe, though most densely in the southern lands and Hjaltar, where agents injured in the line of duty or past a certain threshold of service can enjoy decreased responsibilities and the company of their comrades. Likewise the Shadow Folk pay for all medical services, equipment, room, board and (internal) education fees for agents and their families, and extend cut-rate programs to the lay followers who gather in the Shadowlands around every Shadow outpost or kai.
The Shadow Folk also make every effort to accomodate anyone who seeks employment — or petitions to be protected by them — no matter their capabilities. They have agents in every kingdom, city-state and protectorate (though sometimes not many), and train and maintain a corps of translators and interpreters to ease communication between their far-flung branches. They also use a standardized sign language, Kheri Worldwide Sign, to coordinate with those who can’t speak or hear the human audio/vocal range. KWS is also widely used in Shadow Folk operations to communicate between bubbles in the Umbral Wall, which can be seen through but not spoken through, and to communicate between the Shadow Realm and the physical without penetrating the barrier. The sign-vocabulary pulls from all Kheri-touched cultures, with some signs varying over time and technological changes. Sign grammar, however, tends to vary by the parent culture of the Kheri agent, creating regional sign-as-spoken dialects that sometimes compete with sign-only KWS for popularity. Efforts have also been made to modify certain signs for use by three- and four-digit signers (some beastfolk, including hogfolk and certain ogre tribes).
Likewise (and necessary), all Shadow enclaves — whether in the realm or outside of it — are set up to allow non-shadowbloods to navigate even in the pitch dark. Millions of miles of underground passageways, access hatches, storage chambers, supply drops and emergency shelters are marked with the raised ridges and dips of Gol’Oreic — the earth elementals’ written language, created millennia ago and passed on to the Shadow Folk at first contact. Signs, instructions and other important information are stamped on metal, carved in stone or baked into tile, then placed at regulation height and in regulation positions in all Shadow Folk strongholds, so no one who knows how to read with their fingers can get (too) lost. Softwood crates are often stamped the same, and there are artisans in the dark places who embroider Gol’Oreic text onto fabric pages and scrolls for the Spindle’s great library.
And what, exactly, do the rest of the Shadow Folk do? Well, it depends on…
The Office of Collection retrieves prepared items from the organization’s lay associates, seeks out and keeps record of harvest permissions for public and private areas including farms and woodlands, and sends out agents regularly to gather foodstuffs and craft materials from these places. They particularly focus on lapsed-farmland and in places where violence or sickness has made it impossible for harvests to be brought in normally. Harvest contracts are made with the landowners, with payment either in money or portions of the harvest; the remaining harvest is delivered to Shadow Folk lay associates as raw material to be prepared, repurchased and sent on for sale. Very few fresh or living items are allowed through the Shadow Realm, for fear of cross-contamination (and also because animals are petrified of the place), so Collection agents tend to do a lot of overland travel.
Jobs among the Collectors include: Harvester, Packer, Bookkeeper, Intake Inspector, Animal Handler, Preprocess Delivery, Contract Specialist, Interpreter, Quarantiner.
The Office of Distribution sorts, catalogs, stores and distributes all manner of processed, repurchased and dry goods for their end-markets. Their warehouses take up the majority of surface space on the Spindle (see the top picture) as well as a vast amount of physical-realm space in, around and under many an outpost or kai. Distribution agents spend most of their time either in these warehouses, in the warehouse offices, or on the shadowpaths between warehouses and markets, constantly moving goods and payments back and forth. They also handle the internal distribution of goods, mail and equipment for all Shadow Folk agents, whether based in the realm or elsewhere.
Jobs among the Distributors include: Market Analyst, Warehouse Manager, Sorter/Stocker, Postal Manager, Inventory Controller, Delivery Porter, Courier, Shadow Market Staff.
The Shadow Market is a subset of Distribution. Any Shadow agent can petition for a stall there, but the Distributors run the large permanent spaces, selling non-essential goods to all Shadow staff who happen to be interested. Most of the wares are either bought cheap in the physical world to be sold still cheap-ish to Shadow staff, or else reclaimed from the belongings of deceased Shadow staff with no next of kin or otherwise surrendered to the care of Distribution. One section, the Regency Auction, deals in ultra high-end goods (more of which are on display in the Regency Hall); another, the Patronage Stage, serves as a pitch-area for small businesses and performers to seek financial backing.
The Office of Enforcement does the messy work — and gives the enterprise both its most visible successes and its bad reputation. Enforcers are the toughs of the Shadow Folk: the ones who go around in armor with truncheons and scars, looking fierce and dangerous and ready to break some faces. They can be found standing in the shadows in many a tavern, brothel, gambling den or other establishment of ill repute, as well as walking alongside merchants, messengers, foreign visitors and fresh immigrants in the busy mess of a market or thoroughfare. Sometimes they’re bodyguards; sometimes they’re saboteurs; rarely they’re assassins, as it’s dangerous to shed blood in the shadows. Very often, they’re human smugglers, helping people escape whatever pursues them — and beating it down if it comes too close. They also serve as emergency rescue personnel, saving lives in war zones, disaster areas, and isolated wildernesses. If a Shadow-follower cries for help and an eiyet hears, it runs to find an Enforcer.
Jobs among the Enforcers include: Security, Contract Analyst, Health and Human Condition Analyst, Search and Rescue, Social Worker, Rehabilitator, Special Projects.
The Office of Oversight doesn’t exactly run it all — but it does doublecheck the paperwork, disburse the funds, manage the accounts, and hunt down those few Shadow Folk who try to cheat the system. Oversight agents are only rarely seen outside of their offices. If you meet one, you’re probably in for a bad day.
Jobs among the Overseers include: Account Manager, Auditor, Bursar, File Clerk, Copyist, Librarian, Prosecutor, Special Projects Administrator.
Who does run it, then? Well…
The Regency isn’t exactly a governing body. It’s more of an advisory council, made up of thirteen eiyensuriel of varying ages and death-dates, meant to provide perspective to the Shadow Lord when he’s in residence and guidance to the rest of the Shadow Folk when he isn’t. It also serves as the judicial body of the organization, hearing cases brought to it by Oversight and handing down judgments and recommendations as it sees fit. It also manages the rest of the eiyensuriel, who can experience a variety of changes the longer they stay dead-yet-deathless and essentially trapped in the Shadow Realm, as well as ensures that the deeper inner workings of the Spindle don’t affect the business at its surface. The less said about all that, the better.
Notable Regents: Speaker Onoye (400+ years dead), Eighth Chair Ereshti Anmari (mother of Nemirin Ereshti, known as Ardent)
The Shadow Lord, Kherus Morgwi, is the final arbiter of all things Shadow Realm. However, for various reasons (some of which are slanderous even if possibly true), he’s not often in residence in his realm. Where he goes and what he does there, no one really knows; even his most powerful daughters can’t find him when he doesn’t want to be found.
(Here’s an old profile for him. Some things may have changed…)