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There was no source of light but the forge where the torturer heated his instruments. That flickered, illuminating the creased, weathered bronze face of the frightened little man who had not become a soldier because he wanted to but because he believed he owed his gods a service when they demanded it. Like all his own people (and as their enemies did also), he hoped his own gods were strongest and would prevail.

Murgen records a flicker of a shadow's memory of its origins, She Is the Darkness, ch. 71

The shadows are malevolent, immortal human spirits numbering in the millions that haunted the glittering plain for millennia. In the world of Hsien, they are referred to as the Host of the Unforgiven Dead, and in the Shadowlander language, they are called skildirsha. Although they range greatly in size, shadows are united in their loathing of all life and relentlessly pursue its destruction, attacking at every opportunity. The shadows were used as a profoundly dangerous enemy against the Black Company during the later Annals, most prominently during She Is the Darkness. They later laid waste to the Voroshk world in a nightmarish apocalypse during Soldiers Live.

Overview and abilities[]

Shadows are intelligent and can communicate with wizards when forced to. They kill quickly but cause their victims incredible agony before they perish. As Murgen recorded in She Is the Darkness:

The corpses the soldiers were planting bore the stamp of shadow death, they were all shriveled up, with skin darkened several shades. Each dead man's mouth was open in a screaming rictus. The bodies were curled. They could not be straightened... He was shriveled like an old mummy. His mouth was open in a scream that would never end. He seemed to have suffered a lot of bruises before he died. Those would have been self-inflicted during his final struggle.

The millions of shadows on the glittering plain are referred to "feral shadows". Able to pass through the tiniest pinhole or crack, shadows are repelled only by light and by magic, which can be used to both control and destroy them. Those which are under the direction of wizards like the Shadowmasters and later Soulcatcher are known as "tamed shadows", the smaller nonlethal ones being used as supernatural messengers, and, the larger ones as gruesome assassins. In an ancient age, a now-forgotten Shadowmaster referred to as either the First One or the Master of Time altered many shadows, transforming them into much more intelligent, derivative entities called Unknown Shadows.

Origin on the glittering plain[]

When I looked back at the toppled throne I saw the hall as it may have appeared a thousand years ago. Or more. When a band of cruel priests were making the original shadows from prisoners of war. It was there for just an instant but that moment was long enough to tell me that this had been a very ugly place once upon a time, long before the advent of the twelve Free Companies.

Murgen, She Is the Darkness

The shadows were once the human soldiers of a tyrant who sought to conquer all of the sixteen worlds which are linked by the glittering plain. This now-forgotten tyrant used the pretext of a massive religious war to march millions in an ancient time, long before the Free Companies of Khatovar. Toward the end of this escalating war, many of the soldiers were captured on the plain by "a band of cruel priests" who were wizards. Located in the main hall of the fortress with no name, these priests tortured and sacrificed their human prisoners of war in some kind of ritual sorcery involving chanting (vocal magic) and heated torture implements. The result was the en masse transformation of the captives into shadows. As planned by their creators, the murderous shadows infested the plain and wiped out all subsequent invading armies. Eventually, they were sealed into the plain by shadowgates (one for each of the sixteen worlds), where they remained imprisoned for countless ages. Where once the plain had been used for commerce and discovery, the horrendous entities permanently denied the proper use of the plain to everyone in all of the sixteen linked worlds.

After a long period of time, a method of safely passing through the shadowgates and traversing the plain was invented by sorcerers. "Keys" like the Lance of Passion and the golden pickax, when properly used, allowed safe passage by generating an invisible shielding which was impermeable to the shadows. But over time these shadowgates and the keys were largely forgotten and abandoned, and apparently remained so for untold generations until a group of male Shadowmasters, including Longshadow and Shadowspinner, crossed from an unspecified world into the world of Hsien and conquered it.

In the Annals[]

The shadows are introduced in the Books of the South and feature heavily in the subsequent Books of Glittering Stone.

The Books of the South[]

Longshadow used the violent entities to terrorize whole territories of the homeworld and later to attack the Black Company. Initially, he sent his shadowweavers to unleash them: first, small shadows to coordinate troop movements; and later, larger ones for assassination missions. The entities were first encountered by the Black Company in Shadow Games when Goblin stumbled upon a group of six shadowweavers. He described the ones he saw to Croaker: "some of them no bigger than a mouse’s shadow. All buzzing around like bees." Goblin, despite his low magnitude as a wizard, reported that he gained control of some of the small entities.

Longshadow sent a gigantic shadow to assassinate Soulcatcher in New Dhar during Dreams of Steel. But, with the help of Frogface, she defeated it.

The Books of Glittering Stone[]

After the deaths of his three fellow Shadowmasters, Longshadow began employing hundreds of thousands of the entities, perhaps millions, including those that "dwarfed cattle".

By far the most effective weapons against the entities were the bamboo fireball projectors invented by Lady for the Company. These weapons were absolutely indispensable in the Company's survival in the Shadowmaster wars and their victories over Longshadow throughout She Is the Darkness. Millions of shadows were wiped out by these weapons during the Battle of Lake Tanji and the Siege of Overlook.

In the immediate aftermath of She Is the Darkness, thirteen Company members and allies (like Sindawe and Big Bucket) were killed by feral shadows on the plain when the Captured were imprisoned in the cave of the ancients by Soulcatcher. Some shadows were later tamed and used by Soulcatcher herself, during her reign over Taglios called the Protectorate. Even the Voroshk patriarchs tamed a handful of shadows that had entered their world alongside Lisa Daele Bowalk.

Invasion of the Voroshk world[]

The shadows of the plain sensed an unprecedented opportunity to feed when Croaker tricked the Voroshk into crippling their own shadowgate. With a whole world of victims to feed upon, virtually the entire population of shadows poured out from the plain and invaded the Voroshk world. There, they devoured countless wildlife, livestock, and what Croaker estimated to be 99 out of 100 peasants. Some from the Voroshk family fought back with fiery sorcery, over time reducing the shadows to less than one-tenth of their original number. And on the plain, only a small number of tiny, frightened shadows remained.