|“||...things that were there only when you looked away. Big things, little things, human-looking things and things that had escaped from madmen's nightmares... Their advantage over the killer shadows was that they were not just driven clumps of hunger and hatred. They were cunning and wicked and able to reason, although unfortunately weak on the concept of cooperation.||”|
–Croaker, describing the Unknown Shadows
The Unknown Shadows (capitalized, and also called hidden folk) are magic entities which come from the world of Hsien and feature prominently in Soldiers Live. Although only a limited number of them can kill a human, they would become indispensable allies to the Black Company under the direction of Tobo.
The Unknown Shadows are similar to the feral shadows that infest the glittering plain, but are more much more intelligent and can take animal shapes. In Hsien, the feral plain shadows are referred to as the "Host of the Unforgiven Dead" to distinguish them from the Unknown Shadows. The Unknown Shadows hate and fear the feral shadows, their "undomesticated cousins" from the plain. Although the Unknown Shadows despised the plain itself, they would hunt and kill shadows that were loose in the homeworld on command. Unlike the spelling for the feral shadows, the words "Unknown Shadows" are virtually always capitalized in the Annals.
Many of the Unknown Shadows started as feral plain shadows which were altered by an ancient, forgotten proto-Shadowmaster called the First One or the Master of Time. Croaker also noticed they share aspects with the creatures inhabiting the faraway Plain of Fear, but, those were animals brought from another world into the homeworld in an unrelated event.
The Unknown Shadows appear in a wide variety of shapes, and many share traits with common animals. Larger ones appear similar to panthers, dogs, cattle, beavers, horses, crocodiles, ducks, and a centaur-shaped variety called afancs. Still others appear to be small: like owls and other birds; a black rabbit briefly spotted by Croaker; or tiny men, like one, about 8 inches tall, glimpsed very briefly by Soulcatcher. Unknown Shadows can be deadly: some of them lurk underwater only to rise and whisper menacingly to their targets, and to pull their prey beneath to consume them. One such Unknown Shadow, a huge one with way too many teeth sticking "out of its mouth at all angles", attempted to kill Soulcatcher. But she destroyed it with her sorcery. A limited number can also be ordered to kill, as was demonstrated when one shaped like a giant duck with enormous teeth swamped Mogaba's boat to torture and kill him and Ghopal Singh at Tobo's behest.
Regarding eye color, Croaker records in Soldiers Live that all the Unknown Shadows he has observed directly have either red or yellow eyes. This was true despite the fact that in Hsien, demons and other such entities were popularly thought to have green-colored eyes. The Company brother Spook was given his nickname because of his green eyes for that reason, even though the genuine Unknown Shadows did not have this trait.
Identified groups and individualsEdit
Below are some of the names of the subgroups of Unknown Shadows, and where possible, the names of individuals:
- a group called the Black Hounds, "big as ponies, with high, massive shoulders like those of hyenas", which consisted of at least three individuals, two of which were named in the Annals:
- Black Shuck
- a pair of "spectral cat" siblings, named Big Ears (male) and Cat Sith (female), which were even larger than the Black Hounds and had green-colored heads like leopards
- an individual named Golden-Eye which might be similar to Big Ears and Cat Sith
- an individual named Paddlefoot which might be similar to Big Ears and Cat Sith
- a group called the baobhas, who "sing" loudly in premonition of a death in the near future
- a group called the Greylings (capitalized) which, like the baobhas, are also harbingers of death: they foretold the death of Ky Gota
- a group called afancs, a centaur-shaped variety which attempts to lure people to a drowning death and which can know the true name of a sorcerer
Before the Black Company migrated to Hsien, the Unknown Shadows were widely considered to be merely spook stories from ignorant peasants. But the entities were very real, and simply kept away from humans. Then, after the Company arrived at Hsien and built the Abode of Ravens, Tobo befriended the Unknown Shadows and became a messiah of sorts to them. The "educated folk at Khang Phi and Quang Ninh had been stunned by what the boy had summoned". Now that the Unknown Shadows were out in the open, Tobo taught them to camouflage themselves from human observers as often as possible, including even other Company members and allies.
Many or perhaps all of the Unknown Shadows left alongside Tobo when the Company returned to the homeworld to liberate Taglios from Soulcatcher's Protectorate regime. They become the Company's key scouting and messenger resource under Tobo's direction. Only Tobo, and much less frequently a handful of others like Uncle Doj, could communicate on a complex level with them.
A group of Unknown Shadows attempted to assassinate Soulcatcher early in the campaign; the fight was difficult, but the help of her own tamed shadows, she killed them. Another group helped the Company capture the stout manor called Gharhawnes from Protectorate loyalists. Later, at the Battle at the Shadowlander cemetery, many Unknown Shadows were present, but they did not help Sleepy because they were single-mindedly loyal to Tobo, who was absent during the bloody event.
At the end of the Siege of Taglios, Tobo secretly undertook an evil, unsound quest for revenge for the deaths of his parents who were both killed fighting the Protectorate. He sent some of his biggest and deadliest Unknown Shadows to intercept, torture, and murder four senior Protectorate officials: Mogaba, Ghopal Singh, and two of Ghopal's cousins, as they tried to escape up the great river. Next, Tobo personally tried to assassinate Aridatha Singh, but he was defeated and sustained a head wound that would be fatal if untreated. The Unknown Shadows sowed widespread panic among the citizens of Taglios after Aridatha hid their beloved Tobo in a cell where even they could not find him. Though they did not take a single life, they were exacerbating an already-sensitive political and civil situation. In the end, the entities eagerly helped Croaker and Arkana rescue Tobo. They presumably returned to Hsien when Suvrin led the Company back toward their native world.