Chief among the Shadow Realm natives, the shadow fey were once elves like any other on the face of Midgard or the Fair Lands. The shadow fey made a dreadful choice when the power of elves waned. Instead of fading in decline, they chose to give themselves over to the powers of Shadow. Better to rule in the shadows, they said, than wither in the light. Among the oldest of the Shadow-corrupted, they are now reborn as a separate race of elves native to the Shadow Realm. Their long-standing experience with the corruptive nature of the Shadow Realm and its magic has made them canny, deadly negotiators. They alone among the peoples of Midgard understand Shadow well enough to embrace its magic without being utterly consumed.
Seat of Power: Courts of the Shadow Fey
The shadow fey travel the entirety of the Shadow Realm thanks to their affinity to the plane and their extensive control of the shadow roads, but their power resides in the Courts of the Shadow Fey. The Courts rest on a high plateau in the heart of a dark forest in the (approximate) center of the Shadow Realm. This location corresponds to the Margreve Forest in Midgard, and the twin woods share a strong resemblance and active shadow road connections. Major changes in one location have an impact on the appearance and nature of the other.
The Courts rise from the windswept rock of the cliffs in the forest’s center, monochrome architecture at once both delicate and indomitable. Graceful spans of black stone bridge chasms hundreds of feet deep, and marble colonnades guide supplicants through fantastic gardens to the inner halls. The gray-twilight gloom of the Shadow Realm breaks in the sky above the Courts of the Shadow Fey, allowing the stars to occasionally show their glittering points of light to those that study illumination magic. Even the moon shines directly on the Moonlit King’s home-in-exile, the Tower of the Moon.
Despite the opulence of the architecture, newcomers to the Courts of the Shadow Fey can’t help but wonder why the halls are entirely deserted. The only creatures present to greet first-time supplicants are strange constructed footmen—empty suits of graceful plate armor. Exploration of the halls reveals room after empty room, save for crows and rooks, owls, and the occasional scurrying mouse. In truth, this is a powerful illusion and the first line of defense against any uninvited guests. If supplicants have an invitation from a shadow fey of sufficient standing, or if they can prove to the invisible fey that they’re worth talking to, the illusion fades and reveals the courts in all their glory. Magic less powerful than true seeing can’t penetrate this invisibility, as intruders have learned far too late.
The Courts of the Shadow Fey consist of three main sections: the Royal Halls, the Winter Palace, and the Lower Court. The population of the Courts is always in flux, with only the most noble and lofty members of the court (and their servants, consorts, and courtesans) in permanent residence within the Royal Halls and Winter Palace. The Lower Court plays host to the Goblin Court, led by Moggo the Chamberlain, and houses the shadow fey guards and soldiers. These shadow-corrupted goblins serve the shadow fey, and Moggo rules as a tyrant. The goblins won’t directly betray their shadow fey masters, but they serve as excellent sources of information, for they love to gossip and gripe. Likewise, the shadow fey don’t care much if guests mistreat the goblin servants, but they draw the line at maiming and killing. Should low-status visitors break any of the rules of the Courts, they find themselves sent to Moggo for judgment. The atmosphere in the Goblin Court ripples with betrayal, flattery, bribes, and blood.
The true rulers of the shadow fey reside in the upper portions of the Courts, in the Winter Palace and the Royal Halls. The Winter Palace functions as the traditional seat of the Moonlit King, though he only walks its halls when the strange seasons of fey rule turn and his Winter Court ascends. It has been many years since the seasons last turned, and in all that time the Moonlit King has been banished to the faraway Tower of the Moon. Rumors run rampant in the Moonlit King’s long absence, and whispers circulate through the halls that he’s gone mad, plotted a coup, thrown in his lot with devils, or otherwise lost the favor of his wife, the Queen of Night and Magic.
Whatever the truth of these whispers, the Courts agree that the queen considers replacing her wayward king. The Courts function in his absence, with consorts and courtesans, servants, and lower-status members not respected enough for regular entrance to the Royal Halls. The Gray Ladies dwell here, three ancient shadow fey crones with an affinity for spiders and weaving. They spend their days spinning silk and whispering to one another, searching for individuals they can use to bend fate to their whims.
Ultimate power over shadow fey society (and by extension much of the Shadow Realm) rests with Her Transcendent Majesty, Sarastra Aestruum, the Queen of Night and Magic. She dwells in the Royal Halls, along with the upper crust of shadow fey society. Only the most respected supplicants receive invitations to enter the Royal Halls for audience, and of these most receive only a sliver of the queen’s attention. They make their obeisance, ask a favor, and quickly get handed off to Court functionaries.
A lucky few, however, manage to catch the queen’s interest. No matter the apparent circumstance, this always furthers the queen’s designs or appeases a momentary whim. Her Majesty’s direct attention is never taken lightly and sudden alliances or rivalries spontaneously spring up around visitors so “blessed.” The Royal Halls also host honored guests, usually envoys from another fey court.
Finally, the Courts contain a strange pit called the Black Well of Night. A cavern at the bottom of the well houses Akyishigal the Demon Lord of Roaches and his roachling servants, creatures of filth and evil. The demon lord chafes under his current servitude to the queen and seeks potential allies to turn the tide against his “hostess” and win his freedom…
But this is where we must stop for now, my friend. My mind, it wanders so at times. Do come see me again, though, for more of the wonders and surprises of Midgard. (OGL)