The Shadow World–a brief guide

24 Dec

Explaining the Shadow World to an inhabitant of the Mundane World is extremely difficult. A person born to the mundane world thinks in terms of cause and effect, logic and reason and other such clinches. When confronted by a Map of Merlin, the Mundane person would find it impossible to grasp that the map actually is the territory and it is possible to use the map to step instantly from one place to another, no matter the distance between them. Very few mundane people can hope to survive and prosper in the magical world; those who do are often regarded as a little mad by their fellows.

Perhaps the best explanation is that the Shadow World and the Mundane are reflections of one another; indeed, one of the easiest ways to slip accidently from one world to the other is through a looking glass. Where science dominates the Mundane World, Magic (in all of its forms) dominates the Shadow World. The creatures of human nightmares – ranging from goblins to elves, faeries, gods, anthropomorphic personifications and demons – inhabit the Shadow World. Humans are very low on the food chain; indeed, one of the most common causes for a Shadow Human choosing to abandon the Shadow World and moving into the Mundane World is a close encounter with a far more powerful being. Curses and hexes from gods and demons, which cannot be removed by any human agency, have no power in the Mundane World. However, the price for embracing the Mundane World is becoming mundane. A sorcerer who chooses to become mundane loses all of his power in the process.

While the Mundane World follows the strict law of cause and effect, the Shadow World is far more slippery. Time does not follow a straight line; it bends and twists back on itself, often causing problems for the more restricted thinkers. Conflicts have been known to start between different factions in the Shadow World because both sides believed that the other started it – and, from their points of view, both sides are perfectly correct. It is not possible to actually rewrite time – insofar as time can be said to exist within the Shadow World – but it is possible for some people to experience an alternate future, which they manage to prevent from having taken place at all after using the temporal geography to walk into the relative past. Some scholars believe that alternate timelines can be viewed through the Shadow World – while the Mundane World hews to its single timeline – but this has never been proven.

One important part of the Shadow World’s laws is that the symbol for an object is – in some sense – the object itself. The simplest example of this lies in personal names, which are always closely guarded within the Shadow World, if only to prevent them being used against the person. All humans and many other creatures within the Shadow World tend to go by chosen names rather than risk having their real names exposed by their enemies. Names can also be used to summon gods, anthropomorphic personifications and demons, although this is commonly believed to be unwise. Such creatures are less limited in the Shadow World than humans and can take advantage of a badly-prepared magician to break free and wreck havoc.

Connected to this, oaths and curses have very real effects within the Shadow World. To promise to do something and then fail to do it – deliberately – can have disastrous effects as the oath rebounds upon the one who swore it. Curses can also shadow their target, although curses are inherently less powerful than oaths, being wished upon someone rather than sworn by their target. However, curses can be diverted through protecting one’s true name and most – human – curses can be easily removed.

Where humans are concerned, the rulers of the English Shadow World are the Thirteen Families, thirteen bloodlines that consistently produce powerful magicians. According to legend, the Thirteen Families were given their patents of nobility by Elizabeth I of England (who was reportedly of elfish blood) after they bred with Faerie women and produced the first human magicians. (This is of doubtful accuracy, as Merlin, Friar Bacon and a number of other famous magicians existed prior to Queen Elizabeth. But it is in the nature of the Shadow World that two contradictory things may be true at once.) Each of the Thirteen is headed by a Master who is styled after his family (so the Master of Burghley Family is always Master Burghley) and, upon investiture, takes on the debts, obligations and oaths of the family. Precisely how new Masters are selected from the ranks of their families is a closely-guarded secret, which leads to a great deal of speculation from outsiders.

The Thirteen Families have a habit of inviting newcomers to join them through marriage to a member of the family. These marriages are generally arranged by the Family Master and the family member selected to be the bride or groom has little say in the affair. However, outside maintaining the all-important bloodlines (and breeding new strength into the family from outsiders), there is little concern about adultery or outside romances. Marriage oaths do not prevent adultery (through careful wording), but they do generally prevent the birth of illegitimate children.

As a whole, each of the Family Masters has a seat on the Council of Thirteen. Being composed of the most powerful magicians in the Shadow World (or of men who have the allegiance of the most powerful magicians) they have the power to make their will felt throughout the human side of the Shadow World. They also have considerable power to affect the non-human entities, although that power is badly limited and is only rarely invoked. In public, the Council will claim that they do not wish to upset the delicate balance of power within the Shadow World; in private, they will admit that challenging the often far more powerful non-human entities would be very dangerous for humanity.

The Shadow World is policed – insofar as it is policed – by the Inspectors and the Enforcers. It isn’t actually clear precisely who the Inspectors work for, but they serve to keep the peace when it is threatened by human activity and protect humans who stumble into the Shadow World by accident. The Enforcers, by contrast, work for the Council of Thirteen directly and carry out its orders, policing human magicians who threaten the Council’s authority or the balance of power. It is often suspected that one day the Inspectors and Enforcers will clash directly – Inspectors have sometimes sanctioned members of the Thirteen Families – but for the moment there is an uneasy peace between both forces.

Outside the Council of Thirteen (and the Inspectors) there is very little law and order within the Shadow World. It has often been described as a ‘dog eat dog’ world, with many humans enslaved by other humans or non-human entities. Humans who stumble into the Shadow World are often very vulnerable to more experienced predators and can get into a great deal of trouble before they realise what is going on. The Inspectors rarely interfere and the grounds that allow them to interfere (on the rare occasions when they do so) are unclear.

Outside the human aspects of the Shadow World are the domains of non-human entities. Some of them, like the Faerie Court, can only be accessed with the permission of the Faerie – being allowed to leave is a different matter. The rules have a nasty habit of changing depending on which part of the Shadow World one enters, although almost every part of the Shadow World recognises the rights of insult and theft. To steal (and be caught) or to insult one of those entities within earshot can have the most drastic consequences, consequences that are enforced by the Shadow World itself. Many of the human captives within Faerie fell into their hands after accidentally transgressing the rules.

The precise nature of the gods (and demons) is imprecise and they tend to discourage questioners. It is generally believed that the gods walked the Earth when the barriers between the Shadow World and the Mundane World were weaker, giving rise to humanity’s religions and allowing the gods to feed off the belief expressed by their worshippers. Gods have been known to lose their power and fade away into the shadows, should they lose all of their believers, although the time-twisting nature of the Shadow World ensures that many still maintain a presence even when their worshippers are all dead.

Above – perhaps – the gods are creatures of vast power, but completely incomprehensible to human minds. Several of them have their own tendrils that leak into the Mundane World, while others seem to keep themselves to themselves, too alien for humans to understand. Even looking at such creatures can be fatal, while close contact can result in death, madness or physical transfiguration. No one has ever been able to communicate with them and they are generally believed to be above the law of the Inspectors. Their true nature is unknown.

Precisely why the Mundane and Shadow Worlds are separated by barriers is perhaps the greatest mystery in a realm of unanswered questions. Given the fact that the barriers started to appear during the time of Jesus Christ and were firmly in place by the time of Mohammed, it is generally assumed that God Himself dictated that the barriers were to protect humanity from the creatures that lurked within the shadows. No one knows for sure, but one thing is certain; the ‘gods’ within the Shadow World reserve their greatest hatreds for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Those who enter their territory rarely come out again.

There are no diplomatic relations between the Mundane World and the Shadow World. As far as the people who exist mainly in the Mundane World know, the Shadow World is nothing more than something rarely glimpsed out of the corner of one’s eye. The governments are not aware of the existence of the Shadow World and wouldn’t be able to interfere with it if they were. For reasons unknown, the fabric of the world seems to adapt to the presence of both worlds, allowing people from the Shadow World to walk unnoticed among the Mundane World.

It is difficult to explain the practice of magic within the Shadow World, as it takes a number of different forms. The most common form involves spells created with the Shadow Voice, a language that can only be spoken within the Shadow World, which – when recited by a person with a magical gift – invoke magic. An advanced magician is able to form new spells in the Shadow Voice and use them without relying on common spells. Other magic spells draw on the gods – there is, as always, a price for such power – or sacrifice humans or animals for magical power. Some magicians are capable of standing up to the more powerful entities, with sufficient preparation, while others are simply unable to touch them.

Despite the nature of the Shadow World’s society, there are places that are accepted as neutral ground. One of them is the Shadow Library, located in the part of the Shadow World that corresponds to Edinburgh. It is the largest collection of magical books in the Shadow World and can be consulted by anyone, provided they can gain entry to the Shadow World. Very few magicians would dare to risk causing trouble within the library. The library itself would turn on them. This does not, of course, stop them from using the library as a place for scheming, intriguing and plotting fiendish revenge against their enemies.

A second neutral ground is ‘Paddy’s Bar,’ tended by a man believed to be an Irish god (presumably the god of beer, but no one knows for sure). The first drink is always free; after that, patrons have to pay for each round of drinks with a story. ‘Paddy’ can be in multiple places at once within his bar and is never seen outside it. Whatever his true nature, he very definitely has the power to evict troublemakers (including Enforcers) from his territory. A number of his bar staff are, in fact, refugees from Enforcers or their former masters. What happens to them after they finish working in his bar is unknown. Inspectors have never attempted to enter his territory, for reasons unknown.

Rumour has it that Paddy’s Bar is linked to every bar in the Mundane World and sometimes Mundane people can enter the bar, enjoy the storytelling and excellent beer, and then return to the Mundane World, unsure of quite what happened to them. No one knows if this is actually true.


One Response to “The Shadow World–a brief guide”

  1. jonsonnenleiter January 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    Dauntless story

    Could a battleship stop a small space ship loaded with nickel or iron space rocks, traveling over 100,000 mph, and coming out of a vortex within thirty miles? Lets say the RAM ship was equipped with several vortex generators so it’s computer could aim itself at the battleship. Seem’s to me a collision with that much kinetic energy released would also take out the battleship’s covering ships. The wizards from the freed pirate’s base could suggest a use for the scrap ships from the pirate base, and they could be put together a couple of RAM ships fast.

    Just a thought, Feel free to use it if you want, no strings attached.

    Jon Sonnenleiter

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